Edinburgh and Northumberland, "Post Pandemic" Historical Tourism


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Edinburgh and Northumberland, "Post Pandemic" Historical Tourism

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I had been dreaming of this trip since 1996 when I went to England on a high school theatre and literature trip and fell in love with the UK. Specifically, I fell in love with Scotland and its history, becoming a British History enthusiast. In August, 2021, I completed my BA in History at ASU, then changed careers from Film/tv costuming to a special education teaching position. During the peak age of Covid-19, I worked full time, completed full time undergraduate studies, interned in politics and not-for-profit law, and started over in a new career and life in a new state. All of 2020-2021 was a non-stop adrenaline rush of constantly moving, getting Covid, and burning out mentally along the way. In 2021, I was halfway through a teaching contract and gravely unhappy, longing to just... escape. I kept dreaming of one photo of Edinburgh that was on my vision board. The picture, from Pinterest, was of a narrow Close in Old Town, Edinburgh, the historic "original" city that squeezed so much history and magic in about a mile. Old Edinburgh held tens of thousands of people in one square mile with their Closes serving as narrow alleyways between buildings of both stone and wood, both affluent and poor societal classes.
After creating this vision board, I started working a ridiculous amount of overtime in the school's residences for special needs students and saving money. I was used to already working over 60 hours a week, so I didn't see the problem yet. The short staffing crisis of special education staff provided the opportunity to earn $40/ hour plus $1000 monthly bonus for anyone willing to work and be okay with less support for challenging behavior or emergency resources. I was willing to work hard to be free for just a short time over the Easter/Passover School break. Flight and accommodation prices were incredibly low at the start of 2021, encouraging tourists to travel. British Airways and other airlines offered incredible fares! These discounts still enabled me to book more affordable fare into 2023. My flight from Boston to Edinburgh was just over $400, with 7 nights stay in two 4 and 5 star hotels plus one castle for a total of less than $1000. My dream trip was planned to every detail and paid in advance or booked for free with historical memberships. The pandemic and rising popularity of Airbnb and Verbo created the perfect discounts for hotels and upgrades to better suites. Pre-pandemic, I got bed bugs from an Airbnb and had a nightmare of an experience, so it was out of the question for accomodation moving forward. While in planning stages, I booked historical tours and entry into sites like Edinburgh Castle, Mary Kings Close, Ghost Tours of the Vaults, Sterling Castle, then in England, Alnwick Castle and Chillingham Castle's paranormal investigation. I already had memberships to multiple British historical and public sites like the Alnwick Gardens (site of the famous Poison Garden) and Historical Scotland. From Edinburgh Castle to Chillingham Castle, I finally got to see the gallows, dungeons, and artifacts that were in my undergraduate classes. Finances and waiting for a travel companion to finally find "the time" to go held me back from going previously, but I was there, alone, at this particular time for a reason. I got to hold Witches Collars and touch an Iron Maiden that tortured so many innocent "witches". I sat in castle common areas alone with a glass of Whisky and venison sausage while hunting ghosts. Museum staff showed me witches charms and introduced me to folklore that secretly told tales of history in starkly lit archival research rooms. It was this trip that solidified by decision to continue onto graduate studies in history at ASU. It was this trip that made me question, "Why are we so fascinated by death and folklore?"
It would be remiss to mention that during my historical tourism of Edinburgh and the Scottish-English Borderlands, the stories of historically significant pandemics and major moments of medical and scientific struggle or discovery were always present- It was..."everything, everywhere, all at once", if you will. The comparisons between Black Death to Cholera to Spanish Flu were ever-present while exploring Mary Kings Close, places of Surgical and Medical History interest, The Vaults, the Grass Market Gallows. I stepped into a cramped spaces that were once the homes of a families who all died of The Plague. White rags hung out the windows of these tourist destinations to remind visitors that it was the way leather beak masked Plague Doctors identified the infected and quarantined. "Haunted" Vaults served as reminders to modern tourists that the poor and disenfranchised once stayed here. If you want to go anywhere in the world to see a pandemic being held with an engrained fear and solemn respect for medical research, it's Scotland. In England, Chillingham Castle and Alnwick Castle allow visitors close proximity to places where prisoners carved each imprisoned day before their deaths into the walls. In Edinbugh, if it isn't a Harry Potter tour, it is a ghost tour. These ghosts are explored with light-hearted entertainment or found during paranormal investigations with high-tech gizmos and Ouiji Boards in this new age when we don't want to talk about how many people died of Covid-19 or a lack of health resources, but pre-modern history when people don't currently hold memory of the dead...
One late morning, I went to a pub on the Royal Mile for a proper Scottish breakfast of sausages, haggis, bacon, eggs, tomato, and toast... and a pint. Bagpipes echoed in the air, passers-by spoke different languages and carried their cameras and I (Heart) Scotland t shirts and Whisky. As I sat outside, just taking everything in, a group of domestic tourists sat at my table. We laughed because we were all uncertain of "Mask? no Mask? What does 'optional Mask mean?' Were we bad people for NOT wearing a mask inside the pub to get another beer?" "Is it appropriate to sit so 'close'?" That particular day was the lifting of the Scottish masks in public places mandate. My mates-for-the-day spoke of their quarantines and experiences with Covid-19 and quarantine with both humor and sombre memories.
The photo attached to this story was from this day where masks were no longer a must. It is also the same scene from my vision board. On my camera and iPhone camera reels, before this moment and after are dozens of photos of castle chambers, countryside fog, tourist photo ops of High Tea or plain ol Costa Coffee at [Insert Tourist Destination]. My photos are visited with gratitude and inspiration. Not only do I have a renewed desire to travel, but I have a spark of motivation to keep learning. I would never have been able to afford this trip at the level of luxury and privilege I experienced it without the Covid-19 pandemic's aftermath of needed promotional discounts. Misery was everywhere, yes, but joy and purpose were found for me. I hope there were others that experienced incredible change and revelation during this time.

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This item was submitted on February 2, 2023 by Bianca Kasurinen using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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