July 2019. I arrived in Edinburgh from Spain. First on the agenda was grocery shopping and laundry, but soon I was ready to get out of my AirBnB and experience this fabulous city.
I walked to the Royal Mile, ground zero for tourists here. It’s called this because it has the Edinburgh Castle on one end at the top of a large outcrop, Castle Rock. This had been the home of Scottish Kings and Queens of times gone by. The mile ends downhill on the other end with Holyroodhouse Palace, the residence of Queen Elizabeth when she is here (not to be confused with Balmoral, her beloved highland home).
On Royal Mile, a tourist will find everything they might want: cashmere and tweeds, kilts and family crests (to prove one is Scottish), Harry Potter walking tours and memorabilia, witches and warlocks, high tea and scones, haggis and dark beers, bagpipes and harps.
It’s clear the authorities take terrorism very seriously, with barricades all along the Royal Mile. The street was crowded with people speaking many languages and can be especially intense on a nice day. None-the-less, I enjoyed the stimulation, returning to my AirBnB satiated and tired.
My travel interest is history, so the next day I went to Edinburgh Castle. I’ve had a long-standing curiosity about the Stone of Destiny, used for centuries in the coronation of Scottish kings. The audio tour provided ample evidence that England and Scotland have been at war many times in their long history, with the English winning in the end (or at least to this point). They took the Stone of Destiny to London, and installed it under the throne where English kings and queens have been crowned for centuries: a sign of domination or inclusion? In 1996 Queen Elizabeth finally allowed the Stone to come back to Edinburgh Castle, though it must be returned for future British coronations.
While I’m sure Scottish people do visit the castle, the majority of people there were tourists, all eager to learn about the Scottish kingdom through a visit here. I did walk away with a good deal of information about the castle, and satisfied my curiosity about the Stone of Destiny.
After that, I toured underground Edinburgh with a visit to the Mary King Close. In 1753, the city government needed space for the City Chambers. They decided to build atop a series of very narrow alleys called closes with seven and eight story residences. Removing the top stories and leaving the bottom two, they created a sturdy base for their massive building. Only recently have the remaining structures been rediscovered and brought to life in tours. Seeing the actual rooms accompanied by actual stories of life in the closes brought historical Edinburgh to life for me. And even though I learned more than I wanted about the two strains of plague that tormented the city in 1645, I highly recommend this tour for history buffs.
On my way home, I passed by the café where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter, the street filled with tourists taking photos (like me). I resolved to do something different the next day. I was lucky enough to have booked an AirBnB right next to The Meadows, a large park near the University of Edinburgh.
It was sunny and in the mid-70’s Fahrenheit, a pleasant day for sunning, biking, walking and enjoying the outside. For city folk, this is often as close as they get to nature. Pale locals exposed their white skin to the sun for a bit of a tan, spread out on the grass, a blanket, or even an air mattress. Some napped or read; others talked in small groups, or cuddled with their partners.
For the most part, the walkways through The Meadows were planted with trees for shade. Care-takers pushed people in wheel-chairs through the park and parents pushed strollers. Dog-owners played fetch with their pets. People ate lunch on benches. Locals cutting through the park took off their shoes and walked barefoot in the grass.
Mothers and fathers played with their children. I saw a couple attempting to teach the finer points of Frisbee to their grandson. A dad had packed a picnic lunch for his three children and ran about playing soccer with them. A large group of moms with toddlers had gathered, strollers circled around like wagons in a Western movie.
A crew of young men was grilling something fabulous smelling. They ran the risk of being caught and driven off, as grilling is not allowed in this portion of The Meadows. They must not have cared because the amount of smoke they were producing might have called a fire truck.
I especially enjoyed the smell of cut grass. Somehow, cut grass does not have the same fragrance in Hawaii where I live.
I was so happy and peaceful. I learned long ago that being in nature is critical to recharging. And I found at least one real place in Edinburgh, with real Scots. It wasn’t totally representative as the crowd skewed younger due to the park’s proximity to the University. But I enjoyed this so much after several days crowded with tourists. I fully relaxed in the sun surrounded by locals. I found my happy place.
For other essays about my summer 2019 Europe trip see:
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