I had been planning a trip to Scotland in general (and Edinburgh in particular) for a while. The high costs of air and train travel kept me away from it. But at 35 pounds for a return coach trip from London to Edinburgh, I couldn't say no to the idea. The trip was very impromptu and that meant we didn't have much time to book or confirm accommodation in the city. We left London from Victoria coach station at 11:00 pm on Friday night. The plan was to spend Saturday and Sunday in Edinburgh and take the night bus back to London. The seats in the bus were not exactly luxurious. I think the back-rest was a few degrees away from being upright 90 degrees. I was very tired and promptly fell asleep. And kept sleeping until the little jerks from the ride disturbed my precarious balance and my head hit the front seat.

Around 6:45 am, I opened my sleepy eyes and saw the blurry outline of black tarmac our bus was navigating. It curved and kinked through a carpet of dark green tracts on both sides. I looked on my right and saw the sun was the color of molten gold. It was rising through the sky - deep blue and violet at dawn. I was surprised to see the sheep grazing at this hour. Don't they ever sleep? We reached Edinburgh at 7:00 am. I put a 20p coin through the slot machine and gained access to the men's rest-room. The five wash basins had five young guys, all of them Indian, brushing their bone colored teeth in front of the mirror. One of them quipped, "Saala, bees paise dekar nahin aate toh abhi tak bahar chale gaye hote". I couldn't help but laugh at the scene in front of me.

The morning in Edinburgh welcomed us with deserted streets and a slight chill in the breeze. With a warm jacket thrown around, it was perfectly enjoyable. We walked the Royal Mile, around the Edinburgh castle, through a farmers' market, through a world street food fair, and a lot of other streets in Old Town and New Town. The Old Town is characterized by thick stone walls, closes that lead to mossy green stairs, bagpipers playing on street corners and souvenir shops selling everything that is Scottish. The crowds and heat picked up as the sun ascended the skies.

At around 2:00 pm began our hunt for a place to stay. We started with the hostels in Cowgate area. All of them were booked. I tried calling up a few mid-range places from the Wikitravel guide. Sorry, we are full today. Sorry, no vacancy. We are full. Nothing available this weekend. The chances of getting a good, cheap place to stay looked bleak. Someone told me the Allblack New Zealand was playing Scotland for the rugby world cup in the city today. The already dim chances became bleaker. We walked down Nicolson Street to where the B&B places are. Each and every one of them was full. One room was on offer for 300 pounds! At 5:00 pm, we made the best decision of the day. After checking with TIC in city center and realizing there is absolutely no place to stay in the city, we decided to go back to London later in the night. Bravo!

The next few hours would be among the best memories I have in exploring cities. We walked up the Calton Hill, a small mound on the north east of Royal Mile. This was supposed to be the seat of Scottish National Monument, a memorial to those who died in the Napoleonic Wars. The monument, apparently styled on the Parthenon in Acropolis of Athens, was left incomplete as the city ran out of funds. Is this the reason why Edinburgh is called the Athens of the North? The pillars that were erected gained the nickname Edinburgh's Disgrace. But not today. As the sun swung low, it painted the monument with brilliant orange light and lit up the grass with a warm texture. Calton Hill offered sweeping views of Edinburgh's cityscape and the Firth of Forth which lies beyond it; I could only think of two other places which offered such a vantage position to enjoy a city - the Nahargarh fort on the outskirts of Jaipur and the Mehrangarh fort in the aquamarine blue city of Jodhpur.

Firth of Forth, Holyrood Palace, the cityscape with its brilliant spires, a monument which could have been the new age Parthenon, the distant Edinburgh castle and warm dusk light - the evening couldn't have been better.

Around 9:30 pm at the coach station, we met a group of 10 Americans heading back to London because they couldn't find accommodation in Edinburgh tonight. I was glad we weren't alone. 14 hours of walking had completely numbed my legs. They were aching so bad that I just wanted to get on the bus and go back to London. Thankfully, the seats would recline a little more this time so my head wouldn't swing like a Chinese paper doll all night.

Tags: Europe

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