Ah, lots to write about since my last update.
Since then, I've visited Holyrood Palace, explored Edinburgh Castle, looked around St. Giles Cathedral and the Museum of Childhood, and took a 12-hour bus tour around the Highlands and up to Loch Ness. I have a ton, ton, ton of images and videos to share, so I hope you take a look and enjoy!
I'll start first with Holyrood Palace. Apparently it was founded in the 1100s and eventually came to house Mary, Queen of Scots for a bit. Today it still functions as Queen Elizabeth's home when she stays in Edinburgh. We took an audio-stick tour around the main rooms of the palace which were still decorated with the original furniture, tapestries, paintings and whatnot. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures indoors, so I don't have much to share, but you aren't missing much. It was really great and all, but probably much like you'd expect a British palace to look. I guess I'm not fascinated by royalty, but it was still really interesting and totally worth it. Connected to the Palace was Holyrood Abbey, which was fun to explore. I took some pictures which you can see here! It was a very gloomy day but you can still get the feel of the place.
Our next adventure was to the glorious Edinburgh Castle. I've seen it a million times in the distance from different points around the city, so it was wonderful to finally get inside. Another bonus: Usually it's 12 pounds (or 16/17 dollars) to enter, but we got special 2 pound tickets because of their Student Day! Pretty lovely. It wasn't quite like the other castles we've been to so far- they turned many of the rooms in the castle into different museum exhibits rather than keeping them original. I had no idea there would be so much to look at! We were there for a good 4 hours and I feel like we saw very little. We bought "Historic Scotland" passes though, so we can go back for free any time we want :) The views were incredible, though...you can really see every bit of Edinburgh and more. The weather cleared up for us which was also a bonus, and continues our good weather luck. Oh! The best part was probably our cute grandpa tourguide. He showed us around for about 45 minutes but didn't say more than a sentence or two about the castle itself. Instead, he spoke for nearly an hour about all of the wonderful contributions Scotland has provided to the world, boasted about their scientific superiority, and pinched the cheeks of all the girls in the group. He was wonderful! If you listened to the people of Scotland, you'd think that Scotland is the most intelligent and productive world-power ever to have existed. Perhaps I'm starting to believe them...?
One of the lovely things about Scotland is that it seems like every pub we go to, everyone is friendly and likes to chat. It's also the best place to meet natives, especially the farther away from campus you get. The other night we went to a famous pub called Sandy Bell's that features live traditional Scottish music every night of the week. Kristine and her sister started talking to this 45 year old man named Iain from Glasgow and he was excellent! He taught us about whisky, the best ways to drink it, and what brands to look for. He kept telling us about his kids (one of them was named Lindsay!) and how great it was that we all took a chance and moved ourselves out to Scotland. We talked to him for an hour or two and it was really, really enjoyable. I feel like in America that sort of thing would be regarded as "creepy" or something, and perhaps rightly so, but it's just completely different here. Eventually the pub closed and we went our separate ways, but it seems that every time we meet a friendly Scot in a pub we learn a lot about the country and its character.
Yesterday we tried to make some plans for another adventure, but abandoned the ambitious ones and decided to wander around and stay close. We headed over to St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile which had absolutely gorgeous stained glass windows and architecture. Unfortunately we only got to stay for a few minutes before the kicked us out. A funeral was scheduled to take place there and for some strange reason they didn't want silly tourists hanging about. From there we went to the Museum of Childhood which was so cool! It was gigantic and free, so you can't really go wrong. They had a ridiculous collection of old dolls, stuffed animals, and lots of other old toys and books that kids used to play with. I must admit, the dolls were CREEPY. And lots of them were far from politically correct. Others just looked like plain not-fun. Although they were much more fun to look at than a museum full of X-Boxes and Wiis...so I gotta give them that. Eventually we left, bought some fudge, and headed back to Kristine's flat. We booked our hostels and bus tickets for our upcoming weekend to Glasgow, which I am very excited about!! I've heard wonderful thinks about Glasgow if you keep an open mind. Later that evening, Abby and I thought it would be a good idea to go to a Shabbat dinner at the local Chabad's house. Abby goes to Brandeis where Shabbat is attended by hundreds of students, so we were kind of half-expecting a good number of people to be there when we arrived. Not so, not so. We headed up the sidewalk to the house, and noticed 4 other people seated around the table. Oops. We were already late at this point and felt pretty awkward going in, but they made us feel welcome and immediately started feeding us delicious food. There was the husband, wife, and their 7 month old baby, as well as 4 other students from Edinburgh. Only one was a native to Scotland- the rest were American. I swear, there are more Americans here than Scots. Why?! Anyway, we were served course after course and participated in forced conversation about nothing at all for three long hours. I'm not complaining or anything, it was pretty nice, but the other students were on the awkward and/or unfriendly side. We sang Oseh Shalom and it was nice to know that the tune remains the same no matter where you are. It was nice. Happy mom? We might even go back again, and we plan on going to the Purim Carnival. All in all it was definitely worth it, albeit a little long and uncomfortable.
Now for the best part! A group of 7 of us signed up for a "Haggis Adventure Tour" which is basically a 12 hour tour around the Highlands of Scotland. The main destination was the gorgeous Loch Ness, but with many breathtaking stops along the way. Our basic route was Edinburgh--Sterling--Glencoe--Fort William--Loch Ness--Inverness--Dundee--Perth--Edinburgh. A lot to cover in one day, but SO much fun. The weather changed a hundred different times, so I felt like I was right back in New England. One of the major highlights was meeting a highland cow (or "Coo") which they had lovingly named Hamish...apparently the Scottish name for James. I was in total love. I definitely need one when I pack up and move to the Highlands! Some other high points: the random bagpiper on the side of the road standing in the misty mountains, singing that "I'll take the high road and you take the low road" song while dancing in the seats with Abby, singing the Scottish national anthem while dancing in the mountains in Glencoe, playing with the musical hats and the whisky tasting in Fort William, and most of all-- Urquhart Castle overlooking Loch Ness. It was most likely one of the top 5 most beautiful places I've ever been to. The loch went on for miles and miles and miles and was surrounded by giant mountains, blue skies and puffy clouds. It was perfect. The castle is mostly in ruins because it was built in the 400s...which made it even more spectacular. I would be totally happy spending the rest of my life in a shack in the Highlands exploring ancient ruins and raising sheep and cattle for the rest of my life. Ahhh, glorious. Unfortunately, however, the downside of this trip was pretty substantial. Nessie, the infamous monster of Loch Ness, never reared her massive head. As we drove along the edge, all eyes on the bus were fixated on the water, desperately hoping for even the smallest glimpse of the beast. No luck, sadly. Our tour guide did share two interesting tidbits with us, though: He is friends with a marine biologist who has dedicated 33 years of his life to studying the ecology of Loch Ness, and with super fancy sonar technology, he has deduced that there are approximately EIGHTEEN separate Nessies. He had some complicated theory about why these ancient dinosaur creatures still exist, and well...since I don't know much about science, it sounded pretty solid to me! Haha. On a slightly more depressing note, a man who once had children, a wife, house, and career gave it all up to live in a trailer on the banks of the Loch. Why? He wants to be the first to snap Nessie's picture. No luck quite yet, but let's hope that luck changes...Anyway, the rest of the ride back was cloudy and mountainous. I dozed on and off, and eventually we arrived back in Edinburgh. And here I am!
Every day I am given more and more reasons as to why I never want to leave. Don't worry, I have no choice, so I'll arrive home eventually. I'll just do a yearly (or monthly!) pilgrimage back. Scotland is definitely worth the terrifying plane ride over.
Click here for Holyrood Palace/Abbey Pictures
Click here for Museum of Childhood/Edinburgh Castle Pictures
Click here for Loch Ness Pictures!
Even more Loch Ness Tour!
(A lot of the Tour pics were taken from the bus windows so they aren't superb, but a lot from the Ness Castle are nice!! So they are definitely worth a look)