Free Day in Edinburgh

St. Giles Cathedral

St. Giles Cathedral

On my free day, I made sure that I went for a tour of St. Giles Cathedral. It was there that I learned that John Knox, a Scottish clergyman, encouraged the people to reform the church. He is known as a prominent leader of the Protestant Reformation, and the father and founder of the Presbyterian church in Scotland. Edinburgh-Royal MileI mostly walked the Royal Mile and took in some of the Scottish culture. Edinburgh-escape artistAlong the way, I saw an escape artist’s act which very fun and entertaining. I love getting lost in new places because I think we become more observant of our surrounding, and therefore, will find things we otherwise may overlook. While I was lost in the streets of Edinburgh, I came across a little statue of a dog.

Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriars Bobby

People were walking up to the life size statue and taking pictures with it. This peaked my curiosity. I found out that the statue was of Skye Terrier called Greyfriars Bobby who, for fourteen years after his owner died, guarded his grave until he, himself, passed away. He became a symbol of loyalty to the people of Edinburgh. Also along my walk, I saw a lot of native cuisine. I struggled finding food that actually satisfied me, so I mostly ate the the bar connected to our hostel because they served American food.Edinburgh-pig I loved getting lost in Edinburgh. The city is so rich with history and the locals were beyond friendly. I chatted with tons of Scots, and I even began to network with a few of them on social media. I’ll be honest and say that the only thing that I did not like about Edinburgh is the steep hills and lack of transportation. I suffered a knee injury in dance before I left the States. Everything was truly worth the climb.

Train To Edinburgh!

We boarded the train to Edinburgh at Kings Cross Station in London. We got the chance to see Platform Nine and Three Quarters from the movie Harry Potter. Although I don’t consider myself as a Potter fan, I was super excited to see it. Platform 9 & 3 quarters When we got on the train, I was delighted to see that it had super comfortable chairs, unlike other trains I’ve been on, and sockets to charge our electronic devices. The scenery on the way to Edinburgh was beautiful! There was lots of countryside and hills with random houses tuck away inside them. There was also a lot of rivers and different bodies of water.

River Tweed

River Tweed

I got a feeling that Edinburgh was going to be a lot different than London. London was city-like and very fast paced. Based on the the sites out of the window of train, I thought that Edinburgh was going to more like what I have seen on television about Scotland-natural landmarks, free-roaming animals, and castles. On the way, I took a random picture, not even sure of where I was located. Luckily I have an iPhone which tells me the location of every picture I take. The picture description said that we were in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Berwick-Upon-Tweed

Berwick-Upon-Tweed

After doing a little research, I found out that Berwick-upon-Tweed is the northernmost town of England. It is located in the area that many battles between Scotland and England took place over the possession of the border. The town is a traditional marketplace with medieval style architecture. The picture does not do the actual view of the town justice. It was breathtaking! After arriving at the train station in Edinburgh, I began to regret my packing decisions even more. Edinburgh is filled with super steep walkways, one in which we had to walk up to get to our hostel. Luckily, I was roommates with a girl who hurt her knee and a pregnant woman, so we all pitched in a got a cab.

Edinburgh-The Canongate

Edinburgh-The Canongate

Second Free Day in London

My bike's name was John Lennon!

My bike’s name was John Lennon!

London-Bike tour Princess Di Memorial

London bike tour 

On My second Free day in London, I decided to go on a Royal London Bike Tour. This tour was approximately four hours long, and I was not sure if I could endure seeing as though I had not ridden a bike in over ten years! When I arrived to the meeting spot, there was nobody there. I thought that I was a victim of a scam. About ten minutes after the designated time for us to meet, one of the tour guides showed up and other members of the tour began to crowd around him. There was a lady with her two sons and a set of twin sisters. One of the twins had her daughter with her. In a short amount of time, we all learned that we were all uniquely tied to each other. The woman and her two sons were from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida which is a part of St. Johns county. I was born and raise in St. Johns county Florida. The twins and the daughter were from Indiana (I forget where exactly), and that’s where I live now. We began our tour in Kensington Gardens in front of Kensington Palace. It was here that we learned about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. From there, we traveled through Hyde park. One of my favorite sites we visited here was Princess Diana’s Memorial fountain. We learned that a lot of people were upset about the simplicity of her memorial because they were used to large statues for royals that have passed away. The designer of the memorial thought that the fountain best represented Princess Di’s life with the different flows and ripples of the water. Also, she did a lot of humanitarian and charity work, so the fountain brought different people from different walks of life together even in her death. After a couple of hours, we took a break and had lunch in St. James’ Park. For the remainder of the trip, we visited Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and The Houses of Parliament. We were told of interesting stories such as Michael Fagan, the guy who broke into Buckingham Palace, and Guy Fawkes, the guy who tried to blow up Parliament. The bike tour was a fun and interesting experience! If you decide to take one, make sure you bring lots of muscle rub for the next day.

Free day in London

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One of the things I really wanted to do while I was in London was to visit the Tower of London. I had the opportunity to do so on the Monday after a weekend of fatal car accidents, missed and delayed flights, impromptu hotel stays, and dragging my heavy luggage around (I do suggest you listen to the professors when they tell you to pack light). I was overly excited that we had finally made it to London and I was beyond ready to explore. To my delight, the Tower of London was the first adventure the majority of us decided to go on. We got our first taste of the tubes that day, and besides the super cushy seats, they were not that different from riding the subways in Chicago. When we arrived to the attraction, I was in awe of the 11th century architecture surrounded by modern, space-like buildings in its skyline. I had been looking forward to seeing the collection of armor that is on display there, appropriately called “The Line of Kings.” It was here that I saw life-size replicas of past kings and their horses. I was surprised to learn that this display was started over 300 years ago to impress visitors, and for them to see the greatness of the royal bloodline. I was also very anxious to see the Crown Jewels of the British Monarchy. The line to see the jewels was extremely long and it curved around other parts of the attraction.

I made him laugh!

I made him laugh!

While we waited, I decided to see if I could make the guard smile. I asked him, “How do aliens organize parties? They PLANET!” Before I could say the punchline, he was about to burst with laughter! When we finally made it in to see the jewels I was in awe. They were gorgeous! Before that day, I had never been that close to that many diamonds and jewels in my life! Everything sparkled like they were battery operated. I highly recommend the Tower of London as a must visit attraction while in London!

Edinburgh

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I have always found churches and cathedrals extremely beautiful places. I love spaces like the Basilica at Notre Dame and Saint Patricks’ Cathedral in New York City, simply because I find their architecture and decor breathtaking. Naturally, one place I would love to visit in Edinburgh would be Saint Giles’ Cathedral. Located in the city centre on the Royal Mile, the cathedral is known as the mother church of Scotland and one of the places Presbyterianism started. The first and oldest parts of the building date back to 1120 and had been redone numerous times leading up to today, with very little of the original building in the current.

The Thistle Chapel is one of the parts of Saint Giles I would be most excited about seeing. The Order of the Thistle is a society made up of 16 knights and ladies and has its roots in the crusade times but the last induction into the Order was in 2012! The Thistle Chapel has stalls for the 16 knights and is known to be “uniquely Scottish” with art work that shows angels playing bagpipes! The Burns Window is also known as a must see in the Giles’ Cathedral, created in 1985 as the focal point of the stained glass work. According to scared-destinations.com, the bottom section, which is green, is meant to depict the natural world, the middle shows many human figures as a symbol of humanity and the top is known as a “sunburst of Love.”

Sierra Henderson

London

imageOne place I have always wanted to visit is the Tower of London. I have had friends that have visited who have said it was one of the highlights of their trips and I have watched a few documentaries about this historic spot. It is located near the River Thames in Central London and has served many purposes since it was built in 1078. Its been a palace, a prison for well known arrests, a zoo, a mint, and to this day, is the holding place of the Crown Jewels. There is also a really interesting display of armor called the “Line of Kings” that includes styles of armor from 300 years ago to today. The iconic beefeaters, or Yeoman Warders have been guarding these displays and the rest of the tower for the past 500 years.

One of the most interesting (and morbid) things about the Tower of London would be all of the executions and beheadings that have happened there in the past 900 years. While there were twenty-two very interesting executions that happened here, two of the most well known were Queen Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, the second and fifth wives of King Henry VIII. Both were beheaded for accusations of adultery, although only Catherine’s treason was proven. Other famous people executed here include Sir Thomas Moore, Guy Fawkes, and Sir Walter Raleigh. I think it would be so interesting to walk the halls of a place that has been so ingrained with English history and culture!

Sierra Henderson