Edinburgh – the tale of two cities
On Saturday morning we left Glencoe for Edinburgh. It had been raining all day, on Friday, ending our lucky spell of eight days of perfect sunshine. It just stopped long enough on Saturday morning for us to put our luggage in the car and take a few photos of the surrounding hills.
Drive to Edinburgh was most beautiful so far. As soon as we left Glencoe we were greeted by lush green valleys, hills with countless waterfalls and green carpeted pastures dotted with white sheep. At one place water was gushing out from earth, a natural spring, other places lakes would appear out of nowhere.
There were a number of stops to admire the view but we resisted to at most of them. The car we hired was due for return at mid-day and if we tried to stop at frequently we wouldn’t have made it in time.
At Edinburgh we deposited our luggage at the bus stop locker and went on to find a petrol station to fill the car. The Google map took us around the whole Edinburgh city and still couldn’t get us to a petrol station. Half an hour later we spotted one and filled the car.
After returning the car we made out way to a café close to our accommodation and had coffee and the best salad in the whole trip.
The accommodation we were staying in was our first ever Airbnb, which turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. Walking distance to city, Calton Hill and many good restaurants it had sunny rooms and a good selection of books.
After resting for a little while we went on to explore the city. It seemed like the whole city was invaded by the tourists.
We walked up the Royal Mile which has Holyrood palace on one end and the fortress of Edinburgh Castle on the other. Totally a touristy place, the Royal mile had bagpipers playing, and street artists performing all the way to the castle. The platform in front of the castle was being prepared for some sort of a military parades. Signboards told us that at one time it was site of execution for hundreds of women charged for practicing witchcraft.
I was not too much off the mark in thinking that Edinburgh architecture is both enchanting and striking at the same time. The Little Book of Edinburgh, which I found in the bookshelf of our accommodation had the following account on the very first page.
These two quotes perfectly sum up Edinburgh.
The most beautiful of all the capitol of Europe.Sir John Betjeman, First and Last Loves (1952)
This accursed, stinking, reeky mass of stones and line and dung.Thomas Carlyle, letter to his brother (1821)
It is spectacularly beautiful, combining a dramatic natural landscape of hills, valleys and the cone of an extinct volcano with an architectural heritage so glorious that it has more listed buildings than anywhere in the UK outside London.
At the same time there is grimness to the place, a secret, gritty history of dark deeds and squalor. It is this combination – beauty and the beast, if you like – that makes Edinburgh so utterly fascinating, so beguiling.
One of Edinburgh’s most famous son, Robert Louis Stevenson, knew this better than anyone. His novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, about two conflicting personalities inhabiting the same body, is a virtual metaphor for his native city. Edinburgh is a ‘tale of two cities’, or rather many different tales.
In the evening we went up the Calton Hill which has Nelson’s monument which is a telescope shaped building, an Athens style National Monument to commemorate the Scottish soldiers which didn’t get completed because of lack of funds and Collective a new kind of city observatory (a birthplace of astronomy and time keeping in Edinburgh).
Most interesting of these is the Nelson monument which has a time ball on it (a wooden ball with gets dropped each day a 1pm to allow the ship captains to synchronize their chromometers). This was a great idea until they realized that the ball is not visible on foggy day, which started the tradition of firing an 18-pound loaded canon known as ‘one o’ clock gun’ – which still sounds everyday (except Sundays) telling the Edinburgh people it is lunch time.
More stories about Edinburgh and also about Highlands and London including the ones about the London Eye Westminster I promised in my last post in future posts.