Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Scottish Kilts are cool?

The week after Austin and dad's visit went by quicker than I had anticipated. School kept me busier than usual, a paper here and a presentation there. I thought study abroad was going to be similar to pretend school and I am definitely wrong haha.

As usual, my American stereotypical perspective of Scotland consisted of sheep, lots of them, haggis, bagpipes and kilts galore. Thankfully, my assumptions were 100% true this time! Chalk one up for American accuracy. I saw many guys dressed up like the old man in the picture below. Most played bagpipes, so I got to know the sound of a wailing animal quite well. However, there is more to Scotland than we realize, so much more.

The trip began early in the morning at King's Cross Station where we all scrambled to find some food to devour as breakfast before hopping onto a 4 hour train ride. Then there was chaos on the train, some people did not realize that most seats were already reserved. After a few arguments and grumpy people, we were well on our way to Edinburgh!

The train went through the country side and it was so beautiful. The grass looked so soft, much like velvet. I wanted to run up the hills and roll down them. :) I even took a 45 second video of, as a friend likes to call it, grass. In my defense, it was the English countryside! Before we knew it, we began seeing sheep and oh so cute little lambs frolicking around. I really really wanted to get out and pet the lambs because they were so CUTE! Naturally, the fast moving train stopped me from doing that.

Edinburgh reminded me of Dublin, the environment and the people were very similar. Edinburgh is very hilly, the streets are literally diagonal and if you are not in excellent shape, you will have difficulty getting around Edinburgh. Not only were the streets challenging, my friends and I had to climb six flights of stairs to get to our hostel room. We definitely got our exercise there. The hostel location was perfect, it was on Cockburn street, which is down the street from the Royal Mile, one of Edinburgh's most famous and busiest streets. Believe it or not, the Royal Mile is not a mile long, it is precisely 1 Scots mile which means it really is 1.1 miles, oy vey. The Royal Mile really is an interesting street, it connects Edinburgh Castle from the top with Parliament at the bottom of the hill. The Royal Family would travel on the street to go from the Castle to Parliament, hence the name, Royal Mile :) Along the Royal Mile are closes, alleyways that lead to the next street. Each close has a unique name and some are really creepy, some are really awesome.

The first time I looked into a shop window, I immediately saw the first of many kilts and knew I was in Scotland. The pattern is often mistakenly called plaid by millions of people, it is actually called tartan.

The Royal Mile! Below is one of the many closes that were built to connect other streets and the city to the Royal Mile

Above is one of the bigger closes, alleyways that lead to other streets from the Royal Mile. Below is the Scottish flag waving proudly.

The first thing I did was go to Edinburgh Castle which resides on top of a dormant volcano! Dymarie (a friend) and I explored different aspects of this castle. Interestingly, the governor of Scotland lives in this castle. We got to see the Stone of Destiny, one of the most historic elements of Scotland and the crown jewels. We also were able to see this gigantic, massive cannon dubbed Mons Meg and the name speaks for itself.
Sometimes when you go to awesome places, you have to be a tourist and get your pictures in front of the place or else people will never believe half the stories you tell. Below is the gigantic cannon dubbed Mons Mag.

Above is a well, the dot on the bottom is actually the bottom of the well. I wouldn't want to be down there, it's a looonnnggg way down! Below is Edinburgh Castle with the pretty sun shining!

The next day was incredibly busy, but one of my absolute best days spent out in Europe. We started the day with the same free city tour company that I went on in Berlin! I immensely enjoyed this tour. Our tour guide (I failed to remember his name, so we'll call him Johnny), was from Leeds, England and was extremely witty. He kept us entertained the entire 3 hours and told us stories of romance, gore and humor. Scotland's history was not quite as I expected, once again, my American stereotype assumed that the nation's history consisted of shepherds and braveheart Sir William Wallace. Edinburgh itself is a history rich city and one of the biggest cities in Scotland.

There were so many sites Johnny took us to, all were fascinating. But, only a few really stuck out to me. There was a statue of King Edward I (I believe) on a horse. It was built to try to build up respect for the English because the Scots absolutely despise the English. This statue however comes with a funny history. The statue is not exactly built proportionally. The man is much larger than the horse. So, when it was first put up, the local people would not figure out if the man was riding a horse or a donkey, so they started laughing saying that the king was riding a donkey. Back then, it was considered treason to laugh or make fun of the king. So, the king had guards stand around the statue and arrest anyone who laughed or made fun of the statue. Let's just say that a lot of people were arrested. Edinburgh is a very windy and rainy city, eventually, the horse began to tilt over because the water was getting into the statue and making the head heavier. So, Scots said that the horse was drunk and the statue became even more funny. In result, the king gathered the best designers and physicists to solve this problem. Their solution? Drill a hole at the bottom of the horse, which happened to be in the special area of the horse :) SO, now when it rained, the water would get into the statue, but come out looking like the horse was peeing. This made the Scots laugh even more and the king finally gave up. Finally, a few years ago, the city of Edinburgh put the statue in its upright position, put a support beam at the bottom of the horse's foot and filled the whole thing with some kind of concrete. No more entertainment for the Scots, boo hoo.

Next, Johnny took us to a gigantic landmark which was right in front of St. Giles Cathedral. We all assumed it had something to do with the cathedral's history, boy were we wrong. The landmark was the center of a huge market that would take place everyday way back when. Interestingly, at this market, it was really easy to steal, but thieves were always caught. Once a thief was caught, the punishment was humiliating. Your earlobe would be nailed to the wall of the landmark. You had two choices, one was to stand there and let all the women and children spit at you, men pour urine at you, beat you up, hit, kick and all that wonderful jazz and then the nail was removed from your earlobe and you were free with a small hole in your ear. The other choice was to rip off your ear from the nail all by yourself and walk away with 1 and half ears. Eeehhh...don't try stealing in Scotland!

The first time I saw the heart in the street, I thought it was some kind of romantic notion of Edinburgh. Perhaps from one of the many famous poets who lived in Scotland. WRONG! It is called the Heart of Midlothian. The heart shaped design of cobble stones is a marker of where the Tolbooth used to be. The Tolbooth was set up in 1561 and it collected tolls, later it became a prison after 1640. There was a scaffolding for hanging criminals and the heads of famous criminals would be displayed on the spikes in the face of the building. The Tolbooth was demolished in 1817 and it was not very well respected by the people because people spit on the heart as they walk by it. It is a sign of disrespect to the city's council. So when walking by, we all stayed quite a ways from the heart to prevent getting spat on. Johnny said that he had a friend who saw a guy get on one knee and propose to his girlfriend on the heart simply because he thought it was oh-so romantic. When he got up, he had spit all over his leg...eeeewwwww.

The next interesting place was Greyfriar's churchyard where Scotland's most beloved dog, Greyfriar's Bobby, used to roam and protect. John Gray was a night watcher of the church and his job included late night shifts and a very anti-social life. So, he got a Skye Terrier dog and named it Bobby. Sadly, John died about two years later. When they had the funeral, Bobby stood right next to his master's tombstone and never moved, even when the funeral was over and people left. Amazingly, this poor dog really was devoted to his master because when it got dark, he left, but he came right back the next day and did the same thing. He continued to do this for 14 years! When Bobby died, people had assumed he would be buried next to his master, nope. They put him right out in front of the Churchyard because he was the protector of the place. There is a statue of Greyfriar's Bobby and it is one of the most famous statues of Scotland. Bobby was so loved by the people, he was given the keys to the city. Hahaha!

Above is Greyfriar's Churchyard/Cemetery where a lot of bloody history took place here and allegedly, it is one of the most haunted cemeteries in the world. Below is Greyfriar's Bobby, beloved dog of Scotland.

The next place Johnny took us to is a Harry Potter milestone, seriously. Apparently, J.K. Rowling dreamed up the story of Harry Potter and wrote it in this very city at The Elephant House! I got to see the coffee house AND the place where she lived for awhile!!!!!!! I hyperventilated a bit...okay maybe I jumped up and down like a five year old and took a gazillion pictures of the place. Also, Johnny took us to the place where J.K. Rowling received her inspiration about Hogwarts, which is an actual private school. Jealous much, my Harry Potter friends? I would be :)

Above is the apartment where J.K. Rowling lived while she was writing the very first drafts of Harry Potter...the farthest top left window was her room.

Clearly, the birthplace of Harry Potter is in Edinburgh, Scotland thanks to the Elephant House for clarifying that! Below is a picture of the school that inspired J.K. Rowling to dream up Hogwarts.

Johnny wrapped up the tour with a fascinating and dramatic story, the story of the Stone of Destiny! (If I could, I would cue dramatic music right now). The Stone of Destiny is a national Scottish symbol because every king that has been coronated sat on this very stone and became king or queen. This stone is made out of red sandstone and it is about 332 pounds. There is a prophecy written on the stone that says "Where the Stone of Destiny lies, the Scots shall rule". So, when King Edward I made himself king of Scotland in 1296, he stole the stone from the Scots and placed it under the coronation chair which is what kings and queens have sat on during their coronation (it still exists and continues to be used for coronations). This, of course, enraged the Scots. For hundreds of years, the Stone of Destiny was held in Westminster Abbey. The Scots had never seen their precious stone for over 700 years. In 1950, four Scottish college students (Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson and Alan Stuart) were sitting around talking about the Stone and arguing that it should be in its rightful place, Scotland. They were obviously drunk and just mouthing off. Amazingly, they all decided to go for it. So, they drove all the way down to Westminster Abbey, arrived late at night, when the guards were not around (not really sure why there wasn't night security...) and snuck in. They broke into the Abbey and found the chair. Hamilton proceeds to throw the chair, allowing it to break into pieces and there lays the Stone of Destiny (cue dramatic music). Now, they have confronted the first challenge, moving the stone into the car. The four of them attempted picking up the stone and carrying it to the car, it took them forever. Then, they pushed the stone onto one of the students' jackets and used the jacket to drag the stone to the car. In the path between the coronation chair area and the car were a few obstacles, one being stairs. When they were pulling the jacket over the stairs, the stone tumbled and broke in half! (This sounds like a humpty dumpty story haha). Nevertheless, they continued to drag it all the way to the car. Right when they got to the car, they couldn't find the keys, naturally. A good amount of time was spent looking for the keys which happened to be in the pocket of the jacket that was used to pull the stone, brilliant. The next challenge was picking up the stone(s) and getting it in the car. By then, daylight was near, which meant security was coming back soon. This freaked out two of the guys so they ran. Hamilton and Matheson were left alone with the stone. Amazingly, they got the stone in the car and began to drive off as daylight began. Naturally, the discovery of the missing stone was not hard to figure out, especially if the cornoation chair was broken and moved. The borders between Scotland and England closed. There was a major investigation for the stone. Hamilton buried the stone in a field and headed back to Scotland stoneless. He talked to his colleagues and they figured out a clever way to get the stone across the border. They went back, recovered the stone and brilliantly, took out the front passenger seat, put the stone on the bottom and covered it with fabric. Hamilton sat on the stone as they drove up to the border and the cops looked around the car and waved them off. AMAZING!! Sadly, once the stone was found, it was reported to authorities and the police took it back to Westminster Abbey. How the stone really came back to Scotland was through politics. Tony Blair was trying to ensure a win with his campagin and promised the Scots the stone and naturally, he won. The stone is now in Edinburgh Castle on display. Whenever there is a coronation, it is moved and placed right underneath the coronation chair. :) Pretty crazy story and all that for a stone? Huh.

The walking tour lasted three hours and we were given a great historical perspective of the city. We learned 300 million years of history in about 10 minutes. Not bad!

Above is a picture of a former prison that I passed along the way on the tour.

The rest of the day was absolutely perfect. There is this "mountain" (I put in quotations because I am not entirely sure if it would be considered a mountain in Colorado...) that is right in the outskirts of Edinburgh and you get an amazing view of the city. The climb, well, was really easy, perhaps not so easy for my friends. I got up to the top of the trail and was dissatisfied. I really wanted to see an awe-inspiring view, so I tried to convince my friends to come along. Unfortunately, my irresistable charm wasn't working that day, I went on by myself. The climb was nothing new to me, ya know, being a mountain girl and all that. It was totally worth the climb. It was incredibly windy and I had to hold onto the landmark to prevent from flying off! The peak is called "King Arthur's Seat" and I am proud to say I sat on it :)

A view of King Arthur's Seat, keep in mind, this is not the peak of the "mountain"

The initial part of the climb was pretty steep, but no challenge for me :)

King Arthur's Seat

It was very windy, I had to hold onto the seat to keep from falling backwards.

The view from King Arthur's Seat was breathtaking, I could never get enough of this view (above). Below is where the first part of the hike was. Most people thought the top of the flat terrain was the peak...hahahaha obviously not (below).

I worked up a huge appetite and met up some friends at a famous pub called Deacon Brodie, which is named after an actual man who lived however long ago. What is so interesting about this man is that he is the original "Jekyll and Hyde" guy, which means the story was written based on his life. CREEPY!! By day he was an all important man, a well respected person who was very involved with the city's politics and a key master and by night he was a gambler and a drunk and had a mistress. Eventually, his lifestyle began to take a lot out of his paycheck, so he decided to steal from people of the city using the keys he made. This became routine for him and eventually, the city became concerned. In result, they formed a committee to investiagte this chain of burgularies. Guess who they appointed to be head of the committee? Deacon Brodie! Naturally, he took advantage of that and turned his men into accompliances. The city crime increased as the committee "investigated" and the city officials began to really worry. Deacon Brodie knew his gig was soon to be up, so he decided to have one last job, to finish it all. He wanted to rob the bank. They went out at night, robbed the bank and it was an all nighter job because of how much money there was. One of the last guys was walking out right when daylight was starting and tripped over a step, throwing all of the money out of his hands. That drew attention and eventually, all the men were caught, all but Deacon Brodie himself. Officials went to his house, all of his things were gone, except for his wife and kids. He had disappeared. A few months later, officials were still investigating and figured out that Brodie had a mistress. They went to her and found letters from Deacon Brodie himself, he had planned to come get her. Idiotently, he had a return address written on each envelop, which led the officials to Brodie himself. He was then caught, tried and hung on one of the very gallows he had built himself. In the picture below, the left side is the hyde personality of Brodie and the right side is his good side.

That night, Christina and I went out to Cannon Hill, another great site for a view of the city. We went right at sundown and it was absolutely beautiful. There is a Greek like parthenon monument and it is massive. It reminded me of the Lincoln memorial in DC. I climbed up there and saw the most beautiful sight of Edinburgh. I really loved this spot. So far, it is my favorite spot in Europe. It was the perfect way to end the day. This particular spot reminded me so much of home because when I looked out one side, I saw the city along with the sea. When I looked the other way, I saw the "mountains" which is a lot like Denver. I felt my muscles relax and my heart sighed. It was a great feeling.

Edinburgh at sunset

The parthenon/Lincoln memorial style monument (above) was supposed to be a parthenon, but due to insufficient funds, it was never finished.

The next day was quite short. I went up Cannon Hill again to see the city once again. I went up the Parthenon monument to reflect once again. It was so great to sit and gaze at the city, the sea and the hills. The wind sounded peaceful and I was really calm. I did not want to get on the train and head back into the busy streets of London, especially back to the classroom. ugh.

Edinburgh by day

The unfinished parthenon in daylight.

Above is a view of Edinburgh behind me and below is the view on the other side, the "mountains" of Edinburgh. Both beautiful views reminded me so much of home.

All in all, I had thought about trying Haggis before going on this trip. I never had the chance to, I shall have to try next time. Edinburgh is beautiful, a trip worth every penny. I will always be fond of King Arthur's Seat and Cannon Hill. I hope to find more of this in my upcoming trips.

1 comment:

  1. so ummmm .... I'm pretty jealous right now I'm not gonna lie!! I can't get over the fact that you got to see all that Harry Potter stuff!!