Don’t leave your room. This is better left undone.
You’ve got cheap smokes, so why should you need the sun?
Nothing makes sense outside, happiness least of all.
You may go to the loo but avoid the hall.
– Joseph Brodsky
In July, we went to Edinburgh for a weekend, for the first time to Scotland, for the first time via a 5-hour train journey across the UK, for the first time in 2021 to somewhere, for the first time... Well, after such a long time of no travelling, everything was like the first time. Everything felt almost illegal. We used to travel a lot, around five-ten different places a year, mostly abroad. I remember going to ten countries in 2018. Every experience, including the most recent, was unique, memorable and inevitably taught me something. Which I'm about to channel to you, as humbly as possible.
The first tip is to get good weather. We did. On that Edinburgh trip, at least, it was wonderful — sunny, zero clouds. Some guys told me we got lucky. Other guys told me that it was not luck - Scotland is ALWAYS like that. I don’t know whom to believe and I don't know much about Scotland's climate conditions but the usual situation for us is always bringing rain whenever we go. At some point it feels almost like an ancient curse as if you made a bargain with Hades, he then called his fellow Poseidon, who then called his fellow Zeus and they sit together and drink wine, casting all those sea storms and throwing lightning on you. But the thing about bargains is that you also get something. In our case, it's just a curse with no seeming benefit at all. Rains, winds, hail, cats, dogs, depression, all attacking miserable you from the sky and you have no choice but to hide in a coffee shop or go and eat shroomies in a hotel. This brings me to the next tip.
You are doomed to fail at the first tip hence all you can do is to find a place to hide from those hooligans Greek gods.
Therefore, the tip is to find a cosy café.
Sitting in a café is a type of pleasure I was missing during the severe plague months. Cafés have a special vibe, relaxed and lazy, with the smell of freshly roasted coffee and pastry, cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate and butter, sometimes something else. Your weather-cursed self shall have no goal, just sit, drink your tea, cappuccino, iced latte or whatever your hedonistic self prefers, look around, observe people, city streets, write, read a book, edit photos, or scroll your favourite social media app. No guilt. No goal at all. Don't try to make your café hideout time, God forbid, productive. Do anything you and do nothing. Having a goal of "doing nothing" is also a goal that should be abandoned. But if you need a goal, you can use that time as an opportunity to learn flâunery (whatever that means), observe the world and people around you. How have they changed? How do they behave now? Is there still a scent of plague in the air? Masks? Social distancing? Who drinks that iced caramel cappuccino with tapioca balls?
That café hiding happened to us in Manchester, the next place we went after leaving Edinburgh. It was hot as hell- I guess Hades decided not to bother his fellows and do it himself- and we needed a break from walking in a place with AC and cold drinks. But the essence of this situation is the same – you need a hideout to wait for the weather curse to ease or just to have a rest.
"Just sit and follow the flow." That is what I was telling myself. The joy of these moments is irresistible, especially now when the peace we've got is fragile. Sitting at home and doing nothing is not the same. Going to a café with a purpose to sit there is not the same. The situation when you while travelling go to a café to hide is what I'm talking about. You spend a few hundred pounds to go to another city but you sit in a café and don’t give a shit. You are supposed to sprint from one landmark to another but you refuse to do it. It's a riot. It's freedom. It's beauty. It’s anti-travelling. Lovely, isn’t it?
But back to Edinburgh now.
Imagine an utterly hypothetical situation when the weather meets your expectations and you still fancy sightseeing. Then my advice is to forget about it and find a hill. The biggest hill you can find. No hill? Find the highest church or any type of tower that has a viewpoint (better no windows). But the hill is better. Nature, wind, fresh air, leg pain 1 - all for free. There shouldn't be a lift to the top. If possible, use natural ways and naturally made steps (obviously, if your physical conditions allow you that). They grant you a sense of accomplishment. They are part of the adventure. You are a pilgrim looking for transcendence, a monk seeking spiritual enlightenment, or an addict starting a detox.
Edinburgh got a beautiful place called Arthur's seat. It is an extinct volcano situated in the southeast part of the city. Robert Louis Stevenson described it as "a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design". The place is often mentioned as one of the potential locations of Camelot, legendary King Arthur's castle; and used as a location in various novels and films. At least, that's what Wiki told us.
On our way to Arthur’s Seat, we traditionally bought ice cream, and more water (another tip), and accidentally found a small lake (another tip). Every decent city must have a lovely area filled with water, either natural or artificial, but with birds floating on its surface, people feeding them and large trees covering all it from the blazing sun or rain, or other curses. No birds - doesn’t count. Find the one with birds. But don’t feed them with bread. Buy special food, seeds or whatever. No people - okay. No people is always better but hardly possible. At least one is always there within you.
The pond we found was populated by ducks, some other birds and... plenty of swans. I have a special trigger for swans. A swan is a symbol of a township I was born in and lived in for most of my life. A swan is on its coat of arms and name. BUT I SAW NO SWANS FOR THE FIRST 18-20 YEARS OF MY LIFE. ZERO SWANS.
But anyway, back to the lake. It's called St Margaret's Loch if you are curious.
Swans. These violent creatures conquered it, dozens of them. It was their place. Humans ran around or sat on benches, enjoying the view, talking, reading, maybe meditating, or feeding all these birds around. But for the swans, there was not enough food. The swans didn't let humans be lost in the serenity of the moment. Dozens of them lubberly climbed out of the pond, spreader their wings, and, hissing and waddling, headed to poor humans, attacking them with all cruelty these creatures can afford, with no mercy and with a desire for only one thing – food. As one of the Foursquare tips literally said, "killer fucking swans, they crave human flesh". This was true. True to the extent that Hitchcock could film the second Birds there with no effort, no special effects, but rivers of blood.
But our way was to the top of the volcano.
It took us about two hours to get there. The view was getting better and the city was revealing its beauty with every step we made. On the top, an extraordinary panorama met us. We could see the city lying between the hills with all the landmarks from our list as if they were on our palm. People, like ants, swarming underneath doing their deeds. Trams and trains, like snakes, lurking and wriggling, eating ants and throwing them up. Castles, cathedrals, churches and palaces, other buildings, did not seem big anymore and resembled parts of some rare Lego set. Everything became insignificant and significant at the same time. Nothing could hide from us – we could see all virtues and vices. We could see how and where the city was built: old and new areas, parks and- what's more important- other hills. Our next destinations. Like Ash Ketchum said: "Gotta catch 'em all" (was this his quote? I'm not sure). Now the goal is to climb all the good hills, all the towers you can see from the highest hill.
Or, you can turn your gaze away from the city, sit on stones and stare at the sea, its gleaming flat surface and a gentle haze crossed by a few ships and boats, and the endless sky above. In this transcendent moment, it's only you and the world.
So, yes, find a hill.
Or a volcano. It sounds better.
1 Ah yes, another hidden tip for those wanderers who look up the footnotes - buy hiking footwear. Invest in it. You won’t regret it.