Sunday, May 31, 2009


it's been a dream of mine, ever since i was a wee lass, to see scotland. for as long as i can remember, i've always always always wanted to travel to the land of my forebears, to see the highlands, to hear the bagpipes, to feel the misty air on my skin...

after a few days in oxford with bob and rae, the five of us took a train north to edinburgh. it took about 5 hours i think -- maybe more -- through the lake district and mountains and some of the greenest hills i have ever seen! it rained off and on the entire trip, and it seemed like every turn we took brought a new landscape and new weather. it was so beautiful!

edinburgh is one of the coolest cities i've ever seen, i think. it's just big enough to have a cool, funky, cosmopolitan feel to it. but still small enough to get around VERY easily by foot or bus -- most everything we wanted to see/do was along a strip called the royal mile -- so named because on one end of it is the edinburgh castle, and on the other end is holyrood house which is the official scottish residence of queen elizabeth and her family. mary queen of scots lived there for a time, too. and the distance is about one mile from end to end (or at least, it only seems like a mile when you're walking it. uphill towards edinburgh castle sure feels like a LONG mile, though!)

similar to our experience in oxford, we rented a flat (instead of a hotel room). this gave us the luxury of being able to all be together in the same space, and it allowed gracie the opportunity to run around and spread out if she wanted to. we ate meals together in the kitchen in the evenings, thus saving money by not eating out all the time at expensive restaurants. our flat looked over a beautiful cemetery (the philosopher adam smith was buried there!) and in one direction, on top of a hill, was a cool greek-style building with columns and everything, and in the other direction was arthur's seat, a beautiful volcanic rock that takes a couple of hours in order to hike to the top. it was such a pretty neighborhood! to get to the royal mile, we would have to walk underneath this old tollbooth tower, where they used to put prisoners back in the day (whenever that was...). now there is a pub and a museum there.

because of our close proximity to most everything interesting, we spent a lot of time pounding the pavement in edinburgh. our first full day there (the rainiest of them all) we went to edinburgh castle. according to wikipedia, edinburgh castle is:

an ancient stronghold which dominates the sky-line of the city of Edinburgh from its position atop the volcanic Castle Rock. Human habitation of the site is dated back as far as the 9th century BC, although the nature of early settlement is unclear. There has been a royal Castle here since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. As one of the most important fortresses in the Kingdom of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle has been involved in many historical conflicts, from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century, up to the Jacobite Rising of 1745, and has been besieged, both successfully and unsuccessfully, on several occasions. From the later 17th century, the Castle became a military base, with a large garrison. Its importance as a historic monument was recognised from the 19th century, and various restoration programmes have been carried out since.

i was really hoping we could get to the castle in time to hear the "one-o-clock-gun," which has been fired every day (except sundays) at 1:00 pm precisely, since 1861. why not fire it at 12:00 noon? well, it saves 11 rounds of ammunition. easier and more efficient. it's to help the boats in the firth of forth (the bay near edinburgh) set their clocks exactly. but sure enough, we missed it. i HEARD it, but i didn't see it -- we were still outside the gates buying tickets when 1:00 rolled around. no worries, though -- by coming in after the cannon was fired, we also missed the biggest crowds of the day. 1:00 came, the gun was fired, and the crowds all went home to get out of the nasty weather. which meant we had the castle mostly to ourselves. nice!

the weather was terrible that day, with gusts and rain and fog and bone-chilling dampness that felt really authentically scottish. it was crrrrrap. but we were all in good spirits about it. gracie, especially, who didn't have a rain guard for her new fancy stroller -- we wrapped up her legs in a plastic bag instead, and pulled the sun shield as far over her head as was possible! finally we all felt so bad for her we left in search of something warm to drink, and once we went inside a restaurant to dry off she fell asleep almost immediately.

well, the weather was so awful that we pretty much decided enough was enough, and after warming up with coffee and scones, we went back to the flat to warm up completely. and wouldn't you know it, within an hour of us getting back home, the skies cleared and the sun came out. figures!

there was no way i was going to waste a perfectly beautiful scottish evening by sitting inside in my sweatpants, so i proposed to adam that we go on a walking tour of the city. i had seen several "haunted" tours advertised up and down the royal mile, so after dinner i did a bit of research to find out what time/cost/etc and we headed out for our evening entertainment!

we met our tour guide outside of st. gile's church. she was dressed in a period costume (but which period i don't know -- it was just one of those typical gothy-type black and red corset dresses that you see vampire chicks wearing at the renaissance festival). she led us around the perimeter of st. gile's church, and through some alleyways of the imposing tenement buildings of edinburgh, and told us what life was like there hundreds of years ago... throwing your toilet water out the window and yelling "gar de loo" or whatever. (it's french for "look out for the water" -- because apparently yelling it in french makes it more hygenic than yelling it in scottish. i told adam i was gonna yell "gardyloo" everytime i have to flush now. i'm hilarous.) about how it was illegal to be homeless (or sitting in the street) back then, and you'd be taken to the gallows and hanged if found guilty. she told us about the plague, and the witch burnings, and all manner of horrifying acts which were imposed upon the kind citizens of edinburgh. it was pretty gross stuff.

we spent some time on the tour down in the vaults beneath the city. the vaults were originally built in the 18th century for extra storage space and workshops for many of the businesses in that area of town, but eventually were abandoned -- eventually they became inhabited by prostitutes, the poor, and immigrants drawn to the city by the industrial revolution. the living conditions in the vaults were appalling -- no sunlight, no fresh air, no running water. additionally, the stones they were built of were porous, so all that gardyloo water would trickle down there eventually too. nasty! the vaults are famous now for being haunted, and sure enough, i actually had my own paranormal experience down there! a ghost touched my neck THREE TIMES (why doesn't anyone believe me? it's totally true!) so by the end of the tour i pretty much booked it out of there as fast as i could and got myself a beer to calm my nerves. it was soooo cool and scary and cool and freaky and omg it was cool.

so. that's day one in edinburgh.

the next day was sunday, and i wanted to go to church at rosslyn chapel (my dryden ancestors all came from roslin village, just outside of edinburgh, and i thought this would be a perfect activity to do!). i got up early, found my way to the bus stop, and waited. and waited. and waited. and WAITED. sure enough, i double check the schedule, and it says "no service on sunday." aaaargh! i came home crying cuz i REALLY had my heart set on seeing roslin!

so, instead, we got all packed up and headed out the OTHER direction of the royal mile, towards holyrood house. holyrood, according to wikipedia, is

the official (government-owned) residence of the Monarch of the United Kingdom in Scotland. Founded as a monastery by David I, King of Scots in 1128, it has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 15th century. The Palace stands at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle. Queen Elizabeth II spends one week in residence at Holyrood at the beginning of each summer, to host garden parties and official ceremonies. She then continues to Balmoral Castle (which she owns) for her annual two-month summer holiday.

Holyrood is an anglicisation of the
Scots Haly Ruid (Holy Cross).

we went inside the palace, and gracie climbed up and down the steps until she wore herself out. it was interesting to see the inside of a working palace, especially the room where they knighted sir sean connery. i also liked seeing mary queen of scots' bedroom. that was pretty cool. but for the most part, i find palaces to be extraordinarily DULL. oooh, look at this fancyass chair where some old, fat monarch plopped his big butt 300 years ago. wow, such fascinating paintings of people i've never heard of. i admit, some parts WERE interesting to me. but mostly it was a dull museum.

however, once you finish the tour (complete with audio guides), you get to walk outside to this KICK ASS abbey, dating from the 1100's! cool! the roof had caved in and the stones were crumbling, but that just made it all the more beautiful in my opinion. to see the bright sunlight and clear blue sky when standing in the middle of this ancient abbey was really breathtaking.

beyond the abbey is the queen's garden. SOOOO PRETTY! rhododendrons, roses, flowering trees, and an unobstructed view of arthur's seat. oh my goodness, i think it was the prettiest sight in all of scotland! and it had just rained only moments earlier -- the skies had cleared, the sun was bright, and the fresh rain on the leaves and petals was truly lovely.

well that whole experience pretty much wore us out, and it was threatening to rain, so we all went back (after a beautiful lunch at the palace) to our flat and everyone took much-needed naps. gracie, especially, who hadn't had a proper nap (like, actually in a bed and not in her stroller) in several days. and with the mexican pig flu floating around out there, none of us wanted to be run down and susceptible to it! what a way to ruin a vacation!

after naptime we went on a bus tour of the city, and ended up near the scott monument with great views of the city. we went out for dinner in the "new town" district of edinburgh. bob and rae went out that night on a walking tour of their own, and adam and gracie and i went back to the flat.

that's day two. on day three we went to roslin, my (and gracie's!) ancestral village. then it was time to go on to inverness...

i really honestly could have spent another two or three days in edinburgh. i can't believe how much there was to do there! it was an AMAZING city and i really hope i can get back there someday soon! it really is one of my favorite cities in the world! so great!

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