And Then, We Conquered Edinburgh, Also On Foot

Hello internet people! First off, I want to thank you all, because I’ve officially broken 1000 page views. While perhaps not the most massive achievement in the history of the internet, I’m very pleased to see it. After a moment of celebration, let’s move on to the good stuff, shall we?

This past weekend, I found myself in Edinburgh. Which, if you didn’t know, is in Scotland! We mounted a single coach this time, drove for six hours, stopping briefly at the border to take photos of a very exciting rock that said Scotland on one side and England on the other, and then lo and behold, we were there, at the Royal British hotel in glorious Edinburgh. Emily and I hoisted ourselves up the stairs and dropped off our things in the room before heading out in search of adventure and, of course, food.

The thing we quickly learned about Edinburgh was that not only was it beautiful and full of old stuff, it was compact. Most everything was in easy walking distance, especially since we had done London on foot without much complaint only a few weekends ago. We stopped in to a cute little pie shop by the name of Auld Jock’s to have a cup of tea (or hot chocolate for Emily) and rest our weary (cold) bones. From there we explored, popping in to a few shops to look at Scottish things (such as kilts, family crests, etc). Emily was on the grand mission of encountering her family crest, which she did eventually manage to uncover.

Our other mission was the find the Writer’s Museum, a small a lovely little building dedicated to the memory of some of Scotland’s most famous writers, such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. There I got to look at old notebooks and other artifacts that belonged to those in whose footsteps I am loosely following, if in an American, female, and modern way. Naturally, I had to take a photo with the sign. Perhaps a hint of things to come… a long, long time from now, of course! 

Popped in to a little Italian restaurant for dinner–paninis, of course, which were delicious. I then had my first experience with GELATO, which was delicious. My child size came complete with a bear shaped wafer, which was glorious.

From there, we headed off to do some more exploration until we decided to take up an offer for a free ghost tour. If you didn’t know, ghost tours are big in Edinburgh, due to the prevalence of little lanes, called “closes”, which give a spectacular creepy effect. There is also an underground area which is probably effectively spooky. However, being college kids on a budget, the 8.50 general entrance fee for most of the more famous ghost tours made us ache, so we took this one instead. Although there were no underground excursions, we did enjoy a quite funny host dressed up as William Brodie, who told us some rather creepy tales and kept up a lively comic relief. As nothing in life is free, he asked for donations at the end, but all in all we still got off with what I consider quite a bargain. I highly recommend it if you’re ever in town, sans a great sum of expendable money.

After that thrilling experience, we took ourselves back to our toasty little hotel room to see what British/Scottish TV had to offer us and enjoyed a taste of what the United Kingdom has to offer in terms of game shows, such as Family Fortunes, and the British version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the name of which I can’t currently recall. Eventually we landed on a channel called “Dave”, and discovered the humour of one Russell Howard, and there we spent our night.

In the morning it was bright and early to breakfast after a shower in the most incredibly small shower I have ever encountered (I bumped my elbows whilst washing my hair, for instance). The breakfast involved a hot selection this time, which was nice, even if my egg was a bit under-fried. Full of bacon, egg, cereal, and toast I headed off with Emily to handle the bulk of our Scottish sight seeing. This included heading to Calton Hill to view several glorious memorials, all perched beautifully on the hilltop there. On our way up the hill, we spotted two things of interest–one was a glorious Scottish cat and the other was a lost forlorn pair of pants (or, I suppose as I’m in the UK, trousers). I have to admit I love a good pair of lost trousers–it’s fun to imagine the different stories that would lead a pair of jeans to be snagged on a twig in the park in the middle of winter.

Having had our fill of the park, we journeyed off towards St. Giles cathedral, which is a gorgeous place in the center of town. Unfortunately, you had to buy a picture permit, so I didn’t get any pictures of the gorgeous inside of the massive old place. Much like Westminster before it, it seemed so full of history and splendor that my usual agnosticism was simply impossible. I was so awe-struck by its amazing beauty and massiveness that I actually sat down in the private reflection area, had a little prayer, and lit a candle. Something about old churches really resonates with me, I guess. Perhaps it’s the fact that there are former human beings buried beneath my feet and in the walls, or perhaps it’s the size, and the splendor.

There was also this thing.

Anyway, from there we headed to the museum, which was full of a surprising amount of fabulous old stuff. We saw old coins, old weapons, and even old remains of dead people. Yep. Skulls.We also learned that it was once common practice to carry a phallus-shaped talisman (you read that right folks, a penis) in the pocket in order to ward off the evil eye and encourage fertility. Imagine explaining THAT these days. From that lovely exhibit, we headed on to look at some information about textiles and a bunch of other really cool museum type stuff. Once we tired of history (for the moment, anyway) we wandered off to see the famous Greyfriar’s Bobby statue and had a brief look at the graveyard before we decided the atmosphere was decidedly creepy, if only because it was inexplicably so much colder in there. Off past the bagpipers, yet again, we searched out our lunch down the Royal Mile, eventually settling on a pub called the Beehive for a good jacket potato. There we were amusingly carded for “Challenge 25” which is where, if you look under 25, they check your ID to make sure it’s all good for you to be in a pub. Naturally, 18 being the drinking age, we were fine.

Refreshed from lunch ,we decided almost on a whim to climb Arthur’s Seat, a lovely former volcano that overlooks the city. Being as gloriously fit as I am, it was a bit of a challenge, not least because it was rather muddy at parts and the steepest incline I have ever encountered, but it was WORTH IT. The view from the top was MAGNIFICENT. No picture can ever do it justice, and I say to you now that if you’re ever in Edinburgh and you do nothing else, CLIMB IT. Don’t think about it. Just DO IT.

Once we (slowly) made our way back down to safer levels, we felt deserving of a break for some tea and scones, and stopped in to a cute little tea shop where I had cream tea, to which I am now thoroughly addicted. Cream tea generally consists of the house tea and a scone (or two, depending) with clotted cream, jam, and butter. A heart attack, surely, but a delicious one at that. From there we dragged our weary selves back to the hotel to relax for a little while before we dared take on more of the city. We enjoyed a bit more glorious comedy TV and then headed out for a quiet dinner in, you guessed it, another pub. After dinner, we wandered through the National Gallery for a little while before heading back to the room for a nice quiet evening and some much needed sleep.

Emily and I at the Peak of Arthur’s Seat

But the story doesn’t end there! Although Sunday marked our trip home, it also marked two significant stops on the way. First, we stopped at Chester’s Roman fort, which is a part of Hadrian’s Wall. That’s right, folks. Hadrian’s Wall. I stood on a bit of Roman history, and it was magnificent. Even if it was also incredibly cold.

After the wall, we headed on to Durham for lunch and a look at the GORGEOUS cathedral there. Seriously, that building is amazing. GO. I urge you, religious minded or not, to have a look at the amazing architecture. And, it’s free. Unless you want to climb the tower. Sometimes being a badass costs extra, and having climbed a mountain the day before, we decided to give that one a pass. Afterwards, we did a little shopping, most notably in the Oxfam bookstore, which is gloriously full of old books. Then we grabbed some baked goods, got on the bus, and finally headed off towards home sweet castle.


And Then, We Invaded London, On Foot

Hello internet people! The times I get to say that are admittedly fewer when I’m gallivanting about the UK, taking myself many places without wifi, and certainly without my faithful Sony Vaio, who I have cheerfully dubbed Ronaldo. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not writing it all down and keeping it all fresh in my lovely little brain to share with you all!

This past weekend, I went off to LONDON! Yes, the city I’ve dreamed of visiting since I read Harry Potter, and saw Amanda Bynes in What A Girl Wants, and probably even before then, although the time in my life before I knew those books and that movie is a hazy and scary thing. Was it everything I dreamed?

Yes and no. It was everything I could have hoped for, but like anything in real life, it was different, and it was more than I could have hoped. I always wanted to come here, to see Big Ben, and the London Eye (which admittedly I have been a little transfixed with ever since I saw it function as a transmitter for alien tech in an episode of Doctor Who) and Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey, and on and on and on. Admittedly in my youth, there were grand dreams of magic, both the sparks shooting out of wands kind and the kissing a gorgeous British guy in a boat kind, but I knew better than to expect either of those things on this trip (a girl can dream though, right? Can you hear me, Rupert?). What I did expect, however, was that I’d have a fantastic time with the wonderful friends I’ve made in college, and the new friends I continue to make here at Harlaxton itself.

So, the trip itself. We boarded not one, not two, but THREE coaches (or buses, as you probably know them) and proceeded to enjoy the very anticlimactic activity of sitting. For two and a half hours. During which time I did a bit of sleeping, admittedly, regardless of my early determination to watch the landscape pass me by. And then, sleepy and a bit irritable, we rolled up to the hotel, the name of which I should probably remember but I confess I really don’t–was it the royal something? No idea. Anyway, in a terrifying cloud of American-ness and noise (of which I am not proud) the 100-odd of us huddled into the lobby, where everyone proceeded to talk very loudly and annoy a groggy Amanda to near murderous proportions (don’t worry, I haven’t actually killed anyone). Eventually, we were handed our room keys and went to investigate the new and exciting world of British hotels.

Lo and behold, our adorable, if small, room! Lesley, Gina and I claimed our beds, investigated our facilities–which included a water boiler, fit for making a spot of tea, and some interesting milk stick things to go with, and then prepared ourselves to go walk around and see what was near our hotel.

The real adventure, of course, came on the morrow. We had a nice complimentary breakfast, which consisted of toast, rolls, and cereal (meat and things were extra, and as poor college students we didn’t bother with it), and then prepared ourselves for the great walking tour of London.

What possessed us to walk the entire way, without aid of bus or subway or taxi? Well, money, of course. This isn’t the “wealthy person’s blog”, now is it? Besides, we wanted to have the chance to duck in anywhere that struck our fancy, which we did on many occasions.

Anyway, we started our tour off with the British museum, where we got to look at some fabulous old stuff. Then we headed out to find lunch, which we did in a spectacular find–a little Italian cafe called Bush & Fields. It’s not far off from the British Museum, and I recommend it entirely if you happen to be in London. Just have a look at my DELICIOUS ham and mozzerella panini if you’re unconvinced. Plus, the service was fantastic. (Oh, and they aren’t paying me. No one pays me to talk about things.)

Refreshed from our glorious food (and the even more glorious luxury of a bottle of Diet Coke, a beverage they don’t serve in the “refectory” here at Harlaxton), we headed off to do more adventuring/walking. And boy did we walk. We ducked into some bookstores, little tourist shops, H&M, Top Shop and more as we made our way past Piccadilly Circus (the one with the lovely signs, such as for McDonalds and Coke, very British) and Trafalgar square (where we stopped to do a photo op with the fountain, etc).

Our destination for the day was Westminster, where we planned to attend the evening service, called “Evensong”. There were two reasons for this–one, some of us have more strong religious leanings than yours truly, and wanted to see a service. Two, you can have a peak inside the Abbey for free, rather than paying, if you attend service. Now, if you know me you know that I’m a rather precariously perched agnostic, meaning I haven’t really got a clue what we ought to believe and don’t know that we really can. But there was something in Westminster that touched even me. It’s hard, standing in that gorgeous cathedral, dark except for the eerie glow of candles lit for prayers when you first enter, looking up at a ceiling that looks so far away it may as well reach the heavens, that made me feel more strongly than ever that there has got to be SOME purpose to it all. If people so long ago would erect such a building, if such a building full of people who’d once been alive and people who’d once prayed there was still standing… I got a chill, but in the good way. The service was nice, and had a little card explaining what to do so that I wasn’t lost and confused per usual. If I had any connections with God, however, they were in the silent prayers I conjured on the way in and out, but I think that in itself is something spectacular.

After that, we made our way BACK towards the hotel, ducking in for some dinner at “The Diner” after an awkward realization that in some restaurants you have to order an entree and they charge an automatic gratuity of 12.5%! Needless to say we ducked out of THERE (so be wary, travelers) and that’s how we ended up in the diner, a quaint, if touristy, little restaurant where I had some delicious penne in some sort of sauce that I couldn’t pronounce.

Can you believe that’s only day one? Well it was. The next day, we took off on foot yet AGAIN, heading to The Tate art museum, where a gloriously geeked out Amanda stared up in awe at the ORIGINAL Lady of Shallot painting that I have admired since I was a very little girl and first encountered the Tennyson poem of the same name (which I actually memorized once, because I am insane).

We also encountered, utterly by chance, the glory that is TK Maxx, the U.K extension of TJ Maxx. To bore you with a bit of history for the company by which I am employed (slash will be employed by again hopefully upon my return to the states), the branch has this different name because, apparently, when TJX Companies spread out they worried the name “TJ Maxx” would get them all confused with an already existing chain, called “TJ Hughes”, about which I know nothing. Thus the European TJ Maxx became TK Maxx, and was also made very fancy and to have two stories and a magnificent bench for sitting (I have no idea that these things were related, but they were there). We did a bit of browsing, then returned to the cold and to the walking.

From there, which had been a trek in and of itself, we ventured to Harrods, a magnificently gigantic and expensive department store that I’m told is a MUST when in London. I saw some ridiculously priced chocolates, incredibly fancy pens, a Dalek lunchbox, and printed toilet paper. Ducked in to Pete a Manger for lunch, which was another magnificent find, if a bit less of a surprise since they’re on every corner. We declared it the British Panera, and it was quite good.

Refreshed AGAIN, we trekked on, and on, and on. We walked through several parks, had a pit stop at Buckingham palace, and then headed back to the hotel to rest our tired (and in some cases even bleeding) feet. After a little news and showering, we soldiered on to have dinner in, yes, an actual PUB! Can you tell I was excited? I was excited! I had a jacket potato (or as we call it, a baked potato) stuffed with mushrooms, cheese, and all sorts of gloriousness. It was fantastic, just the carb-filled glory that I needed after a day of walking. And walking. And walking. From there we headed to Tesco, a lovely little convience store, to get some drinks and some chocolate (and of course my new addiction, Maynard’s Wine Gums). Gina, Lesley, Emily and I had a quaint little girls night in in our rooms, and eventually we all got into bed, and the three of us watched a bit of Bridget Jones before we went to sleep. All in all, a second day full of walking, of sightseeing, and of generally attempting to experience the culture of London.

The third day, we departed for home, stopping along the way at Hampton Court Palace, a beautiful and luxurious location that was inhabited by the infamous Henry VIII. Wearily, we toured the splendor, had a spot of hot chocolate in a nearby cafe, and then finally boarded the coaches and made that lovely 2 1/2 hour ride (which became a nap) back home to Harlaxton manor, where of course we all returned to the reality of our homework–after we uploaded the pictures on Facebook, of course!

And there it is! In short, and lacking much of the detail I COULD give, if I wanted to bore you, my first trip to LONDON! Those of you who know and love me will be happy to hear I did not, in fact, go off chasing ANY ice cream trucks in search of Rupert Grint. I was too distracted with the glory that is London–though there’s always next time!