The name of Edinburgh (pronounced as Edin Burra) evokes memories of Sean Connery, Harry Potter, Dolly – the cloned sheep, bagpipes and of course Scotch whisky. Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland which is part of the United Kingdom. The city is a hub of invention, innovation and creativity and has dozens of examples in each field.
When I landed at the Edinburgh airport via a convenient connection from Nagpur via Doha, it was a pleasant afternoon. There were various signs beckoning one to make use of the public transport and taking heed of the same, I boarded a bus bound for the City centre.
The bus was very convenient and pocket friendly and we weaved our way through the picturesque neighbourhoods and reached our destination: The Waverly Railway Station. On getting down form the bus as I looked around, I was mesmerised to see the skyline of the famed medieval ‘Old Town’ and the very distinct Georgian architecture of the ‘New Town’. Edinburgh is a compact hilly city which is steeped in history dotted with undulating landscaped gardens, castles, museums and monuments.
As I made my way towards my hotel through the cobbled streets of Old Town, I noticed that even the hotels and shops had adapted their look to blend with the medieval architecture and none of them stood out like a sore thumb. They all blended beautifully with the environment and offered the viewer a seamless view of continuity.
After checking into the hotel which was an experience in itself as there was no reception counter per se and I was greeted by a young lady standing in the foyer with her T-shirt bearing the name of the hotel and as I mentioned my name, she looked into her mobile phone, gave me an assuring nod and proceeded to give me my key. It was all done without any fuss and pretentions.
The rates of the hotel and the amenities on offer were projected onto the wall by an LCD projector thereby doing away with the need of a signboard. The room was functional and ergonomically designed so that each square inch could be utilized. After unpacking I wandered down to get a feel of the surroundings. The city is well served by a fleet of buses running at very frequent intervals and the other part of town i.e. the New Town is also served by trams which makes commuting very easy. However, Edinburgh is a place which has to be seen on foot as it is teeming with memories, remembrances, monuments, statues and places all of which have a story to tell.
The ‘Royal Mile’ which stretches from Holyrood Palace – the seat of the Scottish Royalty on one part to the majestic and towering Edinburgh castle on the other is a joy to walk around and is abuzz with activity throughout the day. It is lined with shops, cafes, pubs and you can encounter a street performer in the middle as also persons playing the bagpipes kitted out in the traditional kilts at street corners. One can marvel at the ancient buildings while walking along the cobbled pathways. The St. Giles Cathedral towers over the square and is majestic in character with its high ceilings, beautiful stained glass windows, great arches and the magnificent altar gives it an exalted feeling.
Edinburgh is a ‘walker’s city’ as most of the city can and should be discovered on foot. One can just meander around in the lovely landscaped and sprawling Princes Street Garden which boasts of seasonal floral displays, statues and grand monuments. For the more energetic, there is the Holyrood Park and the Arthur’s Seat which reward you with unmatched views of the city. Most of the city which includes shops, museums, restaurants, theatres and architecture can be best enjoyed on foot.
At one edge of the Princes Street Gardens in the monumental ‘Scott Monument’ which is only the second monument in the world erected in honour of a writer – Sir Walter Scott. It is designed in the Victorian Gothic manner and stands tall near the Waverly Railway Station. The ‘Meadow’ is another park which is popular for outdoor games and also to spend time during the summer months.
After exploring the ‘Old Town’, it was time to take the hop on hop off bus tour as time was at a premium and there was so much to see in the city. The first stop was the historic Edinburgh castle which overlooks the city perched on Castle Rock. The Castle was built in at least the 12th Century AD and it served as the royal residence till 1633 and thereafter was used mostly as a military barracks. St. Margaret’s Chapel – the oldest building in Edinburgh is housed within the precincts of this castle. The castle also houses the National War Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National War Memorial. This castle is one of the top tourist attractions in Scotland.
After enjoying the views from the top, my next stop was the Holyrood Palace located at the other end of the ‘Royal Mile’ which presently is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth in Scotland and was the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scotland since the 16th century. The Palace gives one an insight into the royal lifestyle and grandeur which consists of exquisite fountains, grand statues, elaborate and ornate chambers and dining rooms. They also contain the ruins of the Augustinian Holyrood Abbey which are very well preserved. The Scottish Parliament is located next to the Palace and is open to tourists where one can see the proceedings.
Thereafter, I proceeded towards my next stop which was the port of Leith where the Her Majesty’s Royal Yatch Britannia is now berthed after its decommissioning in 1997. It is open for tourists and is a big draw wherein one can see the life and times of the Royalty. It has the quarters of the Royal Family, the living quarters, the regal dining halls and washing and pressing equipment installed at the time of commissioning of the ship in 1954 and are in still good working condition which itself is a testimony to the skill and workmanship.
Onwards I ventured to the many museums in the city namely the National Museum of Scotland, Museum on the Mound, National Art Gallery, Surgeons’ Hall Museums and the Museum of Edinburgh to name a few. They are all very well stocked and offer a world of information and treasure to the visitor.
Another landmark is the Balmoral Hotel which is in the heart of the city and a hop away from the Waverly Railway Station. It is made in the Victorian style and opened its doors in 1902 although it was then named as the North British Hotel and it functioned as a traditional railway hotel. After its major refurbishment, it was reopened in 1991 and since then has played host to many leading luminaries such as Sir Sean Connery, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling amongst others.
Edinburgh is also famous for its various contributions to the world of medicine with the headquarters of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh being located there which is the oldest surgical corporations in the World. The University of Edinburgh boasts of many legendary alumni such as James Young Simpson – the creator of Anaesthesia, John Lister – discoverer of antiseptic to name a few and is a much sought after education destination known for its innovation and ability to attract bright students from all across the world.
As Edinburgh is a very welcoming city, people from all over the globe have taken root here leading to a multitude of culture, food and ethnicity. Food of all varieties is available here and I tasted Indian food in two different restaurants which was very authentic. I also tasted their world famous shortbread cookies which call out to you from numerous shops all across the Princess Street which are lined with shops peddling authentic Scottish ware such as tartan scarves, kilts, shortbread cookies and of course the Scotch whisky. There are whiskey and wine tasting tours which take you and show you how the spirits are made and you can taste the different varieties. One is amazed to see the range of scotch whiskeys available there which shows that there is much more to scotch whisky than Johnnie Walker Red, Black, Green and Blue label.
As far as the souvenirs are concerned one must pick up their lambswool and tartan scarves, cookies, Heathergems jewelry, tweed jackets and not to forget a bottle of the Scotch whiskey. My only regret is that I could not taste their national dish i.e. haggis which is a savoury meat pudding but I could lay my hands on their traditional mince pie which was simply delicious.
As it was time to bid adieu, I came back with vivid memories of a beautiful city, a significant portion of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site which has been preserved very well. Edinburgh serves as the gateway to explore the Highlands, Lakes and other cities of enchanting Scotland and I made a wish that I would want to come back to this city again to soak in its beauty and culture all over again.