10/15/2019 - 10/16/2019
We took off and landed on time, which worked perfectly for me. My friend's flight was delayed so that she arrived only minutes after me, and we took the bus to the center of Edinburgh.
We are staying at the Royal Mile Backpacker Hostel and so far think it's great. The front desk lady was super helpful. The rooms and beds are named after books and characters. I'm Little Miss Trouble. The lockers are big, but thin, so I had to unpack a bit to fit my backpack and all my stuff in, but that's no big deal because it all fit and I'd have to unpack to get at my stuff anyway.
As soon as we dropped our stuff off, we went to go find food, not knowing what would be open at this late hour. Fortunately, there is an Indian+Thai restaurant that shares an entrance with the hostel, so we didn't have to go far.
The food was delicious. But I'm most excited about trying my first "local" drink- Irn Bru. It tastes like cream soda. Yum.
One unfortunate thing I've discovered- despite having been to London fairly recently, my money is no longer good here. Just after the last time I was here, they started printing new money. And apparently nobody accepts the old money anymore. You have to go to the bank to exchange it for new bills. Except that you can't just go to any bank, you have to go to the bank that printed the bills because they all print them differently. I was not aware of that. But my old bills said Bank of England and had the Queen on them (as would new bills printed by the Bank of England), while my new bills did not, even though they are equally valid. I was unaware that the bills could have different faces on them. That would be like the various mints in the USA not just putting their little letter mark on the money that most people don't even know is there, but some putting George Washington Carver on a $1 instead of George Washington.
We somehow ended up at the fanciest hotel in town for breakfast. Their restaurant, Brasserie Prince offered a full Scottish breakfast for less than I would have expected at such a fancy place. The meat one came with haggis (described by my friend as a "wet meatball"), blood pudding, bacon, beans, eggs, toast, a broiled tomato, mushroom, potatoes, a slice they called scone, and maybe more that I'm forgetting. The vegetarian one replaced the meat items with haloumi and a vegetable sausage, but was equally huge and hearty. It was all delicious, even the butter and the jam tasted exceptional. I also love that they had literal lumps of sugar on the table for people to put in tea. I'm used to sugar packets or maybe perfectly manufactured cubes. These are misshapen, each different from the last. Sooo British!!!
We bundled up and made our way through light rain to Edinburgh Castle, where we had tickets scheduled for 9:30 am.
We grabbed our audioguide, a map, and then noticed they had some sort of game for kids, so we got one of those as well. To play, you needed a writing implement, which we lacked, but the guy at the cafe was nice enough to lend us one for our duration at the castle.
First, we saw some cannons and the view. Then, we climbed some special stairs (70 steps, which was one of the answers on the kids sheet). We toured some of the museums and buildings within the castle.
Several museums were dedicated to Scottish soldiers and the wars they fought in or what they used to fight those wars. Some wars had different names here than what we learned in school. A lot of them were against the English, until they were with the English. But what I found most interesting were the uniforms. Some of the mannequins were rocking plaid pants or other interesting plaid formal items.
They also had a whole building as a memorial to these soldiers.
Another interesting building was the St. Margaret's chapel. It is the oldest building in Edinburgh, having been built in the 1100s. It's quite small- only a few people can fit in it at a time. The stained glass is worth seeing though.
We also saw the crown jewels of Scotland. They're in a case, but you can get right up to them. Also in that case is a stone. This "Stone of Destiny" is what all of their monarchs sit on during their coronation. After hundreds of years of this tradition, the stone was stolen by the English around the 1200s. When the ruler of Scotland merged with the ruler of England, the ruler of both would be coronated on it, but it stayed in England until fairly recently, despite the Scots wanting it back.
Personally, I just finished a book starring Mary, Queen of Scots, who gave birth to her son in this castle. I found it exciting to see where she came from and to imagine the history taking place here. The Great Hall was perfect for that. The stained glass here has the coats of arms of various Scottish royalty, and the walls are decorated with the weapons that would have been used to defend the castle (or to push Mary, Queen of Scots out).
After the castle, we walked down the main street a bit. One souvenir shop advertised that they had a working tartan cloth weaving factory inside. I love seeing how things are made, so we went down to it. It may have been active at some moments in time, but it was abandoned when we were there, which was disappointing. More so because there was no elevator and we now had to go back up 3 flights of stairs after having seen an empty factory.
We grabbed a quick but uninteresting lunch in a nearby restaurant, and headed back up towards the Scotch Whisky Experience.
It starts out with an amusement-park-style ride where you sit in "barrel" cars and are moved along tracks as you see a presentation on how they make whisky. Then, you get scratch-and-sniff cards to smell while you watch a video explaining the different whisky styles from the different areas of Scotland. Finally, you get to taste the whisky. That's singular. You have to pick one based on your scratch-and-sniff card. My best suggestion is to go with a group of 6 people so you get a taste of each. They gave us our whisky glass to keep at the end, but I would have much rather gotten tiny shots of multiple whiskies to compare than 2 fingers of a single whisky and a glass that I can't really fit in my suitcase.
In the last room, after the tasting, you see some guy's collection of hundreds of unopened whisky bottles. It holds the Guinness record for the most and some of the bottles are actually quite interesting. Some have odd shapes or are really old.
We exited and headed towards our tour. On the way, we passed some street bagpipe players. I really actually enjoyed their music. I think that bagpipes get a bad rep, because when they're actually playing songs, they sound quite nice.
Today's free tour was run by Sandeman's. The guide was funny and took us on an educational walk around Edinburgh. I noticed a lot of things that I wouldn't have without him, and heard tons of great stories.
Like it's apparently a normal thing for Scots to place orange traffic cones on top of statues' heads. The city comes and removes them. The Scots put them back, which is technically not illegal as long as the don't cause damage. One city spends about 60k pounds per year just removing the cones. But the Scots think it's good fun.
Another story is that there was some guy who died. His dog was so loyal/heartbroken that he never left the grave of the dead guy. The locals started to take care of him because he wouldn't budge- for over a decade. Today, there is a statue of him, tons of shops named after him, and his grave has a huge stone. Even today, kids bring sticks for him to play with.
We heard a stories about a half-hung lady, grave robbers stealing corpses for the medical university, the fights between the Scots and the English, the various market areas in town, and the heart of Midlothian (a torture jail, don't propose to your girlfriend there).
But my favorite was the etymology of the phrase "shit-faced." Apparently, in the days before toilets, people would dump their chamber pots out the window with only a shout to let those below know what was coming. The city made a law to permit this dumping only twice a day- once at a specific time in the morning, and once at a specific time in the evening. But the evening time was when the bars let out. And the drunks might be stumbling home and suddenly hear a noise, so they'd look up to see who said what. Splat!
One tip we picked up on the tour was to check out the roof of the National Museum for a fabulous view of the city. We did and you really could see everything. But in order to get there, we went through the museum a bit. I'd love to come back to it because it looks so interesting and we didn't really have any time there. We briefly saw Dolly (the first cloned sheep), some airplanes, and whisked by some display on stones and another on statues of people. A lot of the areas looked really interactive, with lots of kids playing games and lots of moving parts.
But we didn't have much time left in the city, and we at least wanted to glance at Holyrood Palace, the Queen's home in Edinburgh. After a super-brief picture stop there, we headed back.
We needed to do some reorganizing at the hostel. Our tour for tomorrow was cancelled via email today and so we needed to find a new one if we still wanted to see Stonehenge. (We did.) I needed to print my boarding pass and make sure my luggage was organized for the flight. Then, we were off to the airport.
This airport security did not inspire confidence in me. My ID was not checked a single time. We did go through security where they weren't letting people through with bottles of water or big boots, but anybody could have picked up an accidentally dropped boarding pass and hopped through. It wasn't checked at the airplane door either. They just rushed us all through.
We made it to London and the hostel just fine, but it was late. When I set my alarm for the morning, it said that it would ring in 5 something hours