Scotland in winter - a new home. Brrr.
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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It's surprising to think that I've been based in Edinburgh for only six weeks - it seems a lot longer because it's been one whirlwind of activity around a lot of solid hard work in my new job (that, for once, has been the main focus of my existence!). Even in winter there's a lot to do and see here which makes time fly. All in all I'm very glad to be back here once again and I think I might even prefer it to London. More on that later...
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, the traditionally troublesome northern part of the United Kingdom, and now home to a reasonably new Scottish Parliament. 600,000 of Scotland's 5 million or so inhabitants live here and to generalise it is the home of Scottish 'old money', whereas Glasgow, around 70 miles away, is the larger, glitzier and more fast-paced upstart rival. Think old-school Melbourne versus a racy Sydney in the Australian context and you apparently have a pretty accurate picture.
The city's long history and establishment culture are truly bourne out in the style and mood of the place. Filled to brimming with grand squares, dozens of intricately crowned and spired churches, and in general some quite spectacular Georgian-era architecture - it really is a very classy place. I did notice some of this the first time around, but now I've covered a lot more of the city in my search for housing, the expansive extent of Edinburgh's wealth and breeding (especially in the northern part of the city) has become very much more apparent.
Which is the style I found myself becoming accustomed to on first arriving here - shacked up in a stately old building that the Hilton Caledonian has taken over - that sits in the shadow of the Castle and which is very central to everything. Next up it was a tasty serviced apartment called EQ2 down the road in Tollcross, an area much like Newtown or Redfern (Sydney-wise), but with the newly renovated Union Canal running through it. With the new development here it's a similar feel to Darling Harbour in Sydney, but even so, with the canal boats lined up here Mum and Dad would have loved it. Compared to backpacker hostels and some of the temporary accommodations I found myself in whilst in London, this was living! There was even a local Cargo Bar to really remind me of home.
Being the largest and highest of all the grand buildings here means 'The Castle' is the focus of town. It's an unusual collection of very un-castle-like buildings perched atop a craggy bluff right in the centre of town. Sydney Opera House, eat your heart out. Leading up to it from the palace of Holyrood is another tourist must see - the Royal Mile - a crooked and ancient road with steep and narrow pedestrian 'closes' that finger off it, like ribs do a spine.
There's also the highly rated Scottish Museum, Holyrood Palace, the eerily paved-over Mary Kings Close, quaint Dean Village (along the cutely-named Water of Leith), and the climb up Arthur's Seat that are other big drawcards here. However due to the elements at this time of year (mainly dark and windy) I haven't really done any of them, which is why they aren't pictured above. Instead I've spent my little spare time learning the way of the locals by focussing on some excellent nightlife, groovy food (Haggis and tatties!) and an array of mellow Bitter beers. I can't tell you about any of the ticket items yet - they will have to wait for later entries - perhaps when old Swedish mate Olof comes to visit over new year.
One sight I saw and was surprised by is the abovementioned and funky new Scottish Parliament, located near Holyrood Palace, on the eastern end of town. It's only a recent addition in the last few years, probably around when I last visited, but somehow I must have missed it then. Rather unusual indeed, I can't tell you much more about it than the photos above suggest, but I might have a way to bust in there and get some photos so we'll see how that goes.
Something I have made time for, and hence a major highlight of my first month here, has been getting out for a couple o' wee rounds of traditional Scottish golf. The first was at an excellent public course overlooking Edinburgh called The Braids and despite the hilly hole layouts and some really mean and prickly rough, I had an admirable round. Locals Tony and Jacques (maybe not so local then) took me under the wing (after they found me hitting the wrong way off the second tee) and we all had good rounds hitting around the 90 mark. Not bad at all for only my second hit back after more than a year off.
The other was a bus ride out of town, maybe 30km eastwards, to an old establishment links course called Gullane (pron. Gull'n). Playing with three Scots who all hit off handicaps of 2 or 3, it was an amazing round in the wind dodging gnarly old pot bunkers, gnarlier tufts of roughie grass and even the occasional giant seagull, whilst dropping long range puts here and there (much to my partners chagrin).
I had some blistering winning holes mid-way around but my stamina and hence consistency faltered later on. Oh well, it was great to play one of these classic Scottish courses and I was glad to hear that apparently winter is no real barrier to play so hopefully I'll play some more in the depths of winter and into the spring.
Because it looks like I'm here for a duration - at least til April and maybe a little longer. My company has sprung for a very nice 'Mews' flat in central Edinburgh that I now call home and which really gives an idea of the history of the place - despite it now containing all the mod cons. It's situated on a cobbled alley between two very prestigious roads (the Royal Circus and Heriot Row) and what makes these Mews houses historically interesting is that they were the carriagehouses of a bygone era, where the gentry's coachmen lived and housed their grand rolling stock.
Hence all the huge garage doors along the way. Not much traffic comes up the lane so if you close your eyes and let your senses roam free you can just imagine the tang of horse dung on your nostrils and the boisterous calls of the neighbourhood's inhabitants mixing with the clatter of hooves and steel banded-wheels up the laneway as the carriages flew by in response to the call of their masters. Bizarre but pretty cool when you think about it.
Anyway, my fortunes have certainly changed in the past few months. From the crazed traveller in search of work and a home in a new country I've come a long way. However in other ways I digress, finding myself almost back to where I started more than a year ago - albeit on the other side of the globe.
Have I sold out in taking the high road and then returning to the tedium of the IT industry? Or have I just shed some of my youthful idealism, replacing it with a more hardened and 'mature' realism? The answer to both is probably, because I don't really have too many new answers now that I've come full circle - except a new resolution to make the most of my time here in Europe doing and seeing new things, using work as a means to the end of doing just that.