Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is full of nooks and crannies, alleyways and closes, small courtyards and statues, living and sculpted. Simply strolling the street is, in and of itself, completely enjoyable.
We did a little shopping and picked up some Christmas ornaments for ourselves. The Royal Mile is full of tourist “crap.” So you do have to pick and choose. We chose to look for Christmas ornaments (because Dacia collects ornaments from around the world)
- We watched a street performer from the very beginning to end. We were the first members of his audience and the last to leave.
- We hung out by the Writer’s Museum in Makar’s Court and tried to read all the quotes etched in the paving stones. The Writer’s Museum is free and we would have absolutely loved to go in, but alas. It was not to be. It, too, was closed for a wee bit during a private function.
- We enjoyed coffee and scones from Nerd Cafe. “Nerd Cafe?” you say? Well, no. It was not Nerd Cafe. It was Nero Caffe. And they are all over the island. Every. Single. Time. I saw it, my brain read it as Nerd Cafe. The coffee? Delicious. And I was having my fill of mochas on this trip and enjoying every single moment.
Edinburgh’s St. Giles Cathedral
St. Giles Cathedral is about midway from Edinburgh Castle (top of the Royal Mile) and the Palace of the Holyroodhouse (End/Bottom of the Royal Mile). It is free to go in and enjoy the cathedral, but if you want to take pictures, they ask for a pound or two. Then they give you a sticker to identify that you are cleared to shoot photos. Becky purchased the right to take photos, so anytime I saw something of which I wanted a picture, I would chase Becky around to procure the sticker. When I was finished, I would return it and find another inspiration.
St. Giles Cathedral is the church at which John Knox, the Great Scottish Reformer, served during most of his ministry. Great Britain has a long and laborious and fairly terrible history in regards to church, faith, religion, and spirituality.
To make a tremendously long story short, here are several facts..
- John Knox began as a priest before he joined the Reformation.
- When he joined the Reformation, he founded the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
- That church met in St. Giles Cathedral.
- Knox was not shy about his convictions and was feared by Mary, Queen of Scots.
- I still don’t know why Mary, Queen of Scots was called Mary, Queen of Scots.
Occasionally breaking away from the group, I enjoyed a self-guided tour around the property. I sidled up to a small group of people who looked like they were listening to a tour guide to get a bit of the story. I may or may not have followed them around or obviously joined them by asking direct questions.
I got two completely different stories about Queen Victoria from two different guides at two different times..
Guide #1, “When Queen Victoria came to St. Giles, she asked about this buried Englishman and she knighted him right then and there.”
Guide #2, “Queen Victoria never set foot in St. Giles Cathedral.”
Your guess is as good as mine of who is telling the truth.
I have two favorite memories from St. Giles. One is a bathroom story that I do not have permission to share, but I can say when I was in the bathroom, I heard my name being called from heaven. Or at least from what I thought was heaven. Turned out it was Dacia from the other bathroom. Don’t ask. The bathroom situation was very strange.
The other one is the conversation with a florist who was dismantling his bouquets from a wedding that had taken place in the cathedral the previous weekend. He was pitching the greens and keeping the flowers for a charity event. We talked about traveling to the United States and his kids and where Minnesota was.
Mostly I enjoyed the conversation with the florist because of his accent. But my favorite part was what Andrea told me later. Becky, who I had known now for maybe 24 hours, watched our interaction from afar and reported to Dacia and Andrea, “In case you didn’t know this, Gianna is an extrovert.”
Upon exiting the cathedral, we went around the back and found John Knox’s burial site. It blew my mind. (insert dripping sarcasm) But it was from this spot that I learned about Scotland’s national animal.
Cultural Lesson #3
Scotland’s National Animal
Those of us who are citizens of the United States of America are proud to say our national animal is the Bald Eagle. Could we have a more beautiful, magnificent bird depicting our country?
England’s national animal is the Lion as you can see on the Royal Crest of Arms.
I can tell you that Ireland’s Hare is more substantial than Scotland’s.
The National Animal of Scotland is the Mythical Unicorn.
Not just the unicorn, the mythical unicorn. It’s like the Scots want us to be aware that they know the unicorn is not a real creature but they still claim it.
After discovering this fun fact about Scotland, we started seeing unicorns everywhere. Unicorns were on every Scottish crest, sculpted on monuments, carved into woodwork, and even included different British pennants.
We had just a little time to make our way to the Palace of the Holyroodhouse, so we booked it to the end of the Royal Mile. We made it with just enough time to enjoy the Palace, so we purchased our tickets, picked up our audio headsets and walked into the Queen’s official residence while in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh’s Palace of the Holyroodhouse
We wandered along the tour listening to the guide in our ears and looking at the different artifacts. We wandered through the dining room, the King’s chambers, and the Queen’s chambers. We entered the quarters of Mary, Queen of Scots and listened to a story of betrayal which the Scots and the Brits have in abundance.
When the tour was finished, we made our way into the palace’s abbey ruins. Where we could take lots of pictures.
Cultural Lesson #4
Palace of the Holyroodhouse
- Built in 1501 by James IV, the Palace of the Holyroodhouse was very inhabited by him and his wife, Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII
- This is the residence of Her Royal Majesty, the Queen, when she is in Edinburgh. When she is staying there, the flag is flown over the palace.
- Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip Mountbatten, was named Duke of Edinburgh just before he and the queen were married.
- The Royal Family visits Scotland at the end of June/beginning of July. We just missed her!
- Holyrood means Holy Cross.
Looking past the palace, you see one of the prettiest peaks in Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat. It’s an ancient volcano that is 251 meters above sea level. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to hike up it. It’s definitely on my list for next time.
I wish we could have explored Edinburgh just a little more. I feel like we got a good taste for our first visit, but I definitely have things that I want to go back and see. Including hiking Arthur’s Seat.
Other things that I am looking forward to seeing in the future will be the Scottish National Gallery, the Writer’s Museum, the Botanic Gardens, and Edinburgh Castle. I also would love to check out Calton Hill, maybe take a sneak peak at Greyfriar’s Bobby statue, and explore around the National Monument.
That evening, we made our way back on the bus which didn’t seem so hard now. We were tired and happy with our experiences. Including my first taste of Haggis and Mushy Peas.
That’s right. Haggis.
But more on that to come.
Need to start from the beginning?Click here to Start at the beginning of the trip
Catch up from the last installment:Click for Day 2, Edinburgh