I’ve just spent several days in the capital of Scotland. I went once before a few years back when I released loads of balloons from Edinburgh castle for Standard Life when they floated on the stock exchange, but never got the chance to look around.
I flew up with EasyJet, who in fairness, are better than BMIBaby when it comes to stupid hidden costs. I went up on a Thursday and came back on the Monday because it actually worked out cheaper to get a hotel room for two extra nights rather than pay the additional cost which they ramp up for Friday and Sunday flights.
It’s a little bit ridiculous flying up to Edinburgh because by the time you are 35,000 feet in the air it’s time to come back down again.
Anyway, I digress.
I met up with loads of friends who I knew from Chennai, it was quite a multi-cultural group with Brits, a Scot, Aussies and an Indian, but that’s the way it is when you are an expat and what I love about working abroad.
We did the whole touristy thing, looked around, but mostly we were there to get drunk in the pubs
(sidenote: talking about drunkeness on a public website is part of the What Not To Write On Your Blog 101 course).
Since no one wants to know what I got up to while drinking in the bars, I thought I’d talk about the cultural hotspots of Edinburgh.
The main attraction in Edinburgh is the castle. It’s not even a boring castle either, it was attacked, bombarded and sieged more times than any other castle I know of. Most other castles were built and any local warlords were like bugger this for a game of soldiers, not attacking that thing.
I guess they were like the nuclear bombs of their day, outrageously expensive to maintain, no one liked them, but they kept the peace because it was too much aggravation to actually attack or lay siege to it.
Well, Edinburgh castle is different, it was attacked by the Brits, seiged by the Brits, bombarded by the Brits before succumbing to the Brits. The cheeky Scots then sent up just 30 men to climb over the walls and take the castle back.
The piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistance is the crown jewels and they build it up by making you go through room after room of Scottish history, which basically tells you how bad the British were, so much so that you may feel the urge to shout “Freedom!” before making a beeline to Carlise or Berwick-Upon-Tweed to reek revenge on the Brits.
So your curiosity about these sacred jewels reaches a cat-like proportion and you want to find out what all the fuss is about. As it turns out the Scottish crown jewels is simply a crown, sceptre and a sword. Admittedly it is a big sword, but it hardly blows you away.
Edinburgh is now becoming quite famous for its ghost tours after bricked up subterranean buildings were discovered about 10 years ago. You can now take your pick from a variety of ghost tours – conducted late at night for the extra scare factor.
If you were to believe the marketing spiel (and since I apparently work in marketing, I know it’s just creative lies) you will encounter ghosts, poltergeists, hair raising chills and other supernatural phenomena as you walk around.
One of my friends refused to join us after reading some PR material on the Internet (and yes, it was a girl). I can’t speak for the rest of the group, but I was highly sceptical about the whole thing.
The tour started off quite well and we got a lot of history about Scotland and Edinburgh in particular. However, my bulshit meter was sounding alarms as the guide taught us the ‘real’ story behind tartan kilts and how people used to throw their sewage out the windows but it was an offence to let it touch the walls so a boy with a white stick would walk around to give people something to aim at. He also reckons that this is where the phrase ‘shitfaced’ came from but I’m almost certain these are all made up stories for naive American tourists.
When we finally got in to the underground chambers the guide proceeded to tell us how people would live in them, the kinds of things that went on such as the body snatching (the tour guide reckoned doctors used to pay more for young female bodies), baby harvesting to sell the kids in to factories or prostitution and all kinds of other dire stories that make a perfect concoction to scare people.
In each chamber we passed in to he would tell more stories about what went on, how people would die (or be murdered) along with ‘true’ accounts of things that happened to other people on previous tours such as strange cuts and bruises, encounters, cold spots on the body, whisperings in the ears etc. etc. Stuff that might frighten people of a nervous disposition.
One particularly good story was about a mother who grabbed her childs hand when the lights went off and when they came back on again she saw that her daughter was standing on the other side of the group. I have to admit, they were good ghost stories
The whole tour was conducted by torch and candlelight, but honestly, there wasn’t a single part that felt particularly scary. As a bit of a stunt at the end, they turned the lights out and there’s always one joker who makes some weird kind of noises, anyway, when he put the lights back on some guy jumped out in a costume and tried to scare people that way. I have to admit, my arm was grabbed by one of my friends who was startled, but it was a bit of a cheap trick by the tour company.
One of my friends in the group did slip over, but rather boringly she claims that she wasn’t even pushed by an unseen entity.
All in all, the tour was quite entertaining, but frankly they could have been showing us some cellars and called them ‘undiscovered’ for all we knew. The location of them just behind a nightclub makes me doubt just how they could have been lost for so long.
As part of our whistle stop culture vulture tour of Edinburgh we decided to climb Arthur’s Seat which is a big rock to the East of Edinburgh. It’s actually the plug of an old volcano for all you budding geologists out there.
We climbed up at Sunday lunch time and was supposed to help us work off the hangovers from the house party we gatecrashed the night before.
You get some fantastic views of the city from up there and out across the Firth of Forth.
The most interesting thing that happened was there was an almighty explosion in the south of the city and then a huge dust cloud drifted over most of the city. At the time we were all like “holy shit!” but after a couple of minutes we still didn’t hear any sirens so came to the conclusion that it was a controlled demolition, which is was, and we had the best seat (pun intended!) in the house. There is even an article on the BBC news site about it here.
Edinburgh Tram System
I took a lot of taxi’s to and from places and the one thing they always talk about is the tram system. In true British (or is this Scottish) form, the council undertook an ambitious plan to build an eco-friendly way of getting around the city, particularly to and from the airport which is about 100 miles outside the city.
Naturally, this being the UK, the initial cost of Â£498m has spiralled out of control as incompetent public officials with no idea of project management squander cash and the final estimate now stands at Â£750m, a mere 50% increase!
Here’s a Michael McIntyre standup clip where he talks about the Edinburgh tram system, and with very few deviations, it’s word for word what the taxi drivers say about the Trams!
As one disgruntled taxi driver said to me:
Each tram has three carriages, that’s three buses, do we need three buses turning up at once? It does nea even go to the airport, if you want to get to the airport, you have to take a bus to the tram station and then you have to take another bloody bus to get to the airport!
One other interesting thing that happened was on the plane on the way back (which was delayed of course, causing me to wait over an hour at a cold railway station in Luton) was the gender role reversal on the plane. The pilot was female and the cabin crew were all male. I thought that was kinda cool
Oh, so in closing, if you haven’t been to Edinburgh yet, definitely get yourself up there for a weekend, it’s well worth it.