Bright and early Saturday morning, we met Andrew at King’s Cross Station to catch our first class train (oh you fancy, huh?) north to Scotland. After Andrew and I took our much-anticipated photo opp at Platform 9 3/4 (Dan just doesn’t get it…), we boarded and enjoyed a full breakfast, wifi, and the chance to take in the beautiful English countryside en route to Edinburgh.
First off, Edinburgh, as those who’ve gone before us have encouraged, is simply amazing. Based on our first impression coming out of the station, I doubt there will be many other places that we go that could top this city from an aesthetic point of view. I promise, the photos don’t do it justice!
After stowing our luggage in lockers, we rushed to catch the free afternoon walking tour of the old city and couldn’t believe our luck for $free.99 (one of Dan’s favorite terms)! Albeit freezing, walking with a guide for the next three hours helped shape our understanding of the incredible history standing all around us. With epic views of the Edinburgh castle standing in the backdrop, we saw winding cobblestone streets, beautiful churches, and so many gorgeous old buildings; all while hearing historic tales that brought the sites to life. While a great place to live in recent years, we also learned of the dark history of Edinburgh and some of the not-so-amazing things it’s known for like grave robbing, paranormal activity, terrible living conditions, and public execution. Did you know that up until just a couple years ago that the University of Edinburgh was the only university you could earn a degree in paranormal studies?!
We walked through Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, the graveyard known for the Greyfriar’s Bobby memorial (constructed in homage to the loyalty of a Skye Terrier who sat atop his owner’s grave daily for fourteen years) and aptly nicknamed lasagna for the sheer number of bodies buried within it over the centuries (use your imagination…yuck!). This is also the yard whose tombstones J.K. Rowling perused for naming inspiration when authoring the Harry Potter series in a local Edinburgh cafe; the balding grass of Tom Riddle and William McGonagal’s sites bearing evidence that Harry Potter fans can’t be slowed for reverence of the dead. I’m not sure poor Tom Riddle’s story, but JK couldn’t have anticipated the windfall of her character’s infamy on that poor man’s legacy.
Some of my favorite facts from our history lesson included the meaning behind the term shit-faced, named for those unfortunate or drunk enough to look up during the designated evening time slot for chamber pot extraction that happened to coincide with the last call for the pubs. Another noteworthy takeaway was the original meaning behind the ‘graveyard shift’ which was named for family members of the deceased literally taking turns guarding the graves of loved ones for their first couple weeks underground so that the local grave robbers couldn’t exhume their bodies to sell for highly paid medical school specimens. Thankfully, after a certain number of days, nature had taken its course enough to relieve them of such morbid duties.
I am sure our tour guide would be disappointed in my personal highlight reel of her generous tour, but needless to say, it was an afternoon well spent and we were pooped. We retreated to our cozy Airbnb and looked for a good spot for dinner. We yelped a Japanese restaurant that would offer a nice reprieve from pub food, but on our way there, we passed the Royal Lyceum theater and couldn’t resist seeing what was playing. On a whim and the favor of three free tickets scored five minutes before curtain call, we regrettably spent the next hour and a half trying to discern thick Scottish accents in what we are sure was the worst and weirdest play any of us have ever witnessed. Do yourself a favor and avoid Caucasian Chalk Circle should the opportunity ever present itself. Always grateful for a good story though, we snuck out at intermission and enjoyed fantastic sushi and sze chuan nearby to round out the eve.
Sunday morning after scarfing the free children’s cereal our Airbnb host kindly left us (cocoa crisps are still amazing!) we were castle bound. The Edinburgh Castle sits atop a crag, an incredibly steep mountain of volcanic rock jutting out of the middle of the city and boasting a jarring drop, and has served as the center for Scottish rule, and therefore battle, for almost a thousand years. In fact, the oldest building in the city, the Church of St. Margaret, dates to the early 12th century and is a small stone alcove nestled within the castle walls. Public weddings still occur here! As interesting as our excursion was, the cold and rain made for a quick tour; the Scottish crown jewels being my favorite stop.
After yet another wonderful pub lunch where we sampled Irish stew and steak ale pie, the boys set out to climb up to the Holyrood Palace, a 40 minute uphill walk, and I opted to nurse my lingering cold over some laundry and a couple overdue episodes of The Bachelor; priorities people. We have greatly enjoyed our time in this fantastic city and look forward to seeing what the rest of Scotland has to offer as we set out to see Loch Ness and Ben Nevis in the Highlands tomorrow…