Other people's holidays

Stephanie Hornstein moved to Edinburgh for study but wound up living in the Scottish capital's tourist ground zero. Illustration by Eunjoo Lee.

I swear, Greyfriar’s Bobby and his posse have it in for me.

I can’t even count how many near-death experiences I’ve had walking into traffic trying to avoid the gaggle of Potter fans that cluster around the Elephant House Café, coming to a total standstill without warning and backing wayyyy off the sidewalk to get their shot in front of a place where JK Rowling may or may not have brought her wizarding dynasty to life. Somewhere in the wastelands of Snapchat there is a record of the barrage of the selfie-stick wielding tourists which every day stand in my way. They see me - they must. But still they don’t move, that’s the thing with muggles. So I have to weave around, dodge and duck until suddenly I’m face to face with a double-decker bus and not much time to react. Harrowing.

George IV Bridge is my Via Dolorosa. But if I’m being less dramatic, it’s also my neighbourhood. It’s my corner shop and my library. It’s my walk home.

Last August, like so many other twenty-somethings, I moved to Edinburgh to pursue higher education. And, at the time, it really did feel like a higher calling. Here I was, doing it. In another country, in another frame of mind, in another clime (which I soon learned was not to be trifled with, as waterproofs became my November uniform).

After the acceptance letters and some time before the UK visa office claimed the better part of my sanity, I sat on my parents’ couch and went through the university’s list of student housing options. Why, I exclaimed, look at this wondrous accommodation right on the Royal Mile! Mylnes Court apartments were stupidly romantic: old (somehow an asset in every North American’s mind), central but not on campus and, best of all, they sat right in the most historic area of the city. Of course it didn’t even occur to me, as I Google Mapped my way through the riddle of closes and cobbled streets (all uncharacteristically calm by the way—when did they take these pictures?), that I was wearing backpacker goggles. All I saw was quaint history and myself in it. Probably I imagined attending a ball at the castle or something. By the time I left home, I was so excited to move into my 16th century residence that I still hadn’t fully considered the implications of living in what would soon be revealed as bagpipe central.

A word on the pipers. Unlike some, I had absolutely no problem with bagpipes until I moved to the Lawnmarket. But after hearing their melodious drone day in, day out no matter how tightly I battened the hatches, I began to hear them even when I knew they couldn’t be playing. It was a while before I developed an immunity that allowed me to sleep.

George IV Bridge is my Via Dolorosa. But if I’m being less dramatic, it’s also my neighbourhood. It’s my corner shop and my library. It’s my walk home.

Despite the sea of tartan that engulfs me every time I set foot outside, the sharpened elbows I’ve honed to make my way through crowds and the innumerable souvenir photos my scowling mug will appear in this year, I am able to put my cynicism aside. Truly. I know the problem isn’t them. It’s me. Edinburgh, for all its pomp, is a beautiful city and the Royal Mile is an impressive place for astroll, if you can tear your eyes off the shortbread tins long enough to think about it, which I think most people can. It’s a wonderful place to spend the hols.

Living in festival land without being on vacation has been an interesting experience. In my non-holiday affliction, I have become an urban warrior but also a cooperator and admirer. I enjoy giving directions to those poor, perplexed souls perched on the George IV bridge that stare longingly down at their hostel on Cowgate below, their smartphone completely discombobulated by the Old Town’s medieval tiers.

Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is the perfect place for a spot of sunbathing, and I have long since succumbed to the charms of those shirtless kilt-wearing Scotsmen that smoulder out at me from postcard stands. Now, after nearly a year of tripping over its cobbles, the Royal Mile does feel like home and when I leave Edinburgh in autumn, it will not be without carrying some part of it with me. Fear not, you can keep the pipers.