Scotland’s Granite City
By Ruky Okotcha
To a lot of people, Aberdeen has always been associated with oil and ice cold temperatures. When I was growing up in southern Nigeria in the early 1990s, Aberdeen came up in conversations between my dad and his friends. At the time, I had never thought of Aberdeen as a holiday destination, but rather, a place where older people worked on oil fields with a lot of equipment, walkie-talkies and hard hats.
I once remember pulling an old suitcase and laptop bag out somewhere between work and my university for a flight from London to Aberdeen. Once I arrived at the airport in Aberdeen, roughly seven miles from the city, I jumped into a taxi and headed straight to to Union street.
Along the ride, two things began to make me wonder:
1) Scottish people [or scots as they’re called] were really friendly
2) all of the buildings were grey.
While the taxi driver told me tales of fishing and the oil industry, I began to ask about the grey buildings. He explained that granite was the principal construction material that kept the buildings looking brand new, while needing very little maintenance.
At the time, I spent most of my time indoors and at a Chinese restaurant by the beach with incredibly (and yummy) cheap food. After traveling in and out of Aberdeen for about a year, I began to look forward to the grey buildings, the myriad of shades beating against the blue skies.
I recently visited Aberdeen and this city gave me days of sunshine, great meals, scottish orchestra, theatre plays, coffee shops with rusty signs and ceilidh.
I decided to take a train to Aberdeen from Kings Cross, London. East coast trains give you the option of a direct ride or one with stops going through York, Durham and Edinburgh which are also beautiful historic cities in England. I met an older couple who told me stories about York from the early 40’s and 50’s. They had been to Lagos, Nigeria where I was living at the time and we exchanged stories. I will never forget this quote: “…so it isn’t in your travel guide book?…well then, the more reason you should plan a trip there’.
I walked to my hotel from the train station and the grey buildings welcomed me with open arms. I was excited to be back. During my stay, I had coffee and met with the most interesting people. Aberdeen is a very diverse city teeming full of people from all over the world. In my opinion, the people are really patient, honest, friendly and they make good story tellers.
I had been to Aberdeen at least a dozen times but had never once been to a Ceilidh dance. I walked into the music hall and bought tickets to see a scottish orchestra which had a Ceilidh dance program at the end. The orchestra was phenomenal but I didn’t make it to the end, (I must confess that I fell asleep..it was so calming). Ceilidh is the introduction to dance. This made me love dancing much more. I was allowed to be clumsy, silly, dance with strangers without introductions, laugh hard, take my shoes off and dance without care. When you visit Scotland, do not leave without doing this. Everyone Should. While you may think that dancing is not for you…I promise you that this will surely get you up and tapping.
Travel – There are daily trains from Kings Cross, London to Aberdeen. Try and book a direct journey which will take about seven  hours. Always book early for cheaper rates. Late rates [a week before the day of travel] may cost around 140 pounds for a roundtrip ticket. Flights are also available from Luton Airport [and most London Airports] and cost around 60 pounds roundtrip.
Where to Stay – It is best to find a place close to the centre of the city. Stay close to the main street – Union Street – which gives easy access to shopping, restaurants and bars, the beach and taxis to get around.
What to Do – Plays at the Theatre – His Majesty’s Theatre or the Lemon Tree. The Harbour Cruise Company offers summer cruises for dolphin and whale spotting (of course, we arrived too early as usual). For Ceilidh, you can get more information from the local tourism agents and you’ll be informed of where and when or if you’ve made friends, be sure to let them know you’re interested.
Ruky currently lives in Paris and when she's not spending hours deciphering politics and policies, she's coffee drinking, people watching, nutella loving and learning to get off the Paris metro with dignity. Paris Love, x