Just down the street from the Writers’ Museum is the John Knox house. He didn’t live there very long and the story of the house is really a story of the man who owned it before Knox, but the museum focuses on Knox and his enmity with Mary, Queen of Scots because it was the association with Knox that saved the house from demolition.
I followed this with the Scottish National Museum. I hope you’re not fatigued by all the museums; I love them. The SNM is huge with five stories. I focused just on the parts that dealt with Scotland and Scottish history specifically (there are natural history exhibits and exhibits about world cultures, etc.). I did amble over to the science section to get a snapshot of Dolly, the cloned sheep.
I was going to eat lunch at the Elephant Room, not because it’s the “birthplace of Harry Potter” but because they have haggis on the menu. But they were packed. A couple hundred feet from the restaurant is a statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby, a dog that, according to legend, was so loyal, he sat at his master’s grave for seven years. You’re supposed to rub the statue’s nose for good luck, and, indeed, the nose is all gold and shiny from all the rubs it’s gotten. I don’t think it worked for me, as you’ll see later.
At the end of the Royal Mile is the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This is where the Queen resides in the summer. Mary, Queen of Scots lived there too. I saw the room where her toad of a husband, Lord Darnley, murdered her secretary, David Rizzio, in front of her. (I had just seen this story played out a couple weeks before on the mini-series Gunpowder, Treason & Plot. It’s on Netflix if you’re interested. And it stars Michael Fassbender as Guy Fawkes if that makes you more interested.) Because it’s the residence of the queen, you can’t take pictures inside but you can Google it and see what it’s like. That’s probably better anyway because there aren’t people clogging it up.
There was a little time left in the day so I went to the National Gallery which was not as impressive as I might have expected from Edinburgh, but admission is free, so you can’t complain much. When I got to my hostel, before going to my room, I ate dinner in the “chill out room” and went online to book a hostel in Inverness. That’s where I ran into trouble. There were no rooms available in my price range. I tried to come up with a plan B, like staying in Fort William or Stirling, but they didn’t work either for one reason or another. I went for a walk around the city, fighting back tears. It just highlighted the pitfalls of travelling solo. There’s no one to tell me “it’ll be okay; we’ll figure something out.” [I have to say that to myself, turning into a Gollum-like creature. ‘We hates booked up hostels; we hates it!’] Or to make the idea of a £100 room even a consideration because then you’re only paying £50 each (still a little steep but doable).
To make matters worse, when I finally went to my room, I could hear club music coming from it before I even entered. When I opened the door I discovered several girls getting ready to go out. There was tinsel scattered across the floor and a banner of flags with 21 on them put up on one of the bunks. As they preened, they talked about all manner of things that annoyed me to have to hear, from laments about breast size to how much drugs a person should take and when. One of them was so dumb, she thought doing nitrous oxide was good for your brain, as in grows brain cells. Then, to top it off, one of them told a story about how she “got jewed” by a cab driver. At first, I wasn’t sure that I had heard correctly, because who says that? But then, I realized it couldn’t have been anything else.
They finally left and I had a few minutes to myself to shower before someone else came in the room. I woke at 3 am to the sound of drunks outside on the street below. I don’t know when I fell asleep again but I woke before my alarm. I wanted to get out to see if I could get on a tour to Loch Lomond and Stirling. I had emailed them the evening before but hadn’t heard back. When I showed up he said they were booked but to hang around in case someone didn’t show. I didn’t have any luck and it meant that Edinburgh would be all that I would see of Scotland on this trip, and that really disappointed me.
But I tried to make the best of the situation so I went to Edinburgh Castle and took my time there, going through every exhibit because, as I wrote in my travel journal, “I’m trying to kill the day. To be honest, I’m kind of eager to move on. The weather here has been grey, overcast, cold, and windy, and since I can’t get to the highlands, I’m just done and want to make the best of it by using the extra time in Ireland, which is hopefully having nicer weather.”
After the castle, I found a café inside an old church (Tron Kirk) that has been turned into an artists’ marketplace. The café, called fittingly enough, Communion Café, had haggis on the menu so I had some with neeps and tatties. I hadn’t remembered haggis tasting that good. When I had it the year I was Queen, back when the festival still did a dinner, I remembered it being okay tasting, kind of like stuffing. Here it was more flavorful, and I really enjoyed it.
I bought an art print form a local artist on the street. It’s a little pixie type character pulling a suitcase with bagpipes lying on top up the stairs of an Edinburgh close (alleyway). It’s really cool and a perfect souvenir because it’s not something I could pick up at my festival back home. I still had lots of time in the day so I went to the National Portrait Gallery (not the same as the National Art Gallery). It was better than I expected, perhaps because it does not appear to be as popular with tourists. Inside, it’s quite beautiful with red stone and painted murals. They were doing a special exhibit with photos and as part of it you could do two things. 1) You could vote for your favorite and be entered in a drawing for cash. I voted for the portrait of the Obamas partly because I like them and partly out of national pride. U-S-A! 2) You could have your photo taken in a photo booth for £1 and get your photo printed and be put on the art project’s website. If you really want to, you can scroll down a ways at http://flick.zkm.de/folder3 and see mine. I ended the day by buying my plane ticket to Belfast.