Sunday, March 04, 2007

Edinburgh

On Thursday, when I told my B&B host in Galway that I was headed next to Edinburgh, his whole face lit up. “I’m from Edinburgh,” he said. “You’ll love it there. It’s beautiful. It’s—like Paris.” It was a bold statement. I was ready to see if it were true.

Getting to Edinburgh—more specifically, to my B&B in Edinburgh—was the part of this trip I’d been dreading. First, a bus from Galway to the Shannon airport; then a flight to Edinburgh; then a bus—some kind of bus—from that airport into the city center; then, somehow, finding my B&B which was a little outside the center. However, all went smoothly, I found my way, and soon I was on the B&B’s doorstep, proudly ringing the bell. Then ringing again, and again. It was dark by now—nearly 8pm—and I had no cash and no cell phone. But before I could work myself up into a frenzy of fallback plans, the B&B owner came apologizing through the front gate. Then I really was inside, in a beautiful, ornately ceilinged, and very chilly room. Edinburgh.

The next morning, I was served a hearty Scottish breakfast at the B&B—bacon, a fried egg, fried mushrooms, a grilled tomato, baked beans, cereal, toast, orange juice, and coffee. I thought I was the only guest but two men came to the breakfast room later. One requested no egg with his breakfast; the other said he wanted nothing related to either meat or dairy. The B&B woman looked at him blankly. “The mushrooms are cooked in butter,” she said. “Is that okay?” The man said no. “I don’t know how I’d cook them without butter,” she said, genuinely puzzled. The man suggested olive oil. I found the whole exchange funny.

Fortified, if a bit overfull, I set out to explore. Unlike in Galway, I had a long list of sights to see and places to visit; I started at the castle, a dark looming monstrosity that overlooks the entire city. My first thought at seeing the Old City was—this is not like Paris. The Old City is beautiful, but in an entirely different way than Paris. There were no small tables and woven chairs crowding the sidewalks, no exquisitely formed wrought-iron balconies, no wide lovely boulevards or romantic streetlights. Instead there were narrow streets and even narrower hidden stairways and doorways, all shadowed by tall, dark-stoned buildings and that looming castle. It’s said that Edinburgh is one of the most haunted cities in the world, and indeed it did feel that way. My first night there, I even had a terrifying dream in which a ghostly woman stood over me in my bed at the B&B, then touched me on my hip to wake me up—I woke up ready to scream. It didn’t help that though the day started sunny, the cool shadows and gray clouds soon overtook the sky, leading to an afternoon and evening of cold rain.

I saw a lot in this haunted city: the castle, several museums, the Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyrood. I had soup for lunch and tea for a break from the rain and takeaway fish and chips before I joined a walking tour that night called the “City of the Dead.” The tour is the only one in Edinburgh to have access to an area within the Greyfriars Cemetery that has the most recorded incidents of paranormal activity in the world—over the past few years, hundreds of tour-takers have reported burns, bites, and bruises, and nearly two hundred have been knocked unconscious during the tour. I felt primed to have an “interaction,” as the guide called it, especially after my creepy dream the night before; but the poltergeist was quiet that night, and our tour ended without incident (to everyone’s disappointment). An interesting side note to the tour—our guide pointed out an apartment window that overlooked the cemetery and told us this was where J.K. Rowling lived when she wrote the first Harry Potter book. Beyond the cemetery, well within her view, is an immense and amazing castlelike boarding school, much like Hogwarts. Interesting to see where her inspiration may have come from.

The next day I walked miles—through several more museums, then through the New Town, and then more exploring in the Old Town. I had a beer at Greyfriars Bobby, a pub dedicated to a small dog who, according to legend, kept vigil on his master’s grave in the nearby Greyfriars Cemetery for fourteen years. Again, the day started sunny but cold, then turned to rain later in the day. I ended the day, legs aching, with a Nepalese dinner near the B&B, feeling relieved that I could head home now but also happy that the trip had been a success, that I got to see two new countries and add another notch to my “solo travel” belt.

Incidentally, this is also officially the end of the crazy mish-mash of one-way tickets and carefully timed return flights that began when I headed to the U.S. for Thanksgiving. I've finally thrown away the last of my stack of flight-information printouts; and now a new wave of trips (and there are many to come in the months ahead) can begin.

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