Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and is one of those places you fall in love with the second you arrive. The stone buildings are beyond lovely, there are so many funky stores it can take an hour just to walk down a street, and odds are you can hear some bagpipes playing in the distance at any moment. What’s not to like?
I went to Edinburgh twice, once when I flew in from Ireland and once again after heading up to the Scottish highlands and it turned out the European rugby championship was in town the next day. It was an Irish team versus an English team and the Irish barely won, and how could I miss a fun bit of culture like that?
To start with, this is Edinburgh castle, perched intimidatingly on a hill and flying the U.K. flag higher than the Scottish one to great controversy (you learn pretty quick that anything dealing with the English is bound to be controversial around here). It’s shockingly expensive to go in even when you remember everything in the U.K. is expensive, but it seemed a mild travesty to not go in so I said goodbye to my 12 pounds (US$19!) to enter the place.
To be fair, it is a rather nice castle and big enough inside that you can wander a few hours before you leave- they have a mess of cannons, the Scottish crown jewels, and all the other castle-y things one usually comes across. My favorite was the prison- they redid the dungeons to look like they used to back in the day with a slight Disneyfication of wax models and spooky people talking in the background and such, which they did in perfectly entertaining proportions.
A Scottish guardsman at the castle. You know how the English guards at castles wear red uniforms and ridiculous giant hats that make you conclude the queen’s primary defense is people will start laughing at the guards? Well I wouldn’t mess with their Scottish counterparts- this guy is macho enough to wear a kilt, and stand rock-still when tourists pose for pictures beside him while still sending a “yeah, I could kill you in five seconds without my weapon!” look. Definitely hardcore.
Speaking of kilts, I am going to be terrible and just post my opinion on this that I already said on Facebook-
Dear Scottish souvenir stores- please stop stocking my high school uniform. Sincerely, recovering private school student.
Bonus for Ellisians, our plaid is in this picture for you to find! Though those more expert than me say the exact plaid doesn’t mean anything because synthetic dyes are “only” one or two centuries old.
Speaking of things that annoyed me in Edinburgh, here is the view looking up from the lovely lobby of the hostel I stayed at, which was a converted barracks. See where the steps end on the top floor? Yeah, that’s where I lived. And you’re not allowed to put a lift in the old buildings because they’re protected. Needless to say, this hostel was one of about five or six places thus far on my trip where I felt obliged to use the backpack straps on my bag instead of the wheels.
On the other hand, I am fairly certain that this pig is one of my favorite things in Edinburgh (that and his other bretheren I consumed at this place). It’s a hole in the wall type establishment called Oink where their only product is making cheap sandwiches out of a roasted pig. They have one pig a day and work until they sell out, typically just after lunch. And my God, it was delicious. I became as obsessed with the pig place as much as one can be over the course of only a few days.
What you get at the pig place for 3.50 pounds. You choose from either sage and onion or haggis, though I went for the former instead of the latter. Not that there’s anything wrong with haggis- I tried it a few times while in Scotland and have no opinion on the taste one way or another frankly.
Anyway, now that I’m done ranting about the deliciousness of the pig roast let us move on to some more Interesting and Important Places, shall we? This is a view of the Scottish Royal Museum, with Dolly the Sheep in front and one of James Watt’s first steam engines in the back. The Scots are one of those people who have done a disproportionate number of contributions to science and culture considering their size, and like such nations they are always proud to remind you of this fact. In fact, Scotland is the first place after Hungary where you can mention something random and people are quick to tell you “did you know the Scottish invented/discovered/created that?!” It got a bit much when they proudly told me Pontius Pilate was born in Scotland and hence they’re responsible for killing Jesus though.
A word on the Scottish Royal Museum before I forget- I’ve seen enough national museums by this point that don’t strike you as particularly impressive, but the Scottish version is not one of them. Not only is everything expertly done and crammed with enough steam engines and prehistoric relics to satisfy anyone, there are even people going around in period costume telling you about how back in their day if you misbehaved your ear would be nailed to the church door or whatever (you will inevitably conclude from this place that Scotland was a pretty rough and dreary place to live for most of its history actually). The nicest thing about the museum though? I remembered that the physicist James Maxwell is Scottish and asked a curator if they had anything from him- said curator was sorry to report that particular part of the museum was closed for renovations, but snuck me in so I could see the Maxwell case. How kind is that?
The curator also mentioned offhand that there is a Maxwell statue erected in Edinburgh for the man, so I obviously needed to do a quick pilgrimage the next day to see it. For any interested physicists the statue is located in George Street in the newer part of Edinburgh with traffic going by it on both sides, but these are the things we put up with to have pictures with our idols…
And for non-physicists who are wondering who on Earth James Maxwell is that I harassed a curator and went out of my way to find his statue, Maxwell is the guy who figured out that electricity and magnetism are related and the equations for them- equations so important that it’s from this Einstein figured out his theories of relativity actually! So if you’re thinking of the most important physicists of all time first would be Newton, second would be Einstein, and third would be Maxwell. The fact that I have taken two years of courses studying his equations and have a third coming up didn’t hurt my interest in the guy either.
Now that I’m done with my geek moment, I should make a note that one of the reasons it was a touch difficult to find Maxwell’s statue is there are so many erected in memorial to famous Scotsmen in Edinburgh (I say Scotsmen because I never saw a woman statue). Some you can’t help but stop and pose with, such as the Hume one above, but some they could tone down on. Like Sir Walter Scott. He has several as well as a several-story memorial. Now I realize the Scots are proud of him, but have any of you actually read Sir Walter Scott? The man is boring– so boring that most English classes these days won’t touch his works knowing everyone will just reach for the Cliffs Notes- which I realize upsets the four Ivanhoe fans out there but it’s my blog! And I needed to somehow explain why I never took a picture of any of the Sir Walter Scott memorials in Edinburgh. The End.*
*I realize you’re not supposed to end things with “The End” but this is a blog, not high literature. If it was high literature you would now be asked to critique what the pig roast sandwich symbolizes in my journey and what the theme of my James Maxwell search was, and I would mark you off for writing “she’s a nerd” because that’s not a complete sentence.