Edinburgh: City of Light and Dark

I’ve spent the past couple of days exploring Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland.  Now, this isn’t my first visit.  I was here a few years ago while studying abroad… but a weekend just wasn’t enough.  The historic city stole my heart and I knew I had to come back.

I spent two full days in the city and was easily able to see all I wanted, and then some.  I Now, I decided to avoid paying for things I’ve already done, which means I didn’t go into Edinburgh Castle or take an underground tour.  I learned about the turbulent, divided history during my bus tour, so I skipped doing a walking tour.  Sightseeing in Edinburgh is easy and my hostel is well positioned on the Royal Mile, which means everything was a short walk away.

During these two days, I did all sorts of things.  I climbed Arthur’s Sat, the volcanic mountain in the middle of the city.  I toured Holyrood Palace on a whim and was swept away into Scottish history.  I spent hours in the National Museum of Scotland and Scottish National Gallery.  This morning, I attended church in the historic St. Giles Cathedral.  I went for evening strolls up to the castle in the rain.  I walked up Calton Hill and visited all the monuments.  I lingered in coffee shops, cafes, and pubs.

Some of my favorite time, though, was spent lingering in quiet places–sketching the city on Arthur’s Peak, reading poetry in the Princes Street Gardens, wandering solo through narrow streets.

I feel as though I’ve drunk my fill of the city, but I’m sure I’ll be back someday.

It’s time to move out of English speaking waters.  Next stop: Amsterdam!

Halloween in Scotland: A scary story from my time abroad

I kind of dropped the ball on Halloween this year.  After briefly considering slapping together a “Hipster Belle” outfit, I abandoned the idea after an unsuccessful thrift store run.  Then school took over my life, and holidays were out of the picture completely.  It’s been a blast, though, seeing my fellow students wandering out campus in various costumes.  I’ve passed Loki, demonic bunnies, Anna from Frozen, pirates, Homestuck characters, Mario and Luigi, Link, Catwoman, and many others.  I did a double take as I passed one of my former professors dressed in a gorilla suit.

In light of my lack of plans, how about I tell about what happened to me around Halloween last year?  It’s a pretty good story, and fits the holiday well.

A year ago, I was in Edinburgh, Scotland.  We took the morning train up from London and spent the afternoon wandering the streets, touring the castle, and dining at the Elephant House (the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the first few Harry Potter books.)

IMG_2068
View from Edinburgh Castle.  Photo by me.

Once the sun had set, we did a ghost tour of the oldest parts of the city.

Guided by a charismatic young Scotsman named Hugh, we wandered around St. Giles Cathedral, down some of the closes, and learned about public hangings, beheadings, and the nightly gardyloo (where everyone dumped their chamber pots into the street).  We then went indoors and Hugh showed us a room filled with medieval torture devices.  He explained how all of them work.  Let me tell you… Edinburgh was a VIOLENT city.

Then, we went into the secret underground vaults.  These vaults had been used way back when for tons of different purposes, varying from illegal pubs, hiding spaces from fires, and a place for homeless people to escape from punishment (apparently, it wasn’t legal to be homeless in the medieval times).  Then, at some point, they had been locked up, forgotten, and left to fester for over a hundred years.  They were rediscovered by some students in the 1970’s.

When I hear ghost tours, I usually expect interesting historical stories mixed with the occasional story about a creepy incident that happened there.  There’s a hint of reality to the hauntings, but mainly shameless tourism and fun history.

Yeah… that’s not the case in Scotland.

The vaults we entered were home to all sorts of horrific events.  Murders, cholera, famine, plague, rape, violence, brawling, people locked in and left to go blind and die, and countless cases of violence followed by rape followed by gang rape followed by murder.

There was a Wiccan temple in one of the rooms, all lit up and decorated in colorful banners and trappings.  There was a room with a stone circle where the Wiccans had supposedly trapped a demon.  In one of the rooms, Hugh made the girls stand on one side of the room and boys on the other.  Apparently, people were frequently tossed about violently by unseen forces and separating the genders sedated the activity.  We were then told that the room we were in was the most haunted room in Scotland.  At this point, my friends Mackenzie, Anna, and Marisa and I huddled close together.

It was, without a doubt, the darkest place I had ever been.  The very air felt evil.  As Hugh guided us from room to room, telling us story after story of the ghosts that haunt the place, I could feel their dark presences.  Being a Christian, I knew that I was protected from all forces of darkness, but that night I learned all too well what it feels like to be in the presence of demons.  I could feel them reaching out at me, scraping at my spirit like fingernails on a blackboard.

When the tour finally ended and we stepped into the cool Scottish night, Anna turned to us and said, “That was the worst place I’ve ever been.  I need a drink.”  So we finished the evening at the hostel’s bar sipping cider and thinking about our tour of the Highlands the next day.

This all happened the night after Halloween.  It’s the scariest story I have to tell, and I hope it stays that way.  The thing about my encounter is that forces of darkness are real and coming face to face with them changes your perspective.  It’s not something you easily forget.

So there you have it, readers.  My scary Halloween story.

What’s the scariest thing to ever happen to you?

Or, here’s a lighter question: What did you dress up as for Halloween?