Edinburgh City Tour, Arthur’s Seat, and Food!

It was a BIG day in Edinburgh. Having had the twilight zone realization that two American girls I had previously met in Iceland (Rachel and Nicole) were staying at the same hostel as me, I was looking forward to the good times to come!

A look at what it was like after a quarter of the way up

So first thing the morning after my arrival, we headed off to Arthur’s Seat. For those unfamiliar with Scottish geography, Arthur’s Seat is what remains of a volcano that has been extinct for about 350 million years ago! It’s eruption in the Carboniferous age is what helped shape Edinburgh into the beatiful city it is today.

Halfway there!

Geography lesson aside, it is what the Scottish people have by way of a mountain. While it does have a bit of a steep incline in parts and the stairway up is a bit uneven, coming from the Pacific Northwest, this was more like a very large hill.

The stairway to heaven!

Nonetheless, I broke a sweat (which might say something about the imbalance in my diet over here in the UK!). On this “hike”, we were also joined by a couple new friends that we (the Americans) affectionately began to call “The Germans”. I’m not sure if Ali and Christian minded this term of endearment, but if they did they never said anything to us! All the same, we all had a great time on this sunny day in Scotland!

Our “finisher photo” as The Germans called it

The plan after going to Arthur’s Seat (as we finished about 11 am) was to grab a bite on the way back to the hostel, eat, relax, shower off our stench a bit, and then meet up again at 2 pm for a walking tour around the city. This did not happen. As we started to walk back up the Royal Mile towards our hostel, we made little pit stops here and there to look at souvenirs, kilts, bagpipes, roasted pig carcasses and what-have-you.

The shop is open for business, until the pig runs out!

By the time we had gotten within the vicinity of our hostel it was approaching 1 pm and at that point we figured it would be easier to just grab an “Oinker” and kick it curbside while we wait for the tour to start. So, we revisited Oink (see pig carcass) and ordered a couple tasty buns!

While I haven’t described it in the most mouthwatering way, Oink is actually straight up delicious. The dead pig staring at you in the window can be a bit of a turn off for some; but for others it’s swine beacon of pure satisfaction! I am a member of the latter group. I found Oink on TripAdvisor, of course, as it was recommended for its power to satisfy both your hunger and your budget. Boy do they succeed! For £3.95 you get a nice big whole wheat bun, a haggis or sage and onion stuffing, and your choice of relish. A bargain at twice the price! My Oink, as well as the Germans, consisted of a sage and onion stuffing with an apple relish; a classic flavor profile that always delivers! Rachel and Nicole got a little more adventurous with the chili cheese sauce, which I had hoped to try at a later date but sadly we never returned to see our friends at Oink.

If that wasn’t enough, Rachel and Nicole turned us on to a little something called Mary’s Milk Bar, a sensational homemade gelato place in the middle of Grassmarket Square. So of course we stopped and got a cone! Feeling a bit like an “oinker” myself, I opted for the bramble berry sorbet (like its any better for you) and was quite happily surprised. People who know me know that I’m not a sorbet person. If I’m going to eat ice cream, I want to eat ice cream, not ice that tastes like fruit. But Mary may have just changed my mind!

One happy camper!

Feeling fat and happy (as I have been for most of this trip) we waddled on over the the meeting point for our free walking tour of Edinburgh.

Our tour guide, Australian Dave

I have already shared my affinity for the locally sponsored, free walking tours so it should be no surprise that I would once again be taking one in Edinburgh! But Australian Dave had some big shoes to fill after Kevin (our tour guide in Reykjavik).

Dave started it off well though, bringing us to the Edinburgh Walk of Fame whise most notable honoree at this juncture is none other than J. K. Rowling!

The money makers themselves!

Scotland, as we all know, has a long history. Whether we learned this history from school, tours, or Mel Gibson in Braveheart, we all know it exists and that it dates back thousands of years. Therefore, I won’t bore you with the recital of Dave’s two and a half hour tour. But I will say that it is very interesting and if maybe you don’t know as much about Scotland, watch Braveheart and find out! Nah, just kidding! That movie, as we learned, is actually highly inaccurate (and filmed in Ireland!). In any case, very interesting and informative tour, especially from an out-of-towner!

The skyscrapers of Edinburgh! But seriously, these are them

What I found most impressive about this tour in particular was the breadth and depth of topics covered. It was not just the history of Scotland told by walking around and pointing at old buildings. No. Instead, we walked down old, cobblestone alleyways and came to cute, secluded squares where we could learn more about life “back in the olden days”.

IMG_1087
The Scottish “trick step”

For example, the picture above is of a trick step that was implemented in many outside staircases of “old Scotland”. This was the “alarm before the alarm”. How it works is the burglar, trying to be stealthy, creeps up your doorway but is surprised by the one step shorter than the rest. He inevitably trips and hopefully makes a bit of noise as he falls. And that’s how you know someone is breaking in! However, as Dave pointed out, there is a small caveat to this brilliant architectural plan. The Scots do more than their fair share of drinking, and when they would stumble up their steps drunker than a skunk, they too would be caught by that tricky little step. And of course, they would fall and thought to be a burglar burglaring their own house! Small story, but very humorous bit of history that is still around today!

The school that gave J. K. Rowling the inspiration for Hogwarts

And of course, you can’t have a tour of the U.K. without at least mentioning Harry Potter or Game of Thrones (in the case of this tour, both but more the former than the latter). This school, the George Heriot school, was the inspiration for Hogwarts. Looking at it, you can see that there are four towers surrounding the main building of the school; this was where the notion for the four schools was born.

Victoria Street is supposedly the inspiration for Diagon Alley, but I’m not so sure I believe that one…

What has also been confirmed by the author was the use of Greyfriar cemetery to create characters. While some may think this to be slightly morbid, I find it more poetic because she gave select people a real chance at a second life. One where they are wizards, witches, professors, and villains.

The real Tom Riddle’s grave!

There is a lot more I could say about thistour (there always is) but I don’t want to give away all the good stuff! And it wasn’t all Harry Potter, even though it seems that way by my pictures. It was actually quite well-rounded with lots of history, culture, religion, quirky anecdotes, and even a little language lesson (apparently the term “shit-faced” started in Scotland hundreds of years ago, look it up!).

Beautiful heather coming into bloom on the hills of Arthur’s Seat 

It was a great day in Edinburgh, but as they say, all good things must come to an end. So my apologies for the long post, but as I said, it was a BIG day in Edinburgh!

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