Friday, May 20, 2011

Edinburgh Bing Trip

Ooh I've been such a naughty blogger this term! I've been simply buried with work for my classes of late, and so the prospect of sitting down and writing even more hasn't been at the top of my list of leisure activities. I've also been feeling seriously worn down, both physically and mentally, by a nagging foot injury that's been threatening to scotch my marathon preparations for a couple weeks now. But, armed with a good thirteen hours of sleep last night, I'm feeling a bit better this morning and have plenty to catch up on!

Last weekend was our quarterly Bing trip. If you remember last term's trip to Canterbury and Dover, it was... a bit miserable: cold, wet, exhausting, and involving some crazy bigoted tour guides and less-than-thrilling destinations. I mean, when the most exciting part of a trip is almost getting blown off the top of a tower by 40 mph sustained winds, it probably hasn't been a real barn burner of a weekend. So, even though I was quite excited when I learned that we were going to Edinburgh this time around, I still had some serious reservations.

But man, it turned out to be an awesome weekend! We arrived, after a painfully early flight/airport experience (though we had inexplicably nice leather seats and got a free hot breakfast... so few complaints), to blazing sunshine and warm temperatures. Already a big improvement over the winter Bing trip! We stopped first as Rosslyn Chapel, which is famous these days for being the site of the final scene of The DaVinci Code (which we watched as a prep earlier in the week... what a horrible movie!!). It was very beautiful and is jam-packed with Templar knights symbols and stuff, so many in fact that it was hard to believe that Dan Brown didn't actually build the thing himself a few decades ago.

(We weren't allowed to take photos inside, so this was all I got of Rosslyn Chapel)

After Rosslyn, we headed up to Edinburgh. I admit that I didn't have much of a conception of what Edinburgh looked like, and so I was very happily surprised to find that it was a stunningly beautiful city, with winding streets flanked by stone buildings all overlooked by the massive bulk of Edinburgh Castle up on top of the hill.

(Edinburgh Castle looking imposing)

We dropped off our bags at our very bland American-style hotel and then headed off on a walking tour of the city. Our tour guide was NOT a crazy bigot who decided that Stanford was a school for special needs children, and so it was automatically a big improvement over our tour of Canterbury Cathedral in February. The big take away from the tour was that Edinburgh is very hilly! We must have trekked up and down and across the Royal Mile about four times over two hours. Especially with my messed up foot, I was feeling it by the end of the tour.

I passed out in my hotel room when we got back and ended up oversleeping dinner - whoops! I did end up waking up and hustling downstairs, though I almost wish that I hadn't as the meal was by far the low point of the entire weekend. The food was barely edible and the room we were eating in was so echoey and loud that I couldn't hear a word of the conversation around me. I stayed through just long enough to not be rude, and then went straight up to bed and crashed out.

We started Saturday morning with a tour of Scottish Parliament, which I wasn't super excited for but ended up being incredibly impressed with. Edinburgh is just such a beautiful natural city; the parliament was full of big windows, and from each one there was a stunning view of Arthur's Seat washed in glorious spring sunshine. I had to keep reminding myself that this is hardly the normal weather for this area, otherwise I'd be seriously putting Scotland high on my 'dream farm location' list! It's hard to describe, but there's something so fresh and green about the countryside up there; it reminded me of the things I love most about Vermont. Oxford is definitely green as well, but without the startling intensity of the Scottish landscape.

After Parliament, Cole, Chelsea and I went to the Scottish Whisky Experience, which involved going on a ride through the whisky-making experience in an oversized whisky barrel, getting a scratch-n-sniff tour of the different whisky-producing regions of Scotland, and then having a tasting in an Alice in Wonderland-esque room with thousands of vintage bottles on display. Needless to say, given my like of whisky, it was AWESOME. I definitely splurged and brought some little 100 ml samples home!

(So much whisky!)

(Pondering my free sample)

Next up we had a Ghosts and Ghouls tour, which was supposed to highlight the seedier side of Edinburgh's past. I ended up being more afraid of our tour guide, who seemed wayyyy too into some of the descriptions of medieval torture, than anything else, but it was still seriously amusing. Afterwards we got dinner in a highly questionable pub and then went out to Biddy Mulligans, the awkwardly Irish themed pub in the touristy Grassmarket. I was still incredibly tired, and so turned in significantly earlier than most, but had a good time while I was out (even despite one 'situation' where a drunk old man grabbed me from behind, causing me to LEAP up and shout "JESUS CHRIST" loud enough for half the folks outside to hear... classic).

(Our tour guide down in the tunnels)

(A dubious point of pride)

(Edinburgh Castle looking equally beautiful at night on the way home on Saturday night)

Sunday morning dawned grey and misty for the first time over the weekend (again, I have to remind myself that this is what it's normally like because it was so gloriously wonderful otherwise!) as we headed off to the Modern Art Museum of Edinburgh. It was a cool museum, set on the grounds of a beautiful private home, and had a good collection. I got miserably separated from the group while enjoying the Jeff Koons special exhibit, and they ended up leaving without me while I played on the massive Landform sculpture outside - whoops! I had to book it back to make it onto the bus on time, but mercifully made it.

(Gettin all emo with the Jeff Koons exhibit)

(Playing on the Landform)

By this point, I was feeling pretty ready to head home. I'd had a wonderful trip, but had a paper hanging over my head and was looking forward to getting back to my own bed in Oxford. We had one more stop of the trip, Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford House, and I was NOT looking forward to it at all. We went on a two hour trip through UNBELIEVABLY GORGEOUS countryside - again, rugged and green like the best of Vermont - but when we arrived I was still grumbling.

Well, as soon as we rounded the corner that brought the house into view, I shut up quickly! Abbotsford was unbelievably beautiful, like a little castle set in an improbably lush river valley. We got a tour of the house with probably my favorite tour guide of any trip I've taken in Britain so far (who made sure to point out such highlights as the portrait of Sir Walter Scott's grandfather "Beardy" and the cabbage moldings of the dining room ceiling).

We had a lot of fun afterwards playing on the massive grounds. I've missed being out in more natural settings so much, and so it was a great end to the weekend.

(Chillin on the Abbotsford lawn)

(Beeeauutiful grounds)

After that, it was a mad dash back to the airport, Oxford, and real life again (as much as living abroad in England could be labeled "Real Life!"). I've got more to write about over the next few days, but should probably get to work for the time being.


  1. Beautiful photos!! I'm so jealous, I've always wanted to go to Scotland!