…The Musings of a Strange Guy

I'm Back!!!

(Since this journal is especially an attempt to make my failing memory ‘stronger’, I am writing and posting this nearly a week after it happened, just to see how much I can remember, and how what I do remember is modified by my perspective on things/events. Sorry if the following sounds repetitive and boring.)

Home, sweet home!!! Came back around 20:15, Sunday night ; entered the flat around 8 minutes or so later. After having walked for the last few minutes in freezing cold, I just stand in the middle of my room, allowing the cold that permeates my clothes and my body to seep out into the hot (should I say, almost stifling?) atmosphere of my heated room. I have the sensation of accomplishment; of a journey travelled and a destination reached. Oh, I have done nothing extraordinary but I’ve had a wonderful week-end. As much as I’m happy to be back to my room, this is the first major place I’ve visited that I simply did not want to leave… I am happy to have gone away for some time and accomplished something enjoyable. I need very little to be happy and feel good…

Edinburgh is a place that simply tugs at your senses…first, the landscape, dominated by the prominently situated castle of Edinburgh; then the sheer massive nature of the buildings in the city; its vibrant city life…I find very little not to like about Edinburgh, with the exception, perhaps of the weather… But in the whole process of enchantment, I scarcely took notice of the weather; my senses were dazzled, as they usually are when I visit somewhere new. Edinburgh at night was how I first discovered it, and it looked like a brilliant jewel, shining out with myriad lights, all beckoning attention from my greedy eyes. But let’s not be too hasty. Let me remember how I got there in the first place…

Our coach departed from the uni steps at 3 pm. Our journey was around 5 hours long and we were expected to reach Edinburgh at around 8 pm. I knew only one or two persons on that trip and they were more like acquaintances rather than friends. So, it seemed like I was really on my own. As it happened, the first half of my journey was spent, sitting on my own. I had both seats for myself, and I lay down in a more leisurely fashion, trying to find the most comfortable situation to sit while I read my book (Marina Warner’s Indigo…I always bring a book when I go away for more than a day…you never know.). Most of the time, though, my eyes would stray to the big glass pane and I’d look at the scenery speeding past me.

All an illusion, of course! It was I, propelled along by the speed of the coach, who was leaving what I knew behind for a new destination. The only thing which seemed stable in that rocking and shifting world was the placid grey sky, with great angry clouds…Was it going to rain? I hoped not, though I really didn’t care either way. Rain has its own charm; this special magic quality of instantly transforming a landscape into something delightfully alien and new. As it happened, it did rain for a while as we travelled on. But the rain gradually receded, replaced by the everpresent dark and brooding clouds.

We stopped midway at a Drive Thru Burger King’s where most of us got off, either to eat, refresh ourselves or just stretch our legs for a while. When I returned, I discovered that I’d got a new neighbour sitting on the seat next to mine. She was a girl, an international student from Cyprus. She had initially moved back to where I was seated to talk with one of her friends sitting not far from me. However, as the coach resumed its course, and for most of the rest of the journey, we talked and talked, amiably introducing ourselves and talking about our respective cultures and backgrounds. The driver of our coach seemed, for the first third of the journey, to have an obsession with techno music. Well, i quite like electronica and techno, but not in a coach where you are trying to either a) read, or b) sleep. I guess he needed this type of music to stay alert and awake on our quite long journey. But did it have to be so loud? Finally, he sensed the error of his ways, and glory be! He switched on the tiny television screens on the coach and put on a movie. It was Pirates of the Carribean, which I’d already watched and enjoyed before. But I couldn’t go back to my reading because of the very loud volume. So, I tried to watch the film, but in this too, I was frustrated since the television screen I was looking at was oddly positioned, forcing me to turn my neck and head in awkward positions. I finally gave up and spent the rest of the time either talking to the girl next to me or looking at the scenery outside. It was gradually getting darker and darker but for a long while, the landscape seemed to be suffused with an internal light of its own, and i watched with great fascination as light slowly but inexorably merged with darkness.

We reached Edinburgh at around 8.30 pm. The coach driver went through some of the main streets of the city to show us the main buildings and sights. We finally got off at our accommodation, the Caledonian Backpackers Hostel.

Our rooms/beds had already been reserved by the Student Union, so we rapidly checked in and our rooms were indicated to us. I found that I was sharing a large room with 11 other people, all of whom had come along with me from the uni. The room itself was only one large space filled with beds. You could see that this was its prime function: a very utilitarian one at that! But who cared, anyway? I had prepared myself, in fact, to the probability that I would not sleep for the three days I would spend there, just like I used to, when I would go camping by the sea with my friends back home.

As we settled down, we also introduced ourselves to each other and it was not long that we were all laughing and chatting like friends of yore. Most of us had planned to walk around the city that night, and this was what we did, together. Pausing for a quick meal at a Burger Kings’ (this trip’s recurrent joke), we started roaming about the city, trying to ‘get lost’ in order to locate the major landmarks around us. It was very cold, but we were excited; that night, the city was ours to explore and wander through at leisure. After a few hours, part of the group detached itself to return to the hostel. I wasn’t tired at all, and so remained along with the others who wanted to continue walking… We walked along the main roads as well as the smaller streets…Along Rose Street were a series of pubs. We entered one and ordered a few drinks.

It was a very friendly atmosphere where we talked, drank and laughed.. We left at around 2 am and returned as silently as possible to our room, where the rest were already resting in the arms of Morpheus. We slipped into our respective beds and then tried to sleep. Most of us quickly did so, so tired were we after this long journey, the long walks outside and the few drinks we’d had…But I – always sensitive to all types of sounds and noises – couldn’t sleep, and in fact, I didn’t fall asleep till very long afterwards…Outside, I could hear young people talking, shouting and laughing loudly…possibly freshly issued from the local nightclubs and pubs. Some were from the hostel itself, who, like me, couldn’t find sleep. The good thing about this hostel is that it remains open all day and night; you can return (or not at all, if you wish) at any time you want… Moreover, there was a bar in that hostel on the floor below mine, and from time to time, I could hear brief but perfectly audible snatches of music. Ensconced under my bed sheets, I stayed still, eyes and ears wide open, listening to the sounds of Edinburgh and looking at the way the lights from passing cars moved across the ceiling and shifted shadows. Then I slept. That was my first night in Edinburgh.

The next day, i was among the very first who woke up. The others reluctantly woke up after I and a girl started to move out of bed to freshen ourselves. What is interesting to note (one of the privileges of the light sleeper, I guess) is to observe what happens when a whole room wakes up. The fact that I and this girl woke up disturbed someone’s sleep; when that person too moved or shifted himself/herself, that woke up others. In a short while, most of us were more or less awake, though many got back to sleep afterwards. As one of these roommates told me, it was not the usual time for them to get up.

But anyway, let’s return to the narrative, hehe. A shower later saw me standing in the room with only two others left. Most of the others had gone out in quest for a good breakfast. We had already discussed what we would do on Saturday and we had agreed that not everyone would like to go and visit the same places. It was already agreed upon that different groups would be formed and that we would occasionally meet as we walked through the city. I, like most of the others, really had no previous plans; I just wanted to have a nice, overall idea of how the city was and visit its main attractions. So, when I found the others already gone, I and the two others, two Belgian girls, decided to have our own little expedition

We started with the castle. Before that, we visited one church, and walked through the local market that was on our way. I had some croissants and a coffee, which I sipped as we walked along. Finally, we reached the steps that led to the castle. It was very sunny, that Saturday, for which I’m very glad, since it allowed us to do many things. As I climbed up the steps, I took the following picture:

Before entering the castle, we found another contingent of our roommates and we went in together.. The castle was quite impressive. Of course, with so many people walking around the place, you could almost believe that you’d been transported back in time, when the castle was being used and was inhabited. Again, the massiveness of the walls and structures impressed me strongly, and I kept finding this recurrent massiveness in other buildings as I visited the rest of the city that day.. Anyway, to make a long story short, I visited most of the castle, if not the whole of it. I bought a couple of postcards depicting a) a romanticised view of the castle (which showed it in a more flattering light than it actually is, in my opinion) b) a Scottish loch featuring a characteristic small island (and a not so characteristic castle???) with a bagpiper standing not far and looking very stupid.

Anyway, after this, we spent quite some time walking throught the Royal Mile, which is basically this one big road that goes down from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyrood House (the official residence of Queen Elisabeth, Regina of this Isle, when she comes up, and closely associated with Mary, Queen of Scots). There were lots of places to visit along this Royal Mile and we made our way slowly but surely down. Midway, we decided that croissants were not enough and we stopped at Pizza Hut to have lunch. After that, we proceeded downwards, taking photos while one of the girls kept entering shops to look for a decent Whisky bottle as a gift for her boyfriend. Then, something happened. This picture says it all:

We reached the grounds of Holyrood House where we debated whether we really wanted to spend our preciooooooussssssssssssss money to visit the palace and gallery or save some for whatever else Edinburgh had in store for us.. The Palace did look very nice from outside, but we wondered how much of the interior of the palace would be accessible to the general public.

Anyway, only one of the three of us wanted to visit the palace, having suddenly developed an unhealthy curiosity concerning the Queen’s bed. I and the other girl (this sounds awkward but my policy is not to include names of those who do not know about my journal, and who thus are not aware that they are being described in it) were not particularly keen on encountering the Queen’s bed, so, after a short walk around the castle grounds, we finally decided to climb up the neighbouring hill, which seemed exciting enough. So we left the palace and walked towards the hill…which in fact was not a hill, but something called the Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat.

It was a good climb up there; it had seemed quite low when we had initially started but as the ground level seemed further and further away, there seemed to be no visible sign of the top. We had a nice and rather hilarious climb all around the ‘hill’ though my companions seemed a bit reluctant at times to continue till the very top. It was mid afternoon when we took the way downwards. We took another path, which led us near a bit of marshy land and a small pool where several birds were assembled, perhaps in a conspiracy to overthrow the tyranny of humankind. The proof of this was that they immediately fled on seeing us, only to gather again at a safer distance, eying us with distrusting eyes that were full of silent and indignant reproach. The sun was shining brightly and the breeze, while strong, was quite warm. Everywhere was drenched in that life-giving sunshine and the very greenness of that landscape filled me with a sense of exhilaration and joy. We slowly negotiated our way along the muddy terrain until we reached civilisation…

It was still early, so we decided to remain within the city itself, enjoying the urban atmosphere of it all. After some time, the girls wanted to do some shopping. I took my leave and walked about the city on my own. By then, it was starting to get very dark. But I didn’t care. The city was slowly lighting up in the twillight. The various buildings and monuments that had shone in the sunlight now looked like dark grey silhouettes in that surreal landscape. I walked and walked, drinking it all in, and when I turned back to return to the hostel, I nearly bumped into these two crazy girls who were also returning. So, we walked back slowly, chatting all the way. The others had not come back yet. I went out for a shower, and then I lay down in bed with my book. The others were already having a nap, since the climb had exhausted them. I was a bit tired as well, but not at all sleepy. We knew that we would go out again during the evening, and so, one hour or two spent lying down and resting would surely do us some good.

So, what did we end up doing that Saturday night? Tired of endless MacDonalds and monotonous Burger Kings, we’d unaninously voted to go out and have a decent meal in a restaurant. So we did (Garfunkels, Edinburgh). Though I initially thought it might be a tad expensive, the affordable menu and the warm atmosphere prevailing there soon melted my tiny worries. We had a wonderful time there, staying till it was well past the restaurant’s closing time. This is becoming a very funny trend, in all the groups I find myself in. Staying in one place till the people literally kick you out is not really my idea of fun, but it can sometimes be hilarious. A nod at the nice waitress who not only attended to our needs but also took the time to take our photos.

Anyway, after that nice time at the restaurant, we went to a hybrid pub/nightclub called the Frankenstein. Situated within an old building, like many pubs and nightclubs sometimes surprisingly are here, the Frankenstein has more than one level and something different is always happening on each level. When we went in, blaring dance music welcomed us; the Edinburgh youth are as feisty and fun-loving as (*sigh*) the Leeds crowd. Since some of us wanted a drink and also couldn’t get rid of our bags and coats, we went downstairs where music of a more sedate nature greeted us. We purchased a few drinks, while listening/tapping our feet to the music. Suspended from the ceiling, television screens showed the black and white Frankenstein movie. Being lately very much attracted by black and white movies, I gazed on with great interest until my friends decided that they wanted to dance.

*double sigh*

We deposited our bags/coats/whatever somewhere where we could see them and our drinks in hand, moved towards the group that occupied that floor. Some of my friends started dancing (and I must admit, the music at this level was very good, and not so trashy either). We all ended dancing and having lots of fun, under the impassive eyes of Victor Frankenstein’s monstrous creation on the screen above us.

We left after one hour or two, being by then, very much tired. We spent some time walking along the streets of Edinburgh before returning to our room. Was it surprising that I found sleep easily accessible that night?

I woke up on Sunday at around 7. Everyone else was sleeping. I stayed in bed till perhaps 0730, and then, no longer asleep, and feeling very restless, I got up, creating my own waking up domino effect upon my unsuspecting companions…This was going to be our last day in that wonderful city. The rest stayed in bed; I think only one girl (we were three boys and 9 girls) woke up and went out just after me. It was just too early for the others to venture out of bed. What could I do? I couldn’t easily counter a lifelong habit of waking up early. I quickly washed myself and took a shower. Then, I proceeded to explore the very quiet hostel. Most people were still asleep, so the corridors were indeed silent and calm. You wouldn’t believe that this place contained so many noisy and boisterous young people! I had my camera along with me, because one of the things that had struck me was the visual aspect of the hostel. Most of its walls were covered with illustrations, designs and paintings. I am not implying that I was in the presence of timeless works of art that would be welcome in any museum collection. They just struck me as well suited for an establishment that catered to the needs of young people. The drawings merely accentuated the youth that inhabited those spaces. Here are two of them…

I then ventured out of the hostel for a quick tour along some of the main areas near the hostel. When I came back, the others had started waking up and getting ready for the final day out. The coach was supposed to come at around 3 to take us back to Leeds. However, we had to check out of the hostel by 10. We were initially in a fix since we did not want to carry out bags along with us all day. Finally we were allowed to leave our bags and non-essential stuff in the custody of the hostel, so that we could come back and reclaim them back when we’d finished visiting.

Since we’d been to the Salisbury Crags the day before, we were determined to climb up the other hill, known as Calton Hill. We discovered that another small group had gone there on Saturday and had liked it. So, this was the first item on our priority list. Before that, however, we had some breakfast in the small cafe just in front of the hostel. After that, we headed towards Calton Hill. This hill is renowned for its monuments and buildings but it couldn’t compare with Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat. Calton Hill has steps that led right up to the top, and it hardly conveyed the same sense of danger and excitement as the previous day had. Anyway, we did not have much time in front of us, and I really wanted to see the monuments before returning. The view from Calton Hill, just like that from the top of Salisbury Crags is breathtaking: the whole of Edinburgh is spread out in front of you and you can see the incoming stretch of sea that separates one part of Scotland from another.

Here are a few pics taken on top of (and from) Calton Hill:

A cemetary of sorts just at the foot of the Hill…wow, even their cemetaries look magnificent!

These are the two main monuments that can be seen on Calton Hill from a great distance…

Yet another Calton Hill landmark…

Yours truly in the veni, vidi, vici mode…

While we were standing next to the monuments, we encountered another group of friends who had set out a bit earlier and we joined forces as it were. We decided to do what we’d determined to do at the very last minute: we went to a museum. Actually, Edinburgh has quite a lot of museums, some of which I managed to visit in between. For instance, I was able to visit the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre on Saturday. We all went to the Royal Museum, a sprawling museum that just spreads over several levels and in different directions. We all agreed to meet at two within the great hall of the building, so, I was free to roam about on my own. I initially spent three quarters of my time in the Scottish Museum, which is a sort of museum within a museum…I did a quick visit of the whole museum, all the six levels that comprised it. There is so much to learn about that culture and its history, and my mind was trying to assimilate all this collection of new data entering my brain. Leaving the Scottish Museum, I strolled towards another section, devoted to the ancient Egyptian culture, which I admit, has always fascinated me. After that, I went to the science section, the pottery section, the natural sciences section, where I encountered some dinosaurs and various types of stuffed creatures. It was at that moment that I realised how huge this building actually was; I’d been roaming about for hours and still, that museum held secrets from me. The time to go quickly came, though, and most of us met in the hall. We quickly marched out in the cool Edinburgh air towards the hostel, though I generally had to run to catch up, so anxious was I to use up my digital camera memory.

As I walked along, the Edinburgh Castle seemed to look back impassively, high up there on the high ridge that overlooks the city. Come back, it seemed to whisper, and discover Edinburgh again…
I promised to myself that – conditions and situation permitting – I would surely come back…We retrieved our bags at the hostel where most of the uni students had managed to materialise out of the various locations they’d been visiting all day. Soon enough, the coach was here, and we all got in, excited to return back home…

We had nothing to watch because this was a different coach, but one of my friends had bought a few DVDs in Edinburgh and when we stopped (where else, but a Drive Thru point!) to rest and eat and freshen ourselves, he got one of his DVDs from the luggage section of the coach. So it was that we had Sister Act to watch during the remainder of the return journey. Soon enough, we reached the university steps, where we all descended into the freezing cold of a Leeds night. We all said goodbye to each other, with the promise (we had not known each other before, after all) to meet up again very soon…

Edinburgh is now where it is…what remain are the memories of good times spent there. Good times, indeed, which have made me hungry for more outings and eager to see more places before I finally return back home…But there is still time, yet. Now, I have to return to my work and my reading, for you can’t have one without the other. I hope to be able to maintain this balance throughout the rest of this final semester. So, no more visits in the immediate future…but Easter hols are fast approaching; who knows where else I’ll get to visit…


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