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.