Tales from Italy ch. 8: SPRING BREAK! Part 1: Scotland + New Castle, England
As I’ve said before, I really love how easy it is to travel while in Europe. Ridiculous fees and ticket prices that are all too common back in the states are unheard of here. And thank God too. So, with my friend, Janelle and tickets in hand, I boarded airplane #1 on it’s way to Edinburgh, Scotland 2 weeks ago and my spring break began.
The day before my trip, I had plans to do laundry, pack, and tie up any loose ends before leaving early the next morning for a bus that would take me to Pesaro. From there I would catch a train to Bologna and then fly across Europe to Scotland. It was an overwhelming start to my journey so I wanted to take it easy. Didn’t happen. Turns out that the flight was at 10:55am, not 10am like I had been planning on. I know what you’re thinking- big deal, right? It’s only 55 minutes. Well, those 55 minutes were enough to make 10:55am too early to get a bus to Pesaro in order to catch a train that would get me to Bologna on time. Janelle and I were going to have to leave that night and find some sort of accommodation in Pesaro so we could catch a really early train in the morning. Since this was almost impossible because it was last minute, we had planned on just sleeping in the train station that night- a very uncomfortable, yet desperate prospect.
Fortunately for us, Janelle had become friends with a girl in our Ceramics class named Sylvia who lived in Pesaro. She was able to get in touch with her in time for us to leave, and we were able to stay the night. She and her boyfriend live in this old manor that is absolutely stunning. But because it’s a manor, its also difficult to heat, so the two of them had set up a bed in the kitchen and were living out of this one room. It was the most adorable thing I’d ever seen. In this small space, they were happy and content; and it was contagious- just the thing we needed to bring our trip to a good start after all. So, after a delicious meal cooked by the two of them themselves and some music sung to us by her boyfriend with his guitar, we were off to bed.
The next morning we got a taxi back to the train station at 430am and took the first train, at 520am, to Bologna. I slept through most of it, as was expected. After our flight, we arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland, got our passports stamped (YAY!), exchanged our Euros to Pounds, and set off for our hostel. It was then that I noticed that it was a bit chillier than I had expected and I had underpacked; for some stupid reason or another I had assumed Europe to be roughly the same temperature all around. Scotland is way too far north to be the same temperature as Italy. It was gonna be a chilly two weeks. Or at least until I got further south.
Our hostel, the Edinburgh Backpackers, was by far the coolest place I’d stayed in yet. Despite its 97-stair hike just to get to the reception desk, this is the most social, homey, and welcoming place we could have stayed for a low price (LOVE low prices :P). One of the things that really made it cool was the murals that coated every inch of every wall of the hostel. Because I liked it so much, I videotaped it from the entrance of the hostel, up the 97 stairs, and the hallway to our room. (At one point in the video, you can even hear Jai, our Aussie friend who worked at reception comment on my jacket- a simple means of recognition for me :P).
Views on the way to my room
Our room, Room “U” (each room was a letter of the alphabet), had 3 bunk-beds. Each bed was labeled with a word that began with the letter U: Ugly, Upside Down, Unsafe, Unbearable, Unsure, Unsatisfied. I slept in Ugly and Janelle in Upside Down. It was really amusing.
Outside the hostel was just as lovely. Our hostel was located on a road just behind Princes Street, one of the main streets in Edinburgh. There were tons of sights that we could see from here. The castle was across the river and the famous Balmoral Hostel was across the street.
Prior to visiting Scotland, I would have said that a stereotype of Scotland would be bagpipers around every corner dressed in kilts. However while in Scotland, it was hard to ignore how true this really is. Bagpipes can be heard around all of Edinburgh because there are indeed bagpipers, dressed in kilts, standing on various street corners for the majority of the day.
On our first day, Janelle and I took a tour around the city. In addition to the regular history that is to be expected, we learned a lot of funny stories too:
-this is King Alexander. He ran off a cliff on his horse and so his statue is him and his wild horse:
-King Charles the second, in hopes of gaining popularity, poured wine out of here for 24 hours. The people, ecstatic with wine, loved the King. Unfortunately this only lasted a day since 24 hour binge-drinking brings pretty severe hangovers the next day. Poor King Charles II’s plan backfired lol:
-Statue of King Charles II. This poor king. If his unpopularity wasn’t enough, he had the pleasure of this statue:
1- He’s dressed like Julius Caesar. This pretty much became a joke to the people who couldn’t comprehend why their king was dressed as if going to a costume party.
2- He was a short guy so he made his statue taller. Unfortunately it was out of proportion to his horse, which now looked small like a donkey. So now the people had a statue of their king dressed up going to a costume party on a donkey.
3- Every year on King Charles II’s birthday, Parliament sent 2 small boys to climb the statue and place a crown on the king’s head. This eventually wore away holes in the head of the statue that began to gather water and tilt the horse to the side. So now the people had a statue of their king, dressed as if going to a costume party, riding a drunken donkey.
4- In an attempt to relieve the statue of the water it was now gathering and fix the “drunken donkey” appearance due to the tilt, a hole was drilled in the bottom of the horse. So now the people had a statue of their king, dressed as if going to a costume party, riding a drunken donkey that was pissing all over the street. HAHAHAHAHA. Poor King Charles II:
-The heart was the symbol on the door of the tax collector and on the cell of people who were on death row. Weird, right? Well since people liked neither of these things, they would always spit on the doors and so the hearts were removed. Unfortunately now there was no target to spit on, so people were spitting all over the square. To solve this problem, the city put this heart in the coblestone. It is now the only patch of ground in Edinburgh that is legal to spit on and people still do:
-This is a picture of a trip step. While this one is old and therefore plastered into the wall, trip steps were actually part of staircases that were meant to act as a sort of security system. The trip step was a step that was double the height of the others; in the dark, you wouldn’t know that it was there unless you frequented the house often. So, burgalars and whatnot generally tripped on these trip-steps (go figure) and either made enough noise to alert the house inhabitants, or were knocked to the ground where they’d be found the next day:
-This is Maggie Dickenson’s Pub. This is her story:
Maggie Dickenson was happily married to her husband until he ran off with some random chick. Devastated, she was outcasted because she could not do anything since she was still legally married to her stupid husband. So, Maggie fled and started working at an inn. In time, she fell in love with the inn keeper’s son and ended up pregnant (some stories say she was raped, but I don’t know which is true). Because she was still married to her husband, she had to hide the pregnancy. Due to stress, Maggie miscarried. She took the body to the river where she buried it on the shore. Somehow however, the body was found and traced back to Maggie. Maggie was taken to trial for concealment of pregnancy, found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging. The day of her hanging, Maggie was taken to the “Last Drop Pub” which is actually just a few doors down from her pub in the picture. All people sentenced to hanging were taken here on their death day (hence it’s name) since the gallows were actually right in front of this line of pubs in the picture. Anyway, Maggie was hanged, put in a coffin and taken away by carriage.
At one point in the journey, the carriage driver stopped for a drink. When he returned, he heard a knocking from the back of the carriage. The driver went to Maggies coffin and crowbarred it open. Maggie sat upright. Confused as what to do with her, the driver took Maggie back to the court where they decided to hang her again and finish the job. So, Maggie was taken back to “Last Drop Pub” where she again had her last whiskey, and went back to the gallows. With the noose around her neck, a priest in the crowd shouted to stop- he believed it to be a sign from God that Maggie had returned from the dead. There was a breif debate and they decided to hang her anyway. At this point a lawyer in the crowd shouted to stop- her sentence had already been carried out with the first hanging so she was legally free to go.
So, Maggie was freed. In addition to this good fortune, she also was freed of her legal marriage to her husband due to the vows “till death do us part,” and she had already once been legally pronounced dead. A happy ending indeed. Maggie went on to marry the inn keeper’s son, opened her own pub (in the picture below) and lived a long life. There are rumors though that on hanging days, she’d call out from her window above her pub to the poor victim and say tell them not to worry- maybe they’d come back:
-HARRY POTTER FANS: This is the window of J.K Rowling’s old apartment. She wrote the first few Harry Potter books from here where she was able to look out over Edinburgh. Ideas for her book came from things she saw like Edinburgh Castle- what she based the design of Hogwarts off of:
-Grave Safe/ Cage. Since grave-robbing brought in much $$, graves were frequently dug up and the bodies were sold. For Christians, this was an awful thing since they didn’t believe that the body could go to heaven if it was destroyed after death. So, families of the death had 2 options: 1- sit at the grave for 3 weeks until the body was known to have decomposed enough that it was no longer valuable to grave robbers (origin of the term “graveyard shift”)
2- rent one of these:
-George “Bloody” McKensie’s tomb. This little room is known to contain the most paranormal activity in the world.
In 2005, the tomb became permanently locked after a homeless man took shelter here for the night. Poor guy- the floor caved in and he woke up face to face with McKensie’s corpse. Screaming, he ran out of the tomb in the middle of the night all bloodied from his fall. The guard of the graveyard, as any normal person would, started screaming at the sight of this crazy, screaming, bloody man coming out of “Bloody” McKensie’s tomb in the middle of the night. The homeless guy, seeing the guard screaming in fear of him, thought the guard was screaming at something behind him and so he started screaming even more.
Thus, it is now locked:
-Greyfriar’s Bobby was the graveyard keeper’s, Greyfriar’s, loyal dog. Greyfriar died when Bobby was 2 but while he was alive the two were inseparable. When Greyfriar died Bobby spent every day of the next 14 years of his life at his owner’s grave.
Unfortunately, Bobby is not buried here because the cemetery is just for Christians. He has an unmarked grave outside of the cemetery. However, there is a statue of him just outside as well:
-North Lake (“Nor Loch”). It’s no longer a lake today; instead it is a beautiful garden. When it was a lake however, it was referred to as the “Lake of Poo” by our tour guide because it basically was the town’s sewage system. Notice the extra-special greenery?:
That night, Janelle and I met up with other friends of ours who were visiting Scotland and we took a ghost tour. Our guide was self-employed and wrote his own book. He was hilarious.
The next day, we took a trip to the Moorfoot Hills and did some hiking. The views were gorgeous but there was a ton of mud. Both Janelle and our friend, Ryan, slipped several times and ended up coated with mud. Lucky enough for me I didn’t meet the same fate.
The last day, Janelle and I decided we had seen enough of Edinburgh and headed to Glasgow. We had heard a lot about it, and of course the famous Gerard Butler is from there. So, we set the whole day to be for Glasgow. Unfortunately, we were let down. Glasgow was entertaining for about two hours and then we were out of things to do and still had the whole day. We had seen the old cathedral and medieval area of Glasgow, the oldest house, and had gone to the life/religious art museum before sitting down and trying some haggis, neeps, and tatties- after learning what it was. We were proud of that. After the haggis, to kill time, we went to the cinema to see Alice in Wonderland and then headed home.
Durham and New Castle, England were on the schedule for the next day and we took a bus down. On the way we passed loads and loads and sheep and sights of the North Sea. It was a beautiful trip. In Durham, I met up with my friend, “Cheese” who I’d met at camp. Just like the other girls I met up with around England, it was really nice to see her after camp had ended. She showed us around Durham. We saw the Durham Cathedral, Wear River, and Durham Castle. It was in the castle that some scenes from the first Harry Potter movie were filmed. The weather was lovely, especially for England, and it made for some really lovely pictures:
That night we went out dancing and it was nice to just get out and not be traveling and touring. It made for a splendid evening before our 6 hour 20 minute bus ride the next day to Chester.