To say I was surprised by Edinburgh would be an understatement. Sure, I had done some research and knew what I wanted to see while I was there and I knew what the weather was going to be like while I was there (cold and rainy). But no matter how much research you do, nothing will prepare you for the real thing. Like the fact that Edinburgh sits on extinct volcanoes and is basically a series of sheer rock faces, rolling hills, and valleys. When the tour guide mentioned that Scotland was once attached to Canada, it was easy to see the resemblance.
After getting another stamp in my passport and collecting our bags, Mara and I were greeted by a large Edinburgh sign, not dissimilar to the I amsterdam signs we had seen just the day before. Edinburgh’s play on words was emphasizing the ‘in’, as in, you’re now in Edinburgh. Neat, but not as clever as I amsterdam, in my personal opinion. City names in big letters is becoming a bit of a trend (not one I’m against, though).
By the time we got to the AirBnB we were staying at, it was an awkward time of day (as Mara would go on throughout the trip to label as any time between 3 and 6pm). But it’s an accurate statement. With a lot of things closing at 5pm, if you’re not already doing something by mid afternoon, you’re a bit stuck. We decided to just get comfortable, buy some groceries and watch TV. After dinner I decided to go out for a walk and explore despite the light rain (Mara opted to stay inside and watch more TV and do laundry). I stumbled upon Calton Hill. It was a fairly steep climb for what started out as a lazy stroll through the city, but it was worth the climb. Not only did you get a great view of the city, but there were no less than 7 monuments/buildings/commemorative objects at the top of this hill:
- the ‘ruins’ of a war memorial, officially the National Monument of Scotland, that had been stylized after the Parthenon. It was never finished; only the front row of columns was finished before funds ran out and progress stopped. It was an interesting sight, because the columns are still in perfect shape, but they’re just standing there in the middle of a grassy area with nothing around them
- the Nelson Monument, a ‘telescope shaped’ tower commemorating Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson. At the top, there is a ball which was used as a time signal to the harbour. These days, the ball is lifted 5mins before 1pm, and dropped exactly at 1pm
- the Dugald Stewart Monument, which is a frankly massive urn-like thing surrounded by towering columns topped with a roof
- the City Observatory, whose walls are a monument to John Playfair (the observatory is still used by the city’s astronomy society)
- a small house for the observatory keeper
- a canon from a war (I’ve forgotten which one)
- a concrete block to mark the highest point of the hill
- there was a pile of rocks that had been stuck together with cement with a black cage on top. It wasn’t clear what that was supposed to be
I couldn’t believe how much they shoved on one hill. It wouldn’t be until two days later that I would learn there was also a building hiding on the side opposite the one I had walked up. For some reason, it would appear that all of the pictures that I took while at the top of Calton Hill have disappeared, but I’ll leave you with this: (left to right: Observatory House, Nelson Monument, Old Observatory Dome, New Observatory Dome, and National Monument of Scotland)
Our day on Tuesday was occupied by a Hairy Coo tour. A friend had recommended it; it’s a free tour that operates on a tips-only basis. It took us out into the Scottish Highlands. We stopped at a number of places, including Forth Bridge, National Wallace Monument, Lake of Menteith, Aberfoyle village, Loch Katrine, and Doune Castle. The tour guide was very informative, and did very well for his first tour ever! We would drive and he would point out things along the way or provide us context for the next stop. When we stopped, depending on where it was we would stay for 10-45mins. I really enjoyed it. The highlight was seeing the ‘hairy coos’, or highland cattle, for which the tour is named. As we approached the pen in our bright orange bus, the cows started coming to the fence because they know when they see the bus, they’re about to get fed. We gave them slices of bread. The tour guide was also excited to see a little baby coo, because according to him it hadn’t been there a couple of days ago, so must have just been born very recently.
After the tour we just relaxed for the evening.
The next day we started out by heading to see the Royal Yacht Britannia. She was built as a Royal Yacht with the ability to transform into a hospital boat should the need arise in case of war. She never did this, although she did transport rescued civilians at one point in time. After working for 44 years, she was retired in 1997. Nowhere on her hull is her name written. It was great to walk around and see the different areas of the ship (it reminded me of being on a cruise ship). It isn’t hard to tell which areas are for the staff and which are for the Royal Family. I was surprised to see that the bedrooms all had single beds in them. It wasn’t as if they were lacking the space for a larger bed. Only one room has a double bed: the honeymoon suite. Britannia was used for four honeymoons, including that of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Below the deck, you saw the living quarters for the staff. In a room the same size as the Queen’s, there would be 12 staff (4 triple-bed bunk beds). Storage was a big thing, as staff would have multiple uniforms depending on what was happening on the ship that day. The marching band had no less than 42 different outfits that they had to store. The laundry room was massive for a ship of her size. It was built this way to accommodate the additional clothes should she be used as a hospital.
That afternoon, we went to Edinburgh Castle. The castle is on the top of a large rock formation, so you get great views of the city. In terms of castle structure, I was a little disappointed, but there was tons of information about every aspect of the castle. There were basically three museums within the castle, as well as a very detailed audio guide. One thing that the castle has is the one o’clock gun shot, which goes along with the one o’clock ball drop at the Nelson Monument I mentioned earlier. The reason it happens at 1pm and not 12pm is simple: if you do it at 12pm, you need to fire 12 shots. If you wait until 1pm, you only need to fire one.
That evening, I was wondering what we were going to while looking through my Twitter feed only to see that a friend of mine had posted a picture of Edinburgh Castle just a few hours earlier. After a few messages and clarifying some confusion, we realized that both of our little travel groups were in Edinburgh. So we met up for dinner. That was a lot of fun and it was great to catch up with them.
The next day we climbed Arthur’s Seat. We really lucked out with the weather. It was supposed to be raining all day, but it was sunny during the morning. It took us an hour and ten minutes to get to the top. We definitely didn’t take the easiest route up (we took that route on the way down). It was very worth it. Every time I looked around, there was this stunning view of the city.
After climbing back down, we still had some time before our trains left so we stopped by Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the Queen while she’s in Scotland. It was also once the house of Mary, Queen of Scots. We only saw the old bedrooms that have been preserved from Mary’s time, and not the modern royal apartments. We did see the modern dining and sitting room though. There were some church ruins right up against one corner of the Palace. It was strange to me that they had built the palace so close to these ruins.
Mara’s train left before me, and I wandered around the nearby mall until it was time for me to board my train. I was on my way to Leeds, as Arthur and Lynn weren’t around in Coventry until the next day. Being in my dorm room again was a bit of a rude shock. I went to Coventry the next day, where I’m at currently and will be till the end of the week. I’m not looking forward to go back.