I’d like to extend my apologies to my readers for my short holiday from the blogging world. I am finally back to writing after almost a two week break with many stories to tell. You may remember that in my last post, To Be a Tourist or Not to Be a Tourist, I was questioning the notion of whether or not to follow the tourism route versus being content with and getting to know the place I am in now. In slight contradiction to my previous conclusions, I recently had a friend visit from the US and we experienced a full day of sightseer activities in Edinburgh.
The one hour and fifteen minute train ride from Uddingston to Edinburgh lulled me into a sleepy stupor. Occasionally I opened my eyes to glance at a field full of sheep or a passing station where shivering passengers waited patiently for the next train. We finally arrived to Waverly Station and into the bustling city center alive with Christmas chaos.
Our first touristy stop was the Scott Monument, a Victorian Gothic monument in honor of Scottish author and poet Sir Walter Scott. The monument sits on Princes Street and resembles an old gothic cathedral. The giant structure offers several viewing decks at varying heights with fantastic panoramic views of the city of Edinburgh. We climbed 287 steps up a series of narrow spiral stone staircases to the top. Dizzy and slightly claustrophobic from the climb, I stumbled onto the top deck and gasped when I peered down to the street 200 feet below me. I’m not sure if it was the bitter chill in the wind or my slight fear of heights that took my breath away, but I decided this wasn’t a place I could stay for long. I quickly snapped my photos of the impressive panoramic view and made my way back to the claustrophobic, winding staircase. Two fears conquered in an hour: heights and small spaces.
The next stop on our touristic journey was a place called The Scottish Whiskey Experience on the Royal Mile. It is here that whiskey enthusiasts (or curious individuals like myself) go to learn the Scottish distillery process and to have a taste of the stuff that is famous worldwide. We got a brief overview of the process and learned about the four whiskey regions: The Highlands, Lowlands, Islay, and Speyside. Each region’s whiskey has its own distinct flavors and aromas. It is said the secret ingredient which gives Scottish whiskey a superior taste is Scottish water, considered the purest and most delicious water in the world. After picking up some whiskey knowledge, we of course had a taste.
One of the most interesting parts of the tour was a display of the world’s largest whiskey collection that once belonged to a Brazilian whiskey enthusiast, Claive Vidiz. Over his lifetime, Claive amassed over 3,000 bottles of whiskey from around the world in his private collection which now belongs to the Scottish Whiskey Experience.
The third stop on our journey was an Underground City tour by Mercat Tours. The South Bridge in Edinburgh has a series of underground vaults built into the nineteen arches of the bridge. The South Bridge Vaults were completed in the late 1700s and once served as taverns and shops full of craftsmen and cobblers. Due to the wet conditions of the vaults that were never properly sealed to keep water out, the legitimate businesses left.
The vaults soon became home to criminal activity and illicit trade including serving as a storage area for dead bodies that had been dug up by body snatchers. Body snatching was a lucrative business at the time when cadavers were in high demand and short supply at local medical colleges. Murder and robbery plagued the vaults. Famous serial killers Burke and Hare are rumoured to have hunted and murdered their victims here and sold the corpses to the medical schools.
After the criminals had moved out, Edinburgh’s poorest moved in. The vaults were cramped, unhygienic living conditions with no sanitation or running water. But for these poor citizens, the vaults provided shelter from the harsh elements above ground. The vaults have a tough history and are said to be extremely haunted. There have been countless reports of paranormal activity and ghost sightings… if you believe in that sort of thing.
Our final stop was at the German Christmas Market where we grazed the stalls for delicious snacks and treats and finished off the evening with a tall, delicious Hefeweizen. The ice rink was bustling with Christmas cheer and Christmas lights were aglow.
Although I hate to fall into the tourism trap, sometimes it really is interesting and entertaining to let your tourist flag fly… as long as it’s in moderation.