Day 8: Edinburgh (Say It Like “Edinbrah!”)
We woke up early to get ready to drive to Edinburgh today. Apparently, despite my sound sleeping last night, my band of fellow travelers slept pretty badly due to the guy sleeping in the “Portuguese-Man-Of-War” bed snoring…ha! I’m not the only one that has a rivalry with him now!
We went down to have breakfast. I poured what I thought was Raisin Bran , but it turned out to be porridge….I didn’t like it. A conversation next to me between a few Canadians and an Australian was going on about haggis. The Canadians, like us had haggis topped with mash, but the Aussie was telling them how they haven’t had it properly yet as the more sausage-style variation was the right version allegedly. In my book, haggis is haggis so it still counts!
There’s still no wi-fi here, save for the fish & chips place 2 days ago, so hopefully we’ll be hitting another Costa on the road to Edinburgh (pronounced Ed-in-brah.) Oban (pronounced Oh-bin) was good to us. I’m going to miss the views of the Scottish Highlands and other scenic views such as the lake we are passing as I write this which the reflection in the water projects the mountain at its edge so clearly that it looks as if there is no lake, but rather just another mountain growing upside down. That’d be a really pretty picture, but pretty mountain pictures never turn out right so you’ll have to take my word for it.
About 1 ½ hours from our destination, I finally saw the cool looking hairy cows we’ve seen adorned on so many postcards and tourist pamphlets. Just a minute or so further down the road; I saw what I hoped was a wolf running through a field. Stephanie is the only one awake and says it’s probably just a black dog. I’ll just tell people I saw a wolf because it’ll sound cooler. However, for me, for Brad, I’ll do a Google image search to investigate further.
The air in Edinburgh smelled like cereal and/or a brewery when we first arrived. It looks like a bigger city than the places we’ve toured so far, so there should be plenty of internet access, so that’ll keep Josh and his iPhone happy. Our Hostel, Budget Backpackers, is a little more fun but with all the same charm that we found at the hostel in Oban. The rules are funny as well; it has both English and Scottish rules for example:
English Rule 8: “Please clean any mess that you make”
Scottish Rule 8: “Cleen yir shit up if yi make a mess. If yi dinny, yir geeting bashed by the boss”.
We found a place called “Oink!” to eat at for lunch. The window had a full pig on display with the front half still very in tact, while the rest of the pig was shredded into fine pulled pork. As far as filling options went; there was either sage & onion or haggis and for relish, it was either a sweet chili or applesauce. I stuck to my “when in Scotland…eat haggis!” rule. God help me, I kinda like it. I wondered while eating what a haggis porter would taste like, it’ll probably be hard to make in the US and may not brew very well.
We returned to our hostel to get on the Wi-Fi and plan out the day as we waited on our 1PM check-in. So far, it looks like we may see a castle and visit the Elephant House, which is where J.K. Rowling worked on the first Harry Potter book. It turned out the nearest Avis is closed, so we’ll need to turn our car in tomorrow. We haven’t been getting updates on our “Kitty Children” so we emailed them asking for an update. However, it’s only 4am in Colorado, so we’ll have to wait until tonight. I doubt anything has been wrong, because Stacey’s mother has been our emergency contact and I’d assume we’d get an emergency email, but still, we wanted an update every 3 or so days…..ok enough venting!
Our first tourist destination was Edinburgh Castle. It may have been the most expensive to visit, but it was by far the coolest. Outside the gates is a dedication to William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. We took the guided tour first to get a little history in. Our tour guide John was a funny short older gentleman with a thick accent. Like our good friend Frank from Inveraray castle, the anecdotes involved beheadings and he told us a story about a Scottish fighter seeing his newborn baby during a battle, the fighter was so happy to see his newborn son that he kept the baby with him as he fought; both survived the battle unscathed. I expect this baby grew to be a descendant of Chuck Norris.
Possibly the coolest part of the castle was the Scottish Crown Jewels. As remarkable as they were, there was one seemingly out of place stone. It turned out that this stone was the aptly named Stone of Destiny (aka Stone of Scone), in which the first king of Scotland was crowned on; which is a tradition that still carries on today. It was last used for the crowning of Elizabeth II and will be used for the crowning of the next King of England. The stone had stayed in Westminster Abbey, but was returned for Scotland where it will stay in Edinburgh Castle until the next coronation ceremony.
Inside the Prisoners of War section was a part that John said that we’d enjoy on the count of us being from America. During the American War of Independence, some American sailors were captured and held prisoner at the castle. During their captivity, they left what would become a permanent part of the castle: “Old Glory” carved in stone!
For a bit, I felt some national pride seeing that! I mean words like “Freedom,” “Liberty,” “America” (or as the rednecks call it “Merica!) and other patriotic words seem cheapened to me by the people that want to divide our country between arguing political sides and use those words to tell other fellow countrymen that “they will not understand what those words mean”…like the time some customer argued with me at my tech support call center job thinking I was from India when they didn’t want Spanish channels on their TV because “as an American those channels were infringing on her rights” somehow. So it was a neat thing to see, feel and experience without that whole moronic “Ha!, I’m better than you” attitude or mentality that so many people use against other countries and fellow countrymen.
An adjacent dungeonesque tower had a pretty cool story as well associated with it. In 1440, this was where the most powerful Scottish families were invited to a dinner by the keeper of the castle, Sir William Crichton, to honor the newly coordinated boy king James II. Fearing a coup by the powerful Douglas clan, Crichton planned to have the Douglas family feel safe by thinking they were attending a peaceful dinner. Their swords were collected and their guard was down. Into the dinner, a surprise course was presented in the form of the head of a black ox, served on a silver platter. This was a sign to spring the trap, in which the 6th Earl of Douglas (their leader, who was only 16) and his younger brother was beheaded and the rest of the Douglas clan was detained. So if you are served an ox head on a silver platter, that’s when you should panic…lesson learned.
The war museum in the castle was a lot better than expected. Although, there were several priceless artifacts of Scotland’s great military history, including that of Sir Douglas Haig, a portion of the exhibit that I found most interesting was that of the preserved toes of an elephant that some Scottish guards adopted as a baby and trained it all its life until it died. It turned out that the elephant and his primary handler would often get drunk together and sleep off their respective hangovers in the elephant’s stable. I liked this story because I rank elephants right above “celebrity look-a-likes” on my list of “People/things I want to drink with.”
Also, next to the elephant’s preserved toes, was a stuffed dog which was adorned with a medal of bravery for chasing cannonballs in battle. Not to cheapen the gesture, but the dog looked really young and probably thought that the cannonballs were an explosive game of ‘fetch.’ As I said, he was a young dog, so he probably died being stupid and chasing the wrong “ball.” Overall, it exceeded my expectations for a free museum.
Some other neat parts about Edinburgh castle was that we saw the birthplace of King James I of England (different from the James that had the aforementioned special “dinner”.) This was the King James that authorized a translation of the Bible that would later be known as the King James Bible. So that was pretty cool. We also saw one of the only rooms that allowed photography, which John our tour guide suggested we ask about “the King’s ear,” sadly there wasn’t any mutilated body parts or anything, it was only a box high in the room in which the king could “listen in” on his guests.
After touring the castle, we decided to go to The Elephant House for tea. This shop holds literary significance as this was where JK Rowling fleshed out and wrote bits of the first Harry Potter book “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” or as we know it in America as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Stacey and I had some loose leaf Darjeeling tea as well as a scone and my personal favorite tea cake “millionaire shortbread!” I wrote in my travel journal wondering if a decade or so ago, if JK Rowling had her tea and snack in the same spot, writing as I am now….hopefully that magic absorbs and makes people want to read stuff I write.
“All this time we thought he was born in Godric’s Hollow”
We spent some time exploring the Royal Mile; a fun, yet touristy part of old Edinburgh. There was a street performer dressed as William Wallace and then up the street was H.G. Well’s Invisible Man, there were also bagpipers filling the air with their songs…then there were some monks wanting donations, which wasn’t as cool as bagpipers or William Wallace performers.
We visited St Giles Cathedral next. Like the Wells Cathedral a few days ago, the chapel was adorned with stunningly beautiful stained glass, various tombs, and awesome architecture. They charged 2 pounds to take pictures, so I didn’t take any…Stephanie took some anyway and didn’t get caught, so good for her! Outside the cathedral is a heart that people spit on. This heart is where many public executions took place and people spit to show a gesture of disdain, but it also is said to give the spitter luck. I used to get in trouble if I spat as a kid and I don’t want to spit on holy ground, so I didn’t partake, plus I almost blindly walked on a bunch of spit, so it sorta grossed me out a bit.
Next we went towards Holyrood Palace, but being that it was a Sunday after 6pm, we couldn’t tour it. Across the street was the Scottish Parliament building. Sadly, this building wasn’t cool looking by any means but out front was a nice green garden in which we found ourselves amused by a dog playing in the reflecting pools. Another smaller dog was let off his leash and the two dogs played and wrestled in a very one sided match.
We headed to our Hostel where we checked on our cats (they were doing fine) and I also checked in on Facebook. We called earlier in the day to make reservations at a place called Outsiders. When we made it to the restaurant we were seated in quite possibly the best table in the lower level. Our table seemed like a champagne room a bit and had couches instead of chairs. We decided to class it up a bit by ordering a bottle of wine and a plate of cheeses. For dinner, Stacey had pesto risotto, Stephanie ordered the duck, Josh had the rib eye steak and I had a kebab of chicken, and prawns (still not the same kind of prawns that we saw in Dorchester that I’ve been seeing and craving in my dreams.) The kitchen manager brought out my plate and apologized in advance about the chicken being overdone, but said I could keep the chicken so that I’d have something to nibble on while waiting for a new chicken. Usually I’m the last person to complain about food, so I didn’t mind it at all, however I was surprised when instead of 2 kebabs, I got another full plate instead!
After finishing dinner, some fireworks began over Edinburgh Castle. The manager allowed us to watch the show from the dining room. Although pyro-wise, I’ve seen much better, but the fantastic view of the fireworks over Edinburgh Castle was amazingly beautiful.
After dinner, Josh wanted to check out a craft microbrewery called Brewdog. My first drink was called a “Dirty Blonde,” which tasted much like an I.P.A. with its hop-heavy taste. Looking through the guest beer list, I was glad to see Denver’s own “Yeti” by Great Divide. For our second round, I wanted to try either the “Tactical Nuclear Penguin” ( a beer with a 33% ABV) or “Sink The Bismarck” ( a whopping 44% ABV.) Sadly, both drinks were sold out (aka “drank dry”) DAMN TOURISTS!!!!! Anyway Josh and I settled on something called “Riptide,” which I liked more than my first beer. Being that it was my turn to buy a round, I tried to use my credit card, but faced a problem that we’ve seen all over Great Britain: that pesky chip-only card reader! We originally planned on using our card mostly and just use cash in the small villages, but it’s been more 50/50 as we were getting more and more accustomed to hearing “we only take cards with chips; we cannot accept swipe cards”. Since Stacey and Stephanie had a repeat of the other night in Oban and left Josh & I in the pub to go to bed, Josh had to pick up the round as Stacey had all of the paper money. So we’ll need to hit an ATM first thing tomorrow and Josh will be drinking for free til London now.
We settled back into the Hostel and called it a night. Having a quad room tonight, we’ll be happy to know that we won’t have to hear snoring or coughing…hopefully. Tomorrow will sadly be our final day in Scotland.