On Friday morning, I went to Edinburgh with Ariel and Aldonza. We took the train from Glasgow Queen Street Station to Edinburgh Waverly. It only cost 10.70 (about $15) and took less than an hour to get there. Once we got to Edinburgh, we walked to our hostel, which was right below the biggest tourist attraction in the city: Edinburgh Castle. We weren’t allowed to check in until 2:00, so we dropped our bags off in the overstuffed luggage storage room and headed up to the castle.
The castle was pretty neat, and there was a lot to see. Besides the obvious cannons, arrowslits, turrets, and gates, the castle also houses the crown jewels of Scotland. These include a sword, scepter, crown, and stone. The stone is called the stone of destiny, and it was used for coronations in Scotland until the English stole it and placed it beneath their own coronation chair in 1296. It was not officially returned to Scotland until 1996. The castle also has a memorial dedicated to Scottish soldiers who have died in battle and a large museum of military history. I got to the memorial, but not the museum because it was farther away.
Some other interesting facts about the castle:
- Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to King James VI of Scotland and I of England
- there has been some form of the castle there for 2000 years
- the royal family still uses part of the castle for functions such as charity dinners
- the castle was turned into a military fort (I’m not sure when) and is still an active military base
- when England and Scotland were unified in 1707, The Honors of Scotland (the crown jewels) were buried and forgotten until Sir Walter Scott recovered them in 1818
- the oldest remaining part of the castle is the Chapel of Queen Margaret, a tiny chapel that can hold maybe twenty people
After we finished touring the castle, we went to have lunch at the Elephant Room. Besides being just generally a cool restaurant/coffeehouse, it is also the place where J.K. Rowling wrote The Sorcerer’s Stone. That’s right, I had lunch at the very place where J.K. Rowling created the world of Harry Potter. AWESOME! You’d think it would be a big tourist attraction, but it’s actually a pretty normal place. There is a sign on the front window advertising it as the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” (despite the fact that we all know he was born in Godric’s Hollow). The server’s t-shirts say the same thing, but other than that it’s a pretty normal coffeehouse. The only obvious fan influence is in the bathroom where people wrote a bunch of things on the walls about Harry Potter, notes to J.K., spells, even a sign-up list for Dumbledore’s Army (which I dutifully signed). It was a fun place. If you’re ever in Edinburgh, I’d definitely recommend it.
After lunch, we checked into our hostel. It was my first hostel experience and I must say it was pretty good. The room was large, bright, and clean, everyone was really friendly, we were right next to the castle, and it was cheap. That afternoon, we did some shopping on the Royal Mile (a street that runs from the castle at the top to Holyroodhouse Palace at the bottom). There are a bunch of tourist-y shops where you can buy any sort of Scottish souvenir you like.
In the evening, we went for a walk in the Princes Street Gardens, a nice park on the opposite side of the castle. We had dinner at a pub (a surprisingly good falafel and spinach burger), and went in search of some live folk music. We went to a pub called Sandy Bells that was recommended by our hostel and a booklet that we found. We got there at eight but the music wasn’t due to start until nine. So what did we do? Went back to the Elephant House of course! We had some coffee and delicious caramel shortbreads and played cards while we waited. The shortbreads are available at every coffeehouse in the U.K. and they are scrumptious! The bottom layer is crumbly shortbread (which is actually like crushed graham cracker pie crust), then a layer of soft caramel, topped with a layer of chocolate. Yum!
We headed back to the pub for the live music but were disappointed when the musicians didn’t show up until nearly ten. Then, we could hardly hear anything since the pub was so packed. I think it was just one guy playing a fiddle, though. Not very impressive. We met some friendly post-graduate students from the University of Manchester who invited us to another pub. We didn’t stay too long though, since we were exhausted from all the walking.
The next day, we got up early, ate breakfast at the hostel, and walked to the bottom of the Royal Mile where we found a trail up Arthur’s Seat, an old volcano. The first half of the hike was on a fairly level gravel path, but the second part was up a long stone stair that was less of a stair and more of a-bunch-of-flat-rocks-thrown-in-a-general-path-like-formation. It was tiring, but the view was rewarding, as you can see from the pictures. At the top, you have a 360 degree view of Edinburgh and the North Sea. It was very windy and cold at the top, but we stayed for a little while to take pictures and enjoy the view. The trip back down was a little scary since there was a lot of loose rock and no railings, but we made it. The hike was my favorite part of the trip (besides getting to see the Elephant House).
In the afternoon, we went to the Museum of Scotland which is tells the history of Scotland from the beginning of time to modern-day. It is a huge place (seven levels) and completely free. I really enjoyed the architecture of the building and the displays. There were thousands of artifacts to look at, two working steam engines, statues, art, and more. We were exhausted from the hike though, so it was a little difficult to appreciate everything. At the top of the museum, there was a special exhibition dedicated to the Lewis Chessmen, funny looking chessmen carved from bone that were discovered in northern Scotland. Those were pretty neat.
All in all the trip to Edinburgh was fun, if not tiring. There were a bunch more museums and things that we didn’t get to, but I will probably go back at least once since Edinburgh is so close. Well, I think that about does it for today. I am going to go do some laundry and get ready for classes tomorrow. Until next time…
P.S.- If you are wondering about the title of this post, I chose it because both the pope and the queen of England were in Edinburgh on Friday!