Sunday, November 1, 2009


Last week I took a mini-holiday trip to Edinburgh, Scotland with my little sister. Neither of us had ever been to Scotland before, so we were both really looking forward to it, and I’m happy to report that Edinburgh didn’t disappoint.

Day 1:
We arrived mid-afternoon on Monday, and most places/attractions close at 5pm, so we decided to just spend the majority of the day walking around. (After dropping off our bags at the hostel of course.) Our hostel was right in the center of town, a very ideal location, so we were very near about a hundred different things.

We decided the first thing we should do was to go buy our Edinburgh day-pass from the Information centre so that we’d have it ready to go for the next day. The pass is really a good idea if you plan on going to a lot of museums, because you can get into 30 different places for “free” (free with the pass – which was only 24 pounds, so not bad) and you get special discounts in certain restaurants/pubs/shops.

The Royal Mile

Shannan in front of the Edinburgh Castle

Once we had our passes in hand, we decided to wander over to The Royal Mile (a main street in the centre of town leading from the Edinburgh Castle down to the Queen's Palace/Hollyrood Gardens) and find a nice pub to eat in. Well, we certainly found a pub - but it was by far the absolute worse food I think I've ever had. And that includes sandwiches from gas-stations, pre-packaged sushi, and God knows what else.

The place was called the Ensign Ewart Pub. I didn't get a picture of it - but it is very near the Castle. Uugh. TERRIBLE. Shannan and I decided to split a meal, figuring that it would be pretty large and it would be enough to feed both of us, so we ordered the Cottage Pie (one of Shannan's new found favourites from London.) I don't think I've ever had Cottage Pie, so I wanted to try it. While we waited for our food, I bought a pint of Deuchars IPA. I have never had Deuchars before, but I usually like IPA's (and I'm really sick of only having the choice of Carlsburg, Smithwicks, Guinness or Budweiser) so I went for it. Uggh! It was horrendous, and I'm pretty sure it's not the beer's fault that it tasted so bad. Usually IPA's are very flavorful and "hoppy", but this pint tasted flat and watered-down. I'm guessing urinal water would taste better. I think I only drank about 1/4 of the glass... such a waste.

Then our food came, and it was such an utter disappointment. It was certainly enough food to feed both of us, but it was complete shite. The mashed potatoes of the cottage pie tasted like glue. Like they were instant - and microwaved. The peas and carrots were all wrinkled and dry, and the potato wedges were also very dry and tasted like they were microwaved. Then I looked over towards the kitchen (we were seated right next to it) and I could see under a gap in the barrier that there was in fact no grill, no oven, no oil vat to fry things... just a microwave, and dishes/cutlery. I was like you gotta be fucking kidding me! So please folks, if you ever find yourself in Edinburgh, and looking for food on the Royal Mile - never, EVER go to the Esign Ewart pub. The best food that we found on the mile was at the very end of it - near the Queen's palace. So unless you're absolutely starving and will pass out and die before you reach the bottom, wait and walk a little further down to find the best restaurants. If you need any more reassurance of this, as we were leaving, I watched the "cook" put a pizza in the microwave. Disgusting. Even college kids don't eat microwaved pizza...

Anyway. After our very disappointing meal and drinks, Shannan and I tromped up and down the mile, just looking at stuff (i.e. one tourist shop after another) and taking photos. We did decide to go to the Scotch Whisky Experience, which is a whisky museum right by the Castle. Our day passes didn't cover the cost of it, and we did want to go check it out, so we went on one of the last tours of the day. The museum was similar to the Guinness museum in that it taught you all about the making of Whiskey - the ingredients - the process it goes through, etc. But the difference was that the Scotch Whisky Experience is much smaller than the Guinness Museum, and you actually got to go on a ride, instead of walking. We sat in giant whisky barrels that led you down a track, and a "ghost" was our tour guide. (an actor projected onto the walls, explaining the process of whisky making) It was pretty fun. Fun and Informative.. you can't beat that!

At the end our barrel ride, we were taken upstairs to learn about the different regions in Scotland - how each region produces a different kind of Scotch, and the different characteristics of each. I personally really like the whiskys produced in Islay (pronounced I-lah) which have a really smokey-peaty taste. They are usually much stronger tasting than some of the other whiskys. I just really like the smell of peat. It will always remind me of Ireland, so I think that's why I like it so much.

They had little bottles stuffed with cotton balls that were doused in the different scents/flavors produced by each region. There are 4 main regions in Scotland - Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, and Islay. After we went through each region (smelling the contents of the bottles) we got to choose one we wanted to taste. There was also a blended whisky with traits of each. I, of course, chose to try the Islay whisky. Shannan chose one from the Highlands. She didn't like it - so I got to have both =)

Next we were taken into a room that holds the largest collection of Scotch Whiskys in, I believe, the world? Certainly the largest in Scotland. I'm not sure now if it's the largest in the world or not. Either way, it was certainly impressive. One guy had been collecting all of these whiskys, just for the sake of it, and not one bottle out of the thousands he had collected had been opened. Which is quite impressive, and just a little bit insane. How could you have such a fondness of whisky and never drink any?!

We didn't do much later that night. We were both pretty tired from traveling and walking around all day, we just ate dinner and called it an early night. We wanted to make sure we got up on time in the morning so we could pack in as much as possible to get our monies worth out of the Edinburgh day pass.

Day 2:
We started our morning by walking down to the nearest Boots store (it's pretty much the same thing as Walgreens) so that Shannan could buy an umbrella, for it was raining, and trying to squeeze both of us underneath mine wasn't working out so well.
We walked (with some difficulty as we were being blown all over the road) over towards the Neilson Monument, which is a large tower in the center of town, that you can climb to the top of. We got there a little before they opened, so we wandered around the park taking photos - again with much difficulty because of the wind and rain.

We were soaking wet by the time we got inside of the tower. I asked the woman for a plastic bag so I could make sure my camera wouldn't get wet - so the rest of the day I walked around with a bright orange plastic bag tied around the outside of my canvas messenger bag. Very fashionable.. ha. Whatever, it worked.

We made our way to the top of the tower by climbing about a hundred feet up a winding staircase. Although it was somewhat difficult, it was absolutely worth it. The view was amazing, and miraculously, it had stopped raining by the time we reached the top. It was still incredibly windy, and kind-of nerve racking being up so high with the wind trying to knock you over, but there is a decently tall rail around the edge, so we were never in any real danger of falling off.

It was great being up there, just the two of us. I would imagine it would be irritating with more than 5 people up there at any one time. (not very much room to walk around or take photos.) So I'm glad we went early, before anyone else had gotten there.

When we got back down to the ground it was raining again, but we didn't have to walk too much further to get to the next place on our list, which was the Queen's Gallery at the Palace of Hollyrood. We actually thought our pass covered admission into the actual palace as well, but it didn't. So unfortunately, we didn't get to go. Well I suppose we could have, we just didn't want to pay for it..

Instead we saw an amazing collection of photographs from early expeditions to the north and south pole. You can see some of the photos HERE

After the gallery we went to a science museum called Dynamic Earth, which incidentally, is about 5 steps from the Palace. The science museum was... alright? It was pretty disappointing to be completely honest. The website makes it look a lot cooler than it really is.

The museum is set inside a hideous building, well, it really looks more like a giant circus tent or something, right in front of a gorgeous mountainous landscape. I purposely didn't take any photos of it because I thought it was so ugly. Maybe I'm a bit of a snob. Probably. But it's still hideous either way.

I think the museum would be good for kids - as there were a lot of kids there and they all seemed to be enjoying themselves. It just seemed pretty low-budget to me, and kind of out-dated. I don't regret going because it was free with our day pass, but I think I'd feel differently if I had payed for it.

Our next stop was lunch. We were pretty hesitant going back towards The Mile to eat, but there weren't a whole lot of other options where we were food-wise, but we found a really good Mediterranean place at the bottom. (Like I said, all the good restaurants are at the bottom of The Mile.) My sandwich was grilled, not microwaved. What an amazing concept.

After lunch we went to the Edinburgh Dungeon - Dun Dun DUNNNNN.. haha. It was literally across the street from our hostel, so we wanted to check it out. I honestly had no idea what to expect, because the website is very vague, but it's basically like a mix between a fun house and a haunted house. We were with a semi-large group of people. There were probably about 20 of us on our little tour of sorts, and we were herded from room to room learning about different (scary) aspects of Edinburgh history. Each room has a different actor that tells you a different story. There was a judge - picking out random people from our group, accusing them of being witches; there was a torturer - describing different methods of torture and showing us various tools he would use; there was a member of a cannibalistic family (which actually existed) describing how they would lure people into caves and then kill them and eat them (we took a boat ride down into his cave..dundundunnnn); there was a guy dying of plague; there was a dead solider; there was a hang-man -- and then we got to go on a ride that lifts you like 50 feet into the air and drops you back down to the ground in about 3 seconds; and at the end a labyrinth of mirrors.

It was really fun actually, and I would recommend it. It's more fun than scary (although they do use the jump-scare tactic quite a few times) so if you're looking for something serious and paranormal, this is not the place for you.

We decided to take a nap after our Dungeon tour, so that we could be fully awake for something much more sinister later that night. We went on the Auld Reekie terror tour, which was decently creepy to say the least. It honestly wasn't as scary as I had been anticipating. They actually covered a lot of the same topics we had learned about in the Edinburgh Dungeon - about how easy it was to be accused of being a witch, and how they would test it (i.e. nailing your thumbs to your kneecaps and throwing you in the river. If you drowned, then sadly we killed you by accident, but at least your soul would go to heaven. If you floated, you were a witch and would be burned alive.)

We were shown a room full of torture equipment - like jawbreakers - and this metal vest that had a small box in the front of it. They would stick a rat inside the box so that it would chew it's way through your chest and out the other side... ! And all sorts of other gruesome, horror-film - only in your darkest nightmares type stuff.

Then we were taken down into the vaults below the streets. The vaults are said to have all sorts of paranormal activity going on. Shannan and I were both increasingly nervous with each room/vault we entered. I wouldn't want to venture down there by myself, but maybe that's only because I know what is supposed to be down there. Perhaps it wouldn't be so scary if we hadn't of just spent an hour wandering around talking about creepy - paranormal stuff.

We were only down in the vaults for about 20 minutes, each vault supposedly containing a more sinister ghost/spirit/poltergeist. The last room we entered supposedly is host to a poltergeist. When we entered, our tour guide split us up - boys on one side, girls on the other. She did this because apparently the poltergeist doesn't like couples - and splits people up. For example, she told us a story that when they first started doing tours down there in 1996, before they really knew what was down there; a mother and daughter entered this last room together. The tour guide turned off his flashlight for a minute and when he did so, the mother said she felt a grip on her hand that was too cold and strong to be her daughters. When he turned the flashlight back on, her daughter was on the other side of the room, standing next to a flight of stairs, that had she fallen down them, would've ended up seriously injured. The tour guide asked, why did you let go of her hand? And the mother said, "I didn't." dun dun dunnnnnnnnn. They boarded up that staircase now, so there is no chance of anyone falling down it. Perhaps it's all bullshit, either way it was freaky being down there.

When the tour guide led us out of the vault, she took us a different way than how we got in. We went up a small flight of steps, through a door, and then magically we were inside a night club. I was like whaaa? We were right beside a night club this whole time? That kind of ruined it for me. I mean, what a cool idea - having a night club underground in supposedly haunted vaults, where a couple hundred years ago it was home to murders, rapists, bodysnatchers, people dying of plague.. you name it; but it was also kind of like reveling a magic act. Or being told that Santa Claus isn't real. The magic was gone. But hey, we got a free drink out of the deal, so that's cool I guess.

Day 3:
The next day was absolutely beautiful. We decided we would start our day out by climbing up the mountain(s) to Arthur's Seat at the top. We found a little wrap/smoothie place near(ish) the bottom called Lunch Thyme (or something like that.) Their wraps are ridiculously cheap and amazing, so I got 2 of them (they are kind of small) to take with me for our journey up the mountain. I had no idea what to expect going up, or how long it would take, but surprisingly, we got to the top in about 40 minutes. However, I totally admit, I thought I was going to die on the way up. Ok, not actually, but man - what a way to find out just how completely out of shape you are..! haha. We stopped to "take pictures" a lot on the way up.. haha.

Once we reached the top we discovered there are several paths up to the top - and we had taken one of the more difficult routes.. oh well. It made me feel less of a total whimp when I found out, so that's good at least.

We stayed at the top for awhile. Ate our sandwiches, and caught our breath before heading back down. Even as difficult as climbing up all those steps were, I will always think going down is harder. You have to have a lot more control so you don't go tumbling face-first down a mountain.. We took a different route down so that we could see up close a ruin of something we saw on the way up. It turned out to be the ruin of a church.

The rest of the day we spent walking around, even though we were both pretty exhausted from climbing up the mountain. We walked away from the Royal Mile this time, trying to see more of the city. We were by all of the shops now. We went into some of them but we didn't really get anything. Well, I did get something but it's a surprise for someone so I wont say what it is. ;)

After all of the shops closed, we headed back to our hostel to eat and just chill out and sit down after so much walking (and mountain climbing) We had just finished eating a giant plate of greasy and fried goodness (nachos, onion rings, french-fries, calamari and egg rolls - all of which, not microwaved) when a large group of people walked in and took shots of who knows what - red and green something.. apple pucker? I was like ahhh yes, our hostel is host to a pub crawl, so naturally we went to join. We couldn't technically join the pub crawl because we didn't pay the 10 euro (or however much it was) but the tour guide was super nice and said of course you can follow along - you just can't have any of the free shots. (like I care about that.. who wants to shoot apple pucker? gross.) So we went along and befriended a group of Aussies who showed their pub-crawl braclets for us so that we could get the discounted drinks too. It was pretty ideal. That is the way to do a pub crawl for sure.

Day 4
We got up begrudgingly around 9am so that we could get our free breakfast and checkout on time so that we didn't charged for another night. We thought we would be able to put our stuff in the locker room for the day because we weren't leaving until about 5pm, but all of the lockers were full. Luckily Shannan had a lock for her suitcase, so we didn't have to drag that around all day, but both our back-packs were sufficiently heavy (mine especially after purchasing that thing(s) the day before.) I didn't want to leave my bag there in the open, even if it was pretty heavy, so I just sucked it up and carried it around all day - and looked like a giant purple turtle waddling down the street.

We started out by going to the National Gallery - which luckily had a free coat/bag check, so at least I got rid of my bag for an hour or so. It had started to rain again while we were inside, so we decided that we'd spend the day going to all of the free museums we hadn't been to yet.

We got lunch at this amazing little place (again at the bottom of the Mile) I can't remember what it was called now, but they have a lot of really great specials and it's directly across the street from a cemetery - which we also checked out once we were finished eating.

Then we hit up the Edinburgh Museum, which is deceivingly large - it just seemed to keep going and going. But it was a really good museum. I actually prefer the way that it was set up - inside an old house, so that it's not completely overwhelming like some of the larger and more famous museums that I've been to.

The Edinburgh Museum was followed by another museum across the street - all about the people of Edinburgh through out the ages. And lastly we went to the Children's museum. By the time we reached the Children's museum our hearts (and legs) really weren't in it anymore. We walked through one room and then found a couple of chairs and just sat there until we thought it was time to head back to the hostel and get Shannan's suitcase.

So yeah, overall Edinburgh was amazing and beautiful. There are a million things to do - a lot of them are free, which is always a bonus especially on a budget. I wish we would've had more time to do more ghost tours and to see more of Scotland than just Edinburgh, but I also feel like I got my monies worth out of our trip there.

Well, I'll leave you with a few more photos.