Anyway, that is enough of me pretending to be a seasoned enough traveler to make such in-depth judgments. It is more fun to tell you about the cool stuff we did. Like all good adventurists, we decided that the first thing we should do is get tickets to a ghost tour. We headed to the Royal Mile and a bought tickets for the tour by St. Giles Cathedral. We went through a company called "City of the Dead." They are supposedly the experts on Edinburgh paranormal activity. Edinburgh is interesting in that it has something it calls The Vaults. I wish I could relay all of the history of the Vaults to you, but I cannot. Even after the tour, I am still confused as to why and how they exist. In other words, a lot of the historical background I am about to give is a combination of what I was told on the tour, what I read in a book Daisy bought, and what I found on Wikipedia. Basically, the Vaults are a series of chambers that have been formed from the 19 arches that support the South Bridge. The bridge was completed in 1788. Here is an interesting blurb from Wikipedia:
Edinburgh's South Bridge should be regarded as more than a simple crossing from Old Town to Southside. It was, in fact, Edinburgh's first purpose built shopping street, and as such as much space as possible was utilized. The bridge itself is a nineteen arch viaduct, although only one arch is visible today, the 'Cowgate arch.' The remaining eighteen arches were enclosed behind tenement buildings built to allow the area to serve as a commercial district. The hidden arches of the bridge were then given extra floors to allow their use for industry. In total there are approximately 120 rooms or 'vaults' beneath the surface of the South Bridge, ranging in size from two metres squared to forty metres squared. South Bridge officially opened for business on 1 March 1788.
So now you get the basic idea. For the first 30 years or so, these vaults were used as taverns and for other purposes, including cobblers, merchants, etc. Many people also used these spaces as storage. The people occupying the space at the time quickly learned that the bridge was not sealed against water. When it rained, the Vaults would flood and these businessman were not happy. As such, they abandoned them. The Vaults then basically turned into slums. So, these small spaces with no light and no running water became cramped with impoverished families and criminals. Many of the vaults would house cows and other cattle which lived, went to the bathroom, ate, and were slaughtered within these small spaces. So imagine living next to or below these vaults. These people literally lived in the blood and waste of cattle. Worse yet, it was pitch black, so when something dripped on your head, you could only guess what it was. At least it wasn't as bad as Riverside. To make things worse, when a fire took over Edinburgh, many of the residents of the Vaults were basically cooked alive. Remember, the Vaults are literally shaped like giant pizza ovens. So, all in all, not a bad history.
So, now you are thinking, "Man, the Vaults sound creepy." They are creepy, so good job. Our tour guide took us into the one remaining section that has not be modernized, and it is quite obvious that some sketchy stuff took place down there. When I say not modernized, I mean there was still barely any light. We all walked around looking like idiots...at least I imagine we looked like idiots...I couldn't see. Our guide herded us into rooms and told us the dark history of the Vaults. In some cases, she even told us the history of the specific vault we were in. Many believe the Vaults are extremely haunted. It has been on the "Most Haunted" shows and is regularly listed as one of the most haunted places on earth. They refer to the "haunter" as the Scottish Entity. I don't know if believe in "haunting," but it was certainly creepy. The guide said that many people inexplicably pass out, get cuts on their faces that look like they are from a hand, and randomly start crying hysterically. None of this happened to me, and I'm okay with that.
Our tour guide was by far the scariest part of the tour. Also, the flash is what makes this look like we could see stuff.
After the Vaults, we headed to Greyfriars Cemetary. If there is any place that is more haunted than the Vaults, it is supposed to be this place. We went inside the mausoleum where most of the paranormal attacks are said to occur, but we made it out alive. I won't bore you with the details of this part. Let me just say it has been featured on The Scariest Places on Earth.
After the tour, we were pleasantly surprised by the fact that we were close to the Elephant House. This is the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote parts of the first Harry Potter novels. In other words, it's basically Harry Potter Mecca. Here I enjoyed a hot chocolate with Bailey's and a small pastry. Britni and Daisy did likewise. Luckily, it didn't seem like anyway else knew about this landmark. The cafe was not packed, it didn't have cheesy Harry Potter paraphernalia everywhere, and not a single worker mentioned it. Instead, there is a modest sticker on the window and a small plaque on the exterior.
The next day we climbed Arthur's Seat or something very close to it. We weren't exactly sure what we were climbing, but we climbed it. It was like the Sacre Couer of Edinburgh, only with better views....at least that is my humble opinion. We had to take a few breaks on the way up, but for the most part, it was a pleasant little hike. From the top we could see the Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles Cathedral, Holyrood Palace, the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Highlands, and the sea. This was probably my favorite part of the trip. Just sitting and relaxing while enjoying the view was a nice change of pace. We descended the opposite side of the hill/mountain/volcano and went straight to Holyrood Palace, the Queen's residence in Scotland. We did not go inside. After a few palaces, you quickly learn that they all look the same on the inside. Across the street was the Scottish Parliament, which we did go inside. The building is extremely modern and the debating chamber has some really high tech equipment...but only I care about this so I will stop writing about it.
We headed to the Edinburgh Castle via the Royal Mile. We were pleasantly surprised when we stumbled upon Cadenhead's, a famous scotch shop that my Negotiations professor recommended. We grabbed her a bottle and continued our journey toward the Castle. If you like bagpipes, a quick stroll down this street would probably tickle your fancy. If you like creepy dudes playing the bagpipes, a quick stroll down this street would probably tickle your fancy. We finally made to the Castle just in time to wait in a huge line. I am tired of lines. They have this amazing ability to suck the fun out of even the coolest experiences. After finally getting into the Castle we were able to enjoy the buildings and the view. Sadly, the interior of the Castle is a huge let down. They have successfully taken what should be one the continent's greatest attractions and turned it into a bad medieval times festival. They leave nothing to the imagination. Everywhere you look there is a figurine getting crowned or mural of a knight. It looks more like a theme park. Don't get me wrong, the site has incredible history and the exterior is still a wonder, but I would rather imagine what the prison must have looked like than have it shoved down my throat. People go to attractions such as this to imagine what they must have been like; to picture the grandeur of the royal apartments and the horrors of the prisons, not to see fiber glass mannequins wearing crowns. Anyway, I apologize for my rant. It's worth seeing regardless, especially if you can get past the cheese.
After a quick bite at the Jolly Judge, we headed toward the one thing I insisted upon seeing: The Scotch Whisky Experience (SWE). The title says it all. We were in Scotland, there was whisky, and it was definitely an experience. Note: it's whisky sans "e" if it is made in Scotland. The tour began with a ride on a giant whisky barrel that took us through an interactive "experience" which explained how whisky is made. After this little adventure, we were led through a couple of rooms which reexplained the distillation process. Now, being experts on the production of Scotch, we were taken into another room where we were taught about the different regions in which Scotch is produced; the four major ones being: the Highlands, the Lowlands, Speyside, and Islay. To our pleasant surprise, we had scratch and sniff cards that corresponded with each region. These helped us get an idea of the different characteristics of the whisky. Based on our sniffage, we were able to select which type of whisky we wanted to taste. I chose Highlands. The best part of the tour was the room in which we did the tasting. The SWE has the world's largest collection of scotch whisky, and we did our tasting amongst these bottles. It was honestly one of the coolest rooms I've ever seen. This was basically the end of our tour, and I was happy. This pretty much ended our second day in Edinburgh.
On our third and last day, I made what was arguably the worst decision I've ever made. In the Prince Street Gardens, there is something called the Scott Monument. For 3 pounds, you can have the pleasure of climbing the stairs all the way to the top. It seemed like a really good idea to me, but Daisy and Britni disagreed. They decided to wait for me comfortably on a bench in the park. I began my ascent. The stairs were winding and narrow, but no problem, right? I have climbed stairs before. On the way up I came by a family coming down. It was a tight squeeze for all of us, but we made it work. Onward I went. I made it to the platform about halfway up and admired the view. At this point, it was totally worth it. I couldn't just go halfway. Onward I went again. The stairs were narrower and the spiral was tighter. I got quite dizzy because of the tight spiral, but no big deal. They're just stairs. I made it to the next platform. It was pretty tight, but the views were great. Onward. I wasn't going to get this far and not go to the top. The stairs became much tighter and the spiral was so tight it was like spinning around in circles. The stairs kept getting tighter....and tighter....and tighter. At the top, I literally had to squeeze myself out of the staircase. The top itself is very narrow and only large enough for maybe 2 or 3 people. But more people kept coming up. Suddenly, there were so many people that nobody could move. Literally, nobody could get to the stairs to go down because nobody could move....at all....zero. It was no longer worth it. Finally, someone near the stairs squeezed in and I went in for the escape. All is good, right? False. Remember, there is only one way up and one way down. I was squeezing my way through the stairs when all of a sudden I came upon an Asian family coming up. I was close to the next level, so I thought maybe they would go back down instead of me climbing all the way back up. They didn't. I was not going back up. I looked them in the eyes, and they knew what was coming. They squeezed as tightly to the wall as they could. I was going to get through. I hugged the center of the spiral where the stairs are maybe 2 inches wide. I was now upon them, and I literally mean up on them. First came the little girl. I hope she enjoyed my ass in her face. Then came her mom. I couldn't get by. I was going to have to jump over her somehow. I went for it...and tripped. I heard a gasp from the family. Was this it? Was I going to die? I was able to plant a foot and it slid down a few stairs as my other leg flew around like one of those inflatable dancers at a car dealership. My shoe eventually caught traction and I was able to regain my footing. The Asian family and I went our separate ways. I was obviously in a great mood by now. I stepped out onto the middle level to recoup. As I stepped out and looked over the side, my head met a giant metal bar. I tried to play it off like nothing had happened, but the German family to my left knew better. I was done. I got into the stairwell, yelled "I'm coming down" and descended with authority. All those in my way knew they were going to have to move, and they did. I finally made it to the bottom and joined Daisy and Britni on the bench. I recouped for a while and we spent the rest of our day sitting around different places. I was happy to finally get on the train and head to Cambridge. Scotland was awesome but it was time for some relaxation. Little did I know I was going to get plenty of that on the train. About halfway through or trip the conductor comes over the radio and says we were going to have to wait about an hour because someone was killed by a train ahead of us. Apparently this happens all the time in England because I have already seen it twice. Anyway, and hour wasn't so bad, especially since Britni and I were in first class (the tickets were cheaper than coach for some reason). Five hours later our train moved again. We got back into Cambridge at 4:00 am.
All in all, our last day in Scotland was a success.