Edinburgh Castle / Night-Day 1 in Scotland
Situated atop an extinct volcano at the center of Edinburgh lies the magnificent Edinburgh Castle. Visible from nearly every corner of central Edinburgh, its also brilliantly illuminated at night such that even the darkness doesn’t hide its prominence. My merry band (two cousins and and aunt) arrive into the city at night, check into our ‘caravan’ (Britspeak for trailer home– Ann K, this one would make you proud!), and make our way to the city center to survey our game plan for the following day after a sampling of the local cuisine (sans haggis).
After nearly a full day of speeding up the motorways and A-roads (two lane highways -60mph speed limit) while slowing down for the speed cameras, my excitement about reaching Scotland was building up. Naturally, I had regressed back to being fourteen and had been cheerfully abusing the Scottish accent for the last few hours by speaking in the voices of such luminaries as Scrooge McDuck, Groundskeeper Willie, Sean Connery, and of course, William “the Braveheart Wallace”— although if anyone had asked, my name was to be Duncan McCloud of the clan McCloud. Mehul had previously spent some time in Scotland and had graciously contributed to my local vocabulary by adding the phrase “wysht yer chops yah wee bairn” into my lexicon. It translates as “shut your mouth, you little baby” which appropriately enough was his response to most of the rubbish that my pie hole was so prolifically spouting. After about the twentienth time I told him that ‘yah rahmynd me of yuhr unkuhl Ahrgyle mohr and mohr evrydeh’, I discovered that the phrase, ‘I’ll murder you’ sounds particularly menacing in a Glaswegian accent. Suffice to say, despite the burgeoning gruffness of our inner Scots, a light-hearted and sillygood time was had on the ride up which was no doubt about to spill over into more of the same in Edinburgh.
I was initially surprised by how cosmopolitan the city was as nearly every fare of international cuisine was available for the sampling. We initially decided to go for Thai, but ended up eating Italian food served to us by Czechs after the half-Scottish-half-Thai (kinda looked like Kristin Kreuk) waitress was graciously concerned about our vegetarian sensibilities.
After dinner, we quickly experienced what was to be a recurrent theme during our stay in Edinburgh- navigational and parking difficulties galore. The problem is exacerbated by the abundance of high density, narrow, winding, one-way streets upon which its quite easy to lose your sense of direction or miss the proper turn on the upcoming roundabout, resulting in a half-mile detour which is fraught with the same difficulties and risks of several more half-mile detours. To add to our confusion, construction crews would close off roads at certain hours, the timing of which was likely not known to even the locals. At one point, we even parked and then had all the roads close around us such that we were locked into a 2 square block area. Luckily, a straggling construction worker was able to remove a barrier that allowed for our escape, but you get the idea about driving in the city.
After gaining our bearings the night before, we headed up the hill the castle itself the following morning. Its an impressive castle with a magnificent view of the city and the North Sea that gave me some of the most breathtaking sights I had seen to date. The view from a cannon jutting out over the gothic spires and medieval lanes of a bustling city nestled next to water so blue that it rivals the sky left me stopped for more than a few moments. I also got some stunning shots of light beams shooting through the clouds as if the heavens were blessing the town. Absolutely beautiful. From the castle’s Scottish War Museum, I also captured a picturesque sunset the likes of which inspire paintings.
The castle itself is quite impressive, and the experience comes complete with audio tour to add to the sense of swimming through centuries of history. On display are the Scottish Honors (crown jewels) that have a certain simplicity to their bling-blingyness but also have the unique distinction of being treasures that were not stolen from some other part of the world (unlike most of the British crown jewels). For a structure that seems to be so ever-visible, I was expecting it to be much bigger than it was. The entire castle compound is less than one-quarter the size of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace compound, but I suppose that volcano-top real estate is pretty rare. Other notables at the castle are the life-size dioramas of the history of Mary Queen of Scots and other Scottish royals. The absorbtive experience of simultaneously walking through a historical place while seeing semi-realistic life-size models and listening to it all over a headset probably leaves many people with a sense that they lived it. I thought of the handful of people I know who shared their feeling that they were actually Mary herself in a previous birth, or one of her courtiers (you know who you are!). A Jedi mind trick for sure. [Scots were the first Jedis, leading Ewan McGregor to follow fate and destiny towards his rightful role as Obi-wan Kenobi].
Before I left the castle, I couldn’t resist standing in front of several of the huge spotlights illuminating the walls and casting my giant shadow upon them as I struck many a wacky pose. Later, I realized that my sillyness was probably visible to most of N. Edinburgh. Really surprised that somebody official didn’t hog-tie me and haul me off to the looney bin. I guess they appreciated how much fun I was having :-).
Later that day, we grabbed a respectable attempt at Mexican food on the Royal Mile (a medieval road between Edinburgh Castle and the royal estate, The Palace of Holyroodhouse) after strolling her boutique and restaurant-lined sidewalks. After dinner, we went on a ‘ghost tour’ of some of the most ‘haunted’ parts of Edinburgh. My spider-sense detected no evil, certainly not even a fraction of what I feel on Alcatraz, so I was both disappointed (that I spend 7.5 pounds to walk in the catacombs beneath the city) and relieved (that evil was hiding from me). The other semi-upset/relief of the night was that even a modest kilt cost at least 60 pounds ($120 thanks to our floundering dollar and fearless leader) which of course meant that I was too cheap to purchase the appropriate souvenir, and therefore didn’t have to wear it. The other options was buying the 5 pound kilt, but that was made in Pakistan, and 4.5 pounds of that price was probably the shipping, packaging, and markup. It just felt wrong.
My unabated Scottish accent was almost in full bloom for much of the stay, and lasted quite a bit after I left. It was a unique joy-pain to discover that this was absolutely not a problem because to English and Scottish ears, my accent sounded Irish, and was therefore amusing to both. Quite true to the saying, “The Irish never quit”, I hardly let their lack of appreciation for my flawless Scotspeakease stop me.
Writing from Bangkok airport at the moment. There were two more days in Scotland, and two more weeks in England that were chock full of experiences I will have to share about from India. I’ll be there in a few hours, and am excited!