In order to get to Denmark, I decided to travel via Scotland (Steph-logic, don't ask)… and while I was at it I figured I might as well stay a few weeks and treat myself on a nice little trip through the land of Harry Potter and Trainspotting. Only the accent is worth going over there, I must say. It’s certainly not the sexiest one you could trace down on this planet, but I would settle with it for life if I could ever manage to roll those r’s out of my throat like that. Soon enough I was reading every single sign in Scottish, man, even the Freud-book I was reading audio-played entirely in Sco’ish inside of my brain. Oh, and if you have a thing for redheads, I wonder what the hell you’re still doing sitting on a chair (/toilet) reading this blog, get your ass over there! Ygrittes in all sizes and shapes!
Once I stepped out of my €20-Ryanair-plane I received a typical local welcome: Rain pouring down like Scottish confetti!
I had arrived in Edinburgh (Edin-broughhh, they kind of puke out that last part), hurray! As during the flight I had made friends with the Pakistani guy sitting next to me, who in retrospect just wanted a date, my door-to-door-ride to town was already arranged. Which door, you ask? (Or you don’t, but in this case you do for the story, alright!) The door of Couchsurfer Simon, who didn’t have much time for me due to an extremely busy lifestyle, but who was generous enough to free his spacious living room so I could freely stay in the center of town. Also, he would pump up my condition with an active night of kickboxing, letting me participate in the classes of his own kickbox school. All my mindfullness-meditation aside, the amount of aggression I hold inside is impressive… try me.
Excited to spend my first day in this basically-a-country, I swiftly dropped off my luggage and went out on an exploration. I wasn’t out of the door for three seconds or I got my first heart attack: A car drove by without a driver! Or, as I can conclude afterwards, the driver was sitting on the other side of the car hidden in the shadows. And this hidden driver was also driving on the left lane, driving miles instead of kilometres. Yeah, the Brits have allways been slightly difficult.
Surprised I walked passed many men actually wearing a kilt, some of them even playing bag pipes. I kind of assumed this was an obsolete stereotype, like the wooden shoes in The Netherlands or the baret and baguette-under-arm in France, that’s frantically kept alive for the sake of tourism, but by no means applicable on modern life. True, some displays might be solely performed for the foreign visitors invading the center of popular Edinburgh, but believe it or not, many men (and women!) actually go around like that. I’m thrilled!
As recommended by my knowledgeable host I passed by the George Herriot School… a school that, if we have to believe the gossip, served as the main inspiration for Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.
It makes sense in a way, as J.K. Rowling actually lives in Edinburgh and brought this in the meantime legendary character to paper in the corner of an atmospheric bar in town. The Elephant House*, to be exact, which was needless to say my next stop. Yes, I’m a die-hard Harry Potter fan and I’m not even ashamed to admit it. It took me on average 1,5 days to finish one of her books, meaning that my entire social life (and homework) had to step aside until I was done. I ordered a coffee out of habit, but corrected myself: “Pardon me, a pot ‘o tea please, the Scottish Breakfast Blend.” Going all-in!
Right. Within 10 minutes, after finishing the entire pot by myself, my stomach started roaring… another 10 minutes later I was vomiting out everything I ate that day in the toilet that made quite a name of itself because of all the thank-you-graffiti directed at J.K. Rowling herself. Strong stuff, Scottish tea.
* Later on I learned that, even though heavily marketed, the Elephant House is NOT the birth place of Harry Potter. It’s the Nicholson Cafe, now Spoon, although Rowling also wrote in the other cafe every now and then. The Elephant House IS however the birth place of the famous theater festival Fringe.
The next day I took it next level: I even went along on a (tip-based) Harry Potter Walking Tour! No shame, this one. It’s exactly as pathetic and at the same time awesome as you think it is. A big group of adults (many wearing Hufflepuf-shirts) being led around by another adult dressed up as witch, all of us holding a brightly colored magic wand which we used to ‘turn the traffic light green’. We even had a spell, which we screamed out loud in public. Yeah, I don’t know how I still manage to get laid either.
There are many free walking tours to choose from in touristy Edinburgh. And none of them is really free.
The lion share of the tour took place at the graveyard behind the well-known Bobby-statue (a dog that came to visit the grave of his deceased owner for years to follow) I visited the day before, which served as an inspiration for the location of the famous Potter-Voldemort duel. On Halloween fans gather together to act this scene out, dressed up like Tormentors. I actually got to strike a poste in front of the (fake) Sirius Black grave and the (real) Voldemort one:
If you’re not the reading kind and those Potter-movies never really got ya, you still have to see this graveyard. Or any Scottish graveyard so to say. The leaning gravestones, laughing skulls and beheaded angels will make you feel like you’re in a classic horror movie.
And the horror got real in Edinburgh, the history of this city being creepy enough to compete with the lively fiction of Hollywood. And that’s another theme of many of the even more tip-based walking tours offered… I took the Free Ghost Tour from City Explores. A good choice? I don’t know. My guide for sure didn’t lack enthusiasm. But if someone screams 2 to 3 words in every single sentence it does get annoying sooner or later. In some kind of weird mean story-telling-voice I listened to all the cruel details of ancient Edinburgh… from the wandering ghost of the child that got lost in the sewage system to witch-torture, child murder and grave plunder.
If you can imagine it, it happened in Edinburgh! Oh, and if you’re really hot for capitalism in general OR for Charles Dickens’ masterpiece A Christmas Carol (how did these two end up in the same sentence?), you’re gonna pass by the last resting place of both Adam Smith and Ebenezer Scrooge, just saying.
Walking tours are alright, but I honestly rather walk around alone to discover what’s out there. I soon figured out all the main museums are free to enter in this cultural capital, something you don’t have to say twice to a nerd like me.
I kicked off with the National Museum of Scotland, which covers way more of our world than just the suggested Scotland-part. So to say every part. Want to interactively experiment with the laws of physics? You can do it here. Always wanted to see through the eyes of animals? Here you can. Dying to draw a Tibetan flag to take home? I personally shuffled a class full of kids aside to make it happen. Honestly, it’s hard to name something that’s NOT exhibited here.
A bit more specific is the National Gallery, which focuses on art. I skipped the religious whining, which was actually mostly brought to us by Dutch hands, and walked straight to the top pieces of the French masters. I even spotted my favorite Gauguin in here, who could have imagined?!
Around the corner you’ll find the National Portrait Gallery, which, you guessed it, solely exhibits portraits. Good portraits, I can confirm. You can trace down the posed faces of all famous and less famous Edinburghers, among which (Sir!) Sean Connery and Ewan McGregor. Talking about Ewan McGregor, which is talking about Trainspotting: You can also admire an intriguing exhibition exposing the life in the shadow of a heroin addicition, photographed by a junk in action. Confronting.
Other sights that certainly didn’t fail to impress me are the St. Gils Cathedral and the Edinburgh Castle. The latter is rather (like fucking ridiculously) expensive to enter, but can be perfectly admired from all sides, be it the atmospheric Lawn Market street or the side of the lush Princess Street Gardens.
Another impressive sight is the standard beer or ale glasses you get served in any establishment, containing almost triple the amount of any other country. I didn’t want to judge, but this kind of indicates it is indeed true: Scotland is the nation of heavy drinkers. But wouldn’t you be, with that weather?
I think this Scottish couple looks absolutely amazing though
Cities are nice. Cities are lovely! But it’s nature that always really gets me.
And that’s perfectly combinable in Edinburgh, as the Arthur’s Seat can be reached within a half hour walk from the center, passing the bustling The Meadows park along the way. Dress for wind, dress for cold and - just in case, it’s Scotland - dress for lots of rain, and don’t forget to take in every single bit of the fantastic scenery along the way.
On these former hunting grounds where animals were leisurely killed now nature is celebrated, the tops pridely looking out over Scotland from here until the horizon. While the wind reminds you how much you are alive the colors of the landscape vividly change with every sunray and every cloud. An artwork en vivo unfolds in front of you.
Good news: You don’t need to be an athlete, I was up in about 10 minutes. However, if you want to truly grasp the place I recommend a long hike up and down all the surrounding hills. Ready, stretch, go!
I descended to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, a castle at the foot of Holyrood Park where this stunning display can be admired.
As I don’t do entrance fees I sneakily shifted in via the toilets to make some quick snapshots and continued to Calton Hill, hiking-mode on! Well, it’s not much of a hike, it basically comes down to climbing a couple of stairs, but the results are rather satisfying.
From the Monument of Scotland you can look out over the far-stretching cityscape making up the beauty that’s called Edinburgh.
An incomprehensible beauty that usually only comes back in myths and legends, not in real life.
I thought places like this were made up.
But Edinburgh is very much alive.