That first day in Edinburgh was anything but relaxing...exactly how I like it. I love to be on the move and doing things. I'm not an idle person so the thought of relaxing in front of the TV in my hotel room didn't even cross my mind. It was still mid-afternoon by the time I hit the street and started to immerse myself into Edinburgh life. I only had to walk for about twenty seconds and I was on the Royal Mile. I walked up the street where crowds of tourists and commuters were gathered.
I didn't know where the Royal Mile would take me. I didn't bother to look at a map. I prefer the unknown. I kept walking past shops, restaurants and centuries-old buildings that would become familiar once I learned my way around. I eventually ended up at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. I didn't go any further as I already had plans to visit the castle on my last day in the city but at least I found out how to get there!
I took my time going back down the Royal Mile. I stopped to watch some interesting (and downright bizarre and equally intriguing) buskers. I walked into a few shops to get some ideas of what to buy as souvenirs for friends and family back home and I took note of restaurants and cafes that may be good options for a meal later on. I took note of a Starbucks right on the main street but vowed to only patronize it as a last resort. I can have Starbucks anytime I want at home. When I'm traveling I prefer to sample the unfamiliar and local.
As I walked along the Royal Mile, I noticed some peculiar things. I noticed that traffic lights go from green to yellow to red and back to yellow before turning green as opposed to just red to green to yellow back home. I also noticed that the crosswalks are set further back from the lights than I am used to and, after seeing someone get almost taken out by a car while trying to cross where the lights are, I realized why. I also learned that going to the bathroom can be a bit of a pain...especially if you don't have any coins on hand. Those stupid pay bathrooms around Scotland were the only annoyance I experienced during my travels around the country. I've never had to go through a toll booth to pee before.
Since I didn't have anything planned that afternoon, I decided to do a bit of shopping. After exchanging some Canadian currency for local currency, I learned that Scotland has it's own money. It's equal to the British Pound but it looks different. I had no idea what to get for souvenirs but, judging by the stores on the Royal Mile, plaid, cashmere and tweed were in full supply. I found some beautiful scarves for the women in my life (including myself) but the men were a little harder to shop for. Most of the ball caps and shirts were branded with golf and football slogans. I finally found some that simply said "Scotland" on them. Everything seemed very reasonably-priced despite what I had heard from other travelers to the UK about everything being super expensive. I also picked out some key-chains, fridge magnets and local snacks and my shopping was complete in under an hour. I hate shopping but I particularly hate shopping when I am traveling. I try to get it done right away so I don't have to worry about it anymore. With very little space to pack anything else in my carry-on luggage, I was unable to buy too much anyway.
One of the tours I had pre-booked before my departure was a hop-on, hop-off bus ticket for a city tour on a double decker bus through Edinburgh Bus Tours. I was still wide awake so I made my way to the bus stop and waited for the big red bus to come by.Although I didn't take a jacket with me and I knew it would be cold on the top outside deck of the bus, I took a seat there anyway. How often do I get to tour a city on top of a double decker bus? Figured I might as well get the most of it. It was quite cold and although there were seats available on the bottom inside deck, I toughed it out and stayed up top. We passed through some areas of the city that I otherwise wouldn't have seen and stopped briefly at some attractions I wouldn't have seen like the Royal Yacht Britannia and the Royal Botanic Garden.
I almost learned a crucial lesson in exploring Edinburgh on foot the hard way when I was exiting the bus at the end of the tour; Be very careful when crossing the street. It's easy to forget that driving is done on the left side of the road in the United Kingdom and I forgot that very important fact when I looked to the right instead of the left and was almost taken out by a speeding car. Unfortunately, this was not the only time I made this mistake. I noticed since I arrived in the city that the sound of ambulance sirens were almost continuous and I wondered if perhaps it was Canadian and American tourists making the same mistake. In Edinburgh, there seems to be no speed limits and cars stop at nothing, not even crosswalks.
I usually don't walk down dark alleyways or venture on side streets or more remote areas of cities but I felt very safe everywhere I went in Edinburgh and although I had only been there a few hours, I felt at home. It didn't take long to realize that I really like the city. Many other people must like it too as there were tourists everywhere. It wasn't peak tourist season when I was there but the streets were packed with people from all over the world. I'd hate to see what's it like during peak tourist season or during major events like the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
I walked around the city for a few hours taking pictures and admiring the stunning architecture. By the time I started finally feeling tired, I had clocked 16 miles of walking according to the step-counter app on my phone. Not bad for someone who arrived in the city jet-lagged and sleep-deprived only a few hours earlier. I stopped into a little cafe called Cafe Keno, which was just around the corner from my hotel, and grabbed a delicious vegetarian sandwich and some cookies.
Back in my room, I was so tired, I could barely get undressed. Sleep came easy and I didn't wake up again until twelve hours later when my alarm went off in the morning.