Friday, 4 January 2013

A Franco-Scottish New Year

Princes Street at Dusk
With Christnas being so close to the weekend this year and the inexplicable absence of EasyJet flights to Edinburgh on Saturdays, I took the risk of leaving my departure for the motherland until five-thirty on Christmas Eve. I was convinced that it was going to be the nightmare of nightmares but in fact the whole thing was almost ridiculously calm, presumably because all the stressy people who normally make flying a nightmare by bringing too much luggage and queueing to get on before the plane has even arrived at the gate had already done their travelling and only civilised people were left. But, believing that the whole thing would take a long time to recover from, I arranged to stay at my parents' for ten whole days, which was quite long enough to sink into a glorious haze of long lies, mulled wine and having my washing done that I am only just emerging from now.

It was also high time for Understanding Frenchman to spend some time getting to know the quirks of my little country and my crazy family to allow him to appreciate what he might be getting himself in for, so he joined me just after Christmas to celebrate Hogmanay in Scotland.
Country walks chez mes parents

Because the Scots Kirk was historically against the idea of indulgent celebrating of religious occasions, New Year in Scotland is traditionally a bigger party than Christmas, and this year my family followed the same pattern. Christmas was quiet, but by the 31st, all the family was there. We didn't go into town for Hogmanay itself, so poor Understanding Frenchman got to witness champagne-fuelled singing and accordian playing at midnight, flanked on one side by family card games and on the other by heated political discussion instead. Luckily he came out still smiling and was even able to teach us the French version of Auld Lang Syne (Ce n'est qu'un au revoir, if you're interested.)

Night Afore Fiesta
The rest of the time, though, we did a pretty good job of making the most of what Edinburgh had to offer around New Year. On the 30th, we watched the torchlit procession to Calton Hill, made up of a pipe band, a few Shetland Vikings in costume, followed by several thousand members of the public who were also carrying large flaming sticks, all with very little evidence of either health and safety precautions or any fire-related problems. With hindsight, we realised it would have been better to climb the hill earlier, as there was a dance production going on at the top, while the procession itself was not all that exciting to watch once the band and the Vikings had gone past, but the fireworks display at the end was very impressive.

From the Royal Museum roof terrace
Edinburgh Castle
In the interest of being educated, we visited Our Dynamic Earth, a relatively new museum which explains the origins of our planet and how life began. It's very showy - you can stand on model of an erupting volcano and gaze into the primordial soup - but kids would probably learn more from it than adults, because I felt that I knew most of the actual information content already.  We also went to the Royal Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street, which is amazing. The artefacts and models that I remember looking at as a child are still there but they've added lots of interactive exhibits and activities and there was something new to learn at every turn. We spent an hour and a half there and it was nowhere near long enough to even scratch the surface of one section. I'll be going back!

The Royal Mile
The other thing I really enjoyed was just spending time in pubs and coffee shops soaking up the cosiness. In Scotland, night falls at around 4 o'clock in December and so people really make an effort to fight against the cold and the darkness with warm lighting, hot food and drinks and pretty Christmas decorations. I've written before about how Paris doesn't really do cosy, so I stocked up on a winter's worth of warm pub comfort in the few days we were there. We even managed lunch at the Elephant House, a lovely Edinburgh coffee shop that you nearly always have to queue for now that word has got out that JK Rowling wrote large parts of the Harry Potter books there.

And of course we had to have a trip to Marks and Spencer's, where Understanding Frenchman likes to buy his shirts. That's proof of integration for you.


  1. I'd be really interested to visit Scotland, although I'm sure I would struggle with the accent bit! And sorry but every time I think of Scotland, I think of the movie Trainspotting and of writer Irvine Welsh. I'm sure it's less gritty though!

  2. It definitely has that side to it too ... but most of our toilets are not that bad, I promise!