Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Nemo Me Impune Lacessit!

Ah Edinburgh, a beautiful little city that really shows its age.  Where London was quite a hodgepodge of old and new there was a definite sense of layers, history, and preservation in the city on the Firth of Forth.  Where London was constantly busy, always a rush from one place to another,  Edinburgh had a much more laid back feel to it.  Granted this difference of atmosphere was probably partially because Edinburgh is about a tenth the size of London and also because I had no days of jet lag it was an interesting change of pace.

After getting off the bus and having a quick, cheap breakfast I took a little time to wander around the streets of Edinburgh on my way to the hostel.

The Walter Scott Monument

Rose Street, home to many excellent pubs and restaurants

After cruising around in New Town near the bus terminal I headed up to the hostel on Castle Rock.  It was perfectly located, just up the street from Edinburgh Castle, easy to get to, and right in the heart of Old Town.

The Royal Mile just at the foot of Edinburgh Castle

From there I took a moment to get settled in, upload the first batch of photos, and drop off my luggage before heading off to explore Edinburgh Castle.

The front gate of Edinburgh Castle bearing the motto of the Royal Scots Regiment, translated from Latin it means, "No one attacks me with impunity"

 Statue of William Wallace located to the left of Edinburgh Castle gate

Statue of Robert the Bruce, located to the right of Edinburgh Castle gate

In comparison to the Tower of London, which was built by the Thames to control the approaches to the city, Edinburgh Castle was built on an extinct volcano which archaeologists believe was the site of a hill-fort for centuries prior to its construction.  Walking around the walls at the top I could see why they picked the site, not only could you see most of the city from the battlements most of the walls were perched on sheer, rocky cliffs.

View of Edinburgh from the castle walls

Further in from the entrance sat the One O'Clock Gun, so named because it is fired every day at 1PM.  This started in the early 1800s to help ships in the harbor keep accurate time, essential for 19th century navigation which depended on the use of chronometers for determining their current latitude.

The One O'Clock Gun

Further up the castle were the Scottish War Museum, the Royal Scots Regimental Museum, and the Crown Jewels of Scotland.  Going into the two museums was an interesting exercise in comparison and contrast; in the War Museum most of the exhibits loudly trumpeted Scotland's more recent military history from the wars of the 17th century up to the end of the Cold War while the Royal Scots museum made a point of describing the downright deplorable conditions soldiers lived in up until the late 1800s, giving a much better sense of their day to day existence.

The inner yard, where the Great Hall, the Royal Apartments, and the Crown Jewels were kept
 The Crown Jewels of Scotland, compared to the multi-room display in the Tower of London with golden maces that were taller than me, were a much more modest affair that also were not allowed to be photographed.  One item which was particularly interesting was a silver-gilt wand found in the same chest the crown, scepter, and sword were kept in.  To this day historians aren't sure what the wand was for or why it was in the chest in the first place; if anyone has any ideas feel free to post them up!

From there it was on to a short dinner of Scotch Pie at a pub down the street from the castle before heading to Sandy Belle's.  Sandy Belle's was listed as having an open mic night for local folk music where people would bring in their instruments, all acoustic of course, and play until the pub closed.  I hung out at one end of the bar, enjoying the live music and the company of an Englishman named Tom who had lived in Edinburgh for the previous ten years and a German tourist named Lars who was just passing through.  All in all it was a great night with good drink, good music, and good company!

Sandy Belle's
The next morning I got up, grabbed some of the cheap breakfast offered by the hostel, and headed out to the National Museum of Scotland.  Amalgamated from two other museums the National Museum contains artifacts from Scottish history and other finds "borrowed" and "acquired" from the far corners of the world by Scots serving the British Empire.

 James Watt, the inventor of the first practical steam engine

 Dolly, the first successful cloned animal in the world.  Insert obligatory sheep joke here

A reconstruction of one of the first steam engines built by Watt

From there I trekked down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace, the residence of the British Royal Family while they are in Scotland, and the Scottish Parliament building.  On the way I stopped off at a small museum along the way called the People's Museum which showed was life was like in Edinburgh at the end of the 18th century and a common person's view of everything from then up until the modern day.  I left wishing there were more museums like that in the US and everywhere else on my trip; considering how much attentions presidents, kings, and corporate tycoons get in the history books the average person's perspective is one that deserves a lot more time than it gets.  Further down the road I checked out Holyrood Palace; it was a pretty impressive place to see from the outside but what was even more impressive was Arthur's Seat, another volcanic rock formation rising up out of the earth to tower over Edinburgh.

Arthur's Seat
I hiked up the side, it was a rather long walk up but definitely worth it aside from the large, black biting bugs.  From up there I had another excellent view of the whole city.

Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat

From there I got cleaned up and headed out to get a bite of the most famous dish in Scottish cuisine: haggis!

Haggis with mashed potatoes, steamed turnips, and whisky sauce

In spite of the appearance it is MUCH better than it looks, if you have the chance to try some in Edinburgh I'd recommend 1780 on Rose Street for a chance to try some.  To finish out the night I stopped by at a little pub called Bannerman's, located under a bridge, to check out their rock/punk show for local bands.  Needless to say it was a great way to finish the night, my only complaint is they closed up sooner than advertised but that's understandable seeing as a huge rock festival called Rock Ness had just finished up the day before.

The show at Bannerman's

Now it was time to get to sleep, pack up, and check out before heading over to catch the train up to Oban, a little town on the western coast of Scotland.  Next up: the Highlands!

Farewell to Edinburgh and hello to the Highlands of Scotland!

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