A tourists trip to Medieval times - Exploring today’s Edinburgh
A much anticipated trip was finally less than a week away: exploring one of the most picturesque British cities, which has gained popularity amongst students, tourists and even the Brits in recent times: Edinburgh. When casually mentioning the upcoming travels to friends, it seemed as though everyone has already been, had already seen the castle and eaten ‘veggie haggis’ (a speciality) - except for me. Even more so, it felt like I was wildly unprepared to actually see everything worth seeing, try all the popular local Whiskeys within only 4 days, and especially explore the beautiful Scottish surroundings - the Highlands. So I did what any overly prepared (mostly German) traveller would do and bought a city guide, a map, downloaded multiple travel-blog-posts, saved different maps on my phone, and created an Excel spreadsheet to keep track on all the sights and places to visit.
After a long layover in London due to no direct flights from my home airport, I was relentlessly tired and ready to take a long afternoon nap in the wonderful boxspring bed the hotel offered, but of course, looking at my spreadsheet, decided against it and so we made our way back towards the city centre. Luckily the weather was, against all British odds, sunny and dry, so we walked the length of the city probably twice within the first afternoon, admiring the view from the castle’s platform, getting lost in small shops along the tiny streets in the Old Town, and falling back in love with anything that mildly resembled the Harry Potter Universe. We had somewhat expected the pub food to be a disappointment, and unfortunately we were right, and we made our way back South toward the beautify Ard-Na-Said Bed & Breakfast, where we would be spending our nights. Waking up in the big bed, covered my even bigger blankets, and having the personalised pre-ordered Scottish breakfast waiting for us in the morning was something to very much look forward to; the staff at this small family owned B&B was incredible and made the experience so enjoyable.
Despite it not being as cold as back home, the streets were slippery and so we carefully navigated through the side streets back towards the city centre, to pick up a car for our tour to the Highlands. Cramped in a tiny Fiat 500, the real challenge had only just begun: Driving on the left side of the road, while technically sitting in the passenger seat of the car - and of course, trying not to crash into oncoming traffic of the sidewalk every 10 feet. Surprisingly, I got used to shifting gears with my left hand relatively quickly and was therefore able to drive without any major incident except for holding up the traffic behind me because I was going too slow.
The first station was Loch Lomond, which is a beautiful large lake that - legend has it - also inherits a monster. The ‘Lomond Monster’ apparently looks like a large crocodile and whether that is the truth or is just a consequence of drinking too much of the Whiskey distilled in the small town I will leave up to you to decide. Another interesting fact about the town is the church; it sits right by the water and its graveyard strongly reminds of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video, in every aspect. Most of the gravestones are indecipherable, but the oldest ones I was able to read are from the early 1600’s - a time when the USA didn’t even exist in today’s form yet, which I feel is a helpful indicator of Europe’s history. We were lucky enough to meet the caretaker of the church and graveyard, who kindly allowed us inside the church outside of the service hours to see the fountain, which has been estimated to have been built in 500 a.d. and is now being used as a baptistery, and the oldest graves in town, which are from 800 a.d. The church itself was relatively unspectacular compared to what we would be able to see in Edinburgh’s city centre, but the history this small room contained was just amazing. Back on the road we - slowly - made our way further up North towards Fort William, which is lays by the largest mountain in Scotland and is therefore a popular skiing and hiking destination. Unfortunately for us, British weather had caught up and it was pouring once we made it into town. We then decided to stick to coffee instead of hiking poles and enjoyed oat lattes in the town’s tiny vegan restaurant and enjoyed hot coffee while the world seemed to be ending outside. The wild wind, thunder and lighting, as well as the rain that looked like it was flying vertically just assured us that we made the right decision not to track up the hiking paths during sunset, but to just walk trough the beautiful main street of Fort William instead. The drive through the endless mountains of the highlands, in combination with some of the ragged roads, the darkness and not being used to either a Fiat 500 nor driving on the left side of the road made the trip back to our B&B exhausting, but we knew what wonderful beds were awaiting us at the end, so we grabbed some pizza - in a very Scottish looking restaurant at least - on the way home.
On Saturday we had finally planned to visit the castle: With pre booked tickets we didn’t have to wait in any lines and were able to just walk in - and it was magnificent. The huge castle stands on a volcano, and it has been reported that people have been living in the area since the Bronze Age around 800 BC. The royal castle has been build and lived in since the 12th century, and the many wars surrounding the area and territory make it the most attacked castle in the world.
Unfortunately, due to its age, many of the rooms, decorations, walkways and more had to be replicated, and even though they are very much in line with the original sight, it felt more like walking through a replica overall than through a preserved historical sight.
Since Edinburgh has become such a popular weekend-get-away destination, tourists, just like us, were walking through the extremely crowded courtyard while trying to feel as though the King may or may not be watching from one of the top windows still. In comparison to many other historical sights, especially some local castles in Germany, it felt as though the preservation of it had gotten the best of the place and it had slightly lost its charm, but nevertheless, feeling the stones that had been laying in the same place for hundreds of years was a special experience in itself.
Next up on the list was St. Gile’s Cathedral, which is a beautifully renovated church from 1124, which currently also hosts an installation of the moon. The sight was incredibly impressive, and whether the combination of modern installation and old church facade was a marketing stunt to increase visitor numbers or had a true cultural and artistic reason behind it was completely unimportant - because it worked. The cathedral was full of visitors who quietly stood in amazement of the installation and its reflection in windows and glass doors of the church.
We then made our way back to the newer part of town, which was still from 1767 and designed following the natural contours of the land by James Craig. The then 26-year old won a design competition and the actual design as it is nowadays is supposed to somewhat resemble the Union Flag. The residential and office buildings, as well as the small cashmere shops are right out of a Harry Potter movie - so very much up my alley, design wise. The natural stone walls and stairs leading to the doors were beautifully and lovingly taken care of;
As the rain started to grow stronger by the second, we decided to find shelter in one of the best pizza places I have ever been to - Pizza Posto. The authentic Neapolitan style pizza was served quickly and deliciously, in an urban and chic two-story restaurant. Even though we had to wait by the bar until a table was free, the few minutes we spent sipping the house wine were completely worth it for the amazing service and even better pizza.
In terms of food, Edinburgh was similar to any other place I have visited in the UK - besides the tourists hotspots, cozy pubs and all the whiskey bars, it didn’t seem very culinarily unique - and even though Neapolitan pizza is not necessarily what you would travel to Scotland for; but I can only highly recommend a dinner at Pizza Posto. For us, it was the most wonderful - and delicious - way to end our trip.