0466 The Irony of Scotland (Great Britain 001—new)

Edinburgh Travel Blog

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I’m excited about my quick trip to the UK… it’s going to be fun to sing my songs to an English speaking audience for a change… and I’m eager to take advantage of this bus pass to visit a country that would otherwise be quite expensive to visit…

 

The bus driver is a fat and jolly Englishman who at first claims that I can’t get on the bus because my name isn’t on his list… finally after a bit of insistence, he lets me aboard…

 

But the adventures of the journey have just begun.  When we reach Calais, France and line up to go through customs and onto the Chunnel, I notice clusters of people loitering in the fields around the freeway.  A couple of guys that look South Asian are weaving between the cars looking for a vehicle the can sneak on to… Suddenly the bus lurches to a stop and the driver gets out--  looks like they picked our bus to try to sneak across, snuggled up next to the engine…

They get into a bit of a tussle and one of the guys takes a swing at the driver… a couple of passenger rush out to give him a hand a finally chase the guys off…

 

The driver explains that, if they get caught on his bus, then he will have to pay a hefty fine…

 

What strikes me as a bit bizarre is that we’re just maybe 50 meters from the gateway where I’m sure there are French border officials stationed--  but none of them budged…

 

The driver explains again… See the French actually want these illegal immigrants to make it out of their country--  that way France won’t have to worry about them any more and they become the Britain’s problem… He said there have even been cases of French border guards helping these guys sneak into vehicles to cross over to the UK…

 

I can understand the French point of view--  it’d be awfully expensive to try to process all these guys and fly them back to Bangladesh or wherever they come from… but it still seems pretty bizarre that anarchy reigns just a few meters from the French/British border…

 

We make it into the Duty Free Area, only to find that half the Chunnel has been shut down because a cargo train broke down right in the middle.

  So we’re going to have to wait for a while...  The driver says we’re lucky, though… just last week his bus got stuck inside the Chunnel for several hours, in complete darkness, with temperatures soaring to over 40 degrees!

 

I’m confused… I always thought of the Chunnel as one of the Marvels of Modern technology… but to compare this to, say, the quick and very efficient ferry ride from Germany to Denmark, and it seems like an engineering and logistical disaster…

 

A road tunnel under a channel to connect two countries?  Good idea.  A railway only tunnel where you have to wait in line, drive your car onto a train, wait again, drive you car off a train on the other side… bad idea… It takes pretty much the same amount of time as loading and unloading  off a ferry… and if anything goes wrong, the whole darn system goes into gridlock…


Hopefully future tunnel planners will take note of this…

 

These delays, however did give me a chance to get to know some of my fellow travellers.

The guy next to me is an Australian who has been travelling and living in London for a while…

 

We get to talking about Australian culture.  As I’ve come across so many Australian backpackers, I’ve started to wonder, could it be that there’s a sort of  “reverse peer pressure” in Australia?  Could it be that since “everybody does it” you feel that at a certain age you just have to go out and do a Round The World Trip--  not out of thirst for adventure--  but rather because you’ll be considered “not cool” if you don’t?

 

If that’s the case, is it possible that someone travel all around the world and not really have any real adventures--  because he’s just following the same circuit that everybody else follows and does what everybody else does?

 

It’s an interesting thought.

  This guy also mentioned how almost all these young folks, once they do their “big trip” are expected to settled down, get jobs, get married and pretty much live routine lives after that…  That RTW is just supposed to be a youthful phase, not a lifestyle…

 

So what does being an “adventurer” really mean?  To me being an adventurer means following your own inner guide rather than just being a sheep and following everybody else… So I wonder if it’s possible that in Australia, you might be a real “adventurer” by bucking the trend and not travelling around the world! 

 

Anyways…

 

We reach London late at night, which is something I did not want to do… I do not want to be wandering around London at midnight looking for a cheap hostel…


So I have another idea:  catch an overnight bus to Edinburgh, Scotland…

 

The Eurolines ticket office is closed, but a cheerful Scottish bus driver looks at my bus pass and says I can ride his bus, as long as I pronounce it “Edinburro” with a Scottish accent rather than “Edinburgh”…

 

So I’m going to Scotland…

 

There’s something magical about Scotland… maybe it’s the images from movies like “Braveheart”… that free spirit of the land that has inspired struggles for independence all around the world…

 

Maybe it’s the sense that it’s a land wild and fierce, with it’s endless treeless hills--  and yet so sophisticated and developed… It’s The Frontier--  and yet a land of great philosophers and progressive thinkers…

 

Or maybe it’s that sense of irony… The fact that the most freedom loving land in the world is not free… it is under the rule of Great Britain, its Archrival to the south…

 

Whatever it is, I’m excited about this visit.

  Although I’ve been to Great Britain before, I know I can’t really claim to have experienced the UK without a visit to Scotland…

 

The bus gets off the highway and onto a winding road through the gentle hills… It’s beautiful, but a bit too much agricultural lined for it to have that stereotypical Scottish look… But an ancient town we past through with its own little castle almost makes up for that…

 

And finally we reach Edinburgh…

 

It’s cold, windy and looks like it could rain at any moment.  But then again, maybe you need the typical Scottish weather to really experience Scotland…

 

I head out across a plaza with tall pillar in the center, down towards a dark, waterstained gothic tower that overlooks a little valley park, with the old city and castle on the other side--  and the haunting melody of a bagpipe busker (wearing a kilt, of course) permeates the atmosphere…

 

Yes, I am officially inspired by Scotland…

 

I head down into the park, quickly take a video clip with the castle as a backdrop.

  With the constant threat of rain, I feel I haven’t a moment to waste… I head up a narrow path up the cliff to the castle where I balk at the expensive entrance fee… so I head down the main drag of the Old Town instead.

A bit of a tourist trap, I’ll admit, but the architecture is so cool that I’m willing to overlook that… A sort of haunting feel with gray stone buildings and gothic cathedrals, blending right in with the melancholic weather.  And around you see little reminders of the centuries of struggle that took place here--  and the Scottish flag flying proudly--  but there are also subtle reminders that this land does, in spite of it all, still belong to Great Britain… Down at the end of the street is the relatively discreet Queen’s residence…

 

I’d like to continue exploring, but first I’ve got to figure out how to book my next ticket.  At the bus station I was told that I had to book it online, which I tried… then I tried by telephone… I tried by going to a travel agency… then back to the bus station again… I’m getting quite frustrated--  but I refuse to let this put a damper on my Scottish experience…

Finally I try the Tourism Office and the guy is very helpful, and after making a couple of calls, finally convinces Eurolines to book me my next ticket over the phone.

..

 

I’ve wasted a good couple of hours… but am quite relieved that I won’t have to buy another ticket…

 

I hike around to the far side of the castle where I get some great shots of a cemetery  and later a fountain in the foreground… then on to Edinburgh’s main pedestrian street/shopping area…

 

My ticket isn’t until tomorrow, so I’m going to have to stay the night here--  and much to my surprise I find that a hostel here runs only 10 pounds!  That’s cheaper that almost any hostel I’ve stayed at in Western Europe!  So much for the “the UK is too expensive” idea…

 

Feeling much better now, I decide it’s time to stop wandering in circles around the Old Town and travel in a straight line… So I go south…

 

I pass through some interesting neighbourhoods that still have that Scottish charm to them… On past a line of bed and breakfasts… until the city gradually starts to fade and take on a more village like feel.

  Finally, when I reach the open countryside, decide to go ahead and loop around and head back…

 

This time I’m going to take a footpath through the fields, thus giving a bit of the illusion that I’m wandering across the wilds of Scotland…

 

And it soon gets even better… a sign points to the ruins of a castle not far away… I take a detour to go discover my own little castle…

 

It’s a nice little castle--  but with a big fence all around it and a ticket window in front (which is now closed)… kind of puts a damper on the experience…

 

I continue on north back towards the city…

 

My next target is the plateau park at the east end of town.

  It has that rugged yet green very Scottish look, and should be fun to explore…

 

I end up wandering a residential neighbourhood looking for a shortcut and it looks like I’ve found one--  cutting through a luxurious hotel/golf course estate…

 

Halfway across, a very elegant kilt wearing fellow approaches me and politely asks what I’m looking for… obviously I don’t look like I fit in here at this golf resort… He tells me that no, there’s no short cut through here… so I have to backtrack to the city to get back to that mountain…

Just as I’m getting close, it starts pouring down rain… A lot of people come to hike and jog around this hill, and they keep on going without skipping a beat…

 

It’s definitely worth the climb… first there’s the view of the city… then as you continue around, you see the ruins of an old chapel perched on a ledge… Finally I can enjoy some ruins without having to pay for them!  Having to pay to explore castle ruins kind of spoils the effect…

 

From there, I continue on through a steep treeless valley where for a little with no civilization in sight… Here I took my “Wild Scottish Countryside” video clip…

 

Finally, I follow rugged footpath to the highest peak, where I’m joined by a couple of hikers/joggers coming to enjoy the sunset…

 

Evening has set in, but I want to enjoy the Old Town at night… It’s drizzling again--  but I’m getting used to it… that’s just part of the Scottish experience…

I’m half tempted to sign up for one of them midnight ghost tours that Edinburgh is famous for… but I strongly suspect that you have to kind of believe in ghosts for them to be effective…

 

So after one last stroll, past a handful of tourists and a few buskers still braving this chilly evening, I decide to call it a day…

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photo by: vances