Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hogmanay, Edinburgh


Tired from a crack of dawn flight, Dave and I emerged into Edinburgh city centre on New Year’s Eve. Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities and, for the first time, I was here for its biggest annual celebration, Hogmanay.

For the uninitiated, this is the biggest turning of the year party certainly in the UK and, I believe, the whole of Europe. This at first seems quite surprising when you consider just how dark and cold a place Edinburgh is at this time of year (it is after all on a Siberian latitude!), which makes it all the more intriguing.

After a much needed siesta in our crowded dorm on the west side of town we awoke with a thirst. First to the nearest pub for a couple of beers and some good Hogmanay advice from a local friend, before back to the hostel to see how things might develop. I have had the fortune to have socialised in hostels all over the world and have recently missed the impromptu camaraderie that such places imbue. At least from my experience, European big city hostels are often the most disappointing such establishments on earth, due in more than part to the plethora of young Aussies and Americans who dominate the scene. That is not to say I have anything particular against people from Australia or the US (I have loved travelling both countries), but just that being surrounded by 19 year old Aussie/American pissheads can get a tad tiresome. Individually they are fine, but en masse I just can’t be bothered with it. So it proved in our hostel.

I am 30. When I was 18, that may have seemed very old, but from where I am sitting it is still in the tale end (or at least the tip of the tale end) of youth. Still, with the exception of some interesting conversation with a couple of Brazilians, a few hours of drinking games with first trip travellers left me reeling to escape. That we did just in time to not get embroiled with the narrowly post-adolescent messiness.
We headed to the town centre for the big night instilled with quite a few shots and a fair degree of anticipational energy. By the time we crossed the Royal Mile we were part of a throng of people channelling down to the festivities.

The main body of the Hogmanay celebrations occur in a large cordoned off area of streets and squares which straddle the gap between the old and new town. Stages manned by an eclectic mix of rock and dance bands are littered here and there outside the heart of the festival in the Princes Street Gardens. Here the main stage sits at the base of a natural amphitheatre with a backdrop of castle rock and Edinburgh Castle itself looming overhead. From down in the stalls it is easy to see why the castle has dominated power in this city for so long.

Hugely over-priced drinks barely dampen the mood of buzzing, jubilant crowds. A few decent bands, headlined by Primal Scream knocking out the soulful sounds of Screamadelica front to back. I think Come Together lasted about 15 minutes and was well worth the indulgence! Due to earlier rain, the whole place was sodden, with the steeper parts rampant mud slicks. You have to be a much nicer person than me not to enjoy watching one person stack it after another and slide on their butts down the hill. Even better when one person slips and brings down another two or three with them. I myself took at least a couple of tumbles for the team.

As ever, the New Year’s crowds are waiting for that big moment. The countdown, the chimes, the fireworks. Shooting out in each and every direction from the castle above, it was well impressive. A great feeling to be somewhere in the northern reaches of this planet, in freezing mid-winter, with thousands of revellers. In that moment it dawned on me why the celebrations mean so much up here. It is a big middle-finger to the dark and cold. A fuck you to the oppressive winter.

As we filtered out from the Princes Street Gardens we caught a few tracks from a dance stage, generally mulled around the tipsy crowds before accidentally wandering out of the gated-off festival area. A bad idea. It took a few attempts, some hard-core persuading and some quick-step walking to get back in so that we could make our way over to the old town to see the night away.

Everywhere was packed full to the rafters and spilling out onto the street. We eventually managed to get a drink at some bar or other and a few shots later had attached ourselves to some confused (and to some extend confusing) Canadians. By the time we made it to an all-night Irish bar it had gone a bit messy. No need to go more into that save to say that at some point an inner self-defence mechanism led to Dave abandoning an interested lady for the relative safety of the cold shadows outside the front door. A safe hiding place until he jumped on out at me as I left for home a drink or so later. A proper night out.

Having criticised the hostel the night before, it proved the perfect place to nurse one killer hangover. I moved no more than 10 meters in a 12 hour (mostly) 80’s movie marathon nestled on a huge sofa. To cap it all, Dave got attacked by bed bugs adding a whole new layer of whinging-induced entertainment. A good bit of kip, a trek up Arthur’s Seat and a couple more beers later we were heading back to reality. 
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