Glasgow and Edinburgh in one day!

When I woke up on Saturday I suddenly remembered our high school friend Daniel was in Edinburgh for the week. It was on my calendar but in all the jet lag I’d forgotten that we hadn’t made any definite plans, and now I realized I’d better get in touch soon or we might miss him. I sent him an email and he replied back immediately. After a little back-and-forth, Erik and I found ourselves with new Saturday plans: we were going to Edinburgh.

Glasgow Queen St station

(As always, mouse over the images for commentary; click to enlarge.)

Even though Glasgow and Edinburgh have vastly different reputations, the two cities are less than an hour apart by train. We passed through several towns (and a station with the delightful name of Coatbridge Sunnyside) and many expansive, gently rolling green hills populated by cows, sheep, and sometimes horses. It was a peaceful and bucolic landscape that reminded me a little of home.

View from train to Edinburgh: grass and a stone bridge

We arrived in Edinburgh just before one o’clock and set out to meet Daniel. After leaving the station, the first street we turned onto was Cockburn Street, and it looked like something out of a storybook:

Cockburn Street

At the top of Cockburn we found High Street and the “Royal Mile,” the heart of Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town and a well-justified tourist attraction. After an hour of pastoral views and the soporific motion of the train, it was a shock to come out into the crowds and noise and an unfamiliar city. (As it turned out, we’d just missed the Pride parade by minutes, so some of the hubbub was parade noise.) We pushed our way into the Starbucks on the corner, where we found Daniel upstairs sharing a tiny table with a stranger. We then headed out in search of lunch.

Off the Royal Mile

One thing Erik and I noticed immediately was that the faces around us were much more ethnically diverse than in Glasgow — though I don’t know whether that’s a reflection of the city’s population, or just a function of our proximity to the university and the tourist hub on a Saturday.

We went to a little shop called The Piemaker and picked up a few pies (the steak and ale is pictured below), then brought them back to the university building where Daniel’s conference was being held. If I’d been able to think at all, my thoughts might have gone like this: “I am sitting at a table in a university common room, with two guys I’ve known since I was a teenager, eating chicken tikka pie and surrounded by computer scientists and statisticians. And I’m in Edinburgh.” It was highly surreal.

Individual steak and ale pie

When we’d finished eating, we headed back out into the city and I was able to get my bearings a little. Since the rain had mostly cleared up, we walked to Calton Hill, where a short uphill walk brought us to an impressive collection of monuments and a nearly 360° view of the city.

Ascending the short trail to Calton Hill

Dugald Stewart Monument

National Monument and Nelson Monument

Despite the amazing sights, there weren’t enough people on the hill to make it feel crowded. The ones who were there were mostly tourists, representing every age and every nationality; at one point I remarked, “If we stay here long enough we’ll hear every language.”

National Monument, an unfinished structure of columns in Greek style

View of New Town from Calton Hill

View of what I think are residences

There was some kind of concert going on down in the town while we were there (I’m irked because I can’t figure out what it was), and while I was taking this video, they were playing “Hallelujah.” The distorted reverberations seem quite fitting for the view!

Nelson Monument

City Observatory

Of course we had to clamber up onto the Greek-inspired National Monument.

Salisbury Crags seen from the National Monument

I didn’t fully appreciate how huge it was until we were on it.

Girls walking along National Monument

Behind the monument we saw this breathtaking view of what I later found out are the Salisbury Crags. They rise up so far out of the skyline that they look like some misplaced feature from another world. Peering at them from our distance, we spotted people walking up. “Let’s do that sometime,” I said to Erik, and he agreed.

The epic green Salisbury Crags

We finally came down from the hill and back into the city, crossing the North Bridge and descending down one of the Old Town’s many flights of steps to Market Street.

North Bridge and Balmoral Hotel as seen from steps leading down to Market Street

Edinburgh, like Glasgow, boasts many museums and galleries with free admission, so we checked out two of them: the Fruitmarket Gallery and the City Art Centre. Within six days in Scotland we have visited four galleries in two different cities — I love it. A couple of pieces from the City Art Centre:

Layla Curtis, "Glasgow Index Drawing," 2012.

Layla Curtis, “Glasgow Index Drawing,” 2012. Ink on tracing paper. This map made me very happy because we could point out to Daniel where we’re staying in Glasgow.

When the galleries closed at five, we wandered around a bit more, taking in the Old Town, the tourists, the kilt shops and whisky shops, and the street musicians (including several bagpipers). We had to break out our umbrellas a few times, but mostly the sky stayed overcast.

Shops and businesses along the Royal Mile

At the end of the Royal Mile we reached Edinburgh Castle, which is situated on such a rocky, sheer cliff that I don’t know how anyone could ever have thought to attack it. It is quite a sight; my photo doesn’t do it justice, but of course we’ll have plenty of opportunity to visit later.

Edinburgh Castle as seen from Grassmarket

One very strange thing about the castle is it now has an extremely modern stadium attached to it. The internet says the stadium is “temporary” but I can’t tell whether that means something more like “it’s modular and has no foundations” or whether it actually gets dismantled in the fall.

We had a delicious dinner at The Doric — Erik had haggis neeps and tatties — and then parted from Daniel before getting on the train again. It’s always so nice to see familiar faces on our travels, and now that we’ve left North America, those opportunities will be even more rare.

Sunset is late here — around ten PM — and our return train took a different route back to Glasgow, so we still had an interesting view.

View from train back to Glasgow via different route: rolling grass

Then we were back in Glasgow.

Pedestrian walk with Argyll Arcade on left

I feel curiously loyal to Glasgow in spite of Edinburgh’s beauty. I don’t know if it’s just that we came here first so I’ve imprinted on it somehow, or whether I have an underdog prejudice toward a city so many people told me not to bother with, or whether it’ll turn out I really do like Glasgow better. Anyway, we only saw a tiny corner of Edinburgh and we’ve barely seen more of Glasgow, so ask me again in a month and see what I say!