A quote from J.R.R Tolkien’s poem “All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter,” prominently displayed in red neon on the side of the building at 11 Robertson’s Close in Edinburgh, Scotland.
I arrived at Waverly Station by train from Manchester. Edinburgh Castle was visible just past the train station- a quintessential part of any Scottish experience I could imagine.
Within 10 minutes of walking outside my hostel, people were introducing themselves and showing me around. The street adjacent to my hostel was bustling. Scotland would quickly become my favorite destination because of the friendliness I experienced from the locals.
I had arrived in the middle of the Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. Many pubs and restaurants were converted into venues for theatre, comedy, magic shows, and music.
Much like London, the nightlife centered around pub culture. Locals as well as festival-goers gathered in pubs and restaurants to enjoy the Fringe performances. The Festival Fringe is a celebration of art in various forms, but across a wide range of personal tastes. Old and new, traditional and progressive, conventional and unconventional.
I came across a small cafe with live jazz, and sat in for a while. I have played alto saxophone going on 10 years now, with an emphasis on jazz study and improvisation.
I have never heard jazz like I heard at this cafe.
The sound was foreign to me, and did not line up with my knowledge of the genre. The chord progressions didn’t seem to work, the meter changed almost at random, and the rhythm was erratic. It was different than what I knew.
But it was good.
I had been observing the places I traveled to, and contrasting them to what I knew from living in America. Hearing these musicians play shattered that entire frame of reference. I realized that observing difference is irrelevant. Experiencing a new place is best done without expectation or comparison, as each culture, city, or country is unique in its own right.
Each culture instills a set of values into its people, which often sets the precedent for the ignorance or misunderstanding of another’s. The values become rules. I decided to stop comparing the values of different places and people to what I knew from America, and rather focus on seeing and understanding these values to the best of my ability.
What sounds good to one group might not sound great to another. The rules are a construct, and every culture has its own set. I think it is necessary to abandon this construct, these rules and values, in order to find one’s truth, or one’s true sound.
It’s a lot like jazz, really.
Edinburgh is a very different place during the day. The usual flow of tourists and travelers circulated the streets, with tour buses patrolling the local attractions and landmarks, people browsing souvenir shops and restaurants, and the dull roar of drunken chatter echoing through the stone streets had stopped.
“A hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design“
-Robert Louis Stevenson
I looked around on Google to find some nearby spots worth checking out, and Arthur’s Seat was within walking distance of my hostel. Seated atop a dormant volcano, Arthur’s Seat stands atop the group of hills in the center of Edinburgh and provides panoramic views of the Scottish landscape.
On the way down I met a woman named Fran. We hiked back into town together, and on the way came across the ruins of a very old building. I had never seen such a tangible piece of history like this before. This site was special to me, as it wasn’t a well known public installation pimped out to tourists, but rather the legacy of some structure from a different time.
Sometimes the best things are found off the beaten path.
Someone left a comment on my Instagram suggesting I check out St.Andrews, so I decided to head up by bus. I met Carrianne, who told me about living in Scotland and some places to check out in St.Andrews. I was pleased to hear there were castle ruins up against the water, as well as some other old buildings.
If I were a golfer, I would have also been excited to find that St.Andrews is the “home of golf.”
I decided to visit the castle after hours to avoid tourists. The only downside to this was missing the opportunity to explore the underground tunnels, but that gives me a reason to come back.
The castle is more than 800 years old, and was home to several Kings. As possession of the castle was transferred between the Scottish and English several times, it was destroyed and rebuilt.
I came back the next day with Sylvie, a new friend from my hostel. There was a bit more light to work with this time.
The castle overlooks a small beach called Castle Sands, and the adjoining North Sea.
It is here that I realized the true splendor and beauty of California beaches.
See you soon.