The following is a column I wrote for my university’s paper, The Signal:
I had never been to the United Kingdom before, but when I had an opportunity to take a four day to to Edinburgh, Scotland I jumped at that chance.
I started doing my research immediately. I feel it’s always a good idea to look into a place’s culture and customs before getting there. You find out some very useful information, such as whether it’s customary to tip cab drivers, servers, etc. or if there is a city pass available for sightseeing that may save you some money.
I arrived in Scotland at 7:30 a.m. and couldn’t wait to start exploring. My hotel was gorgeous, but pretty far from the city center. So after dropping off my luggage and showering I headed to the reception area for some advice on getting around. They had a bus stop at the end of the road, and after getting exact change for fare, I started walking. At the bus station, I met the nicest couple from London who were on holiday and more than happy to direct me on where to go once I got into the city. I must say that I was pretty intimidated at the idea of exploring a new city by myself, but the adventurous side in me won out. When I stepped off the bus and into Edinburgh my journey began.
The food in Scotland varies from traditional to modern and the choices are endless. I felt the responsibility to keep it authentic for my first meal. I stepped into a pub called Deacon Brodie’s Tavern for some fish and chips with a half pint of Guinness. The pub was named after Deacon William Brodie, the man who inspired the novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is believed that he used the building as his place of business in the 1800’s. He lived a double life where he was a respected businessman by day and shady crook by night. He was eventually caught and hung right across the street on October 1, 1788. While eating, I looked through my guidebook and made a mental plan for the day as I fought off fatigue. With a full belly and pure adrenaline I headed out to explore the famous Royal Mile.
The Royal Mile is actually one mile and 107 yards long. It is named such because of its location from the castle to the palace. During a visit in 1723, Daniel Defoe the writer of Robinson Crusoe, described the Royal Mile as, “the largest, longest, and finest street for buildings and number of inhabitants, not only in Britain, but in the world.” I would recommend starting your journey at the top of the Royal mile by visiting Edinburgh Castle. This castle is everything you’d imagine one to be. Perched atop a hill and overlooking the city the castle dates back as early as 1093 A.D. In addition to touring the outside of the castle and taking in panoramic views of the city you can also look inside at the military prison, national war museum, and even take a gander at the nation’s royal crown jewels- which are the oldest royal regalia in the United Kingdom and include the crown, sceptre and sword of state. Because there is so much to see here it would be a good idea to give yourself about three hours to explore the entire castle. Admission is 13 pounds for adults and includes access to all the sights and exhibits inside the castle.
Once you’re done at the castle you can begin your walk down the magnificent Royal Mile. The streets that make up the Mile are Castle Esplanade, Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand. Together, the Royal Mile is one of the busiest and most popular stretches in Scotland. Filled with shops, pubs, and historical attractions you couldn’t possibly see it all in one day. As you start your walk to the palace, which is at the end of the mile, you’ll come across the whiskey heritage center where you can take an hour-long tour and learn all about the making of whiskey. For 9 pounds and 50 pence you’ll even have the opportunity to taste the hair-raising concoction that Scotland has been brewing for over 300 years. Once you’re all hopped up on whiskey you can continue down the Mile for an exciting journey through Scottish history and tradition.
During your journey through the Royal Mile notice the statue of Hume, the Scottish enlightenment philosopher. Also, across the street is the old Scottish parliament and St. Giles cathedral where John Knox, the leader of the protestant reformation, was a minister. In front of the cathedral is where the city’s executions would take place and if you look down as you pass the cathedral you’ll notice the heart of Midlothian set into the street. The heart is a memorial to those who died there, and it’s considered good luck to spit on it as you pass by.
One thing you’ll notice as you’re walking along is small alleyways that branch off of the main street. Each alleyway is called a close and are narrow streets where people used to live and some still live today. Each close is named; some even have plaques with descriptions of people who lived there in the past along with their profession and status in the city at the time. Perhaps the most famous close on the street is Mary King’s Close and for a fee of 10 pounds and 50 pence you can tour the close with a guide. The close is interesting because it is still very much as it was nearly 250 years ago when the inhabitants of the city were struck with the plague. Victims were quarantined here and left to die, which is why the close is also nicknamed the “street of sorrows.” It is a very solemn experience with a dose of comedy sprinkled in by your guide.
After you tour the close then I suggest you head to the John Knox house. It is one of the oldest houses in Edinburgh, dating back to the 1400’s. This is not only where the leader of the Scottish reformation lived for a short time, but it’s also where he is believed to have died. While it is indeed fascinating to tour the actual house of such an historical figure, it’s also a great example of what houses of that period were like. As you climb the winding staircase to each floor you can peek into the rooms and learn what life was like hundreds of years ago. Make sure you read the quotes of Knox on the walls and admire the beautiful stained glass windows.
As you near Holyrood Palace you should take a stroll through the Conongate Graveyard. It is the final resting place to many Scots, including Adam Smith who wrote The Wealth of Nations and poet Robert Ferguson. It is quite surreal to stroll though the graves and read about the citizens of Edinburgh, many of whom have been gone since the 1700’s. As you leave the graveyard, walk a bit further and the new Scottish parliament will be on the opposite side of the street. The building opened in October 2004 and is by far the most modern architecture you will see along the mile.
At the end of your journey along the mile you will come across Holyrood Palace. Holyrood was home to Mary Queen of Scots and is now the official residence to the Queen of England. Admission is 9 pounds and 50 pence and is open to the public unless the Queen or any other royal family member is in town. Equipped with audio devices to guide you through each room you begin the exact procession that the Queen herself makes upon arrival. The tour includes the Queens sitting room, dining room and even the place where Sir Sean Connery was knighted in 2000. One of the highlights of the tour is the bedchamber of Mary Queen of Scots. This is where her lover, Rizzio, was beaten to death by her husband, Lord Darnley. The palace is as elaborate as you’d expect and filled with interesting facts about Scotland’s history. Once you are done touring the palace stroll outside and visit the ruins of Holyrood abbey, founded in 1128. It’s an old church built by King David I and has been the place for many royal ceremonies over the years. While just the ruins remain, it is still very beautiful and worth a look.
I was only in Scotland for a short time, but I saw and learned so much. It’s always a rewarding experience to walk away from a place that you knew nothing about with a newfound respect for the people and history. I’ll miss the sounds of bagpipes in the distance and lively pub conversations with strangers. With only four days I couldn’t possibly see all that Scotland had to offer, but I certainly made the most of my time. With the excitement of my latest trip fresh on my mind it makes me wonder what trips hold a special place in the hearts of my fellow classmen. Did anyone take an exciting summer vacation? Is there a trip that still makes you smile when you think about it? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, I’ve created a website where you all can see pictures that I’ve talked about. Hope you enjoy: http://tinyurl.com/abrechtel1