Edinburgh: The Middle

Sunday morning I woke up to find it snowing. It was the first real snow the UK had gotten that year, and it was April. The Australian girl in my room in the hostel was freaking out, she had never really seen snow. I just shook my head, and layered up with some legwarmers and an extra sweater. It wasn't really that cold.

I went to see the High Kirk of Edinburgh. It's kind of like the Scottish version of a cathedral, only cathedrals have bishops, and the Scottish are generally Protestant, so don't believe in bishops. Thus, a High Kirk.

This church was the one that John Knox preached out of, and managed to convert pretty much everyone to being Protestant instead of Catholic. Knox learned from the guy who gave the Selles' their family institution, Calvin. When he died, he stipulated that he must be burried within 23 metres of the church that had been his home.

This was all well and good until the city began to run out of space. The graveyard around the church was turned into a parking lot, and all the bodies moved to another graveyard. But what to do with John Knox? They couldn't just move him, it was his dying wish to remain there. Thus, John Knox, father of Scottish Protestantism, became parking space number 23. All that remains to commemorate him is a gold square to mark the spot.

In the afternoon I went off to the National Museum of Scotland, where I saw loads of Scottish paintings.

The gallery is quite good, with a nice cafe as well. The building is right in the middle of Old Town and New Town, and so perfect to just pop in for a few hours when you have the time.


Edinburgh: The Beginning

On the Saturday morning I took a free tour around the city. Well, it wasn't really free, but instead operates on a donation at the end. The company claims that this means their guides have to try harder, and therefore give better tours. Most of the guides seem to be people who visited the city and never left. Mine was from Oklahoma. There were about 75 people who showed up, so they split us up into smaller groups.

We saw the Walter Scott monument, which is huge!

It was built to celebrate the life of Walter Scott, the man who single handedly managed to revive Scottish nationalism, and saved them from becoming just like the rest of England. He is responsible for making the kilt fashionable, and for kind of inventing it. It's one of those things that's supposed to be all historical, but really hasn't been around for that long.

The little group of buildings in the top left of this picture is the old medieval castle. The whole countryside of Scotland is very hilly, especially Edinburgh. The landscape was carved by glaciers which created dramatic hills and valleys. The old medieval city is built on top of on of the hills, with the newer section on the adjacent hills. There are bridges that connect the tops of the hills, with the poorer sections of the city being in the valleys. These bridges were convenient for the more affluent since they could just walk right over all the muddy gross parts of town. The street that my hostel was on is called Cowgate because it was where the cows would be driven down on their way to slaughter. Needless to say, that got smelly. The area around the castle is a gorgeous park. Our guide explained that in medieval times the area was a firey poop lake. Because of all the human and animal waste being thrown into the area, methane gas would occasionally pop to the surface and catch on fire. Wonder why the grass is so green? Good fertilizer.

This is the door to the home of Robert Burns, Scotland's beloved poet, which is across from the Writer's Museum.

This is what the guide described as a medieval burglary alarm. It used to be a staircase, though through some sort of renovation, it is now part of the wall. The two middle steps are not uniform to the rest of the steps, which would cause any potential trespasser to fall, make a big noise and get caught. The family would know which step it was, and could tell friends that it was the 7th step up, etc.

This building is a very old, very prestigious (and still operational) boys school. Unfortunately I cannot for the life of me remember its name. What is cool about it is that it was apparently J.K. Rowling's inspiration for Hogwarts, in Harry Potter.

In more geekery, I squealed when I saw this. It's not quite the same, but it's pretty dang close. In the 40's these were all over England, and could be used in an emergency to ring the police. They are still all over Edinburgh, but none seem to be opperational. What really makes it exciting is that they were made famous by the cult British TV show Doctor Who. The Doctor travels around time and space in a ship (called a TARDIS) that has accidentally stuck its chameleon exterior to be the shape of a Police Box.

I saw loads of tourists running up to them and saying "Take a picture of me next to the TARDIS!" Which just made it even more amusing.

In the afternoon I met up with my mom's friend's nephew, Jacob. He was doing his exchange in Edinburgh. We had never met before, but had a grand old time. We went for tea at the Elephant Cafe, then hung out at his residence building. His cousin was having a dinner party with some friends that night, and she generously let me tag along. She complained that the food wasn't very good, but Jacob and I were just happy to have a square meal in us! And it was delicious anyway.


Edinburgh: The Prelude

The train ride up to Edinburgh was really amazing. Sure it rained half the time, but you get to go right up the coast, through all sorts of little tiny towns.

The view is spectacular.

Funny thing is that it's even better on the way out. Going North, the train is on the inside track, so it's harder to see the ocean. Going South, you are right there, looking over the cliffs. Stunning I tell you.

I'm not going to lie, I didn't do much the first day. I arrived late in the afternoon, so I didn't have much time. I wandered about a bit, then went back to the hostel to make some dinner. The hostel was pretty good. They had a full kitchen for us to use, and every couple of rooms had their own kitchen, so it was only shared with about 20 people instead of 100. It was on Cowgate Rd, which is very central. However, it is a bit of a dodgy street at night, as there are a load of cheap clubs on the street. I wouldn't walk alone at night there. So I didn't! Easy solution. What this does mean though, is that it's loud. The bar across the street plays music into the wee hours of the night, so bring earplugs if you plan on staying there.

Though if you are a knitter, it is just around the corner from K1 Yarns, home to such awesomeness as Ysolda. I went there almost everyday. The staff are super friendly and cool, and they have a decent yarn selection, way better than anywhere else in England I've been so far. Though nothing beats Mrs. Mac's in Mumbles!

York, Day the Second

The second day in York I went back to all the places I had been on the ghost tour to see them in the daylight. I saw Shambles Street, which was the film inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. It's original purpose was the butchers street, which meant that it was generally full of rotting meat. Pleasant eh?

The joke is that you can shake hands across the upper windows of this building, though apparently that only works if there are extra people hanging on the ankles of the shakers. The distance is just a little too much.

The Golden Fleece is reputed to be the most haunted pub in York, though I can't remember any actual stories from it.

This column is a remnant from Roman days. York is the furthest north the Romans went in their quest to rule the world. The column was found and erected beside the minster. There is an administration building near by, and there is a legion of Roman ghosts in the basement. They trudge wearily, only half of their bodies visible, as they are walking on the origional road through the village, which is two feet bellow the floor. Creepy!

I saw this man playing the piano in a square. You can see the minster in the background. He had wheeled his piano out and taken off the top. He was playing jazz. It was so cool to be able to hear the live piano being played outside. You see violins and guitars all the time, but a piano is a lot harder to move.

I went to Duttons for Buttons, a lovely shop full of nothing but buttons! I bought ... a fair amount. I would show you them, but I left them in Toronto when I went home. They are all very lovely though, and the ladies at the shop were very nice.

This building is a shrine to a St. Margaret. She hid Catholic priests during the Reformation and was beheaded. This house, on Shambles St. was the one that she lived in and hid the priest in. It's a regular little house, completely unremarkable, until you look a little closer. Then you get an unexpected surprise.

Back in the day theses cat statues had been put up to ward off bad luck. This one, including the pigeon, are old. There is also a modern architect who likes to put them on his buildings, as a throw back to the old tradition.

In the afternoon I hoped on a train and went to Durham, where I met up with my friend Catherine. She generously let me sleep on her floor (twice) and showed me around the lovely city that is Durham. There is another impressive cathedral there, of which I took a few photos. Unfortunately we got there just too late to go up the tower, but it was a gorgeous and warm day, so it was nice to just be able to walk around outside.


York, Day the first

On Wednesday morning I woke up and set off on the next stage of the adventure. York. It's a very very pretty town, and I had loads of fun there, though I didn't stay for very long. The hostel there was very nice, it's run by the Youth Hostel Association, and was very clean and family friendly. Plus they had a full continental breakfast included in the price of the night. Mmmm delicious!

York is one of the few cities in England that still has about 75% of it's original city walls. Of course, they aren't really around the city anymore, just around the core of the city, but it's still pretty cool.

All that yellow is Daffodils. The hill was covered in them!

The walls have Gates, or Bars spaced evenly around the city. I think there are about 5 of them. This is Monks Bar, which is around the back of York Minster.

And this is the Minster! It is very grand, and very beautiful. It took so long to build that there are loads of different kinds of architecture within the same building, just because the style of the times evolved over time. I arrived just in time to go to the 5:15 service. It was a little odd. I knew all the words, all the things to say, but every once in a while there would be something that would be a little different that would just throw me off.

I went on the ghost tour that starts at 7:30 in front of the Minster, and had a blast. The guide was wearing all Victorian gear, top hat and all, and was very good. He was very enigmatic, and gave a lot of history along with the stories. There are loads of people who give tours in York and in Edinburgh, and I would definitely recommend going on one, it was lots of fun.


Manchester part trois!

So the third day in Manchester wasn't terribly eventful. I went and saw the library, which was pretty cool. This photo reminds me of a picture my mom has, which she also turned into a giant amazing painting.

The library has a really cool circular main hall, which is modeled after old monastery libraries.

Other than that I mostly wandered about, seeing things, watching people. I always have lots of fun watching people!

I also went to the Manchester City Museum of Art. They had a cool exhibit on Dutch painters, most of which I had never heard of, but all of it was very good. As I recall there were also some very noisy children running around in the kids exhibit next door, but that's not really surprising. Kids are born to be noisy.

I also took this picture of myself in the bathroom, which I hope makes up for the really rubbish photo I posted the other day. See, I am capable of looking happy!


Manchester, day 2!

So, after a very worried night, I started off the next day to get my wallet from the bus depot's lost and found. It was a longish walk, though definitely within reasonable. It did contain one of the most boring stretches of road though, proof that no where is perfect I guess!

Once downtown I fulfilled the most important things. I bought a new pair of shoes to replace the Converse as my feet were killing me, and a new bag. The shoes are a pair of all black Gola's, and the bag is a messenger with the Beatles Help! logo all over it. Cute!

Mostly I just wandered about that day, to see what I could see.

I did go to Urbis, a very cool museum on cities. It didn't actually have much on cities while I was there, but they are going to have an exhibit on Manchester over the summer. The exhibit I did see was called How Manga Changed the World, which was really fun. Lots of cool art.


Manchester take one.

Sunday I was in Manchester, which is a city I love. They have streetcars! Okay, they call them trams, but hey, it looks like a streetcar to me. I took one out to Salford Quays, which are a out of the city centre,

The Quay's are kind of like Harbourfront, only minus any noise or traffic. There were lots of new condo buildings, some like these ones, and more that were walk ups. It freaked me out how little noise there was. I think water, I think people, boats, coming and going. Here there were just tourists walking about, and there weren't even that many of them.

Tourists? What is there to do out in the middle of nowhere you ask? Lots actually, makes for a well spent afternoon. I first went to the Lowry Museum. This modern building was designed to look like a boat, which is appropriate since it's on a river.

I saw an exhibit of paintings, drawings and prints by an artist named Laura Knight. The focus of the show was the work she had done based on the Russian Ballet and theatre, mostly Shakespeare. It was so interesting to see the way she captured all the movement, sometimes in just a few lines.

In addition to art, the museum holds a theatre that shows plays, ballets and opera.

Next stop was the Imperial War Museum North, which is all about .... well, war. Once again it has a very modern building, this time representing the continents of the earth.

The exhibition rooms are very interesting. It's one big main space broken up into smaller stations around the room. There was a real focus on the individual within war. There were the personal stories of soldiers, nurses, POW, children, women at home. Everyone had a say. There were a lot of person artifacts to go along with the stories as well.

I could have spent a lot of time there, just wandering about and reading. However, the one down side about the Museum is that it has very low lighting. Very very low. Every half hour they play one of three multimedia movies, which are very loud. With gun shot and bomb sound effects. The combination meant that I got a headache, so I called it quits once the second movie started.

I am not actually as upset as I look in this picture, I was just concentrating really hard to take a picture of myself. It's more of a Here I Am picture than anything. That's what happens when you travel by yourself, no one to take pictures of you.

I should also mention that this was the day that in a mess of groceries I left my wallet on the bus in Manchester. Through the intrepid skills of the bus company, it was found. Kudos also to my dad who canceled my credit card within seconds of finding out.