Day 5: I managed to get a little over five hours of sleep that night, waking up at 4:45. The sun was just trying to come up in the east. I tried to doze until 6:30, when I finally got up. Our wake-up call came at 6:45: 

     Desk clerk (male): "This is your wake-up call." 
     Me: "Thank you." 
     Desk Clerk: "Take care, dear boy." *click* 

As I hung up, I concluded, the British are just different. Downstairs, we ate with Jeanie and Susan, from Phoenix. I mentioned to the hostess what a beautiful city Edinburgh was, and she agreed. "I see something new every day," she said. We had a different tour guide that morning, a cheerful Scot named Bill. The plan was for us all to be on the coach at 8:30 for our morning tour of Edinburgh. We rode down the early-morning streets, busy with traffic that Monday, May 28th. Even though many of the buildings in town were built with golden limestone, the walls are all dark and cloudy. That's because of centuries of people in town burning coal for heat. The older buildings still sprout chimney pots from their roofs. The soot piled on and got absorbed into the stone. Edinburgh got the nickname "Auld Reekie" because of all the smoke. The Sir Walter Scott memorial downtown is almost completely black from years of soot in the air. People were still burning coal in their fireplaces right up until 1964. Local citizens are divided on the idea of cleaning off the old buildings, to expose the beautiful stone underneath, or just leaving the buildings the way they are. Some have suggested the soot actually protects the buildings from modern pollution. The debate continues. 

In Charlotte Square, we saw some magnificent Georgian architecture. Bill pointed out some of the "class-conscious" stonework. Rusticated masonry in the upper parts of the buildings shows off the limestone in large, bold blocks. Right below street level, however, where the servants would have lived, the exterior stonework changes abruptly to cheaper, coarser stone. Charlotte Square is in "New Town," the part of Edinburgh that expanded beyond the original medieval "Old Town." Bill pointed out the Fettes College, one of the most expensive private schools in Britain. Prime Minister Tony Blair and author Ian Fleming were alumni. We passed the Caledonian Hotel, built of unusual red sandstone. We journeyed into the Old Town and headed for Edinburgh Castle. 

The castle itself was on top of an extinct volcano, and was built and added on to over hundreds of years. Outside the main entrance, workers were busy erecting huge sets of bleachers. They were getting ready for the 58th Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Every August, military bands from all over the world come to perform in Edinburgh, attracting thousands of spectators. The wide area in front of the castle where the bleachers were being built was called the Esplanade.  Bill the guide said it took ten weeks to erect the bleachers for the event, and ten weeks to take it all back down again. 

There was a big line of people waiting to get into the castle. Since we were with a group, however, we got right in. The castle itself takes up 11 acres on top of Castlehill. The early Scots needed that room for the townspeople to bring up their cattle and sheep. The main entrance is a big gate, guarded on both sides by statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. Once inside, you turn right and go about 40 yards to the next big gate, and past that you made a sharp turn and had to climb a steep grade to go through yet another gate into the topmost part of the castle. Anybody trying to storm the castle would have to run that gauntlet, all the time getting shot at from the walls way above them. 

The castle is still a military installation. We walked past the headquarters of the 52nd Infantry Brigade, the regimental headquarters of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, and the HQ of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. There were soldiers in uniform all over the place. The 105th Regiment Royal Artillery is in charge of firing the One O'Clock Gun. Each day at precisely 1 PM (1300 hours), an L118 Light Gun is fired off the north side of the castle. It's part of a tradition that goes back 150 years. Bill the guide mentioned he's often asked why the gun is fired at 1 PM, and not 12 noon. He said it goes back to the Scottish tradition of being "very careful" (some might say "tightfisted") with money. Bill (light-heartedly) explained if the gun was fired at noon, they'd have to pay for twelve shells every day, instead of just the one


Deep underground, the castle had an extensive exhibit displaying what things were like in the years it was used as a prison. The castle also holds the Royal Scots Regimental Museum and the National War Museum. There was a brisk wind blowing through the castle that day. In Scotland, a bay is called a "firth." From the battlements, we could see the Forth River emptying into the Firth of Forth. The land beyond was called Fife. Bill explained you could get fresh fish from Fife on the Firth of Forth. The solid surroundings seemed to clear away my usual discomfort with heights. St. Margaret's Chapel is the oldest structure in the castle, dating back 900 years. It's a tiny, cosy little church. Scottish officers still hold weddings inside the chapel. Much newer, but built to fit in with the architecture, is the Scottish National War Memorial. It was originally built to commemorate Scots killed in World War I. The First World War devistated the British isles. In England, one out of every 10 men in uniform was killed. In Scotland, the ratio was one in four. The memorial has since been expanded to include soldiers killed in all conflicts of the 20th Century. The memorial faces Crown Square, the citadel at the top of the castle. 

We went inside the Great Hall, which featured a massive collection of medieval swords and weaponry. Of course, we had to go see the Honours of Scotland– the Scottish Crown Jewels. They are shown at the end of a long exhibit that tells the story of Scottish royalty. They were absolutely beautiful. Everywhere, we saw handiwork and craftsmanship that would be impossible to have done in modern times. Edinburgh Castle was yet another place I could spend a whole day exploring. 


It came time for our group to leave. We headed down the Royal Mile, which runs from the castle through Edinburgh to Holyrood Palace, where the Queen of England stays during visits to Scotland. The oldest building on the Royal Mile was the home of John Knox, the 16th Century religious reformer that some call the father of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. We passed the statue commemorating Greyfriar's Bobby, a famous dog in the 19th Century. He was a little terrier dog, owned by a local policeman (a bobby). When the policeman died in 1858, the dog would sleep on his master's grave in the little cemetery called Greyfriars Kirkyard. The dog stayed at his master's grave for fourteen years until his death in 1872. The dog was then buried just inside the cemetery gates, near the grave of his master. Today, there's a pub called Greyfriars Bobby right around the corner from the cemetery; the statue is just in front. Walt Disney made a movie about the story; I remember seeing it on TV when I was not yet 10 years old. 
Bill pointed out a grand old stone Greek-style building that was going to be the new home of the Scottish Parliament. For some reason, the Parliament decided to not use that impressive building but rather build a new one. It had to be one of the ugliest buildings I've ever seen. It might be nice on the inside, but the exterior is stupid and unnecessarily gaudy. The coach took us past the Museum of Scotland and Register House, where they store Scottish genealogy records, to a landmark location on Princes Street. That's where the coach dropped us off. If the side trip to Rosslyn Chapel had still been on, we would've taken it that afternoon. As it was, we had several hours to just walk around Edinburgh at our leisure, and the coach would pick us up later in the day. I was looking forward to it. That was the end of Bill's tour. Before we left, I thanked him for the tour and asked him where a fellow could get some good fish & chips. Bill knew exactly where to send us, right up the street. 
We stopped in a woolen mill store on Cockburn Street, where we picked up some tartan scarves. It sprinkled a little outside, but not for long. We were getting hungry. Just down the street, we could see the little shop Bill had described. It was a tiny, mostly for "take-away" (not "take-out") food. The menu included haggis, deep fried pizza, mince pie, steak pie and eggrolls, but since we were in Britain we wanted to have some authentic fish & chips. I asked for one order– and it's a good thing I did. The "chips" were French fries that came in a little basket. The fish was a huge slab of fish fillet, as big as a comic book: hot, fresh, lightly breaded and completely delicious. That one order was enough to feed some little third world family. From there, we had a great time wandering around the streets of Edinburgh, going into little shops and finding presents for folks back home. One shop was called Thistle Do Nicely. Another sold swords and armor, but I didn't see anything in there I couldn't buy online. We stopped in a little new age shop just off Fleshmarket Close and bought some pretty stones. The buildings sometimes displayed the date they were built. It was surprising to walk along the street and pass buildings that just happen to have been built three hundred years ago. On the other hand, I saw a man leaning out a third story window, quietly painting the window frame, like an average guy getting ready to move into a new apartment. Surrounded by history, life went on. 


We found our way down to St. Giles' Cathedral, with its distinctive crown steeple. Inside, the stained glass windows were stunning. We paid an extra fee to get in to the Thistle Chapel. It is the special chapel for the Knights of the Order of the Thistle, a medieval order of chivalry in service to the Queen. The carved woodwork inside the chapel was very impressive, and at times whimsical: the arms of each chair were carved into the shapes of different animals, from ducks to elephants to dogs playing bagpipes. The cathedral had a memorial to Robert Lewis Stevenson, who was born in Edinburgh. It also had a statue of John Knox, who used to preach there. The guide we talked to said John Knox was buried in the little cemetery next to the cathedral. In recent years, the space had been converted to a "car park" (what the Brits call a parking lot). Donna asked what happened to the body of John Knox. "Oh, he's still there," the guide said. He was in fact buried under space #23 in the car park. (Some sources say #41, but they renumbered the spaces several years back.) For the rest of our trip in Britain, Donna couldn't believe they left John Knox buried in a parking lot. 
We went to the cathedral gift shop and picked up some tea towels. While chatting with the clerk, Donna happened to mention we were from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma... and suddenly, a guy in red stepped up, a surprised look on his face. His name was Chris. It turned out he was from Broken Arrow, too! What were the odds of traveling to a whole other continent and meeting up with somebody from the same little town in Oklahoma? We went back to the bus stop and waited for the coach to take us back to the hotel. The bus stop was in front of the cemetery where Scottish philosopher David Hume was buried. A group held "ghost tours" of the city, starting in that cemetery at sundown. Back at the hotel, we cleaned up, then had supper in the hotel restaurant. 
It was still light out after supper, so we went for a walk.. Down the street and around the corner, on Blinkbonny Grove, we found tidy little English houses with lush gardens outside. Peonies, lambs ears, lobelia, Iceland poppies, creeping phlox and upright phlox, as well as lots of lavender and periwinkles. Back up in the room, we were exhausted from walking all day. I found out that when hotels say "laundry service," they mean you can drop off a suit in the morning and they'll have it dry-cleaned by that afternoon. It doesn't mean they actually have a washer & dryer anywhere people can use. I was running out of clean clothes. I tried washing up some socks in the bathroom sink. I hoped they'd dry by morning. 

There was a Scottish Night Out dinner that evening for people in the tour group, but it was one of the side trips we didn't take. I didn't have any trouble getting to sleep that night.  

Preparations -- Day 1 -- Day 2 -- Day 3 -- Day 4 -- Day 5 -- Day 6
Day 7 -- Day 8 -- Day 9 -- Day 10 -- Day 11 -- Day 12 -- Epilogue
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