Thursday, May 13, 2010

Edinburgh: the Athens of the North

This trip to Edinburgh has been a long time coming. It is no exaggeration to say that it has in fact been years (okay, year . . . almost two) in the making. And this period of probation has given me plenty of time to build up my Edinburgh-expectations.

Early on (fall ’08), I searched Google Images for stunning photographs of the cityscape. And I found plenty. After some cursory reading, I discovered that Scotland’s capital has earned the nickname “the Athens of the North.” This effected at once an expectant and skeptical attitude toward my future destination: I didn’t want to expect too much, but I was expecting something beautiful, at least.

The thing is, these bug-eyes have seen some beautiful cities. I lived in Sevilla, stayed a long piece on the Vltava River in the heart of Prague, studied amidst the Gothic spires of Oxford, and traveled through most of Western Europe more than a time or two. And yet, even amidst such distinguished (European) company, Edinburgh is regularly called one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. After all I’d seen, this was high praise indeed -- maybe too high. Could this grey stone city really substantiate such outstanding acclamation? I hardly allowed myself to think so.

This was, after all, Scotland, not Florence or Paris or Prague. The French are sophisticated, sexy, and nuanced, the Florentines conveyors of Renaissance culture and art, and as for Czechs, well, they produced Praha. Enough said.

By contrast, the Scots have gifted the world with haggis and plaid man-skirts (Murdo treated me to my first haggis: actually quite tasty!). This is a people popularly known to be thrifty, plain, and tough. Surely their star city could not compete with civic luminaries the likes of which I have just managed to mention. I could not have been more wrong.

Not only did Edinburgh stun me from the very first moment I met her; the longer I looked (I stayed 6 nights), the more her beauty seemed to grow.

It was like seeing a truly beautiful woman for the first time. She stuns you and you just don’t think it can get any better if you pull in close. In fact, you’re afraid to pull in close lest the spell be broken and you find, heartbreakingly, that her beauty is only skin-deep. It would be better to have stayed away, safe and distanced and forever enchanted, having her only in your mind’s eye.

But with the real thing, with true beauty, it’s different. The closer you get, the more her beauty grows; that is, the more her beauty shows. You have found the real thing.

Well boys, Edinburgh is that woman. She is the real thing. The closer you get, the more you find that her beauty goes below the surface. From a distance, her spires and outlying castle-on-rock-outcropping dazzle. But this is to be expected. Beauty from a distance is easy to achieve. It’s the close encounter that worried me. Not anymore. Edinburgh has withstood a week-long scrutiny. The grey stone, Covenanter heritage and pub culture all blend with an unmatched mix of international eclecticism, British regality, and Scots indigenousness to produce a city the likes of which I have never before encountered.

And it’s livable! Normal people -- students, young-marrieds, and middle-class professionals -- all of these and more live in the old-town (and new town) city centre. That’s the thing about this place: it is beautiful, vibrant, engaging, AND affordable, practical, and realistic. To quote the Man in Black from The Princess Bride, “I’ve never seen it’s equal” (yes, I just did that).

Edinburgh, Athens of the North, I beg your forgiveness for ever doubting you and request an open-armed embrace on my return at summer’s end. May our courtship be long and fruitful. And perhaps, just perhaps, the memories we make together will end in a marriage that lasts (!).

High Street: The Royal Mile

Me and Murdo at Arthur's Seat, 20 minute walk from Town Centre

Again, Arthur's Seat

Ah, Edinburgh . . .

See below
An outside look: on a picturesque perch

An inside look: the quad

A view from New College

Marchmont: possibly our apartment unit (don't miss castle in background!)

The Meadows: Edinburgh's version of Central Park. Would be our frontyard if in a Marchmont flat

Marchmont flats: another view

Greyfriars' Cemetery: in the middle of Old Town Edinburgh. Right outside the gates is Greyfriars' Pub, where it is said J.K. Rowling wrote some of The Harry Potter series

A view of Old Town over the cemetery hedges

A Covenanter gravestone: many died for their faith in Scotland. James Renwick, age 26, was one of them. You can just make out his name in the bottom paragraph. In 1688, he spoke these words before he was hanged: "Lord, I die in the faith that Thou wilt make the blood of Thy witnesses the seed of Thy church, and return again and be glorious in our land." May our presence in Scotland be part answer to his prayer. Return again, O Lord.


Tim said...

Edinburgh awaits and we will miss you and Robin. We sense a mighty calling on your lives. May this be said of you as it was of John Knox:

"There can scarcely be found another in whom more gifts of the Holy Ghost did shine. No one spared himself less, no one was more diligent in the charge committed to him."

Go prepare for your calling!

Tim & Suzanne

pam said...

SO exciting Tayor and Robin. What an amazing task God has set before you. I can't think of better way to start off life with a new child then with a sharpened focus of the call on your life as you go on this adventure together. We'll be praying.....

Pam Dollins

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