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A day of wonder followed by disaster and dorm snoring.

UNITED KINGDOM | Tuesday, 17 March 2015 | Views [672]

Even sneaky views of the castle are great.

Even sneaky views of the castle are great.

Some cities grow on you. London crept into my favour like its cold that crept into my bones. Some cities are just instantly spellbinding. Istanbul was breath-taking from the first moment I started heading in the wrong direction from the bus stop. Edinburgh was definitely on the instant favourites list, and it's actually quite difficult to define why.

I arrived at night and wandering up and down a street in the rain looking for a hostel that had no signage would not normally be a good first impression. Fortuitiously enough, the one place I went into to ask for directions, turned out to be the place I wanted. I paid the human staff little heed as the most welcoming thing was the huge Rottweiler who wanted to play fetch in a 4 metre square room.

I had another ridiculous one whole day to take in Edinburghs' sights, at least I thought I did at the time, and a brilliant blue sky was the perfect greeting stepping out into the chilly but bearable morning air. Strolling out of the perfect grid that makes up the new part of town, a wonderful wall of history greeted me as I looked up towards Edinburgh Castle and the old town.


I had to stop at Wellington Coffee to see if they were doing my name proud, and by the time I stopped for breakfast an hour later, my eyelids and camera shutter were glued open, my jaw was cleaning the cobblestones beneath my feet, and I was caffeine euphoric. A cafe named Haz Beans continued my uncanny association with great things and their £6 veggie breakfast was so epic it didn't even fit on the plate. I almost expected 'Harry's homebrews' to be the store next door.

Returning to my wanderings, I was dismayed to see a cloudless sky had morphed into its opposite, and the rain made the ubiquitous blue slate buildings seem somewhat drab and repetitive under the grey skies. Like the sun that bleaches things white, perhaps the cold stains things a blue grey as Edinburgh seemed built from frozen stone. The rain didn't last long, as it had cleared again by the time I had ascended Carlton Hill. I paid £4 to see the view from the top of the Nelson Monument, conversing somewhat lobsidedly with a bored ticket guy about how London would have charged me four times more for the priviledge.

Never get tired of that view.

The view was stunning, revealing very few buildings of merit from the last five centuries as all the sturdy stone buildings looked like Scottish versions of an igloo and were similar enough in age and design ethic to imitate a lego toy town. The appearance of being ancient is not surprising whent they are all made of stone and even when it is cut into a shape appropriate for whatever purpose, the material itself is still millions of years old.

Hollyrood Park laid off to the left of the city, or to the right if you were facing the other way, and a walk up to Arthurs Seat promised better views for £4 cheaper. By the time I had sweated and panted my way to the top, I had stripped down to a t-shirt and the strenuous exercise was enough to give my calves the ache of neglect for the remainder of the day.

The weather had alternated between rain and sunshine so regularly that I was thinking that Scottish people could use it to tell the time, if there wasn't so many clocks around. The appeal of the archeitecture of the Royal Mile that ran from the Castle down to the Royal Palace was equally changeable with the weather, at one moment a beautiful contrast with the blue sky, the next so bland as to blur into the skyline.

One thing that rarely changed on the Royal Mile was the wares of the shops. If you want tartan, Edinburgh has definitely got you covered. Combine that with cashmere and kilts and you get pretty bored of window shopping before too long. Every second shop had a request for staff posted in the window, and the staff most of them had were Polish making me think Poland must be devoid of its own people.

 Or that view.

Fortunately walking uphill takes you into the Castles once foreboding, now welcoming arms, well, as welcoming as you would expect paying £16. I am now glad Australian immigration charges the almighty fuck out of would be residents, because nothing we have is culturally significant enough to charge such a fortune to visit. If I pay $36AUD for a gnocchi and a beer back home, I'd at least be souveniring some cutlery, even to dump in the Op shop bin outside like a modern day Robin Hood.

Before entering, I looked back retracing my steps and realised I was close again to a personal best for ground covered on foot in one day. There was no one around to high-five so I'll accept one from anyone who reads this and thinks me worthy next time I see them. Such exertions had reduced my interest in the more historic aspects of a castle so impregnable that it hadn't been laid to seige once since its construction 800 years ago.

I always thought of Castles as walled military posts full of soldiers willing to throw domestic animals at would be threats. Being small minded and from a country whose only castles are on chess boards, I never gave it much thought. Of course people have to survive in them so they are in effect small vaillages, often housing people who aren't happy unless there is enough rooms for concubines and at least 6 confectionary master chefs.

 Where does the rock end and the castle start?

My historical interest wanes even further when it comes to the opulence of royalty, so I got trigger happy on the view and came close to another personal best. I remember taking 247 photos of the amazing Angkor temples and the days photographic output clocked in at 237. The problem with going up mountains or towers is that the higher you go, the more redundant the earlier pictures become, so I'll probably only end up with about 50 keepers.

There has been a few times I have written a journal in a hostel common room. I can't think of another time when I have done it at 5am because some lumberjack in the dorm has a 500 hundred horse power chainsaw punctuating his sleep. I dare say it is more just unconsciousness seeing as he was too drunk to remember the security code and my third mistake was getting up to let him in. Yeah, third mistake!

The first was ending an awesome day of Edinburgh sight seeing with two pints of beer. Harmless in itself, but I chose to sit outside at dusk to do it. Why? Other than routinely making inexplicable life choices, I thought it would be a good way to ready myself for the Scottish Highlands I intended to spend the next two days driving through. -2 degrees was cold enough to ensure I don't have to worry about catching a cold up north, because I already have one.

The second and biggest mistake renders the first even more mute as I'm not going to be driving anywhere without my drivers licence. Leaving it behind was a nonchalant packing decision that didn't seem worthy of more than a few seconds consideration. My plans for this trip changed so many times, but I don't know what they would have been at the time to negate the need to bring a licence on the off chance of wanting to drive. It's not heavy and highly unlikely to take up much valuable souvenir space. The licence photo is no worse than a hundred other, more ridiculous photos on Facebook so I had no need to keep it hidden either.

I also managed to figure out that I didn't have my drivers licence with me straight after paying for the non-refundable car hire. The scope of my stupidity was immediately apparent in that although I am just filling in time now until I go on a far more expensive Scottish Highlands tour, it won't take me anywhere near my beloved Brewdog brewery. That is heartbreaking but I take comfort in knowing that I now have a very good reason for coming back again as soon as possible and if things happen in threes, there they bloody well are.

Tags: arthurs seat, carlton hill, castle, dorm, edinburgh, royal mile

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