We left the improv show at about 930p and started walking back to the bus station …

But turns out everyone was hungry. I could have done without food, but I was out-voted.

On the way to the bus station we came across an Italian restaurant – fortuitous since Kevin had been talking about pizza for a couple of days.

So we had pizza at 10p after a long long long day in the city on our feet.

There was so much more I would have liked to see in Edinburgh – which is why I originally scheduled 2 days there – so clearly Andrew and I will have to go back.

We caught a bus back to our cars … and drove north to Aberfeldy… not getting there until well after midnight. Exhausted but … that’s kind of the way I like my vacations. Packing in as much travel as I can.

Alarm set for 7a the next morning.

{ 1 comment }

Scotland: Parallelogramophonograph

Still Tuesday in Edinburgh …. .

Since Kevin had spent a few days in Edinburgh before we got there, he already had a chance to go to some of the Fringe Festival shows …. In fact, I think he went to see this improv group from Texas two times already. So when we were in Edinburgh for the day Kevin wanted us to see them too ….

Parallelogramophonograph – Improvised Plays from Austin, Texas

(The improvers pamphletting outside their venue)

Whereas my friend Nathan’s improv group does improv competitions and genres, Parallelogramophonograph does more long-form improv. Full, nearly play-length stories.

It’s pretty fun!

We could easily tell they’ve been working together for a long time.

I was reminded again how very much I love actors. We ran into the improv team (and their tech guy) just before the show – they were out on the Royal Mile pamphletting, trying to bring in more audience. Actors are all so charming …. Especially the ones that are *slightly* insecure. … Adorable. Seriously.

So the “play” they put on for us is all improvised, but they ask the audience for some kind of suggestion….. the team – 2 girls, 2 guys – had announced that their story that night would be darker, a murder mystery or similar….

So of course, the question they asked of the audience was for a happy memory. The winner: Playing in a field with my dog Friskers.

The play was very good – surprisingly well-structured for improv … along with several laugh-out-loud moments. It was Andrew’s first experience with improv. I’m really glad we stayed in the city to see it!

The “venue” was just one of the conference rooms that the Radisson Hotel rents out – with curtains, lights and chairs. If I had to guess, I’d say it held maybe …. 50 audience members. From what they told Kevin, it sounds like they would have to sell out all their shows just to break even. Not sure if that will happen for them, but what a fun experience nevertheless! So glad we went!

{ 0 comments }

Tuesday late afternoon in Edinburgh …. Still pouring down rain, still with time to kill before the show…. And still not hungry enough to get dinner …. Walking away from Grey Friar’s cemetery, we were at a little bit of a loss as to what to do and where to go.

It just so happened that we passed the National Library of Scotland. I think Kevin suggested we go in …. And it was such a fun idea! They had an exhibit on banned books going on that was super interesting!

Such an fun little unexpected treat ….

The ‘Banned Books’ exhibit had sections on books banned because of religion, politics, society and sex,…. Along with a final section on living with censorship. Plus, of course, going into the library gave us a chance to sit down (my feet and legs and back were so tired by this time of day) and dry off a bit.

We couldn’t take pictures of the exhibit, which is too bad. I would have liked to take photos if only so could remember all the books I want to read now!

{ 0 comments }

Scotland: Grey Friar’s cemetery

(still in Edinburgh, Scotland) …. ..

The rain finally cleared up for a little while – while we were underground of course.

After leaving the pub we made our way back to St. Giles Cathedral to meet mom and dad… and shortly after that it began to rain in earnest again.

Our next plan for the day was to see one of the shows that was part of the Fringe Festival – but that wasn’t until 7:40p, so we had about 2 hours to spend in the rain.

One of the other parts of the Edinburgh Ghost Adventures show that we watched had them visiting a haunted cemetery… So, of course Andrew and I wanted to find it!

The cemetery is called “Grey Friar’s” and is apparently haunted by the McKenzie Poltergeist (named after the tomb in the cemetery that has seen much of the action).

I’m pretty good with maps, so we were able to find Grey Friar’s without a whole lot of trouble.

Of course, the whole time it’s raining harder and harder and Andrew’s hair has started dripping again…

Being in a cemetery, of course the ground was muddy … but as soon as we got there we clearly saw a crowd of umbrellas around one of the tombs – part of what we can only assume was a guided tour of the cemetery.

That cemetery is HUGE.

But we only ended up spending maybe 20 minutes there because of the rain.

Once we got to Grey Friar’s we kind of lost Dad. He likes to read and explore and learn things – even more so than I do. Once the rest of us were getting ready to leave we had to search him out. There was music coming from inside the church so we thought maybe he had gone in there…. But no … Finally he was spotted, in a grey/black jacket with the hood up… all by himself at the far end of the (rain-drenched) graveyard wandering between the gravestones…. Looking pretty creepy, actually…

 

{ 1 comment }

Scotland: Underground ghost tour

After lunch, it was about time for our guided ghost tour – with Auld Reekie Tours.

This was the ONLY thing that I booked ahead of time …. 430p on Tuesday afternoon – the underground vault tour!

Last year, Andrew and I had watched an episode of Ghost Adventures (ghost-hunting reality show on the travel channel), when they get locked in to the underground vaults under Edinburgh.

It was one of the better episodes, so when we realized we were going to Edinburgh, visiting the vaults was one of the “musts.”

We met up with the tour guide at the designated street corner (in front of an old church on the Royal Mile)… along with about 12 other people. (sidenote: Mom and Dad did NOT go on the tour with us. Chickens.)

Since the tour goes underground, there was not really a need to wait til dark… but it certainly would have felt spookier.

Our tour guide was a guy (maybe late 20s) named Dominic. Sweet boy; very charismatic. He had that air about him that actors have – super friendly, super charming with a real feel for timing (both comedic and dramatic).

I was suddenly reminded of how much I really love actors!

He wore all black, but not in a creepy way. More like the way stagehands do – to better blend into the set. Or, in this case, the dark, dank underground haunted vaults…

So, we met Dominic in front of Tron Kirk and then he walked our group down a couple blocks and down a side street – then headed very steeply downhill.

Since the vaults are essentially built under the length of the Royal Mile, we had to go down to the entrance – basically just a couple of VERY steep steps off the side of a store front (where the Auld Reekie ticket office is).

The first room is a very faintly lit all-black room filled with glass cases hanging on the walls …. Glass cases with (very amateur) exhibits of instruments of torture.

Very strange.

Seems like the Auld Reekie owner is just interested in torture devices for fun … and decided to create this “exhibit” just to make the ghost tours a little weirder.

It worked.

So, according to Dominic …. The room we started in used to be just a cheap apartment – mostly for college students.

Apparently, one night (late 80s?), the tenants were having a party and a cup got thrown against one of the drywalls …. And instead of bouncing off, it went through!

So these partying college kids took a closer look … The drywall just came crumbling down. As did the 2 or 3 additional layers back there.

And all of a sudden, the Edinburgh underground vaults that had been sealed for at least 100 years had been rediscovered!

Now, it’s not clear to me exactly how many underground vaults there are … but the vaults that the Ghost Adventures crew investigated were HUGE. Several levels, yards and yards and yards.

The vaults that Auld Reekie tours are completely different. I wonder if maybe the vaults are all owned/rented by the owners of the businesses above (just like when they were originally built).

Some photos from various sources of the vaults one - twothree

The vaults that we toured were:

  • 4 or 5 in number
  • Off a single corridor (without apparent connection to other vaults)
  • The corridor was nicely/smoothly paved (likely a recent change for the tourists)

So the tour was about 45 minutes long … and it felt so short!

Dominic took us through each to the vaults in turn, NOT just down the line.

Nope, the order of the vaults visited was deliberately chosen for maximum storytelling power. Started off with your basic vault to learn a bit about the vaults in general, and then into vaults with escalating weirdness….

We actually started in the (dimly lit) corridor ….

Dominic warned us about physical sensations we may encounter – and I immediately began to feel a bit dizzy and light-headed. I’m sure just because we had essentially walked underground into a small, stuffy place. But I can see how some people might get a little freaked out!

We learned about the night watchman ghost that is occasionally seen at the end of the corridor – by guides and visitors. As the tour guide, Dominic needs to always always keep track of all the tourists in his tour. According to him, on one tour he was sure that he saw one of his charges wandering off into one of the vaults at the far end of the corridor … but, as soon as he reached the doorway there was no one there! The watchman has never bothered/harassed visitors; he’s just seen going in and out of the vaults at the far end of the corridor.

The other ‘spirit’ we learned about in that corridor was a woman who pays particular attention to the men.

Dominic told us about one guy, on the tour with his girlfriend, felt a cold hand near his crotch while they were standing around. It was only when he realized his girlfriend was a good 5 or 6 feet in front of him that he ran away screaming!

Which brings me to why Dominic was such an effective tour guide and storyteller : He genuinely seemed concerned. He told us over and over that if we needed to leave for any reason he would drip everything and take us out of the vaults. He gives his groups permission to feel scared, and to be aware of how they’re feeling. He appears equally respectful of skeptics, believers and fence-sitters.He doesn’t over dramatize anything. He doesn’t overplay his hand. … and he doesn’t exhibit any kind of condescension  that a skeptic might.

You can’t help but trust Dominic when he tells you what he himself has experienced … and the calm and reasonable way he tells you that women were getting attacked in a certain vault makes you really consider it might be true ….

He was fantastic!

Again, I really love actors….

So. The specific vault stories:

As I said, the first vault was just a good opportunity to tell us about the history.

These vaults were originally built under the Royal Mile as a place for storage for the businesses above. Unfortunately, the vaults were built/carved out of limestone or sandstone or something else porous. Which means that when it rains in Edinburgh, the rain seeps through to wet and ruin all the goods in the vaults.

Imagine bolts of fabric or barrels of flour sitting in puddles.

Needless to say, the soon were emptied.

In Edinburgh (at that time at least) it was illegal to sleep on the street. So all the homeless – prostitutes, drunks, families whose breadwinner had died, etc – started “living” in the vaults.

The vault is really just a stone room – maybe 20’x20’ … no walls, no running water, no toilets.

About 25 people would “live” in one vault, just using one corner as a ‘bathroom’ … but in reality just a pile of feces… Eventually it’d creep farther and farther into the room, mixing with the dirt on the floor, mixing with the water that seeped down, all over the floor where people were sleeping.

In order to eat (and mask the stench) they would build a fire…. But there’s no vent, windows or chimney of any kind. So they built the fires by the door to the vault, filling the corridors with smoke.

Some of the vaults were partway between the graveyards and the medical schools. Since autopsies were illegal, med students would buy the corpses on the black market to dissect. Grave robbers found the vaults handy for hiding bodies.

No law enforcement would come down to the vaults – to the stink and disease – so criminals pretty much had a free rein. Rapes, murders, stashing stolen goods …. I’m sure it ALL happened in the vaults.

And then – eventually – the city had had enough and just sealed up the vaults. And sealed up all that pain and crime and hate and death with it….

So sad….

The second vault that we visited had a big stone circle in the middle of the room. Apparently a local Wiccan group had connected with the Auld Reekie owner to use this vault for their wiccan/heathen ceremonies…. But after a few weeks some strange things started to happen in that vault after it was locked up for the night …

Things like … scratch marks on the inside of the door, and all the furniture in the room getting piled precariously in one of the corners.

Bizarre.

So the head of the wiccan group decided to stay overnight, locked in that vault, to figure out what was going on. The Auld Reekie owner locked this guy in with his sleeping bag. He chose to sleep in the stone circle – as the Wiccans believe that circle was a source of protection from various spirits.

He woke up in the middle of the night…. Hearing some kind of scratching or scuffling along one of the walls. As the vault has no windows or chimney at all, or course it was pitch black. So this guy had pretty much convinced himself that he was hearing a rat, the scuffling/scratching started heading up the wall and onto the ceiling!

Between hearing a series of voices just outside the stone circle and other bizarre happenings, he had had enough.

Once it got to what he thought was morning, he was gone – waiting at the front door to be let out.

That same day the wiccan group moved all their stuff to a different vault – permanently.

They left the stone circle, though.

It was thought that the circle was now – instead of a protection – a portal or doorway to evil spirits.

Dominic – bless his heart – raised his credibility even more. He says “Now, some of the guides will tell you not to step into or walk through the circle. But I know you all are adults. If you want to step into the circle I’m not going to stop you. Now is the time to do it.”

… and of course no one did.

Although I fully expected Kevin to.

We moved on to the last vault then, and as everyone filed out of the vault, I saw Kevin put one foot into the circle and then out again.

Show off.

He was carrying Chelsea’s bag at the time so we joked that a ghost would attach itself to her bag and he was going to carry it the rest of the trip.

The final vault required an explanation and warning before even entering.

We were strictly instructed to separate by gender at the door – boys to the left, girls to the right. Which put me right next to a bunch of strangers and Chelsea in the scariest of all the vaults.

Awesome.

According to Dominic, through many tours there would be scratches, pushes and other physical attacks on visitors. They eventually tried a few different combinations and by having men on one side and women on the other the attacks stopped.

On top of that, we were strictly instructed to turn off all electronics – phones, cameras, etc. Electronics of all kinds have been known to malfunction and break after visiting this vault. Of course, we had my mom’s cell phone on us and didn’t know how to turn it off. So far it’s fine.

Furthermore, the safety (electronic) light above the door wasn’t on. Dominic told us they just can’t get the light to work. They’ve had any number of electricians come look at it, and one day they went through something like 30 lightbulbs.

So the room was lit solely by Dominic’s flashlight …. But of course, since electronics have issues in this room, he told us all about the times that his flashlight has just stopped working (of course, he called it a “torch” since he’s British and adorable).

I know this sounds like just a bunch of talk. I fully acknowledge that not a single weird, paranormal or unnatural thing happened to our tour group.

However – I WILL tell you that this last vault was noticeably colder than the other vaults. What reason could there be? These are just stone rooms with no vents or ceiling fans, obviously.

But if I’ve learned anything from watching numerous seasons of Ghost Adventures – I’ve learned that pockets of cold air can indicate the presence of a ghost or spirit.

I’m just saying….

So, of course, since this was the final vault, Dominic was using his full power of anticipation and storytelling to really give us a chill.

Starting with dividing us from our other group members, plus the turning off of electronics and the light in the vault not working … needless to say, it is easy to see how someone could get all keyed up.

As he was explaining to us how he had to carry a backup “torch” because of the strange problems in this vault, his current “torch” began to flicker – until it finally went out completely (conveniently at a dramatic moment in his narrative) …. Spooky ….

Just before the vaults were sealed shut, there was a huge fire in old town Edinburgh (1824, I think). To escape the flames and stay safe many families sent their women and children into the vaults.

Initially this seems like a good idea – the stone walls and floor certainly wouldn’t burn. Instead, with the fire raging through the city, the walls of the vaults started heating up more and more  … just like a brick oven.

Ugh.

All those people were just cooked. … Just baked up like meat.

Ugh …. Bleck bleck bleck….

Not long after (around 1830 or so) the vaults were closed off and forgotten about.

So sad. So gross and so scary …

I can’t remember exactly how Dominic tied up the tour, but part of our ticket included a bit of shortbread and whisky at a pub next door.

We were guided to the pub at then Dominic disappeared (he had another tour to guide). Too bad… He was pretty much amazing. I would have loved to have a chat with him.

Not at all surprisingly, the whisky was not great. Not that I know – Andrew drank mine.

{ 2 comments }

Scotland: St. Giles Cathedral

After visiting Edinburgh Castle in the last morning, we headed a bit farther down the Royal Mile toward St. Giles Cathedral ….

The Cathedral is just maybe ½ to 3/4 mile down the hill from the Castle.

On the entrance side is a big open square where one of the Edinburgh Festival street performers was doing his juggling fire and sharp objects show.

Also in the square was a few rows of booths selling handmade goods/art/etc. My mom ended up buying a watercolor – a little ironic since it was raining so much.

We elected to go into the Cathedral first, and then find lunch.

I love cathedrals – and it turns out Chelsea does too!

Even without knowing ANY of the history of the location, the beauty of the architecture and the details of the tiny side chapels and stained glass windows give cathedrals such an air.

And walking into a cathedral that is still actively in use is always fun – especially if you come across a service (like we did at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome).

From RICK STEVES:

St. Giles Cathedral

This is Scotland’s most important church. Its ornate spire – the Scottish Crown steeple from 1495 – is a proud part of Edinburgh’s skyline.

Today’s façade is 19th century Neo-Gothic, but most of what you’ll see inside is from the 14th and 15th centuries.

Just inside the entrance, turn around to see the modern stained-glass Robert Burns window, which celebrates Scotland’s favorite poet. It was made in 1095 by the Icelandic artist Leifur Breidfjord.

The oldest parts of the cathedral – the four massive central pillars – date from 1120. After the English burned the cathedral in 1385, it was rebuilt bigger and better than ever, and in 1495 its famous crown spire was completed. During the Reformation – when John Knox preached here (1559-1572) – the place was simplified and whitewashed. Before this, when the emphasis was on holy services provided by priests, there were lots of little niches. With the new focus on sermons rather than rituals, the grand pulpit took center stage.

At the back end of the church, see the Neo-Gothic Chapel of the Knights of the Thistle and its intricate wood carving. Built in two years (1910-1911), entirely with Scottish materials and labor, it is the private chapel of the Knights of the Thistle, the only Scottish chivalric order. It’s used about once a year to inaugurate new members. Scotland recognizes its leading citizens by bestowing upon them a membership. The Queen presides over the ritual from her fancy stall, marked by her Scottish coat of arms.

Upon entering the St. Giles Cathedral, there was a big sign advertising “Photography permits” for ₤2.

Now, this is clearly just a way to get money from tourists without charging admission.

I’m totally OK with this. Especially since Westminster Abbey cost about ₤11 and I still wasn’t allowed to take photos!

I don’t know how much they enforce the photography permit, but I do think I saw a guide start to walk toward me when I was videoing, but stop when I (casually) turned so he could see my photo-permit-sticker.

Who knows ….

We happened upon St. Giles Cathedral just in time for a mid-day concert.

According to the “Music at St. Giles” pamphlet I found, the concert was put on by a Scotland/South Africa cultural exchange program group.

Singing as they walked down the main aisle, they performed a few African songs, but more were traditional worship songs – many of which I knew! Of course, the fact that I knew the songs made the errant notes from some of the sopranos even more apparent.

Nonetheless, having live music made the whole experience of exploring the Cathedral even fuller…

The other interesting and noteworthy part of St. Giles Cathedral was the Chapel of the Knights of the Thistle.

This is a small chapel in the back corner of the (huge) Cathedral – the private chapel of the only Scottish chivalric order (the Knights of the Thistle).

There was this sweet older woman back there – a guide of the Cathedral – answering questions and providing all kinds of details about the Knights of the Thistle and what they used the chapel for..

It’s only used once a year or so to inaugurate new members – but that only happens when a former member dies.

The Queen chooses one of the leading citizens of Scotland – a judge, the head of Education or similar…

The Queen presides over the ritual from her chair (ornately carved) at the end of the room. Her chair is marked by the Royal family’s coat of arms. As that chair is only ever occupied by the monarch, there is only one coat of arms. All the other chairs have several (in general 4+) coats of arms, designating all the different men/women who have been inducted into the order and assigned to that seat over the last 100 years since the chapel was completed.

It’s a lovely room, but without a guide there to explain the details, that’s all it would have been.

After St. Giles Cathedral we went to lunch.

Kevin had been talking about Thai food for a couple days, and Andrew knew I wanted REAL vegetables, so we found this Thai restaurant: Thai Orchid. It was a bit warm inside, so I started feeling a little bit sick, but all in all it was pretty good.

It wasn’t spicy AT ALL (I got a mostly broccoli veggie dish) … and snagged a couple bites from the others.

Next? Our underground ghost tour!!

{ 1 comment }

Scotland: Edinburgh Castle (part 2)

After viewing the Crown Jewels it was on to the Royal Palace (pretty sparse), the Great Hall and the Scottish National War Memorial (so cool).

FROM RICK STEVES re: ROYAL PALACE:

Scottish royalty lived here only when safety or protocol required it (they preferred the Palace of Holyrood house at the bottom of the Royal Mile).

The Royal Palace has 2 historic, yet unimpressive rooms and the Great Hall (opposite side of the square).

Enter the Mary, Queen of Scots room, where in 1566 the queen gave birth to James VI of Scotland, who later became James I of England.

The Great Hall was the castle’s ceremonial meeting place in the 16th and 17th centuries. IN later times it was a barracks and a hospital. Although most of what you see is Victorian, 2 medieval elements survive: the fine hammer-beam roof, and the big iron-barred peephole. This allowed the king to spy on his subjects while they partied.

 

The Scottish National War Memorial was one of my favorite things at Edinburgh Castle.

I just love war memorials of all kinds; I have no idea why.

This particular memorial commemorates Scottish soldiers, and those serving in Scottish regiments, who died in the 2 world wars and conflicts since.

The memorial was formally opened in 1927 out of a remodeled block of barracks

  • 149,000 Scottish soldiers lost in WWI
  • 58,000 Scottish soldiers lost in WWII
  • 800 lost since

FROM RICK STEVES:

Paid for by public donations, each bay is dedicated to a particular Scottish regiment. The main shrine, featuring a green Italian-marble memorial that contains the original WWI rolls of honor sits – almost as if it were sacred – on an exposed chunk of the castle rock. Above, the archangel Michael is busy slaying a dragon.

Andrew and I entered just the 2 of us (though we saw Kevin and Chelsea inside) … The memorial interior is rather hushed – visitors recognizing that this is a place to be respectful, if nowhere else in the castle.

It also felt significantly less crowded that the other wings/buildings we visited. I wonder if that is because cameras aren’t allowed at the memorial.

I wish I could put my finger on why I love war memorials. Maybe it is just a vestige of the romanticizing of war that comes from the books I read growing up …

Either way – all I want to do now is visit Washington DC.

After the War Memorial, Great Hall and Crown Jewels, the 4th building on the square was a “Prisoners of War” exhibit (and now I have ‘Prisoners of Love’ from The Producers in my head)

It was …. Interesting. Not fantastic. Not terrible, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t so crowded.

Part of the exhibit took us under the building to where the prisoners of war were actually held … hammocks and dozens in one room and all.

That took us out and dropped us off one level down, and outside the top gate…. So we walked BACK up the hill to check out St. Margaret’s Chapel – the oldest building in Edinburgh, dating from ~1130 or so.

It’s TINY… and sweet. It feels pure and simple and a bit like I imagine Anne Shirley’s bedroom feeling. Strangely, this tiny quaint chapel is only about 10 feet from Mons Meg – a 6 ton cannon that hasn’t worked since 1681.

FROM RICK STEVES:

St. Margaret’s Chapel

The oldest building in Edinburgh is dedicated to Queen Margaret, who died here in 1093 and was sainted in 1250. Built in 1130 in the Romanesque style of the Norman Invaders, it’s wonderfully simple, with classic Norman zigzags decorating the round arch that separates the tiny nave from the sacristy. It was used as a powder magazine for 400 years; very little survives.

The place is popular for weddings – though it only seats 20 people.

After checking out Mons Meg and St. Margaret’s Chapel, Andrew was SOAKING wet.

His hair was literally dripping.

We started heading back down the hill, through the Middle Ward … and on the way stopped by a couple more exhibits.

One was about a specific regiment – although for the life of me I can’t remember which! I feel like it was probably the Black Watch / Royal Highland regiment …. But, as with all the museums and exhibits at Edinburgh Castle, it was far too crowded for me to take my time and really read and learn.

The other exhibit we stopped at was the Military Prison. They had restored several cells, along with the prison bathroom and a couple other little rooms.

Pretty cool. Pretty crowded.

It was nearly time to meet the others (we said 1 o’clock at the front) .. so we continued on down the hill in the rain…

… and just at about 1 o’clock the big cannon near the wall went off!! And some girl behind us screamed! Apparently they shoot of the gun every day at 1p. Originally to mark the time for ships in the Firth of Forth…. But now mainly as a tourist attraction.

After the gun, Andrew went and got us coffee – and got himself some Haggis potato chips from the castle café…. What a tourist!

Next, we met up with Kevin and Chelsea, we stopped at the Castle gift shop for more postcards (and postcard stamps), walked back down the hill, down the Royal Mile…. All in the rain.

Chelsea stopped to look in a shop, while Andrew went on to look for lunch … . still in the rain….

{ 2 comments }

Scotland: Edinburgh Castle (part 1)

When we arrived in Edinburgh the sky was cloudy and overcast, but nice.

By the time we hiked up the hill and through the narrow “close” to the Royal Mile it was drizzling.

But by the time we had walked up to the very top – to Edinburgh Castle – it was raining. Hard. And it didn’t let up for hours.

I had just been thinking that morning that I had bought a new umbrella for Alaska and Scotland and hadn’t used it yet …. And then the sky opened up.

We began at Edinburgh castle in the pouring rain – trying to share umbrellas and guarding expensive cameras from the water.

But with only a few hours to spend, we had to plough ahead – in spite of the rain!

FROM RICK STEVES:

The fortified birthplace of the city 1300 years ago, this imposing symbol of Edinburgh sits proudly on a rock high above you. While the castle has been both a fort and a royal residence since the 11th century, most of the buildings today are from its more recent use as a military garrison.

Edinburgh Castle is a collection of buildings within the perimeter of the outer wall … so every time we went from building to building it was out in the rain again.

Andrew got tired of trying to stay under the umbrella with me (and my purse) and got pretty wet. But he was wearing 2 jackets so he ended up staying pretty dry (except for his hair which was dripping wet in no time).

Andrew and I didn’t really want to do the guided tour at Edinburgh Castle. Mainly because since it was a free tour, there was a BIG group of people. But the other 4 did the tour and Andrew wanted to hear a Scottish person talk so we caught up with the group part way through.

Our tour guide was named Andrew (but bald with crazy teeth). He seemed nice and was knowledgeable – as far as we could tell in such a large group.

He walked us up by the Military prison, and then around near St. Margaret’s Chapel, and then dropped us off in the square near the Royal Palace and Crown Jewels.

FROM RICK STEVES:

Scotland’s crown jewels, though not as impressive as England’s, are older and treasured by the locals. Though Oliver Cromwell destroyed England’s jewels, the Scots managed to hide theirs. Longtime symbols of Scottish nationalism, they were made in Edinburgh – in 1540 for a 1543 coronation – out of Scottish diamonds, gems and gold… some say the personal gold of King Robert the Bruce. They were last used to crown Charles II in 1651.

When the Act of Union was forced upon the Scots in 1707 – dissolving Scotland’s Parliament into England’s to create the United Kingdom – part of the deal was that the Scots could keep their jewels locked up in Edinburgh. The jewels remained hidden for more than 100 years. In 1818, Sir Walter Scott and a royal commission rediscovered them intact. In 1999, for the first time in nearly 3 centuries, the crown of Scotland was brought from the castle for the opening of the Scottish Parliament.

The Stone of Scone (aka the Stone of Destiny) sits plain and strong next to the jewels. This big, gray chunk of rock is the coronation stone of Scotland’s ancient kings (9th century). Swiped by the English, it sat under the coronation chair at Westminster Abbey from 1296 until 1996. Queen Elizabeth finally agreed to let the stone go home on 1 condition: that it be returned to Westminster Abbey for all future coronations.

With major fanfare, Scotland’s treasured Stone of Scone returned to Edinburgh on St. Andrew’s Day, November 30, 1996.

So our tour guide Andrew left us in the square near the Crown Jewels. Really, the HEART of Edinburgh Castle.

At this time, we had quite the option of sites to see … 4 different buildings/exhibits off of that square alone.

 

Since the Crown Jewels seemed to have the longest line, we did that one first. There was a line outside (all the way through the middle of the square in the rain) that skipped all of the exhibit and just passed you into see the jewels themselves and then out again.

Then there was a door around the side of the building that took you through a whole exhibit and taught you about the history and all … and then to the Crown Jewels… So we thought, “History? Yes!” …. I love history – and I think my dad loves it even more.

Turns out though that SO MANY people were crowding inside to see the exhibit that we A) weren’t able to stop and read the exhibit because the swarm of people just kept pushing us along …. And B) We were literally shoulder-to-shoulder with the crowd so couldn’t get close enough to read the exhibit.

Oh well …

We DID get to see the Crown Jewels of Scotland – which are no longer actually used since Scotland united with England.

There is a sword, a crown and a scepter. All ancient. All luxurious.

Unfortunately, there was no photography allowed in the room … and I was just too close to a guard to get away with it.

Also with the Crown Jewels was the Stone of Destiny – only recently returned to Scotland. It’s a big, plain block of red sandstone (26”x16”x10”) used for coronations and must be returned to Westminster Abbey to sit beneath the coronation chair when Prince Charles (and/or Prince William) is crowned.

While being pushed and prodded along narrow hallways with WAY too many people, I was reminded of England’s Crown Jewels at the Tower of London. Those are kept in a much bigger space, and visitors are put on a conveyor belt. It’s a slow conveyor belt, but it still ensures visitors are all in and out in a timely manner.

*sidenote* As we were leaving the Crown Jewels, we passed through an open door that had 2 (count ‘em two!) combination locks set in the middle!

Then on to the Royal Palace (pretty sparse), the Great Hall and the Scottish National War Memorial (so cool).

{ 2 comments }

Scotland: Edinburgh in the morning

Returning to our Scotland adventures

I love cities. I love how much there is to see and do in cities!

So Tuesday morning we got up and left pretty early to have as much time as possible in the city.

We piled in the 2 cars around 7a or 730a and drove south.

Driving into (and parking all day in) the city of Edinburgh would no doubt be a HUGE pain … so Mom researched other options.

We ended up parking 30-40 minutes outside of the city and taking a bus into town. Only ₤5 round-trip each – and there were buses going all day (til late). It was one of the best decisions, for sure.

Interestingly, the bus offered free WiFi! It made me really sad I can’t take public transportation to and from work.

We got off the bus at the end of the line … Near (I think) St. James street, in the newer part of downtown.

We ended up walking maybe 8 or 10 blocks … headed to the very top of the Royal Mile – the oldest part of the city and at the top of the hill.

***

It’s not a vacation until somebody gets hurt.

That’s something Angela told me once. Not a cheerful thought, but nevertheless true.

As we were walking from the downtown train/bus station to the Royal Mile, Chelsea tripped and fell!

She tumbled across some big stone tiles, dripping her big nice camera in the process.

The camera was fine, but Chelsea skinned up her knee and the palm of her hand… Sad!

***

About Edinburgh FROM RICK STEVES:

‘The Royal Mile is one of Europe’s most interesting historic walks. Consisting of a series of 4 different streets – Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street and Cannongate – the Royal Mile is actually 200 yards longer than a mile.

As you walk, remember there were originally 2 settlements here, divided by a wall…

Edinburgh is the historical and cultural capital of Scotland. Once a medieval powerhouse sitting on a lava flow, it grew into Europe’s first great grid-planned modern city. The colorful hometown of Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns, Edinburgh is Scotland’s showpiece and one of Europe’s most entertaining cities. Historic, monumental, fun, and well-organized, it’s a tourist’s delight – especially in August, when Edinburgh Festival takes over the town.

Promenade down the Royal Mile through Old Town. Historic buildings pack the Royal Mile between the grand castle (on the top) and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (on the bottom). Medieval skyscrapers stand shoulder to shoulder, hiding peaceful courtyards connected to the High Street by narrow lanes or even tunnels. This colorful jumble is the tourist’s Edinburgh.

Edinburgh was once the most crowded city in Europe – famed for its skyscrapers and filth. The rich and poor lived atop one another. In the Age of Enlightenment, a magnificent Georgian city (today’s New Town) was laid out to the north, giving Edinburgh’s upper class a respectable place to promenade.”

I love how much history there is in old European cities …

I love thinking about how many people – big historical personalities all the way down to nobodies – lived and worked and loved and cried on the very streets where I’m walking.

Conquering armies lay siege to Edinburgh from this same spot. Grave robbers hid bodies not far away. The current Duke of Edinburgh is married to the Queen of England for goodness sake!

I love history!

(and I don’t care how nerdy it is)

{ 1 comment }

Another 2011 vacation!!

That’s right – Andrew and I are going on 2 (count ‘em TWO!) big vacations this year!

Both happen to be in the summer …. and both with family….

We’re not wealthy … Just lucky :)

August 2011 we will be spending a week in SCOTLAND!

{The original plan was to go to Ireland and I was going to get this guidebook, but Scotland will do just fine!}

First, let’s look at the weather …

According to one of the main Scotland tourism sites:

So …. that sounds fun :) Good thing I recently got some cute rainboots! PLUS: We’ve already been caught in the rain while on vacation … I’m sure it’ll be fun!

The city we’ll be based out of:

We’ll be staying the whole week in Aberfeldy, Scotland ….

It’s about 1 hour from Edinburgh, 1 hour from Glasgow and a couple hours from Loch Ness.

Obviously, all those things will keep us quite busy ….

Not to mention the features of Aberfeldy itself – including:

Yes, these are the kinds of things we can look forward to!

Frankly, it sounds like a REALLY small town – no theater (movie or otherwise) and a population of less than 2000?!

Awesome…

Accomodations:

My parents got a timeshare at Moness Resort in Aberfeldy. ….. Basically a furnished condo for the week

We’ll be going with my parents, my brother and his girlfriend (Chelsea) …. so the 6 of us will be all in a 2 or 3 bedroom cottage for the week.

One of my constant memories from going on vacations with my family growing up is always going grocery shopping when we reached our destination – because our timeshare unit always had a full kitchen.

Can’t wait to see how that is the same and different in Scotland!

The grounds of this resort look GORGEOUS!

Can’t wait!

That’s all I’ve got for now!

I have the Rick Steves Scotland guidebook in my Amazon cart ready to be purchased ….

I’ve been searching out other travelers’ photos of Edinburgh and Scotland….

I even found this Design*Sponge guide to Edinburgh shopping and food, etc. ….

SO MUCH looking forward to it!!!!

P.S. All Alaska and Scotland posts will eventually end up in the TCS Travel archive …. Have you checked it out yet?

{ 2 comments }