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Edinburgh CastleNov. 20-25, 1998  Edinburgh, Scotland

As sometimes happens while traveling in Europe, a rugby match has turned the relatively routine task of finding accommodations for the evening into something of a challenge. The home team in Edinburgh is in a BIG match tomorrow with the visiting reigning world champions - South Africa. It seems that almost the entire country has traveled to the capital to witness the expected trouncing first hand. Laura and I had little interest in heading for the match, just matching our head with a pillow. Laura's unusually energetic mood this evening proves to be a big asset in finally securing lodging, as she calls and runs around while I babysit the packs.  We find a great little B&B, just 15 minutes walk from the station.

Looking over Edinburgh's New TownAs the morning greets us, we take advantage of the fact that the majority of the townsfolk are either cheering at the stadium, or glued to a TV in their local pub, as a great opportunity to explore the city in relative peacefulness. It is said that the pride of the all the Scots is manifested in this, the majestic city of Edinburgh. And from looking around, it seems the Scotsmen do have something to be proud of. From the tall gray-stone Georgian terraces standing at stately attention, to the sprinkling of medieval buildings planted solidly on their original foundations, the city's variety of architecture makes it one of the most handsome capital cities in all of Europe.

Edinburgh CastleOne of these medieval buildings, the one that absolutely dominates the skyline, is our first stop of the day. It is the city's most prominent example of its pride and beauty - Edinburgh Castle. Perched atop the highest point within sight, that of the volcanic projection known as Castle Rock, the massive structure has always been at the attention-getting center of things. Thus, it has seen more than its fair share of battles and destruction as its ownership went from one warring faction to the next. Because various parts of the castle have been demolished, rebuilt, and/or further fortified, it is a hodgepodge of architectural styles. Each stage of its history and the construction that came with it, reflect the castle's myriad of different uses as well as the rulers that decreed those uses. Laura and I relive the centuries of history, with the help of an audio player and headphones, as we weave in and out of the castle's many chambers, halls, and dungeons, letting ourselves get lost in the legends.

'Blowing on the Pipes'Now, from the kingly castle, to the Royal Mile. We bid farewell to Edinburgh Castle and make our way on the street running down the hill into the Old Town. This strip, known as the Royal Mile, was the main artery of the city for over six centuries. It took the completion of the elegant New Town in the 18th century, to detract from its popularity. With this addition, Edinburgh was split into the Old Town, encompassing the Royal Mile running down the hill from the castle and the medieval alleys and tenements surrounding it, and the New Town, with its grand terraces and crescents of Prince Street, and the pubs and restaurants of Rose Street.

St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal MileWe casually strolled down the  cobblestone thoroughfare, lined with churches, museums, other grand institutions, including my favorite, the Royal Mile Whiskies store. Inside the walls of this small, inconspicuous shop are bottles of some of the finest Scotch Whiskey in the world. Boasting many brands simply not available anywhere else, it is a popular stop for even those who have more of an appreciation for the heritage of this elixir than the taste.

The old cemetaryOccasionally, we would wander down into the honeycomb of steep and winding alleyways known as 'closes'. These once plague infested, trash ridden rows of multi-story slums, are now nicely restored and tidily preserved window shopping utopias. This, the Old Town is far refined from the days of the past when garbage and waste raining down from windows above, and refuse stagnating in open sewers below, gave the city the undesirable nickname of 'Auld Reekie' - loosely translated: 'Stinkyville'. Not only that, but before long this most morally upright city developed a seamier side, with an estimated 200 brothels in business in the early Victorian period. Add to that rampant crime, and widespread disease amoung the 30,000 residents, and you have, overall, not a pleasant place to call home in the middle 1800's.

One of Edinburgh's old tradition holdersIn sharp contrast, the stately Georgian townhomes and sprawling crescents of the New Town gave the city of Edinburgh two faces - the opulence of the New Town and the destitution of the Old Town. In fact, it was this sharp contrast that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's narrative of opposites, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Like the story, it took seeing the two sides of the same city, to have a true appreciation of what was hidden beneath the surface. Fortunately for us, it wasn't a group of snaggle-toothed, hunch-backed, schizophrenic killers, but a wonderfully warm and friendly bevy of cheerful Scots, that we discovered and now have found memories of, on 'the other side' of Edinburgh. 

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Last modified: June 01, 1999    Photographs and text 1998 Scott and Laura Kruglewicz. All Rights Reserved.

 

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