I’d dreamed of visiting the Celtic lands ever since I was little. If at any point you’d asked me where in the world I most wanted to go, the answer would have probably been “Ireland or Scotland.” I’m not sure what started the dream (I suspect a book or some music), but nonetheless, it lived and it grew. So, when it came time to decide where I wanted to spend my midterm break this semester, the choice was pretty easy.
My friend, Camilla, and I tackled the journey together. We started before sunrise with a flight to out of Florence airport, arriving in Edinburgh around 10 AM. It was an early morning, but having the day to explore the city (and watching the sun come up from above the clouds!) was totally worth it.
The first thing we did, after celebrating our arrival with a good cup of coffee, of course, was hike King Arthur’s Seat. King Arthur’s Seat is an 822-foot tall hill/mountain in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park with a breathtaking view of the city and its castle. One side is more rocky and dramatic while its opposite is sloping and green – though both are accessible by foot. We climbed up the rocky side and down the grassy side. Both were full of surprises and paths we deemed fit for the fairies of Celtic legends. I’d truly seen nothing like it before.
We thought we would end the day with a visit to St. Giles Cathedral and a hearty dinner at a traditional Scottish pub. Just what we needed after all that hiking! But, on the way back to the hostel, we walked by a sign advertising ghost tours of the city that evening. And, well, you can guess what happened next.
We met our guide near St. Giles Cathedral on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. She was dressed in full Halloween costume – it was Halloween weekend, after all! We learned a lot about Scotland’s history, and then about the mysteries that have come of such stories. We were even led into Edinburgh’s underground, once a place of bustling activity – now allegedly haunted.
The next day, we woke up early to get a head start on our agenda – we wanted to see Edinburgh Castle, another cathedral and Dean Village all in one day. The castle was massive – what a structure! It was far less of a singular castle than it was a small (but grandiose) village. There were so many museums within the castle, we were very glad to have allotted the whole morning for it! We learned so much about Scotland’s ancient history, royal family, modern history and culture in those museums. We stood in the oldest building in the city, saw the castle’s famous Great Hall, saw the crown jewels and so much more. Scottish music playing either live outside or from speakers inside the buildings made the experience even more unforgettable.
We were sad to leave, but had lots of other exciting places to visit before the day’s end. It was about 2:00 by then, so we made finding some lunch the first priority. We chose a little tea shop/cafe, and settled in for a traditional Scottish afternoon tea. It was served with scones, two types of jam, and a generous portion of clotted cream. I’d never had clotted cream before, but I’m definitely going to keep my eye out for it now!
Then, we started to make our way toward Dean Village – little suburb of Edinburgh known for its quaint houses and beautiful riverside walk. It used to earn most of its income through mill work, using hydro-energy from the River Leith. Nowadays, though, these old factories only add charm to the village.
When the sun set we decided that it was time to get some dinner. A traditional pub near the castle was serving up local fare, so we headed in and settled down. It’s going to be hard to find fish as good as that salmon was that night!
Unfortunately, that marked the end of our time in Scotland. We headed back to the hostel to get a good night sleep. (We had to wake up at 5:00 the next morning to catch our next plane!) But on the walk back, Scotland had one more magical surprise in store for us. Turns out we’d come just in time for “Samhain” – the ancient Celtic festival marking the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. We passed a group of performers practicing their reenactment of the ancient battles between the fall and winter gods/goddesses, to be performed the next day as part of the celebration’s festivities. We stopped and watched a bit, chatting with a few locals who were part of the group. It’s unexpected encounters like this that make traveling such an adventure.
As much as we didn’t want to leave, we were excited for what was to come. The next day’s early-morning flight was taking us somewhere just as magical as Scotland. We were going to Ireland!
Gelato Count: 42