Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Scotland Pt. 2

*I finally figured out what the problem with the pictures browser.  Anyway, with the addition of pictures, the post became rather long, so I split it into two parts.  Double the fun!*

This is the cathedral/chapel within the Castle.  I think this where the Crown Jewels were.  Can't remember...

After the Castle, we walked around and did some shopping at the plethora of small shops along the Royal Mile. We explored some of the smaller side streets and cafes. And let me tell you, Edinburgh is absolutely DRAPED in plaid. Its everywhere. Kilt shops, scarves, bagpipes, pants, towels, you name it and it comes in plaid. Each major family or clan native to Scotland has a certain plaid, I found the Campbell (my maternal grandmother's family) plaid, but I didn't get a scarf or anything.
A whole bunch of family crests and plaids.  Campbell is fourth row down, far left.

At this point, it was nearing dark and most of us agreed to meet back at the hostel and go on a Haunted Tour of Edinburgh (I don't know who's bright idea this was...). It had started to drizzle a little and our tour guide (a rather jovial woman by the name of Kirsty) conducted the tour entirely underground, in the vaults. Ok, everyone who knows me at all, knows that I don't do scary: horror movies, haunted houses, and the like. Well, I almost had some people talked out of going on the tour and going straight to a pub. I failed. Obviously. So I sucked it up and learned of the grisly, bloody history of Edinburgh and got the crap scared out of me. We went into the Edinburgh Torture Museum (well, a room with a sickening variety of torture devices). My favorite (in a sick, twisted way) was the rat cage. The victim was placed in a holster of sorts that rendered their torso immobile. A rat in a cage was placed directly in front of their lower abdomen and a fire was lit under the rat. Obviously, the rat went crazy and chewed his way through the only way out: the victim's abdomen. The victim was conscious for the entire process, but usually didn't die. Fun, right?

We then went into the vaults underneath South Bridge Road. They were built with the intention of storage, but the bright minds of the time constructed them with porous, volcanic rock. Therefore, every time in rained in Edinburgh (daily), water seeped through the rock and got all of the stored good wet. So they abandoned them, and the homeless and the criminals of the middle ages took over, in which case lots of nasty things happened. There's a working Wiccan temple in one of the vaults and the South Bridge Poltergeist occupies another (we visited his vault, but he didn't grace us with his presence. *wipes forehead with relief*). The British TV show Most Haunted declared it the Most Haunted Place in Britain. I survived the tour in one piece, but the tour guide managed to make me jump out of my skin in the last vault (big surprise).

After the tour, everyone was starving. After eating pub food for a week and a half, we decided burgers would do nicely. A pit stop in Wannaburger (they got the American students' seal of approval from us) rendered me sleepy. I wanted to go back to hostel and crash, but thankfully, I was talked out of it. I would have missed one of the most interesting and FUN nights of my life.

Cassie heard of this pub that played local Scottish folk music-- the Royal Oak. We found it and proceeded inside, but it was PACKED. A woman walking out told us that the bar downstairs had live music and was practically empty. We got downstairs, ordered drinks (and yes, I have photographic evidence that I drank!), and plopped down right beside the band.

The photographic evidence.  NO, its not beer.  Its a delightful hard cider stuff with fruit.  
Quite good.

Since we were the only ones downstairs, we all introduced ourselves. When I mentioned that I was from Kentucky, the barman, Grant, asked, "Kentucky? Is that Lexington?" I, of course, was like , "How did you KNOW that?!" Turns out, he had played on Woodsongs several years ago! Wild! There was Ewan (of course. We were in Scotland. How could we NOT meet someone named Ewan?) on fiddle, Jack on guitar, Charlie (an adorable old man) who sang with no accompaniment, and Chris on guitar as well. Here's a video that I recorded on my camera of them singing. I thought that if I placed my camera vertically it would flip when I uploaded it. I was wrong, so I apologize for my poor cinematography skills.


So we sat in this pub and listened to them play for HOURS. It was awesome. We told stories, sang, drank, and listened to great music. As it got later, more people showed up. In fact, a pair of Swedish students (Henrich and Joe) showed up with a recorder and accordian and played for us as well. We were regailed with Scottish folk songs, had political discussions (they love Obama), and even heard an American song or two! At about 1:30AM, we all started to turn to pumpkins and we sadly had to get back to the hostel. I was exhausted and promptly crashed in a room full of people I didn't know (such is the nature of hostels). What a night! Doing things like this is why I wanted to come to Europe in the first place.

Friends at the Royal Oak. Cassie, me, Jori, and Aimee.  

We all finally made it to bed and got moving around 10:00AM. After a quick breakfast and checking out at the hostel, we set upon our mission for the day: climbing Arthur's Seat (note: this was NOT my idea). Arthur's Seat is an extinct volcano about a mile from Edinburgh Castle. It's huge! From a distance, it doesn't look that big, but up close, it's rather intimidating. We started the steep and rocky ascent to the top. Two and a half hours later, I somehow found myself at the top. I don't know how I made it, because I nearly threw the towel in halfway through. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'd probably never get the chance to do it again. Once on top, I got spectacular views of the city and Dunsapie Loch. The wind was so high that once we started our descent, we were practically blown down. So we got great pictures and some exercise out of that one (and we'll probably regret it in the morning, as we'll all be stiff and sore).

Yep, I climbed up that!  All the way to the top!

Great view of Edinburgh Castle from atop Arthur's Seat.

My next stop was going to be Holyrood Palace. Unfortunately, it cost 10 pounds to get in, and we were nasty and sweaty from the hike, so we went shopping for last minute souveniers before we caught our train back to Preston. We ate and then grabbed the 3 o'clock train from Edinburgh Waverly to Preston. We were (and still are) exhausted but exhilerated from an exciting and fascinating trip into Edinburgh, with lots of stuff still to explore!

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