This may seem a strange title considering the fact that my first year (football season) in England is coming to an end. Luckily, the ever changing cycles of life always provide us with new opportunities to begin again.
It has been an eventful few weeks for me over here in the UK. To begin with, I was finally able to get out and see more of what this historic island has to offer. In other words, I shed the cloak of an inhabitant and once again donned my tourist cap.
The funny thing is, I really don’t like being “a tourist”. To me it is an awkward stereotype characterized by silly pictures, a limiting itinerary, and more often than not the asking of blatantly obvious questions. Despite my ridiculous insecurities, I decided to suck it up and take a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.
Aside from touring a new country/city, I was able to play some football as well – surprise, surprise! One of my old managers had recently been named the Manager of a 1st division team in Scotland (the 2nd highest league in the country) called Livingston FC, which is just outside Edinburgh. Upon my request, he was kind enough to let me join in on a few training sessions while I was there.
Livingston FC is a full-time club and is thus a more professional setup than where I am right now at Guiseley AFC. More is expected of players and staff in day-to-day proceedings and the facilities were better. This is not to say that Guiseley is not a well run semi-professional club, with good staff and good players, it is merely a matter of Livingston being a more comprehensive organization.
Overall, on the footballing side of things, it was a good experience to see how another club works on a daily basis. The training sessions were good and enjoyable and I am glad I was able to take part. Every opportunity and experience can help me learn and grow as a player and as a person in the future. It was also good to maintain my contacts inside the footballing world!
From a visitors point of view, I thought Edinburgh was a great city! It is very scenic and reeks of history. It provided literature, philosophy, politics, treachery, ghosts, crime, arrogance and bravery; as only the Scots know how. I literally walked around the city for hours on end and didn’t get to see everything I had hoped.
Getting to know a city is such a cool experience. It is kind of like reading a novel, or rather, a book of interconnected short stories. If it is a good book, you will enjoy the time spent walking through its pages, and if it is a great book then once through is not enough. It will call you back for another visit.
In keeping with the title, a new place can, in a sense, provide you with the opportunity to begin again. When you arrive, you are a blank canvas, or a lump of clay, and the city, acting as the artist, will impress itself upon you in a way that no other place can. This process can be transforming in its own right and that is one of the joys of traveling.
Back to more details! The first day, I went of a free walking tour around the city. The most ironic thing about the tour was that it was led by an Aussie. Luckily, he was a very animated and enjoyable Aussie (not that I know of any other kind) and did know his stuff when it came to the city…or at least he had me fooled.
I always have a hard time picking a favorite anything, so I can’t say there was a favorite part of Edinburgh. The setting was fantastic for one, with the castle on the hill being the focal point of the city (see pics throughout). I was also fascinated by the “Athens of the North” theme that Edinburgh has in its history. It got the nickname during a period of enlightenment when big name thinkers, historians, and writers such as Adam Smith, David Hume, and Sir Walter Scott all made their names in their respective spheres of influence.
While I was wandering through what was said to be one of the oldest structures in the city (a wealthy merchants home just off of the main street) there was a nice lady who worked there who was answering some of my questions. During our conversation she said “oh to be a fly on these walls during the 18th century”. Yes, indeed! Could Adam Smith have visited his new business acquaintance, the merchant, for tea and discussed with him the fundamental theories of “The Wealth of Nations”? Did Walter Scott lay out the plot of his new book “Rob Roy”, while puffing on his pipe and drinking a scotch after a game of cards with his good friend? Who knows…but that’s the wonder of it all, isn’t it.
While the nickname may have been appropriate to some extent, you could say the Scots got a bit carried away with it at times. For one, the statues of their heroes, such as David Hume, in a toga, seem a bit silly in hindsight. I also found it a bit humorous, for instance, when they had the bright idea of building their very own Parthenon to memorialize their relationship with the great city of Athens in the South. Then…..they ran out of money after building only 12 pillars, which remain today as a reminder that, well…this isn’t really Athens after all.
While there are many of them, my favorite literature connection with the city is that the character in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was based on an esteemed member of the Edinburgh community. He was a well respected lock-smith, named Deacon Brodie, who kept a copy of every key he made. Then he would steal from his clients and they would call him in for help again…a very self-fulfilling business plan. Don’t worry, they got him in the end.
Although I did see and learn much much more, the last thing I will mention is that I enjoyed visiting the castle quite a bit – let’s face it I’m a guy who grew up building forts in the woods with my friends. There was plenty to do there, including a few military museums and a chance to see the Royal Honors, which are the crown, the sword and the scepter used by the ruler of Scotland. They are such a visible and beautifully crafted piece of history. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of them, so you will have to go yourself.
One if the most memorable parts of the trip to Edinburgh was actually that I had someone to share it with – at least for a short time. During the walking tour on my first day there, I met a lovely Canadian girl from Montreal. I’d like to say we started talking because we had a mutual interest in the political musings of David Hume, but the fact of the matter is that the cutest girl on the tour looked, by chance, to have as many friends as me. Zero.
I thought what the hell, say hello and if it gets awkward, just slip down the next alley and come back and finish the tour tomorrow.
I’ve done a little bit of traveling by myself in the last few years and while it has it’s benefits and gives you an overwhelming sense of freedom, at the end of the day, it is a lonely experience.
After about 5 minutes of conversation, scattered between the ramblings of the Aussie tour guide, I got the impression that she agreed with my sentiment. She had been touring parts of the UK for the past few weeks and was as desperate for a companion as I was…actually probably more-so if she settled for me in the end.
After the tour, we spent the rest of the day together getting to know they city and one another. For lack of a better word, it was fascinating to get to know someone in this way. Usually, when you meet someone, at least one, or both of you, is in a relatively familiar environment with people that you know. In this case, we were both friendless foreigners and so in a strange way, the process of getting to know the city was intertwined with the process of getting to know each other.
I can’t really think of a good way to explain it, but it does bring us back to the beginning again. When you meet someone new, it is again like a lump of clay, and the corresponding relationship is molded from that lump. It is a chance to being again the fantastic gift of friendship.
In the end, we both agreed that the very worst part of travelling alone, is eating alone. If you haven’t had this experience before (and I’m not talking about at McDonalds), I would recommend you try it sometime just so you know. It is dreadful; there is only so much that you can pretend to do on your cellphone in a restaurant with no cell service; and there is only so many dessert and beer menus to read on a given table.
So, after treading numerous miles up and down Edinburgh, including a hike up Arthur’s Seat, we decided to enjoy a meal together. The most remarkable part about it all, was that we had spent all day getting to know one another, and getting to know the city, and didn’t actually formally introduce ourselves until we sat down for dinner. Her name was Blanche. Her first language was french and although she spoke English well, she had a strong accent. I am telling you this because it is a perfectly nice name with a French accent, but can be butchered by my far from sexy American accent.
After dinner, we went our separate ways and went on to what life had in store for us next. The moral of the story is that, if you have the chance to say hello to a cute girl/guy all alone on a free tour in a European city, don’t pass it up.
Here are the pics!
Wow, this post has gotten quite long and I didn’t even get to tell you about the rest of the exciting things that I did the last few weeks. So, be sure to stay posted, I’m in a writing mood.
In case you were wondering, I would definitely recommend a trip to Edinburgh and like a good novel, it may even call you back again.
If you do go, go head first.
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Thanks Sean for bringing me back to a city I remember well from a childhood visit (and a much later visit with Aunty Peg, Grandma, Wenda, and your cousins, when they were small).