Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Edinburgh: The City We Never See

First, I have to offer my deepest apologies for being so unreliable with the blog lately. Especially to Matt -I'm sorry. After my wonderful trip to Edinburgh, everything took a bit of a turn for the worse. From my awful extended travel (that story is coming up) to Hurricane Sandy putting a damper on things, it's been hard to get back into the swing of things. 

But, enough excuses! We now return to our regularly scheduled programming....

The City of Edinburgh was named a World Heritage Site in 1995. The Old and New Town's of Edinburgh combine the architecture of 15th and 18th centuries and show "the remarkable juxtaposition of two clearly articulated urban planning phenomenon." Indeed, I can say from experience that the best views of the city are from the very top of Arthur's Seat (the highest of the hills in Holyrood Park) or from inside the Castle - from each point you can see how seamlessly each part of Edinburgh comes together. It's hard to imagine it any other way. 

Now, I have to warn you, this post will be a little bit different. You see, Matthew lives in Edinburgh, I used to live there and I am planning on living there again. So it's not a place we consider a destination. To us, it's home.  

I had absolutely no idea how to write this post until Matthew helped me with it. It was only when I discussed it with him that I realized it's so hard because we have completely different experiences of it. 

Matt grew up in the UK, with palaces nearly on his doorstep and castles only a short drive away. I grew up in America, a baby country, where the oldest buildings only really date back to the 1600's. Where the cobbled streets of the Mile and the view from the castle are beautiful to both of us, Matt finds them very nearly business as usual while I believe, quite frankly, they are some of the most amazing things I've ever seen. 

We've both done our share of the "touristy" stuff. We've seen the museums (my favorite of which is the Writers Museum), we've both been to Edinburgh Castle and we've done our fair share of walking along the Royal Mile and Princes Street. However, we each did these separately, before we had even met. 

There are even things I've done that he hasn't. I've even done the Auld Reekie Ghost Tour of the South Bridge Vaults - obviously with my friend Patty and not Matt since he'll have none of that superstitious stuff. However, when we are together in Edinburgh, it's more of an attempt to feel normal than it is be be the explorers we like to see our selves as come summer.

If I'm honest, my trip was filled with more coffee shops and grocery stores (we don't look it, but we love to eat) than with museums and great explorations.

For example our first day out we didn't go terribly far, we just walked briskly through the rain (it rained basically every day - bring an umbrella) towards the Royal Mile to this little place:

The tea, the elephants, the ambience...
The Elephant Cafe is a lovely, albeit very busy at tea time, place to escape from the rain. For those of you who are die hard Harry Potter fans, you may recognize the name. J.K. Rowling made this place famous when it came out that she wrote a good portion of the first Harry Potter book here. 

It's not surprising. You can sit and enjoy the clattering of the kitchens and the murmur of the other customers as long as you like. Not to mention that out the back windows you're offered the most spectacular view of Edinburgh Castle. I mean. Really. Tea and a castle. The first time I experienced it I thought I'd died it was so fabulous.

Once you're done with your tea, if it's not raining, you should really step outside and head a little ways to your right. Just at the street corner you'll find a statue of a little dog called Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby was a Skye Terrier belonging to a man named John Gray a.k.a. Auld Jock. When Auld Jock died Bobby wouldn't leave his side and he spent the remaining 14 years of his life watching over Auld Jock's grave in The Kirk of the Greyfriars churchyard. The church itself is special as it's Edinburgh's first post-reformation church and it's stills standing. 

Just behind the statue of Bobby is the entrance to the graveyard. You can see where Auld Jock and Bobby are buried. Also, if you're so inclined, the grave of a one Tom Riddle is located far in the back. 
I tried to get Matt to go walking there with me, but he just pointed out the weather, said no, and went back to his coffee.
This is the face of a man who takes his warmth very seriously, if nothing else.
This picture was taken less than a five minute walk behind Matt's apartment complex...

It's unfortunate that moving pictures don't exist because the rolling of the fog was gorgeous :P
These are the hills around Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park. In fact, when I lived here, this was just outside my own door. Amazing really to think that Holyrood Park and the Palace that's on it's grounds was only a five minute walk away. Also, when I lived there, it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure that out. It's easy to take it for granted when it's right outside your door - which, of course, is something we all know in theory but never really take to heart or do anything about.

It's not that you have to look very hard to see what makes Edinburgh special. World Heritage Sites aren't chosen randomly. They're chosen because each site has something meaningful about it, whether it's immediately tangible or not. Running around the city with Matt we were complaining about the cold, trying to escape the rain and focusing on life rather than our surroundings mostly. I just snapped pictures occasionally while we both wondered at what time it would be appropriate to request that we stop this exploring and go get some tea.

Sometimes, however, it's the rush pictures snapped in these moments that make you wonder.

This is Victoria Street. I've actually seen pictures similar pictures on the internet. That's why, when we went past one day, I wanted to snap this picture. I'd like to stress that I never really looked at the pictures while I was taking it, or even the street itself. Looking at it not though, it's everything you could want and more from Edinburgh: the sun finally pushing through rain clouds, old buildings that have been around for centuries with the brand new painted store fronts bringing a splash of modern colour to the otherwise drab looking bricks In the back, the "New" College buildings are just towering over the city, reminding everyone in Edinburgh that, more than anything else, the city's purpose is education and building the new from the old.

Even when we decided to be tourists for the day, we didn't pay much attention to where we were headed. It's all second nature to us now. We cut through the Old College area, simply because it was a good shortcut from Matt's flat to the Royal Mile. I did have the wherewithal to snap a picture of Mcewan Hall although I didn't think about the fact that you kind of have to be a student to see the splendor that resides inside. 

Beautiful as it is, I think most people who take exams here might think otherwise..
We then made our way down past Greyfriars and over George the IV Bridge to get to the Royal Mile. I have to mention that this was just the quickest way for us. This way will take you past a lot of the shops and street performers that the Mile has to offer and they're really something you shouldn't miss.

As I said before, we also didn't go into the Castle. We'd done it before and we didn't have the £14 extra each that we would have needed. But that didn't mean that we couldn't enjoy the views of the city from the parking lot ( I was trying to think of a better more glamorous word for what it might have been once but now it's a parking lot). From the right, you can see all of the New Town. Everything beyond the absolute frenzy of Princes Street is considered "new" and, looking at it from the top of world- which is indeed what it feels like at the castle- you can see it sparkle even in the rain. From the left, it's everything old, and though it doesn't sparkle, the little city nestled in the scottish hills is most beautiful from here.

But you already know what I think is most beautiful anyway
After  our obligatory stop at the Castle we stuck down a side street - a VERY STEEP - side street, almost died, and made our way to Princes Street. To do this we made our way over The Mound. Officially opened in the late 1700's. It was created with the earth the needed to be removed to create New Town. This is where that New College building, with it's imposing spires, lives along with several other important buildings. Not that you really think about it as you're just "passing through". 

Right on The Mound, and next to Princes Street Gardens we found our World Heritage Site marker. 

I'd hate to mention how many times I have walked past this during my time in Edinburgh. Mostly because I can't believe I never knew it was there. It's kind of massive. I suppose it's just another one of those things. You'll never notice it unless you make yourself notice.

The National Gallery of Scotland is right next to the marker on the  Mound, and we did pop inside just for a bit. I'm slightly ashamed to say, however, that we couldn't really stay interested. All of the work is gorgeous, don't get me wrong. But it's that antsy quality that overcomes you when you're "home". There's always something more important to do. For me, that was cupcakes. 

My favorite cupcakes of ALL TIME are located in Edinburgh and I know it's not terribly important to it  being a World Heritage Site but it's incredibly important to us calling it home. Also, Matt had no idea about them.

Bibi's cupcakes are amazing. Period. They only have 3 shops in the world and one of them in Edinburgh. So just go. It's right off Princes Street on Hanover Street. You can't miss it. Just go.

The only thing I was more excited about this trip was Matt.
After obtaining the cupcakes we saw no reason to remain in the cold and decided to just head on home. We walked through Princes Street Gardens and passed the Sir Walter Scott Memorial (you can go into it somehow but I've never figured it out). Then we cut through all of our little short cuts to find our way home.
Let's pretend this is just me being artsy and not just because
I forgot my camera and couldn't get the whole thing...
I feel a slight twinge of guilt thinking about it now. I know that Edinburgh has more to offer than we ever really give it credit for but, how are you supposed to change your perception of home? It's only distance that can do the trick, really. Try as I might, Victoria Street will just be a street with shops I might need to stop in and not a beautiful example of architecture, until I look at it in a picture.

Anyway, I think perhaps it's a lesson best taken another way. It's important to pay attention to the amazing things you're seeing but it's more important to take travel as an experience shared. So, while we rushed past the Mound and walked over centuries old streets at a brisk, unappreciative pace just to get home, it doesn't mean we didn't enjoy the city or more importantly, that week. And I have to say, that if I could go back and do it all again, I'd still leave Edinburgh to itself and just enjoy being at home...

Because this is the best place.

Matt & Taylor, Edinburgh Castle - October 2012

xx T

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