The best way to learn about a city is to hop on a city bus. Any bus, going any direction. Buy a day pass, and then ride to the end of the line. When there isn’t a schedule, you can stand at the bus stop and wait for a bus with good seats, you know, the front ones on the top of a double-deck bus.
David and I rode from our stop, already near the edge of town, out to the end of the line. Turns out the bus ends at a university hidden in trees and ponds and fields. The trees were gorgeous, right in the height of their annual makeover. The area was picturesque and quiet, as far from the bustle of Edinburgh as is possible to be. And nestled in one corner of the bus route was the Scotch Whisky Research Institute; that’s a place worth knowing about!
Catching a bus the other direction, we found a new bus, taking a different route from the school, past the grocery stores at which we shop, through City Centre, around neighbourhoods, and finally to the end of the line in the northeast of Edinburgh. Ocean Terminal is the stop: a three-story shopping mall and the Royal Yacht. A tour of the boat costs more than either David or I care to spend on a tour of a boat, so we wandered out to see if I could get photos of it without paying, but there’s a fence keeping cheapskates like me at a distance. To top it off, we were there late in the afternoon, with both the Royal Brittania and the setting sun to our west. Still not quite knowing how to operate my new camera, it does nonetheless forgive me many faults. Taking pictures of a silhouetted boat straight in front of the setting sun is not one of them.
The mall was … a mall. The highlight of the mall was lunch at Pizza Express. From the name, which have seen all over Scotland, I was not hopeful. It turns out that Pizza Express has delicious pizza. The crust not too thick or thin and not greasy. It makes me wonder why on earth I have seen lines stretching outside Pizza Hut in other places.
It was a fun day: watching Edinburgh pass by the windows, watching for shops with fun names, and learning about the neighbourhoods; pretending I live there, and working out where I would have to buy groceries if I did. The city buses take us to places not in the tourist guidebook: from seedy-looking convenience stores with bars over the windows and graffiti along the walls to the neatly trimmed lawns of detached houses separated by short stone walls. From Pound-Stretcher (like a Dollar General) to Marks and Spencer. From college campus to Royal Yacht.
Visiting museums and historical sites rank among my favourite things to do in any country, but riding a bus, “just to see where it goes” is even better.