euro weekender

Jewel North
of the
WORDS by Luc ciOtkOWSki

Edinburgh is a city of a thousand faces, brimming with spectacular surprises. Luc Ciotkowski guides us through the streets of his home town.
with rocky crags on one side, you will ask yourself, “How the hell did that get into the middle of a city?” On a smaller scale, but even more dramatic, while you walk down the main shopping thoroughfare, Princes Street, one side holds nothing more than a row of Georgian buildings tarnished by shops you find in any UK city. If you look across the road, beyond the passing double-decker buses, you see a swath of gardens, a rocky cliff and a castle on the top that will make your jaw drop. This still blows my mind and I can only guess the impact it makes the first time someone sees it. From Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile tapers down the hill to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s official residence in Scotland) and this, along with the buildings in the ravine to the south, makes up the Old Town. Here you’ll find winding streets and dark closes; passages and stairways between tenement buildings linking streets and courtyards. Moving north past Princes Street Gardens, which used to be the castle’s moat until it was drained, the 18th century New Town begins and contains some of the best Georgian architecture still in existence. This contrast of the Old Town (Medieval) and New Town (Georgian), a UNESCO World Heritage site, is what makes Edinburgh so atmospheric and what inspired Robert Barker to invent the term ’panorama’ to describe the style he used to fit everything in when he painted the city. A great vantage point to see all of this is Calton Hill, at the east end of Princes Street. Up here, as well as being able to appreciate the juxtaposition of Medieval, Georgian and present-day architecture, you can see several monuments close up, including the half-finished National Monument. ’Edinburgh’s Disgrace’ as it is also , known, was modelled on the Parthenon in Athens and helped the city earn the nickname, ’Athens of the North’ . The Edinburgh Festival in August and Hogmanay (New Year) party are what make the city world famous, but a celebration that is getting bigger every year is the Beltane Fire Festival. On the night of 30th April, Calton Hill is host to a pagan fertility festival with thousands of people (lots of them naked) gathering to celebrate the traditional start of summer with a procession and a re-enactment of a ritual sacrifice carried out by people in body paint. Since a direct air route opened last year, Edinburgh is just three hours from Madrid, and, although there’s far too much to see in a weekend, you can get through a lot in this compact, easy-to-get-around city. A ₤5 open return gets you from the airport to the city centre and a ₤2.50 day ticket lets you hop on and off buses that will take you pretty much everywhere you need to go. ’Fast black’ taxis will get you where you want quickly, but they’ll sting your wallet if you’re used to Madrid taxi prices. You can get around much of city and see a lot more by foot. (Girls should save heels for the evening; there are a lot of cobbled streets!) Bed and breakfasts are the best accommodation for you to get a look inside the lovely, high-ceilinged stone tenements, although checking out times feel horrendously early compared with hotels in Spain. My recommendations in the style of a rip-off of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting: choose the Castle, choose Arthur’s Seat, choose the Meadows (but not at night when you’re liable to get mugged), choose drinking in Rose Street in the day and the Grassmarket at night, choose a Scottish breakfast with square sausage and potato scones, choose keeping away from the aromas of the brewery if you’ve got a hangover, choose climbing the Scott Monument to work off a hangover, choose food and some whisky at Whiski Bar on the Royal Mile, choose descending into the Edinburgh Vaults and pishing yourself with fright, choose the Royal Yacht Britannia, choose enjoying a drink on Leith Waterfront, choose saving some money at the end of it all to buy shortbread and vanilla fudge. Forget ’Athens of the North’... Athens could be more flattered with ’Edinburgh of the South’. Just make sure you learn how to pronounce it properly before you go.


fairy tale, a ghost story, a period drama, a romance, a crime thriller or a story about drug-addiction; walk around Edinburgh for a weekend and you’ll see how it’s a fantastic place for any of these. You might even feel like you’re in one (with a little luck neither of the last two). No visitor who I’ve spoken to has failed to comment on its striking beauty, but there’s something more about my other home city that makes people fall in love with it. It’s something mysterious, and something magical. About 350 million years ago a series of volcanoes collapsed, cooled and became extinct a few miles from the southern banks of the Forth estuary. Glaciers came in from the west during the Ice Age and ripped out the softer rocks, leaving craggy rock faces to the west and long sloping tails to the east, made of the debris dragged in that direction by the glaciers. Now, I know this is a bit like being at school, but it’s important because when you see Arthur’s Seat, a great big 250-metre hill covered in wild grass and



feb 08

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