Everything from an Election to an Elephant-sized Excursion to Edinburgh

10 May 2010 | 3 Comments

The day after Durham, I slept in to get some much needed extra rest. I picked up 2 pasties from the Cornish Pasty Bakery across from Betty’s Tea Rooms (as opposed to the one in King’s Square) for brunch and dinner — I tried to keep my weekend meals cheap and to the minimum. I saw Dean on my way back; he was getting groceries for this Sunday’s round of students at his house for dinner.

It took me most of the afternoon to do laundry and catch up on writing my journal and commonplace book. Around 4 PM, I video chatted with home — my parents were back! They got me up to speed on everything that happened after they left York. Praise God that they had a good time, and praise God that they made it home safely.

That evening, I set up an interview with a student of YSJ (I won’t mention his name, to keep his privacy), for the peer perspective portion of my oral history project. We agreed to meet Tuesday at Caffè Nero. I stayed up till 2 AM revising my Wuthering Heights paper and trying not to buckle under all the homework I realized had to be finished by the end of the semester, which was rapidly approaching.

Bank Holiday

Monday was a Bank Holiday, so we had no school. But I felt very unmotivated to do any of my homework — and unhealthy. My back ached, and I had pigged out on dropjes. My meals lately weren’t sufficient. I shouldn’t have stayed up so late, I was already running on low as it was.

The semester had spoiled me too much, that I always knew there were much better things outside — I was starting to go stir crazy being cooped up in my room doing homework all day. I tried to use our Edinburgh trip the following weekend as a motivating factor, as I sluggishly crawled through my assignments, but it just didn’t work this Bank Holiday. The only thing I managed to finish was my last excursion report and a feature story about UK politics that I wasn’t all too thrilled about.

But Tuesday turned out to be much better. I slept the best I ever had in a long time. I didn’t even take a sleep aid or ibuprofen.

In British Culture class, my topic for the day was Stephen Hawking and his influence on physics. I met up with my “sciences” group after to write up our final summary. We rocked that out in an hour.

I went to Caffè Nero to meet with the aforementioned YSJ student to talk to him for my oral history project. At first he didn’t show up, and I was afraid he had forgotten. I saw Melissa and Sanna reading at the front of the shop, so I asked them to look out for him while I went to check the other  Caffè Nero on Parliament Street. Sure enough, he has mistakenly gone there.

Finally, we got to the interviewing part, which was really interesting. (Again, I’ll leave out the details, to keep his privacy). Afterward, he took me to his room to let me borrow some of his books to help me write about some of the topics he talked about, which was really nice. I got a lot of new ideas for my oral history paper, and his story, in addition to the one Megan and I heard from the Nyes, would be an excellent pair.

I devoted most of my night to reading Mrs Dalloway, and I finished it the next morning.

And so, my quest through my mounds of homework continued on to Wednesday. My breaks only became the necessary ones — those for going to the bathroom and those for eating meals. I did video chat with home later that night, and I heard on the news that the Mt. Eyjafjallajökull was erupting again, causing some airport disruption, but only in Ireland and Scotland. I hoped it’d be done with its antics by May 28, when most of us were headed home again.

An Election

Thursday, I managed to finish my oral history, and we discussed Mrs Dalloway in Brit Lit. In the afternoon, I worked on my media portfolio for my Medium is the Message class, and went to see the director of Calvin’s Off Campus Programs, who was visiting and wanted to hear about what Calvin could do to make the Semester in Britain better.

They were serving toad-in-the-hole at the dining hall for dinner. Only the second time! Jenica bought me a brownie for dessert. I think some of those Lord Mayor’s Walk-ers were trying to use up all their food vouchers.

I got an email when I got back to my room that my media portfolio was now due May 14. Hallelujah! That gives me a bit more time to finish it without rushing.

I tuned into the BBC on the iPlayer to watch the results of the UK General Election. From the earliest exit poll results, it looked like the Conservatives would have a plurality, but not a majority, meaning David Cameron would be the next Prime Minister, but of a “hung parliament.” This means the Tories would have to create a coalition to create a majority government. It’s cool to be in the UK during an election year; it adds more interest to this semester abroad — at least for someone like me who enjoys learning a bit about politics. It’s also nice to be an “outsider” of these politics, in the sense that I am not affiliated with a party here, or don’t have any strong opinions or deep knowledge of British political history.

An Elephant-sized Excursion to Edinburgh

Friday morning I packed for our Edinburgh weekend. I picked up a few food items at the Londis to take along, and we all met outside the Fountains Learning Centre at 2:15 to walk to the train station together. It’s funny how many times I had been to the railway station lately.

On the train, I sat next to Natasha. We had some good conversations, and I read a little bit of Bill Bryson. Outdoors the views got increasingly more beautiful the further north we went. This was only my second journey into Scotland (the first had been from Glasgow to Stranraer on my way to Northern Ireland), but each time it seemed like we had excellent views and weather.

We arrived at Edinburgh Waverly Station, walking out to Princes Street. We had amazing views of the city on our trek to our hostel. My first impression was that most buildings in Edinburgh were at least 4-6 storeys high, but a extra high storeys. We crossed the Old North Bridge. The skies were blue, clouds white like the Scottish flag.

The typical building style in Edinburgh, Scotland

The typical building style in Edinburgh, Scotland

Our hostel was on Blackfriars Street, just off the Royal Mile in the Old Town. It took a while for the group of nearly 30 of us to get checked in, but us guys were placed in room 507 — the very top floor. It was a very steep climb up a spiral staircase to our room. We went all the way up only to discover that our cards didn’t work. Andrew offered to go back down and get it corrected.

Once we got inside, we discovered a spacious room with an albeit strange ceiling. It was low in some parts and high in others and angled in strange ways. I chose a bed under the angled part of the ceiling; I just had to watch my head getting up. We did have a great view of the city and Arthur’s Seat in the distance.

We met up with some of the girls in the lobby to go grab dinner. It took us a while to find a place that would find a place that would seat all of us — a just, at that. We found an “American” pizza place (I know, what were we doing eating pizza in Edinburgh?). But some of their pizza ingredients didn’t seem “American.” Like cactus and haggis. We crowded in the back and ate quickly. I think we were all a bit embarrassed to be hoarded together like that.

Most of us didn’t want to venture to far in a city we didn’t know yet, and the sun had already set, so we settled into the pub in the lower level of the hostel and had fun playing games, telling stories, and people watching.

Edinburgh Castle

None of us knew where the shower was in the morning. Turns out it was in our room all along. I guess we all thought it was just a broom closet without ever opening it. It’s funny because Andrew had gone out into the hall to look for it before we all realized that it was in our room.

Downstairs I had the chance to try haggis with my breakfast. This hostel was up there with the best breakfasts I’ve ever had in hostels — tied or second to the one I had at Newgrange, Ireland. This hostel had quite the spread, in addition to haggis: cereals, yogurts, fruit, beans, hash browns, bacon, eggs, mushrooms. I thought the haggis was very good.

At 10 AM, we all mustered in the lobby to hike up the Royal Mile together to Edinburgh Castle. We quick found that the streets were lined with people. Wow, I thought, why are there so many people out at this time in the morning? Turns out there was a military procession going on. Scottish veterans from Afghanistan (and maybe Iraq), as I understood it, were returning home. They had bagpipers and other musicians, and soldiers were waving the blue and white Scottish flag and the yellow lion rampant flag, as they marched up the Royal Mile. We really couldn’t go anywhere until after the parade passed, but it was cool to witness.

Bagpipers lead the procession of returning Scottish soldiers

Bagpipers lead the procession of returning Scottish soldiers

Edinburgh Castle is the only castle in Britain never to be taken by force, apparently. It was the most protected and safe castle in the kingdom. One had to go through six gates just to get into the main square. Today’s castle complex is now all museums and memorials, but you can get a good idea of how impregnable it really is, perched up on the rocky hill above the city. A native Scotsman gave us a tour, which included a free taste of whisky at the end.

Entrance to Edinburgh Castle

Entrance to Edinburgh Castle

I explored the different buildings and ramparts of the castle, including a the Scottish war memorial, and a building that holds the Scottish crown jewels. One of the royal items, the “Stone of Destiny” is part of the coronation chair, but will only be reunited with the chair in Westminster Abbey when Queen Elizabeth II dies or abdicates.

At 1 PM I watched the Edinburgh Castle cannon being fired. They shot it everyday at 1 PM to save cannonballs — just 1 required — except for Good Friday, Christmas, and Easter. This way, the ships in the Firth of Forth would know the correct time and reset their watches and clocks.

The Elephant House and the Palace of Holyroodhouse

We gradually made our way down the Royal Mile toward the Palace of Holyroodhouse, but I insisted we make a detour to the Elephant House on George IV Street to have a warm beverage in the place where famous British authors such as J.K. Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, and Ian Rankin, were known to write.

The café is eclectically decorated with all kinds of elephant paraphernalia. I ordered a large hot chocolate and sat down with Mary, Natasha, Jenica, Erin, and Melissa A. I was so geeked-out in that moment. I was actually in a room that some of my favorite authors were in, where a lot of the first Harry Potter chapters were scribbled onto paper. I imagined J.K. Rowling, in particular, looking out the window at Edinburgh Castle above, and I could feel the buzz of the room — just enough not to be distracting, but enough to be white noise for focusing on your work.

Mary, Jenica, and Melissa A. at the Elephant House Cafe

Mary, Jenica, and Melissa A. at the Elephant House Cafe

Natasha, Erin, and me at the Elephant House Cafe

Natasha, Erin, and me at the Elephant House Cafe

As much as I would have liked to stay in the Elephant House for a while longer, we had to continue to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Holyrood is the official residence or palace of the monarch when they are visiting Scotland. My first impression is that the residents of Castle Howard had it better off than the queen — then again, it’s a really old house with perhaps more history to each of the rooms. Nonetheless, it was very cool to visit. The throne room was one of my favorite rooms, and the Great Hall, which included hundreds of portraits of British monarchs. But perhaps one of the more interesting rooms was the Queen’s private dining room, where David Rizzio, private secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots, was murdered by 56 stab wounds, at the hands of Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

Rhododendrons in the garden behind Holyroodhouse

Rhododendrons in the garden behind Holyroodhouse

There was a ruined abbey in the back with gardens and a nice view of Arthur’s Seat, the giant hill standing over Edinburgh. Dean told me that Arthur’s Seat was a made of volcanic basalt, which explains its reddish hue.

Arthur’s Seat

View of Arthur's Seat from Holyroodhouse

View of Arthur’s Seat from Holyroodhouse

Geri wanted to climb Arthur’s Seat. The weather was beautiful, and it sounded like a wonderful idea, Jennifer C., Eva, and I joined her. Though it was nearing 5 PM at this point, the sun wouldn’t set until 9 PM. Dean wasn’t too far ahead of us on the trail, so we caught up to him. The views kept getting more and more spectacular as we ascended.

The actual peak of Arthur’s Seat is sort of hidden from view as you’re climbing it.  Most of the hill was a gradual ascent, but this part was a little steep with loose gravel, so we had to be careful.

The top was very windy, but oh so worth it. I could see so, so, so, so far and so much of the city, including the hill with the castle, which was puny in comparison to this. I could see far out into the Firth of Forth, the giant bay Edinburgh is situated on. We sat on the edge of the rock for a while in the cold wind, but the sun was shining. Dean headed down before us, but we didn’t stay too awfully long. Arthur’s Seat was by far my favorite experience in all of Edinburgh. It’s hard to believe that such a monolith of nature is so close to the city. All I can think of is the word “splendid,” just splendid.

Eva, Jennifer C., and Geri atop Arthur's Peak with Firth of Forth in the distance

Eva, Jennifer C., and Geri atop Arthur’s Peak with Firth of Forth in the distance

View of the trail up to Arthur's Seat and a small lake below

View of the trail up to Arthur’s Seat and a small lake below

Ruins of St Anthony's Chapel on the slopes of Arthur's Seat

Ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel on the slopes of Arthur’s Seat

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle hill viewed from Arthur's Seat

Edinburgh Castle hill viewed from Arthur’s Seat

The four of us headed back to the hostel and picked up Megan and went to dinner at a place called Made in Italy. I guess the people of Edinburgh like their Italian or faux-Italian restaurants (seeing as we had pizza the night before). I had a huge veggie calzone and an Irn Bru, a Scottish soft drink that I’d describe as a mix between coke and orange sherbet) — all for £4.85, a deal! Christina joined us a bit later.

Later, more of us regrouped at the hostel. We decided we wanted to try to find an authentic Scottish pub experience with music. We wandered up and down the Royal Mile and into side streets looking for a place, but most places were absolutely packed. We headed back toward our hostel, thinking we were out of luck, but there was singing and music going on at a pub just near there called the Royal Mile, too. One of the musicians spotted us and called us in. We were a bit wary at first. We were greeted by very rowdy people. They arched their arms over us and sang loudly, “Ooooooooooooh!” It was hilarious and a bit scary all at the same time. It was very, very packed in that pub. At first, I was a bit ambivalent about staying, starting to feel claustrophobic, but people kept piling in, making it almost impossible to get out, not to mention impossible to communicate with the person standing next to you. That pub had to be breaking some fire code. Ha ha.

In the end, it ended up not being so bad. I was able to take it all in after settling in with a cider. I was amazed at the range of ages there. There were elderly folks to young women at a hen party. It was a crazy assortment of people. We didn’t get back too late, and joined another group of us Calvin-ites at the hostel pub for a bit afterward before heading to bed.

In the morning, us guys discovered that Andrew had locked himself out of the room after sleep walking, but all of us ignored his knocking on the door. None of us knew that it was him — we had just assumed that it was one of those noises that you hear in hostels.

I joined Dean, Melissa A., and John to a Sunday morning service at St Giles’ Cathedral, a Presbyterian church. Scotland is the home of John Knox, after all, and this was the church where he preached at one time.

Afterward, I joined Melissa A. and Erin to walk to the Botanic Gardens. We never made it to the Gardens in time, because we had to be back by 1 PM to leave on our train back to York, but we had a nice walk around Princes Street and Edinburgh New Town. I found Edinburgh to be one of the most walkable big cities of all that I’ve visited. Too bad our time in Edinburgh went all too quickly, and that Saturday was the only day that I felt I was able to do a lot. But it was great nonetheless. I promised myself to return to Edinburgh and Scotland some day.

National Gallery of Scotland, Scott Monument, and Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh

National Gallery of Scotland, Scott Monument, and Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh

A family on the banks of a creek in Edinburgh New Town

A family on the banks of a creek in Edinburgh New Town

The Royal Mile, Edinburgh

The Royal Mile, Edinburgh

We left once again from Waverly Station, getting back to York around 4:30 PM. I video chatted with home once again, where it was the American Mother’s Day, and got to tell them about the latest adventure to Edinburgh. I got a bit of homework done, too, knowing I only had one and a half weeks left of that, looking forward to the last 10 days with nothing to do except enjoy my last moments in York.

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3 Responses

  1. […] a great weekend in Edinburgh, wishing it had been a week at least, I woke up at 8 AM the following Monday to get my day started […]

  2. […] Watch a short video clip from atop Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland. […]

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