Adventures in Edinburgh

The flight from London to Edinburgh was uneventful, and my hotel room turned out to be nicer, and bigger, than I had expected. It was an attic room, so I had to lump my fencing bag up three flights of stairs, but I’m getting used to that now (and the staircase was wider than the one in London).

In the afternoon, I bought a ticket for the hop-on-hop-off bus (the green one, with live guides, as recommended by the taxi driver I had from the airport). I did a complete circuit, which gave me a good overview of the layout and history of Edinburgh. But it turned out that everything I wanted to see was within walking distance of my hotel, so I didn’t actually use the bus after that.

On Thursday morning I did the Mercat Tours “Secrets of the Royal Mile” walk. The content was interesting, but I didn’t think the presentation wasn’t as good as I’d had on the London Walks. The walk finished up at Edinburgh Castle, so I went in and spent a few hours wandering around. It was a bit overcast, but not raining, so I was mostly able to appreciate the views; and I found the audio tour quite informative. After that, I did another Mercat Tours walk – “The Vaults”, which takes you into the vaults under the South Bridge. Again, it was interesting, but the presentation was adequate, rather than outstanding. And it’s starting to feel like every tour is compelled to spend time talking about Burke and Hare (who murdered people and sold the bodies to the Edinburgh Medical College).

On Friday morning, I went to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Unfortunately, Mary Queen of Scots’ chambers were closed, as was the garden, but the rest of it was interesting. Though after Kensington Palace and Hampton Court, I was getting a real sense of deja vu as the audio guide carefully explained the process of approaching the king, and how the room you got to was based on your social status. My audio guide conked out in the Great Gallery, but the attendant arranged to have a new one brought over for me. While I was waiting, he explained who a couple of the portraits were (Macbeth, Robert the Bruce, etc). He also said that most of the older kings weren’t real portraits (which the audio guide had already explained) and pointed out that most of them have exactly the same nose (which the audio guide hadn’t said).

After this, I walked up the Royal Mile, and went into the Real Mary King’s Close, one of a number of Closes that were completely built over by the Royal Exchange building. The tour had some very interesting information, and fascinating snapshots of life in Edinburgh at different historical periods, but the presentation was almost unbearably twee. The guide pretended to be a sixteenth century man (or maybe it was fifteenth, or eighteenth, or something else – I really can’t remember) and there was some tedious byplay between himself and another guide about how improperly the women in the tour group were dressed. I also found the bit where we had to sit and listen to a ghost story (to pass the time while we were finding out if we had caught the plague) less than engrossing. On the other hand, everyone else in the group seemed to really get into the spirit of it, so maybe the problem was just me. And the stuff we saw, and the actual information (aside from ghost stories), was very interesting.

On Saturday morning, I wandered around Calton Hill, which was just behind my hotel. The views were wonderful – particularly when I went right up to the top of the Nelson Monument. It probably wasn’t as good as I would have had if I’d walked up to Arthur’s Seat (extinct volcano in Holyrood Park), but the weather never seemed quite reliable enough for me to commit to such a long climb. In the afternoon, I did the Booklovers Walk. It was getting very cold (in fact, a blizzard had been predicted, though it didn’t actually eventuate that day) and I was the only person to turn up. I asked if he wanted to cancel, but he said he was quite happy to do it for just one person. I think it was the best presented of all the walking tours I did in Edinburgh. He talked about Scott, and Stevenson, and J. M. Barrie, and Conan Doyle, and McGonogall, and Ian Rankin, and he even showed me the location of the coffee shop where J. K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. And I discovered that two doors down from my hotel was a house that Helen Bannerman (author of Little Black Sambo) had lived in.

On Sunday morning it was snowing! Since I’m not a skier, this was actually the first time I had seen snow in about 20 years. It really was a magical world (like in the final Calvin and Hobbes comic strip) . As I stepped outside, I had the snow-crunching-underfoot thing (described in so many books) and managed to avoid the slipping-down-the-steps thing (not so often described). However, as this was the day of the Edinburgh Coupe du Nord Women’s Sabre competition, I was indoors all day, and couldn’t really get the full snow experience. Though the competition start was delayed by the weather, and some competitors simply couldn’t get there at all, which I guess is another aspect of the snow experience. I enjoyed the competition, and ended up placing about 19th of 34 fencers. I think I should have been able to do a little bit better – somewhere between 12th and 16th – but I messed up one of my pool bouts, and this affected my seeding, and meant that I had a somewhat harder DE bout than I might have (and I therefore lost the DE bout very comprehensively).

Early in the day, there was a rumour that Edinburgh Airport was closed due to the snow, and certainly a number of flights had been cancelled; but my flight wasn’t until quite late, by which time they had everything sorted out. It had stopped snowing by the time I was going to the airport, but it was still fairly thick on the ground, and it looked lovely – particularly in places where there were bits of greenery as well.

From Edinburgh, I got a flight back to Gatwick, and the next morning I caught a National Express coach to Heathrow for my flight back to Australia. (Yes, this sounds absurdly complicated; but at the time I was making my bookings, this worked out cheaper than a Heathrow-Edinburgh flight)..

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