The air is getting colder, the nights longer, and the weather more unpredictable. Students are beginning to make the trek to the library, hunched down against the wind that springs upon them suddenly, in order to prepare for the exams and essays which are approaching far too quickly. But even in this environment, with the sun setting at 1600 or earlier and the cold settling into every nook and cranny, there is still plenty to do. Edinburgh is nothing if not a festive town, and she certainly knows how to light up the darkness.
Just after the Samhuinn Fire Festival is another fiery holiday, Bonfire Night. I’m sure you all remember this holiday, but just in case I’ll give you a brief summary: On the 5th of November 1605, a man by the name of Guy Fawkes was caught with explosives underneath Parliament while it was in session. Had his plan succeeded, all of Parliament would have been blown up and King James I would have been killed. To celebrate the survival of their king, people around the country lit bonfires and burned effigies of Guy Fawkes and this tradition has been continued over the years. There are now fireworks lit alongside the bonfires, and it is a holiday for remembrance and revelry.
Sadly, neither my flatmates nor I were able to get tickets to the main fireworks events, so we went up to Calton Hill to try and see some of the fireworks throughout the city… but the weather conspired against us. It was raining for most of the day, and it was still quite hazy in the evening, although this produced quite a fiery orange sunset which I felt was quite fitting for Bonfire Night.
Luckily, someone else planned ahead. Despite the fact that we weren’t able to see the large fireworks, there were smaller fireworks and sparklers being set off all along Calton Hill, which would briefly illuminate the National Monument. It was really quite beautiful, despite the fact that they were cheap fireworks, to see the sky light up in all different colors. But after awhile the cold set in, and we couldn’t feel our feet from standing in the dampness for so long, so we all decided to go to a nice pub nearby and warm up a bit before heading home.
A few days later I went to Perth and the Glenturret Distillery with the International Student Center, an organization which, among other things, organizes inexpensive trips for international and visiting students. It was an absolutely marvelous day out. Perth is a quirky little place with lots of fun things to see around every corner. Some of my favorites were the little statuettes along the bridge (including an owl!), a gate that matched the scenery behind it, and a mime painted all in gold performing on high street.
Perth is also home to the amazing Black Watch museum, which covers the history of this highland regiment from its inception through the present day adaptations of it. The Black Watch has a long history, having started out as a local regiment to defend the highlands but later fighting in almost every war England has been involved in. Of particular interest to me (being a student of American archaeology) was their involvement in the American Revolution, but I can’t think of a much better way to spend a morning than seeing the remnants of a history you know so little about… but then, that’s just me. Oh, and did I mention the museum is in a castle?
We then went to the Glenturret Distillery which produces one of the single malts that go into making the Famous Grouse. In case you don’t know this, they have decided to remind you constantly… You are greeted upon arrival by a giant grouse, “The Famous Grouse Experience” is emblazoned on the wall, and there are smaller portrayals of grouse on every door, fence, and entrance. The entire tour had the air of an over-long advertisement, from the displays to the video that they played at the end (which even included some of their more famous ads, as if to solidify the sales-pitch atmosphere).
But despite all of this, I still learned quite a lot about the whiskey making process including what makes a whiskey a Scotch, the types of Scotch available, and (crucial to bread-making as well as whiskey) the temperature at which yeast is killed. Our tour guide was amusing as well, often going on random tangents and trying his hardest to make the required sales pitch palatable. I dare say he succeeded. We finished up with two samples of whiskey, the light single malt produced at Glenturret and a choice of the Grouse products. I chose the Snow Grouse, and I think that was a rather poor decision. Chilled whiskey, I thought, is something I will not often have the chance to try. It’s different, so I might as well take the chance now! Sadly, it was not nearly so good as other whiskeys (although it had a decent aftertaste) and I don’t think I’ll be getting it again.
The following week was rather dull. I had an essay and a report due this past Monday, and I wanted to get as much of it done by Friday because I decided (and this was probably a rather poor decision, but completely worth it) to spend the entire weekend at an archaeology conference, museums, and a rugby match. The archaeology conference was marvelous, covering everything from stone anchors found at sea to the Battle of Flodden to pottery production in Portobello. The National Museum is wonderful, but I feel I didn’t have nearly enough time there so I’ll be going back later this week or next and I’ll write more then. I always tend to go there with a specific purpose in mind (in this case, supplementary material for my report) and never just to explore. That needs to change.
The rugby game… That was intense. I’ve seen rugby games before, but only ever on television in a pub in the states. I’ve always liked it, so when discount tickets became available to see the Scotland v. South Africa game I snatched them up despite having an essay and a report due the next day, despite having other plans for the weekend. Needless to say, I really like rugby. I almost thought we weren’t going to make it, though! None of the buses would let us on because they were all filled up with rugby fans going the exact same direction. When we did get on a bus we were packed in like sardines, standing room only… We got to the game, and the atmosphere was amazing. Everyone sang along with the bagpipes and the marching band at the beginning, everyone cheered when Scotland was doing well and groaned when they weren’t, When Scotland came close to scoring you could see everyone on the edge of their seats, leaning forward as one… and when they did score (though it was called off by the ref and they got no points) everyone jumped up out of their seats and shouted and cheered. During halftime, instead of a show maintenance men had to go out onto the field because it was raining and the game had been so fierce. In the end, we lost 28-0 but it was wonderful nonetheless. The trip home was the hardest part, as the buses were redirected and the roads closed, but I made it with the help of a friend I made that day and got home safe and sound just in time to make dinner and edit that essay…
Meanwhile, plans for this week include a Harry Potter pub quiz, movie night, baking night, and a trip to London to see a good friend of mine who’s studying at UCL! Yes, I’m finally leaving Scotland… not that I’m going very far. Next week is, of course, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah (to my friends who observe either or both, I hope you have a wonderful holiday!) and I have lots of plans for a Thanksgiving dinner with my flat, followed by a visit to Tewkesbury to see one of my relatives. And then Christmas will be nearly upon us!