Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Edinburgh

Literally the craziest week of my life, I’ve been so busy. Edinburgh was AMAZING!!! It is such a beautiful city with so much culture and so much life. Public service announcement: having 4 changes on a journey is awful, never do it. I had one train from Notts to Newark Castle, had to switch train stations and go to Newark Northgate, take a train to York, and then from York take a train to Edinburgh. I can’t believe I made it there in the first place, except for two very kind strangers who helped me out. I didn’t know the way between the train stations, except that it was about a mile long walk, and no one at the train station seemed to know directions, until some guy said that he was walking that way, and so me and several other people followed him to Newark Northgate. We chatted the entire way there—he’s doing his doctorate at Notts and lives in York, and he was actually from Edinburgh! So he gave me tons of tips and also showed me on my map the best way to get to my hostel. We waited for our train together and talked the whole time. I never even found out his name! But I never would have been able to find that train station in the dark.

My train to York was late by over 10 minutes, and I only had 8 minutes between when my train arrived to York and when my train left for Edinburgh. A very nice man waiting by the door of my train overheard my problem and as we were getting close to York, told me that I was probably going to miss my train to Edinburgh. He looked up the next train headed there (another train would be going to Edinburgh in 20 minutes), and then as we were pulling into the station he checked my train again for me. By some miracle, it was still there! He gave me directions on how to get to my platform to catch my Edinburgh train, and made sure I was the first one off the train. I literally sprinted when the doors open and was only able to say a quick thank you, but I ran and I did actually make my train. Scariest moment of my life! The kindness of strangers is truly overwhelming.

I made it to Edinburgh and, after spending an hour of the train ride memorizing my map, made it to my hostel alone and in the dark. Couldn’t have been prouder of myself! My hostel was pretty nice, I was in a 6-bed dorm and my only complaint was that the beds were pretty creaky and loud, so I felt bad when I got in late at night. But it was clean, the bathroom was clean, and I felt very safe there, so I can’t say anything bad!

Saturday: I went to Edinburgh Castle first thing in the morning (I was one of the first people in through the gate…) and since I paid £16 to get in, I was there for over 3 hours. The castle is amazing! It’s so old and so beautiful! It’s set up on this hill and you can look out over the city. I saw the Royal Honours of Scotland, which are the oldest Crown Jewels in Europe! I also saw the Royal Apartments, which was really exciting because that’s where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to King James VI and I! The Scottish National War Memorial was very touching and sad, the building it was in was beautiful. There were services in the chapel until about 1:00, and since I paid so much money, I was going to stay and see the oldest building in Edinburgh! It was a tiny chapel, but beautiful. I’m glad I waited the extra hour or so to see it. Every day at 1:00 they fire the One-O’Clock-Gun, so I also got to see that!

View of Edinburgh Castle from the street below

After the Castle I wandered up and down around the Royal Mile. I was cold (it was so windy up on the hill in the castle!) so I bought a tartan scarf, and then I bought some shortbread (31% butter!) and ate the entire package by myself. Fuck da police. It was so refreshing to have so much time there, I didn’t feel rushed to do anything! Taking time to wander around and explore on your own is the best feeling ever. I went to the Scotch Whisky Experience, which was also pretty expensive but soooo cool. I only got to taste one whisky on the tour, but I think it was worth it. You learn about how the whisky is made, and then you get an explanation of each of the four regions producing single malt scotch whisky—Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, and Islay—and then based on what they smell like, you get to choose one to taste! Then you go through this room and see this scotch whisky collection that belonged to this Brazilian guy. It is unbelievable. I was in heaven. So much whisky! It was an incredibly rare collection. 




That night I went out to a pub with some people I met in my hostel—a guy, Dan, from Colorado, and two Aussie girls. One of them was Madi and none of us could remember the other girl’s name, even though she was so nice and friendly. It was so cool meeting different people and hanging out with strangers! Making friends and branching out and shit. It was awesome. Definitely a great part of my weekend! Staying at hostels is seriously the way to go when traveling. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Sunday: I basically went to this garage sale that took place in a parking garage. It’s called the Omni Car Boot Sale, and seriously if you go to Edinburgh you HAVE to do it!!! It was just like Bryn Mawr Garage Sales (ahh! Heaven!) but it was in a level of a parking ramp. People just drive their cars in and sell stuff. They had everything and anything there! I wish I could have bought more, but I didn’t have a lot of money, and I also needed to carry anything I brought back home with me in my small backpack. But anyone who goes to Edinburgh! Sunday from 9:00-1:00! Don’t miss it!

I went to the Palace of Holyroodhouse afterwards, which was amazing. Like Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, it’s a residence of the Queen. It’s a beautiful place and full of history. I got to see Mary Queen of Scots’ apartments, and the spot where her secretary, David Rizzio, was left to die after being dragged out of a dinner with her and stabbed 56 times. They also had a ton of amazing portraits—including one of Mary Boleyn!!!!! What?!?!? I walked in and my immediate reaction was, “what is she doing here?!” It was amazing! The ruins of the abbey were also beautiful, and unfortunately the palace gardens are closed in the winter so I couldn’t see those.

Outside the Palace of Holyroodhouse
  
Arthur’s Seat was my next stop: 251m and it felt like I climbed a fucking mountain. It was amazing though, walking through the hills and seeing the views, it was just so Scottish. By the time I finally made it to the top, I was sweating and panting, but it was so worth it. The views were out of this world incredible, and, incredulously, the weather behaved itself and it didn’t rain until I got all the way back down. 

My walk up to Arthur's Seat

The view from the top!



I did some Harry Potter stalking afterwards, seeing the café where J.K. Rowling wrote some of the early chapters of HP and the commemorative plaque on the wall on the street corner. That night I went out with people from my hostel again, Dan and Madi, to a pub that had live music. It was so awesome! The band was good and super funny, trying to get audience participation and cracking jokes.

Monday: More HP stalking! This time I went to this graveyard where, thanks to a tip from Madi, J.K. Rowling got her inspiration for some of the names in HP. After wandering and searching through this graveyard, I successfully found the gravestones of “Thomas Riddell” as well as “his son, Thomas Riddell” and a man named “William McGonagall.” 

At the grave of "Thomas Riddell" !!!!!
 
After that I walked up Calton Hill, which also had an amazing view—not as good as Arthur’s Seat, but definitely worthwhile. Next stop: National Portrait Gallery!!! Obviously it wasn’t as great as my true home in London, but they had a bunch of great portraits of Mary Queen of Scots and various Stuarts, as well as focusing a lot on James III “The Old Pretender” and Bonnie Prince Charlie “The Young Pretender.” After that I pretty much wandered around looking for anything that was free—I had just bought a nice bottle of scotch whisky (I can’t go to Scotland and NOT buy scotch whisky!) so I was basically running out of money and needed a few quid to be able to eat. Getting to the train station was just fine, and then there were no problems with any of my trains on the way home. I was tired (and sooo hungry considering I had barely eaten all weekend!) when I got home, but it was so great to come back to the flat and feel at home.

This weekend was incredible—I felt so accomplished and independent! It was my first time being on my own in a truly new city. I made friends and spent time with strangers and couldn’t have been happier. I saw some amazing historical places in Edinburgh and got in several decent walks. I did so much and had enough time that I never felt rushed. Scotland is beautiful and the people there are so friendly, have such unique accents, and are in love with whisky. I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing and enlightening experience.

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