Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Reunion with Edinburgh

Aaron had a conference to go to at the University of Edinburgh on Thursday November 6 , so I went with him and had a day on my own in the city. For those of you who may not know, for years I have considered Edinburgh to be my favorite city in the world, and when Aaron asked me that evening, when we had met up for a pub dinner before catching our train back to Glasgow, if I had enjoyed my day, I had to say that it was like meeting up again with someone you love dearly that you haven’t seen for 12 years.

The last time I was in Edinburgh, I had been visiting my friend Glenn who was living there. That was in August of 1996. I remember clearly the day I left the city on the bus, pulling out of the station and being hit with a tragic feeling that I would never see the city again, or else not for a very long time. Because of this, I have to confess to superstitiously worrying that some catastrophe would befall Aaron and I before we got to the city for this long awaited visit. So as we were approaching Waverley Station and the train was chuffing slowly below the castle, I couldn’t quite believe that I was there. That feeling of dreaming or disbelief gradually melted over the course of the day, but it gave the first few hours a floaty kind of quality.

I walked with Aaron and his fellow students to the Uni so I’d know where to meet them later and then struck off on my own. I had a strong instinct to go to Calton Hill first. Edinburgh has numerous hills, where views of the city are both tremendous and helpful in orienting yourself. I had hoped I might be able to see the sea but the day proved just too misty to see very far. It wasn’t actually raining but everything was wet. By the time I climbed the hill I needed to sit for a minute and have a bite of ginger shortbread and Ribena for refreshment, and the only place to sit that wasn’t completely soaking was a cement block with some old stones around it. After my snack and rest, I wandered over to the side of the hill that looks out over the centre of the city and from where you can see the whole Royal Mile, the street that descends from the castle to Hollyrood Palace at the bottom of the ridge. Behind this is the large hill that juts out into the city known as Arthur’s Seat. It was completely invisible through the fog but as I watched, the mist lifted and by the time I was ready to leave it had been completely and somewhat magically revealed.

I was kind of bent on revisiting places I had been with Glenn, and the last place he lived while I was there was below Calton Hill in the New Town. So I walked down that way to look for a place to eat lunch and happened, by some freaky coincidence, to come across the Blue Moon cafe where Glenn told me he had worked some years after I visited him. The waiter there remembered him though it had been 7 years since he’d worked there. Small world.

The next few hours were filled with a series of wanderings through the New Town back toward Princes Street, through the public gardens and a long but rewarding walk up a switchback-y path up to the castle. By the time I got up there, I was so tired that I sat on a bench and almost fell asleep. I toyed with the idea of actually going into the castle since I have never actually done that, but I decided to save it for a time with Aaron or maybe other visitors.

Now I was at the top of the Royal Mile and back in the Old Town. It was roughly 2pm and it hadn’t actually rained yet, and given the sodden air that was astounding. Another reason I didn’t go into the castle this time: I wasn’t driven in by the rain. Instead I kept walking, passing through St. Giles cathedral, which in some form or other has stood on the Royal Mile for a thousand years, and then on to the Meadows or Middle Meadow Walk (I love that name), which has an avenue of trees that, when I had visited many springs ago, was exploding with pink blossoms, and now in the fall was turning yellow and rusty red. Along side the walk is a rambling old Victorian building (maybe older) which I’m fairly sure used to be an infirmary but is now being turned into condos. I couldn’t tell if they were planning to knock it down and build a big modern sterile looking glass building (like the picture on fence showed) or if they were going to keep some of the original architecture. It was the first time it occurred to me that even a place like Edinburgh, which clearly values its heritage buildings, is prey to developers, to allowing buildings to fall into disrepair perhaps past the stage of salvageability, and to ... change and evolution. I mean I know businesses come and go; most of the places I used to go to had been replaced, but the buildings were still there. Later in a bookshop, I came across a book called Lost Edinburgh, which acknowledged not only recent changes but buildings and sites that had been lost over the course of the past 800 years, with changes and developments. I think it is Sir Walter Raleigh’s grave that is now just a small yellow triangle in a parking lot beside St. Giles cathedral. I couldn’t even find that this time. But still there is a such a palpable sense in the city of a presence of history, a valued history that though it may also be exploited through a variety of spooky ghost tours (some of which are full of really interesting if horrific stories), it is in any case not forgotten. There are random plaques on sides of buildings marking the site of the last public execution or of witch trials or where Samuel Johnson ate dinner once, etc. I guess that’s why I love it so much. It feeds my imagination like nothing else. There are so many stories linked to every place. The cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book (where I confess I took shelter from the rain just because it was such a nice cafe, REALLY!) has windows that look over the graveyard where the Greyfriar’s Bobby is buried.

At the end of the day, I went back to the Geography building to meet Aaron. We were both fascinated by these small trees near the gate that were in bloom with delicate pink flowers that had a beautiful smell. IN BLOOM, people! Things are blooming here in November! Sorry but after the past winter I had in Ottawa I’m a bit blown away by the growing season here. But I digress.
We finished off our day in Edinburgh at a pub called The Advocate, which I was attracted to because during my very first visit to the city in 1993, my friend Christie was working at a pub by the same name. Where the pub was when she worked there was gone, the building had been demolished, so this one might have been a new incarnation of the same place. Nice pub, and great food. Fish and chips with real mushy peas, and a venison, juniper and gin sausage with Yorkshire Pud. A fine end to a fine day. The only thing that would have crowned it with glory is if I could have had just a wee half pint of cider and blackcurrent or one of the many fine, fine ales they have here. But we’ll get to that later...

Pics: Me on Calton Hill, View of Princes Street and the Castle from Calton Hill

More Edinburgh Pics to follow...


Scott Sharplin said...

You look so excited in that photo. Are you rubbing your hands with psychotic glee, or because the mist is chilly?

shira said...

What a lovely post. I'm so glad that you had that day. Sometimes I dream and dream of certain places in Edinburgh that I visited, and it hurts not to be there!
Lots of love to you.