Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Edimburgh! (Ecosse Partie 2)

We woke up pretty late, having stayed up until between 3:30AM and 4:00AM on Friday.  By the time we were up and ready to leave Calum's house, it was noon.  Now I was a little worried, because we were headed to Edinburgh, where I really wanted to see my friend Michele, who I worked with this last summer at the FVC.  The only problem was, my phone wouldn't connect the call.  I asked my friend Amara, also from the VC, who is teaching in Spain, if she had Michele's number.  Luckily she did.  I tried that one.  Still didn't work.  So before we left, I asked Calum if I could go on facebook and look it up.  For what ever  reason after I found her number on facebook again, it connected!

I got a hold of Michele, letter her know about what our plans were. She said that she would be happy to meet us when we got there.  So after finally making contact, Emily and I headed out.  We got breakfast at the same restaurant (this time I skipped the black pudding...) and we headed to Queen Street Station to take the train to Edinburgh.  We bought our tickets and were on the 2PM train.

The train ride was only about forty minutes, but it took you through the scottish countryside.  Man, Scotland is gorgeous!  So much green!!!  And sheep.  Every field we passed was littered with them.  They almost looked like mushrooms.  The rolling hillsides and the dark grey clouds looked gorgeous.  I hadn't seen green hills like that since, well since visiting the Amish country when I visited my step sister my sophomore year of high school.

We arrived at Edinburgh.  My god... I didn't know a city could look like that.  It had the feel of a mediaeval fortress (because it was one).  It looked like it was just stacked on top of itself.  When we were walking about, we would be on a road, then there would be a gap where no building was and we would realize that we were on a bridge.  It was bizarre.

The first thing we did there was hop on a double decker tour bus.  We took it all over the city.  It took us to the Castle, along the Royal Mile, the Holyrood Castle, the Scottish Parliament and to the Our Dynamic Earth museum.  Then it dropped us back off at the train-station, where we hopped on.  I gave Michele a call, telling her that Emily and I were going to walk up to the Royal Mile and do some shopping.  She said that she would meet us up there.

The royal mile is really neat.  I can't exactly remember why it is called the Royal Mile, but I assume it has something to do with the fact that at the top of it is the Castle and the length of it.  When we were up there, I knew I wanted to get a genuine Scotish Cashmere sweater.  And boy... was I in luck!  I ended up with two sweaters (a black zip-up hoodie and a navy cardigan) and one scarf (tan and cream tartan print).  

After I was decked out in my new Scottish garb, Emily and I headed over to the Elephant Café.  This is a really important café.  It is the location where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book.  Michelle met us there, and we had tea (I had a hot chocolate.  I don't understand tea... it tastes like slightly flavored hot water...).  After tea, Michele took us down to Arthur's Seat.

Arthur's Seat (named after King Arthur) is a rock formation they say looks like a seated lion (the lion was the symbol of Arthur).  It is a really cool hiking trail, and apparently at the top of it you have an amazing view of Edinburgh.  We didn't have enough time to go up to the top, but we walked down to the base, where there is a charming little lake.  There were swans and ducks swimming in it.  The sky was turning a dark grey, but the sun was going down.  The golden color pitched against the ominous clouds created my favorite sensation in nature, one that I don't have the skills to properly describe in words.

Around 5:45PM, the three of us decided to head back to the Royal Mile.  Emily and I were going to go on a special tour and we needed to be there at 6:45PM, but we had to eat first.  On the way up, we decided to stop in at a fish and chip shop, what the Scottish call a chippy.  I had a baked steak pie and chips.  It was SOOOOO good.  Anyway, we said farewell to Michele at the shop and we ate.  It was really great seeing her.

The restaurant was small, and didn't have any tables so we had to eat on the go.  That was fine because we were going to go on a Haunted Edinburgh tour.  We needed to get there there fifteen minutes before it started so we just ate up near the meeting point.

That tour was probably the coolest thing I have done since being here.  The guide was this twenty-something blonde woman who had a wickedly sarcastic sense of humor.  She was a great guide.  We did a lot of walking around in the old parts of town.  She told us a lot about what life was like for the poor down in Edinburgh in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  On this tour, I learned that the phrase "dead ringer" and "saved by the bell" come from the fact that in order to verify the corpse was actually dead, the grave diggers would run a string from a bell at the tombstone and tie it to the corpse's finger.  If you suddenly woke up from your coma and were in a box, you would just pull on the string and hopefully someone would hear you and dig you up.  Kinda gruesome.

But the coolest/freakiest part was when we went down to the vaults.  The vaults were built originally as storerooms for the merchants of Edinbugh.  After they realized that volcanic rock was porous and the store rooms would flood if it rained, the merchants said they were useless.  That coupled with the fact that in 17th century Edinburgh if you were caught sleeping on the street three times you would be executed, the poorest of the poor started moving into them.

A lot of the vaults have now been converted into night clubs and bars and restaurants.  But not the ones that we went to.  Too many weird things happened in those ones...  We were told stories about how during the great fire of 1824, seventy-eight people sought refuge in one of the rooms.  Since volcanic rock conducts heat, the room turned into an oven.  All of the people in that room were baked alive.  Our guide had a lot of stories like that.  But the only time I got actually freaked out was when I heard footsteps in the hall.  And there wasn't anyone in the hall.  That did make my heart beat a little faster.

The tour ended at a bar where they served Scottish Whisky and gave us shortbread cookies.  It was a good thing too, because some of the people were pretty freaked.  Oh, I forgot to mention, Emily and I made friends with Sonja, a really nice French/German woman from Madagascar.  She invited us to go with her to a jazz club later that night, but we needed to get onto the train to go back to Calum's.

All in all, Edinburgh was a fantastic city!  Probably my favorite in the UK (although I've only been to three).

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