Royal Mile Walking Tour

While I didn’t take very many guided tours while in Edinburgh (since I was spoiled and fortunate enough to live like a local while being hosted by K&E!!) I did partake in a couple.  One of the tours was given by Mercat tours.  “Mercat” is the old Edinburgh word for Market.  They have a variety of tours available for purchase, including ghost tours, and the one I settled on was “The Secrets of the Royal Mile” which also included a tour of the Edinburgh Castle.

The tour was absolutely splendid!!  Our guide (I can’t recall her name though I want to say she was originally from the states… Maybe the Boston area??) was very informative and  quite entertaining!  She took us all over up and down the Mile, then into the Castle where she told us many stories of the Castle, then left us to explore it at our leisure.  Now, again there are quite a few things that I learned about Edinburgh and the Royal Mile during the tour, but I’m conflicted about how much to share about it… So while not giving every little detail away, I will share my favorite bits:)

To start (and this isn’t a huge secret per se as it was pointed out to me by E during our first walk around the Mile) windows… Yes, windows!  Looking at the buildings along the Mile, it was quite entertaining to see how many different kinds, types, shapes and sizes of windows were present on a single building!!  On one building alone you could find so many varieties of windows that it was almost comedic!  And to boot the windows on each floor were not necessarily lined up with one another…  The reason for the abundant variety of windows on each building was basically due to how they were built to begin with.  You see, if you were poor you lived near the bottom floor, therefore getting a lovely constant scent of the street…  More on that later…  If you were rich you lived on the top levels where the air was a little fresher and cleaner… Now each building was not built all at one time.  They were constructed basically “as needed” one level at a time.  If money ran out to complete the construction, well so be it.  It wouldn’t be completed!  But as money became available again construction would resume.  This is why the windows of each level of the buildings were basically different, and why on some buildings there were even differences in the windows within a single level!

Another fun fact: the statues… I’m not sure if this applies to all statues around the world or just specifically in Edinburgh… But anyway, for every statue where there appeared a horse and a human, you could tell something about the human in the statue… If the horse appearing with the human had all 4 feet on the ground, then the human was not a soldier during their life.  If the horse had one front leg off the ground then the human with the horse was a soldier but did not die in battle.  If the horse had both front legs off the ground (rearing) then the human with the horse was a soldier in life and they did die in battle… After learning that it was quite fun looking around each statue knowing the status of that human during their life!

Speaking of statues… The one built featuring Alexander the Great and his horse has an interesting story behind it… Basically the project was commissioned to a great artist to construct.  However, the artist wasn’t paid all the money he was supposed to be paid to do the project.  To show his disdain toward being cheated out of his money for the project, he made the whole statue wonderfully with the exception of the horses ears!  Instead of giving the horse normal ears, he gave the horse pig ears, lol!!  I’d say that was quite a clever way for the artist to show how upset he was at not being paid properly, lol!!

The heart of Edinburgh… You can see it in the pictures below.  It is a heart shaped mosaic close to Parliament House.  Basically it records the position of the 15th century Old Tolbooth (aka a prison) which was also the site of several executions.  The prison has obviously since been demolished, but the heart marks the old entrance to the prison.  People to this day spit on the heart to show their dislike of the former prison and the executions that took place there.  In fact, just as our guide spoke of it a young man cut his way through our tour to the heart, spat on it and then made his way on down the mile.  I seriously thought it was part joke that people spat on it, but it’s obviously quite true to this day!

Gardy Loo!!  It’s really beyond me how anyone survived back then past infancy… Between their hygienic (or lack there of) practices and the various plagues that, well, plagued the City, I’ve no idea how anyone survived!!  One such example is their toilet habits… Basically in each “house”, since no indoor plumbing existed, they had buckets to do their business into.  When the buckets got full they simply emptied them by throwing the contents out onto the streets below… This included on the main streets and into the Closes!!!  So literally people were just walking around in piss and shit all day… And what if you were walking in the street or Close when someone went to empty their buckets??  Well, before chucking the contents out the person emptying the bucket would yell out “Gardy Loo” which basically meant “watch out or you will get a ton of shit on your head!!”.  If someone was present they would yell back (can’t recall the phrase) for them to hold on while they sought shelter or got out of the way… And that was how it was!!  Again, with everyone walking around in human filth all the time, it’s amazing how anyone survived!!  Now you may also recall that the poorer people lived on the bottom floors… So they were the ones having to constantly deal with the ongoing scent of human waste and also watch as human wastes were chucked out of windows past their own places during the day… Joy!!!

Oh yea, in addition, because of the design of the old city, what with the Castle being on the peak of an old volcano and everything else sloping into the side valleys or down the Mile, all the waste that was chucked out the window eventually made its way down to the waters in the valley… And where did the people get their drinking water from??  You guessed it… From the same water that human waste was pouring into!!  Not to mention they also drowned many a suspected witch in those waters AND any animal wastes or animal corpses, etc were also thrown into the water from which they used as their source of drinking water!!!!  Seriously have no idea how anyone survived!!!

That reminds me, I mentioned in an earlier post as well about closes and how each close was named after the activity that took place in the closes.  So the FishMarket Close sold fish, the FleshMarket Close sold animal meat, etc.  Well another fun bit about how amazing it is that people survived back then: when the meat markets didn’t sell all of their meat, since they didn’t have any means of refrigeration to preserve the meat, they would simply slather on tons and tons of spices (imported from abroad) to hide the scent and fact that the meat was becoming putrid!!!  Yuuuummmmyy!!!!  NOT!!!

Ok, well while there were many other things about the Mile I could share, I’m going to cap it at those joyously fun stories!! 😉  Enjoy the pictures!

On to Stone of Destiny & Edinburgh Castle

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Edinburgh Zoo

Before getting into this section I will say that when it comes to Zoos in general, I have a love/hate relationship with them… I love them because one is able to see so many different kinds of animals that would otherwise never be possible to see, but I hate them because in a way zoos are exploiting the animals too.  I don’t doubt for a second that people who work in zoos absolutely love the animals and want to do right by them, but while it’s great to see a polar bear or chimpanzees,  etc., I wonder if we are doing right by them taking them out of their natural habitats… Again, I know that many zoos work hard to recreate the various animals natural habitats and that in some cases in the wild so many of the animals are on the endangered list so perhaps the only way to continue the species is because of zoos, but part of me wishes we didn’t have to interfere so much… If it wasn’t for us destroying the animals natural habitats or hunting them to near extinction then we really wouldn’t have a need for zoos at all… If only it were a perfect world…  Perhaps at this point as well the whole debate is moot because so many of the animals nowadays are born in captivity to begin with and could never survive in the wild as they are supposed to… I just wish it wasn’t that way… But wishing doesn’t do any benefit to anyone or any animal… I also realize that in my buying a ticket I’m supporting the efforts of zoos, so I’ve no right to dislike them since I’m supporting them… Basically as you can see zoos to me open up a huge can of debatable worms!!  Love them and hate them… Grrr!!

Ok, I’m off my soapbox… I’ve been to several zoos around the world at this point and I must say that while some were VERY disappointing and I felt really sorry for the animals (Costa Rica Zoo in San Jose) I thought that the Edinburgh zoo was quite well done!  The habitats for the animals are very spacious and the grounds go on forever!!  Thanks to E I was able to score a discounted ticket for the zoo and literally spent about 9 hours walking every inch of the zoo!  The variety of critters was impressive and again the habitats themselves were spacious (for those critters that need the space!) and the animals seemed generally content.  I must say my favorite bit (aside from the big cats) was the baboons!  They were so darn entertaining that I could have watched them alone for hours on end!  Just watching the interactions between the, probably 50 or so, baboons was better than any reality show on TV today!  There was drama, comedy, action, and lots and lots of mating!!  Must have been the season I guess… Anyway, if any of you reading this are fans of zoos, I do recommend the Edinburgh zoo.

Oh, and by the way, if any see the Wild Cat, I want to hear about it!!  Apparently there is a running joke among people who have visited the Edinburgh zoo where they say that though there is a habitat for the Wild Cat, there isn’t actually a wild cat in the habitat because no one has ever seen it!!  Personally, I have seen it and had I known about that running joke I would have taken a picture to show K&E, but alas I didn’t… I actually spotted it twice.  The first time did take me quite a while to find it because it was curled up sleeping way up high in a tree.  It was about mid-day the first time I saw it.  Then later as the zoo was starting to close I made my way back to the Big Cat area and saw it on the floor of the habitat awake and having a sip of water.

Sorry I’ve no pictures to share for this section… I did take a few pictures for myself but find it a bit exploitive to post them up… I know, I’m odd!!

On to Royal Mile Walking Tour

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