Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Royal Mile plus 250 meters--Part 1

Now that our first afternoon/evening in Scotland was over, we had just 2 days to see all we wanted to see, so there was no time to waste!
I am a planner, so I had a strategy in place to make sure we didn't miss anything that we wanted to do in Edinburgh. I'm sure we missed a lot that we didn't know about, but we don't know about it, so we're not too upset!
1. We checked out 2 Scotland books from the library--a Frommer's & a smaller one with lots of pictures.
2. Each of us looked in the books and we came up with a list of things we wanted to see.
3. We went online to verify the admission prices to all of the attractions on our list (prices were also listed in Frommer's, but it was an older edition) to determine whether or not it would be more cost-effective to buy an "Edinburgh Pass". Yes, I'm serious...and it turns out, it was a good time-investment to do this, because we ended up saving around 20 bucks by NOT buying the saver's pass!
4. I looked at the map and separated the items on our list into 2 categories: Old Town/Royal Mile and New Town/Not Royal Mile.
5. Since Wednesday would be Royal Mile day (those were the things we felt were most important to see!), I looked at the map again on Tuesday night and wrote down the sensible order to visit the things on the list.
6. I put my handy little notebook in my bag and got some sleep... because we had a lot to see the next day!

Edinburgh Castle would be our first stop, and it opened at 9:30. So we wanted to be fed and at the gates waiting when the place opened.
We went to breakfast at Deacon House Cafe, where we learned (via mural on the wall and pamphlet on the table) that Deacon Brodie was a well-respected but sneaky cabinet maker who would make copies of the keys of the places he was building cabinets in and then use the keys after-hours to open the doors of the shops and rob them. But really, he had no choice, because the poor guy had to support his gambling problem and five illegitimate children somehow. He was so handy that he designed a set of gallows for hanging criminals...and ended up being hanged on them. How's that for irony?

                                          (He looked nice enough to me!) 
So we found ourselves having breakfast in his old workshop, which was charming but freezing. David had a bacon & egg sandwich and I had a pot of tea and a really really yummy scone with some clotted cream & raspberry jam. It was such a huge serving of condiments that I wished I had another scone, but I feared that if I asked for another scone, I'd end up getting more jam & cream as well. Or that I'd request that the spreads be left off the plate, but I'd end up paying full price anyway. so I just let those delicious extras go to waste. Note to self, carry 2 small Tupperware containers in your purse for these emergency situations!

After brekky, (which I haven't heard anyone say here in the UK like they do in Australia, even though the Aussies call fries chips just like here, but since brekky was my very favorite word in Australia and I still like it, I am going to use it. Maybe it will become a thing. Or maybe everyone here says it, but I've just not been privy to conversations about morning meals.) Anyway...after brekky, we walked up to the castle. It's a little incline, but sidewalk all the way. We passed a restaurant called the Witchery, which was so named because it's just down the hill from the site in front of the castle where hundreds of witches were burned long ago! Spooky! We also passed the Scotch Whisky Heritage Center.

We still had some time to kill before the castle opened (and we didn't feel like burning witches or drinking whisky) so we took lots of pictures outside the castle grounds.

                          (The Duke of York. The Grand Ol Duke of York. He had 10,000 men. He marched them all right up the hill and marched them down again. And when you're up, you're up. And when you're down, you're down. And when you're only halfway up, you're neither up nor down! I couldn't resist singing that little ditty (and doing the motions) for David when we saw this statue.) 

(Scotland's Motto: Nemo Me Impune Lacessit, "No one provokes me with impunity," or, as the guide translated, "If you hit me, I'll hit you back," or, as a site found in my internet research translates, "Don't f*** with me". Take your pick.)
Finally, we got to go in! We crossed over a REAL moat! (but it wasn't filled with water, nor did I see the giant spikes that would've impaled us if we tried getting in before the castle was open and they decided to dump us off the bridge. I don't know if they still do that. I sure hope not.) So we made it through the first of 7 entrances to the castle. Just like that! Had we lived a few centuries ago, we would've made really excellent invaders. We stopped to buy our tickets into the castle (11 pounds for one, and 14 for the other because we got a guide book)... maybe that counts as the second gate? We opted against the audio guide, but joined up with the FREE guided tour. It took a while for me to get used to the guide's heavy Scottish accent, but every interesting thing I could understand, I jotted down in the margins of my guide book. Sometimes, I just can't help myself. I'll share some of my favorite stories in another post. Remember, I'm trying to get 30 in November!

The tour only lasted about 15-20 minutes, and the guide left us in the Crown Square. So I kept saying, "Crown Square, like Crown POINT Square!"  At her suggestion, we walked back to some of the parts that we had passed by, like St. Margaret's Chapel and the Dog Cemetery for the soldier dogs. Then we went into the Scottish National War Memorial, which was really beautiful, but out of respect for the fallen, we're not allowed to take pictures inside. They have books of all of the names of Scottish people who died in wars since WWI. I scribbled down the numbers that the guide rattled off: 150,000 in WWI; 57,000 in WWII, and 1,000 since 1945. The most recent addition to the most recent book was October 25. It was a pretty heart-rending feeling to read that... kind of brings it all right to the surface...we are living history right now.

(St. Margaret's Chapel and the Scottish National War Museum)

Then it was time to go  in the Royal Palace to see Scotland's Honours...the Crown Jewels. These are the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles, and if I heard the guide correctly, the second oldest complete set in the world...only Hungary has an older set. No pictures allowed in there, either. And it's not like on the Disney Cruise I went on when I was 10 when I got to pose for a picture wearing the Captain's Hat and holding the steering don't get a souvenir photo wearing the crown & holding the sceptre, darn it. Now that I think about it, maybe it wasn't actually the captain's hat. Or the real steering wheel. Anyway, seeing the crown, sword & sceptre on display was really neat! Especially the "Stone of Destiny"...more on that in another post, too!

The Great Hall was really neat, too. There was lots of armor along the walls, really intricately carved walls, and a unique ceiling. The guide said that when this room was being built in the early 1500s, the people building it hadn't ever built a roof before, but they had made more than their fair share of boats. So, they decided to construct a boat hull, the flip it upside down and use it as a ceiling.

(The Great Hall)

We went down into the Prisons of War, where lots of Americans were kept during the Revolutionary War, or as the guidebook calls it, "The War of American Independence". I didn't think prison looked too shabby. Sure the lighting wasn't the greatest, but they had bread and dominoes and a big deck of cards. I could be happy with bread, dominoes and cards! And they got to do crafts and sell them!

(Prison hammocks. And me with my guidebook and pen. David said he didn't mind if I wrote in the book.)

Our next stops were the Regimental Museums. By this time, we were (sadly) kind of losing interest and momentum, so it was a pretty cursory tour in there. We'd already spent 3 hours at the castle!!

(David tries to get a bagpipe lesson at the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Regimental Museum)

A few more pictures, including one of the One O'Clock Gun, which is fired every day at, you guessed it, one o'clock. The guide said, "We fire it at one because, you know what they say about Scots and their money... we don't want to waste 12 shells!" and that got a good laugh. Even though I hadn't known what they say about Scots and their money. A small part of me wanted to wait around at the castle to hear the gun go off, but a bigger part of me was really getting hungry, so we decided to go grab some lunch since we'd probably hear the gun as we were walking back down the Royal Mile. We didn't.



Cyndi said...

Can't wait to hear more.

Anonymous said...

Awe, no picture of David in a kilt? Your travelog is very interesting and informative - after all that walking, I have to go rest my dogs. Looking forward to day 2 love MOM

Dogeared said...

The stereotype of the Scots is that they're very tight/stingy with their money. Hence the joke about only having to pay for 1 shell if they fire at 1 o'clock ;-)

Like with many stereotypes, there may be some truth in it historically, and there are probably people who fit it now, but my Scottish friends are not like that at all!

Oh and the Scottish and English have often loved to hate each other - when they play at football or rugby, the teams are very decisively split! And when Scotland got knocked out of something (I think it was the Euro championships or the World Cup - 2002 anyway), the Scots always supported England's opponents in any match, as if they couldn't win themselves, they wanted England beaten!

Again though, most Scots are lovely people, as you saw by the lady offering you the bus pass she no longer needed. National pride will always mean rivalry, but that's normal!

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