Breaking out from the borders of England, I took an 8-hour journey by coach from Liverpool to Glasgow. Whenever I wasn’t nodding off to sleep, I got an eyeful of some stunning British countryside along the way.
I got off at Glasgow at 6 am. Now, if this was the Philippines, I would probably catch at least two grandpas sweeping the leaves in front of their homes at this hour, but the roads of Glasgow on the other hand pretty much still deserted. I got to stroll around for around an hour, snapping away pictures of what I imagine to be streets bustling with life, when it wasn’t the break of dawn. On a Sunday.
Thanks to a very helpful guide (by the way, it’s confirmed — I turn into mush in the face of Scottish accents), I found the city-link bus to Edinburgh and left Glasgow for Edinburgh earlier than planned. I don’t regret that decision for a minute. I’m telling you — Edinburgh is drop-dead gorgeous. If all the capitals of the world had a beauty pageant, Edinburgh would probably win. Imagine a majestic castle on top of an extinct volcano, rising right out of the heart of the city. The scenery simply took my breath away, and I knew it was love at first sight.
After trekking the whole of Princes Street (not fun on this insanely long street, especially with a full-load backpack and barely winks of sleep), I settled into my digs for the day, the Caledonian Backpackers Hostel. If ever you’re in Edinburgh, I highly recommend staying in this hostel, despite its distance from the Royal Mile. The staff were quirky and genuinely nice, the dorms and baths were very well-kept, there’s free use of the computers for guests, and they had decent breakfast grub. It’s not too busy, but not boring either; it’s all a backpacker’s nook should be.
After freshening up, I took a bus to Edinburgh Zoo and was totally psyched to check off one of the must-do’s in my list — to watch the Edinburgh Zoo’s Penguin Parade. As they tell it, it all began one day when someone forgot to close the door in the penguin sanctuary. A few curious penguins got out and decided it was time for a stroll around the zoo — and the staff has kept that tradition ever since. At 2 pm daily, the penguins can expect the zookeepers to open the doors for them; it was purely voluntary for the stars of the show though, as they were not lured out with food or anything. Any penguin that decides to shake their flippers for some exercise are then guided by the zookeepers along the paths, much to the delight of giddy visitors like myself. Penguins trigger fond childhood memories for me, so I was thrilled to see an actual pack in action, roaming around and swinging their cute flippers behind them. If cuteness could kill, it would be a massacre by penguin. You can see the parade for yourself by clicking on the video below:
There were other interesting exhibitions at the zoo: the koalas, sea lions, flamingos, and rhinoceroses were among the highlights. The weather was cooperative, as families basked in the sunshine, lazing the Sunday away in their picnic mats near the zoo playground. After having my fill, I headed back to the city center to saunter along the famed Royal Mile.
They weren’t kidding — it was really a mile, maybe even longer. Restaurants, pubs and souvenir shops lined the stretch of cobblestone, enough to keep you busy for the whole day. I began my trek at the top of the Royal Mile, where the Edinburgh Castle towered over the rest of the city. It was my first official UK castle experience; it felt like walking right into the essence of fairy tales. The place felt like a fortress, as much it did as a castle — the thick blocks of stone making up the looming towers made it look impregnable. The castle grounds were massive; you should allow 1-2 hours to roam around the buildings. There’s a bit of an uphill walk from the pointy castle gates to the courtyard at the hearth of the castle grounds. Once you’re up there, you can take your time to gawk at the Scottish Crown Jewels, decide for yourself if the Stone of Destiny looks real or not, pay your respects at the Scottish War Memorial monument, or poke around the royal Scottish digs and its massive dining hall. Edinburgh Castle has a grand view overlooking the Old and New Towns of the capital as well; if you want an easy killer aerial shot, this is the place.
Once I’ve pretty much inspected the interesting nooks and crannies of the castle, I went out on my way to cruise the rest of the Royal Mile. This stretch ending at the Holyrood Palace is pretty much alive 24/7 — with the street performers, novelty shops and quaint cafes open at day, and the quintessential Scottish pubs hailing at night. You can more or less ferret out the gems in the Royal Mile by yourself, or if you fancy a good thrill, you can join a late-night ghost tour of the Old Town’s haunted underground vaults. There were a lot of foodie places that looked interesting — Scottish, Italian, breakfast-themed and even Turkish, but alas, they had to wait. I retreated to my hostel bunk early; nothing felt so better than getting cozy under the quilt for some much-needed rest. I guess adoring Edinburgh is one heck of a tiring job, but well, I’m not complaining.
Want to see more? Here are the Glasgow/Edinburgh pics.
Citylink Bus ticket from Glasgow to Edinburgh – GBP 6.50
Edinburgh Lothian Bus DayTicket (unlimited rides for the day) – GBP 3.20
Edinburgh Zoo Admission – GBP 15.50
Edinburgh Castle Admission – GBP 15
One night’s stay at a 6-bed dorm at Caledonian Backpackers – GBP 17