I recently returned from a long weekend jaunt to the lovely city of Edinburgh.
I had been in Edinburgh back in November for a translators’ conference; in fact, that was the last “big” trip (i.e., one involving a plane ride) I took since sending my passport away in October. It was a very short trip that time around, and I didn’t get to see much of the city since I was stuck in the stuffy conference rooms of a hotel most of the time—and when I did manage to make it outside, it was usually raining. But this time around, it was Jeremy who was attending a conference, while I got to wander free in the sunshine.
It’s wonderful to be able to travel with someone and share your experiences with them, but there’s also something very special about exploring a city on your own. This is particularly true when you have passions that others might not necessarily share, or share to the same extent.
For instance, I can spend a very, very, very long time standing in front of a case in a museum staring at a piece of jewelry made 1,300 years ago, or tramping around old graveyards, or indeed just looking in shops. When you’re with someone, it’s nice to be able to turn to them and say, “Ooh, look at that!” But if you’re not with someone, it’s nice to be able to do everything at your own pace and immerse yourself entirely in a particular experience without worrying that your companion might be bored.
For the two afternoons that I was left to my own devices, I indulged my passions to the fullest. I spent the first afternoon poking around Greyfriars Cemetery (I really feel there should be an apostrophe somewhere in there, but apparently there’s not), final resting place of loyal little Greyfriars Bobby, among many others. The cemetery is chock full of grisly carvings of skulls and crossbones, coffins and shovels, hourglasses and angels of death—not everyone’s idea of fun, but I found it fascinating (as did the goth kids getting drunk at the back of the cemetery, I’m sure).
From there, I wandered out through the old town and up to the castle, where I sat on the parapet eating an ice cream cone and looking out over the city and the craggy hills beyond. Then it was down the Royal Mile, taking in several sites of executions and burnings-at-the-stake (Edinburgh is a rather bloody city), along with a somewhat jollier tartan-weaving exhibit and many, many souvenir shops. Not bad for an afternoon’s perambulations.
The next day, I set my sights on the National Museum of Scotland and its collection of early medieval artifacts. But before descending into the depths of the new part of the museum to hang out with all the old stuff, I went with Jeremy to a new Pixar exhibition being held in the old part of the museum.
I hadn’t been all that interested in seeing the Pixar stuff (I mean, I like Toy Story and all, but the Lewis chessmen were calling to me), but the minute I stepped foot in the exhibition, a smile spread across my face and stayed there. It was wonderful: wall after wall of gorgeous paintings, sketches, collages and character studies, cases of sculptures, an utterly entrancing zoetrope, a marvelous short animated film based around works in the exhibition, videos of how the animations are created…
The amount of work—of technical expertise, creativity and artistic genius—that goes into a Pixar film is stunning, and anyone who insists computer animation isn’t an art form will have their preconceptions sorely tested by this exhibition. If you have the chance to see this exhibition, I highly, highly recommend it. You’ll feel like a kid again.
After Pixar, Jeremy and I dashed to the Elephant House café for lunch (where J.K. Rowling apparently wrote some of the first Harry Potter book), and then I dashed back to the museum for a hefty dose of history.
I spent almost the entire afternoon on the lower levels of the museum in the “Early People” and “Kingdom of the Scots” sections, which house all the pre-historic, Celtic, Roman, Viking and medieval stuff. It’s not a huge museum, but it’s got some amazing things on display, include mysterious Pictish stones, stunning metalwork and the aforementioned chessmen.
The building and exhibition structure are very impressive in their own right: there are detailed maps, timelines and descriptions for each of the prehistoric and early medieval artifacts on display, and the Andy Goldsworthy pieces discreetly scattered throughout the lower level of the museum are a nice touch as well. Prince Charles may have gotten into a tither about the design of the new building, but I give the whole museum an enthusiastic two thumbs up.
On our last full day, Jeremy and I toodled around with some other people who were up in Scotland for the conference. We visited a great farmer’s market in the morning, where I bought a woolly hat and gloves (which I certainly didn’t need on the day) and a small wheel of cheese with Arran mustard, while resisting the temptation to purchase all sorts of sausages, vegetables, jams and breads that it would have been difficult to transport back down to Brighton. After lunch, we took a tour of some of the vaults under the streets of the city in lieu of a ghost tour. And in the evening, we had a tipple at the pub, enjoyed a convivial dinner, and all went our separate ways.
I’ll have to get back to Edinburgh again some time, because I still haven’t done everything I’d like to: I’d like to see Mary King’s Close, I’d like to hike up Arthur’s Seat (sounds rude, doesn’t it?), I’d like to see Mary Queen of Scots’ chambers at Holyroodhouse, and I’d even like to go back to the National Museum and maybe get past the Middle Ages (or maybe not). There’s certainly no shortage of things to do. Rain or shine, Edinburgh’s a cool city.