Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Real Introduction to the History and Culture of Edinburgh

Continued from:
Part 1 -
Part 2 -
Part 3 -

My second day in Edinburgh was off to a great start.  I awoke refreshed and rested and ready to take on another day of exploring.  Breakfast in the hotel dining area was a tad confusing and I don't think I quite grasped what it was I was supposed to do.  I walked in, I was stopped by a server who gave me instructions and I proceeded to follow those instructions.  There was no defined queue or waiting area and various items were scattered all over the place.  I found out later that the server who greeted me must have thought I had pre-ordered and pre-paid for breakfast.  I thought it was free and ate until I was stuffed.  I never was billed for it but discovered later that breakfast at the hotel was not free.

I had free time before making my way to Starbucks on the Royal Mile to join the free walking tour through Sandemans New Europe Tours so I grabbed a coffee and sat on a bench in Parliament Square and people-watched for a while.  This is one of the things I miss about living in a city; just sitting somewhere, like a fly on the wall, and watching everyone go on with their daily lives and taking in the excitement that buzzes in the air of the downtown area of any city.

The walking tour left not far from that area so I walked around the corner five minutes before the scheduled departure and met my guide, Fraser.  There were more people taking the tour that I thought there would be.  Fortunately, Fraser had a tall flag that he waved in the air as we walked along so we wouldn't lose site of him.

I admit, I wasn't expecting much from this walking tour.  I only signed up for it because it was free and I thought I might learn a few things or see things I would otherwise not see.  I assumed the only good thing about it would be that it's free.  How very wrong I was.

The tour lasted about two hours and delivered way more than I expected.  In fact, it was one of the best walking tours I've ever been on!  Not only did I see historical buildings and monuments, I learned the history of them the notable people who lived in Edinburgh throughout history.  I learned about the gruesome public hangings that the townspeople came out to watch.  I learned that the South Bridge is cursed because the first person to cross it after its construction crossed in a coffin. She was the eldest citizen of the city and it was decided that she would be the first to cross - dead or alive.  I learned that J. K. Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, got inspiration from gravestones in Greyfriar's Kirkyard when choosing names for some of her characters.  I learned that some of the graves in this graveyard were looted by grave-robbers but they didn't steal jewels; they  stole the actual bodies for medical and science research.  I learned about Greyfriar's Bobby, the beloved dog whose grave at Greyfriar's Kirkyard has been turned into a shrine of flowers and gifts left by admirers. I learned that the fountain that stands in dedication of this beloved dog was once a two-tiered fountain with an upper level for humans to drink from and a lower level for dogs to drink from.  The statue's nose has been rubbed for good luck so much that Bobby now looks more like a pug than a Skye Terrier.  I learned that the term s**t-faced originated during a time in Europe when residents had no flush toilets and to dispose of waste, it was acceptable to simply toss it out of a window and into the gutters.  This was usually done late at night when, coincidentally, the drunken patrons of local pubs would be on their way home and I'm sure you can figure it out from there! I learned that one of the public square's off the Royal Mile was historically used and is still used to this day for gathering the city residents together to announce important announcements such as royal births and the results of Brexit.  I also learned that Scotland has a very bloody, brutal where, I noticed throughout this tour, every story told ends with someone or many people being killed.
Greyfriar's Kirkyard
The gravesite of Greyfriar's Bobby
When the tour ended, we parted ways near the National Museum of Scotland.  Now, some people may say that the "free" tour ended in front of the museum so that everyone would naturally wander into the museum and pay the entry fee, therefore making the entire tour some sort of trick to get people to go to the museum.  Well, I personally doubt that.  I tipped my guide generously and was glad to pay the small entry fee to the museum as it was somewhere I planned to visit anyway.  This made it all that more convenient because I would have gotten hopelessly lost trying to find it.

I didn't want to spend too much time in the museum as my time in Edinburgh was short as it was and I had so many other things to see and do but I did walk through every room on every floor, stopping at the things that interested me the most; the exhibit about Alexander Graham Bell (because of his ties to Cape Breton Island where I live), Dolly the cloned sheep and the observation deck with the view of the city were among some of the most interesting exhibits for me.  Overall, the population of Scots around the world may be relatively small but they've certainly done their fair share of notable things as I learned at the museum.

Upon leaving the museum, I must have taken a wrong turn.  I thought I was going the right way but when things started to look unfamiliar, I realized I was quite lost.  I walked for well over an hour and ended up in a residential neighborhood that looked nothing like anywhere I had been in the city up to that moment.  I kept walking hoping to find someone to ask for directions but the neighborhood was like a ghost town.  Eventually, I ended up back on St. Mary's St. and at my hotel where I grabbed a bite to eat and got ready before heading back down the Royal Mile to meet another guide to take me on a Haunted Graveyard and Underground Vaults Tour.

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