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  • Devin Gackle

Journals from Across the Pond: 3 Days in Edinburgh, Scotland (Day 2)

The next day we were given a more extensive tour of the city with a delightfully enthusiastic local woman wearing a plaid skirt and light green tweed jacket as our guide. She first took us to the picturesque little neighborhood of Dean’s Village. We walked around a little, taking photos of the quaint, squash buildings and architecture before heading to Old Town.

She told us more about the city’s history, point out specific buildings, and even taking us to a cemetery, where we learned about gravediggers. After that we returned to Grassmarket, when we took a coffee break from the tour. A bunch of us tried out a vegan coffee shop called Pumpkin Brown; I had a matcha latte, which, though not as good as other matcha lattes I’ve had, had a fruity taste to it, which was interesting.

After that we were led around to more unique and historic buildings, poking into side streets, standing outside the historic church of St. Giles, and gaping in awe at the street performers. These performers—one a witch, one a wizard with a unicorn (Scotland’s national animal)—were in costumes that had the appearance of wood chips, and they appeared to be levitating! I saw another later, who was dressed as a creepy Victorian doll; she simply stood there with music-box-like music at her side as passers-by took pictures. It was awesome.

Next on the agenda was none other than Edinburgh Castle. Walking its bridge to the inside is exactly like you’d think walking into a medieval castle fortress would be, bridge stretching farther than it seems, gate raised and flanked on either side by stone soldiers (one of whom is William Wallace). You can enter many corridors of the castle from the courtyard, and each leads to a different part; a good portion of the castle is made up of the outbuildings and fortress around it as well.

After our local guide explained much of the castle’s history, we were free to explore on our own for the rest of the day. Many of us chose to wander parts of the castle, and broke off into groups. My group only explored a few of the areas:

  • The Scottish Crown Jewels: We waited in the line that stretched out into the courtyard to see the Scottish crown jewels. Photos aren’t allowed in this room, so you’ll just have to take my word they’re worth seeing. We headed up some winding stairs and follow the line through the jewels and staffs and treasures encased in glass, reading descriptions of each item.

  • A room whose walls are lined with swords and suits of armor.

  • The room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI, which is actually a tiny chamber the size of a closet just off the side of a larger room.

  • The cannon shooting: Our local guide had explained that there was a tradition of shooting off a cannon at one o’clock—in the past the shooting of the cannon at this time was a way to let sailors at sea know the time. A few of us stuck around to watch the cannon shooting.

After leaving the castle we made our way back down to Grassmarket to find somewhere to eat lunch. A few of us headed up Victoria Street to Oink, a little sandwich shop that makes only pulled pork sandwiches. How it works is you can choose different spreads and sauces to go on it—for myself, I chose a haggis spread and applesauce. Though the haggis was in a different form, it was still spiced well and, for me anyway, completed the deliciousness.

Our next stop was Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano known for its incredible views of the city. (No, not King Arthur.) If you are at all into nature, hiking, and/or spectacular views, I recommend it. There are several paths you can take; some go around the cliff, some go to the top. What was confusing for us was it wasn’t very straightforward—it really depends what side you start on.

For us, the most visible path was the most direct, winding around the mountain, and as we walked it, clumps of heather flanked the path, scattered in dry grasses and stone. The cliffs loomed on one side like Pride Rock, Edinburgh resting below on the other. We were halfway around before we realized the path wasn’t going to go up!

The path up was less direct; we missed it the first time around since it was surrounded by rock. It involved a little actual climbing, then walking up the slanted cliffside to the edge overlooking the city. It’s the kind of view where you really can see everything, and sitting there on a rocky perch, trivial things seem so small.

We determined to hike down the other side, as the peak had shown us we were near Holyrood, and took a slightly treacherous off-the-beaten-path down to the street below. Holyrood Palace was across the street, so we spent a little time admiring it as we walked toward the Royal Mile, and headed up its incline. We spent some time browsing the mile’s shops before heading over to Greyfriar’s Bobby, the meet-up place for a tour we planned on taking.

Greyfriar’s Bobby is a highly recommended pub in Edinburgh, named after a little dog named Bobby, the Skye Terrier famous for guarding the grave of John Gray, his master, until his own death. It’s well known for its traditional Scottish food, beer, and a statue of Bobby himself. Another group from our tour arrived there not long after us, and we all sat down with a pint for some conversation.

Those of us going on the little excursion finished up and went outside to meet the guide who would take us on a Harry Potter tour around the city. Admittedly, I’m not really into Harry Potter. I’ve seen all the movies, and enjoyed them, but I haven’t read the books; I went on the tour for my friends, because it sounded interesting, and because I thought it’d be a cool way to see more of the city—and it was.

Our guide was a delightful character who had spiky purple hair and glasses, and wore a rubber-ducky patterned sweater and slacks under a long black cloak. He came equipped with enthusiasm and a bag of wands for all of us. He even taught us a spell he came up with for changing pedestrian walk lights from stop to go: rossio lumus.

It was exciting and unique to see the city as a source of endless inspiration as we were guided through a graveyard, down side streets, and up main streets while our guide explained what buildings, names on graves, and streets were thought to have inspired J.K. Rowling during her time there. (A few for instances: Victoria Street may have inspired Diagon Alley, Edinburgh Castle may be the model for Hogwarts, and names like McGonnegal and Thomas Riddle appear on grave markers in the same cemetery.) Our walk-light spell even worked a few times ;)

The tour ended at Victoria Terrace, and some of us then went back to Greyfriar’s Bobby for dinner. I had the cheddar pie, which was like a pot pie with potatoes, cheese, and spinach, and there were the delicious sides of mashed potatoes with gravy, and cabbage and carrots. It was so good! (I’m getting hungry just remembering…)

Afterward we just walked around more, popping into shops until we decided to go back to the hotel. We spent the rest of the evening lounging around with our fellow travelers, telling tales and laughing late into the night.

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