What a magical city! But good gracious it is COLD! Before I left I looked at the weather forecast: between 55-65 degrees, cloudy and rainy. But I think the Parisian heat must have fried my brain because all I made of that was, “Ooh, it won’t be 100 degrees and humid. Great, I could use a little break from the heat.” And I only packed a little cardigan and pashmina and set off. But as soon as I stepped out of the airport in Scotland I remembered REAL quick what 58 degrees felt like.
I flew into Glasgow on Thursday, took a 2 hour night bus to Edinburgh and made my way to the hostel. It’s called the Edinburgh Nights Hostel and was clean and relatively central which are really my only criteria. But what made it standout was the staff*. I’ve only stayed at a hostel twice before. Once on my first trip to London with my cousin 5 years ago, once in Dublin last year. In the first instance, we randomly made friends with a Londoner who took us out every night. And in Dublin, my friend Ali and I roomed with a cool girl from California and the three of us partied together the whole weekend. This time I was in a room with 4 Japanese kids who didn’t speak more than 4 words of English, and the hostel didn’t have a communal area so there was no chance of befriending people to party with. Normally I would have just gone out by myself, but I soon realized that drunken Scots scare me. I passed tons of bars walking home at night but instead of making a detour inside for a drink, it just made me clutch my purse a little tighter and pick up my pace. Guys weaving drunkenly down the street, screaming and shouting gibberish (or Celtic, who knows), making their way out of bars while dragging a drunken friend between them, fights breaking out. Even the girls were a bit off… a lot of them were stumbling around barefoot in their miniskirts and tank tops (mind you, its 50 degrees and raining!). At one point, I even saw a guy standing outside, calm as you please, with blood streaming down his face. Now of course I’m not saying that this is how Scottish people behave, but what I experienced was a little too “reality TV” for me. So I enjoyed getting to bed before 1am so I could be up early the next morning and sightsee (read: shop). One night I did go to a late night comedy show near my hostel but was chatted up by some guy who had such a thick accent (he was from Glasgow) I could barely tell he was speaking in English. I was drinking pink champagne and he offered to buy a bottle so we could chat more but I quickly declined and made my exit.
Edinburgh has amazing shopping (though I heard Glasgow is better which blows my mind) and the hostel was just a few blocks away from Princes Street, the main shopping area. They have everything from funky British retailers to H&M and Gap. And the Holy Grail: Topshop! (we do have one in New York now but for some reason it sucks. The Edinburgh store is apparently the 2nd biggest after the Oxford Circus flagship).
But what I really came for was the Festival. Every August Edinburgh pretty much shuts down to this International Festival, which is really a series of festivals taking place over the course of the month. There’s the Jazz Festival, Book Festival, Art Festival, Fringe Festival (the biggest arts festival in the world)… Everyone from Janeane Garofalo to David Sedaris was in town and the energy was incredible. All these creative, artsy, over-the-top people out trying to make a name for themselves. And the best part? A lot of it was free! I spent my days hopping from one venue to another, taking breaks here and there to shop, eat or just sit in a café with a cup of coffee and the Festival Guide mapping out the shows I wanted to hit later that day. And around Royal Mile in Old Town you can just plop down on a step to check out an impromptu street performance at any time (my breakfast entertainment).
But the funny thing when you go to free shows is that at least half of them are terrible! Like the comedians are really, painfully bad. It makes me wonder how they got this far without a single friend or family member ever telling them the truth. How in the world does that happen? Couldn’t their mother say at some point, “I’m sorry Billy but you’re just not funny. The jokes aren’t funny, the delivery isn’t funny. Comedy is just not your thing. Have you thought about becoming an accountant?”
When I wasn’t cringing in embarrassment or trying to keep a fake smile on my face (some of the venues are really small and I made the mistake early on of sitting in the front row) I did get a good laugh at just how bad they were. Even thinking back on it now makes me smile… especially The Lebanese Midget from England with hair down to his waist who did a couple black jokes. No one was laughing and one Scottish guy in the audience looked over at me (the only black person in the room) apologetically, winced and ducked his head. I didn’t find the comedian insulting (I can handle a few stereotype jokes, we do strange things sometimes), sadly he just wasn’t funny :o/
As a black woman traveling in a foreign country I always take a quick scan to gauge how people are reacting to me. Sometimes it’s full out shock and awe (Macedonia), shameless flirting/catcalls (Italy, Tunisia) or steady staring that makes me slightly uncomfortable (Greece). In Edinburgh, either they’re used to seeing black folks and don’t find us to be that big of a deal (though I could count the number of black people I saw all weekend on one hand) or they’re just too polite to stare, but it was totally fine. Aside from smiling at my American accent, my being black didn’t seem to be an issue.
So the weekend (aside from my unpreparedness with the weather) was great. Edinburgh is stunningly beautiful, definitely one of the most picturesque cities I've visited. I found myself stopping dead in my tracks to take in the sudden view of the hills or the sea in the distance. Or sitting on the side of the road at dusk to watch torchlight’s flickering at the Castle on the hill while a symphony played. Or watching young boys playing bagpipes in the street (and yes, I DID see men in kilts! whoohoo!)—I don’t know if it was because of the festival but you really can hear bagpipes everywhere, and it’s a beautiful sound.
20 Euro flight, 40 Pound lodgings and a few bucks for food and drink isn’t too shabby. I’ll just have to remember to pack my jacket next time, even in the dead of summer.
*Two brothers run the hostel and when I arrived at 1am, cold and sleepy, they made me a cup of tea and then let me stay in a nicer 6-bed room en-suite even though I had paid for the cheapest room. And on Saturday around midnight, I came back to the hostel to collect my bag (they let me store it in the locker in my room instead of the communal storage in the basement even though I had already checked out that morning), prepared to spend the evening at a bar or café until the 3am bus to the airport. I was exhausted from a full day of running around the city and the brother told me to just go lay down in one of the rooms for a couple hours, that he would wake me at 2am when it was time to leave to go catch my bus. So nice! I don’t know, maybe I’ve been living in New York and Paris too long, but how often does stuff like that happen?