My first and so far, my only experience of Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland was in 2012. This encounter was memorable because first, the travel was a gift from my “foster family,” who took me as their “eldest” when I was still studying dramaturgy, curatorship and cosmopolitan cultures at the University of Manchester. Second, the trip coincided with the supposedly “end of the world” according to the Ancient Mayans. We arrived at Edinburgh on 21 December 2012, waiting for the grand doomsday as established by the hyperbolic movie 2012 (starring John Cusack, Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson, etc.).
This post is an enumeration of the things I learned and at the same time, I encountered during the short trip to Edinburgh. In this regard, the post is my take on five “peculiarly Scottish” I encountered and learned during my very short stay in Edinburgh. Some of these may have been experienced by other people or have written elsewhere by someone else. Nonetheless, I hope this post serves as a reiteration – a repetition but at the same time alteration of those which were already said about Edinburgh and generally, about Scotland.
First, let me start with the most basic: how Edinburgh is properly pronounced. Being a Filipino whose English is based on American colonial tradition, I grew up believing that the “burgh” is pronounced as “behrg” or that the letter “u” is pronounced as “ɝ” (stressed [ɚ] in English) as in the way we pronounce the letter “i” in bird or the combination of “ea” in learn. Upon arrival, my foster brother corrected me instantaneously when I welcomed myself to Edinburgh, “it’s Edin-brah! kuya (big brother), not Edin-behrg!”
Second, Scotland’s capital city Edinburgh prides itself to be a heritage city. Since 1995, Edinburgh was inscribed by the UNESCO convention as a World Heritage Site for exhibiting an important interchange of human values and creativity through the development of architectural aesthetics, monumental arts, town-planning and landscape; and for being an outstanding example of an outstanding cultural landscape illustrating significant stages in human history. The inscription is titled Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, pertaining to the harmonious juxtaposition of “two contrasting historic areas, each with many important buildings, is what gives the city its unique character” as described in the official document of UNESCO.
Important historical monument in this site is the Edinburg Castle, which stands upon the plug of an extinct volcano. There are several debates about the origin of the castle rock. Some say that as early as the Iron Age, there were settlers around the castle rock. Others are attributing the this “Iron Age-settlement” hypothesis to Y Gododdin, an ancient-Welsh epic where there was a mention of “Edinburgh Fortress” (din Eidyn, literally the stronghold of Eidyn). Some say that the castle was built in the 1st Century CE based on Ptolemy’s map sketched in the 2nd Century CE. Others are convinced that it appeared during the Early Medieval Age. Whatever theory is accepted as origin, two things are clear nowadays. First, it is now a complex of museum galleries dedicated mostly to Scottish military history; and it is the most visited paid site of interest in the entire Scottish nation (as of 2017).
Third, Scotland and whiskey are also somewhat ontologically linked. If you ask people in the United Kingdom about what they commonly associate with Scotland, it is mostly whiskey. No doubt about the association, whiskey has been the “national drink” of Scotland for centuries. I learned this from a trip to The Scotch Whiskey Experience, the largest museum of whiskey in the United Kingdom. And according to our guide, it was their national drink since 1494). The Scotts pride that Scotch whiskey (or simply “Scotch”) ranks among the most desired whiskeys in the world.
Fourth, Harry Potter was born in Edinburgh! Like most writers and philosophers (especially in France), their ideas were honed while engaged in coffee and biscuits. Sometimes, I wonder if caffeine and creativity are linked in any way. Take, for example, J.K. Rowling who started writing the Harry Potter series at Elephant House Cafe along George IV Bridge, three to five-minute walk from Edinburgh Castle. Today, there’s an inscription on the glass window of the cafe stating “the Birthplace of Harry Potter.” Not only the cafe is famous for J.K. Rowling, but also its toilets with hundreds if not thousands of left-over vandalisms by Harry Potter fans worldwide. For some time, staff members have been cleaning the walls of the toilets, but they thought to do such was a waste of time. After removing messages, new messages re-appear within hours. By the way, the cafe offers liquor coffee too!
Fifth, experiencing Scotland is not complete without encountering haggis – I am not referring to the Tagalog term of throwing something away. Perhaps, there’s a connection – my foster mother told me that she has a friend from South England who after encountering haggis, hurried to the toilet to throw-up. Okay, perhaps the connection is a bit off.
But what is haggis? It’s actually a dish – a traditional Scottish dish that is most of the time mistaken to be a huge sausage. But haggis is considered pudding by the Scots (or at least the Scots I met). What is so peculiar in this dish are the ingredients: sheep’s pluck (heart, liver, and lungs) mixed with onions, oatmeal, suet, and other spices. The pudding is commonly mistaken to be a sausage because it is encased in the animal’s stomach (though I was told some use artificial casing nowadays) and it is cooked traditionally, like a sausage: smoked, boiled and baked.
Did I like it? I did! My foster brother, though, did not! Thanks to my third-world stomach, ready to munch anything, especially animal innards. What did it taste like? I would not say chicken, do not worry. But I am worried non-Filipino readers would have difficulty understanding my analogy: it tasted like diniguan (sour blood stew with pork innards). In terms of texture, it was like the traditional kakanin (rice cake or traditional desserts popular in the Philippines, especially in Luzon area). Just imagine, a kakanin, a glutinous rice mixed with blood stew – that’s haggis!
Do I want to go back to Edinburgh!
Yes – a four-day stay is not enough. I have seen the Old Town but I was not able to explore the New Town.
Perhaps, in the next post I will write about Edinburgh, it will be about the New Town!