I Left My Heart in Edinburgh

Cue the bagpipes. I can finally say that I am a true study abroad student because I have officially completed an important right of passage in the life of an American twenty-something-year-old on the continent of Europe. I’m obviously talking about my first weekend trip, complete with backpack. My roommate Jill and I spent an incredible two days in Edinburgh, and I now officially love Scotland.

We planned this trip a few weeks ago, and we were really excited when the day finally arrived, especially since I was finally feeling better after three days of being sick in bed. We woke up bright and early (or should I say dark and early…it still looked like night) and stepped outside to our conveniently located bus stop where we would catch a ride to Kings Cross/St. Pancras station. Unfortunately, our ride never showed up, but a nice lady who was also trying to catch a train called a cab and offered to share with us because, as she said, “there’s nothing worse than waiting for a bus in the cold.” You got that right. We had a nice conversation with her and when we arrived she insisted on paying for the whole thing. A great start to what was sure to be a long day.

From there we were left trying to find our way through St. Pancras, a huge expanse of a train station. We went to a platform only to discover we were at the wrong one, then arrived at the right platform about two minutes after our train had left. We returned to our original platform and caught the next train, but the whole experience left me wondering if St. Pancras was nominated for sainthood because of his godlike ability to get around the station. (I looked it up later; he was actually a martyred Roman teenager whose name translates to “the one that holds everything.” Appropriate name for an enormous train station).

The train took us to the airport, where we arrived passport in hand only to discover that you don’t need to show ID for domestic flights in the UK. I find this deeply disconcerting. It’s quite possible that I in fact did not buy a ticket but simply stole someone else’s on one of the several train/bus rides over, and no one would ever figure it out. It’s also interesting considering the flight attendants insist on visually confirming that your seatbelt is buckled even though it could potentially be safely restraining the wrong person.

Nonetheless, about an hour later we touched down in Edinburgh, and a quick bus ride brought us to the center of one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. All the buildings are old in a cool, historic way and it’s really hilly, so as you walk around you get new views of the cityscape and also a great workout, and by great I mean my ankles have been swollen for four days.

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Since we had only two days, we started our day right then because we decided we wanted to see everything. After a quick lunch at The Baked Potato Shop (yum), we walked along the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s Sunset Boulevard, to St. Giles Cathedral, the National Museum of Scotland and the National Gallery. Walking around in Edinburgh is just like you would imagine. In addition to your average street performers, there are old, surly-looking men wearing full traditional kilts and playing the bagpipes on every street, so it’s kind of like you’re in a Discovery Channel special and bagpipes are the background music. Literally a dream come true.

After dinner at a pub where we watched America lose to Canada in Olympic hockey, we went on a haunted walking tour of Edinburgh. Our entertainingly creepy tour guide Alex, who was wearing an honest to god cloak, took us to different locations where he told us about gross ways people were tortured and executed back in the day. They included having ears and fingers cut off, hangings and angry mobs. It really was disgusting, but Alex told all the stories in an exaggerated deep voice with a lot of strategic pausing, which I personally enjoyed. Then we climbed down into the Blair Street Underground Vaults, which apparently are haunted. It was more fun than scary, and there were toddlers on the tour so I figured I could handle it and also the the ghosts would probably go after them first so I would definitely have time to run away. On the way back to our hostel, we passed through St. Andrew Square where there was a breathtaking art installation of colored lights, which Jill and I had way too much fun photographing.

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This would be a good time to tell you about our hostel. It was…fine. Nice as far as hostels go, I guess, though it’s the only one I’ve been to. But staying there made me realize something profound about myself: I do not really like the concept of hostels. It’s kind of uncomfortable having no privacy and no confirmation that anyone has recently cleaned. I feel like my feelings aren’t uncommon, but somehow American study abroad students continue to allow the hostel business to thrive. The whole night I tossed and turned worried that some foreigner was plotting to steal my camera or cell phone or just walk off with my backpack. I’d personally much rather invest in a motel and have my own bathroom and a little piece of mind.  I don’t think that makes me princess, just a regular person with basic standards of living and security needs. Jill and I decided that we wanted to spend the least amount of time there as possible, so every time we were tired or needed to charge our phones or use Wifi, we just went to Starbucks. I think we spent a total of five hours there and drank about six lattes in a two day period.

On Saturday, we  traversed the city of Edinburgh and saw about a thousand statues and monuments of Sir Walter Scott, clearly an important figure in Scottish history that I definitely should know more about. The day began with a hike up to Edinburgh castle where we saw the Scottish Crown Jewels, the War Museum and some cannons. Afterwards, we stopped for lunch at The Elephant House where J.K. Rowling penned her famous Harry Potter books, so naturally I had a fangirl moment. Then we hit Holyroodhouse Palace for a tour of the Queen’s residence in Scotland. I took about a thousand photos at both the palace and castle except when employees at the attractions yelled at me for photographing. If it’s illegal to photograph the Crown Jewels, there should be a sign clearly stating that, am I right?

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Next door to the palace is Scottish Parliament and an amazing, enormous, green cliff called Arthur’s Seat towering high above. After taking some time to admire the view, we climbed — literally — up Calton Hill (and were almost blown off by high speed winds) to see the Scottish National Monument and stand at an overlook of the entire city. I climbed up onto the Acropolis, as Jill and I nicknamed it, with the help of a nice stranger, but getting me to jump down took a little more convincing. We finished off the day with some comfort food at a restaurant appropriately called Mum’s and a little traditional Scottish music at a bar called Sandy Bell’s.

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Thus ended our Scottish vacation. A bus, plane, another bus and a tube ride later, and we were back in good ol’ London, but I promised myself that I’ll be seeing Edinburgh again soon to climb up Arthur’s Seat, scope out the Loch Ness monster and explore those famous Scottish highlands. Until then, Edinburgh!

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