Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The United Kingdom: Scotland bound & Day in Edinburgh

I'll combine 2 days in this post, because our travel day between London & Edinburgh doesn't have really anything of note to blog about. We flew up there, got into our hotel in Edinburgh and then Aaron went our and about in Edinburgh while I took a nap (man, even blogging about how much I slept makes me feel lame... but pregnancy+travel=Miranda is a zombie unless she sleeps like 16 hours every day). Aaron actually loved being on his own and even got to knock out a pub or two that he had read about.

When he got back, I was ready for dinner! We went to a restaurant and I finally tried Haggis! They were in the form of bonbons, but still as salty and savory as ever. They actually are not bad at all as long as you don't really think too hard about what you are eating.

Right across the street from our restaurant was the Elephant House, which is the tea shop where JK Rowling wrote the first draft of the first Harry Potter book!

And that was really all we did on our first day in Edinburgh Scotland!

The next day was a full day in Edinburgh exploring! When I was last in Scotland, I only was able to spend about 3 hours in Edinburgh and so didn't get to see very much aside from the royal mile and Calton Hill. Luckily Edinburgh is pretty easy to do in a few days, and if you are very meager with your itinerary, there is enough to see in a day, like we did.

So our first stop of the was the Royal Mile and making our way up toward the Castle. We stopped into St Gile's Cathedral and walked around taking in all the windows and architecture.

We took our time making our way down the Royal Mile, stopping in souvenir shops and boutiques and enjoying all the traditions of Edinburgh, including spitting on the Heart of Midlothian. The heart laid in the sidewalk outside St Gile's Cathedral marks the spot where a form prison entrance stood and was where executions took place. The spitting tradition began as a way to mark the people's hatred of the prison, but is now done for good luck.

mingling with the locals

This use to be a church of course, but now is a coffee house and visitors centre

awesome pub name!

Then we headed to Edinburgh castle at the top of the Royal Mile Hill. I was so impressed by how awesome the exhibits and displays are! From the crown jewels of Scotland to the One O'Clock gun, it was such a fun castle to explore!

a view of Calton Hill

manning the canons 

heavy artillery 

recreated soldiers barracks

We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne. Tasting Scotch

a cemetery for soldiers dogs! 

View of Edinburgh below and what use to be a festering moat

a grand old flag
the line to get into the crown jewels
One of my favorite things was seeing the Stone of Skoon, or the Stone of Destiny as it is also called. It was used as throne of Scotland for ages and ages, until it was taken by England and would be placed until the English throne at every coronation of a king or Queen as a way of signifying their dominion over the Scottish people. It was just recently returned to Scotland to be on display in their capital.

After Edinburgh Castle we kept meandering down the Royal Mile exploring random streets and stopped into a local pub that Aaron had heard great things about and had a pint (for Aaron, not me).

We then came upon Greyfriars kirkyard (cemetery) and a most adorable store of a dog names Greyfriars Bobby! Apparently this dog stood guard over his owners grave for nearly 14 years until his own death. He was well known in the area and has since had books and TV shows based on him and his mythical adventures in the kirkyard.

As you can see in the pictures, it had started to rain while we were exploring, so we decided it was a good time for lunch. Sadly pregnancy downer struck again and as we check the menus of local pubs, everything sounded disgusting! I am usually easy going as far at picking food, but I was not having any of the local cuisine. We passed a Subway, and Aaron made a joke about going for lunch there, but as I laughed and looked at the sign, I suddenly realized that Subway sounded delicious... and then I instantly felt shame. haha! Aaron laughed so hard at me and then we raced into the Subway to a very satisfying lunch.

me and my American food shame
We finished lunch in perfect time to make our afternoon tour of the Edinburgh catacombs! I had heard about the haunted catacombs underneath the city and had made a point to put the tour as one of my top tourist MUSTS for when we went. I am such a sucker for haunted tours of old cities... probably because while I really don't believe in hauntings, I do like hearing ghost stories! I also made a point to schedule our tour for during the day, so on the off chance that we were legitimately scared, we would leave the tour in broad daylight and have plenty of time to recover our wits before it got dark out.

The catacombs tour was really awesome! We did the historical version, that mainly just tells creepy legends and true historical facts about the area, with a little bit of ghost folklore thrown in, but no special affects or costumed corpses to jump out and scare you. The historical stories are way better anyway, because you are left to your imagination to bring the creepiness to life. So, basically the catacombs use to act as storage cellars and rooms behind the local shops of the area... but during the plague it started to be where all the rejects of society and sick people would go to live and eventually die. Then there were witch covens and paranormal nerd who took up residence and brought all sorts of further creepiness to the vaults. There were stories of prostitutes that were murdered and now haunt the halls and spirits that tortured the people who would walk around back there. I was thoroughly entertained by it all the whole time.

creepy gargoyle
It was all fun and games though until we moved into the section of time not to far back in history (only a decade or so) where there were stories of witchcraft and one particular recounting of a spirit that attacked people who entered into a ring of stones in one particular room. Stories of people's backs being scratched and blood curdling screams and tales of being able to see an evil demon crawling on the ceiling above the ring of stones during a witchcraft ceremony. I can say I don't believe any of it, but there was enough of me that sort of did and when the tour guide told us we could step into the stones at our own risk, I politely passed.

the haunted ring of stones
That was the last story of the tour, so we were able to leave after that and make our way out into the sunny daylight! The rain had completely cleared up, so we were able to continue out city exploring!

this pub stands where the wall around Edinburgh use to be and therefore was where the city ended

the newly build Parliament building... which in my opinion is a complete eyesore!
 We walked down the Royal Mile all the way until the end where it runs into Hollyrood House, which is the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots. Unfortunately it closed just 10 minutes before we got to the gates, so we missed out on being able to take a tour.
Hollyrood House

locked out

Such a beautiful royal home

A view of Arthur's Seat from Hollyrood House
If I hadn't been pregnant, we probably would have attempted to hike the mountain because it is supposed to afford spectacular views of the city from the top.

Instead we headed over to Calton Hill, which climbs up out of the center of the city and offers some great views itself!

Scottish Thistles

the top of Calton Hill

standing above Edinburgh

another view of Arthur's Seat from the top of Calton Hill

We walked through a cemetery to get down the hill
We finished up the day feeling that we had accomplished everything we wanted to and were ready to say goodbye to Edinburgh and begin our tour through the Highlands the following day. We ate dinner at a pub (of course), which had the absolutely slowest service! But still a banner day!

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