Some Scottish Christmas Spirit

This was the last trip. The last big adventure. And I can safely say that I am ready to just stay in one place for some time. I have loved traveling all over the place and seeing so many great things, but I am ready to just be still.

So this past weekend we took a train up to Edinburgh and spent the weekend enjoying the Scottish charm. Edinburgh is a really nice city. It was all very compact which made walking around very easy. The main reason that we went to Edinburgh when we did was because of the giant Christmas market that the city has every year. In America we don’t have markets like these, so it was really great to experience something so European. My German friends were particularly happy because the market was a German Christmas market. Meaning that there were German foods, the booths sold German gifts and most of the people working were from Germany.

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On the first day in the city we went on Edinburgh’s free walking tour, just like the one we did in Dublin. Our tour guide was Australian, but has lived in Edinburgh for a few years. He took us all over the city, giving us the story of the different locations and telling us the history of both Edinburgh and Scotland. It was a great way to be introduced to the city before we did our own exploring.

Mercat and St. Giles Cathedral

The Mercat is the medieval message board. This is the place that the news would be announced. Fun fact is that nothing was official until it was announced at the mercat. This was also the place of punishment. If you stole some food you would have your ear nailed to the mercat and you would have to stay there for 24 hours to fulfill your punishment. St. Giles Cathedral was right next to the mercat. The cathedral was built in the 12th century. The interesting thing is that outside the cathedral there is a stonework heart on the sidewalk. It is there to represent where the people used to pay their taxes. To this day people spit on the heart to show there dislike.

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Old Town and Grassmarket

Old Town is a street lined with colorful shops. It is a really unique place ans very adorable. The best shop on the street had to be the joke shop where Jenny bought a ring that squirts water. Grassmarket is the square where they would do the public hangings. Our guide told us about Maggie Dickson a woman who was sentenced to death, but survived the hanging. Since she was pronounced dead they couldn’t hang her again because of double jeopardy. Oh history!

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Greyfriar’s Kirk, Rowling and Bobby

Greyfriar’s Kirk is a large cemetery in the city. We stood on the grass which has been fondly nicknamed Edinburgh Lasagna because there is just lays of dirt and bodies under our feet all mixed together. Here we saw where JK Rowling got some of her names for Harry Potter Characters. Moody, McGonagall and Tom Riddle are all graves that we visited. She would write in The Elephant House Cafe that over looked the cemetery. Also on the other side of Greyfriars is the George Heriot School, which was her inspiration for Hogwarts. As a Harry Potter fan I really enjoyed seeing where she got her inspiration from. The last stop in the cemetery was at Greyfriar’s Bobby’s memorial. This is the memorial for a dog that stayed in the cemetery and guarded his owners grave. Bobby became a sensation in the city and everyone loved him. The mayor even gave him the keys to the city so this dog had free reign of the city and even voting rights!

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That evening I went to the Christmas Market and walked around to the different booths. I loved seeing all the ornaments and smelling all the delicious food. The city has such a fantastic energy and it did really put me in the Christmas mood. The only thing missing was snow. That is my main issue over here. There is no snow so all the Christmas spirit just seems like pretend.

The next day we did exploring on our own and I went to the Christmas market in the evening again to finish up my shopping. Plus I drank a very good cup of hot chocolate that had both marshmallows and whip cream on top! Lovely day…

The Royal Mile, Scottish Parliament, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Royal Mile is the road that runs from the castle to the palace. The street is a really big tourist destination, so there are tons of pubs and gift shops along the ancient street. What is really great about the Royal Mile is that many of the buildings are original and restored. Scottish Parliament is also located on the Royal Mile. Not much to say about this other than it was a unique building with part of it being a historical looking building and the rest being a rather unusual model construction. The Royal Mile ends with the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This is where the Queen stays when visiting Scotland. The palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century. Outside the gate there is a mighty unicorn, which is the symbol of Scotland. This seems like a silly symbol, but we were told that the unicorn represents something untamed and free.

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Calton Hill

Now this is a park located on top of a very steep hill. The walk up was very tiring and my legs were burning! But man was the view worth all the pain. From the top of the hill we could see out over the city, we could see Arthur’s Seat (another hill) and you could even see the ocean. On Calton Hill there are several monuments. One being the National Monument to the soldiers who have died fighting in the Napoleon Wars. It is modeled after the Parthenon, but do to lack of money the monument was very completed and now has the nickname Edinburgh’s Folly. Also on the hill is the Nelson Monument is a commemorative tower in honor of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, who defeated French and Spanish fleets in the Battle of Trafalgar. The only downfall was it was extremely winding, so we didn’t stay too long out of fear for being blown away!

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National Gallery

I only spent a short amount of time in this art gallery. Since I am a lover of museums I enjoyed my time just walking around the gallery looking at all the beautiful paintings. The highlight of the gallery had to be the painting I found of Niagara Falls, which is very close to where I am from. I thought that it was rather nifty to find a painting of something I’ve seen and something so close to home in a gallery in another country.

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Christmas Market

Oh how I loved this Christmas market. I spent two evenings exploring the different booths and just taking it all in. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits, making it a great place to spend my evenings. I mainly just looked at all the crafts, touching a lot of expensive handmade ornaments and eating free German cookie sample. The market reminded me a lot of the county fairs that we have in America, except this one featured Christmas and not farm animals. I wish that I had an infinite amount of money and then I could have ate all the desserts and bought so many Christmas decorations! I really do love this time of the year. Going to the Christmas market was a great way of experiencing Christmas differently from what I am used to.

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The Elephant House

I already talked about seeing the outside of the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, but on the second evening I ventured inside. Since I am a huge HP fan I knew that the bathroom in the cafe are filled with messages from Harry Potter fans. I knew that I both wanted to see the bathroom and leave a message of my own. I was totally shocked when I went into the ladies room. I though that it would just be in the stalls, but literally every surface of the bathroom is covered with thanks you’s to both Harry and Rowling. It was absolutly amazing to see these messages and to see how many people have been effected by a book series that I love soo much. I, with much difficulty, found a spot on the door to write my own message to Rowling thanking her for writing the book series that opened me up to the world of reading.

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On the last day we finished looking around the city. Since the city is actually relatively small we spent some time just wandering around Old Town to kill time. which is after all my favorite way to explore, no pressure just a nice stroll.

Edinburgh Castle

One of the main attractions of Edinburgh is it’s castle. Which is built into the side of the hill and over looks the city. The historic fortress was built in 12th century. Edinburgh Castle was involved in many historical conflicts from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century to the Jacobite Rising of 1745. We didn’t go all the way inside because it is rather expensive and the line was extremely long. We did cross over the drawbridge and get inside the first walls.

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The National Museum of Scotland

As I mentioned above I love museums. So before heading back to the hostel to get our bags and go to the train station, we went to the national Museum of Scotland. Now by the title I though it was going to be about Scotland’s history, but I was very wrong. The museum was like a science museum, natural history museum and stuffed zoo all put together. We had a great time looking at artifacts from different cultures around the world. We played a texting game where you had to shorten different sayings using the model phone on the floor and it was a race. We also saw tons of stuffed animals, which is always interesting and sad. The museum was great fun and totally not what we thought.

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Edinburgh was a great city to end our travels with. I was very happy to have gotten the chance to visit Scotland and experience to Scottish spirit. I had no idea that men actually wore kilts around, but they do. And this is not just older gentlemen, no I saw a lot of young men wearing them and women too. It was nice to see the Scottish culture being embraced.

Until next time…

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