The walk into Edinburgh was only about 20 minutes, and it started along beautiful homes and a pretty canal. It ended with Edinburgh Castle rising slowly into view on its rock in the middle of the city. To say Edinburgh is beautiful is like saying a Ferrari is “kinda pricey.” This may be the most gorgeous city we have ever seen. There are buildings and houses that are centuries old stacked in picturesque disarray forming curving streets, tiny alleyways (called closes) and a chimney-filled skyline that looks like something out of Mary Poppins.
Like all good tourists we made our first stop the castle. Built on an extinct volcano in the middle of the city, Edinburgh Castle is at one end of a sharply sloping street known as the Royal Mile which ends (one mile later) at Holyrood Palace where the Royal Family stays when they’re in Edinburgh. At the castle, we took a guided tour of the grounds, and spent about five hours just soaking up the history and architecture despite the on-and-off rain and my “welcome-to-Scotland” cold. There were some amusing period re-enactors who kept us entertained by describing the typical life of a soldier in the 16th century. After five hours at the castle, we were spent, so we returned to our couch-surfing host where we watched the last Harry Potter movie on her groovy 3D TV before retiring for the night.
The next day was a gorgeous day in Edinburgh, so we headed back to the Royal Mile to wander the touristy shops. The first was a woolen mill where they weave tartans and make kilts by hand. The tartan weaving process was fascinating – dozens and dozens of threads carefully lined up one at a time to make the patterns according to exacting standards. While Stephanie marveled at the process of cloth-making, I resisted the temptation to pick up a genuine Scottish-made kilt.
We ambled down the Royal Mile to Arthur’s Seat – another extinct volcano, and climbed to the top. We purposefully chose the more strenuous path, but accidentally also chose the longest path. Each time we reached what we thought was the peak, we would look up and see another peak looming above us. After two peaks I was convinced we had made it to Arthur’s Seat despite the lack of labeling, and was ready to head down. Stephanie’s curiosity got the better of us though, and so we trekked up the third peak we could see. We were rewarded with a rock that *did* say Arthur’s Seat on it, a sweeping panorama of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth (funnily, a fjord near Fife).
The next day, our second host, Jason, came into town with us, and showed us all kinds of things we would never have found on our own, including Poundland – the UK equivalent of a Dollar Store (very important when you’re on a budget), and Carphone Warehouse where we picked up a European pay-as-you-go phone for only £15 (very important when you’re trying to contact hosts when your bus is running late.) Jason showed us some sites we might have missed before joining us on a 3.5 hour walking tour of Edinburgh.
Our last day in Edinburgh we were again on our own and we decided to finally get to some of the museums we were so excited to see (but avoided prior to this day due to the amazingly good weather we were having!). We first made a stop at the cemetery containing the headstone of Tom Riddell – inspiration for Tom Riddle in the Harry Potter series. There are many great Harry Potter sites in J.K. Rowling’s hometown of Edinburgh, including The Elephant Café where she supposedly wrote the first book, and George Heriot’s school – the inspiration for Hogwarts.
Next we tried to go through six floors(!) of The Scottish Museum, which houses some amazing exhibitions such as those on the Vikings who came to Scotland, and the original “maiden” – prototype to what would come to be known as the guillotine. We learned all about pounds and shillings at the Museum of the Bank of Scotland where we struck our own “coins,” and saw some wonderful paintings at the National Gallery, where Elliott determined that very few people seemed to smile for their portraits.
Between visits to museums, we wandered down into Princes Gardens, where we could hear the sound of drums beating loudly. At first I thought it was a single artist, then we thought maybe a marching band, and finally when we walked towards the park we could see it was many, many musical groups. There were the Chinese dancer/cheerleaders, the drumming group, the blues group, the Chinese dragon & lion dancers. We only watched five or six groups but they were all unique and interesting and fun, and served to help usher Edinburgh into its annual festival season.
(The last 4 photos are all you Hary Potter fans)