I arrived in Edinburgh on March 7th after a relaxing train ride from one end of the UK to the other. Spending eight hours in a train is not even remotely comparable to spending the same amount of time in an airplane; one can be pleasant, the other is always a nightmare. I think the big difference is that the seats are far more spacious in a train, and there isn’t the brain-destroying noise of jet engines.

Waverley train station, my hotel is behind the bus.

I checked into a hotel where I ended up staying a full 2 weeks before I managed to obtain an apartment. Apparently the housing market is rather competitive here though I have a feeling that has suddenly changed with university closures due to the coronavirus. But that was a time when the virus was still something taking place mostly in countries far away, and anyway the UK’s approach (at the time, since reversed) was to let it takes its course, and so for the time being Edinburgh was humming along as usual.

The hotel was very nice but my room didn’t have a window so I definitely started to go stir crazy. I went out walking a couple times a day and stayed out until I got too soaked or chilled by the rain. During this brief interlude I did manage to see a handful of local sites, and good thing too since of course everything is shut down now.

The most famous and also visually arresting landmark is Edinburgh Castle, situated high on a hill right in the center of town. It is reached from the east along a series of streets collectively known as the Royal Mile which slope upwards like a ramp from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to the castle on the far western tip of the hill, which ends in a sheer cliff.

Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street Gardens
Castle entrance at the end of the Royal Mile

The tall spired building with orange windows in the photo below appears to be a church, and once was, but is now a cafe/club/events venue. Its spire is the highest point in Edinburgh. There are many spires around town but fewer churches than one might think as this is not the only one to have been converted to other uses, and given new and cooler names like “The Hub” and “The Tron.”

View from the castle to Arthur’s Seat in the east, with The Hub in the foreground

The castle is not a single building but rather a fairly large complex of buildings inside the walls, all tumbling over each other on countless confusing levels from a tiny chapel at the very top to dungeons down below and everything including the crown jewels in between (we are not allowed to photograph the jewels, sorry).

In fact I didn’t take many pictures inside because the light inside old fortifications is really not that great, and even worse on a rainy day. But here are a couple more of the outdoor areas.

Lots of cannons, the one on the left is fired every day at 1:00 PM
The 15th-century Mons Meg could shoot 400lb balls a distance of 2 miles
Lion statue at the Scottish National War Memorial, one of the many buildings inside the castle walls
Leaving the castle

I was fortunate to be able to see the castle since they closed it indefinitely about two hours after I left due to the developing coronavirus situation. I also managed to get inside the Scottish National Gallery before it closed. It is a rather modest building that doesn’t take long to walk through.

Scottish National Gallery

Of course I also tried to get in to some churches. As mentioned before many church buildings have been converted to other uses, but I did go inside the Presbyterian St Giles Cathedral which is near the castle. Here again there was a fee to enter, with more commercialism inside too.

St Giles Cathedral
St Giles Cathedral
Right next to the fount of holy water you can buy a coaster with your name on it

Much further away I found St Mary’s Cathedral which is an Episcopal church. For the first time since arriving in the UK I wasn’t charged anything to go inside and they even had a lady chapel set aside for prayer and contemplation.

St Mary’s Cathedral
St Mary’s interior

By the time I was finally able to move in to my apartment the coronavirus panic was in full swing. Stores were already beginning to voluntarily shut down even before the government had mandated a compulsory lockdown. The apartment was furnished but only sparsely and I had need of many things to make it livable; for the first few days I hoofed it all over town in a mad scramble to find bed sheets, dish soap and a dinner plate before non-essential shops were closed for good. Of course just as everywhere else on earth certain staples were nearly unobtainable such as toilet paper and hand soap. At one store I was surprised to find some hand lotion in stock, but after a few days of using it I noticed my hands and face starting to turn orange. Looking more closely at the bottle I discovered it conveniently includes a “tanning agent.” I can say that tan is definitely not a common look in sunny Scotland, which must explain why no one was buying that brand. So that went in the bin.

Sunny Scotland

In the end I was very fortunate to have had just enough time to get more or less settled in before the hammer came down and the government ordered everybody quarantined. I even managed to get a final haircut right before the closing bell, but now literally everything is closed, even McDonald’s, even the hotel where I was staying.

Pre-lockdown there are still lights on in the shops, but already far fewer people out

We are still allowed to go out for groceries but “infrequently,” and also to exercise but only alone. That is not a problem for me since I am alone anyway, but at this point you’d really have to be trying hard to run into another human being on the street; the city has become a virtual ghost town with only the occasional jogger in view, and on the roads only buses that don’t seem to have any riders. Even the beggars seem to have packed up and gone home, the only thing missing at this point is tumbleweed blowing across the streets…