End of First Week in Edinburgh-Walking Walking Walking

Thank you to everyone who wrote to me or added comments to the journal. I really appreciate the feedback and I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I’ll try to update a little more regularly, and probably with pictures sometime soon. I guess I forgot to mention it, but if you know people who might be interested in this journal, but may not be aware of its existence, please feel free to forward them a link.

Tuesday met me with the same grey tones as were seen Monday morning. Again, I woke well before classes to walk somewhere where I could get the Internet. Later that day, I went to two of my other classes: “Art History 2B” which is a study of the notion of “classicism” from the middle ages to the modernists, and “Music 1B: Music and Technologies”, which is the study of how music has changed in response to changes in acoustic and electric instruments, and also how things like printing and recording have had their effects as well.

Walking back from this class, in the late afternoon, the sun was catching on the various south-facing façades around the city, and it glimmered in yellow. At moments like this, Edinburgh is extremely beautiful, and I find it to be  slowly wooing me, wrapping me up deeper within itself. There are, of course, the things one expects to see here: large grey or tan stone buildings with innumerable chimneypots, little schoolgirls and schoolboys uniformed with neckties, waiting for the bus home and chatting in squeaky brogues, cars on “the wrong side” of the street. I came back to the College Wynd, and after a short nap, somewhat magically had the Internet.

That evening, Nick and I went down to Princes Street, the main shopping district here, so that he could buy some more clothes. I went along and went to Sainsbury’s, a grocery store that I found I much preferred to Tesco. Everything in Sainsbury’s looked fresh, and the prices were the same as Tesco. As an American, it is probably easier for me to deal with Sainsbury’s because of the way the food is presented. Our local Tesco is a bit under-lit and dim inside, which seems normal for a European discount grocer’s, but to one used to shopping in a Whole Foods (the food at either Tesco or Sainsbury’s is of comparable quality, though cheaper) or similar, the Sainsbury’s is much more appealing.

At 10:45 the next morning, I entered 56 George Square, ascended a flight of stairs, and entered office 1.01. It was my first meeting with my Director of Studies, Dr. Peter Wright of the Psychology department—an affably rotund man with a beard and glasses. At the University of Edinburgh, your Director of Studies is the person who can make your dreams come true—he or she is responsible for changing your classes and a host of other administrative duties, in addition to being your advocate with the administration and providing good and wise counsel. He and I chatted a bit and changed my Architectural History class for “Classical World 2d: Art, History, and Power”, a class about art and architecture in the classical world as a channel of propaganda. He also suggested that I get familiar with and sit in at the various Jazz clubs around Edinburgh.

Next it was off to Art History 2B, and after that, my first session of Classical World 2d, both of which were quite good.

Nick and I had planned Tuesday night to go to the cinema on Wednesday, and we did. We went to “The Reader” at the local Odeon, about a ten-minute walk from the College Wynd. We both agreed that it was quite good, and on a Wednesday afternoon with student cards and with a discount courtesy of Nick’s mobile company, we got in for £5, which made it even better.

Chelsea was playing again, this time against a lower-league team. We watched the game in The Sports Bar in the basement of Teviot house, one of the oldest student unions in the world. Unlike your typical student union, Teviot has four or five bars and pubs, each with their own character, and with special deals for students. Student societies sometimes have meetings here, though often the meetings occur at pubs in the larger city community. The Sports Bar features major games and shows them on a big screen. This time Chelsea won, 3-1. Nick was quite happy as a result.

My weekend started doubly early on Thursday at noon. With no lecture this week for two of my classes, it became the weekend as soon as my Art History class concluded. I rather suddenly realized that I had a whole bunch of unplanned time.

There were four of us on the walk that afternoon—Nick, Darci, and Abby, an attractive girl from Baltimore going to School at Brandeis, a friend of Darci’s. We walked to Edinburgh’s canal, which I didn’t know existed. In fact, we joined the canal roughly where it seems to “begin”, about a fifteen-minute stroll from the College Wynd and the old town. We walked the path alongside the canal it for about another fifteen or twenty minutes to the southwest, towards the neighbourhoods of Morningside and Craiglockhart. The walk along the canal was quite beautiful. Moorhens paddled the water, and while it was not exactly sunny, in retrospect the scene seems full of spring and fine weather. I think, however, that is my mind idealizing the situation.

We went through mostly residential neighbourhoods, of the type that may and do exist anywhere in the UK, rows of several story town homes made of grey-tan stone, spouting many chimneypots, and having ubiquitously small backyards whose fences make them appear even smaller than they already are. After the bustle of the streets, these fences, yards, and the canal itself seemed positively rural. Occasionally, we would pass a moored barge, although we saw none cruising under power.

That night, at midnight (or I guess very early Friday morning) the flat and I went to The Jazz Bar, a club just a few steps away from the College Wynd on Chambers St. After midnight, the club is typically free. A straight-ahead Quartet was winding down when we arrived, and after they finished, the club became the domain of funk guitarist Aki and the Freaky Family. A quartet of musicians, the music they played was certainly very funky. I must admit to a bit of surprise to hear a clear brogue coming from Aki’s mouth—he looks a great deal like Jimi Hendrix.

In the beginning, Friday seemed determined to wile itself away in relative simplicity and domesticity, but I had an itch to go walking, and I convinced Darci to come with me. We walked east along the high street (by far the longest time I had spent on this tourist landmark) all the way to its end at Holyrood palace and the new Scottish Parliamentary building, a controversial and to my mind hideous post-modern cocktail of typography, metal, cement and glass.

Turning north, we headed towards Calton Hill, although both of us had been there before. We paused at the top to catch our breath before descending onto the Leith walk, bound northeast.

Leith (rhymes with “teeth”) is Edinburgh’s port neighbourhood, and the Leith Walk is about as unglamorous as the connection between a city and its port supposes to be. Once we passed the hubbub and glitter of the shops and chains of Prince’s St., another kind of commercial district set in, that of the everyday. We passed many grocers, a vast majority of them ethnic in one way or another: Halal shops, Kosher shops, Polish shops, and international fruit stands; which were in turn interspersed with drycleaners, pubs, small restaurants, banks, and electronics stores. I say this not to present the Leith Walk as particularly repugnant or hideous—it is very practical, and much more appealing than endless strip malls—but rather because this is what it was. It was cold and getting on towards sunset, so we turned around well before we reached Leith. Later that night, Nick told me that Leith is incredibly beautiful, and that the best way to get there is by following the Water of Leith, Edinburgh’s river. We plan to do it when the weather is more advantageous.

As it turned out however, I was to see the water of Leith much earlier than all that, because Saturday I made a trip to the Neighbourhood of Dean, to the northeast of New Town. After reaching Princes Street, I turned north until I came to Queens Street, intending to walk through the Queens Street Gardens, which border the street’s north end. When I reached a gate however, it was locked, and a little white sign next to the gate told me that it was open only to those with a key, and gave a name and telephone of who to contact. So I walked alongside the beautiful gardens until I reached Glouscester Lane, a quiet little back alley, surprisingly busy with people walking its length. I too walked down it, continuing my trip downhill. The street was lined with Garages belonging to the wealthy inhabitants of India St. and Moray Place. It was no surprise to me to see at the end of the lane, a private car park for residents of Doune Terrace, that containing several Audi TT sports cars, seemingly brand new.

After a brief walk, I reached the water of Leith. It was very muddy, and a little bit wider than Boulder Creek. Paths ran along both sides of the Water, and I chose the path on the south side of the bank. From down by the creek side, the surrounding hills and houses on top of them, chimneypots glinting, looked tall and impressive. The plants around the creek were somewhat overgrown, lending the whole scene the peculiar feeling that one was walking up a miniature British Rhine.

Perhaps confirming my opinion was the appearance, not far ahead, of what seemed to be a Greco-roman cupola, containing a sculpture. A small round structure of ten Doric columns supporting a small domed roof that contained what appeared to be a goddess or muse. Walking around the base, it appeared that it bore the inscription “St. Bernard’s Well.” On further research, St. Bernard’s well was, like most wells that were glorified as such, was thought to have beneficent properties, and so was frequented by wealthy patrons, who would drink gallons of the stuff.

The statue, purportedly of Hygieia, greek goddess of Health (and later the moon), bears all the necessary accoutrements for well-being, including a cup which she holds in front of her, and a bottle and a snake resting on a nearby pedestal. Unfortunately the statue is not as well executed as the structure around her. Apparently, judging from a few photos on the Internet, the interior of the well is occasionally opened during the Edinburgh summer festival. It appears to be quite exquisite.

Continuing southwest and upstream, the next major landmark I passed was the Dean Bridge, a structure towering over the entire depression in which the water of Leith takes its course. I decided that I would like to walk across it, and made this my goal, but in Edinburgh, this is oftener said than done. Edinburgh is a city that exists on multiple levels—figuratively, yes, but more importantly and less practically, literally as well. Much of the problem is to be found in Old Town, where “street level” can be incredibly deceptive. For instance, at the spot where George IV Bridge (which is a street) and the Cowgate meet, there is no way to get from one to the other. George IV Bridge is quite literally a Bridge over the Cowgate, but when you are on Geroge IV Bridge, all appears to be at ground or street level. All the shops are set along the street as usual, not even hinting that their foundations are to be found another two stories below. I believe one possible answer is that over many years, the High street was gradually built up to the castle, like a great ramp, so that the castle, which had once stood lonely and imposing on a crag, gradually became more accessible. As they did this however, storefronts had to move up on buildings, and so a new artificial street level took hold. Places like the Cowgate had to remain as they were for drainage purposes I guess.

I knew it could be quite a challenge to reach the span of the Dean bridge, perhaps doubly so because of the charm of Dean Village, a former Milling community along the Water of Leith. Set mostly in the depression carved by the river, the Village of Dean looks like a little bit of Germany transplanted to Scotland. It has typical mill buildings (I’m not sure if they were originally this way, or if they were done up to enhance the image of the milling village), with dark wooden framework surrounded by colourful stucco. Compared to the rest of Edinburgh in its earth tones, the light blues and egg-yellows of the village of Dean make for startling and charming contrast.

Ascending through a few streets of the village of Dean, I came to the gates of Drumsheugh Baths Club, which proudly presents itself as “the oldest private and independently owned swimming club in Edinburgh.” Year long membership for a student such as myself would cost £225. For an adult couple, a year would cost £1,195.

I finally did reach the bridge of Dean, and was able to gaze up at the village quite happily. The view I had initially intended, to the north and east towards Leith was not as good as I had hoped. After doing a bit of walking around on the north side of the river, I walked back into town along Queensferry road (which is spelled “Queens Ferry” on the other side of the bridge). Within five minutes I was back on Princes street, headed for Sainsbury’s.


2 Responses to “End of First Week in Edinburgh-Walking Walking Walking”

  1. Becca Says:

    I’m reminded of our conversation this Fall when we talked and dreamed about traveling… we are so lucky to be able to do this! I can’t wait until I’m in Cuba and getting to walk around exploring for myself, but for now I’m much enjoying getting to see Edinburgh vicariously through you.

  2. Yi Says:

    oooh pictures are an excellent idea. I can’t visualize stuff like the bridge/street/not street and other such curious things.

    so the entire place is cute and traditional-looking except for the parliament building? that’s odd.

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