Sunday, July 26, 2009

Edinburgh Day 1

Before I begin, an interesting note - this is my 200th post! Whoa! Hard to believe you've listened to my rambling thoughts 200 times. This vacation has surely helped up my post count, no doubt about that! If you're still with me, I applaud you. This has been intense. I'm even getting tired of typing it all up, but I do love reliving it and I know I will be glad to have this record of our travels in the future. So, let's carry on!

DAY 8 Continued...

When I left off, we had boarded a 4:45p.m. bus from St. Andrews to Edinburgh. We arrived in Edinburgh, located and checked in to our hotel, the MacDonald Roxburghe around 7:00 p.m. This was definitely the largest and fanciest hotel we stayed in. It was in a great location, right on Charlotte Square in New Town. Our room was small but very nice.

Our hotel

Our room

First things first, we got some dinner. We decided to stick close to our hotel so we tried a burger place called Gourmet Burger Kitchen right across the street. The burgers were good, but the milkshakes were really bad! But, it was food and we weren't feeling particularly ambitious, so we were happy. We then went back to our room for a bit before we had to leave for our ghost tour that evening.

For the ghost tour, we met at St. Giles Cathedral at 9:30 p.m. Our guide's name was Jared, and he was very theatrical! He wore a black cloak and took us around town telling us ghost stories and legends. It was pretty fun. We ended up in some "underground vaults" for more ghost stories by candlelight. It was a very fun introduction to Edinburgh!

Me with Jared after our ghost tour

After the ghost tour we returned to our hotel, enjoying the nighttime Edinburgh scenery as we went.

St. Giles Cathedral lit up at night

We knew we had a long day of sightseeing ahead of us, so we went to bed not long after arriving back at the hotel, around 11:30p.m.

DAY 9: Wednesday, July 15, 2009

We were so tired after all of our St. Andrews sight-seeing, so we did not get moving quite as early as we probably should have Wednesday morning. We stopped for a quick muffin and tea at Starbucks (served on a real plate, with a real mug! Crazy!), then walked through Princes Street Gardens, which were lovely. We saw the Ross Fountain, with Edinburgh Castle on the cliff behind it. So gorgeous. We also saw the floral clock - entirely made out of flowers!

Edinburgh Castle

In front of the Ross Fountain

Scottish girl amongst Scottish thistle in Princes Street Gardens

Floral clock

We made our way through the Gardens and then up to Edinburgh Castle. Because we got a bit of a late start, the line for admission was already really long and we waited in line for about an hour. Bummer! But, we made it in and spent quite a while exploring. As usual, the views were incredible. Scotland sure does love a good view! And the castle itself was very cool. We made the wise decision to purchase a souvenir guide, which basically gave us a walking tour around the Castle grounds, explaining everything we needed to know.

Entrance to the castle (and one heck of a lamppost!)

Views from the castle

More castle views

Me playing tour guide with our souvenir book

VIDEO: Views from the castle. Also, do you hear the bagpipes? (They start part of the way through)

One thing we made sure to see was the One O'Clock Gun, which has fired every day at promptly 1:00p.m. since 1861. We did some other Castle sightseeing until 1:00, but made sure we made it back to the gun to see it go off.

The One O'Clock Gun

Bagpiper playing for the crowd before the gun went off

VIDEO: The One O'Clock Gun going off-well, mostly-our cameraperson (who shall remain nameless) JUMPED when it went off! Funny!

Other notable things we saw include the Dog Cemetery, a burial place for officers' dogs:

Dog cemetery directly below, with the Prince Street Gardens below the castle grounds

St. Margaret's Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh, built around 1130 as a private chapel for the royal family:

St. Margaret's Chapel

William Wallace stained glass

The Royal Palace, where the Scottish Crown Jewels and Seat of Destiny are kept (no pictures allowed inside, unfortunately, but it was beautiful):

The Royal Palace

The Scottish National War Memorial (pictures not allowed in there either, but also beautiful):

National War Memorial

The Great Hall, where Eric got to hold a big sword:

That's a mighty big sword.

And prisons of war, where war prisoners were kept during various wars including the American War of Independence (often Scots who emigrated to North America and got caught up in the conflict), and other military prisons:

Hammock beds where prisoners of war slept

A military prison cell (and Eric)

We really enjoyed the Castle and we spent a good bit of time there. After finishing our Castle tour, we made our way to Greyfriars Kirk, to see the sight I was most looking forward to: the Greyfriars Bobby statue! You may remember me mentioning him when I first outlined our plans. Greyfriars Bobby was a little Skye terrier who faithfully followed his owner, John Gray or "Auld Jock," everywhere. When Auld Jock died and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Bobby would not leave his master's grave. He became the Greyfriars dog, and was cared for by various townspeople. Greyfriars Bobby stayed faithfully at his master's grave until he himself eventually died 14 years later. What a good dog!

We also explored Greyfriars Kirk and the surrounding graveyard itself, where both Auld Jock and Bobby are buried.

Greyfriars Kirk

Organ inside the church

The grave of John Gray, Bobby's owner

The grave of Greyfriars Bobby

After exploring the church, it was time for lunch. And what better place to stop for lunch than Greyfriars Bobby's Bar? We had a great lunch! We had an appetizer of haggis, neeps and tatties (neeps and tatties are turnips and potatoes), which was delicious. Eric had a burger and I had a salmon and cucumber sandwich, plus more local beer. Yum.

Greyfriars Bobby's Bar

Haggis, neeps and tatties (see? I told you the haggis looks like ground beef)

Eric sampling the haggis

My salmon and cucumber sandwich

While we were at lunch, it started to rain, and it pretty much rained in Edinburgh the entire rest of the time we were there. There were a couple patches of dryness, but for the most part, RAIN. We definitely had the worst weather of our trip in Edinburgh.

Despite the rain, we left Greyfriars and made our way down the Royal Mile, stopping for a couple quick pictures along the way.

Canongate Kirk

Love this shot - the cool tavern, the Scot in the kilt drinking a beer in an alleyway, the whole thing. It's great!

We made our way towards the Palace of Holyrood, which is the Queen's residence when she comes to Scotland. We were able to tour the inside (although no pictures were allowed inside) with the help of an audio tour. It was really cool!

Entrance to the Palace

Palace courtyard

Our favorite part of the Palace was the ruins of Holyrood Abbey behind it. It was very scenic and peaceful.

Holyrood Abbey

Abbey walls

More abbey

In the abbey

The Palace Gardens were also very beautiful. They had a great view of Arthur's Seat, a large dormant volcano that boasts some of the best views of the city (unfortunately, we never made it up there).

View of the abbey from the gardens

Arthur's Seat

After touring the Palace, we walked past the Scottish Parliament Building as we made our way back up the Royal Mile. The Parliament Building had a wall with all kinds of cool proverbs and quotes along it.

Parliament building

The proverb wall

We made our way back to St. Giles Cathedral and spent a good bit of time in there. It was really gorgeous inside, and there was a man playing the organ the whole time we were there. It felt nice to sit and rest our feet and enjoy the music in such a gorgeous place.

St. Giles Cathedral

Eric with a statue of economist Adam Smith in front of St. Giles

Inside St. Giles

The organ

VIDEO: Inside St. Giles Cathedral

Stained glass

View down the Royal Mile

VIDEO: Views around the Royal Mile by St. Giles Cathedral

After resting up in the cathedral, we walked back down the mile towards Calton Hill. On our way we were treated to some beautiful sites, including a rainbow!

See the rainbow?

Cool light over the Scott Monument

Edinburgh scenery

Lincoln Monument, a memorial to the Scottish Americans who died in the Civil War

We then climbed Calton Hill, which was really nice. Once again, the views were breathtaking. There were also quite a few structures on top of the hill, which we enjoyed checking out, such as the National Monument which was modeled after the Parthenon but never completed due to financial difficulties.

The National Monument

Views of Edinburgh from Calton Hill

On Calton Hill

More views, and me!

After Calton Hill, we were BEAT. What a day - lots of walking, lots of rain, lots of sights in a short amount of time. So we started to make our way back down the Royal Mile again towards our hotel, although we did make a quick stop for some photos of the Scott Monument, in honor of Sir Walter Scott. I thought it looked like a drip castle!

Scott Monument

Sir Walter Scott himself

We also stopped for dinner on the way home. We had wanted to be very "embrace the culture" and eat local food as much as possible, but at the end of this super-long day, we just felt like no-fuss pizza. So, we stopped at a Pizza Hut! Ha! But let me tell you, this Pizza Hut was fancy. Of course, I haven't been inside a Pizza Hut in years, so maybe they're all like that now, but we're talking full menus, wine, desserts, all kinds of fancy stuff. We shared a bottle of wine (Note: dehydration+exhaustion+bottle of cheap wine=easily drunk!) and a pizza, plus a delicious cookie dough dessert thing. We actually had a great time laughing, drinking and eating. At Pizza Hut! Go figure. Also, the Edinburgh folks must LOVE Pizza Hut, because they were everywhere.

Pizza and wine

Cookie dough dessert

By the time we finished dinner, it was past 10:00p.m. and we were so, so tired. We knew we had to get an early start the next morning for our day trip to North Berwick, so we went back to the hotel and crashed.

I feel like this was the most all-business recap I've written - less narrative, more "we saw this, then this, then this." But really, that's how the day was. At that point we were undecided about whether or not we would be taking another day trip to Stirling on Friday, so in case we did, we wanted to cram EVERYTHING we really wanted to see in Edinburgh into one day. And it was honestly almost too much. We just hurried from place to place to place. We enjoyed it, of course, but not until I was looking back at the pictures now did I really realize how incredible the city really was. In the moment we were just so focused on getting everything done (and so tired) it was kind of a blur. But it really was an amazing place - I wish we could go back and explore it at a more liesurely pace! I'm happy for the pretty pictures we have to remind us of it, though.

Up next: Our day trip to North Berwick - more golf for Eric!

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