Monday, February 2, 2009

Destination: Edinburgh

Here I am, back at the blog again.  After quite the demanding academic week, I was pleased to be embarking on weekend trip #3.  Destination: Edinburgh!  It is becoming more real every time I say "This weekend I am going to ________".  Before I actual got here I knew where I was going to go, but it was still hard to really understand all I would see and do.  Honestly I didn't even know what I was going to see in Scotland besides a kilt!  Don't worry-I saw a lot more than men in plaid skirts.Friday morning at 8 am we loaded the coaches.  The ritual is familiar and it is somewhat nice to know that I will have time for a nap and a good read before hitting the Scottish Highlands.  The coach ride was about 6 hours and we hit lots of traffic coming into the Edinburgh City Centre.  I think there was an accident close to our hotel which prolonged unloading and checking in.  Once all that was sorted out, Laurel and I decided to go to the National Gallery first.  This was only a block from our hotel and was free.  There was lots of Scottish art and other art as well.  After we were culturally fulfilled, we went up to the Royal Mile.  Edinburgh is very easy to get around and walkable.  

Scotland is known for lots of distinctive things-shortbread, family clans, kilts, bagpipes, wool, cashmere, plaid.  One of the most distinctive things is whiskey.  There are pubs everywhere and the people are very proud of their whiskey. So to get the full Scottish experience, Laurel and I went to the "Scotch Whiskey Experience." Normally this is an exhibit where you learn about how whiskey is made and the history behind the drink.  It even includes a ride in a whiskey barrel!  We were awfully excited about the ride in the whiskey barrel! Sadly, when we arrived at the place, the man at the counter told us that the attraction was under renovation and it was only a presentation and tasting-no ride.  Disappointed we still did the presentation and the tasting.  It did turn out to be interesting and I learned a lot about whiskey production.  We tasted two whiskeys-both were so strong!  The leader showed us how to examine the color, swirl the drink in the glass, smell the flavor, and then drink up! I haven't really gained an
 affinity for the whiskey, but it was an experience and we even got a souvenir whiskey glass-can't go wrong with that take home prize.

By this time our stomachs were wanting a little more than a sip of whiskey.  It was dinner time.  Now eating while traveling is very much an art.  Everywhere we have been so far American chains line the streets.  Burger King, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and KFC are all around and oh so tempting, but I determined to withstand them.  I refuse (at least so far) to eat at these places (I have only had one Starbucks drink too!).  I want to get a feel for the culture and the best way to do that is to eat where the locals do.  The other trick to this tedious task is to find a place
 within a traveling college student's budget.  This can prove difficult, but it is doable with some careful preparation.  Like I said, Edinburgh is an easy city to navigate and so it makes it even easier to find eateries just a bit off the beaten path.  I had read online about this place called the "Mosque Kitchen."  The review claimed that this place provided large amounts of food for cheap prices-right up my alley!  After a little bit of a directional challenge we found the Mosque (yes this place was literally in a mosque), but we were unsure about where the food was.  Laurel asked a man coming out of the Mosque and told us it was around back.  We eventually found it.  You went in to order and ate outside in a covered, yet exposed area.  
It was so interesting.  This was right on the edge of the University of Edinburgh and there were a few tables of college students as well as other locals and some people just finishing worship at the Mosque I think.  
The food was very good.  I had chicken curry and vegetables. The bowl of food was more than I could eat and I was happy to find a place that was a unique, hidden gem.  We get a gold star in the "Experienced Cultural Diversity" box!

We wanted to get a taste of true Scottish culture too, and what better way to do that than a pub with live music.  By this time is was about 7 pm and we were ready for some music before going back to the hotel.  I had read about a pub that was supposedly the best place to hear Scottish music in Edinburgh.  We quickly found it, ordered our drinks and sat down.  The place was so little!  There was no music and I was highly confused how a band of any kind would fit in here, but here we were experiencing Scotland.  After a time we asked when the music would start.  The bar tender said 9:30 pm!  That was in 2 hours!  This was a great people watching place, but not for 2 hours.  So we went back to the hotel and watched some hilarious British TV and
 waited until 10 or so to go back.  Once we got back the pub was quite full and there were some musicians stuffed in the back corner.  We kind of just stood around (remember we have been here once already and this is a small place-we stick out!).  Soon enough two older men start talking to us.  They wanted to know where we were from, why we were here, and on and on.  They bought us a drink (although we didn't really want one because we had had one before) and we talked for quite awhile.  It was one of the most hilarious hours of my life because the accent is so hard to understand and the people are so funny-this made for an interesting conversation.  These men had an opinion about everything, and truly provided a look into a normal Scottish mindset.  Eventually we left there having made new friends and laughing all the way back to the hotel.  Another gold star for "Chatted it up with crazy, old Scottish men." 
The Royal Mile is situated between the most visible landmarks in Edinburgh, the castle and Arthur's Seat.  Day 2 first item of business: Climb Arthur's Seat.  Arthur's Seat is an old, inactive volcano and provides wonderful views of the city from on top.  I had read that the hike to the top only took 20 minutes.  Looking at the big hill and reading the guide book you wouldn't think that is would be that difficult to reach the top-you would be mistaken.  After taking a path that wasn't really necessary, we finally got going the right direction.  We walked around the base of the hill and eventually started to look at the literature from the park service and realized that it was 20 minute hike from a certain path to the top.  It had taken us about an hour to get to the path.  Still, we wanted to get to the top!  Off we go.  It is pretty steep all the way up and it gets fairly rocky as well.  The  main factor that made this trip such a struggle was the wind.  Oh goodness.  The wind was CRAZY!!  Once we got to the top I had to hold on to the rock so that I didn't fall over.  It was nearly impossible to take pictures.  My hat flew off as we were trying to snap a picture.  
You can see Edinburgh Castle in the distance. It took a bit to get down from the top, but we did and it was worth the amazing view of the city.  That took quite a while and by now we were hungry (somehow it always comes back to the food).  I had read about a cheap place called Tempting Tatties.  We found it easily.  We first tried to open the door and were baffled that it was locked (if we would have read the sign we would have known that the place opened in 10 minutes).  The owner let us in and pondered the menu.  There were so many toppings and they all went on a baked potato.  I finally decided on a potato with Chicken, sweet corn, red onions, and mayonnaise.  Imagine a well cooked potato with lots of butter, cheddar cheese, and three scoops of mayonnaise salad-that was my lunch.  It probably weighed at least 2 pounds.  I could hardly eat 1/3 of it.  It was delicious and I was happy to have found the place.  The whole meal was only 4.50 pounds (that included a bottled drink).  Yep-I should have my own tv show. 
A little shopping and a long trip to the Edinburgh Castle filled up the afternoon.  The castle houses the Scottish Crown Jewels and has lots of other great things to see.  It also provided a good view of the city.  Back to the hotel we went.  Nap time followed by a good dinner at Pizza Express.  This place is a lot nicer than it sounds and Laurel and I both had great food.  
Day 3.  Destination: Harlaxton Manor w/detours.  We boarded the coach early the next morning (only after we overslept a bit...oops!).  The first on route stop was a stone that said Scotland on one side and England on the other.  It was very cold and windy again, so we think as a group that we probably had a record for the most pictures at the stone in the least amount of time.  On to Hadrian's Wall.  This wall was built nearly 2000 years ago around the time of the Roman invasion.  It marked the northern boarder of England.  It is amazing to think that the stones I stood on had been there for thousands of years!  You can see the wall stretch across the countryside.  The wall is shorter than it was in its time, but the magnitude of the structure is amazing.  Of course, this was cold and windy too! Back to the bus.  
This is me at Hadrian's wall.  You can see how the wall keeps going into the distance.
Next stop: Durham.  This was the lunch stop and you could also go see the Cathedral and Castle or just shop and look around.  We had a good lunch at an Italian place and made our way to the Cathedral in time to snap a few photos, grab a take-away (this is how they say to-go) mocha, and hit the road back to Harlaxton.  Throughout the whole day we traveled through the beautiful Scottish countryside.  I had trouble focusing on my reading because it was so nice just to stare out the window and enjoy the tunes on my iPod.  
This is me in front of Durham Cathedral.  
Edinburgh was a place preserved in time through the traditions that make it unique.  I enjoyed the people so much and loved the scenery as well.  Despite the wind it was a wonderful trip!  Coming up next on this blog: Harlaxton in the Snow.


  1. I love imagining you making friends with strangers in bars! Ha! I'm glad you're enjoying yourself and getting to se absolutely beautiful places!

  2. Oh my gosh, I'm so jealous!!! It sounds like you're having such an adventurous time! Aren't old guys in bars hilarious???!