Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Edinburgh, Scotland

Waking to a dreary, gloomy sort of morning (it felt just like home), we headed to the commons area to internet and figure out how to catch the buses to Arthur's Seat, for some volcano hiking. After speaking to a few people at the hostel and figuring out the bus lines, we hopped on a bus and headed in the general direction of the mountain.

The bus line stopped a ways from the base of the trail, and on the way was the queen's palace in Scotland, as well as a bus full of kilted, burly Scotsman playing bagpipes (drool). As it turns out, it was the Black Watch, and there were SO many of them, along with quite a crowd of passersby.

I was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed bagpipe music. It was really kind of lovely. 

So after the little mini concert, we started up the mountain. Apparently the side I chose was the "hard" side, and it was quite steep before flattening out. The rocks were amaaazing. Another not so little known fact about me: I need to climb everything. I can't even explain how tempting the rocks here were. They were laid out perfectly, with nice easy handholds and even little ledges to rest on on the way up. They also came with signs warning people such as myself not to climb the walls. So, I resisted. At least, when there were other people around, I resisted.

The hike wasn't too bad, and didn't take long at all. Up and down was about 3 hours, but mostly because there was a lot of lingering and exploring in between. The views both on the way up and from the top were ridiculous.

About to head up the switchbacks! As we were walking along the edge of one of those lovely climbing walls, a French couple started walking ahead of us a ways. The girl fell and yelled, "J'ai tombé!" Having taken a year of French before this trip, I was really excited that I immediately knew what she said ("I fell!)" They hiked up the rest of the way in front of us, while I tried, rather unsuccessfully, to eavesdrop on their conversation.

There are actually 3 different peaks once you get to the top. The second photo up from here is the main one, I guess, as it's the highest and has a little marker showing the direction of different historical points around the city.

There was a second trail on the other side of the peak, heading down a gentler slope, so we opted for that one on the way down. Some creature ran across the trail in front of us when we were most of the way down, and I still have no idea what it was. We spent five minutes thwacking through the bushes trying to find it. It looked like a mongoose, but much, much larger. And I may have made it up because I'm the only one who saw it.
Anyway, down near the end of the trail, just above St Margaret's Loch,  I noticed some ruins. Of course, we had to go explore. It turns out it was St. Anthony's Chapel, or what remained of it. The little plaque said it dated from (about) the 1300s. It was quaint and standing in the old doorway, one can look out over the Loch and all the black and white geese, and the Atlantic beyond.

View from the doorway:

And then naturally, I had to climb it (Sorry, Scotland)

Une femme et beaucoup des chiens

You may have noticed the fancy looking buildings way off in the distance in one of those first pictures, up on a hill? And you may recall from an earlier post, the theme of this trip: see something cool in the distance, walk to it. So, opting for more exploring in lieu of returning on the bus, we wandered in the general direction of the monuments. On the way, we came across the queen's palace, which was all closed up as they readied for her arrival over the weekend.

At this point, I think I'd also eaten a banana since about 8am, and it was now well after 2. There was a beautiful cemetery and some lovely buildings that got passed by without exploring as we debated whether we should hunt for food first, or monuments. The monuments happened to be on the way to food, so they won by default.

As it turns out, we were headed for the national monument, and what we were trekking up was Calton Hill. The view was spectacular, just as on Arthur's seat, but with a close-up view of the city and all the old buildings. And so many chimneys!

Nelson's Monument

This thing is gigantic.
Something I learned about monuments and statues in Europe: everyone climbs them. Although I'm not one hundred percent sure that it's just the tourists - it seems like everywhere I went there were people speaking in the local language/accent/etc. that were climbing all over these monuments and statues along with all of us tourists.A lot of them are seriously not easy to get up on, either. I was thoroughly amused by a woman who climbed up just after me, spending five minutes hanging off the ledge trying to figure out how to get her legs up. Getting down was even better.

She finally made it!
Heading back into town, we ended up next to this guy...
...and then in the area we'd explored the day before, and felt a little less lost. Food was definitely the next highest priority (forget the fact that we'd been walking for 8 hours straight), and we happened by this tatties place, which had vegan haggis! What! There were also these lovely looking (and usually chocolate covered) flapjacks everywhere in the UK. It's basically an oatcake with goodies mixed in. They had a vegan date flapjack, and I was in heaven. Naturally I had to have both. The 'small' was two whole potatoes covered in about two pounds of vegan haggis. It was ridiculous. I was pleased.

We spent some time wandering through neighborhoods and getting lost, finding more pretty churches and a little park.

Eventually, we headed back to the hostel, where Noah got finagled into joining a pool competition which started much later in the evening, and then we wandered back out again before the sun went down. When we had come in on the bus the day before, we passed a church that was partly under construction, but having been able to see it from the street the hostel was on, I needed to go back and find it. Unfortunately, it being so late in the day, we couldn't go inside, but it was beautiful anyway.

St. Mary's Cathedral

Scottish kitty
Speaking of which, we left the church and headed out to explore in the opposite direction. There wasn't much out that way - a few cheery looking pubs, a lot of laundromats, and then a large residential area. I spotted a church steeple and wanted to head toward it, but as we came up on it found that was small and tucked away and, of course, closed. So as we headed back down the way we'd came, a man with a very thick Scottish accent comes out of the door nearest us, on his phone. As he walks out, he's yelling into it, "Well if you hadn't fed the fucking thing so much, he wouldn't be hanging around my flat!" And just as he says this, a cat darts off the porch and runs passed, out into the street. The man abruptly pulls the phone away from his ear, covers the mouthpiece with one hand and yells after the cat, "Richard, look both ways!"
Best part of the whole trip.

(To be continued).

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