Edinburgh Castle is built on a hill
A visit to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh acquaints Adewole Ajao with the second most popular tourist destination in the United Kingdom
One city, nearly a million occupants and innumerable sights embody the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. This realisation becomes imminent after the two-hour train ride from Aberdeen: a trip worth making for any would-be lover of the countryside.
A US Travelnews poll of top vacation destinations has Edinburgh in its top ten, and the city’s bustle is unmistakeable under the 13 degrees Centrigrade weather. It is supposed be spring, but the UK version has a chill competing with endless sunshine. Fortunately the sun does not set until 8pm at this time of year, giving ample opportunities for visitors to bask in the offerings the picturesque town has to offer.
Located within seven mountains, there are no shortages of backgrounds for snapping pictures in a city that blends ancient and modern architecture on a verdant landscape. Much of Edinburgh’s undulating scenery, a product of early volcanic activity and intense glaciation, is dotted with such buildings that attest to the dynamism of nature and acumen of the builders.
Perched comfortably on a hill is Edinburgh Castle. A former home to several monarchs, the edifice which is one with the mountain, kindles memories of the Roman and Germanic influences that remain part of the city’s rich history. The city remains modern in every sense of the word though. Its high street on Princes Street is just one sign of its global reputation as an economic and business haven. With a clutch of eateries and shopping outlets, a tram line is also being constructed through the route for increased access to the shopper’s haven.
Edinburgh’s status as one of the strongest economies in the UK earned it an FDI Magazine award for European Best Large City of the Future for Foreign Direct Investment. But there is more to the town than business. A vibrant arts scene made it the world’s first UNESCO city of Literature while its old and new town regions have been made UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These achievements are capped by various book, science and arts festivals that draw art and culture groupies to the city.
The pick of its festivals is the Edinburgh International Festival. Since its first edition in 1947, it has hosted a long list of classical and theatrical productions that feature popular directors and producers. With this year’s edition holding in August, preparations are already underway to host the world.
Sporting either the Union Jack or Scottish flag on their roofs, Edinburgh’s work and leisure havens continue the contrasts commenced by the old and modern buildings. These flag differences inspire thoughts of the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence. Since the idea had been proposed, various stories have found their way to the public agenda.
In a city that is the seat of Scottish Government, today’s gist is about the future of the Scottish Pound if independence from the UK is eventually achieved. This media debate has not displaced the inability of the world-famous pandas in the Edinburgh zoo to mate naturally. Since the arrival of Yang Guang and the female Tian Tuan, they have taken most of the headlines, with zoo supervisors losing sleep over an eagerly-anticipated reproduction. The Chinese imports fail to hit it off and artificial insemination takes over.
The Pound and Panda issues are the gist as we board a taxi for a CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) conference at the Edinburgh Napier University.
The university is one of major institutions within the city. Others such as the University of Edinburgh, Queen Mary University, Herriot Watt University draw a fair share of students from around the world to the Scottish capital. A brief bout of traffic interrupts the journey. This leaves my well-travelled African classmate fuming over the cab man’s preference to leave the till running during stops in traffic.
“I have been to other countries and it is not done this way,” he argues. “The till should be off when we stop”.
Such contrasting versions attract some laughter from other Africans in the London-styled Black cab, but it is just a slice of how things are done in Edinburgh. We also have to pay to use the toilets right from our arrival at Waverly Station, a Scottish train stop that gets the largest human traffic after the one at Glasgow.
Being disposed to using toilets without paying, we tone down on the liquids since it costs around 20-30 pence to use a toilet. Someone advises bringing an empty bottle along for the next trip and another round of laughter rents the air as we arrive at our venue.
From within the upper deck of a Lothian Bus, the National Gallery and National Museum look very intimidating after we conclude our conference. A clutch of notable eateries also compete for our attention at virtually every street corner as we head back to Waverly Station for the two-hour ride home. Once dusk settles on Edinburgh, the city gets an entirely new meaning.
The human traffic dims but the buildings assume a new dimension as lights illuminate their dimensions. With the visual effects, it all seems an entirely different city after 8pm but photographers are still capturing images around notable haunts. By 9:46pm, it is already time to leave but the memories of the Scottish seat of power linger as the train takes us out of the station.