15.12.2006 - 31.01.2007
After a 9 hour flight and a long drive home, I am pensive about the 2 months I just spent in Edinburgh, Scotland. Not because I had a horrible time. Just the opposite, I had a brilliant time; saw my old friends, made some new ones... even had myself a lovely boyfriend for a short time. The only bad thing about Edinburgh is having to leave it. It gets bloody harder every time, yet I keep going back. Who knows, maybe someday I'll just stay... if only it were that easy!
I started out my trip extremely sleep deprived, having already been up for over 40 hours by the time I'd arrived. Thinking I would avoid some jet-lag by staying up the night before my flight and sleeping on the plane, Murphy's Law heralded this was not to be the case. I ended sitting next to a lovely Welsh guy who'd spent the last few months in BC. Having musical taste and other indulgences in common, we chatted most of the way.
Off the plane in Glasgow, and 2 buses later, I ultimately arrived at the St Andrews Bus Station in Edinburgh. After finally being able to pause for a moment and take it all in, I waited for the familiar feeling I seem to encounter every time I set foot in this city to creep in. I felt like I was home at last, as if I had been on an extended holiday. Only a short walk away from the bus station sits Snax Takeaway (a greasy-spoon dive I used to work at.) I made progress in that direction, up the hill and around the corner, to surprise my ex-manager and very good mate, Shona. As I crossed the cobble stone street toward the shop I spotted some familiar hair in my peripheral vision. After a few double takes, a surprised gasp and big hugs followed. Having been in touch with everyone before I arrived, they failed to mention that my dreadlock-ridden friend, Tania, was visiting from Australia and working temporarily at Snax. Following a quick catch-up chat, she continued on to her delivery and I continued over the uneven surface of West Register Sreet into Snax. Once inside I was greeted with a big bear hug from Shona, accompanied by jubilant introductions to all the staff in the shop.
This is where I will interject that until this point everything felt the same. Having met the staff and seeing that they were, in fact, all Scots, was the beginning of the surrealism of my visit. Everything was the same, and different at the same time Having lived in Edinburgh for over 2 years in the past, and coming back after so long, I tried to view it without expectations. I was cognizant that it could never be the way it was. When I worked at Snax, it was the hub for the hostellers living up the stairs, and because of this, the staff consisted mainly of backpackers; generally Aussies, Kiwis, Saffas and Canadians. The first night of my trip enforced this insight, but it was still my favourite night. I think it really foreshadowed the mood and feeling of the rest of my visit.
Eventually I went up the stairs to check in at Princes St East Backpackers where I was only staying a few nights before moving to the West End. All in all, I must have lived at the East end hostel for over a year and a half (working on reception there for at least a quarter of my residency.) It was one of those places that nobody seemed willing to leave behind. It was always at the centre of my social life. A real hippy hostel, full of character and atmospehere. Not the cleanest, most sterile place, like many of the new hostels around, but a place that was the epitome of what a hostel was meant to be. A small, self-sufficient community of backpackers, a family of sorts, with a common goal- to get by, and have a good time doing it. Murals cover the walls around every corner painted by the many backpackers who resided there over the years. My contribution lies at the bottom of the stairs at the entrance, and I was glad to see that the sign I spent so much time and energy perfecting was still there, welcoming weary travellers before they hike up the 77 spiral steps to reach reception. When I initially walked in, even the smell was familiar, but the atmosphere seemed a bit off. Since Scotland had implemented a smoking ban in all public buildings almost a year prior to my visit and the opening of newer, more modern hostels in the area, Princes St East had suffered. The main attraction for many travellers, and the heart of the hostel's social flavor was a common room called the Cave. It was basically a room designated for smoking, and included a well worn communal bong. I understand, as an ex cigarette smoker, that walking up and down 77 steps every time you want to breathe a little cancer is unappealing. I'm just glad I got to be there during it's heyday. I dropped off my bags and went off to reacquaint myself with the city that had once been my home.
I wandered up Princes Street, through the Gardens with my camera and finished my jaunt at the West End hostel to scare the shit out of my mate Jocelyn, who basically ran the place. Mission accomplished when I noticed her from behind standing out front having a fag. After lots of girly screaming, hugs and chatter, I left her to her work, found Libby and David (who had stayed with me in Canada a week before) and headed back to Snax to catch Shona at the end of her shift.
We started at the Guildford Arms (where I didn't work) for a drink then moved on to the Cafe Royal (where I did work) once it opened to meet the rest of the Snax crew... an interesting bunch to say the least. I spent over a year working at the Cafe Royal, or the Caf as we called it, and drank there quite often considering it was also beneath the hostel and above Snax. I was just another girl from the block. Inside it looked the same other than the tables and chairs... the big, comfy leather couches had been removed. None of the usual regulars bothered to drink there since the change in ownership and the death of happy hour a few months before. The place was even changing owners a third time and got shut down for refurbishment in January to be re-opened as a private gentlemen's club. On the last open night, we had a "Drink-the-Caf-Dry" party and I got to get behind the bar and pour a few pints for old times, but that's another story . Many drinks after we had initially arrived, the guards were down and everyone was getting a little silly, so the antics weasled in. I had somehow convinced one of the lads from Snax, Dave, that we should get married so that I could stay in the country. Since I heard no argument, we spent the rest of the night calling eachother husband and wife. Eventually we all started dismanteling the stems of daisies in the vases on each table, making sure everyone had one on their person. The idea was that it was to become the trademark of our pub crawl. Consequently, due to mass consumption of alcohol, not many flowers made it to the next pub.
Moving along from the Caf we made our way up North Bridge to The Globe (where I didn't work, but drank a hell of alot.) The rounds endured, but having smoked a joint outside the Caf a little earlier when I met Irish Matt and some Aussie guy called Dane, I was getting a little dizzy with the drink. A few pints of water later, I was rearing to go. When I lived there before, the Globe was 'our' place. At first it was a scungy old backpackers pub hidden in a dark wynd of the Cowgate that we frequented for weekly quiz nights. Eventually, they owners had acquired a new, more modern and central location, just off the Royal Mile. My mates and I were all there for the grand opening and even helped the staff (whom we all knoew quite well) set up and fill the bar. My best friend, Jen, used to host open mics there once a week and perform other live gigs throughout the week to showcase her music. There seemed to be less travellers and more Scots there now, although that started to change before I left, since the opening of the Walkabout, a well known chain of Aussie themed bars. Regardless of the differences, it still felt like our place and we had a great time. Especially after I hit the Vodka and Red Bulls. By closing time, we'd lost a few troops, but the cavalry persisted.
We wandered next door to Nicol Edwards (where I did work.... jeez I get around,) the so-called most haunted pub in Edinburgh. A place full of caves and and creepy doors connected to Edinburgh's underground city. This was the only place that didn't change a bit in my eyes. It still held on to what felt like the old Edinburgh. The same bouncer that worked there back in my day, Ray, a big Liverpudlian, the same old regulars that we had drunk with many times before, and the same musical act, Acoustic Dave. After some prodding, I finally got him to sing "Blubberball," his amusing take on the Oasis song, "Wonderwall." He was surprised that I remembered it. We listened to some more great live music, caught up with some folks who had just finished work, and drank some more. We stayed until closing and the surviving few, Jocelyn, Daz, Dave (my husband,) Nick, and I, moved along to a house party up the road.
This place was ridiculous. By ridiculous, I mean amazing! Complete with a concession stand selling everything from beer to tabacco, and a plethora of dealers advertising their merchandise like newspaper boys. "Pills! Get your pills here!" Once we passed the initial crowd and went through another door, there was an entire rave in what I assume was the lounge. It was all-inclusive; strobe lights, DJs, black painted walls, black lights, and of course, what's a rave without pillheads! I had my experimental drug phase a few years ago and was uniterested in taking it up again. It's hard to be around people who are fucked right out of their heads on pills when you aren't.
As cool as it looked, I'd had enough. It wasn't Dave's thing either, so after a long, drawn out walk, I eventually made it home close to 5:30am and got my first wink of sleep in about 60 hours. I vaguely remember Nick trying to wake me up to drag me to the Penny Black (a pub that opens at 6am) but I was a complete vegetable at that point. Once my head hit the pillow, it was the end of Dom.