February 2, 2008

We started our first real sight seeing days early and headed off in the cold and wet morning toward Edinburgh Castle. On the way we stopped to take a few pictures and noticed the Sir Walter Scott Monument. It is a tall tower monument with 287 steps inside that you can take to the top. After finally cashing in some of our American Dollars for pounds, we spent a few of them and walked up the monument to the very top. This spiral staircase is not for the claustrophobic, it was very narrow, and winding its way to the top, it got more and more narrow until you had to step sideways, very carefully, up the last few steps to reach the top. It was quite a view from up there and we snapped off a few pictures of the city from above. The way down was a bit easier on the legs but just as tough to maneuver. It was quite a workout on the legs after spending the last couple of days sitting in airplanes, hotels, offices and trains.

After the monument we walked up along the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. The castle sits high above the city overlooking all of Edinburgh. There were some great views of the town from high up on the castle walls but, to me, Edinburgh Castle looks far more interesting from farther away than it does once you get inside the outer walls. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very humbling experience to see a building that is nearly a thousand years old but I wasn’t as impressed with the rest of the castle as I expected to be. My two friends almost got us kicked out of the Memorial for Fallen Scottish Soldiers. They must have missed the “No Cameras Allowed” sign as they proceeded to take a few pictures, causing the security guards to “gently” remind them of the rules. We got another warning from the same guards a few minutes later as we were apparently discussing the no camera policy too loudly. At this point, I think we all felt it was time to move on.

After Edinburgh Castle, we walked back down along the Royal Mile to St. Giles Cathedral. This was an awesome old building. We were all impressed with the architecture as well as all the details in the interior of the church. This trip was my first exposure to these very old buildings and I was excited to see as much as I could. It made me wonder how many millions of people had visited this same spot over the last few hundred years.

Across from St. Giles Cathedral was one of the local spots we were interested in after reading about the nefarious history of the city during the time of the plague. Mary King’s Close is an underground tour of the old buildings that sit beneath the modern streets of Edinburgh. This hour-long guided tour was supposed to show how people lived in the town hundreds of years ago. It was quite informative but not nearly as creepy as we had expected after reading about it. It was nice to take some time to get warm after walking around town for most of the morning.

Next, we headed out to grab some lunch after being underground for nearly an hour. A small pub-style restaurant down the street had some decent food but nothing special. Walking down the street we could see quite a few small restaurants, most were busy since it was a Saturday afternoon.

We found the local hop-on hop-off tour bus after lunch. We were hoping to take the bus around to see some of the sites we had missed so far. It was a nice change after so much walking in the morning. The bus passed the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Our Dynamic Earth. We were sorry we missed these and a few others but our time was running low as we had train tickets to London leaving early in the evening.

After a brief snafu getting back to the rail station on time, we boarded our train to London, cold and a bit tired after a long day. Leaving behind Edinburgh, I think we all agreed that we would have loved to spend a few more days here and hope to make it back again sometime.

View my pictures from Edinburgh

The first 3 hours of the train ride to London were quiet and relaxing. I got to catch up on a few chapters of the book I was reading, my tavel companions got to catch up on some rest. Then a very peculiar thing happened. There was a bit of a commotion as one of the passengers sitting behind us was apparently stalking or at least harassing a young Thai woman for most of the trip. She didn’t speak much English and this man kept trying to get her to do things she wasn’t comfortable doing. I didn’t catch all the details but I found out later that he asked to use her cell phone to make a call. He ended up using her phone for more than 30 mins and continued to make, and receive calls on her phone. It wasn’t until he walked away with her phone to the bathroom that other passengers became alarmed at the situation, no doubt fearing that he was doing something nefarious to her phone, and attempted to help her get her phone back. This quickly escalated into an argument and the train security force was dispatched to retrieve the phone and to find out what was the problem. After a few minutes with the security officer, the man returned to find the girl and started an argument with the passengers sitting around her. Needless to say this was a bad idea and many of the passengers, including one of my traveling companions, found themselves in a shouting match with this guy trying to get him to leave. Once again, the security officer came and took the man away only this time he never returned. I guess we found out the hard way that there is never a dull moment when traveling in a foreign country.

We arrived in London quite late in the evening and hailed a taxi to get to our hotel. The cab driver was very friendly and he pointed out the landmarks as we passed them on the way to the hotel. It was dark by now and we couldn’t see much but Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park were a few of the places he mentioned. Our hotel was located in a long row of hotels in similar buildings along Belgrave Road. It was nothing fancy by any standard but it was a warm place to sleep for the night and we were thankful for it.