Edinburgh, Scotland: Day 2

Day two in Edinburgh started off with more street wanderings. I came across old buildings and statues that doubled as roundabouts on major streets. Since I was traveling alone, I took my time and walked wherever I felt like going. I stayed as close as possible to the Edinburgh Castle area because I had a Scotch Whiskey tour at 11:00 am.

Once 10:15 am rolled around, I made my way to the Scotch Whiskey Experience located near Edinburgh Castle and the tartan weaving mill. My tour was not until 11:00 am, but my booking said to arrive early. I was able to receive a student discount (hooray) so the tour ended up being 14 pounds. I did the Silver Tour, which averages around 50 minutes in length and includes a whiskey “barrel” ride to learn about the history of Scotch (Scottish) Whiskey, some informational sessions with a guide, two samplings of two different Scotch Whiskeys, and a glass from the whiskey tasting. If you are a whiskey lover, there are other tours offered that are longer and allow for more whiskey sampling. For a newbie, the Silver Tour is a perfect choice!

Now, I would have booked my tour for later in the day. However, on Friday night, I decided I would do this tour and 11:00 am was listed as the only time available on the website. As Jimmy Buffet would say: “It’s five o’clock somewhere!” Booking tickets in advance is not necessary because you can walk up and purchase tickets. If you have a particular time in mind, though, I would suggest booking tickets in advance.

I found the whole tour experience really fabulous! The “barrel” ride was quick and not boring, my guide happened to be very knowledgeable and engaging. I enjoyed learning about how different areas of Scotland infuse their whiskeys with different aromas and liked learning about the different malts (single vs. blended.)

The most entertaining part? I walked out of the tour tipsy. You read that correctly, friends. I sampled two different whiskeys and walked out TIPSY! My name is Sydney and I am a lightweight. In my defense, I only ate a muffin for breakfast and I fully acknowledge that I should have eaten more. I cannot say I feel inclined to drink whiskey straight or take a shot of it after my tour, but I loved the history aspect.

After my tour wrapped up around 12:00 pm, I decided to take my tipsy self and wander in some local shops and the Edinburgh museum (free attraction) before walking to the trailhead of Arthur’s Seat. I figured a hike in the Scottish winter air would quickly sober my lightweight self up.

Side note: Edinburgh has some of the cutest small businesses with local items from artisans that I have ever seen! If you have time when visiting, spending a couple of hours ducking in and out just to have a look at the quirky and unique items offered.

Originally, I had planned to hike Arthur’s Seat in the morning at sunrise. However, when my alarm went off and I checked the weather (foggy for the whole day) I decided to leave it for the afternoon and I am glad I did!

I would say a lot of people come to Edinburgh to simply hike Arthur’s Seat because the trek offers a beautiful view of the whole city. The hike in itself is not overly strenuous, but I do think you need to have either sturdy tennis shoes/joggers or hiking boots. I wore my hiking boots and felt relieved that I had done so because the ground was muddy and my ankles were well supported. All in all, I think getting to the top took less than an hour for me and was worth it!

Once I hiked back down from Arthur’s Seat, I popped into the Scottish Parliament. I did not have a tour booked (also free) so I could not go anywhere further than the lobby area. I did have a look at the photography exhibition before moving onto my next destination: the National Monument of Scotland.

Before I reached my final destination for the evening, I found yet another graveyard and decided to stop and have a look around.

Finally, I made it to the area where the National Monument of Scotland was found along with some other attractions and other views of Edinburgh.

By the time I wrapped up taking photos, I was ready to eat. I opted for a small sampling of traditional haggis and a rhubarb soda at a local restaurant. Both were delicious! Asking for a table for one the second time around was much easier!

I ended my evening by wandering through some more local shops and chatting with a mathematician/Ph.D. graduate of Cambridge at my hostel.

The following day I made my way back to the train station and said farewell to Edinburgh, Scotland. No mishaps this time around on the train! When I arrived back to Grantham, I opted to walk the 3.3 miles back to Harlaxton. Nothing beats a view like this one…

Hi, Harlaxton

I implore you to visit Scotland and to visit Edinburgh! You won’t be disappointed. See you back here on Monday!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Edinburgh, Scotland: Day 1

Day 1 in Edinburgh started off at 8:00 am. I felt sleepy, but excited to explore a new city.

Per the suggestion of a Harlaxton staff member, I downloaded the app, CityMaps2Go, for my trip to Edinburgh. This app allows users to download maps for any city to their phone; therefore, you have the ability to use the map without using cellular data. Even without using data, your location is still given on the map in the form of a blue dot. Another cool feature of the app is that museums/attractions/restaurants can be “starred” on the map. I loved this feature because after I visited a landmark, I would unstar it so I knew I had visited there. Please note: only a certain amount of maps can be downloaded for free with the full version of the app costing $9.99 on iTunes. With as much as I used this app in Edinburgh, the full version of the app would be worth the $10.

Anyways, I departed my hostel with my major “to-do” being visiting Edinburgh Castle, which did not open until 10:00 am. I decided to wander up and down streets and stumbled across beautiful buildings, graveyard, and park. In the middle of the park, I saw a teal-colored fountain. What surprised me was the fact that the fountain had water spurting from it. Hello, it’s winter?! I laughed to myself because some of the figures on the fountain had icicles hanging from their faces.

Since I still was killing time, I wandered into a nearby church. This proved to be a great decision when the inside looked like this.

Once I wrapped up at the church, I decided to walk back through the park where the fountain was located. Along the sidewalk, there were different statues/memorials recognizing important Scottsmen whose roles ranged from serving as soldiers to poets.

By the time I wrapped up walking through the park, I made my way to Edinburgh castle. Now, the castle sits upon a dormant volcano. No matter where you are in Edinburgh, you can see the castle overlooking the city. The photo below does not capture the immensity of how spread-out the castle truly is when you walk inside.

Edinburgh Castle

To visit the castle, an entry fee of 18 pounds is assessed. Unfortunately, students discounts are not given. Audio guides can be rented for an additional 3 pounds. I opted for a normal admission so I could visit wherever at my leisure.

Within the castle, there are different areas discussing different parts of Scottish history: early wars, prisoners of war, canons, war memorials, etc. One of the coolest exhibits displays the Scottish crown jewels that were used during Mary Queen of Scots’ coronation (maybe there are some readers out there that have watched the Netflix series…?) I could not take pictures in this exhibit, but I will say the length of the sword was at least my wingspan if not longer…crazy! When I went into the area where prisoner cells were found, I found an informational sign with a breakdown of what inmates were given to eat. “Because the Americans were officially regarded as pirates, they received only 1 pound (560 g) of bread a day.” Haha! All in all, I spent around 2.5 hours at Edinburgh Castle. There was a variety of exhibits and great information. Well worth the money if you ask me!

After wrapping up at the castle, I went to the tartan factory which was a short walk away. There, tartan is woven to make scarves, kilts, hats, and more! I loved seeing the loom in action churning out yards and yards of tartan. Different colors of tartan represent or are exclusive to different groups. For example, there happened to be a large display on the wall discussing the world peace tartan.

I exited the tartan factory and made my way to St. Giles’ Cathedral next. This church I knew nothing about and walked in thinking I would be able to take pictures to my heart’s content. However, a 2-pound fee needed to be paid to have a “camera permit.” Friends, the 2-pound coin I paid…worth it! I wish my photos captured the intensity of the blue pictured on the domed ceilings. An absolutely stunning site to see in person!

Once I deemed I had taken enough photos, I made my way to the National Museum of Scotland. Along the way, I walked past the National Library of Scotland. My inner book nerd could not resist so I popped in for a little bit. There was a fashion exhibit/contest on with the outfits on display made by local college students. The library also had another exhibit called “A Better World? Scotland after the First World War”, which mimicked more of what would be found in a museum. Both exhibits were impressive!

After the library and still on my way to the museum, I passed by this famous cafe…

The Elephant House!

I finally arrived at the National Museum of Scotland. This museum is free with exhibits ranging from wildlife to pottery to fashion. I found myself drawn to the fashion and world cultures exhibits and walked briefly through the others that seemed to be overrun with children and their families.

Once exiting the museum, I pulled up CityMaps2Go to figure out where to go to next. I realized I happened to be near Greyfrair’s Kirk. Now, this graveyard is famous for two different reasons:

  1. There is a terrier that remained and protected his ower’s grave for 14 years until his own death. A statue of the dog is near the graveyard and people rub his nose for good luck.
  2. J.K. Rowling drew inspiration for some of the Harry Potter characters from gravestones located in the cemetery. Hence the church had to put up some barriers to prevent tourists from getting too close to certain stones.

By the time I finished up at the cemetery, my legs had become tired from the walking and my stomach hungry. I opted for some Kurdish food, which turned out to be delicious, ginormous, and filling.

Going into a restaurant by myself proved to be the HARDEST part of this solo trip. Nothing is weirder than going inside a place to eat that is not a cafe or fast food and telling the hostess “table for one.” I feel awkward and I can tell the hostess is questioning what I am doing by myself. However, once you get past that feeling and sit down to enjoy your food, all is well in the world and with your stomach.

Kurdish food

Day 2 in Edinburgh will be up tomorrow. I hope you will stop back to read!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Edinburgh, Scotland: Traveling by Train

Last Thursday after my last class concluded, an introduction to supply chain and logistics in case you are curious, I hopped on the Harlaxton shuttle to the train station.

Now, I want to start by saying my first travel weekend I decided to do a solo adventure to Edinburgh, Scotland, by train. For a person who has limited experience with public transport, I am not afraid to admit I felt EXTREMELY nervous and doubted whether or not I would get to Scotland by the estimated 8:00 pm time on my train e-ticket. I questioned whether or not I should go to Edinburgh, Scotland, by myself when the majority of other Harlaxton students were heading to London. For a first weekend abroad, should I venture to a new country and city by myself? Do I have enough know-how to get from point A to point B?

If you know me personally, an adjective you may use to describe me is independent. I frequently choose “the road less traveled by” in the words of Robert Frost. By selecting the path others elect not to take or forging a completely new path, my life has immensely benefited whether through personal growth, friendships, or opportunities. With this mentality and self-reflection, I felt at peace with my decision to travel alone to Edinburgh as I entered my credit card number to reserve my train tickets and hostel on Sunday evening.

When I went to bed Wednesday evening, I tossed and turned all night long. All I could think about was the fact I had less than 10 minutes to switch trains by myself and had never done such a thing by myself. Throughout Thursday morning, I felt extremely anxious. I took the Harlaxton shuttle town after breakfast hoping I would be able to get my phone switched over to a UK SIM card. This proved to be an unsuccessful endeavor. On the way back to the manor, I chatted with the shuttle driver. I told him this afternoon I would be traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland, alone and about switching trains with less than 10 minutes to spare. He assured me the limited switch time was doable. With the driver’s reassurance, my nerves mellowed out.

I managed to find my platform easily at the Grantham train station and boarded my first train without any issues. As the train continued to stop and passengers exited and boarded, I continued to look at my phone to monitor how close the train was to York.

Eventually, the train arrived at York train station. I exited the train quickly and went to look at the departures/arrivals board. I could not find a train with my departure time to Edinburgh. As the minutes ticked by, I started to panic. The intercom clicked on and the voice announced my train departing from a nearby platform. I SPRINTED to the platform where the train was parked and leaped on as the door to the train started to close.

Friends, it is memories like these that make adventures, well, adventurous. My backpack happened to get wedged in the doors when I boarded the train. Let me say that again. MY BACKPACK GOT WEDGED IN THE TRAIN DOORS AND WAS HANGING OUTSIDE! I found myself facing a woman whose job happened to be collecting the rubbish on the train. She reprimanded me for jumping on the train as the doors were closing. The woman eventually hit the button to the train doors and I was able to get in (thankfully.) As the door opened, a man on the platform asked me if I was okay. I believe the stranger had been trying to push my bag through the door. With wide-eyes, I replied ‘yes.’ After this mishap, I really questioned if I should be traveling alone.

As my heart rate returned to normal, I went in search of my assigned seat only to find it occupied. Looking back on this moment, I am wondering if I happened to mix up the numbers in my head from the still pumping adrenaline. I found a nearby empty seat and made myself comfortable. At this time, I started to become panicked (yet again) because I thought I had boarded the wrong train. Above seats on trains in Europe, there is a little screen with the words: “reserved to (insert city).” I did not see ANY trains reserved to Edinburgh, only to Glasgow. After thinking to myself the worse case scenario being I could buy a train ticket from Glasgow back to Edinburgh, I calmed down. Eventually, I started looking at other nearby screens and found seats “reserved to Edinburgh.” *Insert massive SIGH of relief!*

Eventually, my train arrived at Waverly Train Station in Edinburgh. I disembarked and navigated my way to my hostel. If anyone happened to be out and about and looking at me, I am sure they probably thought I looked crazy. My face beaming with wonder, intrigue, and accomplishment at arriving in a new city and country BY MYSELF.

I managed to get to my hostel with no issues in case you were wondering.

Victoria Street: Edinburgh, Scotland

Stop back tomorrow for a recap on my first day in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo