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Contiki England & Scotland – Days 4 & 5: Edinburgh

Hi Everyone!


We left our hotel pretty early in the morning & headed for the Scottish border. We stopped at a famous wedding hall, Gretna Green, just after crossing into the border. It was the site of many runaway marriages between couples from England due to Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1754 which allowed parents to veto a marriage if their child was under 21. This law was passed to prevent the rich from falling in love with, and eventually marrying the poor. As Scotland was not a part of England, the law did not apply to them, so plenty of English citizens crossed the border to pursue their forbidden love. Two members of our group had a mock wedding ceremony, so we were able to experience what it may have been like. After saying their vows, the “minister” had both parties put their hands on an anvil, struck the anvil next to their hands with a hammer & said I now pronounce you man and wife!


Then, we drove to Hadrian’s Wall which was built by a Roman Emperor, Hadrian, over 1,000 years ago after Rome conquered the lower part of what is now Great Britain to defend against the “wild, untamable clans of the North” – sounds very familiar to the Wall in Game of Thrones. Getting from the parking lot to the actual wall required a decent hike up and down a Scottish hill where sheep were grazing, but the hike was worth it! The ruins of the wall were breathtaking and you could imagine just how imposing the wall was by visiting the site. We even learned that the indoor structures of the wall had heated floors and that many of the soldiers defending the wall lived there with their families. When the wall was eventually abandoned by the Roman Empire, many soldiers chose to stay behind and raise their children in England.


We then drove a few minutes and took pictures at the Scottish border with a bagpiper that was playing beautifully next to a rock that said Scotland.

After the border, we headed for Edinburgh. We arrived into the city shortly after 5:00 PM and had a quick turnaround before we met around 20 new group members that joined the tour in Scotland for an optional dinner. I tried haggis for the first time & was pleasantly surprised. It tasted like stuffing!

Haggis

After dinner, Contiki arranged for a bagpiper to come and play for us. He was very good & told lots of great stories with typical, Scottish humor. At one point, someone asked him if he believed in the Loch Ness monster. Without missing a beat, he replied “I am the Loch Ness monster!” It was hilarious!

After dinner, the bus dropped us off downtown so we could go out and explore Edinburgh’s nightlife. The first bar we went to had a pretty good musician, but we then decided to go to a more energetic night club and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so old. Since the drinking age over here is 18, people who sneak into the clubs are 16 & 17. The 10 year age gap was a bit too much for some of us to handle, so we decided to head back to the hotel shortly after 1 in the morning.

I love this quote. When we passed it between bars, I had to take a picture.

The following morning, we had a tour of Edinburgh Castle. Due to European driver regulations, our bus driver had a day off so we took public transit to the Castle. Edinburgh Castle is situated on top of Castle Rock (similar to Casterly Rock if you’re a Game of Thrones fan) & only has one way to enter the castle (another Game of Thrones reference – the Vale). The rock it is situated on top of was the result of a volcanic eruption, so the castle can be easily defended. The castle itself was beautiful and provided even more beautiful views of the surrounding city of Edinburgh!

We learned about how the castle used to be surrounded by a pit of feces & how a small group of 30 resistance fighters swam across the pit in the middle of the night to scale the rock and sneak into the castle. They proceeded to take the castle from the English, but knew they couldn’t hold it with just 30 men so they burned it to the ground. We also heard about the Stone of Destiny is the coronation stone of Scotland & how the English stole it along with the Crown Jewels 700 years ago! The English put the Stone of Destiny below the Coronation Throne in Westminster Abbey in a symbolic gesture – when their king is named, so is the Scottish king. In the mid-1900’s, a group of students from Edinburgh University decided that the Stone of Destiny belonged back in Scotland, so they broke into Westminster Abbey and stole it. While carrying it back to their car, they dropped it and it broke in half. The students kept going, though, dragged the stone back across the border and found someone to repair the stone. After it was fixed, they realized what they had done, draped the stone in a Scottish flag, and dropped it off on the steps of a church. A priest found it and returned it to England. Despite having fingerprints all over it, the students were never charged.


The Stone of Destiny, along with the Crown Jewels, were used as a bargaining chip in a recent election for the Conservative party to retain power. It would have been a close election, but the Scots overwhelmingly voted for the Conservatives so they could get their beloved artifacts back home where they belong. We were able to see them in Edinburgh Castle and I couldn’t find where it had been cracked!

After the tour, we wandered around the castle before heading for a quick bite to eat. Then, I broke off from the group for a few minutes to visit the cafe that JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter in, The Elephant House. There was graffiti in the bathroom from fans of the books from around the world!


After the tour, we wandered around the castle before heading for a quick bite to eat. Then, I broke off from the group for a few minutes to visit the cafe that JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter in, The Elephant House. There was graffiti in the bathroom from fans of the books from around the world!


I also visited Greyfriars Cemetery which is just a few minutes walk away & is where many fans speculate JK Rowling got the ideas for a few of her character names – Professor McGonagall & Tom Riddle.


I then met up with a few of my friends again and we went on a tour that explains how whiskey is made and we able to try whiskies from 4 of the 5 whiskey regions of Scotland. It was amazing how similar tasting whiskey is to tasting wine – each of the different regions has various overtures of smells and tastes unique to that specific region. We learned about the legs of the whiskey and even about the different colors.


After the tasting, I met up with one of my friends from a Contiki tour of China that I did last year that lives in Edinburgh for afternoon tea. It was my first time having afternoon tea, but I am hooked! The tea was amazing, the food was abundant and delicious & the company was great. It was amazing meeting up with a friend from another trip in her own hometown. One of the reasons I love traveling so much is meeting people from around the world – seeing a familiar face in a city you’ve never been to is one of the coolest experiences.


After our afternoon tea, I went back to the hotel to meet up with the rest of my tour group for dinner. I wasn’t that hungry, so I elected to just have soup and the included dessert. Once dinner was over, our group headed back into town for a ghost tour. This ghost tour was infinitely better than the one in York as it really played into our paranoia & you didn’t know what was going to happen. The tour guide was really into it and knew how to position his flashlight & inflect his voice for maximum effect. We went into an abandoned warehouse below a bridge which was pitch black & our guide told us stories of paranormal activity before turning his flashlight off and telling us to be very quiet. We couldn’t see anything. After around 30 seconds, he snuck up right next to our group and yelled “NOTHING”! The entire group jumped. Then, he tried to turn his flashlight on, but had a fake one that looked like the bulb burst and exploded a few pop rocks in his hand at the same time! After the warehouse, we headed to a haunted cemetery (same one I was in earlier) and heard a few more stories before going into a mausoleum. Once we were in the mausoleum, he continued to tell a story from the outside so we were all facing the door. Midway through the tour, an actor with a mask ran in, yelled, and ran out. Again, we all jumped. The tour ended shortly after that, but it was already midnight, so we took an uber back to our hotel.


Edinburgh definitely exceeded expectations & I will definitely be back one day!

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