Walter Mencken 11:31 a.m., Feb. 1
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Adventures in Edinburgh
There are so many reasons to travel. Of course, the obvious ones are ever present. To experience a new culture, scenery, food, nightlife, and everything else that matters. It’s almost like going to an alternate universe. While some might enjoy visiting, say, tropical beaches and sipping on Mai-Tai’s with purple umbrellas sticking out of them, I prefer my travel destinations with a connection to the old world.
With its cobblestone streets, majestic castles, 18th century manors, eerie cemeteries, and pubs on every corner the city of Edinburgh, located in the country of Scotland, always does more than enough to suffice.
My first trip there was in 2003.
Being fortunate enough to book a very nice hotel within walking distance to the most popular attraction, The Royal Mile, it was difficult to take everything in all at once. With so many sights and smells, I almost felt like I had ADD. As I walked to the first of many sights I would see, I noticed a dark cavern located just under the Royal Mile that was advertised as a historical attraction. Called ‘The Edinburgh Dungeon’, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was a labyrinth of exhibitions and skits by actors that shed light on Scotland’s macabre history. With the feel of a Halloween haunted house, all of the actors involved truly make one feel like they were face to face with the horrors of Scotland’s past.
With a smile still on my face, I walked up a steep flight of stairs and finally found the Royal Mile, named so as a result of its length and also because of the two Royal structures located at each end of it, Holyrood Palace and Castle Edinburgh.
It was particularly busy that afternoon due to an open-air market. Deciding to venture to the left, I mainly ignored the many street vendors as I walked to the mass of elegance which was Holyrood Palace. The official residence of Scotland’s monarchs, it was the home of former Scottish ruler Mary, Queen of Scots.
Taking a tour of it, I found it was very impressive with its gigantic halls and luxurious bedrooms. The royal bedroom was especially opulent. The palace also had a museum-like room made up of portraits of the countless nobility who had resided in the palace throughout the ages. After seeing the private apartment where David Rizzio, the Italian secretary of Queen Mary, was stabbed 56 times, the tour concluded.
Walking back to the other end of the Royal Mile, I decided to try out the local cuisine. Stopping by a Middle-Eastern hole in the wall by the name of ‘Yum-Yum’, I had the most delicious chicken kebab plate I've ever tasted, before or since.
Reaching Castle Edinburgh, I was about to engage in a four hour trek that featured the most comprehensive military museum and memorial I've ever seen (and I've seen plenty of them), detailed exhibitions regarding the civil strife between the Catholics and the Protestants, The royal Jewels which were located in the heart of the castle, the many wars fought between England, accounts of former Scottish rulers such as Robert the Bruce, and all of the architecture and weaponry from the Middle-ages.
Finishing my tour of the castle, I realized that the sun was setting. Not wanting to retire for the night just yet, I wandered the Royal Mile briefly before I saw a sign in a narrow corridor which promoted evening tours for a place called ‘Mary King’s Close’. Never hearing of such a place, I decided to give it a try. For the next 90 minutes, I was taken underground to a backdrop that was virtually untouched since the sixteenth century. Named after the daughter of advocate Alexander King, the complex was overshadowed by legends of ghosts, murders, and of plague victims being walled up alive. Aside from the damp smell in all of the underground rooms, which gave to the tour more than a touch of authenticity, it was ethereal.
Stopping by the pub named ‘Bobby’s Bar’ for a glass of red wine, I then headed to my hotel for the night.
As much fun as I had on my first day in Edinburgh, my second day was almost better!
As I was enjoying breakfast, which was provided by my hotel, a middle-aged woman approached me and inquired if I was, in fact, an American. When I answered yes, she then told me that she was a language teacher from Bordeaux, France and was wondering if I would accompany her and her 30 or so students for a tour of northern Edinburgh, as they wanted to hear an authentic ‘American’ accent. Naturally, I accepted her request. In a decked out 80’s style tour bus, I was able to view the beautiful, mist-filled, hillsides and chilling forests of Edinburgh that I wouldn't have been able to see otherwise. All while humoring my new found French companions. Stopping by Loch Lamond, we then went to St. Andrews. There, we all played a round of golf, a game I’m not at all proficient in, and I was able to see the final resting place of William Wallace of ‘BraveHeart’ fame.
Later in the afternoon they dropped me off at the hotel and from there I footed it to the world-renown Edinburgh museum whose breathtaking works of art were awe inspiring. And the best part about that was that it was completely free!
Too few moments in life are utterly magical and if there is one word to describe my first trip to Scotland, it would be just that. Magical.
For everyone else interested in such an experience, I wholeheartedly invite you to do the same.