07 March 2009

Up Yer Kilt!

3 March 2009

3 months left, WHOAAAA!

So Scotland—LOVED IT! Ames and I had to fly into Gatwick where we had a 4 hour layover until our flight to Edinburgh. We took a bus from the Edinburgh airport to the main part of the city and were immediately excited by the way the bus driver said “Edinburgh.” Love it! When I got off the bus I noticed that Edinburgh has a smell to it. It’s not a bad smell, I just couldn’t pinpoint it at all. So we ate some McD’s (we ended up eating there a lot since we were on a budget) and then went to find out hostel shuttle bus. The directions were retarded and told us to go across the North Bridge to get to Waterloo Place, which is where our bus was supposed to pick us up. So we go across the bridge and walk down a bit, but the street name changes and there are a bunch of rowdy, emo scots waiting for their emo concert on the sidewalk. We walked back and forth a couple of times before asking a woman where it was. She was super nice and told us how to get there. Turns out that go across the bridge means pass it and continue walking. Oh well! It’s a good thing the hostel had a shuttle, because that place was in the middle of nowhere! However, we did get to see a pretty Scottish loch! We check in, get keys to our room and linens and head to our room. We get in there and we first notice that there is stuff in Amy’s bed and after throwing my stuff down, we went to go open our lockers. My key didn’t work, and Amy’s was full. Something also hit me in my face and then Amy told me I had a spider on my face, AHHHHHHHH! There was also a rude drunk guy sleeping in there that we were not so keen on. So I grabbed my backpack and we went back down to the front desk. They gave us a new room which was much better, but since I had left my linens in the other room and didn’t want to be annoying, I just slept in my hostel liner (thanks for that one). On our first day, we grabbed some breakfast and then headed over for the free 3 hour walking tour of Edinburgh! So interesting! So we started off at a government building which looks like it’s only 5 floors but is actually 11! Since it was built on a hill, you can see all 11 floors on the other side. Then we walked across the way to the mercat cross, where anything from executions to public announcements would go down. To this day, they still announce the new monarch 3 days after the decision is made. Although, everyone knows who the monarch is the day it is decided, they still stick to old tradition and announce it 3 days later because that was how long the fastest horse could bring the news to Edinburgh. They also used to punish people by nailing their ear to the wooden door. From here, the criminals had two options: stay there for the day while getting stuff thrown at you and most likely peed on by drunken Scots, or rip your ear off the nail but forever wear the mark of a coward and therefore be unemployable. Yikes! Next was St. Giles’ Cathedral. The cathedral used to have its own kirkyard (graveyard) but since they wanted to build on that land, they tried to relocate most of the bodies. One body that for sure remains is that of John Knox, one of the Protestant Reformation leaders! He wanted his body to stay within a certain distance of the church, so he is now buried under parking spot number 23. The only thing which denotes his presence is a little gold square above the number 23. Weird. Further down along the Royal Mile (the Edinburgh Castle is at one end, and Holyrood Palace at the other), we saw a 16th century building where they recreate life from that time. We didn’t get to go in, but it sounded cool! On a half broken down building, we were able to see old fashioned burglar alarms! They called them trip steps because they were twice as tall as a normal step. This way, a burglar who comes in during the night would not be able to see it, he would trip, and the commotion he caused would wake the family up! I guess there’s still a trip step in the writing museum, and even though they’ve put caution signs all over the place and painted the step white, people still trip on it all the time! On the way up to Edinburgh Castle, we saw a guy dressed as William Wallace. I wanted to stop and take a picture with him, but there were too many people crowded around him. Oh well! Edinburgh Castle is really cool! Situated atop the plug of an extinct volcano, it also acts as the backdrop of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The castle had been taken over a few times by the English, but the Scots, who were outnumbered, were able to get it back! They used to burn witches in front of the castle as well. There were 3 ways to know whether someone was a with—they had a birthmark, a third nipple, or red hair. The last one really doesn’t make sense since Scotland has the highest percentage of gingers! Silly Scots! After torturing you (by salting, popping off your fingernails, etc) they would tie your hands to the bottom of your legs and throw them in a loch, river, etc. If you sunk, well then good for you for not being a witch—God will welcome you with open arms for being a good person. If you floated, it was because the Devil was holding you up! After that, if you still didn’t confess to being a witch, you were burned alive at the stake. What’s worse is that they made the families of the alleged witches buy the wood on which they would be burned! Talk about trying to save a buck! As we kept walking, we were shown the castle which inspired the 4 houses of Hogwarts! We were told the story of Burke and Hare, murderers who sold the bodies of their victims to the Edinburgh Medical College since times were rough and practice bodies earned you a lot of money. They robbed graves and killed about 17 people before they were caught. Apparently, they brought in a well known prostitute that someone had actually seen alive and well the night before. Way to go boys! We stopped for 5£ burger and beer (Belhaven) before moving on. At 1:00 pm every day, they fire off a canon, but since we were inside, we weren’t able to hear it =( We saw the slab of stone (the covenanter’s memorial) on which many people were hung. Near this memorial stand 2 pubs that existed back in the day when all these hangings happened—The Last Drop and Maggie Dickson’s Pub. The Last Drop was where the doomed received their last drop of alcohol before their last drop at the gallows. The other pub was named after Maggie herself, a married woman who left town and had an affair with an innkeeper’s son who impregnated her. Maggie came back to Edinburgh and told no one she was pregnant. After seven months of hiding what was really going on, Maggie gave birth and the child died. Someone found the dead baby and traced it back to Maggie (honestly, who loses that much weight overnight!?). Maggie had violated a law that said you had to tell at least one person that you were pregnant. She didn’t get in trouble for cheating on her husband, just for the fact that she concealed her pregnancy from everyone. For this, she was sentenced to death by hanging. The whole town showed up as usual and she was hung, pronounced dead, and taken away. The man driving the kart with her body heard some weird thumps in the back, stopped to check and see what was going on, and found a very confused and disoriented Maggie Dickson! The man panicked and brought her back to be hung again. Everyone cheered for what was to become a double feature! However, a young lawyer stopped them before they could act and told everyone they couldn’t hang her. It was double jeopardy! They couldn’t hang her twice for the same offense! Not only did she get to live, but she was no longer married to her husband (“til death do we part”) and was able to marry the innkeeper’s son! After opening her pub, she mocked anyone headed for the gallows saying “oh what are you so worried about!? Look at me! I’m doing just fine!!” What a cool lady! In order to get to the Greyfriars Kirkyard, we had to walk down Candlemaker Row…a very haunted street! The walls along the street are made of stones and held together by mortar. However, since they were too cheap to use sand, they used the ashes of the “witches.” Creepy!! While there are a lot of people buried at Greyfriars, there are waaay fewer gravestones than people. What they used to do was bury someone at 6 feet down, then 4 feet, and then 2 feet (kind of in a stack). Since Scotland is a very rainy country, families often saw their relatives face to face at the kirkyard. Yikes. Since grave robbing was such a huge issue, lots of graves were enclosed by mortsafes, or iron bars that surrounded your coffin so nobody could snatch your body (like Burke & Hare) or your possessions, because after death, it was believed that your body didn’t belong to you anymore! Weird! The actual ceremony of a wake began in Scotland (or somewhere in the UK). Many graves that were dug up back in the day actually had scratch marks all over the insides of them—they were burying people alive left and right. So in order to avoid this, someone would take the “graveyard shift” and stay with the body for a couple of days to make sure they didn’t wake up! Yuugh, those poor people. Being buried alive has to be one of my worst fears! We also got to see the prison many of the Covenanters were held in during their trials. They were outdoor prisons in the kirkyard and they nearly froze to death in the cold, windy and wet winters. To make matters worse, the infamous George MacKenzie was in charge of them. The inhumanity and relentlessness of his persecution of the Covenanters gained him the nickname of "Bloody Mackenzie,” as he was responsible for the deaths of about 18,000 covenanters. What an ass. Bloody Mackenzie’s tomb is also in Greyfriars Kirkyard, about 20 feet away from the outdoor prison. Before it was locked up, someone broke in to seek shelter, and from then on, it was linked with all sorts of paranormal activities. In 2006 alone, more than 500 attacks were reported in or around the tomb. Visitors reported being cut, bruised, bitten, scratched and most commonly blacking out. Some people complained later of bruises, scratches and gouge-marks on their bodies. According to Wiki, “An exorcist, Colin Grant, tagged along by journalist Claire Gardener,was brought in to perform an exorcism ceremony, but soon claimed that the forces were too overpowering, and feared that they could kill him. A few weeks later, he died of a heart attack.” Umm, keep me away! I’m afraid of ghosts in general, so why would I want to go near the restless spirit of a killer! I couldn’t help but sing the Ghostbusters theme song loudly in my head as I walked past. We later found the gravestones of John Gray and James Brown (nooo, not the singer!). John Gray was a police man who worked nights along with his very threatening dog Bobby, a Skye Terrier, hahha! After 2 years of being biffles, John died of TB and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Bobby, who lived on for 14 more years, spent the rest of his life sitting on John’s grave only leaving to get food or sleep somewhere warmer during the winter. When Bobby died, he wasn’t allowed to be buried next to John Gray because he was a dog and it was consecrated ground (don’t know how Mackenzie’s body is there then). Instead, he was buried just outside of the gates, not far from John’s grave. What a sweet dog! He is even said to be the inspiration for Lassie! Continuing our journey, we ran into The Elephant House, where JK Rowling sat and wrote the Harry Potter books! The view out the back window gave her lots of inspiration! We passed Deacon Brodie’s Tavern at the end of the tour. Deacon Brodie was a pillar of society by day and a burglar by night and is said to have influenced the story of the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We ended our tour down by the Princes Street Gardens (which used to be a loch) where our guide told us about the Stone of Destiny which is inside Edinburgh Castle. According to legend, as long as the stone was in Scotland, the Scots would be in power. When the English took over, they took the stone to Westminster Abbey and placed it under the ruling monarch’s chair. In 1950, a group of Scottish student broke in and tried to take the stone back to Edinburgh. After hours of slowly pulling it along on their jackets and accidentally breaking the stone, they got it into the back of their car. However, since it was soon realized the stone was missing the Scottish-English border was closed down so they could find the stone smugglers. The students buried it in Kent near a gypsy camp. They went back to Scotland and told a stonemason they had it but that it had broken in two. When he found out where they had buried it, they quickly went to recover it. The gypsies helped them out because they hated the English government as well. They eventually got it back and repaired, but since they didn’t want to get in trouble for stealing it, they had to keep it on the DL. So instead, they moved the stone around a lot between bars and houses. Students would stand by it and make speeches at bars and stuff, haha! After a while, they left it at a church in Scotland. The man who found it, fearing he would be accused of stealing it, called authorities and it was returned back to Westminster. Talk about a lot of effort for nothing! It was eventually returned to Scotland in 1996 after 700 years of being in English hands! To kill some time before meeting up with Amy’s teacher (who is teaching in Edinburgh for the year), we walked around the castle and went to Starbucks. Yes I had a latte because I’m trying to be a real person…kind of. When we were walking past St. Giles’ we were able to witness a Scottish wedding, complete with bagpipers, kilts, and gingers! We met up with Brigham and his daughter by the Walter Scott Memorial. However, as we were about to leave, a (hopefully) drunk Scot crossed over the rope, climbed up the monument and proceeded to get naked. Like, butt naked! It was hilaaaaarious! We walked around with them for a while and looked for a place to eat dinner later that night. They walked us down to Holyrood and showed us the old University. We met up with his wife for dinner at an Italian restaurant, which was so delicious! They are the most adorable little family ever! I can definitely see why Amy likes them all so much! After dinner, we parted ways so they could head home and Amy and I could go on our Ghost Tour. Unfortunately, since the last shuttle to our hostel is at 11, we had to leave early. We still got to hear about people committing suicide off the North Bridge and saw the suicide hotline number all over it…creepy. While were were there, we were able to see some of the disturbed graves of Old Calton Cemetary. There is another jail up there where they also hanged many people. We walked up Calton Hill, which is the legendary entrance to the Faerie World which was full of deadly mythical creatures. At the top is “Edinburgh’s Disgrace”—a partially constructed monument made to look like the Parthenon. We had to bail out then and headed back to get some shut eye.

Saturday morning we got up early, and after some breakfast, we caught a bus to Rossyln Chapel (yes, the one from the DaVinci Code). There are 2 famous pillars inside. One made by the master mason in charge of the stonework of the chapel and the other by his apprentice. The Apprentice Pillar clearly outshines that of his masters, which really peeved him since he had gone all the way to Rome to find inspiration for what he thought would be his second pillar. In a jealous rage, the master hit his apprentice in the head with a mallet and killed him. Their faces and that of the apprentice’s mom can be seen carved in the chapel. This chapel had the most carvings I have ever seen in my life! There are faces of the green men amongst the carved greenery with vines coming out of their mouths (which was supposed to symbolize birth and fertility). There were also carvings of corn and other plants indigenous to the Americas. This suggests that the Vikings had been to the Americas prior to Columbus considering the chapel was finished before 1492. There are also mysterious carvings on 213 protruding cubes that resemble the geometric patterns in the study of cymatics. By matching these up, one man composed a song using those notes in hopes that something would open up and reveal the Holy Grail. There is a crypt beneath the chapel which has been sealed off, creating many rumors that it contained (variously) the mummified head of Jesus Christ, the Holy Grail, the treasure of the Templars, or the original crown jewels of Scotland. At one point, the Holy Grail was also thought to be contained within the Apprentice Pillar. One man actually came in with an axe, intending to break the pillar open. Since then, they have x-rayed all of the pillars and found nothing inside them. There are symbols of the Templars all over the church. One of the stone slabs depicted the 7 virtues on one side and the 7 sins on the other. On the ceiling, there is a stone that looks kind of like an arrow. It points directly down into the middle of the church, possibly signifying where the Holy Grail is located. The man who worked there said that while standing under it, some people respond and feel something. I tried, but no dice. Back to Edinburgh we went because we had to get to London!

We had to take a train from Gatwick to King’s Cross. Man, I love trains. The lady told us trains started at 2:55 am and came every half hour, so we would be able to take the train back for our very early flight! Out hostel was in an old courthouse, so it was basically a maze. Full of half stairs going up, dead ends, and color coded floors! We were in a 12 person dorm and let me tell you, it reeked in there! It smelled like sleep, sweat (it was hot in there), and feet (there were shoes in the window). Ew. So we took showers quickly in a room with no ventilation, and headed out to meet up with the other girls. Since the tube is ungodly slow, we tried to find a bus. After about 15 minutes of not being able to find the bus, we eventually got it. Once we got there we met up with the girls, went to Cinnabon for dinner and then went to a pub! It was so weird—the pubs there close so early! It was 11pm when they called last call and literally within 15 minutes they were forcing people out. Kel and Megan were still finishing a drink, but the rest of us got thrown outside to the cold. The other guy working the door told us to come back in so we could stay warm. That other guy was a douche! Do you really think I’m going to buy another drink as you’re closing down? No! I just wanted to stay warm and wait with my friends! Thank goodness for that other man. So then we made plans for the next day and went our separate ways. Our smelly room was smelly and hot. I did not enjoy sleeping in there!

The next day, the woman at the front desk printed off directions for us on how to take a bus, and then proceeded to explain it for about 15 minutes. When we left we looked at the sheet and it said “take this bus one stop to King’s Cross and then take the tube.” Silly lady. So we took the tube, haha! I was so glad that I got to see the real changing of the guards! It was full of bagpipes, men in tall fuzzy hats, a band, and an ugly dog! The band played music from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack—it was AWESOME! We met up with the others after the ceremony and went to get lunch at a cute little bar over by Trafalgar Square. I got homemade cottage pie? I don’t know, it had meat, mashed potatoes, and gravy all over it! After lunch, the other 3 went to the wax museum and Ames and I went to Wesminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the London Eye. We then walked down the river, saw the Globe remake, some kids doing dangerous bike stunts, a huge book sale. By the time we got to the Tower of London, it was too late to go in and it was about 15£ to get in. Rain check on that one! We met up with the rest at the Tower and headed over Tower Bridge in search of a Starbucks. We looked at the weird concert form the bridge again, saw some little dogs and decided to go down. We went to go pet the dogs and when a little boy asked to hold them, the guys said “no.” Booo, I wanted to play with them! So I sat on the concrete wall on the rivers edge and just took things in. I don’t know what the guys with the dogs were thinking, but they put both of the dogs on the ledge too. Thank god they were on leashes! I was still worried though considering they were both on phones and not really paying attention. The smaller and less furry of the two walked up to me and climbed on my lap. The poor little thing was all cold and shivering! Once they were off their phones, I was worried I was going to be yelled at, but its not like I grabbed them—it just climbed up! But they were nice. Asked where us 3 were from. Turns out the dogs were Chihuahuas and based on their accents I assumed the 2 guys were from some eastern European country. They were nice! They soon headed off and I decided to look for my favorite little pub from last time (the one with the Cider Reserve). I found it easily and we went in for a pint. The girl was not in a good mood that day. Poor girl. It was still nice though. Since it was getting late, we were just going to go home, but then we all went to King’s Cross (by our hostel) and tried to find Platform 9 ¾ . Just as we thought we would never find it, I saw it!!! Platform 9 ¾ in a little alcove! In addition to the sign, there was a trolley cart in the wall! No way! We took a bunch of pictures. Ames and I were trying to figure out if there was a way to put one person it and then have another person running them through. So I self-timered my camera and tried to climb into it so I would be in a surfing position. But just as I was about to stand up in it, a worker came out and I jumped down and just tried to act causal, but failed. We left quickly after. Ames and I decided not to sleep in our stinky room that night. We packed our bags and hung out in the Courthouse TV Room. We watched some movies (part of The Craft and part of Fried Green Tomatoes) and watched Russel Brand’s show (Russell Brand's Ponderland ) which is, by the way, ridiculous! So we left around 3:30 am to catch the train only to find out that the next train doesn’t come til 5:12 am. Umm, what?! Either that woman lied or we just have really bad luck. Amy and I freaked out for a while and even considered taking a very expensive taxi to Gatwick. We figured we’d rather pay for a taxi than miss our flight and have to buy a new one without the previous one being refunded. Luckily, our inaction payed off, as a 4:50 am train showed up. We got there, got through security (which was horrible by the way since they made me put all my liquids into another different bag), and got to the gate just in time. The woman ripping tickets was such a power hungry whore! She told everyone they could only have 1 bag with them, made people stuff their purses into their already bursting bags only to rip them out of their hands and tell them they cant bring it on and that it will be checked. A group of Spanish ladies gave her some mouth and messed around with her for a bit which reaaally pissed her off. It was hilarious! Once back in Barca, Amy and I took the shuttle which got us home about 45 minutes faster…aka, 45 more minutes of sleep before Tania’s class!

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