Bagpipes, Kilts and Stout

Trip Start May 31, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, April 7, 2007

We took a coastal highway to be able to enjoy the view of the sea as we continued to travel north.  Among the seascapes and greenscapes we came to England's frontiers and stumbled unto Scotland almost without noticing it.  
I've always had a romanticized image of Scotland, with its lonely Highland castles and its countrymen fighting savagely for the honour of their nation.  For some reason Scotland for me has always been a headstrong country with charismatic people, with a very rich history, and a culture and heritage like no other.  I've always felt Scotsmen to be proud and jealous patriots, wearing their clan's tartan with the utmost dignity and pleasure. Now that we were headed towards Edinburgh it was time to find out if our preconceptions were true. 
We had been in the car for most of the day so far even though it was an exceptionally sunny day without a single cloud in the way, which for these northern parts was a lot to ask for.  Nevertheless we wanted to reach Edinburgh before nightfall to be able to walk around a bit and find lodging for the two nights we were going to spend here. 
Now, it has always been my personal observation that the outskirts of any city are usually quite dodgy -where factories, warehouses and plants are usually located- and should not represent of the general aspect or image of the entire city.  However, this was completely untrue as we entered Edinburgh.  The outskirts of this city were clean and tidy, the testaceous houses and its driveways decorated with hedges and flower bushes, the streets were lined with tall trees and the pavement looked almost untouched. 
As we entered the busier parts of town the buildings started to get fancier, older but more refined.  Buses, cars and tons of people were on the streets enjoying the sunny Saturday of this Easter weekend. We came upon the Old Town, the centre of Edinburgh and the touristiest part from what we could quickly gather. 
We were absolutely dazzled when we came upon Edinburgh Castle which dominated the skyline for the entire view. Sitting atop a rocky hill proud and impenetrable looking over the entire capital of Scotland, it was more of a fort than a castle, large enough to house an entire army.  I can say with complete conviction that this was the most impressive landmark I've seen in any city so far.  One can only imagine the stories those walls have to tell.
We parked the car and began touring Old Town on foot but soon realized we were going to get hopelessly lost without at least a map.  There was a tourist information point which turned out to be quite disappointing as they only had books and maps, but no one to answer our questions.  Nonetheless we purchased an incredible overpriced map and moved on.

Turns out the first buildings in Edinburgh were constructed around the castle fort and gradually spread downwards on the ridges of the rocky hill called Castle Rock.  We climbed uphill on a wide cobblestone street, called the Royal Mile, filled with tiny souvenir shops selling kilts or every plaid color imaginable.  There were traditional pubs which looked to be older than the city itself and we even passed a Scotch whiskey bar where tourists could taste the different types available.  Chocolate shops and old tea houses serving scons on white china placed on laced tablecloths. White crossed blue flags lined the streets and every shop, pub, restaurant and museum. 

We continued walking and in the far distance, I could hear the high pitched hum of bagpipes which made my skin contract with goosebumps.  I“ve always been a sucker for bagpipes and men in skirts: they look so elegant in their traditional attire. 

We came upon a tiny fountain on a wall which attracted my attention: it was a snake twisting around the necks of two women, one young and the other haggard. The inscription read that this was the site were many witches were burned at the stake, some innocent and some others evil.

The sun had just barely started to go down and the shadows were growing longer, but oddly enough it was almost 7 pm.  There was almost a 1.5 hour difference from the time the sun started going down in London.  This meant we had quite a bit of time to keep exploring Old Town of Edinburgh. 

We couldn“t help ourselves when we passed by a very old looking pub so we entered the low roofed place to sit for a cool refreshment.  Ed had his Guinness which took the bar maiden about 15 minutes to serve because of the foam which ended up being thick and heavy, exactly as its supposed to be.  Ed mentioned it tasted nicer too. 

After our beers we walked around Greyfriars Cemetery which turned out to be a hangout for the local goth kids making a racket on the old tombs, smoking, drinking, and most probably desecrating the resting places of those who were resting.  The gravestones and sepulchers were blackened and worn, but one could still see the dates and inscriptions on them.  Saints, skeletons, angels, Celtic crosses, and coat of arms were popular here as in every other cemetery, but with a twist of Scott.

It was time to find a hotel and after a bit of research on the Satellite Navigation we found another Premier Inn hotel 6 miles out of Edinburgh which sounded perfect compared to the overpriced guest houses in Old Town.

As we drove out Ed and I discussed how we had come closer to understanding what being Scottish was all about by just walking through the streets and observing the people.  Most were more helpful than in England and were more open and warm, with a bright sense of humor and a passion for laughing and having a good time.  Yup, not at all unlike the patriots of yore.  And tomorrow we would do it all over again.

Parking £4.50
Map £8.50
Pints £6.20
Food at Supermarket £6.30
Hotel for 2 nights £132.00
Internet Card £3.00
Total spent £160.50
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