A Travellerspoint blog

August 2013

Kings of the Castle (of Edinburgh)

semi-overcast 22 °C
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"I can not be a traitor, for I owe him no allegiance. He is not my Sovereign; he never received my homage; and whilst life is in this persecuted body, he never shall receive it." - Spoken by William Wallace at his execution

Foodie moment

A traditional British Pub meal at the lucky Maggie Dicksons pub. Beef and Ale Pie and 'Bangers and Mash'. Good comfort food!


Cultural moment

It was time to visit the much awaited 'Edinburgh Dungeon', which I had given as a voucher to Mark for Christmas. It was a fantastic hour or so of interactive performances covering gory Scottish history such as torturers, the hunt for the cannibalistic family of Sawney Bean, Burke and Hare (the serial killers who murdered to sell bodies to medical schools), Mary King's Ghost (a girl accused of having the plague and locked in her house to die a long slow death of starvation), Maggie Dickson and of course the execution of William Wallace. There was also a ride called 'The long drop' where we 'hung' for our crimes! Overall a lot of laughs, pretty damn scary and we learnt a bit along the way! Even funnier was the Asian gentleman who was in our group, who didn't speak much English, and I don't think had any idea what type of 'museum' the Dungeon was! Things were being squirted at him and touching him, actors getting in his face and he was just freaking out with no idea at all of what was going on and why! I'd love to know the story he told about it when he got home!! (Sorry no photos allowed inside)


Wow moment


First stop today was to visit the famous Edinburgh Castle, sitting atop an extinct volcano, now called Castle Rock, overlooking the Old town. On the way in you walk through the grandstands set up for the Royal Military Tattoo performances each night, unfortunately they were completely booked up for the time we were there, but they looked like it would have been pretty spectacular. The castle itself is exactly as a castle should be; turreted towers, dungeons, cannons, big dining halls and spectacular views from all directions. It is filled with stories having been involved in many battles and important moments in history. No real surprise that it is the most visited paid tourist attraction in Scotland, with 1.3 million visitors a year!


What we learnt today

The Edinburgh castle is home to two of Scotland's most precious items, the Honours of Scotland and the Destiny Stone (no photos allowed sorry). The Honours of Scotland are the Scottish crown jewels and were used in the coronation of Scottish Kings and Queens. They are lucky to still be in one piece as when Thomas Cromwell was in power, he ordered all royal regalia to be broken or melted down. The Honours were hidden in Dunnottar Castle, and then later smuggled out of the castle past the English Army when Cromwell came to Scotland to claim them. Once Scotland officially became part of Great Britian, the honors had no sybolic role to play and they were buried in a chest in Edinburgh castle, and basically forgotten about. Years later a group including Sir Walter Scott set out to find their hiding place and after finding all pieces safe and sound, they were put on display.


The Stone of Scone or Destiny Stone is another important part of the coronation of Kings and Queens. It is an large oblong block of red sandstone, and has many stories and legends linking to its age and how it came to be symbolic, some linking back to biblical times. Although it was Scottish tradition to use the Destiny Stone in coronations, later the English added the tradition to their ceremonies, consequently moving the stone down to Westminster Abbey. After many attempts to get it back to Scotland (both legally and illegally!) the English finally agreed that the Stone could be kept at Edinburgh castle and transported down to Westminster when needed. It was last used in the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.


A point missed from yesterday's blog: On our tour we visited a cemetery in Edinburgh,and here our guide explained what a Mortsafe is. Basically, during the Victorian era there was a big problem with Grave Robbers, people who snuck into cemeteries late at night to dig up fresh bodies. They would then steal any valuables from the body then sell the corpse to medical colleges for them to use for training. To avoid this atrocity happening to their family, relatives of the deceased would take turns to sit up near the freshly buried family member until enough time had passed that they were decomposed enough to be of no value to grave robbers. This is where the phrase "Doing the Graveyard Shift" came from. To prevent family members having to do this, the Mortsafe was invented. It is a metal cage built over a section of the cemetery, which could be locked shut. Family members could pay for temporary or permanent use. If you could only afford temporary use, the body would stay buried under the cage until it had decomposed, then it was dug up and reburied in an open plot. If you were wealthy enough you could pay for a permanent Mortsafe, and not be re-dug up, or the even wealthier had a family mausoleum.


Whilst at the cemetery we also learnt that JK Rowling did a lot of her writing of Harry Potter in cafes nearby, and got much of her inspiration from the names of gravestones and the neighbouring school for orphan boys. We found a McGonagal grave as well as the very popular Thomas Riddell - He who shall not be named!!


Posted by travellinglise 06:45 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Free Comedy - Who's Laughing Now?

semi-overcast 18 °C
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“This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.” - Alexander McCall Smith

Foodie moment

Irn Bru is the favourite soft drink of Scotland. It apparently outsells Coke and Pepsi around the country. The taste is very very sweet, Mark liked it ,I wasn't so sure! Walkers 'crisps' are one of the things I look forward to when in the UK. Prawn Cocktail has always been a favourite but during this trip new flavours such as 'Undeniable Pickled Onion with real British Vinegar', 'Famous Worcester sauce' and 'Cheddar Cheese and Bacon with Cheddar from Somerset' definitely catch the eye. Clever marketing!


Cultural moment

Today we found our 'bible' of the Fringe Festival, the Free shows guide. There were hundreds of acts listed for each time slot, and using only the title and a brief promotional blurb (which were often quite vague) we headed on down to one of the hundreds of small venues scattered throughout the town to watch the show. Our first choice was a man doing stand-up about the 'A-Z of Backpacking'. Sounded like it should be great, especially for us, but unfortunately although it had some funny moments (acting out what people are like after lights out in a hostel room - seriously, how many times can someone zip and unzip their bag!!), it was a bit scattered and I actually think I could have done better (especially with all the great material we've gathered on this trip!). The next act we saw was highly recommended, by people who should know, in his blurb as one of the up and comers of the comedy circuit. So popular we had to sit on the stairs, absolute disappointment! It was like he had got these great recommendations and suddenly thought he was too good for it all, so he spent the next 40 minutes rambling on about his life philosophy, his dad dying from cancer and the problems with British society. He just looked like he couldn't care less and it was so incredibly uncomfortable. Needless to say, as we left our donation into his bucket was a good way to get rid of some of the silver (and copper) coins in my wallet! (Unfortunately giving him nothing is hard as the comedians stand with their bucket at the door and its pretty damn obvious if you don't put something in!). Needing some sort of pick me up after that, we headed straight off to another tiny room in a bar to watch Finn Taylor. Thank god this guy was funny! His act was about being single, and trying to find love. The reading of some of the unbelievable but real responses he got whilst Internet dating were hilarious.

That evening we decided to head to another free show at another different pub. It was called World War III and was hosted by a German comedian Christian Schulte-Loh who was great! The other acts were Katerina Urana from Greece, Valdemar Pustelnik from Nederlands, Jody Kamali from USA, Ben Crellin from New Zealand and Ro Campbell from Australia (he basically just made fun of Kiwis for his whole act to annoy the comedian who went before him - but it was funny!). Overall a great night of comedy and had we been staying at the festival longer we would have gone see most of those comedians in their own shows. It was great fun going to see the shows and because you don't pay anything until after the show you don't have to worry about booking into a show that's awful - just donate less. I could imagine spending a week just flitting between comedies, musicals, plays and spoken word performances from the free guide, just donating a few pounds each time and it would be great fun! We had other touristy things to do in Edinburgh, and a tight budget so we were a bit restricted, but still it was great getting a bit of the 'Fringe Experience'.

Wow moment


Edinburgh is split into two parts, the Old and the New town. We were staying in the Old town which sits on the top of the hill and surrounds the Royal Mile (main street) which runs the one Scot mile between the impressive Edinburgh castle and Holyrood Palace. Cobbled streets lead off to small squares surrounded by houses, and important statues and churches are scattered all around. The New town is situated on lower ground and is separated from the old town by the Princes gardens (which was the former location of the Nor Loch). In the Princes gardens towers the Gothic Scott monument, built for Sir Walter Scott, Scottish author. The New town is a shopping hub with every possible store lining the famous Princes Street. Overall the New town is seen as a masterpiece of city planning, and once built became the residences for the wealthy population of Edinburgh, whilst the poor stayed in the Old town which fell into disrepair. Nowadays, both parts have their highlights, and together they make Edinburgh one of the most attractive cities we have come across.


What we learnt today

Today, whilst in the part of town called Grassmarket, we learnt the legend of Maggie Dickson. She was a average women of the early 18th century who became famous for a very strange reason. It all began when her husband left her, so she had to move to a small town and get a job in an Inn. Whilst there she started an affair with the Innkeepers son, and fell pregnant. She tried to conceal the pregnancy so she wouldn't lose her job, but when the baby was born prematurely and died, it was found by authorities she was charged under the contravention of the Concealment of Pregnancy Act and she was taken back to Grass market in Edinburgh for trial and execution. She was allowed one last drink at the 'The Last Drop' pub, and then she was hung and pronounced dead. Legend then tells us that as she was being transported to her burial ground the cart driver heard knocking and banging noises coming from her coffin. When he opened the coffin he found her still alive inside, not knowing what to do he drove her back to Grassmarket to be hung once more. She was once again allowed her last drink, then as the bloodthirsty crowd were calling for her hanging, someone stood up and announced that she had already been 'hung from the neck until pronounced dead' as her sentence had called for, and therefore had adequately completed her sentence. They decided it must have been God's will, and she was let free to live another 40 years. Some believe she seduced the rope maker into making a weaker noose, either way she lived on through her day of execution and is now remembered on through history.


Posted by travellinglise 05:24 Archived in Scotland Tagged edinburgh edinburgh_fringe Comments (0)

Living on the 'Fringe' of the Festival

sunny 18 °C
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"...for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself..." - Declaration of Arbroath

Foodie moment

If you asked us what we miss the most from Melbourne, the answer (after family and friends of course) would be Asian food! After spotting a Chinese restaurant we couldn't resist. Unfortunately we were disappointed, with prices of dumplings crazy high, and the soups just not living up to our high expectations... hmmm.... guess we'll just have to wait till November then!


Cultural moment

FRINGE FEST! The reason we came to Edinburgh at this time of year, is a festival of performing arts, one of the biggest in the world. We arrived on day 1 of the festival, and our accommodation was right next to the Royal Mile, the main street where all the outside performances are held. There were street acts of all different types, from swords and fire jugglers, to spontaneous Shakespeare plays.

People were everywhere, it was insanely busy (even more so in the days that followed). Walking down the Royal Mile you are greeted with many touts advertising their own shows, and while actually helpful to begin with, the pile of pamphlets and ones littering the street soon become a nuisance. It became a kind of 'running the gauntlet' just to get to the supermarket! However the atmosphere was amazing (even though it died quite quickly after dark), and the shows we saw were greatly entertaining (mostly).

Most of the festivals shows are held in pubs and theatres (plus any other space where a crowd can fit!) and you can choose from of the hundreds if not thousands of performances on offer. They range from Cabernet, Stand up comedy, Spoken word performances, musicals to plays. There are ones that you pay at the door for, and other that are free, which you are encouraged to tip at the end of the show. Being true backpackers, we went to the free ones.


Wow moment

I would love to go back to Edinburgh when the festival is not on, just to spend more time exploring the other sites on offer, there are a lot to see! Our first was the Edinburgh museum, an extensively large museum which has a whole building of 7 levels dedicated to the history of the city and rest of Scotland. We learnt a lot, and I'm glad we did it on our first day, so that we had a background of knowledge for the rest of the time we stayed in Edinburgh. It also housed a lot of antiquities, from weapons to steam engines, all of which I particularly liked.


The other half of the museum is much more like a typical museum with different areas dedicated to different fields such as science, natural world and dinosaurs! We didn't get to explore everything, we had used most of the day in the history section, but what we did get to see was impressive, and included Dolly the Cloned Sheep!


What we learnt today

Scottish history is a long, bloody and complex one, and the multiple levels of the museum covering it gave us more information than we could ever take in. The main theme that runs through their history is that there have been two main points of angst in Scotland.
One is that the Scottish have been forever trying to rid themselves of the pesky southerners that share their land mass, otherwise known as the English. Two of the important people helping to achieve this aim were William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. William Wallace was a Scottish land owner who became one of main leaders in the Scottish wars of Independence, and was later hung, drawn and quartered by the English for his involvement. Robert the Bruce supported William Wallace during his uprising, but after Wallace's execution he waged his own attack against the English, eventually gaining Scotland's independence and becoming the King of Scots.

The other consistent point of contention in Scotland has been religion. Scotland has fought hard (both literally and figuratively!) to make the Protestant faith, the main religion of Scotland. Changes in monarchy over the years were the main decider of the countries religious 'following' with Catholic kings and queens being very common, this meant the Protestant faith was often ignored or even outlawed. Even so Protestant faith stayed strong in Scotland. When Mary Queen of Scots (Catholic) led Scotland she was one of the few leaders who ruled a country which as a majority followed a different faith to her. When the Church of Scotland was identified as the religion of Scotland during the reformation of 1560, this was a huge moment in Scottish history.


Posted by travellinglise 08:44 Archived in Scotland Tagged edinburgh fringe Comments (0)

Bathing our Blisters in Budapest

sunny 37 °C
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“Rest and peace should not be left until you're deceased. They are two vital life ingredients everybody needs and seeks.” - Rasheed Ogunlaru

Foodie moment

Over the course of our trip, we have been using TripAdvisor to find the best restaurants that have been recommended by people who have actually been there. To say that there are a lot to choose from in Budapest would be an understatement. We had our eye on Hungarikum Bisztro which was in the top 5, yet still in the 'cheap' category, but it was on the other side of town. However today we were in the neighbourhood so we decided to give it a go. Lucky for us, even though it was fully booked out with reservations, we were allowed a table because we got there early, before any of the reservations turned up. The restaurant was really nice and friendly, it had a man playing some kind of string / xylophone instrument. We ordered the Grandma's Recipe Onion Gnocchi and the Stuffed Pork Lion with Dumplings. We were also treated some some very tasty home made cheese bread. The food was fantastic and the staff really lovely.


Cultural moment

Without trying to spoil our wow moment before we get to it, today while at the thermal pools we noticed an interesting thing. There are quiet a few saunas and steam rooms around in the pool complex that we visited today. While trying each one out, we began to notice a strange occurrence where the locals will stand in the absolute hottest part of the saunas, right next to the heaters, standing up on chairs or anything to get the hottest experience possible. In most of the rooms, standing next to the heaters was just bearable, but in the 100 degree celsius room, it was insanity! Just sitting in that room was unbearable, but standing in front of the heater was crazy, I'm surprised they didn't get 3rd degree burns!


Wow moment

So today Lisa thought it would be a good idea to go to one of the local thermal bath complexes for some R&R, especially considering we had been on the road for about 7 weeks straight we could use some medicinal hydro therapy for our tired muscles. After some convincing, I agreed to go, and I am so glad I did. The Szechenyi Baths and Pools complex is more of a swimming pool adventure park than a bath centre, the main feature being 2 huge outdoor pools that are naturally heated, one being 38 degrees celcius. It was a little strange jumping into a 38 degree pool on a 37 degree day, but you get used to it quickly. There were numerous waterspouts that you could stand under and use as a back/head massager. The other pool was a little cooler, and had an awesome feature in the middle which was kind of a human powered whirlpool where everybody spins around with the current. We had a great time in the pools and relaxed with a couple of drinks afterwards by the edge of the water.


Inside is a more traditional thermal bath complex with many pools and spas each at different temperatures and with different types of medicinal water. Lisa's favourite pool was the 38 degree spa which was filled with medicinal mineral water which was a green colour, and had healing properties for sore muscle and joints. There were also saunas, steam rooms and aroma therapy rooms, all of which we tried, the craziest being the 100 degree Celcius sauna mentioned above. My favourite was the steam room, and I even joined some of the crazies, standing on my chair for a bit! We spent the majority of the day there and were well and truly water logged, but totally relaxed and rejuvenated when we finished.


What we learnt today

A pretty simple lesson learnt today, and that is that hot water feels awesome on sore muscles after backpacking. It was a really awesome way to finish off the major backpacking leg of our European holiday. If anybody is ever in Budapest, I highly recommend the Szechenyi Baths and Pools.


Another fact, which is quite amusing, is that to reduce costs in heating the zoo started pumping the natural water into their hippo enclosure. This worked well, perhaps too well, as the water was very high in salt and minerals which led to the hippos increasing their pregnancy rates! Now, Hungary are one of the main breeders of hippos in the world!


Posted by travellinglise 11:27 Archived in Hungary Tagged budpest szechenyi_baths Comments (0)

The Ghosts of Budapest Past

overcast 28 °C
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"Wars teach us not to love our enemies, but to hate our allies." - W. L. George

Foodie moment

After our epic walking tour, our guide recommended a local restaurant where we could get an authentic Hungarian lunch set menu. For 10 Euro we got to try traditional Goulash Soup, Paprika Chicken with dumplings and local beer. It was all really nice, and the strange tiny dumplings are starting to grow on me!


Cultural moment

Apparently drinking in public places in illegal in Budapest, but this doesn't seem to be upheld at all. As seen on a Thursday night in the central square of the city, every spare bench and square of grass has a group of young people sitting on it with bottles of vodka or wine and plastic cups. This seems like a completely normal thing to do on each warm weekend night.


Wow moment

Today we visited the Opera House of Budapest. Apparently the architect was told they were not allowed to make it as impressive and grand looking as the famous opera house in Vienna (part of the same kingdom at the time), so he begrudgingly did this on the outside but considering he was given no restrictions on how the inside should look he made it considerably more opulent and beautiful than its Viennese counterpart.


We also hiked up the hill in Buda to visit the castle/palace. This is in fact a former palace, and is not showing any of its former glory. This is because during WW2 it was completely destroyed, after WW2 Budapest was under Soviet rule so it was rebuilt it in typical soviet style...boring!


The chain bridge was the first bridge to cross the Danube between Buda and Pest. Before it was built the only way to cross between the two sides of the city was by boat, or by foot when the river was frozen, but don't get stuck on the wrong side when it melted or you could get stuck for a long time!


When I spotted a flyer for a ghost tour, I jumped at an opportunity to make up to Mark for the failings of Dracula's castle. We knew we were in for an experience when we first spotted our guide, a man dressed in a black hooded cloak with his face painted white standing frozen staring creepily at passers by. What followed was a walking tour filled with very entertaining stories, with some occasional jumpy moments. Did he use cheap tricks to make us scream (like speaking in a whisper then shouting at the climax of the story)? Yes, he did. Were his stories true? Most likely not entirely honest. Was it a fun way to spend a night? Sure was. Mark got some special treatment during one of the stories were about the curse the witches put on anyone who built on the hill of Buda ("Don't build on the hill! We will crush you, We will crush you!!!!). No Hungarian's ever have built there, but the Austrian empire did, and the soviets did too, and as our guide said "Where are they now?".


What we learnt today

Firstly, one of the most interesting facts was that all tourist attractions and monuments in Budapest are rebuilt replicas of the original monuments, this is because Budapest was basically flattened by Allied bombing during WW2.


Budapest is split through the middle by the famous river Danube. On one side of the river is the hilly Buda side, which was often seen as the more wealthy side. The flat side of the river is called Pest, and was generally the place for trading, and therefore more working class. Not sure if these divisions are still true, but people certainly do make a big deal of being from Buda rather than Pest.


Hungary has had a pretty bad run of it as a country, and most of their problems have been due to aligning themselves with the wrong people/countries. In WW1 they were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, therefore aligning themselves with the Germans. Later in their history, they accepted the offer of help from the leader of Germany, otherwise known as Adolf Hitler, to help get back some of their power and lost territories. This was all good, until the favour was called back in and they were once again aligned with Germany in a World War.

Posted by travellinglise 10:30 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest Comments (0)

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