Vicarious Tourism: Edinburgh

Last weekend was a bank holiday weekend, so I decided to take a little trip to Scotland. I hadn’t been to Edinburgh since I was eight or nine, and didn’t remember much about it except that they had a KFC there, which at the time I hadn’t seen in years and was really excited about. While I’m in the area, I figured it was time to make some new, slightly more grown-up memories.

The main tourist attraction is Edinburgh Castle, which cost 24 fucking dollars to enter and was, you know, a castle. (Two years in Europe and I’m getting jaded about castles again.) It was a large and historically significant castle at least, and had some shiny crown jewels in it. And the views from the top were nice. More my speed in the historic attractions department was the Real Mary King’s Close, a tour of homes and alleyways walled up in the 17th century to serve as the foundation for a city building. It was cool to get a glimpse of what daily life was like for normal people instead of just kings and queens. And then there’s the Scotch Whisky Experience: I was dubious when I saw the Haunted Mansion-style ride with cars shaped like whisky barrels, but it turned out to be a really interesting and educational tour, complete with tasting of course. I also enjoyed just walking around town, through the tiny medieval alleyways and broad Georgian avenues.

I also took a day trip south to see Hadrian’s Wall. It’s not much to look at these days; apparently it used to be up to 16 feet tall in places, but between some sinkage and centuries of being pillaged for building materials only the width of the wall distinguishes it from any other field boundary. But I was there. I saw it. More impressive was Vindolanda, the remains of a Roman fort and the village that grew up next to it. Again, it’s not much to look at, basically just wall foundations and paving stones. But among the detritus found at the site were fragments of messages written on thin strips of wood, still legible almost 2000 years later. They cover all kinds of mundane aspects of life at the edge of the Roman Empire: routine military reports, inventories, shopping lists, a care package, a birthday party invitation. Technology may have come a long way in the last two millennia, but people don’t seem to have changed much.

On the minus side of the trip, pretty much everything was eyewateringly expensive. I also blame my day tramping around the Northumbrian countryside in the cold and wind and rain for the sore throat that has me stuck at home this weekend self-medicating with hot whiskeys. But on the whole, entirely worth it.