It’s a two-and-half hour trip by train from Ayr to Edinburgh, and that’s if you can make the connections in a timely fashion. But the trains are comfortable and make for a good place to read or catch up with a friend. I am always struck by how towns have their own personalities. If Glasgow is the Pittsburgh of Scotland, then Edinburgh is the New York City of Scotland.
In many ways, Edinburgh is an absolutely pain in the neck. Literally. There is so much to see. You spend most of your day craning your head, trying to take it all in. There is absolutely no way. You need at least a week in Edinburgh. Best if you can just plan to do your study abroad in town.
Of course, like most fabulous cities, you can get a sense of the place in a day or two. There is the Royal Mile in which you can shop for a tam or visit with the owl keeper. There are eateries all along where you can get a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. We opted for lunch near the University where we found a fabulous Thai restaurant, Ting Thai. I recommend the Pad Thai, but it’s all excellent and reasonably priced.
Do wear your best walking shoes. I made the mistake of wearing my canvas tennis shoes instead of my usual walkers and by days end, I was moving as if I were walking on broken glass. Edinburgh is like taking all the hills of San Francisco and condensing them into a 5 mile by 5 mile square. So you are climbing up and down all day long, on asphalt and cobblestone. We started our day with a Black History tour of Edinburgh which had us moving from one side of town to the other. By day’s end, I had walked 12 miles and climbed the stairway to heaven and back down again.
We made the obligatory visit to the Father of Misogyny at St. Giles, and just so happened to arrive in time for a lovely concert that began with the Edinburgh Waltz. A person can’t walk two blocks in Edinburgh without happening upon some statue erected in honor of some man. On the train over I read part of the book, Where are all the women? by Sara Sheridan. An excellent study in all the memorials not yet built in honor of women. Sheridan states that only 0.5 percent of the memorials in Scotland are in honor of women, and most of them are in honor of the Queen.
I don’t know what the ratio is in the US, but I would wager it’s about the same percentage.
When I was younger I never really thought much about how the memorials are all mostly devoted to men. One of the problems with that is that the women’s stories get lost, overlooked, diminished, completely forgotten as a result. I was in DaNang, Vietnam, the first time I saw a statue of any significance to a woman – Hero Mother. If you’ve read my memoir – After the Flag has been Folded (Wm. Morrow) – you know the story behind that statue and it’s message for me.
A new friend from Poland told me that her country has many statues to women. We should all be more like Poland.
The Writers Museum was closed, but that didn’t stop a group of youngsters from personally inviting us to attend the forthcoming premier of their Oliver play. “One of my favorite books,” I told them. I still remember the summer of 1967 when I read that book. Back when I was living in that trailer park out on Morris Road in Columbus, Georgia.
Books defined my life long before I became a writer. I mark the places I lived by the books I read. I was in Oahu when I read A Wrinkle in Time. I was in Dublin, Georgia, the first time I discovered an erotica book. It was my aunt’s. She had hidden the paperback in her top dresser drawer. I was a freshman at Columbus High the day I pulled the first of many Victoria Holt novels off the shelf and learned what Gothic literature was all about. I was the mother of elementary school age kids when I read Crazy in Alabama. I was the mother of teenagers when I read Salvation on Sand Mountain. I was working my first reporter job when I read My Losing Season.
I imagine some of you define your lives by the music you’re listened to, or the comic books you read. I was into Archie and Veronica myself for awhile. And who among us didn’t read Mad Magazine?
Since arriving in Scotland, I’ve read Red Dust Road, the memoirs of Scotland’s maker, Jackie Kay. And I am currently reading Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, and will start reading Negroland a memoir by Margo Jefferson. When I leave Scotland, it’s these stories I’ll carry with me. These books and the people who wrote them.
There are two things to be aware of when visiting Edinburgh – the massive number of wedding parties you will encounter. There are brides and bridal parties around nearly every corner. Along with the Silent Discos. That’s the Edinburgh version of Bend’s Cycle Pub tours, but without the cycle, or the beer. Just people dancing down the cobblestone streets wearing headphones and singing at the top of their voices to songs only they can hear. And wearing Jane Fonda workout gear.
There are, not surprisingly, bagpipers blowing their horns on the street corners. And more redhead people in one square mile than you’ll find in the whole of Deschutes County.
Kilts are as common as Carhartts.
The Scots love their sweets, as well as their whiskey. Neither of which I’ve tried yet. And forget it. I’m not eating the Haggis. No way. Not even the vegetarian version.
Okay. Maybe the latter.
Overall, Edinburgh is a delightful city. I will return there soon, but not without better shoes.
I have to.
I didn’t get to see Dolly, the cloned sheep.
But I did get to see Ellen do the Salsa on the Royal Mile. That alone was worth the 12 miles.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of The Murder Gene, which you can preorder now. She is a student at the University of West Scotland, studying Media & Culture.