We said our goodbyes to the family, packed up our bags again and caught the train to Edinburgh with our packed lunches safely stowed. The train from Edinburgh to York is a beautiful ride, I spent most of the time staring out the window at the sea.
Spending a week with my sister was a great introduction to this crazy trip; we had a car, chauffeurs and never a need to carry our stuff for longer than 30 seconds. That all changed when we got off the train and arrived at the platform in Edinburgh-Waverly. All of a sudden, we realized our bag schema is all wrong. Our backpacks are not too big, but we have this extra bag that is our day pack. For the flight, we shoved it full of the electronics (ipad, kindle, chargers, etc) magazines and snacks and didn’t pay attention to how flipping heavy it was. When you have a 20lb bag on your back, the extra 10lbs wobbling around on one shoulder a) throws off your center of balance and b) makes you look like a prat. John, being the chivalrous gentleman that he is, refuses to let me carry the extra bag…but he also refuses to carry it like a Baby Bjorn on the front (see item b above.) We had 3 hours to spare before our Airbnb host was available for check-in, so we ditched the backpacks at the bus station lockers and stumbled out into the rare Edinburgh sunshine.
Without 50lbs of gear, we felt light and free, and spent the next hour or so wandering around Prince’s street, peering into the shop windows and trying to make sense of the current fashion for young people. It looks like it’s largely based on everything America. The Stars and Stripes are on everything, non-Americans are wearing Old Navy style t-shirts with names of random US cities on them, lots of demin and Bart Simpson t-shirts. It’s a bit odd, this fascination with such a ‘cool’ America, especially when what has been determined ‘cool’ is really just that novelty t-shirt section in the men’s department at Target. I digress.
Our accommodation in Edinburgh is an Airbnb booking. Airbnb is a web community for people to rent out places to stay, private bedrooms, whole apartments, castles, tipis, igloos, houseboats and the like. We are staying about a 10 minute walk away from the city center, with Marion and her cat Georgia.
Being an Airbnb n00b, I didn’t know what to expect…is this going to be weird? Turns out, it’s not. It could be to do with our gracious host, Marion, who made us feel right at home as soon as we got there. We had a lovely cup of tea, played with Georgia (names after the Ray Charles song) and relaxed without the weight the packs on our backs. If all our Airbnb bookings are like this one, we are going to be happy as Larry.
We are both missing the fur-kids, hence all the pictures of everyone else’s animals. It’s probably not going to stop, so get over it. Here’s one of Todd the Dog, he lives with my sister’s in-laws.
Our Edinburgh adventure began with a trip to the castle. It’s got a steep price tag of $53.00 for two tickets, which I was a bit hesitant to pay as I tend to breeze through these type of attractions, but we were there for about 3.5 hours. Believe me, we wrung out every cent of that $53.00.
It’s a hulking structure, perched atop a massive chunk of rock that was formed 340 million years ago by a volcano. The earliest settlement on this spot is during the Bronze age and people have been building up there ever since…I guess if you were looking for a good location for your fortress, an intimidating and unscalable rock would be on the top of the short list. The buildings of the present castle date from the 12th to the 21st century, each generation just adds a bit on when they feel like it. The main gate that everbodys walks through, and when I say ‘walks’ I really mean ‘clogs up the entryway, staring with their mouths open, as if they have never seen things before’ was added on in 1888 by the Victorians. Get a move on people, there’s an actual castle in there…shove on! The cobblestone road that run through the castle was put in place during the 1600’s so they could cart huge guns up to the battlements, before that, it was just a dirt path. For some reason, the castle courtyards smell like delicious ham. It’s true, delicious and true. The views from the castle are impressive, and for a brief moment we had some sunshine to bask in.
The castle is packed with mini-museums, including the Scottish War Museum. As I mentioned, I tend to breeze through exhibits like this and John reads every freaking plaque while I’m busy pacing around outside, getting impatient. However, this was a nice, compact display which included an amazing painting.
‘The Storming of Tel-el Kebir’, by Alphonse Marie de Neuville in 1883, depicts The 1st Battalion The Black Watch attacking enemy defenses in this battle of the 1882 Egypt campaign, a battle the Black Watch won. In a desire for accuracy, de Neuville was advised by officers who had been present at the battle.
Many of the individuals in the painting can be identified. I could look at this painting for hours, the detail in the faces, the perspective, the little scenes that are being played out…it is truly remarkable. Lieutenant William Edwards led the charge, he can be seen in the painting here:
When we emerged from the museum, the weather had turned to the more traditional grey, however the views were still great. In the distance, Calton Hill looks like a reasonable climb, but in reality is a bit of a bugger, as we found out a little later in the day.
A crowd was gathering around a gentleman dressed in period costume, which I tend to avoid as I rather dislike audience participation (I’m such a miserable old fart.) However, this gentleman got our attention by firing a musket, so we joined the crowd.
John immediately fell in love with this guy, I don’t know whether it was the outrageous accent or the gunpowder, but the man-crush was in full affect. There was some delightful ribbing of the English (oh my! wink wink) and surprisingly, a lot of sass about the Highlanders.
The only good thing to come out of the Highlands is the A9, and that’s not that great – Guy in Period Costume, Edinburgh Castle
He told us that the castle has been stormed 27 times, but the gates and the walls have never failed. Cromwell estimated he would have taken the castle in 2 weeks…3 months later he managed to starve them out. The Scottish tend to hold a grudge, so when Charles II was rightfully restored to the throne, Oliver Cromwell was put on trial and sentence to death by hanging. The interesting thing about this is that he was already dead The trial occurred 3 years after his death so they dug him up, put him on trial, wired all his bones together and had a good old fashioned hanging. I like the commitment and shear bloodly-mindedness of it all.
After 3.5 hours, we were all castled out. We exited the castle and walked down the Royal Mile, which is a street lined with shops selling ‘All Things Scottish’ including kilts, cashmere tartan scarves, starter bagpipe sets, toffee, shortbread and silly hats. We managed to avoid purchasing the All-In-One-Scotsman outfit (bagpipe included) however, the Canadian and the Australian fellows we met a little later did not. They were also completely tanked at 4:30pm, which was quite impressive. The best part about the Royal Mile are the small closes off to the side. John and I ate our packed lunch in Waldrop Close. It was a relief to get away from the pushing and shoving.
At the end of the Royal Mile, is, surprise surprise, a royal palace. Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the monarchy while in Scotland, and has been the principle residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century.
John’s patented war-cry of ‘let’s go look at that thing in the distance’ got us marching up Calton Hill, which has a collection of monuments at the top. It ended up being the city that stole our attention rather than the monuments.