Although I’ve been backpacking around the world for nearly four years, I’ve come to consider the capital of Scotland as my home base. Edinburgh is not only a city with a castle but also has an extinct volcano, a beach, a palace, hundreds of medieval churches and chapels… The list goes on. Yet all of those pale in comparison to the simple magic of the city. It was the first time in my life when I felt I truly belonged somewhere.
As a born and raised American, my only knowledge of the rest of the world as I grew up was what I learned in school, read in books and saw in movies. I had a dream to see Scotland ever since I watched the movie Braveheart. I later found that that movie was one of the most historically inaccurate movies ever made, but that’s a different story.
Throughout my travels, I’ve made a habit of watching movies that are based in the cities I am visiting. Almost one for one, I’ve found the movies never do the cities justice. Not even remotely. Most of the time, you’ll get just one or two brief b-roll clips of a highlight in the city and then the rest of the scene plays out on some soundstage in Hollywood or London.
My first visit to Edinburgh was on April 30th, 2015. I had learned about the Beltane Fire Festival online and planned to see it on my way up to my namesake – the Isle of Skye in Scotland. I found a Couchsurfing host for two days, got my tickets for the festival and a free bus tour with Harry Coo Tours on the same day, and made my way up to Scotland from southern England.
As I stepped off the bus in Edinburgh at 7 in the morning, I could feel that there was something different about the city. Something that I hadn’t experienced anywhere else in my travels. It wasn’t something I could feel, smell or otherwise describe. It was intangible. It was magical.
Using Google Maps, I ran across town to drop off my bags with my host, and then made my way back to the city center to catch my tour bus. For the next few hours, I was taken through a wonderland, visited beautiful lochs that seemed to come from every fantasy movie (and verily were used in many such movies), explored Doune Castle where Monty Python, Outlander and the pilot for Game of Thrones were filmed, and visited the Wallace Monument where I learned the true story about William Wallace. I even lost my camera on a hike (which I got back three weeks later from a guy in France)! And all on a bus tour that operated just on tips.
That evening, I attended the Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill. Beltane is the counterpart of Samhuin, which is the origin of our modern-day Halloween. Despite near-freezing temperatures, I partied with a crowd of nearly 12,000 other spectators, watching the ritual of welcoming in summer over winter. I didn’t have a camera to capture the memories, which perhaps made it even more special.
The next night, I returned to Calton Hill to see what the venue was like without the event. A mild rain was drizzling down as I reached the top shortly before sunset. I looked out over the city with a castle in its center, jagged crags of the volcano to one side and the beach on the other, as a beautiful feeling came over me. This is where I belonged.
It was a special feeling for me. Not only was it nice to physically find my place in the world, but it was also meaningful to learn the importance of seeing the rest of the world for myself and not just learning about things from National Geographic or the newest Hollywood blockbuster. My biggest recommendation to my readers is to learn about places in the world, get inspired and see them for yourself. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, as you just might find somewhere else to be a lot more comfortable than home.
For many, many more stories about why I find Edinburgh so special, click here.