Like most places around the world, Edinburgh existed in my mind as fantasy. Before my first step on foreign soil, the whole world existed in that same space. As the world gets smaller for most people’s imaginations with everything is accessible from Google street views or a simple online search — the world for myself is vaulting forward and expanding with every new city, new smell, new taste, and new face.
It’s as if when I close my eyes and think to these places they come to back life again wherever I am. A play in my head behind velvet curtains keeps each new place just as promising as the ones before. Because, for as many frustrating or stressful experiences, there are equal parts astounding and stupefying ones. Experiences that vibrate through your body to your soul, electrifying your skin and warming you like a sunrise over phantoms of mountains on a silent morning.
Days when I’m not on the road, just like now as I sit on a beige carpet in a room of white walls and the incessant hum of the space heater battling the depression of life off the road, I think about places like Edinburgh. A place that stoked a heightened sense of fantasy even when casually mentioned by people who had been. There’s an air of mystery in every description, even if it might be a “hotspot” these days. For a place to hold such an energy still, that can be rare. Edinburgh has that, at least for me. Maybe it’s my childhood habit of living in the clouds and seeing the world wrapped in imagination, or maybe certain places just have that.
// The Arrival
The driver flicked on the searing bulbs to wake the passengers twisted in grotesque positions. We all slept the night away escaping London as amateur contortionists in seats with patterns like someone barfed psychedelic Rorschach blots everywhere. Standard cross-country bus designs nonetheless. A lingering smell of urine greeted me on that morning, but out of my window green hills unfolding toward the horizon and touched by the fast disappearing ghosts of the morning mist, with a city rising out of the blinding sun rays in the distance. I un-pretzeled myself and stretched my the aching muscles, grabbed my belongings, and exited to the cobbled grey streets. It was time to get lost in this city, for I had no accommodation set, no plans, and no clue about what to see. Just the way I like it.
Welcome to Edinburgh.
// COFFEE TIME
The streets at 6:00am during winter are magic in Edinburgh. The rest of the world has disappeared, besides tired souls that traveled from London on the same bus and had since scattered. In a place that I heard could be overcrowded with tourists, everything was still and silent and teetering on the edge of morning chaos. A hush. It was beautiful. But I needed fuel first since it had been an entire day since I ate last, and to properly get lost I needed coffee.
// Getting Lost in Edinburgh
While fueling up with grub and caffeine, I looked over my phone map to get my bearings and set out. No plan, no final destination, just see where the day would take me. Already the morning silence was broken as people began flowing into the streets and the sounds of cars broke the silence. The city came to life, and though the grey and overcast sky muted the city, it was still awash with the fire of autumn. From the café I marched forth into the morning without a damn clue about where I was going, but in the general direction of old town where I figured something cool was bound to spring up.
// Beautiful Edinburgh Old Town
Spires and buildings of old, a wander down the royal mile and through the serpentine alleys will leave you with your mouth open in awe at the varying ancient architecture. Edinburgh Old town and New town are both protected UNESCO Heritage sites and the town itself dates back hundreds of years. As I walked through streets and closes (alleys) to whatever caught my eye, I could always see the massive rock outcropping with Edinburgh Castle sitting atop. And that is where I would go.
// Edinburgh Castle at First Sight
I will admit, I am a castle (or fortress) addict. Ever since I was a wee boy as they might say in Scotland, any ancient fortification fascinated me. I’d be out in the woods building tree forts and running around with sticks…eh em…I mean swords, playing as if I was a knight. The big draw of Edinburgh for many will be the castle, and although I tried to not rush to it first thing during the day and build suspense, I couldn’t wait any longer. As it turned out, the wait would be extremely long, so I only got to see inside the outer walls, but it was still fascinating.
// Exploring Edinburgh’s Architecture
After I didn’t get into Edinburgh Castle because of the wait (my fault for exploring on a Saturday…) it was time for another coffee and more getting lost. My head and neck by the end of the day ached from all of the staring upward I did at the gothic architecture all around the city, the old churches, the quirky bars and cafes, and general life around Edinburgh.
// Sunset beneath Edinburgh castle
As the sun fell lower and lower and the temperature dropped, I wandered down into Princess Street Gardens and enjoyed the golden sunset casting long shadows beneath the castle and igniting the orange and crimson leaves.
// Will Smith Creeping
I never thought I’d have an adventure that was shared with Will Smith, but he was in Edinburgh creeping out of a window while I was there. It was time to find a hostel that I never took the time to book, and time for a sip of whiskey. I’ll be back someday Edinbrah, and I’ll get to explore that castle…
// What Should You Do in Edinburgh?
Although I have yet to put together a “must do” Edinburgh guide, my favorite thing to do first in any city I visit is to get lost. I will typically wander for hours without maps or directions, until my feet scream and my craving for coffee demands a halt in the exploring. It is a city that is either perfect for wandering the old streets until you collapse, or filled with incredible things to do all over Edinburgh during your trip.