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Edinburgh Castle

Started: 2014-05-25 19:39:20

Submitted: 2014-05-26 10:11:34

Visibility: World-readable

Friday, 16th May: in which the intrepid narrator explores the Scottish capital

(Before we get too far I feel compelled to provide a pronunciation key to my American readers (which, I assume, is all of my readers). The last syllable in the city "Edinburgh" is not pronounced like the similar spelling in, say, "Pittsburgh"; the local pronunciation is more like "Edin-burra".)

I awoke in our hotel in Edinburgh when my alarm went off at 09:00 localtime. I set the alarm to try to put me on a local sleep schedule while still giving me enough sleep to recover from the five hours of sleep I got on the plane Wednesday night (and the two hours I stayed awake in the middle of the night, once I'd recovered from my initial exhaustion and jet lag told me it ought to be the middle of the day). We ate breakfast in our hotel, then set out to explore the city.

Our first stop was to get local SIM cards so we could call each other to coordinate separate activity without incurring roaming charges. (I turned on international data roaming on my phone plan before leaving home, but at US$20/100 megs I figured it'd still be cheaper to pick up a local card.) We wandered in the general direction of the New Town, an 18th century addition to the city laid out on a neat grid pattern faces the Old Town and the castle across a valley (and a features large shopping street, where modern shops sit in place of the 18th century shops). Kiesa dropped into one department store in hopes of finding a sweatshirt for Calvin, and I headed down to the nearest Three shop, which seemed to have reasonable prepaid rates, for a pair of SIM cards and prepaid credit.

This worked better in theory than in practice; my phone seemed fairly happy with the SIM, and registered on the network and let me add my credit, but it wouldn't connect to the data network until I figured out the right 'access point' settings on Three's website later. I swapped back the Vodafon SIM that I got with my phone* and used my roaming data until I figured out the APN details.

Kiesa's phone proved somewhat more temperamental; it refused to read the Three SIM. Further research indicated that Kiesa's current phone was a 2G-only phone; while it did in fact support the four global GSM bands, it did not support Three's 3G UMTS-only network. We could have gotten a SIM from another provider, but we were too lazy to find and buy the right thing. I ended up using my Three SIM for data for the rest of the trip, but Kiesa's went unused.

[* In the past several years I've worked on a handful of multi-SIM projects at work, and the standard explanation for the use-case for supporting multiple SIM cards from the same phone is, only somewhat in jest, a hypothetical person in the developing world who carries around a bandolier of SIM cards to swap in whatever subscription gives him the best rate for wherever he happens to be and whatever purpose he happens to have at that exact moment, engaging in wireless plan arbitrage. While I was swapping my SIM cards I felt like I had my own bandolier, and wished for my own multi-SIM phone.]

Calvin in Princes Street Garden in front of Edinburgh Castle
Calvin in Princes Street Garden in front of Edinburgh Castle

I found Kiesa and Calvin, the latter wearing a new hoodie bearing the Scottish flag, and we headed up the hill into Old Town to visit Edinburgh Castle, towering on a hill overlooking the city. The ticket queue was epic, and as I waited I was surrounded by tourists from all over the world, carrying guidebooks in various languages. (I spotted Chinese, German, and Spanish guidebooks in the hands of the people immediately around me.)

Calvin and Kiesa look out from Edinburgh Castle
Calvin and Kiesa look out from Edinburgh Castle
Calvin walks around inside Edinburgh Castle
Calvin walks around inside Edinburgh Castle

Once I finally got our tickets, we walked into the castle, which had been used as a defensive fortress and the seat of government in Edinburgh for hundreds of years. The castle had been modified and extended over the centuries, and featured displays from throughout its history. We saw a large chapel dedicated to the Scots who died in the world wars. We saw the Scottish crown jewels and the Stone of Scone, now returned to its rightful place in Scotland, and rooms in which various Scottish kings and queens lived and were born, now displaying various portraits of these kings and queens on the wall, and carpeted with an ugly orange carpet that gave way uneasily underfoot. We watched the one-o'clock gun, which was pretty much as advertised, and ate lunch at the on-sight cafe, then continued on to a museum dedicated to a couple of Scottish dragoon regiments. In the museum's gift shop, Calvin asked for a picture book about Timmy the Tank, and I picked up a book about the regiments' fight in Burma during the Second World War.

Jaeger holds a 19th-century flintlock musket at Edinburgh Castle
Jaeger holds a 19th-century flintlock musket at Edinburgh Castle
Kiesa climbs down stairs at Edinburgh Castle
Kiesa climbs down stairs at Edinburgh Castle

We left the castle and headed towards the bizarre Gothic Revival spire we could see from the castle. My guidebook identified it as the Sir Walter Scot (the guy who put "Scot" back in "Scotland") memorial and mentioned we could climb it. To get there we walked down the street leading through Old Town from the front of the castle, past tourist-trap shops in historic buildings and bagpipe-playing buskers on the street.

Sir Walter Scott monument
Sir Walter Scott monument

We found the monument in the Princes Street Garden, immediately in front of New Town, paid a few pounds for admission, and began climbing the helical stairs leading up the interior. (Most people would call it a "spiral staircase", but it's technically a helix. I pointed this out to Calvin on our descent, within earshot of the ticket-taker, and he was pleased that someone else knew the difference.) The first staircase reached a modest platform with a small gallery, from which another staircase ascended. The staircases kept getting smaller and higher until we reached a staircase so narrow I couldn't go up straight, let alone let anyone pass me going the opposite direction -- and then we reached the top, nearly 300 steps above the ground. I didn't spend much time at the very top, just enough to look out at the city, prove that I'd been there, and take a pictures. One stretch of the descent was worse than the ascent, where the outer wall of the stairway had lengthy holes cut into it and I had to look down and see the ground below.

We stopped for a snack at Costa Coffee across the street, which proudly identified itself as the UK's favorite coffee chain, while I plotted my next moves. It was after 17:00 localtime, and all of the tourist attractions were closing, but it was still bright and sunny; this far north (further north than I'd been on solid ground before), the sun wouldn't go down until 22:00. (I had come to Scotland expecting clouds and rain, but sun was fine with me.) We walked around New Town to St. Andrew's Square, where Calvin played next to a shallow pond and managed to avoid falling in, then walked through Princes Street Garden in search of the playground my guidebook alluded to. I found the playground at the extreme north-west corner of the garden and let Calvin play for a while as we sat and watched, and wondered how far the other children had come from; I identified one family speaking French.

Kiesa photographs Calvin playing in Princes Street Gardens
Kiesa photographs Calvin playing in Princes Street Gardens

We walked Henderson's, a highly-rated vegetarian restaurant in New Town that was the first thing that came up when I searched for "vegetarian haggis". (Apparently some purists don't like the idea, but there are plenty of non-vegetarians who think it's better than the original.) They served vegetarian haggis as an appetizer, giving me the opportunity to try it without committing. It was actually pretty good, not unlike a spiced, oatmeal-heavy Adventist casserole. (Henderson's has, in fact, posted their recipe online. I expect I'll try to talk Kiesa into making it sometime.)

After supper we caught a taxi back to our hotel and managed to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Until that point we'd walked everywhere with Calvin, which worked fairly well, albeit at a fairly slower pace than I was used to. I tended to take the lead on the narrow Edinburgh sidewalks (they'd call it "pavement") clutching my smartphone as a divining rod to point me in the right direction and Kiesa followed, holding Calvin's hand, a few meters behind. Throughout the day we probably covered four miles.

For more photos from Friday 16th May, see Photos on 2014-05-16. For Kiesa's parallel account, see Scotland – Day 2.

I've always thought someone could make a killing by selling the
"for dummies" books for $200 a piece using infomercials! :-)
- Yanthor, on Content Solutions chatter, 17 December 2001