I’m really looking forward to Edinburgh. The Lonely Planet’s description of the city is enchanting:
“Edinburgh is a city that just begs to be explored. From the vaults and wynds that riddle the Old Town to the picturesque urban villages of Stockbridge and Cramond, it’s filled with quirky, come-hither nooks that tempt you to walk just that little bit further. And every corner turned reveals sudden views and unexpected vistas – green sunlit hills, a glimpse of rust-red crags, a blue flash of distant sea. It’s a place to put the guidebook away for a bit, and just wander.”
I find out there’s even an art market on the this very weekend. I’m excited.
After three days of working on our respective projects, as per our new routine, we head into Edinburgh town on a double decker bus. We sit up the top and up the front like big nerds. I still get excited about riding double decker buses.
The art market turns out to be a lot smaller than I expected. I do however, find a little jewellery stand with pieces made out of vintage typewriter keys!
I really want the watch but I can’t pull off chunky bracelet type things with my abnormally skinny wrists, so I settle for a necklace with a watch-face instead.
It’s time to head to the meeting place for the walking tour about a gazillion people have recommended we do — Sandeman’s New Edinburgh tour. There are two tour guides — one American, one English. Luckily, we get the English guy (at least half the reason of doing a walking tour in Edinburgh is to hear a Scottish accent for a few hours, so if we’re going to be cheated of this at least we get some nice dulcet British tones).
On the bright side, at least our tour guide looks and sounds a little bit like a pirate.
Their own description of the tour is pretty spot-on:
“In the narrow streets of Edinburgh you were as likely to meet a murderer as a man of genius. Body-snatchers, witch hunters, firebrand priests and philosophers all living on the side of a dead volcano. On our 3–hour walking tour we cover all the main sights of the Old City of Edinburgh. Starting on the famous Royal Mile, we lead you through the windy streets and up the hills to sites of executions, cloned sheep and the birthplace of Harry Potter. Our unique style of combining history with pure showmanship has made us one of the most popular walking tour companies in all of Europe!”
We were actually familiar with quite a few of the stories thanks to a fantastic book by Bill Bryson, “At Home: A Short History of Private Life”. Nonetheless, we’re shamefully ignorant of Scottish history so the tour went some way in rectifying that. This particular story made the biggest impact of the day:
The Covenanters’ Prison
In direct opposition to the British monarchy, the Covenanters believed that no man, not even a king, could be spiritual head of their church. Only Jesus Christ could be spiritual head of a Christian church. One thousand Covenanters were held at the prison in Greyfriars Kirkyard after their defeat in the battle of Bothwell Brig on 22 June, 1679. Their cells had no roofs. At bed time (if one can refer to such when there is no bed), the prisoners were made to lie on the floor. They could choose to either lie face down or on their backs but once decided they could not move again for the rest of the night. If they moved, a guard would kill their neighbouring cell-mate. Some unfortunate men who chose to lie face-down on a rainy night (of which there were sure to be many) drowned in the puddle on their cell floor.
These cages were available for hire to put over new graves to prevent body snatching.
- Burke and Hare
- Deacon Brodie
- Bluidy Mackenzie – The Mackenzie Poltergeist
- Greyfriars Bobby
- Half Hangit Maggie
- Ressurectionists’ Methods
One of the highlights of the tour for me was when the guide pointed out where Joanne began creating the world of Harry Potter. A little second story cafe from which could be seen Edinburgh castle perched on its precipitous cliff edge and a private school for orphaned boys. Not to mention all of the very cool Harry Potter-esque architecture throughout the city. I teared up a little bit.
Feeling a bit sheepish, we decide to get Domino’s Pizza for lunch, spurred by my newfound love of jalapenos. We take it to a nice open park near the university and eat amongst the local student population. The little groups of friends surrounding us, with the strange feeling of being an outsider in an insider’s domain, combine to make me wistful and lonely.
We were hoping for much casual strolling about with lots of time for photos on our second day in Edinburgh, but it’s not to be. Between not leaving until 11am, my haircut, lunch and a wee bit of time in the People’s Story Museum, there’s no time left for mooching at all. I spend literally five minutes looking in some shops on this colourful little street.
Still, the day isn’t a complete loss. I get a sassy new fringe and we have lunch with the cool young things of Edinburgh at Black Medicine and have our first good coffee in the UK since we met an Australian Barista in Folkstone a year ago. We only have a short time in the People’s Story Museum before they kick us out, but it’s probably long enough.
Closing time is fast approaching so I dash off to the arts supply store whilst Mike picks up a guitar we saw on the way past a pawn shop earlier in the day. I get shooed out of an establishment for the second time today as staff cut short my usual leisurely ramble through enticing art supplies. We make a half-hearted attempt at doing some clothes shopping in the mall, but don’t quite have it in us and decide to call it a day instead.
I’m left with mixed feelings about this funny little city. Like the Lonely Planet description promised it does have many enchanting little closes and wynds and romantic, fairy-tale old buildings, which I really enjoyed. However, at times it becomes difficult to see through the tartan haze of tacky souvenir shops that blanket the city. Like parasites, they’ve taken up residence in the ground floors of the beautiful old buildings themselves. The train station and a sprawling car park combine to create an eyesore out of what used to be the canal. If developed with less violent disregard for aesthetics, I’m sure it could have been a magnificent site to rival London’s Houses of Parliament overlooking the Thames. I came to this city fully prepared to fall in love with it. Instead, I’m left feeling like I just met someone who, if only they would or could be their authentic self, would prove to be a kindred spirit. Either through misuse or neglect or both, my would-be-lover has become someone who’s ready to be whatever it takes to appeal to the lowest common denominator.