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Looking Back on 2017: Squirrels, Pagan Rites and a Scottish Christmas

Well, it’s Hogmanay. The most important day of the year in Scotland. As I write this, Storm Dylan is raging outside, threatening to destroy our bird/squirrel feeder. Tonight’s celebrations might get cancelled if the strong winds persist. To be honest, I don’t see me engaging in any outdoor fun today, which is why I decided to get comfy on the sofa and write the dreaded blog post: a review of 2017.
Up until 2016, putting together a round-up of the year was something I had always looked forward to – it just entailed making a list of my travel highlights with some of my favourite photos taken during that year. This year, however, I have only one big highlight (or two) to write about, although I still got to take loads of photos throughout the year. In fact, I have probably taken more photos this year than I did in previous years, despite not having visited any new countries in 2017.
Yes, 2017 has been a year without travel (sort of), but I am not really upset about it. This year I finally got to fulfil one of my biggest dreams – moving to Edinburgh to study anthropology. Well, that’s my year in a nutshell really, but I would like to bid farewell to 2017 by looking back at some of the most memorable moments of my first nine months in Scotland.

My first Fringe experience

I don’t think I can find the right words to describe the things that I witnessed at the Festival Fringe. Walking down the Royal Mile in the first few days of the festival was like navigating through a jungle of whimsical performances and outlandish characters. I was handed out a leaflet every 10 seconds (I’m not exaggerating at all), and at times the crowds were a bit overwhelming. It’s impossible to get to see all of the shows at the Fringe, and being in possession of 50 leaflets makes it even more difficult to choose which ones to watch.
So one Saturday afternoon we decided to pick two free shows. We somehow ended up at the Black Market venue for a show called the Church of Jim. Three blonde hippies welcomed us into a small room and invited us to sit in the front row. They handed us a leaflet with psalms dedicated to Jim, who, from what I gathered, had mysteriously vanished and it was now up to us to ensure that his legacy lives on. Each of the three guys performed a philosophical sermon about love, peace and happiness. It was hard to tell whether the sermons were rehearsed or impromptu, but either way they sounded like the product of too much LSD. Saying that the whole thing was bizarre would be an understatement. If you don’t believe me, check out this short promo by the producers.

Participating in pagan rites

Ah, the Beltane Fire Festival. It’s one of the most popular events in Edinburgh. Thousands of people head to Calton Hill on the eve of May Day to witness the pagan rite of Beltane. I went to my first Beltane in 2011, and I was bewildered. Well, this time I knew what to expect – loads of fire, hypnotic drumming and naked dancers in body paint.
This year’s event was perhaps wilder than the one I attended six years ago – I don’t remember seeing so many bare-chested women back then. Oh, and it seems that since 2011, more people have become aware of the fact that taking photos with a flash at such events is very annoying (and stupid), which I’m very grateful for.

Being a Halloween fan, I also made sure to attend this year’s Samhuinn Fire Festival, another event organised by the Beltane Fire Society. Although this event is a bit toned down (ie. no naked performers), the spectacle is equally enthralling. I was also amazed to see so many spectators wearing elaborate costumes (I was the odd one out). The streets in the city centre were teaming with (mostly drunk) people in fancy Halloween costumes, hopping from one bar to the next.
Well, this year I got to learn that Halloween is a big thing in Edinburgh. I guess next year I should make an effort to dress up for it.

Making friends with squirrels

I’ve had several encounters with squirrels over the last few months. It might not seem like such a big deal for many, but for someone who is obsessed with rodents, squirrels are always a welcome sight. They are just too cute. Well, up until a few months ago, my squirrel sightings had always been brief. I would see one scurrying up a tree in the distance, or jumping from one tree to another before disappearing. Then one afternoon in October I was walking through Princes Street Gardens and as I stopped to take a few photos of the castle (as I always do when I’m in the city centre), this wee squirrel came to say hello. I crouched down, and the poor thing tried to climb on me, hoping he would get some food.
Well, since then I seem to have become a crazy squirrel lady. I keep seeing squirrels everywhere, it’s almost as if I’m hallucinating. And while Edinburgh’s squirrels are not as friendly as their buddies in London, they have somehow become rather affectionate towards me.
Here’s a video of me feeding some squirrels in Princes Street Gardens.

Umm… yes, I was actually a bit worried they would bite my finger off, although they weren’t impressed with the communion wafers that we tried to feed them. After a while they lost interest in us, and instead gathered around a girl who was eating churros on a bench.

Studying anthropology at the University of Edinburgh

After spending five years saving up for my master’s degree, I am finally on the path to becoming an anthropologist. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I am finally here, doing what I’ve always wanted to do. In the last few months, I have made new friends from different corners of the world, read numerous books and articles about all sorts of unusual subjects and learnt to view things through a different lens.
For the first time in my life I feel like I’m on the right track. I have wanted to study anthropology ever since I visited Morocco in 2013. I am therefore grateful that I am finally able to study this fascinating subject in my favourite city and at a world-class university.

Experiencing a Scottish Christmas

I do not usually get overexcited for Christmas, but this year was different. The festive season in Edinburgh started in mid-November and I have been visiting the Christmas market every week (mostly for the mulled wine). There is such a beautiful festive atmosphere in the city, and it gets better over Hogmanay.
My husband-to-be and I (we’re getting married in 2018!) spent Christmas in Kyle of Lochalsh, the town where he grew up. We had a wonderful – almost white – Christmas (it snowed on Boxing Day) and the journey back to Edinburgh was spectacular. The Highlands were completely covered in snow on the day we travelled.

Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s also a bit eerie in a way, especially when you come across the occasional lonely house or farm at the base of a mountain.
So, I have reached the end of my review, and I still haven’t decided whether I should go out to watch the Hogmanay fireworks or just pick a couple of good films to watch over Chinese takeout and a bottle of wine. The wind has abated, but it’s freezing cold out there and my living room is rather cosy. Well, from the heart of Edinburgh to wherever you are in the world, I wish you a happy and prosperous new year.
P.S. Expect a lot of Scotland-related blog posts in 2018!
#experiences #scotland #edinburgh

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Daniela Frendo

Daniela Frendo

Hi! I'm a Maltese blogger based in Scotland. I created Grumpy Camel to help travellers connect with places through culture, history and cuisine.

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