I'm alive and well in Edinburgh, Scotland. I'm actually sitting in an Italian restaurant as I type this. I decided to go with something safe for dinner because there are few restaurants near my hotel and because I'm completely exhausted. Why? Well, I've been on my feet all day and I got basically no sleep last night.
My bus left from the London Victoria coach station at 11pm. It ends up that a couple friends of mine were coming here this weekend as well so I ended up taking a bus up with Seray, who I had previously been to Oxford with (A trip I still haven't posted about...). We met up at The Old Bank of England (now a pub) to have a drink before heading north. That was fun and with a half hour before we had to be on the bus we left and headed to the station. In retrospect, that probably wasn't enough time. Also, it would have been good if one of us had actually looked up where the coach station was. Because it was at least 3 blocks from the train/underground station. Long story short I did a lot of running, ended up at the wrong coach station, ran some more, ended up at the wrong bus to Edinburgh, ran some more, and was placed on a bus that didn't say Edinburgh on the front but was parked next to one that did. I was pretty convinced that I was on the wrong bus but decided to just hope for the best.
The bus ride itself was awful. We sat in the front row which meant reduced leg room so by the end up the 9 hours my knees were absolutely killing me. For whatever reason I became incredibly nauseous intermittently throughout the trip. And by intermittently I really mean that within twenty minutes of the bus beginning to move again I felt like this. It became unbearable at times, as if the bus was 1000 degrees. At times my skin would feel as if I was on fire and I would instantly break out into a cold sweat. It is unclear if my attempts to control my breathing helped the cause or hurt it. I counted the minutes till the next break (there were 2 breaks) and could not have been happier to finally get off that bus.
We got into Edinburgh just before 8 am and instantly set off for the castle. We got there around 8 30. It ends up that the castle doesn't open until 9 30 each morning so we had an hour to waste. That was okay with me because all I really wanted at that point was something to eat. We followed some signs to a market where we found a shop that served breakfast. I had the British Breakfast which was really good. I even ate some of the beans which were decent.
After breakfast we headed back up to the castle. It rained some while we were there so I didn't take a ton of pictures. The castle was pretty interesting, the Honours of Scotland are there. I got to see those which was really cool. I also went through one section of the castle which talked about prisoners of war that were kept there. It was interesting. American POWs during the revolutionary war weren't given full rations because they were considered rebels as opposed to citizens of another country. Also, French POWs from that era received an extra pence worth of rations every day because the French government paid for it. It was amusing to read the comments about Americans in this exhibit, it is clear that they have had a pretty low opinion of us across the pond.
After the castle we went to see a camera obscura. Unfortunately you had to pay a fortune to see it and also go through this whole exhibit of optical illusions. So we skipped that and headed across the street to do the Scotch Whiskey Experience.
The Scotch Whisky Experience was really interesting. It started with a mechanical barrel ride which taught you how to make whiskey. Then you walked through a room which had more information about how it is made and its history. After that we were brought into a room where we sat at long tables with for bottles in front of everyone. A guy made a presentation during which we were instructed to open the bottles and smell them. They were filled with stuff to make them smell like the materials that characterize the scotch from each of the 4 main regions of Scotland. At the end you picked your favorite and they poured a scotch from that region into your glass (which you got to keep). Before drinking it they led you to the next room (which houses the world's largest scotch whiskey collection) where the guide talked about how to properly appreciate scotch (viscosity, color, smell, and of course taste). It was fascinating. I was a bit daring and tried a scotch from Islay which tends to have a very smokey taste and smell to it. It is apparently not the one they'd recommend for new scotch drinkers but I really liked it.
After having some scotchy scotch scotch we went to the lower ground floor (read basement) of the building and had lunch there. I had a really good chicken dish with, yup you guessed it... A coke.
After lunch Seray and I parted ways as she went off in search of museums and learning and I went to pick up my tickets for a Fringe comedy show. The ticket pickup was pretty cool. You just swiped the credit card that you used to buy your tickets online and the machine printed out your tickets.
Before heading to the show I stopped off at St. Andrew's Square and had a fruit muffin and banana milk shake, the later of which was probably the best milk shake I've ever had. Cook Out is miles behind Coffee Apocalypse or whatever it was called.
I got to the the show's venue, The Stand III, around 3 45 and queued for a bit before heading in. I was 4th in the queue and
--- A quick note. First, yes I realize I just stopped in mid sentence but this cannot wait. I'm finishing up this post on the way back to London and thus far the bus ride has been fantastic. I have more leg room than I could ever need and I haven't for a second felt sick. The bus has been a nice cool temperature for the whole ride. That is until a minute ago (the exact moment when I wrote "A quick note") when some stupid woman came to the front of the bus to complain about it being too cold. This led the bus driver to turn the AC from a normal, comfortable temperature all the way to the hottest point of the dial. I had been hoping to finish this post and the Italia 4 post during the remaining 4 hours of this bus ride but it now looks like I'll be lucky just to make it back to London alive. So now back to the post... ---
They let us into the venue about 10 minutes before the show started. So we headed down a labyrinth of hallways which eventually led to a large room with chairs, probably 200 or so, and a small stage in front. I put my bag down on one of the seats in the front row and headed to the back of the room to buy a drink. While I was in the back the lights came up on two puppets that had been placed on stage. The "opening act" consisted of two puppets sitting in the front of the room while a recording of Andy Zatlzman doing two voices played over the loud-speakers. It was pretty funny. Eventually the lights dimmed and Zatzman gave himself a (fantastic) introduction and then ran up on stage. The show ran just over an hour and was hilarious, I'm very glad I went. In fact, I'm quite proud to say that he picked on me. The show's theme was truth, and he began by talking about how truth can be both good and bad. He asked me if I worked out, I said yes (which isn't technically true for my time in London but in Chapel Hill I'm better about it...), he told me that he could tell, that I looked good. Then he told the audience that sometimes things sound like the truth when they really aren't.
After the show I tried to say hi and possibly get a picture with Zaltzman but some guy that works at the venue yelled at me and some other person about how he really needed us to just leave, so I did. I saw Zaltzman on the street a few minutes later as he left the venue but I thought it'd be rude to bother him at that point. I'm planning on e-mailing his podcast, The Bugle, to see how his co-host John Oliver feels about the fact that Zaltzman's promotional posters declare him the "star of The Bugle podcast."
Completely exhausted, I started walking toward the hotel. Let me just say, thank the Lord for 3G internet and Google Maps for Blackberry. It has saved my life so many times. The price I had to pay to get 3G in the UK (which was pretty cheap, to be honest) has more than paid for itself through the money I've saved by not buying maps for every city I've visited.
The walk to the hotel was probably about 45 minutes long, and when I finally got checked in and made it up to my room I collapsed on the bed. I'll say more about the room in just a bit. Eventually, I decided that I needed to get some dinner and looked up some restaurants on my phone. I eventually headed off to La Partonope, a nearby Italian restaurant (Woah, this post just came full circle). The food was decent, and the service seemed to be uncomfortable with the fact that I was typing away on my phone between courses. I'm sorry, but sometimes you can't just sit there alone at a restaurant doing nothing for a 2 hour meal. For dessert I had what was essentially biscotti and an Italian dessert wine, similar to what my dad served as a dessert this past Christmas Eve. The biscotti weren't quite as rock hard as the ones back home but, just like his homemade pizza, I'm certain it will improve after a decade of experimentation on me and Sarah.
After dinner I headed back to the hotel, still very much exhausted. It was probably about 10 pm by now. I decided to stay in for the night. The bathroom had a big tub, and I considered just taking a bath to relax. That plan was quickly canceled when I filled the tub half full and the water was an odd almost orange color. Which leads me to my opinion of the hotel.
This hotel was just slightly... Off. First of all, it was unbelievably expensive for being a 40 minute walk from anything worth seeing. But I needed something within walking distance of the town and so that's where I was. The hotel tried to project itself as a top level hotel, which would make the price I paid for it almost reasonable, but it clearly wasn't. First of all, the room was miniature, and the bed was huge. I had reserved a room with a Queen-sized bed because it was (inexplicably) priced the same as the Twin-sized bedrooms. Clearly, this bed wasn't meant to fit in this room. Good luck to anyone who wanted to sit at the desk, seeing as the bed was within a foot of the desk. Everything else seemed dirty, the room definitely wasn't worth the exorbitant sum spent on it. There was even a hole in the wall which looked like someone had punched the wall. Pictures of the room are available in this set.
I woke up around 8 the next morning and was off to the bus stop. I grabbed some breakfast at a McDonald's and bought a bottle of water to help cool myself down in case the bus ride was as bad as the previous one. The bus ride turned out to be much better, though it still had its quirks. I booked with a different company for the ride home. I think the company is essentially the discount airline of the UK coach business. I got a seat in the front row again, this time with more leg room than I could ever need - Which meant that were we to suddenly crash I'd go flying through the front window. The temperature stayed reasonable for most of the ride, eventually people complained about the heat and it was lowered to a normal level. We switched drivers 3 times, and the third driver was a bit off. I'm convinced he was trying to use magic on a car which passed us. He kept blinking and nodding his head at it (No, he wasn't falling asleep). Regardless of his oddities, we got back to London on time and I took the tube back home.
Again, my photos are online here.