From one Edinburgh to another

Edinburgh's Old Town. Photo: Wikipedia
Edinburgh's Old Town. Photo: Wikipedia
Suspended in my little glass bubble between the frothy pink clouds above and the maelstrom of human activity below, I watched the sun set on Edinburgh.

Round and bright as a freshly minted penny, it bathed the city in a buttery glow, warming the elegant architecture and lighting up the festival crowd below; clowns, flamenco dancers, drummers, magicians, professors, tourists, lovers.

As the Ferris wheel slowly rotated back down to earth, I couldn't help but feel a slight sense of deja vu; hadn't I just come from an Edinburgh of sorts?

As a proud Scarfie, I was excited to embark on an adventure to our sister city of Edinburgh, and, thanks to the Otago Global Student Exchange programme, my dream was about to become a reality.

Since returning home to Dunedin, I truly understand the significance of the city's Scottish heritage. From a miniature version of the Scott monument to pipe bands and delicious whiskies, Dunedin is a special city with its own unique Scottish flavour.

Dunedin's name derives from Dun Eideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, and Charles Kettle, the city's overenthusiastic surveyor, decided to emulate the characteristics of Edinburgh, employing virtually the same construction plan.

Dear Kettle, however, failed to take into account Dunedin's challenging landscape, and as a result our city comprises an interesting cluster of grand and quirky streets, from the sloping thoroughfare of George St to the anxiety-inducing heights of Baldwin St. Most street and suburb names also derive from Edinburgh. I cannot tell you how disorienting it is to find yourself in an alien city with recognisable street names - although everything is topsy-turvy.

While overseas, I was fortunate enough to travel from the windswept purple peat moors of the Isle of Lewis to the misty mountains of the West Highland. And yet, being so far from home, I still felt at home in this foreign country. The rugged hills were familiar to me, as were the bracing frosts and the temperamental weather.

I also felt at home at the University of Edinburgh. The city and university have such a rich literary and cultural history (and no doubt future) - from Robert Louis Stevenson to Iain Rankin, Edinburgh is the home of great creative minds.

Similarly, Dunedin's founding fathers brought with them a passion for education, injecting the wealth generated by the gold rushes into setting up Otago Boys' High School in 1864, the University of Otago in 1869 and Otago Girls' High School in 1871.

I am immensely proud of our university, which boasts a wide range of special schools, including the first medical school in New Zealand. The designation of Dunedin as a Unesco Creative City of Literature truly ''puts our city on the world map as a first-class literary city,'' to quote Dave Cull.

I would be remiss to ignore the religious links between Dunedin and Edinburgh, as well as the rather dour, stiff tone of Dunedin's early settlers. One only needs to glance up at the elegant spire of First Church to remember the idealism which fired the city founders.

And wandering through the Otago Settlers Museum, staring up at the morose faces on the wall, one can understand why later generations might want to kick back against this rigidity and unquestioning faith.

As an ickle first year, studying James K. Baxter, I relished his conception of ''Robert Burns, that sad old rip'' who conjured up perverse fantasies under the ''howling sky''.

So as the last dregs of Speight's sink to the bottom of the glass, the city's cogs slowly start rolling and Dunedin settles back to normality, spare a thought for the city's Scottish connections. Cherish the crumbling Victorian architecture, the high, green forested hills and the city's warm, creative, Scottish heart.

-Jean Balchin is an English student at the University of Otago.

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