We had done no research on the city or what we wanted to see prior to getting on the plane, but I grabbed Frommer’s Europe from $85 a Day (a tour book that Andrew recently purchased but we had yet to use) before we left the house because it had a chapter on “Edinburgh & Environs”. I looked through that on the plane and numbered everything it listed as 1) must see; 2) would like to see; 3) kind of would like to see if time permits; and no number meant I didn’t care to see it at all. There were five ones, so I mapped off the most time-saving course for us and after we checked in at the B&B, we moved along on our way!
The first thing on the list, of course, was Edinburgh Castle. We climbed the hill from our B&B, and as we neared the top of the rise, we could see the Castle looming over the cliffs above us. It is truly an amazing sight. Because it was so early on a Friday morning (it had only opened about an hour before we arrived), the line had hardly formed, so we were able to make our way inside pretty easily. It rained quite a bit that morning as we were wandering the Castle grounds, but we tried to dodge the rain whenever possible by ducking in to view some of the indoor sights while the rain came down. Inside the Castle grounds we enjoyed amazing views over Edinburgh from the lookout; we visited the National War Museum of Scotland, Scottish National War Memorial, Prisons of War Exhibition and, my personal favourite, the Honours of Scotland, or the Crown Jewels.
When we finished touring the Castle, we walked back down the hill to the city and on to the National Museum of Scotland, where, despite our map and audio tour, we managed to get incredibly lost. We wandered around for a good while and then skipped a lot to check out the roof terrace and head to lunch!
We lunched at a little pub nearby the Museum and next door to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. It was called Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar. Here’s the story behind the bar and the statue of the little dog out front:
“In 1858, a man named John Gray was buried in old Greyfriars Churchyard. His grave levelled by the hand of time, and unmarked by any stone, became scarcely discernible; but, although no human interest seemed to attach to it.
The sacred spot was not wholly disregarded or forgotten. For fourteen years the dead man's faithful dog kept constant watch and guard over the grave until his own death in 1872.
The famous Skye Terrier, Greyfriars Bobby was so devoted to his master John Gray, even in death, for fourteen years Bobby lay on the grave only leaving for food.
It is reported that a daily occurance of people from all walks of life would stand at the entrance of the Kirkyard waiting for the one o'clock gun and the appearance of Bobby leaving the grave for his midday meal.”
[extracted from www.greyfriarsbobby.co.uk]
We’ll come back to the little dog later…
After lunch we decided that we were a bit tired of museums and sightseeing (as I knew we would be when I mapped out our course for the day), so we went to the Brass Rubbing Centre to do a little artwork. We really weren’t sure what this was going to be like; the book didn’t tell a whole lot about it. Basically, they just have a lot of brass tablets with all kinds of different designs; you choose the one you want, and they’ll set it up for you with paper and show you how to do it, then you just rub the wax over the paper. It’s as simple as that! Andrew chose a king (I forget which one)...
...and I chose a Celtic cross, which I know doesn’t make sense because we were in Scotland, not Ireland, but I thought it was pretty. We did our little brass rubbings (quite cheap, too, only about £5 each) just before they closed the Centre, and we moved on to the next spot on our list!
The next spot was just across the road: the Museum of Childhood. Anyone who has ever visited a toy store with Andrew will know why I marked the Museum of Childhood, a museum full of toys for children, as a number one must see. [Andrew often gets thrown out of toy stores for playing with or even breaking the toys. Offhand I can think of two examples when toy store employees yelled at him for playing – Bruges and Rome.] The Museum was actually kind of a let-down. Most of the toys were collectables behind glass, but it was interesting nonetheless.
By the time we left, it was 5pm, so we planned to make our way back to the hotel for a quick kip before heading out for dinner and night time ghost tour! On the way back, however, we popped into the Nutcracker Christmas Shop where we ran into a college student wearing a University of Alabama Supply Store backpack and chatted with him for a moment. He’s living in London doing an internship, so we invited him to look us up and come watch some Bama games with us and the UA London Alumni Club this fall. The world really is incredibly small. What are the chances of our meeting a kid from UA in Edinburgh (and the real kicker) at a Christmas shop in the middle of July?!
Also on the way back to the B&B, we were mesmerised by juggling street performer with an odd petulance for Americans and dumped on by the sky. Andrew had realised once we arrived that he forgot his coat, rain jacket and umbrella for this cold, rainy weekend in Scotland, so when it began to rain, we ducked into a pub for a quick pint. The pub just happened to be one that I’d marked in the tour book. It was called Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, named after Deacon William Brodie, the man who inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. While we were there, we talked about what we would do the next day, made bookings for that night’s and the next night’s suppers and decided on which ghost tour to take that night.
When it stopped raining, we left to go buy Andrew a rain jacket and / or umbrella, only to discover that everything closed at 6pm, and it was about 6:05! We couldn’t find one place that was open, which we found quite strange for a Friday night. Even London shops stay open until 8 or 9pm on Fridays, though they mostly close at 6pm the rest of the evenings through the week. With no luck, we headed back to the B&B and took a quick nap before getting up and heading out to dinner. We made a booking at a place called Dubh Prais (pronounced “doo-prash”). We ordered traditional Scottish haggis as a starter. Luckily, the waiter refused to tell us what was in it until after we’d eaten (half) of it. It was so salty that neither of us could finish it; we liked it, but will probably never order it again! When we finished eating we had to run out to make it to our ghost tour!
The ghost tour we decided to take (okay – for those of you who know us – the one I decided to take) was called the City of the Dead cemetery tour and was supposed to take us through parts of the Greyfriar’s Kirkyard that aren’t open to the public. It was so much fun. Andrew and volunteered at the beginning in a Braveheartesque demonstration of Scottish warfare. Andrew was the Roman general, and was part of his army. The Scottish kicked our butts. The tour took us into the cemetery where the guide told us the REAL story behind Greyfriar’s Bobby (I told you I’d come back to this…). Apparently, the little dog had the wrong grave. The right name was on it, but it was the wrong grave of another man by the same name! Also, right next to the grave was a tombstone set up so that it kind of looked like a picnic table, so the real story is that the dog wasn’t even trying to keep watch over the grave of his master at all, but was just trying to keep dry and warm under the shelter of the table tombstone next to that grave that just happened to bear the same name as his master. Also, the dog is supposed to have been buried at the entrance to the Kirkyard, but our tourguide told us that was basically nothing other than tourist ploy, as well. The little dog was a stray after his owner died, and no one knows where or when he really died. The dog’s tombstone at the entrance is just a “memorial”. So funny and disappointing at the same time!
So that night we asked our tourguide where to go, and she told us Bar Kohl down the street. We went for a drink and left immediately after because it just wasn’t our scene. Instead, we stopped back into Deacon Brodie’s Tavern where we ran into the nicest couple of Canadians and the strangest blind (possibly faking it) homeless guy who invited himself to sit with us after we petted his adorable puppy. We ended up leaving him at the table and went out to a club with the Canadians. After a couple of pints, we were cashed and grabbed a cab back to the B&B where we crashed.
The next morning, since we’d seen almost everything we wanted to see the day before, we were able to really have a more relaxed day. The only two things left on our list to see were Nelson's Monument where you’re supposed to be able to see the best views of Edinburgh, and the Scotch Whiskey Experience, to which Andrew was especially looking forward. We also, as a side note, wanted to wander through the shopping district around Princes Street to see if we could find a new dress for me to wear to my 10-year high school reunion next month.
We started out the day with a wander around the shopping district, where Andrew was hit by a “fly-by pooping” from a deranged seagull. After the pooping incident, we popped in a little deli for outrageously over-priced sandwiches and then left to do a little more wandering. Andrew found a golf shop where he could practice hitting balls for a bit, so he did (technically) get to play some golf in Scotland.
After a god deal of wandering (and no luck finding a dress, by the way), we decided to take bus to the Monument, only the busses were quite confusing… Then we looked up and realised the Monument wasn’t even that far away, just a hike up a “little hill” that felt like a mountain on the way down when Andrew made me climb an off-the-trail 85 degree drop-off in high-heeled boots. I don’t mind going up slopes like that, but going is a different story!
The Monument was amazing, though I think we had more fun exploring the hillside on the way up than we did actually up the stairs in the tower. There are what looks like Roman ruins next to the Monument that create an amazing view and a kind of forlorn, romantic atmosphere. If I could get married again, anywhere in the world, I would choose to be married on those ruins, despite the fact that they’re known as “Edinburgh’s Disgrace”.
The “ruins” actually make up Scotland’s National Monument, a memorial to those who died in the Napoleonic Wars.
It was designed by Charles Robert Cockerell and his collaborator William Henry Playfair and was intended to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, but they ran out of money when it was halfway finished. Apparently, Glascow City offered to help pay for its completion, but the City of Edinburgh was too proud to take them up on it! I don’t think it’s disgraceful, and I think it looks better half finished than it would have completed!
Next we thought it was time to move on to the Scotch Whiskey Experience, which ends with a tasting and therefore is not really suitable for a morning excursion. Our friends Rachel and David had warned us that the tour wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but that the first 20 minutes and the tasting at the end were both great. They advised we skip the tour and go straight to the tasting. However, Andrew and I talked it over and decided that we’d do the tour anyway because we were both interested to learn a little more about Scotch, and there wasn’t a museum that you could wander yourself before the tasting; it was the tour or nothing. So we took the tour. Big mistake in my opinion! We should have listened to the Kents! The first 20 minutes of the tour was very interesting. They taught us how to taste Scotch: how to look at it, how to smell it, and how to taste it. It was really interesting.
Then they moved us to another room where we watched a movie about Scotch. Then they moved us to another room where we watched another movie about Scotch in front of a small scale model of a distillery that moved. Then they moved us to another room where we watched another movie of ghost bartender telling us more about Scotch. Then they moved us the slowest roller coaster ride in large fake barrels of Scotch on a little ride that told us more about Scotch. It was the laziest tour on which I’ve ever been; the tour guide only really had to talk for the first 20 minutes. It was like being in school with a bad substitute teacher!
The tasting was worth it, though, and afterward we went to the giftshop where Andrew proceeded to buy so much Scotch that they threw in a free map of all the distilleries in Scotland!
After that, we walked outside and decided to try our luck getting into the Witchery, which is a very famous restaurant next to the castle where they used to burn witches at the stake (morbid, I know, but the restaurant is very posh and elegant). We’d tried making a booking the day before, to no avail, but were hoping that if we arrived early (it was 6:30ish), that they might be able to squeeze us in, and they did!
We had an amazing meal there and then wanted to make an early night of it, so we wandered back down to Princes Street and popped into a couple of pubs in that area before we headed back to the B&B.
The next morning, our cab was supposed to arrive around 6:30am, and I woke up, by chance, around 7am. Of course, the cab was gone, and the B&B office, who had called them for us the night before, was closed, so we had no number to call another! Andrew started freaking out, trying to hurriedly pack everything while simultaneously running to and fro in his underwear (including out in to the B&B lobby) trying to figure out what to do about a cab. I honestly think I was still too asleep to really be bothered at that point and was hurriedly, but calmly, packing. We found a binder of guest information in the room, and Andrew called a cab, who arrived about five minutes later to a dishevelled American couple standing outside the B&B obviously freaked out about missing a flight. We made to the airport and checked in safely with time to spare and then I lost my passport somewhere between check-in and security. So we start running back and forth, retracing our steps, dumping everything out of my bag, dumping everything out of Andrew’s bag, and on the second round of dumping, finally found that it had somehow landed folded up in a piece of paper in my bag. All was well again! We made it home in one piece and will always look fondly on weekend getaway to Edinburgh!!