In a serendipitous moment, I saw the edge of the city that only yesterday I was aware I would be exploring. Twenty four hours isn’t enough time to prepare for a city like Edinburgh. Why? Take your pick: The history is tumultuous as it is extensive, home to a world leading university. One of the best busker festivals (just missed it though) and a mecca for those who fancy a wee little spirit known as scotch.
Why Edinburgh. Why not? Much and many, or a bit much, or much too much, has been written about Edinburgh already. If I was to tell you the secrets of the royal mile, you’d scoff, and say you read that a year, or ten, ago. Well instead of how or what to do in Edinburgh. I will tell you about the intangibles that elevated the city for me. Translate the upbeat vibe that contrasts the legendary weather and, bring you in the time machine with me as my impressions of Edinburgh collides with my imagination spanning the better part of two hundred years.
It’s an eerie quiet when you’re the last one in line. I’m called forward and hand my passport over. Silently the border service agent looks through my pages. I’m the last one through the non-resident queue and asked more questions than the rest as well. They’re just doing their job, I get that. So I cheered myself up by registering on the airport wifi as William Wallace.
The cheapest-fastest way in to the city centre is by airlink bus. It takes you right to Waverley station. The ride was scenic at first. Antiquated homes with rock walls made from the very ground next to them. However, the further you penetrate, the more animated the sidewalks and other thoroughfares emerge. Getting off the bus I breathe in the warm musty air. (This is where I would make a fart joke, but I’ll do my best to keep you in the moment) While far enough away, the walls of Edinburgh Castle control my view. From there, I walk over top of Waverley Station on North Bridge to get to the Royal Mile, the main path that leads to Edinburgh castle. The Royal Mile is ripe with commotion. The buildings are mature yet confident. Oh the stories they could tell. Yet, it is the patrons, descendants of pub owners and residents of this city that provides a voice for these buildings. As I walk forward, each step, I feel as if the scene around me fades in to black and white, and thus Edinburgh in the 19th century materializes.
Subtract the effect that Edinburgh was known as one of the most insanitary cities in Europe and I see the horses stationed on the cobblestone, waiting for their riders. Loud merchants exchanging goods, the alley ways stare back, hauntingly, telling me to turn around. The era of industrialization is forming. So I made my way along the Royal Mile, elated with the historic feel and atmosphere. A crowd ahead marks a remaining act of the Edinburgh fringe festival and brings me back to the 21st centry. I was fixed on the fire breathing for a while and tipped the man for nearly singeing my eyebrows. I had a good plan for reaching my accommodation but was so caught in this moment that I was tangled in the unknown. So uh, where am I?
I had an address but no map. Hopscotching through hotspots and using google maps I was able to arrive at my accommodation. For a very reasonable price, I stayed in the dorms of the Edinburgh Art College. Just down the street from the Grassmarket area and Royal Mile. Then I had a snack.
The impressions of years past continues. I filled one day with aimless wonderings. Sometimes it’s fun to do nothing in a city and just be there. People watching, cafe chilling, inner thought thinking. A wasted day isn’t wasted at all. I tried Haggis, a little dryer than meatloaf but similar.
The next day however, I partake in the famous underground tours, the rooms are dark, musty smelling and damp. Your mind, combined with the darkness plays spectral tricks on your eyes. Good thing I got my flash. Again, if these walls could talk. They would tell a much different story of Edinburgh than the buildings watching over the Royal Mile. Crime, the deepest kind of poverty, illness. Now they’re mostly used as storage for the pubs. I’m sure they’re much happier in the present.
Lastly a literary pub tour. This was one of the better walking tours I’ve ever done. Partial, because you hear about Edinburgh from two locals, but it is elevated when acted out by the same people telling the story. And there’s beer. Group participation is high and jovial thanks to the outgoing and entertaining tour guides and steady flow from the taps at the Scottish pubs. It begins in the GrassMarket and ends with smiles and laughs.
Oh, I almost forgot. I love getting high in a city. Yes, you read that right. I love getting a birds eye view of the city skyline and picking out landmarks. The way a city looks says something about it’s character. Edinburgh Castle does this, but if you want some exercise and a rarer view. Check out Arthur’s seat. The largest hill among many in Holyrood park. Paths are clear and well maintained. Watch your step it does get steep in some parts. In the past it was used for hunting game but to me this was a much better view of the city. Windy as heck though.
To wrap up this unexpected stop, I stayed an extra day. Why? A noticed posted on Edinburgh Castle for a fireworks show the next night. Can you think of a better good bye? A better backdrop than the Castle. Well it was the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen and unfortunately, I forgot my camera. I would have loved to capture the magic but my brain played a joke on me and left my camera in my room. So you’ll have to take my word for it. Thanks Edinburgh.
And, at this point. It was only a week after I flew a MIG fighter jet. Still high on that too.