Edinburgh, Scotland – May 2000
Edinburgh has always taken care of me.
Over the course of two visits, I’ve lived there for nearly a year; I’ll be going back in August, for the International Festival, and should I ever wind up with too much money for my own good, I will have a home somewhere in the city. Edinburgh has always taken care of me, and who am I to argue with such a hospitable nature?
The capitol of Scotland is a city of art, music, dancing, theatre, film, literature, food, drink, and fine people. Princes Street is one of the world’s finest shopping stretches, and a bolstering economy has brought more and more domestic and international business to the area. It’s much more than a business center, though; in fact, beyond business, the city excels even more.
Beauty and grace both relax and stagger the visitor, be they in the city’s museums or parks, or amongst the natural features. Princes Street Gardens, Holyrood Park, the Meadows, the Bruntsfield Links – these, and a myriad other parks and natural wonders, such as the Salisbury Crags, Arthur’s Seat, and the Pentland Hills, can Edinburgh lay claim to but not necessarily take credit for.
Edinburgh is city that I love unabashedly. In all fairness, and like any place where humans attempt to dwell together, the city does have its share of problems; however, I do not write to be objective, or to try to encompass the enormity – in space, in time, in culture – of such a place in mere words. I write about a place I love, so I write with a bias, but I write about a city that, upon visiting, I think you may find love for as well.
Edinburgh is not a city that must be seen to be believed. Rather, it must be believed – then seen.
I know this well. Faith didn’t use to come to me so easily.
But after living in Edinburgh for nearly a year, such faith is natural now.
In September 1998, I flew to Edinburgh to participate in a 4-month student-exchange program at Napier University. Now a senior (fourth-year) college student, I had never been away from the U.S. before and, naturally, I was scared at leaving everything and everyone I knew to live for four months in a city I did not know with people who were different from where I’m come from.
That changed quickly.
Within a few days, I was starting to learn my way around the City Centre but, more importantly, I was meeting people.
Edinburgh is a great place for meeting new people, from all over the world. The rude, impersonal anonymity – for which cities such as New York and London are notorious – is absent here. The city has been revitalized, but its urban and cosmopolitan brain are balanced by the passion and hospitality of the Scottish heart.
Edinburghers are nice – but they know how to be naughty. In other words, these people (sometimes) work hard, but they always know how to have a good time. In short, they know that life is too short not to go for a good piss-up.
Or, more to the point, that life is too short not to get absolutely reekin’ at the pub, stagger to the club so you can flop about the dance floor while eyeing up a fancied member of the gender of your choice (Edinburgh has a thriving gay scene), in hopes of a snog or a shag.
You’ll have a few more drinks – either to screw up your courage or to soften the fall after being shot down, or so you can give your lips a break; then you’ll stagger, stumble, tumble and crawl to whatever chippie or all-night shop suits so you, with or without that night’s loved one, so you can pick up chips or a pizza or a sausage roll, which should sustain you long enough to get back to whoever’s flat you’re going to (though the odds of getting a taxi at 3am are essentially nil).
After puking, shagging or both, you’ll crash in that night’s deathbed, then wake the afternoon and either stagger home or into the kitchen for coffee and tea. Eventually you’ll talk to your mates, and all of you will try to piece together the ragged jigsaw of the vague events of the previous night’s piss-up, to treasure for days or just hours to come, until the weekend/the evening comes around again – and out you go, pub in sight, to start all over again.
Yes sir: life’s too short, and my first four months in the city taught me just that. By the end of January – and the end of my exchange – I prepared to return to the U.S. But I left behind friends from Edinburgh, from Scotland, from all the world over – but more importantly, I took with me a resolve to return, and soon.
Not to say, though, that Edinburgh is a town populated by alcoholics and lechers (well, it is, but most of those are students), but it is a drinker’s town: over 700 pubs are spread over a population of 450,000, giving Edinburgh the honor of having the most drinking establishments per capita of any city in the world.
When I first went to Scotland, frankly, I hated beer. That changed quickly. Scotland produces excellent booze; besides, a great deal of social life and recreation revolve around the public house – yet you don’t have to be a drinker to enjoy the pub, nor do you have to make all of your social life revolve around it.
There’s more to do than drink in this town. Edinburgh’s nickname is ‘The Athens of the North’, not ‘Lushes of the World’.
Let’s say you prefer spending your money on the theatre or the cinema – no problem. Want to spend the day in a museum? [link to Rules piece] Again, no problem. The city’s options extend far beyond booze; it’s just that Edinburgh is a good town for drinkers (city laws even allow the consumption of alcohol in public).
For nearly 40 years, BUNAC (British Universities North America Club) has operated government-approved reciprocal work programs in countries worldwide. One such program open to Americans is Work in Britain and, in August 1999, with my Blue Card (work permit) in one hand and my passport in the other, I fulfilled my wish and returned to Edinburgh, this time for six months.
I didn’t have to, of course. I could have gone anywhere in the UK that I wanted. So I did.
Over the course of my life, I will come to Edinburgh as much as possible. It takes care of me, and my love for the city is vast. Every time I must leave Edinburgh, I will be sad, but my sadness will be balanced both by the memories I have of my times there, as well as the knowledge that I will come back again.
Hopefully, you will too.
Going to Edinburgh means being able to take care of yourself, but also being able not to take things too seriously. The City Centre contains many quality hostels, and there are also plenty of guest houses and B&Bs.
So relax. Have fun – in a city with renowned theaters and museums, beautiful parks and over 700 pubs, if you can’t take life easy at first, hopefully you’ll learn quickly.