Friday, January 10, 2014

Contiki England and Scotland Day 5: Edinburgh

Contiki England and Scotland

Day 5

Let me start off by saying that Edinburgh was one of my favorite stops on this trip and I can't wait to return one day and explore more of it. Now back to the Contiki action...

If you chose to do the optional Edinburgh Castle tour, prepare to wake up early and catch the city bus (Mark had the day off) with your tour manager and group and then ascend a lengthy flight of stairs and steady incline to get to the ever impressive castle. After entering the castle you're pretty much on your own, so enjoy the view and take your time, there's a lot see here including the Scottish crown jewels.

Robert the Bruce

Now I'm going to keep this post brief in the way of words and let the photos show most of the adventure as my cousin, Nick, Michelle (a Contiki tourmate from Canada) and I did a whole lot before heading back to the Holiday Inn for one of the complimentary tour dinners. Although in retrospect, I wish we would have just stayed in the city for dinner as the hotel dinner was a little lackluster buffet. But I digress. . .

After exploring all that Edinburgh Castle had to offer, the clouds and cold winds started to roll in as we descended the hill in search of lunch. First off though we made a stop at The Real Mary King's Close to book a tour for after lunch (book your tour as early in the day as possible, the slots fill up really fast). After a delicious lunch at SDFS, we spent our time strolling up and down the Royal Mile checking out the shops and interesting historic places and, before we knew it, it was time to take the tour.

Unfortunately, photos aren't allowed at The Real Mary King's Close, but it's a fascinating tour that gives you a greater understanding of how hard life was in medieval Edinburgh. Our costumed tour guide was wonderful and taught us about the different types of plagues that beleaguered the city and one of the origin stories of how the term "shit-faced" drunk came to be, among other historical tidbits about life along the close.

For those curious about how the term shit-faced came to be, it all had to do with the drunks who were stumbling home from the pub in the wee hours of the morning. At that same time the early birds would toss their waste, including the contents of used chamber pots, out into the street (aren't you happy for modern day sanitation regulations?), but before doing so they would yell, "Gardyloo!" (Scottish for look out for water) and the drunkards would just look up and get a face full of dirty water. The more you know.

There is a little statue of a dog in front of the Greyfriars Bobby pub. The statue is that of a little Skye Terrier who used to help his owner on his nightly rounds as he kept watch over the cemetery near the pub. When his owner died, the little dog kept up his nightly duty of watching over the cemetery, which would then end with the little dog spending the night sleeping over his owner's grave. The little dog went on with his routine and mourned his owner's death for another 14 years until he himself passed away.

With the just about an hour to spare, my cousin and I hopped on the last guided audio tour of Holyrood Palace. Unfortunately they don't allow photos inside, most likely because Holyrood is still a royal residence. When the Queen comes to Scotland and doesn't feel like going to Balmoral she stays here. They do, however, allow photos in the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, home to the coronation of kings like James V and Charles I.

I would definitely recommend visiting the palace because not only are you walking down the same corridors as Queen Elizabeth II herself, but there's so much rich Scottish history within those castle walls. One of the more interesting tales you get to learn about is the alleged affair of Mary Queen of Scots and her ill-fated advisor, Rizzio, who was dragged out of Mary's dining quarters and stabbed many times by her jealous and power hungry husband, Lord Darnley.  

Holyrood Abbey

Eventually time caught up to us and my cousin and I caught the next bus back to the Holiday Inn where we ate a quick dinner and refreshed our memory cards and batteries. Before we knew it, we were back on the next bus out to grab a pint and snap some nighttime photos. The first pub stop of the night was at the Banshee Labyrinth, This was probably one of the coolest bars I've been to, being a film nerd and all. Here you can order your drink up front and head back to the mini movie theater that comes complete with huge comfy couches to sit on and watch old classics. So, with a ghoulish cocktail or two in hand, I sat down and watched the original 1931 Frankenstein, before heading out in to the night.

 The second and last pub stop of the night was here at the World's End, a great quiet pub with a special World's End ale that is quite tastey and, as an added bonus, there's free wi-fi and a great sense of history here.

Extra Tips:

* Edinburgh exemplified the practice of dressing in layers and always carrying an umbrella. The morning was
   beautiful but then the clouds rolled in with the cold and periodic showers. It also got really cold at night and I
   ended up spending an extra  £20 at the World's End for a hoodie, which kept me nice and warm throughout 
   the rest of the trip and ended up being one of my favorite souvenirs.

* Trying to get a cab at night after the buses finish running is really quite difficult, so be prepared.

The next blog post will be about my sixth day on tour from Edinburgh to Loch Ness.

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