December in Edinburgh is an interesting time. Heaps of snow and frozen lakes that I was used to was replaced with rain, sometimes hail, and overpriced yet joyous ice-skating rinks. Despite the typical rainy weather of Scotland, people were everywhere, all of the time, flocking to the popular Edinburgh Christmas Market, Princes Street ‘sales’, and various Hogmanay (New Years) celebrations. The simple beauty that Edinburgh lacks regarding a white Christmas was replaced with a city-wide happiness and merry holiday cheer that I enjoyed immensely. Here, unlike in the tundra of Minnesota, people do not have to limit their time outdoors based on how high the wool content of their socks are or plan ahead to drive on the roads when there is not black ice likely. I have taken out a fire hydrant due to this unfortunate situation and believe me, it is not a thrilling experience.
Some of my favorite elements of Edinburgh over the festive period include:
- The slowly rotating carousal that seems like an unnecessary use of space until you realize it is an adult attraction, complete with a bar serving warm alcoholic beverages. My favorite was an amaretto infused Bailey’s hot chocolate. You never cease to amaze me Scotland.
- The mass number of people out on the town on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, at least in the States, it is a time for being with family and going to bed early in heightened anticipation for a feast and presents. Here, some may choose to go that route but many people also go out to the pubs and bars, toasting Jesus’ birth and dancing to live music with merriment. These people are a wonderful kind of people. They also proved to be very generous and filled with holiday spirit, offering drinks and dances aplenty.
- The Hogmanay torchlight procession, on New Year’s Eve, eve. Streets are blocked off. People flock. With giant torches. And just walk down a path. At first, I tried to ask around, to figure out exactly why this procession happens and it’s origin. After I didn’t figure it out instantaneously, I decided it’s better to accept and appreciate that it is simply done to celebrate and that is all there needs to be said about it. Whether this conclusion was out of laziness on my part or lack of resources, it causes me to feel as warm as the air did that night, knowing there are thousands of people who come together to acknowledge each other, the beauty and culture of Scotland, and the opportunity-filled New Year.
- The Hogmanay Street Party. I honestly did not know how many people lived in or even knew about Edinburgh until arriving at this festival. Multiple stages, streets, all jam-packed with people played out a very diverse range of music and so much spirit that one could not have a bad time there. Unlike other festivals, the Street Party was attended by people of all ages, as I noted seeing many people old enough to be my grandparents, mixing in with the rowdy crowd and enjoying a very lively atmosphere. However, I did witness a woman being pushed and then stepped on, so this event is not for the faint of heart. (She was indignant but physically OK).
Christmas time wouldn’t be complete without a second trip to Wonderland, aka Amsterdam.
Experiencing Amsterdam for a second time was necessary and quite possibly the best decision of my entire year. In just four days, my boyfriend and I experienced a ridiculous amount of delight and beautiful sights. Anne Frank House was definitely worth the visit, and provided some historical balance to the whirlwind of fun that is Amsterdam. The city of Utrecht, outside Amsterdam was absolutely incredible. Away from the commercialism and touristy feels of Amsterdam, Utrecht had it’s own local charm yet still provided all if not more beautiful architecture and parks. We went to Beatrix park and felt transported right into a storybook, complete with bumbling characters speaking gibberish (happy Dutch people on their bikes). That day was the only true immersion into a culture different language I have had yet this year (although everyone was fluent in English) and when you get stuck in a residential area, on foot, and need a bathroom, language is key. Luckily a very random and hidden stockroom of a grocery store eventually provided me with my needs. I am somewhat convinced it is the real room of requirement. Renting bikes is a must if you want to see more of the city than just the tourist downtown, plus it is so nerve-racking and fun to figure out the bike traffic system on a cheap, rickety, old Dutch style bike! The markets are wonderful, and can provide some of the cheapest delicacies for food if you are looking to be thrifty, yet still do not want to sacrifice taste. Simit Sarayi (or something like that) is also a great option, a delicious fast-food deli downtown–don’t give into Macdonalds. I have also heard that Burger King is much more enjoyable in Amsterdam. America has some figuring out to do. Free samples of Dutch cheese at all of the many cheese shops, and they don’t even make you feel bad about not buying any. although it is likely worth it, with the advantage of the understanding Euro over the evil British Pound. One night in downtown, we stumbled into what seemed to be a free Christmas concert, right in the square, with a huge stage and live musicians televised for our enjoyment. Standing and listening to Christmas tunes I recognized being sung in a different language, surrounded by all kinds of people, stopping where they are going to celebrate and warm each other up definitely held a true meaning of Christmas. Amsterdam also does not cease to amaze me. These random events make a city more beautiful than most architecture or festive lighting (although much appreciated as well).
London also called to me. So I answered. Two days in such a massive and diverse city is really not enough time to get all of the feels, yet Niilo and traversed as far as our feet, resources and time would allow. We sampled at Borough market, discovering delicious smoked sausages and oh, so much cheese. If you ever come across a truffle infused sausage, do take a nibble, it is exquisite. We visited the British museum, and really could have spent our whole time there in it’s many floors and exhibits. I highly recommend to anyone interested in their own evolution as a species and history of virtually every culture. Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey were beautiful and as majestic as it has gotten, and when Big Ben chimes, you are reminded to not waste a second in the great city. People are right to say that London boasts tasty cuisine, and we did not even have to empty our wallets to enjoy it. We visited an Indian restaurant and had some of the best flavours, in the Bombay style but with some sophisticated London flair. We also checked out the Tate Modern art museum, but most of the real art was right outside as we walked along the beautiful Thames.
And now it is back to Uni, as I take a break from travel as Edinburgh and reading takes over my life. I will be continuing on with Scottish Lit this semester, as well as taking The Philosophy of Well-Being (who knew that was a thing) and a glorious Shakespeare course.