Thursday, April 22, 2010

Edinburgh, Scotland: Great Anecdotes and Monuments for Poets

After an insane set of trials and tribulations to get back to Norway I have finally arrived. It was an effort to return from Croatia as of course the Iceland volcano with the absurdly long name decided to erupt. I figure I will leave that tale for the blog which I will be writing on Croatia because it is quite the tale I must say. It is a great relief to be back in Oslo, and the warm feelings I got arriving back solidified the fact that Oslo is my European home. I was considering that when I am traveling in the summer it will be interesting because I won't really have a home, but more or less just shuffle from place to place. Right now it's about 10 after 7 in Oslo and it's interesting to note that when I first arrived it would be pitch black outside right now. However, it doesn't get dark now until a little after 9 and I can only imagine that it probably bright all night in the summer. As an English major this makes me think of my perception itself being personified through the weather. This is because of the fact that everything is becoming more clear and brighter the longer that I am in Oslo. But of course I am being a little bit of a nerd and should probably move on. I will write one last night note which has just occurred to me as I look out the window. It's almost mind blowing to look out the window and see the transformation that is taking place in Norway in terms of weather. For some reason I just assumed that it would continue to be a winter wonderland and I would never see any green. Despite the fact that I went skiing a little more than a week ago, Norway is indeed becoming green, and is allowing for all the international students to leave their caves and come out of their long hibernation. Before I start I should reiterate that my blog will be long, but it seems redundant as all my blog posts seem to be of the lengthy variety.Edinburgh is an absolutely magnificent city. It is a city with a strong presence in the sense that you are constantly reminded that this city is of world class proportions. I previously stated that it's difficult to gauge or crown my favorite city within Europe, but it is difficult for me to say that this isn't it. Edinburgh has a dynamic mix of exciting nightlife, beautiful scenery surrounding the city, impressive architecture, lengthy history and the cherry on top being the imposing Edinburgh Castle which lies in the middle of the city. Personally, I also had a great time because I was staying with a friend at the University of Edinburgh who had come to visit me in Oslo previously. I think the key word there is "personally" because your own experience within a city obviously has a great impact or your impression of it. For example, I know people who didn't particularly like Vienna because they went during the week and found it a little bit quiet, but I found it to be a city full of life on the weekend. Also, surely if you encountered any issues with theft or pickpocketing in a city it would in some way taint your perception.

I arrived in Edinburgh a little bit tired after the mayhem of Dublin and met up with Kevin who was there with open arms. We were both a little exhausted so decided to catch a movie. I found it interesting that you actually had to reserve a specific seat within the theater. It actually is a great plan because you avoid the mayhem of saving seats, but it's just funny to consider these small differences along the way. I went back to his place after and met all of his housemates who were all really nice people. I was enthused to find that I even had a mattress on the floor waiting for me. I'm totally being serious on that one because I have slept in a million different places while being in Europe, and this option suited me just fine. Plus you definitely can't deny free accommodation while traveling on a budget. I figure that any money saved on accommodation is earned money to be spent on nightlife, or perhaps a souvenir or two. I did a little bit of both in Edinburgh and ended up with the "Mitchell Clan" tartan with a shot glass to match. Dandy Information about the Mitchell Clan:

CLAN: Mitchell
MOTTO: By God's favour I conquer.
CREST: A hand holding a quill.
I personally thought this was fantastic. And really, who is going to mess with a clan that has a motto like that?

We woke up early the next day and went to catch the walking tour with Sandeman's which I previously mentioned. As can be expected, the tour was absolutely fantastic and gave me a basis of knowledge to appreciate the city to the fullest. The tour started on the famous Royal Mile near the Heart of Midlothian. It marks the sight of the 15th century tollbooth which was the administrative center of the town, prison and one of several sites of public execution. In respect to this there is a famous tradition of spitting on the Heart of Midlothian. Some people spit for good luck, but a more popular legend is that it means you will one day return to Edinburgh. Either of these will do fine for me, but I am hoping for the latter as my luck tends to be pretty good. We then walked up the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Castle. You can feel the history looking at this structure. There has been a castle in one form or another on this location since the early 12th century. This can be attributed to the fact that it is truly a perfect location for a castle in terms of visibility and the cliff allow for great potential in terms of defense.

We moved down towards the Grass Market to get food for lunch. After our initial lunch, which was surprisingly good, (Cranberry, Brie and Bacon sandwich if anyone was wondering what delectable item I was referring to) we decided to indulge in a deep fried mars bar. Apparently the concept originated in the streets of Edinburgh but I would be surprised if America didn't try it first. Honestly though, The Scottish will deep fry anything from pizza to burgers and literally everything in between. We then walked over to the grave of Greyfriar's Bobby which has a rather interesting but lengthy tale behind it so I will just post the link for those who are interested --> We also walked past "The Elephant House," which is where J.K Rowling wrote the one and only Harry Potter series on those famous napkins. We finished the tour at the Princes Street Gardens, and I gave the tour guide a well deserved tip. Kevin headed off to class about 30 minutes before the tour ended so I decided to do a little exploring for myself until he was done class. I ended up getting a great view of the Sir Walter Scott Monument which towers off the streets of Edinburgh at around 200 feet. It is really an impressive structure and has an interesting story as well. Following Scott's death in 1832, there was a competition held to design a monument to him. An unlikely entrant went under the pseudonym "John Morvo", the name of the medieval architect of Melrose Abbey. Morvo was really George Kemp, who was a forty-five year old self-taught architect. Kemp was worried that his lack of architectural qualifications and reputation would disqualify him, but his design was popular with the competition's judges, and in 1838 Kemp was awarded the contract to construct the monument. Edinburgh is full of these great anecdotes that seem to go all the way back to the founding of the city. Wandering through the city by myself was great because I realized that I have started to enjoy the feeling of being lost, as I feel that I can always inevitably re-orient myself.

The next day we went to get some of the Scottish breakfast I had been hearing so much about from Kevin. We walked through the campus of the University of Edinburgh, and I instantly fell in love with the school. I mean can you imagine writing an exam in one of these buildings? (pictured left). Apparently Queen's University was actually modeled after the University of Edinburgh in it's initial construction. It would honestly be my dream to attend Grad School at the University of Edinburgh, but I looked into it and it seems to be far to expensive to be a reality. But there's always the lottery right? I guess its kind of an ironic thought that I would use my lottery money to go to school, not to drop out of it.

We finally got to our restaurant of choice which was a greasy spoon located just off the University of Edinburgh campus. Of course the first thing I noticed when I arrived was the multitude of items of the deep-fried variety that were being noon. Kevin ordered the full Scottish Breakfast which includes the mighty famous haggis and its equally gross friend black pudding. Wikipedia notes that "

--> Haggis is a dish containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours," but also notes that "Although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour". I tried a little bit of the Haggis actually and it was quite good, but the black pudding wasn't going anywhere near or around my mouth. "Black Pudding, also known as blood sausage, is a pudding made of curdled and boiled pig blood, mixed with chunks of pork fat and spices, then stuffed into a sausage casing." Except nobody notes that blood pudding has a delicious savoury flavour despite its initial description.
We decided that we would go and climb the famous Arthur's Seat which overlooks Edinburgh, and is noted for it's fantastic views. It definitely did not disappoint. It was an incredible experience that I will not soon forget. We took our time to climb this fantastic natural wonder overlooking Edinburgh. It happened to be a glorious day, so I went trigger happy with my camera. The photos turned out great as this one will suggest --> It was really one of those moments where you know that no matter how many pictures you take you can never capture the moment or the scene, but you might as well try. After reaching the peak of the mountain (pictured right), we took a few moments to truly enjoy the glorious panoramic view. Climbing the mountain truly solidified the diversity of events that are so available in Edinburgh. It is a compact city, but there is plenty of green space and room to escape to sheer wilderness (like Oslo). We headed down the mountain to watch Scotland play Ireland in the Six Nations Cup. In Scotland's Capital, I was able to see Scotland beat Ireland in Dublin for the first time in almost two decades. It was a day for the ages. We arrived back to Kevin's place and began our night processions. We went out to a trendy club in Edinburgh, and had another fantastic night. Overall, Edinburgh was incredible and matched pound for pound with any trip. I will leave you all with a picture that I felt truly summed up my experience abroad, and a moment that I will always remember.

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