…I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. – Ronald Reagan
Edinburgh, a true city upon a hill, is the grandest of them all. Sitting in Elephant House, the cafe Harry Potter was birthed at, I can see where J.K. Rowling’s powerful imagination for Hogwarts came from. Imagine a medieval walled city, grander and more beautiful than any Calcata, Rome, or Boston. It is the quintessential City upon a Hill in many of the ways Reagan described 26 years ago; affording visitors a beacon of hope with international festivals that draw citizens from around the world, and an art, culture, and people that are as open and harmonious as you will find anywhere.
Castle Rock – A geological masterpiece
Edinburgh evokes a sense of history and power to those below with the shining Edinburgh Castle. Sitting atop the highest rock in the city it is and has been the watchtower of Edinburgh and Scotland for generations. Castle Rock, the piece of rock that the Castle stands on, is the remains of an ancient volcanic pipe that erupted 350 million years ago and cooled as a vertical plug (McAdam, 16).
As a lover of science and culture, I find it interesting to see how the movement of time and space transformed this beautiful rock into one of the most natural and effective city centers of the world for centuries. God’s creations extend beyond man and anything we can see with the blind eye. It has attracted settlers for centuries, with the first settlements being recorded around the 2nd century AD. Today, it holds a population of about 600,000 people within the city limits of Edinburgh, but that population doubles to over one million during the month of August. Why the jump in population?
Edinburgh, an international beacon of the arts
The Edinburgh International Festival in August is an annual invitation only arts festival that grew out of the ashes of World War II. In the words of its founder Rudolf Bing, the festival’s aims were “to provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit and enrich the cultural life of Scotland, Britain and Europe in the wake of the Second World War” (Wikipedia) The Edinburgh International Fringe Festival blossomed out of the same spirit, as Fringe artists, those who would all be accepted, descended upon Edinburgh to share their talents in alongside their globally recognized counterparts. The main difference was that the Fringe artists would perform in smaller venues like bars, restaurants, and busk along the Royal Mile.
I first heard about the Edinburgh Fringe from my friend Tupahn. Tupahn is a world-renowned busker I met in Boston at Christopher Columbus Square in 2012, and again here in 2015. A busker is a person who entertains in a public place for donations. As I detailed in my first post in July, he invited me to join him on his tour of Europe, where he would be attending the Edinburgh Fringe for the second time. A Fringe festival is defined as ‘an unofficial, often unconventional, arts festival that is associated with another, larger festival’ (Collins). While this seemingly belittles fringe festivals, the Edinburgh Fringe festival is actually the largest arts festival in the world with the 2014 event spanning 25 days and featuring over 3,193 shows from 51 countries in 299 venues (EdFringe.com). How does a city like Edinburgh, with a poor metro system, even begin to accommodate that large of an influx of visitors? A very accommodating culture is how.
Few cities in the world will bring you the natural joy from simply wandering the it’s busy center. Edinburgh’s busy city center brings together an attractive magnet of world class dining, sights, and architectural beauty in perfect form. Edinburgh draws people from all over the world for the festival, but also draws them to live in this beautiful city year round. Here’s how I saw Edinburgh on just my second day there:
Edinburgh, I’m in love [Inspired by The Cure]
You’re medieval charm has me,
the way you turn with grace and evince history with your space.
It’s easy to find beauty here, looking out this window I find we’re in another sphere.
One with elegance and delight, you bring a smile to my face, one unlike in any other place.
Edinburgh I’m in love.
Your accent heeds to be heard, no way to describe you in one word.
You’ve got me in your arms,
let us embrace as you look at me with unyielding charms.
I can’t stop looking at you,
admiring your cobblestone feet and basking in conversation in your cafes, that’s where I hope we’ll meet.
Edinburgh I’m in love.
At night your allure grows more,
attracting onlookers with glowing lights and this inviting Italian Bistro’s open door.
That’s where I met you last night,
shining like the Sun in this candlelit place,
you bring sunshine to those in your grace.
I want to ask you out,
but fear you are too preoccupied.
Catering to others with love and joy,
won’t you share a little with this young boy?
La Locanda – The World at Edinburgh’s doorstep
One of the best experiences in Edinburgh’s charm was tasting it’s multicultural cuisine and harmonious spaces in a beautiful Italian restaurant pictured above (partially blocked by the truck). Tupahn and I were walking along a beautiful curved streeted looking for a restaurant when we stumbled into this candlelit Italian Bistro. It was a small, intimate restaurant where you shared close quarters with neighbors and dined in heaven. The staff were impeccable as they treated us with dignity and openness. While I could sense our waiter, Michealé, was part Italian, the whole staff shared some Italian heritage. It brought the sensations of being in Italy to it’s core; people, food, vino, and long discussions with your neighbors. Rebecca, a beautiful server with a Scottish accent, was my personal favorite, as she was the woman I spoke of in Edinburgh, I’m in love. They all shared a common enthusiasm and grace in how they served their tables.
This type of service was a shining example of the peaceful embodiment of Edinburgh’s locals and internationals in harmony. I met several other internationals, that were transplants from their countries elsewhere that found new homes in this quaint city. Even the police officers around Edinburgh were the kindest we had ever met. If Tupahn and Ken were ever performing in an area that they shouldn’t have been, the officers asked them to move, but in the kindest possible way. Back in Boston, Tupahn would be afraid to be approached by the Park rangers, in fear that he would get booted from his traditional spot, or face criminal offenses. To have such a space of freedom and openness allows artists and guests to be completely absorbed in Edinburgh’s culture and in sharing their artistic creation. Those who wish to enjoy Edinburgh’s geological wonders, art festivals, and spectacular charm should only need the heart and love to explore it. Travel can be as simple as that sometimes. I believe and hope that all citizens should have the natural right to travel to any country they wish to travel to. However, whether each country’s doors are open is up to each country. Edinburgh’s are as open as their hearts are to outsiders, allowing each person to find peace and happiness in exploring and expressing themselves and the world around them. That’s a real city upon a hill.