Edinburgh is, I have no doubt, the loveliest city in the UK. Admittedly I’ve never been to Hull, but I’m willing to stick my neck out on the issue. The centre of the city is almost entirely made up of beautiful buildings with the Old Town and the Georgian New Town complementing each other perfectly. Neither the international shopping chains nor the plethora of tartan tourist traps can outweigh its appeal.
It also has the huge benefit of hills, which make all the difference. The castle rises gloriously in the centre of the city, other impressive buildings on the north east side offer another great vista, while on the south east side is the magnificent Arthur’s Seat. Like Montjuif in Barcelona, this fulfils a dual role, both as an impressive view and vantage point but also an easy opportunity to move from urban modernity to the beauties of nature.
If the exterior attractions of the city are unmatched in the UK (and very rarely equalled across Europe) the things to do are less stellar. The castle is hugely impressive as a monument, but inside its walls it’s less interesting. With the exception of the Dynamic Earth building (interesting) and the new Scottish Parliament building (a bit silly) there is little interesting modern architecture. This probably enhances the appeal of the centre, but a bit of variety elsewhere would do no harm. The Palace of Holyrood is OK, but given that the royal family built it with the blood and tears of the working man, it could have been a bit more impressive.
There are lots of galleries – the major ones all free, one of the few unquestionably positive innovations of this government – but they are undermined by a lack of a solid basis of exceptional Scottish art to draw on, so the highlights come from the greats of European art. Inevitably this means that there are rarely more than one or two pieces from these artists, and all the drawbacks that entails. One exception is the significant number of Titian’s in the National Gallery, but the highlights there are Velazquez – Old Woman Cooking Eggs and El Greco’s Allegory. The Modern Art Museum and the Dean gallery were both substantially affected by re-hanging, indeed there were only 2 rooms open in the Dean. Fortunately, one of them was a really excellent collection of surrealist and Dadaist work from Magritte to Tanguy. My favourite was Dali’s l’oiseau. One interesting aside, a significant number of the works in Edinburgh had been accepted in lieu of inheritance tax. While I don’t particularly object to the rich swanning about in yachts and private jets I do have very strong feelings about great are being locked away in private residences and the loss of this way of recovering for public view the glories of European civilisation is (yet another) reason to object to the Tories plan to all but eliminate inheritance tax. The bastards. One other thing that struck me was that all the information about the paintings is in English. Given how obviously aware Edinburgh is of being a tourist attraction, some translations in French and/or Spanish surely is merited.
My uncle had generously allowed me to stay in his very smart and modern flat while I was there. In fact, so stylish was it that my appearance was clearly below the standard the residents were used to and I was generally looked at askance. Inside the flat was fine of course with, bliss, a fabulous shower. There was one modernist touch I didn’t appreciate though, there were 5 different sets of lights in the kitchen/living room (at least, I’d not be at all surprised if I missed some) and even with them all on it was still too dark to read on the sofa.
Nearby the flat was a church, which produced the latest instalment in the ever lengthening series of Really Minor Things That Irritate Me Disproportionately. They had a sign up at the front noting the names of “celebrities” buried in its cemetery. It’s not that I find advertising graves as a tourist attraction particularly distasteful more that “celebrities” is such an inappropriate word, with its inevitable overtones of the publicity hounds that infest our TV schedules. Probably there were a few people who were genuine celebrities before television (the likes of Byron, Wilde, Houdini, Lindbergh and so on) I don’t think that Adam Smith was, and he was by some distance the most notable name there. This isn’t to denigrate Smith, who was a very important thinker, more to object on his behalf and his fellow “celebrities” that there very real achievements were being reduced to equivalence with any half-wit who manages to make page 17 of Heat.
One of the reasons why people don’t properly appreciate Scotland is the weather, which is perceived as being cold and wet almost the whole year round. As I quite like the cold, and have been used to Cardiff’s level of rainfall, neither of them bothered me overmuch. However, I don’t smoke and I did have some sympathy for those people forced outside pubs and clubs to smoke on bitter December nights with the rain teeming down – and especially the girls in their party dresses. It made me wonder whether there are some places that are so cold that they simply can’t introduce a public places smoking ban because people would die from exposure if you forced them outside in their clubbing gear.