‘Twas a terribly cold day, with blistering winds that would disperse the warmth of even the hottest of teas. With our coats bundled tightly around our bodies, we traversed up the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, in the hopes that a tavern or merchant would accept us withering fools. Alas, as we approached the end, our gazes drifted towards a peculiar alleyway. We swiftly entered the alley and were rewarded with a quaint square that breathed magical history and wonder. No, this wasn’t Hogwarts my silly reader! This was the square that housed a certain museum. A museum of Scotland’s most famous literary evangelists, whom, with their words and phrases, breathed life into this wonderful and distant city and spread its kind and intelligent culture around the world!
Burns. Scott. Stevenson. Three of the most venerated figures in Scottish history. The Writer’s Museum presented the life and works of these three writers by devoting a floor to each of them. We entered on the Robert Burns floor, then stepped up to the Sir Walter Scott floor, and finally finished with Robert Louis Stevenson on the subterranean level. Each exhibit not only paid homage to the inspiration and content of their respective artistic outputs, but also included a wide variety of objects each man had supposedly come into contact with. There were chairs that Burns supposedly sat in, glasses that Scott purportedly drank from, and strangely, locks of their hair all encased and on display. What was most striking to us was how distinct the lives of each individual was from the other; Burns lived an agrarian lifestyle defined by his depth and desire for love, Scott started out publishing anonymously and went on to achieve a level of success and celebrity that made him a household name across Europe, and Stevenson made sure to live a life relentlessly dedicated to travel and was able to turn a drawing from his son into his literary classic Treasure Island. Some of Stevenson’s words were of particular significance to us in this part of our lives:
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.”
Similar to Stevenson, we have been traveling for travel’s sake, with no specific agenda.
Sir Walter Scott was not only encountered in the museum, his memorial was the first thing we saw upon arriving in Edinburgh. Shooting straight up into the sky, tinged in black, and the archetype of “Gothic”, this memorial looked like an ornate gift an alien civilization would bestow upon the human race. Seeing it as we stepped off the train was like receiving a message that said, “Welcome to Edinburgh. This place is not like any other place you have ever been.”
In addition to the culture of Edinburgh, it’s surrounding natural environment is exactly like the ones in storybooks. Watching over the city is Arthur’s Seat, an 823-foot hill with a grass-covered plateau with panoramic views of Edinburgh and its surroundings. Shenanigans are bountiful as the land seems as well maintained as a public park with picturesque backdrops everywhere. Another natural landmark is Cramond Island, a small island about a 20-minute bus ride from the city. Accessible only when the tides are low, it’s high winds and the overcast weather made us feel as if we were stepping back through time. For our group of 5, this remote island provided some welcome moments of solace and reflection.
Overall, our time in Edinburgh contained some of the most unique and enjoyable moments of our trip so far.
From there, we entered the gastronomic haven of Brussels, where we met up with two of Amanda’s friends, Madison and Lisa. If Brussels had to summed up with a single word, it would be: indulgent. We indulged in the various foods and beverages that define the city, such as Belgian waffles, fries, chocolate, and, most notably, beers. We did a Belgian beer tour that delighted our taste buds and left us with a strong sense that Belgian beer is what beer is meant to taste like. Both of us enjoy entirely opposite types of beer, but found that Belgian beer is where we find common ground. As a bonus, we learned that the most popular Belgian beers, known as “Trappist” beers, are brewed by monasteries that donate all their profits to charity.
Also in Brussels, we took a fascinating free walking tour given by a Scottish gentleman called Fraser, who has been living in Brussels for the past decade. He gave an enriching overview about the city’s notable historical events and did an excellent job giving “Did you know?” facts about the city as well as discussing the both the positive and negative moments in the history Belgium. We learned of the country’s dark past with the Congo and the obscene amounts of people that were either murdered at whim or worked to death while under Belgian colonial rule. We also stood outside the restaurant/bar where Karl Marx resided for a short time and where he wrote The Communist Manifesto.
Our guide left us with the message that Brussels is a city welcoming to all people, no matter their beliefs or way of life. In just a few short days in the city, we found that to be an extremely accurate sentiment.
Currently we are back in France in Lyon, exploring the non-Paris France, so stay tuned!