Seeing as this was my fourth visit to Edinburgh in as many months, I was very comfortable with my surroundings. And surprisingly, there were still a few things I hadn’t seen.
First off was Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. It was pretty cool to see. You start with a guided tour (inside, and around the ruins of Holyrood Abbey) and then you can explore the grounds at your own pace. You also get a great view of Arthur’s Seat.
I spent the rest of the day exploring the Writers Museum and the National Museum (with a lunch break at the Elephant House as is my custom when in Edinburgh).
This was really the first chance I had, in my whole life, to travel alone. All the travelling I had done up to this point was planned by my friends or family, so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go.
So I came up with a plan. I was going to spend the next three weeks doing tours across the Lakes District in the UK, in the Scottish highlands, and across Wales, and in between the tours I would try to amuse myself. At the end of the tours I would have a week to myself, and then my mom was going to join me for two weeks.
I figured this way I could slowly ease into being comfortably travelling alone, and maybe even give me a chance to read some guide books. Instead, I discovered I really hate reading guide books.
Anyways, to start this next adventure off, I flew from Istanbul to London. I’ve no idea why, but they gave me a lot of trouble at the airport as I was trying to leave the country. The check in desk wouldn’t give me a boarding pass, until the lady behind me spoke to them on my behalf. She was my saviour. But then while waiting in line to board, security guards came over with a blacklight to check my passport. At this point I was fed up. C’mon I was trying to leave Turkey, not stay! Not a great start to travelling alone.
I eventually made it to London, then caught another flight to Edinburgh. My seat mate thought it was amusing that I was traveling to Scotland in order to visit England, but the Lakes District is geographically closer to Scotland so to Scotland I went.
It was nice returning to a city I had been multiple times already. I stayed at the same hostel, knew where to grab food for cheap, and was thoroughly comfortable with my surroundings. I lazed the day away, in preparation for this next trip.
We started day two with a quick stroll to Carleton Hill, the city’s first public park.
In the background you will see Edinburgh’s Parthenon. They wanted to have a memorial for all who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. So they decided upon modelling their building on Athen’s Parthenon. Unfortunately they ran out of money after getting 12 pillars up. The project began in 1826, and was forced to halt in 1829. It has not been touched since.
We then did a free walking tour throughout the city, with our guide Izzy. It was 3.5 hours long, but we saw a lot, and also learned about the history of the city.
First stop, St. Giles Cathedral. This was the first Presbyterian Church (founded by John Knox).
The parking lot behind the cathedral was once a cemetery with 3 or 4 people in each plot. When they needed parking space, they dug up the bodies and moved them, except for that of John Know. He wanted to be buried close to his church, so they decided to fulfill his wish and leave his body alone with they moved the rest. So he is know located under parking space 23.
As we moved along, we had a great view of the castle.
Remember the Elephant Cafe? This is the back of the building, and the windows J.K. would have looked through while writing.
Our next real stop was at The Witches Wall. Now Edinburgh was on its way to becoming a civilized place to be, but it still wasn’t classy enough for them. So they decided to copy what other ‘classy’ places were doing and start burning witches. Only problem – they didn’t know who was a witch and who wasn’t. So they made up some guidelines: if you had red hair, a mole, or a third nipple you were a witch. There were more, but those were the memorable ones. They put comment boxes in churches, where you could write down people’s names if you suspected they were a witch, but most of the people couldn’t write. Eventually it kicked in though, and burnings were happening regularly. Shortly after this began, they started building this wall. However they soon an out of ash which they used to hold the stone blocks together. They couldn’t get anymore ash burning firewood (apparently they ran out of firewood), so they used the ash from the burning witches. Thus, this became known as the witches wall.
Next up was Greyfriars, a local graveyard.
Body snatching was a big problem in Edinburgh, as the medical students would pay anyone who brought them bodies. So people started staking out cemeteries looking for recently buried bodies. Obviously the families of the dead weren’t too happy about this. One option was to get a large cage and put it 360 degrees around the coffins to protect the bodies. This was quite expensive so not an option for most people. Instead, family and friends who literally sit on the grave for 2 straight weeks. Whoever was on duty had the ‘graveyard shift’.
Backing on to the graveyard was George Heriot’s School. In his will George Heriot wanted a school to be opened for orphans and disabled children. Today it is one of the most distinguished schools in the country, and it continues to have a few scholarships for orphans. It is said that this is one of the inspirations for Hogwarts, as it has 4 towers, but we will never know!
In the cemetery near the entrance to the school is a gravestone for Tim Riddell and his son. It is thought to be a potential influence for Tom Riddle aka He Who Must Not Be Named aka Lord Voldemort.
Our last stop of the tour was Greyfriars Bobby’s little grave. For those of you who haven’t seen the disney movie Greyfriars Bobby, let me spoil you. There was a gravekeeper at Greyfriars who had a dog named Bobby. The man died and was buried in the cemetary and Bobby stayed by his grave for 14 years until he died. He was loved by a lot of people who came to visit and feed him. Bobby couldn’t be buried at Greyfriars because it is consecrated ground but they made him a gravestone just outside the cemetart and people leave inspirational letters for him here. It is one of the most photographed gravestones around. It is interesting however, that right beside the entrance to the cemetery there is a sign noting that dogs are prohibited.
We had some time to spare before our evening plans began, so we ended up at the Edinburgh National Museum. Here we met Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal.
Our evening plans today consisted of ghost tour throughout the city and in underground tunnels. No pictures were taken, and I was thoroughly spooked. There’s a lot of history in this city, and some of it definitely gave me the creeps.
I love Edinburgh. I think over the 6 months I ended up in the city at least 4 times. I love the architecture, the history, and just the city itself.
For my first trip there, we stayed in the city for two jam-packed days. But day one had some of most favourite sites.
Wanderings in the city
Walter Scott Monument
The Elephant House (my most favourite place)
The Elephant House is a cafe in Edinburgh, that happens to be where J.K. Rowling started writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I wanted to go here for a long time.
Arthur’s Seat, a proper hill in the heart of the city, with amazing views of Edinburgh.
It was tiring going up, but even more tiring going down, as it was decided to go a different route. Fortunately there were lots of opportunities for breaks 🙂
That evening we did some exploring around the hostel itself, but all in all, one great day exploring this fine city.