Edinburgh: Calton Hill, Firth of Forth & Greyfriars Bobby

Today was our free day in Edinburgh, and we packed in a lot! We started out with a quest to find a tin whistle, something Mickey wanted to buy while she was here. We hadn’t found any in the last two days, but she’d found a place online last night which opened at 10am, so at 9:00 we set off and got off the bus at Princes Street, then walked up the road to St. Patrick’s Square, where the store was. We stopped in most of the tourist stores along the way (which were mainly around the place where the road crossed the Royal Mile) and ended up getting to the store right as it opened. They had plenty of tin whistles there, as well as any other musical instruments you could want, and Mickey managed to find one she liked. The shopkeeper was very interesting with his Scottish accent and the way he said “close but no cigar” and that he would just find “a wee box” for the tin whistle or that some of the other ones were “a wee bit more” [expensive].

On the way back we walked on the other side of the road, and stopped in some really interesting shops. Many of them were thrift stores or stores with donated items where the profits went to a charity. I bought a really old Sir Walter Scott book from one of them (since Edinburgh’s where he was from) and new copies of Pride and Prejudice and Emma at a bookstore. It was definitely an area different from the usual tourist shops we’d been visiting–we even found a one-pound store (sort of like a dollar store)–and it was a nice change of pace.

When we returned to the place we’d got off the bus we only had to walk a few blocks before we got to the entrance to Calton Hill. This is a hill with a lot of different monuments and really great views of both the city and Holyrood Park (where Arthur’s Seat is), and the hike up was quite pretty. I also better understood why Edinburgh is called “The Athens of the North” when we were up there, since the monuments were nearly all in the Grecian or Roman style, and, indeed, much of the architecture in Edinburgh utilizes columns and other such details. One thing I should note is the National Monument, which you can see in pictures below. It looks remarkably like the Parthenon in Greece, but is unfinished. The project ran out of money because of the great cost of building it and of the materials used, and so it was never finished. Because of this it is sometimes called “Edinburgh’s Disgrace” or “Scotland’s Shame”. Personally I thought it was still beautiful, and had fun climbing up on the steps (as all the tourists do), and I almost like that it isn’t finished, because I think it echoes some of the ruins in Greece.

Next up we decided to do something we were dreading a little–try haggis. We headed back down Calton Hill and walked up Princes Street and George Street behind it to the pub where we went a few nights ago, The Standing Order. Since the food was so good there, we figured it would be the best place to try it (you can buy cans of it in the tourist shop, but we guessed that as disgusting as haggis sounds to start with, canned haggis would be even worse). We also ordered paninis and just got haggis as a side.

The moment of truth–we both took small bites. It started off not too bad, tasting a little bit like corned beef hash. But after a few seconds of chewing it was so disgusting it was hard to swallow. It was somehow both mushy and chewy at the same time, reminiscent of chewing fat but a little worse. The flavor really wasn’t bad, but the texture was terrible, and we quickly went on to consume the good food we’d ordered.

Haggis barricaded from the “good food”

We then did a little shopping along Princes Street, and, I was very very happy to see–there was a bagpipe player performing on the street! We hadn’t seen one in our 2.5 days here so far, and I was going to be really disappointed if I had to leave Scotland only hearing bagpipe music played loudly over souvenir shop speakers and not live. I was a little surprised to see that the player was a girl, and young, as I guess I assumed it was an older-man amusement, but she was very good, and we took a lot of pictures, a video, and gave her a bit of money. We later saw an old man playing bagpipes from the bus, and it was definitely nice to see and hear them while here in Scotland.

After our bout of shopping and seeing the bagpiper, we hopped on the bus because we wanted to go down by the water of the Firth of Forth. We ended up near a sort of little marina, and it was very peaceful, people walking their dogs along the sort of bank formed of stones, and boats passing by in the distance. We took some pictures and enjoyed the view before heading back up the embankment and finding a bus stop. At this point in our day, we were a bit tired so we headed back to the hotel to rest up for a bit, use a bathroom that we didn’t have to pay for, and drop off our purchases.

About an hour later we headed out again to eat, and chose to go to Bella Italia, the same restaurant we went to in London, because it was so good and reasonably priced. We had pizza again, and also sampled their mini desserts, I the lemon tart and Mickey the chocolate torte. It was, again, delicious. We then had to wait for a very long time for a late bus to go see Greyfriars Bobby’s monument.

Pizza at Bella Italia

Greyfriars Bobby was a dog who followed his master to be buried in the cemetery of Greyfriars Church, and stayed near his grave for fourteen years before he passed away as well. His grave is also at Greyfriars Church, with an inscription that reads “Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.” They also made a life-size sculpture of him before he passed away which sits a bit off the Royal Mile, in front of the Greyfriars Bobby pub. We would have almost missed it if a very nice local man hadn’t overheard us looking for it and showed us where it was. Someone had placed a stuffed Scottie dog on Bobby’s grave, and people put sticks there (for him to fetch in heaven) so I found him one and put it there as well. The Elephant House cafe was also on the same block, so we walked to it and took a few pictures. This is the cafe where “Harry Potter was born”, where J.K. Rowling wrote some of the Harry Potter novels, supposedly inspired by the cafe’s views of Edinburgh Castle.

We’re back at the hotel now, listening to Disney and musical songs and getting very excited to travel to Paris tomorrow! I will miss Scotland though. No more listening to bagpipe music, seeing the blue flag with St. Andrew’s white cross on it and the tartan and plaid everywhere, nor getting to pet the cashmere scarves in the tourist shops… The weather was so reminiscent of South Dakota, the buildings were so old and solid, and the accents were so enthralling. I’m going to miss it. I’d love to come back and see some more of Scotland, like Stirling Castle (and maybe Loch Ness!) but I think we did a pretty good job seeing most of the highlights in Edinburgh.

But, on to new adventures–tomorrow we see the City of Light, Paris!

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