Our trip to Edinburgh didn’t begin all that smoothly. Raquel and I arrived at the airport to find our flight had been delayed four hours. I guess I’ve been pretty lucky so far; none of that kind of stuff has happened to me in the last few months of my travels. At first we thought the problem was the volcanic ash cloud which we had vaguely heard about, but in fact, there was some crazy windy weather going on in Scotland. So we passed a number of hours in Stanstead airport, and it was well and truly dark outside when we finally boarded the plane.
But no, that wasn’t the end of it. The plane couldn’t leave the terminal because of the arrival of a VIP – President Obama. Cool, huh? Not so much when you were meant to have arrived at your destination three hours ago. Eventually, they re-opened the runway and we were able to take off.
In case we had forgotten what winter felt like, Edinburgh was on hand to remind us (even if summer does start next week). It was freezing when we got there at about midnight. We took a bus to our hostel, which was a cool place with a couple of bars attached to it. But waiting around is surprisingly exhausting, so we saved the fun for the next night and went straight to bed.
Seeing the Scottish capital in the light of day, we realised it was worth all the drama to be there. Streets of beautiful Georgian-style buildings lead up to the impressive Edinburgh Castle, where we spent Tuesday morning. It’s perched on an extinct (we hope) volcano, and was integral in many periods of Scottish history.
There is lots to explore at the Castle, including the Scottish crown jewels, the famous Stone of Destiny, St Margaret’s Chapel (built in the 11th Century), and a variety of exhibitions documenting and commemorating the country’s military history. Evidently, they are very proud of it.
Edinburgh is characterised by what’s called the Royal Mile. It’s a street that runs through the Old Town, between Edinburgh Castle, and the city’s other royal building, the Palace of Holyroodhouse. And it’s about a mile long, who would’ve guessed? The main street appeals to tourists, with a variety of shops, eateries, galleries and so forth.
We wandered numerous times up and down that street, each time discovering new things. One highlight was St Giles Cathedral. It’s no secret that I’ve visited many Cathedrals and similar religious buildings in the last few months, but this was one of the most impressive. Unfortunately you had to pay if you wanted to take photos inside.
Centuries ago, Edinburgh was a nest of dark, plague-ridden, unpleasant streets. These areas now lie underground, having been built over and preserved for centuries. On a friend’s recommendation, we went on the Real Mary King’s Close tour, where we were shown around a section of these grungy underground streets, or closes, and given fascinating insights into the way the people of Edinburgh used to live. Our tour guide acted as though she lived in the times, and shared some incredible – and rather disgusting – stories.
My Dad would be pleased to hear that we made time for a visit to the Scottish Parliament. Because parliament was not in session, we were free to go in and have a look. It’s housed in a cool, modern building, which was apparently pretty controversial when it opened a few years back. There was a small exhibition there too, so I learnt a bit about Scottish politics.
In Amsterdam and Dublin, we went on these free walking tours with a company called New Europe tours. They offered them in Edinburgh too, so we braved the cold and rain yesterday and went along. We saw a lot of the sights we had come across the previous day, but that didn’t matter. Our guide was great, and gave us information that we couldn’t have got while exploring on our own. I highly recommend these tours, whatever European city you find yourself in.
At my request, we stopped by the Edinburgh Writer’s Museum yesterday morning. There are a number of famous authors who lived and worked in Edinburgh, which I didn’t know. For example, Robert Louis Stevenson, who is of course most famous for penning Treasure Island. However, one author who I did know lived in Scotland was J. K. Rowling. On the walking tour, we saw a castle-like school that is thought to be the inspiration for Hogwarts. Right next door is a graveyard which contains graves with people of the same names as many of the characters from Harry Potter. Apparently Rowling walked through there often, as her children attended the school.
As reluctant as I was to try Haggis, I was equally reluctant to leave Scotland without trying their traditional dish. What is it, you may ask. Well, I’m not entirely sure. Our tour guide explained to us that it contains all kinds of animal body parts cooked together in a sheep’s stomach or something equally unappetising. Fortunately, there was a vegetarian option, which I was able to have. I’m not altogether sure what was in that either… but it tasted OK.
We finished our day with a visit to the National Gallery of Scotland, which contains many famous paintings by Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gough, and others. The paintings are housed in some impressive looking galleries.
I spent a lot of the trip worrying that we might never make it back to London because of the ash cloud. Fortunately, it had cleared by yesterday, and our flight departed without any delays.
It was a short trip, but a good one. Edinburgh is very picturesque, and because of its hilly nature, we got all different views of the city as we explored. Furthermore, I really enjoyed the slower, quieter pace of a small city, as opposed to the constant chaos of London. That’s not to say that I don’t love London though!
A sidenote to end on – there were loads of Australians there! It’s usually a novelty meeting Australians on my travels, but the novelty wore off in Edinburgh. I don’t know why, but they were everywhere!