A few years ago, I came up with my very own tradition: going on different trips for my birthday. In 2017 Edinburgh ended up being the destination of choice. The initial plan was to try something new, more specifically Liechtenstein but well the heart wants what it wants and I ended up going back to Scotland.
I visited Scotland for the first time in 2007 and I just fell in love with the Country. I spent several months working in a hotel in a little town called Balqqhider, in the Sterling council area, and I took advantage of my days off to go visit around. I went back in 2011 for a two weeks trip to the Highlands but although I had been to Edinburgh during my first trip I had barely seen it. At the time I guess I wasn’t that comfortable yet travelling alone.
Before I left I made a list of things I wanted to do and see, but once I got there I decided to go with the flow for my first day and joined a Sandeman’s free tour of the city. I really like the concept of free tours, it gives you the opportunity to get a first feel of the city and can help you decide which area you would like to explore more in depth at your own pace. Also for someone who gets lost as easily as I do, it’s a good way to get your bearings around the city.
Those tours are a good way to get to know more about the place you’re visiting and do so in an entertaining way. For example I learned that the expression “shit faced” originated from Edinburgh and it was quite literal at the time. Had to do with the fact that people used to empty their chamber pots out the window and that usually happened around the time pubs were closing. So if you had had a little too much to drink and could not hear the warning you were most likely at the high chance of ending up covered in someone else shit.
For this tour we stayed in the Old Town and went by the Writer’s museum, and Greyfriar’s Cemetery among other places. In Greyfriar’s you can find names that inspired some of Harry Potter’s characters, even the school which inspired JK Rowling for Hogwarts is nearby. There is also the grave of a certain Thomas Riddell, which is now the most visited grave of the entire cemetery, because of the book. You can even do entire Harry Potter themed tour and they will take you all around places that inspired the book series or where JK Rowling used to write.
After the tour I went to visit the Castle and went on another guided tour.
I guess I didn’t have enough of my first tour as I decided to go on a second one in the evening. The second tour was a themed one: “The Dark Side tour” and focused on the dark side of Edinburgh. It had nothing to do with ghosts and spirits but more about the dark side of actual historical facts such as: body snatchers, public executions and all of that. Our guide shared with us a few grim stories, one of them was about a lady whose encounter with body snatchers turned out to be a good thing for her.
This tour was the occasion to go visit the New Town, just to be clear the New Town isn’t actually that new, especially in 2017, given that they started building it around 1767. However it’s still newer than the old one who goes as far back as medieval times. Anyway old or new Edinburgh is just a pleasure to look at.
The tour was still a Sandeman’s one and this time we got a Scottish guide named Greg, who happens to be a wonderful story teller. Going on this tour with him felt more a like walking show. He gave life to the stories he was telling, playing with the tone of voice or sometimes even acting the part a little bit. I therefore spent my first day in Edinburgh learning as much as I could about the city and having a blast while doing so despite the rain.
Speaking of rain, it was still there when I decided to climb Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano, the next day. On clear days you can get an amazing view of the city from there, I wasn’t quite lucky but I still enjoyed going up there. Arthur’s Seat was a short walking distance from my Bed and Breakfast, so I had a nice little walk before starting the hike up.
With all the rain I didn’t stay long on the top and went down towards Holyrood Palace, the palace is still currently used by the Royal Family. While I was visiting the Palace, the rain stopped and I decided to go back to explore the new town because I hadn’t seen much of it the day before given that the “Dark Side tour” starts at dusk so by the time we were finished it was pretty dark. I went back on top of Calton Hill, which according to the legend is an inter dimensional portal, and to Calton Cemetery where you can find a statue of Abraham Lincoln.
I ended my trip with the National Gallery before heading to the airport to catch my plane. There is probably so much more I could have done during that weekend but I was pretty content with my time there and still looking forward to go back and explore more of Edinburgh and Scotland in general.