I’d dreamed of visiting the Ireland and Scotland 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 one of the two. I’m not sure what started the dream (I suspect a book or some music), but nonetheless, it lived and it grew. So when the time came to decide where I wanted to spend my midterm break, the choice was pretty easy.
My friend Camilla and I tackled the journey together. We started before sunrise with a flight out of Florence airport, arriving in Edinburgh around 10:00 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 hill in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park that offers breathtaking views of the city and its castle. One side is rocky and dramatic while its opposite is sloping and green. Both are accessible by foot. We climbed up the rocky side and down the grassy side. We found surprises and paths fit for the fairies of Celtic legends, unlike anything we’d seen 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 a 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 wasn’t so much a singular castle than it was a small (but grandiose) village. There were so many museums within the castle walls. We were 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/café, 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 – a 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. Now, 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 made our way back to the hostel to get a good night’s 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 off to Ireland!
Gelato Count: 42