I thought I could escape my winter lows with a trip abroad. I expected a change in scenery would trick my SAD; misdirect it and leave it confused at the intersection of real life and travel life.
It didn't work.
I was able to keep the grey days at bay while in Barcelona and Amsterdam, but once we arrived in Edinburgh, where the days are actually grey, the SAD found me.
Edinburgh is lovely, but heavy. Thick, stone blockhouses line the streets. Gothic buildings sit on corners, walling in the cemeteries that spread across the city. The fortified castle sits above it all, sometimes hidden by the low, leaden skies.
While in Edinburgh, we visited dozens of restaurants, breweries, and bars, but I couldn't shake the sense that we were partying in the middle of a funeral.
As a Colorado native, sun is my energy. Without it I don't know how to operate. But the sun isn't a frequent guest in Scotland and so while there, I did all the things that one might do to shake a depression—I ran, went to yoga classes, explored the city, meditated, spent time by the sea, traveled on weekend trips.
Sometimes my efforts to shake the sad worked and lots of times it didn't.
One Sunday, while Jonathan was at a board game event, I went out, in the rain, determined to alter my attitude.
I made my way to the Leith Shore. A canal, lined by restaurants and shops that promised to be lively, but instead it was a ghost town. A few people walked along the shore, but for the most part everyone was huddled inside. As the rain picked up, I decided to take the opportunity to visit a store and replace some travel supplies.
I found myself in a chair, in a department store, getting a pep talk from a Portuguese makeup artist. My eyes welled with tears, in one of those moments where you're crying but you don't know why you're crying, in front of this wonderful stranger, as he rattled off inspirational quotes and applied blush to my cheeks.
Afterwards, I bought a raincoat and cried my way home in the rain, defeated.
I've put off my writing about Edinburgh. I don't want to unfairly characterize the city through my sheen of depression. I also don't like to indulge negative experiences by giving them words.
But, the city is interesting and weird and weighted with history. We were there for six weeks. We saw a lot. And, a lot of it was great.
So, in an effort to dust off the cobwebs on the blog and my brain and get back to sharing our experiences, here are some highlights from our time in Scotland.
Edinburgh is stone and dirt. From the cemeteries and castles to the ancient volcano—worlds and worlds have existed in the city.
In the center of town sits the Princes Street Gardens—what used to be a river (or loch) where dead bodies were dumped and "witches" drown is now a beautiful, lush sea of green, dotted with flowers, trees and park benches where the residents of town take picnics.
Above the park is Old Town and the Royal Mile leading to the Edinburgh Castle and nearby, the Greyfriars Kirk (a famous "haunted" cemetery).
Old Town is dense with sights. Closes cut their way through parts of town, exposing hidden cafes and gardens.
On a haunted graveyard tour, we learned that the bridges in this part of town contain hundreds of vaults. The south bridge connects new and old town. It has 19 arches, most of which are enclosed by buildings, exposing only the largest arch. Within those enclosed arches are the vaults.
Today, many of the vaults are used for restaurants, bars, karaoke stages, and keg storage. But in the 16th and 17th century, the vaults housed many of the poorest residents of Edinburgh and were centers for gambling, prostitution, and where one might go to find a body for the doctors who are in need of cadavers for experiments and surgical theaters.
There was a lot of death in Old Town. The Royal Mile hosted daily hangings. The royal family executed people frequently, usually based on superstitions, and battles were held in attempts to take over the heavily fortified Edinburgh castle. Oh, and also plagues.
It makes complete sense that Edinburgh seems haunted.
But! It also has history that doesn't have to do with death.
It turns out that Scotland's capital has a rich literary history. Sir Walter Scott, inventor of the historical novel, is from Scotland and is widely celebrated. Monuments for him have been erected all over the country. We visited one in the center of Edinburgh. It was one of the first landmarks that we noticed the day that we arrived, a victorian gothic structure, it's hard to miss. Oddly enough, it's only the second largest monument to Scott. The largest is in Havana, Cuba. (What?!)
A visit to the monument is a fun way to see the city. As you climb the narrow stairs, higher and higher, you reach a 360 degree view of the city, where you can New Town, Old Town, Calton Hill, Arthur's Seat, and the North Sea.
Nearby is the Writers' Museum—a free museum, right off the Royal Mile, dedicated to three Scottish writers and their work, housed in an old Victorian house, Lady Stair’s House at the Lawnmarket.
An aside...I delighted in the names of things in the UK, like the name of the house. It was all so formal and when said in our current culture, made me feel like I was in a fantasy novel.
The museum features the works and belongings of:
- Sir Walter Scott (obviously). If you're not familiar, he wrote Ivanhoe, Waverley, Rob Roy, and many more. I haven't read any of them
- Robert Burns. This man, is the national poet of Scotland and the author of Auld Lang Syne. There is an entire holiday in his honor in January, Burns Night.
- Robert Louis Stevenson. The author of Treasure Island is from Scotland. Who knew?!
And! Much of Harry Potter was inspired and written by JK Rowling in Edinburgh. There are dozens of stores where you can buy wands and Harry Potter tchotchkes. A street in Old Town called Victoria Street was the inspiration for Diagon Alley and during the cemetery tour mentioned above, we visited "Tom Riddles" grave.
Edinburgh is a Harry Potter fans dream. Here's a list of sites if you're interested.
Another highlight and great place to visit is The National Museum. It's a huge museum that houses collections of Scottish and international art, science, engineering, space, natural history, and world cultures. It's a stunning space and has so much to see. Plus, it's free. We spent nearly an entire Saturday here.
Edinburgh really is a wonderful city. It is just easier to recognize how nice it is from a sunny coffee shop in Stockholm :)