Edinburgh Napier University
On our first weekend trip outside of Scotland, my new friends and I went to the Mediterranean Island of Malta (Gorgeous! Go there!). On the way there, we flew over the Alps which were completely stunning. With my entire iPod on shuffle, The Sound of Music Prelude happens to start playing as I’m peering out the window at the craggy magnificence. First of all, yes, I’m so cool as to have The Sound of Music soundtrack on my iPod and, secondly, I had just completed a life goal that I wasn’t even aware of having: living the opening scene of my favorite movie. That Sound of Music experience has inspired me to make a short list of a few of my favorite things that I have found here in Scotland so far.
1. Raindrops on Roses: It might rain here relatively often, but, when it does, it isn’t the drenching kind that requires a raincoat and “Wellies;” it’s more of a misty drizzle that’s more likely to make you drowsy than really get you that wet.
2. Whiskers on Kittens (or Puppies, in this case): I’ve said it before, but it still amazes me; Edinburgh is home to some of the most well-behaved dogs that I’ve ever seen, which is probably why they’re allowed in many establishments. It seems like everyone here has a dog trotting along behind them as they walk through the park or even down a crowded street. There doesn’t appear to be a leash law, but it isn’t an issue at all because all the dogs either trot alongside their owner or frolic nearby in the grass only to come running at the quietest call.
3. Bright Copper Kettle: A kettle is a marvelous kitchen appliance that I had never encountered before coming here. While ours is of the stainless steel variety rather than copper, I find myself using it all the time even though it seemed so pointless the first time I saw it (just boil water on the stove or in the microwave!). It is so incredibly convenient, though. Especially with my newly acquired tea habit. I just might have to invest in one when once I’m state-side again.
For our second excursion from the city, we ventured north, through the Fife countryside, to St. Andrews: the birthplace of golf and William+Kate. With me comfortably shod in my flat leather boots, we set off from Haymarket station with slightly less uncertainty than on our Stirling trip. We took the train to Leuchars station, a middle-of-nowhere stop and paid for a return bus ticket to St. Andrews. We expected to pay less for transit outside of Edinburgh, but that definitely wasn’t true with us pay 4.5 pounds for the trip there and back. Anyway, we gathered change and bit the bullet. As we left the station, we followed Katie as she’s the only one of us who’d been here before. We walked downhill, a promising direction, and soon came upon a cobblestone pedestrian lane that led to the charming city-center, complete with a fountain and tourist information! We went gaga for the selection of free brochures covering nearly all of Scotland. The night man highlighted a trail of budget (aka free) activities for us to do that day. We left there with enough pamphlets to open our own information kiosk and headed to the cathedral ruins. As we skirted down a side street, we passed under the red canopy of a sweet shop that had all of our mouths watering. With the location noted, we knew we would come back!
The cathedral is an ancient structure that was mostly destroyed as Protestantism swept through Scotland, driven by John Knox’s fervor. One wall of the nave, a few columns, the entryway, some of the sanctuary area, and a few outlying buildings are all that still stands. The crumbling stone and foundational remains are eerie when you step back and think of all the people who used to worship there, decked out in their medieval finery. However, in the mid-morning sunshine, the ghosts of the past were safely tucked away. Soon the cameras and the funny poses came out, leading to nearly an hour of frolicking and shutter snapping (all completely free ) A few girls even ventured into deserted sarcophagi for a photo opp.
After we’d had our fill of the crumbling complex, we continued on our “budget” circuit. We walked along the water to St. Andrews Castle; we were all satisfied enough with catching a couple of exterior shots of the semi-ruined fortress which juts dramatically out into the sea. Looking down on the shoreline we noticed an odd structure that looks like a man-made tide pool in the surf. Sure enough, nearby signage confirmed our suspicions: an old-fashioned swimming pool! That must have been a chilly swim! We checked out the gift shop (which had largely the same memorabilia as every other shop in the town) then meandered through the campus of the University of St. Andrews. As we ooed and awed at the buildings that definitely don’t resemble Napier, we joked of walking where William had and all claimed dibs on Harry if we were to miraculously encounter him. We stopped in the University museum (you know your school is cool if it has a full-size museum dedicated to it) and marveled at the artifacts from this, the oldest college in Scotland.
We soon continued on and made the mandatory stop at the Old Course to see the birthplace of golf. With tummies rumbling, the rolling greens couldn’t keep our attention for long and we soon began climbing the hill that we’d spent the whole day meandering down. We ate at a nice restaurant that our tourist center man had called “hip and modestly priced.” We luckily got a table pretty quickly and had no problem ordering from the delicious-sounding offerings. The food came fairly quickly (ham and brie on a baguette for me yummm), but there was just one problem: we hadn’t seen any sign of the waters we had all ordered as soon as we sat down. We were literally finished eating before we could get the waitress to bring them. We drank the pitcher dry in probably under three minutes, nibbled the last bites that we’d all been saving for post-water, and left exact change down to the pence–no tip for her!
We were all pretty tired, but managed to muster the troops in order to hit up the aforementioned sweet shop. Dazzled by the assorted pastries and chocolates, we left there as happy campers. As we wandered back to the bus stop, we spotted another candy store, but this one was going out of business so everything was on sale! Needless to say, we snagged some stuff there as well (whisky truffles, mint hot chocolates, etc). We navigated the bus like pros and ended up dozing on the train ride back to Edinburgh, worn out by our lovely day of exploring!
Edinburgh Napier University
With four new roommates and a whole building of other new neighbors, I now have friends from all over the United States, but unfortunately none from our lovely host country yet. Hopefully those will come in time, but for now the living situation means that we are all excited to just play the tourist. After sleeping in to rid ourselves of jetlag, six of us headed north from our new home, Wright’s Houses, toward the Royal Mile, aka tourist-central in Edinburgh. With one rather simplified map we wandered in the general correct direction, enjoying the incredible streetscapes along the way.
Nearly every street is lined with small shops and cafes and VERY few chain establishments of any kind. Subway and Starbucks are the only “American” chains that I have seen at all. No McDonald’s yet! I just want to stop and sample something from every cute little café…maybe a toastie (my new favorite—just a panini-type sandwich made with white bread but it is somehow so good!). In our wandering we even happened on The Elephant House, the café where JK Rowling used to sit when she was writing Harry Potter!! It seemed to be fate since we were just talking about trying to find it that morning.
By the time we miraculously happened upon the Royal Mile, we had decided there was no point in even trying to not look like tourists. With my wopping camera hanging around my neck and our skimpy map in the other, I know that I fit the bill perfectly, but I couldn’t make myself care. It was my first real day here so I felt entitled to be a lost, picture-taking American. Even having been here before, I was stunned by the beauty of the city: the castle, the palace, the cobblestone streets, the shops, everything! I still can’t believe that I live here for the next five months or so. We walked all of the way down the Royal Mile (the road stretching between the Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood House, the Queen’s Palace), encountering all kinds of storefronts and characters along the way—the “knight” painted all in silver who fell in love with Stephanie L, the I Love Scotland store, the Wild and Sexy Highland Tours office, the orange-haired street performer with the financial guilt-trip, and the tiny convenience store with postcards and Stephanie R.’s blue Monster. When we finally got down to the palace we took pictures at the gates, all of us being too cheap at the moment to spring for the admission fee. We then meandered over to Holyrood Park to get a better view of the Salisbury Crags, enormous cliffs that rise right out of the heart of the city. We make plans to return soon, with more sensible shoes, to hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat as we see many people doing on this lovely Saturday.
We soon turn around and go back the way we came, right back up the other way—heading, this time, toward Edinburgh Castle, the stunning ancient sentinel of the city, both in its modern and medieval incarnations. We stop to take a quick picture with “William Wallace,” but we’re soon in the large open space leading up to the castle. We admire it from outside, still feeling the pinch of the exchange rate at this point to shell out 15 pounds for admission; we know we’ll be back though! After enjoying the view of the city and snapping a few more shots, we headed down the hill, making sure to toss some money in “William Wallace’s” collection bucket since we’d forgotten when we got our picture taken. Before heading off in search of sustenance, we detoured into the Scotch Whiskey Experience building and enjoyed a sample; it was definitely easier to keep warm after that!
We checked out some of the restaurants on the Royal Mile, but soon decided it would be to our penny-pinching advantage to venture a little farther from the tourist district before we settled on a place. After a short walk, we picked a place at random. We all kept it relatively safe (ie. fish and chips, hamburgers, omelets, etc) but Alex tried the Chicken Pancakes which ended up looking really delicious. Savory pancakes seem to be a thing out here; it’s kind of like a quesadilla made with a pancake as the tortilla and various random fillings. They really like to put weird stuff on bread products here. The variety of hot rolls, toasties, and paninis is astonishing. From the Chip Butty (French fries and butter on a roll) to coleslaw on a toastie, I’m pretty sure they’ve made everything into a sandwich, which isn’t really a problem with me.
When we left the café at about 4:00 pm (16:00 in UK time) it was already almost dark. That’s one of the hardest adjustments to living here; it feels like bedtime before you even eat dinner. Hopefully I will adjust soon! Anyway, we hustled back home, stopping at the “Pound Strecher” (essentially a Scottish Big Lots) to pick up a bunch of necessities like pillows, towels, dishes, etc then ran into the little grocery store, too, so that the newest arrivals could pick up some things. We got back to the “flat” and soon launched into trip planning ideas. We are all super excited to travel as much as possible! No definite plans yet but Dublin is looking awful good for St. Patty’s Day…