Plan: We will take the train to Edinburgh. We hope to see the Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles Cathedral, and the Museum of Scotland. We will eat at Buffet King, a Chinese food place that used to be the cafe where J.K.Rowling first wrote Harry Potter. We might do a Witchery or Literary Pub Tour in the evening.
What Actually Happened (per Christine): It being Sunday morning, the trains didn't leave as early, plus we wanted to eat the included breakfast at The Sycamore in York before we left, so we wouldn't have to eat again until dinner. We had the exact same breakfast as the day before, good except for the same sunny side up fried eggs - blech! and we hurriedly checked out and walked a shortcut to the train station. We made the 10am train to Edinburgh. Based on our previous experiences here in Britain, we figured we wouldn't get as much done as we wanted so we prioritized to get a room, see the castle, eat at Buffet King and do an evening tour.
When we first got into the train station, we started calling hotels and bed and breakfasts. No luck; everything was full. (We found out later that there was a big international rugby final going on in town and lots of foreign rugby fans were there, hoping their team would make it to the finals). We finally got a room at a Jury's Inn (it seemed to be like a Marriott-type modern hotel). It turned out it was right around the corner from the train station, only a few minutes walk. It was a little more expensive than other options, but a great location for one night (and we didn't have to pay for a taxi to get there). Mike especially appreciated having a big American style room as a change of pace for one night. One thing really interesting about the room was that you had to put your room card in a slot in order to turn on the lights. This kept you from leaving the lights on after you left the room and wasting electricity. The hotel (and all the previous bed and breakfasts that we've been to), have not had the usual tiny hotel soaps and shampoos that American hotels have. Instead, they have large bottles of soap and shampoo for people to share (the Jury's Inn room even had them mounted on the walls). It is very cool and more environmentally friendly. The Jury's Inn even had a sign saying that you could leave your newspapers and bottles out and they would recycle them. Very cool.
Anyway, after leaving out stuff in the room, we set out for Edinburgh Castle. The main sights of Edinburgh are situated on High Street, with the Holyrood Palace (where the queen stays when she makes her yearly visit to Scotland) on one end, and the Edinburgh Castle on the other. Of course, Edinburgh Castle was high on a hill (a million-year extinct volcano), since it was actually used for fortification in the past. Also, Edinburgh sits on the coast, as you will see in some of the pictures. We never got close to the ocean, but I didn't know that Edinburgh was a sea-faring town.
We climbed the long hill to Edinburgh Castle; it was quite tiring! But the view from the top was amazing! Edinburgh Castle was such a picture-perfect castle, with its outer fortifications and almost-village inside. We definitely made the right choice to spend the entire afternoon here, rather than rush off to other things. First we went on short guided tour to give us an overview of the castle. Our guide was a little old guy with a beanie (when it was raining) and a very broad Scots brogue. He took our group around and told us some history about the place. Apparently it has been sieged several times through its long history, the most famous of these being the "Lang Siege" when supporters of Mary Queen of Scots locked themselves in the Castle and kept out the King's army for 5 years! But the Castle was massively damaged by canon fire during this time and eventually, the supporters of Mary had to surrender. Mary's son, King James VI of Scotland was also King James I of England, the first king of a united England and Scotland, and the two countries have been united (more or less :-) ever since. We thought our guide was really funny when he pointed out several ancient-looking barracks buildings and said that those were "not historically significant. They weren't built until the 1700s." <hehehe> We also lucked out with our timing. Apparently, there used to be a ceremonial guard at the Castle all the time. But 5 years ago, the military general in charge thought that was a waste of key military personnel, so they started only doing the ceremonial guard when the queen is in town and other festivals of state. Apparently, they were about to start the Royal Military Tattoo (an annual international concert of military bands), so they had the ceremonial guard at the castle for the week. So we got to see the changing of the guard at Edinburgh castle, a rare sight nowadays. We also saw Scotland's crown jewels and the Stone of Scone (upon which almost every Scottish and English king has been seated on during their coronation for at least the last 1000 years). I really liked the Stone of Scone (also called the Stone of Destiny); it was just a medium-sized square rock about the size of a large suitcase with some iron rings sticking out to carry it by. Unfortunately, they wouldn't let us take pictures in there, "for security reasons". Lastly, we went up to the top of the castle. The view there was absolutely stunning; Mike is working on a panorama that is almost 360 degrees. Very cool.
After Edinburgh Castle, we headed for Buffet King, the Chinese restaurant that used to be Nicholson's Cafe, where JK Rowling used to sit all afternoon with her daughter in a pushcar (stroller) and write Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. This was when she was really poor and it was cheaper for her to drink tea there all afternoon than it was to heat her flat. It was fun going to the restaurant, but the food was not very good (though remember, I hate Chinese food to begin with), and the service was lousy. We finished our drinks early on and they never brought us more. And they charged 50pence (about a $1) for regular tap water. They had fish sticks labeled as hash browns and I had to spit it out into my napkin. I just hope it was a tiny bit nicer when it used to be Nicholson's Cafe :-)
After eating, we had several hours until our Witchery tour, so we went to an easyInternet cafe to try to upload our website updates. Unfortunately, the cafe had USB ports but had disabled them all, so we couldn't upload the updates. Mike was quite grumbly about this as we had already bought our Internet time, but I was happy to be able to read e-mail and check out the old Leaky Cauldron. We also were able to look up on the web for places where there is free Wi-fi in London, so hopefully we will be able to update there.
After leaving the Internet cafe, we went on a very steep trek up to the meeting place for the Witchery tour. I asked Mike if it was as steep as the hills in San Francisco, and he said it was, but in San Francisco, you wouldn't walk up it, you'd hop a trolley to go up. We were quite winded when we got to the top and ended up talking to some local older guy who was just standing around. He told us that the whole town was a series of seven big hills (lots of them very old extinct volcanoes), and that it wasn't too bad going east to west, but going north to south (the way we had just come) was very difficult terrain. He also told us that most of the town was built in the 1600s after a fire destroyed most of the wooden buildings of the city in a giant fire in the early 1600s. We commented on the fact that it stayed light so late and he said that Edinburgh was so far north that around June 21, it only gets about an hour of darkness. He was a really nice guy to sit and chat with us, but then our tour guide for the Witchery Tour showed up, dressed in a black suit, grey cape and face painted white, so we had to go. Our Witchery tour did not provide nearly the historical information that previous ghost tours had; it was one of the types where people dress up and jump out at you, but it was certainly fun. The guide was a real young guy and he told us mostly stories of gruesome deaths in Edinburgh (and there have been quite a lot of those!) as opposed to stories of hauntings. Mike really got a kick out of this tour and hopes to win their monthly photo contest :-) They did provide us with a small paperback book of horror stories of Edinburgh they had compiled; that was really quite nice.
It finally got dark about 11pm when we were heading back to our hotel for the night. I wanted to try to get up early to see when the sun would rise, but I didn't wake up in time. Overall, Edinburgh probably would have been worth spending a few days more to see some of the other sites, but it wasn't my favorite city of the trip. It had a bit of a rundown feel to it and it felt a little bit like St. Louis or New Orleans, with a lot of people sleeping on the streets and begging for money (of course, that may just have been the drunken rugby players in town). I felt safe enough on the main streets, but I don't know that I would have liked to have been walking around in some of the dark closes (little alleys) by myself.