Lee had a day off on the 29th and we spent a good few hours of it walking around the highest point in Edinburgh, Arthur's Seat and the Craigs (pronounced crags). Again the weather was very kind and we could see for miles. This particular hill, I found, was pretty deceptive somehow. From Lee's street, South Clerk St, it looks as if it's about 4km away and exceedingly tall - a mountain. But it's not. It's so close to the city, about a 15 minute walk and only takes about half and hour to walk up. Very misleading.
The 29th is also an important day for the Scots in Edinburgh (or the Scotch, if you're American). It is a day celebrating the nearing of Hogmanay and is kicked off with one of the coolest torch processions I've ever seen. Lee, Rory (Lee's Scottish fellow), Susie and I took our places among the thousands gathering in the cold along the Royal Mile at about 6pm. We collected our "torches" - essentially metre-long beeswax candles - and waited for the slow wave of lit candles to arrive from the front of the pack. It took about an hour. Once they were lit by the people in front of us we started our march, bagpipes playing as we walked, an electric feeling in the air. It was all very exciting and all very pretty, a sea of torches rolling through the old streets of this beautiful city. Small kids who probably shouldn't have been holding these lit candles were sword fighting each other. As were we. The alliance took a right turn onto Princes Street and started filing past the Wonderland, people on the ferris wheel taking photos of what I imagine would have been an amazing view of the rippling effect of the thousands of moving and flickering candles beneath them.
I say "alliance" as we were all focussed on one goal: reaching the top of Carlton Hill to set a Viking ship ablaze. It has been a tradition for many years around the north of Scotland, but was only revived in Edinburgh around a decade ago. The weather was still on our side and it was getting colder. People were rugged up as they held their torches high - some with a sense of pride, others with a sense of trying not to set the woman's hair on fire in front of them. The streets had been closed off for this event and oddly although there were thousands of people crowding them, the traffic lights as they ineffectually changed from green to red and back again somehow made the streets seemed barren. A man, crazy or just entertaining - can't quite decide which - lit green flares and waved them as he ran up and back along the top of a nearby wall.
Eventually the crowd became a mush of people and we slowly made our way up the narrow path to the top of Carlton Hill. By the time we had arrived the Viking ship was already well and truly on fire, quite spectacular really as the flames engulfed the huge silhouette of an emblem of a dragon. Some speccy fireworks erupted from the Acropolis to top off the already fantastic evening. So much fun!
Two days later and the night that everyone cannot wait for, but rarely seems to enjoy, New Years Eve, came to town. The Edinburgh street party is one of the most popular NYE parties in Europe. The streets are again blocked off, stages are set up for the bands (including Glasvegas and Groove Armada this year), the fireworks are ready and waiting somewhere in the Edinburgh castle, bringing your own drinks is allowed. What more could you want? Well, dancing of course! Susie managed to score us free tickets (as she works at the council) to check out and have a crack at some traditional Ceilidh ("kay-lee") dancing. Think a thousand people and the simplicity and repetitiveness of the "hokey-pokey" - or the "hokey-cokey" as they call it in the UK, weird people - but with cool Scottish music and lots of men in skirts. Classic! We manage to get ourselves in trouble for doing the conga line in the Spiegel tent as it "could have been" distracting to the chilled out band on the stage. We were having fun, that's all I can say. A Japanese girl even joined in. That's how crazy things got, man!
Finally it was time for the old fireworks, well, there was about an hour to go but we decided to try and find ourselves a spot with a good view of the castle. It paid off. Anticipation filled the air until the fast-growing sound of thousands of people counting down from 10 to 1 took over, then all that was left was excitement. I'd say they would have to be up there with some of the most awe-inspiring, emotion-stirring and best-executed fireworks ever - though I admit I have not spent a new years in Sydney yet. Even once the fireworks had finished and the reality of the new year set in, the street party still had an hour to go (they like closing up shop early over here). Susie's friend, Kate, and I decided to go find some music as we hadn't seen a single band that evening and we unintentionally stumbled across one of the most entertaining groups around. Moishe's Bagel are born and raised in Edinburgh and their music is described as a mix of folk, jazz and Balkan. We danced the night away. Check it out.