Arthur’s Seat & Calton Hill

One of the very best things about Scotland in general… The surrounding nature!!  Edinburgh is no exception!!  It is surrounded by groups of hills that many take advantage of for fun daily hikes.  In the case of some, you could definitely tell that the surrounding hills were a daily exercise for them because they were running up them while tourists (including me) huffed and puffed their way up!

One of these groups of hills, located not far from Holyrood Palace (the Queen’s official residence in Scotland) is Arthur’s Seat.  Arthur’s Seat is the main peak of the surrounding hills that make up Holyrood Park and has a height of 251 meters, or 823 feet at it’s peak.  Honestly the climb really wasn’t all that bad, with the exception of a small bit that consisted of jagged rocks that I personally did a slight shimmy down, just so I wouldn’t bust my rear on the ground, lol!!  The views from the top of Arthur’s Seat are absolutely phenomenal!!  I’m a great believer now that aerial views are much better than close-ups!!  At the peak of Arthur’s Seat is literally a little white stone chair that many of the tourists clamored to get on and get their picture taken with it… I skipped that part…

In any event, I’m going to now embarrass myself by K&E because I honestly can’t recall the exact story behind Arthur’s Seat… Even looking on Wikipedia (yes, I tried to cheat!!) didn’t ring any bells… Sorry K&E!!!  I mainly just recall that it was called Arthur’s Seat because it was a great point of view to be able to sit and see any oncoming threat to the city…  Anyway, according to Wikipedia there is some fabled connection between Arthur’s Seat and the location of Camelot during King Arthurs reign… But, well, I can’t specify much more than that by memory… You will just have to look it up on Wikipedia yourselves if interested!

Another great aerial view of Edinburgh can be found at Calton Hill.  It is basically a hill in the center of Edinburgh, just beyond the east end of Princes Street (quite well known for the shopping!!) and has fantastic views of all of Edinburgh!!  In fact, this area is the favorite spot of E’s and while she did try to get us up there, we weren’t able to because they have closed it down to car traffic.  But foot traffic was still allowed, so on a later day I returned there to take some pictures.

Calton Hill has several iconic monuments and is the headquarters of the Scottish Government.  Monuments include the National Monument, which is designed after a Greek Pantheon but was never actually finished… The Nelson Monument which at the wee top has a little flag pole at the top of which has a metal ball… This monument was basically used to send signals to the shipping boats in the bay.  How might you ask?  Well, one such example was to alert the ships in the bay of what time it was.  Every day at 1p.m. a cannon from the Edinburgh castle is fired off (yes, this still happens today).  When the cannon fires off, the vibration in the air is so strong that it knocks the ball on the mast of the Nelson Monument to the base of the mast.  People on the ships in the bay are posted to watch the mast of Nelson Monument and when they see the ball drop, they know it’s 1pm!  Now, I can’t say that ships today employ their timekeeping by this method, only that they used to in olden days… But they do still fire off a 1pm cannon from the castle today daily.  Anyway, another interesting little monument is a cairn that has a stone from the castle of Robert the Bruce.  Just a wee bit more of history there…

On to Edinburgh Zoo

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“Local” Tours

One of the very BEST things about having friends who live in the places you visit is the “behind the scenes” or “only locals know about…” areas!!  Since I was fortunate enough to have two fabulous friends living in Edinburgh, I was given quite a few fun tours around the city and surrounding the city!!

I was taken to Leith where the Royal Yacht Britannia is.  That is the Yacht that the Queen of England used to travel around in.  It has now been decommissioned and is only used as a tour yacht with a restaurant on board as well for those wishing to dine like a queen:)  However, the yacht does stay permanently docked.  It no longer travels around… In fact, it was due to the cost of fuel to have it sail around that prompted the Prime Minister (I believe it was Blair who did so) to decommission the yacht so that the Queen could no longer use it…  His stance was that it was too expensive for the taxpayers to keep up with.

In the bay near the Leith area there is actually a little island that was carved to look like a ship!!  This was a tactic used by the Scots to prevent people from coming into the Bay.  An approaching ship would try to sneak in, but then see an intimidating ship in the harbor just ahead and turn away… Needless to say, the “ship” was actually quite harmless, but it did it’s job!!  Clever Scots!!

Which by the way, I never really realized how many innovators are Scottish!  The list literally goes on and on of Scottish inventors!!  Among them Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone) and Alexander Fleming (discovered penicillin)!!  Or maybe it has something to do with Alexander’s…. lol!!  Just joking!  But seriously the list of Scottish inventors goes on and on… Oh and a little fact to mention about Edinburgh in general, it is world renowned for medical and medicinal advances!  A ton of discoveries in the medical field that have created vaccines, medicines, antibiotics, and anesthetics have come from Edinburgh!  Quite impressive!

In any event, other areas I was driven to include the neighborhood and buildings that inspired the movie Trainspotting with Ewan McGregor.  The area has since been cleaned up a bit, but it was interesting to see nonetheless.

I was driven in style in K’s Porsche over to Queensferry, where a marvel of a bridge from an esthetic and engineering point of view is, then across the bridge to North Queensferry where the Prime Minister has a house.  Now there are actually two bridges that go across to Queensferry… One is a car/truck/general vehicle bridge (they are also in the process of building a new one just beside it) that basically looks like a mini golden gate bridge and the other more alluring bridge is the tram bridge!  That one is quite impressive from an engineering perspective for sure!!!

I was taken to an area just off the Royal Mile called Grass Market where the Edinburgh Witch Trials took place and it has the spot where the last burning of a witch occurred… and perhaps MOST importantly, I was taken to the most fun hole-in-the-wall pubs in Edinburgh for some much needed pints of beer!!!  Yum!!!  Which reminds me as well, for those wanting to travel in the UK, probably the BEST deal for food and drink is the WeatherSpoon chains… There are several around Scotland (not sure if they are in England as well) all called WeatherSpoons XYZ, meaning they all have a unique name, but the word “WeatherSpoons” is always in there so you know it’s part of the chain… Anyway, you can get a meal and a pint for like 7 pounds!!!  Just Brilliant!!

On to Arthur’s Seat & Calton Hill

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Military Tattoo & Fringe Festival

The Royal Military Tattoo

So, every year in August Scotland has a HUGE celebration known as the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.  It is basically a festival that now stretches just about the entire month of August and it brings together the worlds best talents of musicians and performers from over 46 countries!!  One of the performing acts of course is the Royal Edinburgh Military.  They play the bagpipes and march in unison and at the very end of the show there is a lone bagpiper who stands at the top of the castle wall.  His performance is followed by the shooting of a cannon and then fireworks.  Guests from all over the world come to see this celebration, which has been going on since 1950 or so, and plan at least a year in advance in order to get tickets for the event at all!!

Needless to say, despite my description above of what the Royal Military Tattoo is, I never actually was able to see the performance while there, lol!!  Alas, the event has been described to me by K&E, and I was able to read a little bit of the history while standing in line waiting (and hoping) that some tickets became available on “the day of” performances.  In addition, during one week of the celebration the event was filmed and it is broadcast on TV worldwide so that all can enjoy it.  I did catch a snippet of the show when I Was in Glasgow weeks later, but didn’t really see the whole thing.

To be honest, and to my embarrassment, I kinda had a teeny little panic meltdown about seeing the show.  Instead of sticking to my usual attitude of “if it’s meant to be it will happen”, after going early and standing in line to get tickets (sometimes people would simply turn their tickets back in for resale due to unforeseen reasons that no longer permitted them to attend) and failing to get tickets yet again, I had a freak out . But thanks to the sound and calming wisdom of E, I was talked off the ledge and what began then was what I’d like to consider the theme of traveling Scotland from then on… “I must leave something to come back for”.  And trust me when I say, there is a TON of stuff to go back to Scotland for (and I’m not just saying that because of the numerous yummy men with their sexy accents living there;)) !!  A month was simply not enough , but rather is was barely enough to just scratch the surface!!

Just a little bit of interesting history on the word “Tattoo”… Basically, the origins of the word Tattoo go back to the 17th century when British troops were fighting in the Low Countries.  At the end of the day the duty officer would go around making sure each post was manned before the sounding of the Last Post.  A few drummers would accompany him for this task and if the soldiers were missing from their post, the ritual beating of the drum would ensue basically signaling to the soldiers (who were in town at the local pubs) that it was time to return to their posts or quarters.  The Dutch innkeepers would then turn off the liquor taps and say “Time’s up!” or in their language: DOE TEN TAP-TOE, basically meaning no more booze for you!  The drummers would continue to drum until all the soldiers made their way back to their posts for the sounding of the Last Post.  Eventually Tap-Toe (last call!) evolved into the word Tattoo!

The Fringe Festival

The Fringe Festival… well honestly I’m not sure of the orgins of this festival, but what I do know is it coincides with the Tattoo for about the entire month of August as well!  So really, tourists are able to experience two separate festivals in only one month if visiting in August!!

The Fringe Festival is basically a huge collection of artists, musicians, actors, performers, magicians, singers, dancers, etc, etc from all over the world who come and perform all along the Royal Mile for several of the “old town” blocks!!  The street is filled from morning till night with tons of performers just every which way you look!  It’s quite an amazing experience and honestly could keep one busy all day every day of the festival just checking out each of the performances!  People filled the streets handing out cards announcing or rather advertising various shows and where the venue was to take place.  Some of the shows were free (aka the ones I attended- but remember “free” is a term for “expected to tip performer at the end!!”) and others were anything from 5-12 pounds a piece.

I ended up attending one solo play about how making good decisions was actually bad for you… sounded interesting but sadly I found it rather dull.  The other venue I attended was for the Man of Steal… This was quite a great performance!!  Very informative to boot!  Basically it’s put on by a professional pick-pocket who works for the police and does these shows to educate the public on how to protect themselves from thieves.  I can’t say much more about it than that as we were all sworn to secrecy about the details of the show, so I will stick by that and leave the description at that:)

By far, however the BEST performance I saw on the streets of the Royal Mile during the Fringe was Joel Grainger… I was just coming out of a building after having bought a ticket for a tour of the Real Mary King’s Close and I had about a half hour to kill.  I walked on the street and was lured by the sound of a voilin.  I love voilin music to begin with, so I walked toward the sound and on a stage erected on the side of the street was Joel Grainger.  He was the only musician present, but due to his technique of “live-looping” he was able to play every note of a song LIVE!  He played “somebody that I used to know” by Gotye and Pachebel’s Canon in D in all their glory!!  I’m not going to be able to describe his technique of live-looping to do him justice, so you are just going to have to check him out for yourself… I know he’s on YouTube, and though I don’t Facebook, I know he is.  If any of you are fans of the violin, you MUST check him out!!  Google “Joel Grainer Fringe” and you will see one of his performances there from this past festival:)

Though I really wasn’t expecting the Fringe to be going on in addition to the Tattoo, it was quite a welcome surprise!  I could spend days on end just going up and down the Mile watching for new acts or collecting thousands of info cards on the various performers.  Quite impressive!!  Not to mention the tons of kiosks that were set up everywhere in town featuring everything from handmade jewelery to paintings to cashmere items, etc, etc!  I highly recommend for all those planning to go to Edinburgh, though it will be a more expensive time of year, make your trip in August!!!  And for goodness sake- learn from me and get your Tattoo tickets in advance!  Or don’t and just figure it’s something to come back for:)

Sadly, my pictures for this section really lack in what they should have been… I was just too engrossed in watching my surroundings and being present for them to take pictures I guess…Sorry!!

On to “Local” Tours

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