In summer 2015 I took my first (and so far, only) trip to the UK. The entire trip was a week long. I arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland, and spent a few days there before flying to London and spending a few days there. The flight to Edinburgh was kind of a whacky overnight flight with a stopover in New Jersey and I didn’t get much sleep. It was Edinburgh Armed Forces Day on the day I arrived, so there were Armed Forces people in the streets for a parade – though I somehow missed the actual parade, I must have been somewhere else when it happened. After checking into the hostel, I had tea at a quaint little place, then cruised around the city on a hop-on-hop-off tour bus. After cruising around town for a while and seeing the sights, I went to Edinburgh Castle and did the self-directed audio tour they offer. The castle was really interesting and nice. The one part that stands out in my memory is the room with the Scottish Crown Jewels. One of the reasons it stands out is because I couldn’t believe that the actual Crown Jewels would be in a room where people could just walk in and look at them. That surprised me, though according to Wikipedia, the Scottish Crown Jewels have been on display since 1819.
The next day I walked to Calton Hill. There are some neat monuments there – the Dugald Stewart Monument (round one with columns), the National Monument of Scotland (looks like the Parthenon in Greece), and the Nelson Monument (a tall tower with a ball that drops everyday at 1pm – it used to help sailors tell time). After taking a bunch of photos of the monuments from the ground, I paid admission to go up the Nelson Monument, and climbed the stairs to the top. It was, honestly, slightly terrifying climbing that staircase. It’s winding, tall, and the stairs are small – and I had a bunch of photography gear on me. There aren’t really any flat landings, and occasionally people would be coming down the stairs as you’re going up, so you have to try and move out of the way to make room as they slide by. Eventually I got to the top, and snapped a couple photos before my camera’s battery died. Then I took my phone out and took a selfie with the city in the background as the terrifying winds blew strongly and amplified my somewhat-fear-of-heights. Then, my phone screen started getting black lines on it, and the touchscreen stopped working. And for the rest of the trip, my phone was broken and unusable. But in a strange way I was sort of grateful it broke – like most, I spend too much time looking at the thing, checking social media and whatnot, and not having a functional phone forced me to spend more time taking in where I was. I would never have chosen for it to break, but I think the fact that it did made the trip better. For the curious, I got the screen fixed when I got back to Toronto and it’s been fine since.
The day after that, I went on a bus tour though the Highlands to Loch Ness. We stopped at the Deanston Whiskey Distillery on the way and drank some coffee (it was before 10am at this point), then we got on the bus again and headed through the Highlands to Loch Ness. We saw some smaller castles along the way, and tons of sheep. The mountains were beautiful, and it rained off-and-on the whole ride there. Eventually, we got to Loch Ness. I didn’t have any cash on me, and it was £10 to ride the boat with the tour guide who talks about the legend of the Loch Ness Monster. I tried to find an ATM to get some money as it super-rained. I had an umbrella though, so it wasn’t too bad. I got to the ATM, and surprise, my Canadian debit card didn’t work. Oh well, no Nessie boat ride (later, in London, I would also not be able to ride a boat). I walked around the shore of the loch and took in its quietness, and got my photo taken next to it. Didn’t see Nessie. After hanging out around the loch for a bit, the people who went on the Nessie boat tour got back and we got back on the bus and headed back to Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is a beautiful place, and the Highlands were really spectacular. Also, it was cool just to go to Scotland, since I’m of Scottish descent. I found books about my family clans in a gift shop and bought them, but I still have yet to read them. After Edinburgh, I headed to London.