HYDERABAD: As I drove down from the Edinburg airport to Scotsman Hotel, Derek slowly warmed up to my alien presence and opened up. Initially, my journalistic inquisitiveness didn’t surprise him much but as we passed the suburbs and entered the city, his enthusiasm matched mine. Suddenly at the turn of a road, he announced, “This is where Sean Connery lived… and delivered milk in his younger days.” This sudden shattering of a romantic/glamorous image of one of the most handsome Bonds came as little more than a surprise to me. Then he continued, “Well, he delivered milk to my grandmother and many others like her, every morning, going around on a bicycle.” Oh! It must have been wonderful to see a handsome lad bringing milk every morning and deliver with a sunny smile! Wonder how many girls sighed after he left and how many spent sleepless nights for the morning to dawn and for the budding Bond (Sean Connery) to appear!
As we passed the Castle, Derek swelled with pride and shared some details. The castle is Edinburgh’s jewel in the crown that dominates the skyline of the city: it is admired by the city folk every day from every angle. The castle stands upon the plug of an extinct volcano, which is estimated to have risen about 350 million years ago. As one of the most important strongholds in the Scottish Kingdom, Edinburgh Castle was involved in many historical conflicts. I decided to allocate some time to the castle but on another day.
I checked into the iconic Scotsman Hotel ideally located on North Bridge between the Royal Mile and Princess Street. The hotel is an Edwardian building which had housed The Scotsman newspaper for nearly a century and boasts a rich history which reflects in its architecture and décor.
Guide John joined us at lunch at the Scottish Café and took us on a walking tour. As we walked on the lush green lawns and looked around, the tall, gothic and imposing clock tower appeared yonder. John said it never shows the correct time. Then why the clock? “It is always five minutes ahead so that those who catch the trains are never late!”, he chuckled. Impressed with the wisdom of Edinburgh elders, we all chorused, “Awww…it’s so cute!” Well, it is the same ploy that our parents engaged during our school days.
We walked up to The Scottish National Gallery, which is home to the country’s sensational collection of fine art, from the early Renaissance to the late nineteenth century. We spent an hour strolling through the magnificent neoclassical building, looking at great works of art. Rembrandt was visiting the UK and there was an exhibition of his works in the adjacent building: I reserved it for a leisurely visit later, as Rembrandt is one of my favourite painters and deserves more time and attention.
The lively bagpipe music played by the buskers gave an intense feeling of being in Scotland. We walked through the Princess Street Gardens that were filled with lovely flowers: I was much impressed by a floral clock and the stunning fountain adorned with classic sculptures. The castle made an impressive backdrop staring at us from the top.
John compared the old town and the new town of Edinburgh to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde saying that a young architect designed the New Town for the middle class when they left the higgledy-piggledy old town to escape the stench. Packed with medieval dwellings, narrow streets the Old Town had a quaint charm against a sweeping elegance that swathes the Georgian New Town.
We walked through the Royal Mile, the heart of Edinburgh. Running through the centre of Old Town, impressive, towering tenements flank it, between which cobbled closes and narrow stairways interlock to create a secret underground world that reminds me of Shambles in York (England). Just a short walk away is the Grassmarket – once a medieval marketplace and site for public executions. Now the Grassmarket is a vibrant area buzzing with lively drinking spots and eclectic shops. Its detailed medieval architecture, stunning castle views and dynamic atmosphere make it one of the city’s most-loved places. Though Grassmarket executions ceased in the 1700s, some of the traditional pubs in the area still keep the tales of its chequered past alive. Of course, the sandstone buildings have blackened with time and do look dirty from outside.
Edinburgh is said to be the world’s leading festival city and the Old Town’s bohemian, busiest areas buzz with activity during these festivals, turning every shop, bar and available space into a venue. They are said to be a treat: outstanding festivals flood the city in the summer with colour and heart-thumping excitement, while the autumn nights are illuminated by the Scottish International Storytelling Festival.
The undulations of the city add magic and for some events, the ubiquitous castle makes a dramatic backdrop. Out of the many book festivals, art festivals, dance and music festivals, their New Year festival of three days with fireworks attracts thousands to start the journey of life afresh. And the celebrations continue, to celebrate life and its every precious facet.
(The author is a documentary filmmaker and travel writer; she blogs at vijayaprataptravelandbeyond.com)