Monday, October 26, 2009

Ach eye the noo.

‘It’s shite being Scottish.’ Heard this before? Well you’ve obviously read Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting – a brilliant novel focusing on a group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh during the late ‘80s. Up until now it was the only point of reference I had to Scotland, and a fairly bleak one at that.

It came as somewhat of a surprise then when I found myself on an overnight bus headed for Scotland’s capital with only a small backpack for a final three-day fling before heading home to Australia.

It’s a long 9-hour trip from London, but the fare is cheap and also saves on the cost of accommodation for a night. As is my luck, I had the misfortune to be seated next to an Indian man who thought it was absolutely necessary to talk on his mobile phone while the rest of the bus tried to sleep. He continued a conversation for the next hour or so and it took every ounce of strength not to stuff the ruddy Nokia into his mouth. Instead I put my headphones on my ears, covered my head in my jacket and prayed that his phone ran out of battery before my iPod did. Luckily for him, I managed to nod off to sleep and soon woke at 8am to find myself freezing cold in the middle of Edinburgh.

It really is a charming city, built on the site of an extinct volcano, it has a dark history of war, witch hunts and plenty of whisky. The old part of town has wide cobbled roads all leading off the ‘Royal Mile’ which runs directly through the city from Holyrood Palace all the way to the Edinburgh castle. Surrounding the city is a wall of green hills and rocky outcrops, it gave me a strange feeling of having stepped back in time to the 1800s.

Some interesting first impressions were the realisation that every second shop on the Royal Mile sells tartan something (whether authentic or otherwise), taxi cab drivers have sadistic desires to run people over and you can almost bet you’ll bump into a Buck’s/Hen’s party staggering down the street at 3 in the afternoon.

Luckily first impressions are occasionally wrong.

It was too early to check into our hostel so we thought we’d replenish our energy stores with a hearty Scottish breakfast. We found a small restaurant on the Royal Mile offering a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, mushrooms and haggis for a mere 5 quid. It sounded promising. My travel companion at the time had never heard of Haggis, but I assured her she would enjoy it. The meal came and we devoured it quickly, although I managed to craftily conceal my portion of haggis under my napkin. Once plates were clean my friend turned to me and said ‘Haggis is just like meat pie! What’s it made of?’ I proceeded to inform her of what she had just consumed and needless to say she looked a little green for the rest of the day.

Full of food we decided to take a free walking tour of the city to get our bearings. Our tour guide led us past the usual tourist attractions: the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, Endinburgh Castle and a seemingly endless row of pubs. Images of the next three days started playing out in my head: dark corners, strong whisky, drunken lullabies.

That evening we decided to explore the city some more by taking part in a ghost tour. I was in the mood for getting the pants frightened off me. I’d already downed a couple of drams of Jameson and I was feeling nice and warm in an oversized coat. Our guide was a big giant of man with a grizzly beard (who else to take you on a ghost tour?) and I held hopes of this being a good night. Unfortunately the tour did not have the zing I was looking for. Maybe this is because my idea of a ghost tour involved of us being thrown into the moors ala ‘American Werewolf in Paris’ and having our scary guide tell us bone-chilling tales of murder and poltergeists whilst unknown creatures howled at us from across the marshes. However we did get to explore some graveyards by night albeit with traffic tooting in the background (way to spoil the mood, car.)

The following day we decided to hike up Arthur’s seat, which is situated in Hollyrood Park about 10 minutes walk from the centre of Edinburgh. It was a beautiful day and the walk was spectacular. We joined other tourists, locals and dogs as we made our way up the steep crags to the highest point in the area.

It took a little over an hour and a half but the view was worth the trek. The view is spectacular and you really get a good idea of the layout of central Edinburgh all the way down to the ports of Leith. The grey buildings are surprisingly far from being an eyesore and if anything I find it an endearing quality of the town.

For me Edinburgh was only a small sample of what Scotland has to offer. Unfortunately time restrictions meant that I was unable to explore further north to the Scottish Highlands. However I’ve had a taste (not Haggis) for Tartans and Whisky and shall one day return again. Ach Eye!