Scotland #3: The View from Scott Monument

Scotland #1: Welcome to Edinburgh!
Scotland #2: The View from Arthur’s Seat

We took it easy on our last full day in Edinburgh. I was starting to get sick (getting sick on vacation is no fun – in case you’re curious) and I collapsed in my hotel bed at 3 p.m. But before said collapsing, we headed to Scott Monument in New Town to check out the views of the city from the top of the most recognizable monument in Edinburgh.

It’s hard to miss the gothic spire that defines Edinburgh’s skyline. In 1858, Charles Dickens said, “I am sorry to report the Scott Monument a failure. It is like the spire of a Gothic church taken off and stuck in the ground.” Love it of hate it, the man for whom the monument is built – Sir Walter Scott – is beloved in Scotland. His Waverly novels celebrate Scotland’s rebellious history and are credited with reviving Scottish pride.

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There are 287 steps to the highest platform, involving a narrow, slightly breathless climb. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to stop along the way and take pictures.

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The view of the romantic Old Town and Arthur’s Seat from Scott Monument.

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Facing west, you can’t miss Edinburgh Castle.

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We had a great view of Princess Street, the wide boulevard bordering the New Town on the south.

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Scott Monument is located in Princess Street Gardens, a pretty patch of greenery where Scotts relax, stroll and hang out.

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Jenners is the largest and oldest department store in Edinburgh – the Macy’s of Scotland. It’s located directly across the street from Scott Monument.

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And of course, some requisite pictures of the Dynamic Duo!

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After Scott Monument we headed back to Old Town. My scratchy throat and headache were starting to get the best of me.

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We discovered charming Victoria Street, not far from the University of Edinburgh, marked by cute cafes and colorful shops.

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After that, it was back to the hotel for a nice, long nap. I could not have been happier.

 

 

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Scotland #2: The View from Arthur’s Seat

Scotland #1: Welcome to Edinburgh!

On our second day in Edinburgh, we headed east down the Royal Mile to explore the rest of Edinburgh’s famous street and climb Arthur’s Seat for its famous views of the city below.

First up was John Knox’s house, or I should say, what is allegedly John Knox’s house. There is some evidence that his house was actually located in Warriston Close. John Knox was a clergyman who played a major role in the Protestant Reformation in Scotland and is credited with founding the Presbyterian branch of Christianity.

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We stopped for some pretty views of Calton Hill, including the Political Martyrs’ Monument, erected in honor of five reformers who were imprisoned for advocating for parliamentary reforms.

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Next up was Scotland’s new parliament.

For centuries, Scotland had its own parliament located in Parliament House in the Old Town – a building that now houses the Supreme Courts of Scotland. With the Treaty of Union in 1707, Scotland and England were united under the banner of Great Britain, and the Parliament of Scotland ceased to exist. As the rumblings of independence grew in throughout the past couple of decades, Scots clamored for more political control. In 1978, the United Kingdom Parliament passed the Scotland Act of 1978, but the proposed assembly failed to garner the required percentage in a public referendum. Finally, in 1997, the Scottish public approved an elected parliament in Edinburgh.

The modern, new Parliament building was built in 2004 on the eastern end of the Royal Mile – also known as the Holyrood neighborhood in reference to the Holyrood Palace located across the street.

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Today, Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the British monarchy in Scotland and served as the residence for the Sottish monarchy back in the day, including Mary, Queen of Scots. The palace is open to tours aside from the one week Queen Elizabeth spends at the palace at the beginning of every summer.

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We meandered through Holyrood Park where we took way too many pictures and I attempted to be one of those people who takes yoga pictures in awesome locations around the world.

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Finally, we began our hike up the mountain up towards Arthur’s seat. At some point, it became abundantly clear that we had taken the scenic route – and by that I mean we went completely out of our way. But the views were beautiful so no complaints here.

Here we are looking down on Parliament, with views of Calton Hill and Nelson Monument.

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Below is a view of Calton Hill with the Nelson Monument and the National Monument of Scotland poking out. The Royal High School is located just beneath Calton Hill. Founded in 1128, the Royal High School is one of the oldest schools in the world.

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As we climbed higher and turned westward, we could make out Edinburgh’s Old Town, Scott Monument, and Edinburgh Castle.

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The higher we climbed, the more beautiful the scenery got. And the more pictures I took.

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Lisa standing in a field of flowers

Finally, we got to the top of Arthur’s Seat. I was mildly obsessed with this bird.

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The Dynamic Duo!

We headed down – on the path we should have taken up – reveling in the views of the Firth of Forth.

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We also had some pretty views of Holyrood Palace from above.

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At the bottom of the trail, we came upon the ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel. Little is known about the chapel, though it is thought to be associated with the Holyrood Abbey. Wikipedia dates the chapel to the 15th century, but I also saw reference to the 1300s. The chapel fell into disrepair after the Reformation in 1560.

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The view of Arthur’s Seat from the bottom

Our version of the hike to Arthur’s Seat was certainly longer and probably more difficult than the correct path up, but we enjoyed the exercise and the fresh air – not to mention the views. We took the Radical Road past Salisbury Crags and then linked up with the path to Arthur’s Seat. Below is a map of Holyrood Park trails – something we probably should have googled before we started.

Holyrood Park Map

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Scotland #1: Welcome to Edinburgh!

We packed for Scotland expecting this:

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But once we landed, it seemed like we completely lucked out (minus a minor plane mishap). We were welcomed by sunny blue skies and started stripping layers faster than well, fill in the blank. After dumping our stuff at our hotel, we immediately set out to explore Edinburgh’s charming Old Town, heading westward down the Royal Mile – the famous street that runs horizontally through Edinburgh.

I fell in love with the historic Old Town, preferring it to the New Town’s wide boulevards and grid layout. Although the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe Festival didn’t start until the end of the week, the streets were already teeming with tourists and street performers warming up their acts.

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Edinburgh’s charming Old Town – the center of Edinburgh life until the latter half of the eighteenth century when construction on the New Town began.

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A bird hanging out with St. Giles’ Cathedral in the background.

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The famous Scottish economist and a personal favorite of mine. LOOK AT THAT BLUE SKY!!!!

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Bagpipers – of course!

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Street performers getting ready for Edinburgh’s festivals.

The west end of the Royal Mile collides with Edinburgh’s most famous and imposing site – Edinburgh Castle. The castle is not just a pretty tourist attraction. It was the royal residence for Scotland’s kings and queens and played a crucial role in the many battles between Scotland and England. Built on volcanic rock, the castle provided an obvious strategic advantage. It is not surprising that it is one of the most besieged places in the world. Warning: With the pound’s soaring value, admission is a pricey 30 U.S. dollars.

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Drumroll please – entrance to Edinburgh Castle.

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Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle provides stunning views of the city – when the weather cooperates – and its many landmarks. Touring Edinburgh Castle on our first day was a great way to orient ourselves and get a sense of the city. Here is a helpful map:

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You can make out a lot of Edinburgh’s key landmarks in this photo. The funky, gothic spire on the left is Scott Monument, honoring the writer Sir Walter Scott. According to Wikipedia, it is the largest monument to a writer in the world. The ugly railway area is Waverly Station – named after Scott’s most famous novel. The imposing building with the clock tower is the ritzy Balmoral Hotel. The museum building in the left-hand corner is the Scottish National Gallery. And in the distance you can make out Nelson Monument high up on Calton Hill.

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Here we are looking down on Princes Street Gardens and Edinburgh’s New Town. Even from this height, you can notice how starkly different the New Town looks from its older counterpart.

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The New Town’s grid structure and wide boulevards

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A view of the New Town with Scott Monument and the ferris wheel dominating the skyline.

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Looking north on the New Town and westward toward outer Edinburgh.

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Looking out towards Old Town.

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It was a struggle to get pictures of the castle without random people in them. Here is a valiant attempt.

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The Scottish National War Memorial

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In the 17th century, Edinburgh Castle was used primarily as military barracks. The accommodations were not exactly five star.

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One of the rooms inside the Royal Palace

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Stained glass windows in the Royal Palace.

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Hanging out on a cannon, because, well, why not?

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I managed to convince Lisa to climb up here with me. I can be very persuasive.

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Lisa taking a nap in the military jail. At this point we had not slept in over 24 hours.

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Me taking a silly picture in the bread oven at the military barracks.

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AN ODE TO FRIENDSHIP

It was 1998. I was a terrified college freshman enrolling in an art class called Intro to Design, emphasis on the word Intro. I had no clue what I was doing. But at least there were two of us.

Lisa and I gravitated towards each other because everyone else in the class was drawing circles (and other shapes) around us. Wait – you want me to draw with dots? What the hell does an excited line look like?

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Drawing with dots…

Thus, a beautiful friendship was born.

Many years and a bagillion birthday cards later, we still talk almost every day (texting counts as talking, right?) even though we haven’t lived in the same city since 2005. She’s the person I call when pretty much anything happens – big or small. Like: “Lisa, I only slept five hours last night.” “Lisa, I can do a headstand!” “Lisa, I spend too much on groceries.” “Lisa, I hate everyone.”

We’ve been to Croatia and Peru, and today we embark for Scotland. In a couple of months, we will circle the globe to Vietnam.

There’s a lot of things I would like to change about this fundamentally unfair world we live in, but this isn’t one of them. At the risk of being overly sentimental, I’m very lucky to have a friend I can literally and figuratively share the world with.

Off to Scotland, bitches!

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The dynamic duo hiking in Pennsylvania circa 2009

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The dynamic duo in Croatia in 2012

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The dynamic duo in Peru in 2014

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The dynamic duo in 2015

 

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Holy Egg Shells Batman, I’m Going to Vietnam

I have two very exciting pieces of news.

1) I booked a winter trip to Vietnam with my amazing friend Lisa!

2) I finally liquadated my Delta miles – my least favorite miles that were bound to lose value the longer I held onto them.

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Okay, let me back up. Lisa has been dying to take a trip to Asia, and I have finally shaken the miserable memories of my incapacitating jet lag from my last Asia trip. So we debated between a handful of Asian countries I haven’t yet been to – India, Vietnam, Indonesia – and settled on Vietnam. The fact that Delta had business class tickets available for only 70,000 miles each way – well, that was just the pickle on the awesome sandwich that is my life.

Many travel bloggers have written extensively about Delta’s disappointing awards program. Only last week, Delta further devalued their program. I’ve been sitting on over 140,000 Delta miles for a couple of years, a result of actual butt-in-seat miles and stupid credit card signs-up when I first started playing this crazy game. (Remember when I thought a 30,000 sign-up bonus from Delta was a steal? Hahahaha.) But even the worst programs have a sweet spot, and I found Delta’s. Both Korean Air and Vietnam Airlines are Skymiles partners, and I managed to find business class seats in both directions for 70,000 miles a piece and a total of $105.30.

Check out the map of our flight itinerary below (though I haven’t booked the intra-Vietnam flights yet):

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HOUSEKEEPING ITEMS

I’ve updated a couple of items on the blog to make life easier for people who want to find things. Namely:

1) I’ve updated many destinations in the travel gallery if you’re looking to get a quick photographic taste for a particular city/state/country.

2) I’ve created a category dropdown menu at the top if you’re looking for all posts having to do with a particular topic.

3) You can also now follow me on Instagram.

4) If you don’t give a flying fuck, that’s okay too.

Cheers!

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Part #10: Highlights and Lowlights

Part #1: How I Quietly Fell in Love with Japan
Part #2: Getting Around Kyoto
Part #3: Bamboos Galore!
Part #4: The One in Which I Did Not Get Attacked By a Monkey
Part #5: In Search of a Geisha
Part #6: The Not-So Silver Silver Pavilion
Part #7: Orange I Glad I Made it to Inari?
Part #8: The Very Gold Golden Pavilion
Part #9: First Class Baby!

My second trip to Asia was many things: Amazing, exhausting, eye-opening, cold, beautiful, empowering, and scary. Here are some of my favorite and not-so favorite experiences.

Highlights:

1) Traveling with my sister: This was my sister’s first trip to Asia, and it was exciting to see the excitement of travel through her eyes. She is now off to the Canadian Rockies this summer with my youngest sister, and I’m so excited for them.

2) Kyoto: Japan was a complete surprise. I didn’t have many expectations for Kyoto, and it turned out to be a beautiful, charming, and friendly city. I easily filled four days there.

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3) The Great Wall of China: The Great Wall of China stands out as a top tourist attraction for a reason. It is truly stunning. I highly encourage you to to take a guided tour to a less touristy part of the wall so you can enjoy the splendor without thousands of other tourists.

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4) First-class: Traveling in first class – what is there not to like?

5) The Shanghai skyline: Despite the cold and the numbing sensation in my fingers, the Shanghai skyline was enchanting. The Shanghai Tower – now the second tallest building in the world – was the icing on the cake.

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6) The Shanghai Ghetto: We visited the old Jewish ghetto where my maternal grandparents lived for several years during World War Two. For years, I had listened to my mom tell the story of how her parents escaped the Holocaust. It was extremely meaningful and fascinating to visit the place they called home for five years.

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7) Traveling solo: Yes, traveling by myself for the last couple of days of my trip was slightly terrifying, but it was also empowering. I came home knowing not only that I am capable of traveling solo, but that I am capable of enjoying it.

Lowlights:

1) Jet lag: The jet lag on the way to Asia was no picnic, but the jet lag I endured after I came home was brutal and incapacitating. It was enough to make me swear off of Asia for a year.

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2) Traveling solo: Like I said, the anticipation of traveling by myself in a foreign country was terrifying. All my bravado and wanderlust aside, I’m not very good at being alone. Being alone in a foreign country kicked my normal anxiety into overtime.

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3) Navigating in China: The lack of English and general expanse of China’s mega cities made the simple act of navigating challenging – although not impossible.

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4) The Beijing smog: We were lucky to have a day of clear blue skies in Beijing, but found out just how bad Beijing’s famous smog truly is. There is nothing like a grey curtain hanging overhead to ruin a good picture.

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5) The cold: We knew it would be cold in China so this wasn’t exactly a surprise, but it was still a nuisance.

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Part #9: First Class Baby!

Part #1: How I Quietly Fell in Love with Japan
Part #2: Getting Around Kyoto
Part #3: Bamboos Galore!
Part #4: The One in Which I Did Not Get Attacked By a Monkey
Part #5: In Search of a Geisha
Part #6: The Not-So Silver Silver Pavilion
Part #7: Orange I Glad I Made it to Inari?
Part #8: The Very Gold Golden Pavilion 

After two and half weeks in Asia, it was time for me to return home. I had a great time, but I was looking forward to my apartment, my bed, my television, etc. I was also looking forward to flying first class – YES, FIRST CLASS.

First class on United was only an extra 10,000 miles over business class – 80,000 miles and $61.40 – which was a no-brainer to me. For years, I’ve drooled over reviews of over-the-top first class products on Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, etc. United’s first class does not live up to that standard – not terribly surprising given United’s mediocre business class product. It was more like an extremely luxurious business class seat, but it was still lovely.

First up, I visited the lounge in Osaka’s airport.

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I had a short stopover in Beijing and sprinted to the first class lounge to take some pictures and stock up on diet cokes. The lounge was spacious and lovely. I wish I had a little more time to revel in the luxury.

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Finally, first class, or, FIRST CLASS!

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Part #8: The Very Gold Golden Pavilion

Part #1: How I Quietly Fell in Love with Japan
Part #2: Getting Around Kyoto
Part #3: Bamboos Galore!
Part #4: The One in Which I Did Not Get Attacked By a Monkey
Part #5: In Search of a Geisha
Part #6: The Not-So Silver Silver Pavilion
Part #7: Orange I Glad I Made it to Inari?

Unlike the not-so silver Silver Pavilion, the Gold Pavilion in northern Kyoto is indeed very gold. Kinkakuji, as its known in Japanese, dates back to 1397, but has been destroyed several times and subsequently rebuilt. The current structure was rebuilt in 1955 after it was burnt down by a fanatic monk in 1950. Kinkakuji’s top two levels are covered in gold leaf, hence the title. There isn’t much to do at Kinkakuji but admire the glimmering building and its gold reflection, but that was enough for me.

Kinkakuji is not the most convenient of tourist attractions. The closest subway stop is Kitano-Hakubai cho, and it is still a 20 minute walk north. The more accessible Emmachi Station is a 33 minute walk. I am proud to announce that I took the bus like a genuine local and did not get lost!

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Part #7: Orange I Glad I Made it to Inari?

Part #1: How I Quietly Fell in Love with Japan
Part #2: Getting Around Kyoto
Part #3: Bamboos Galore!
Part #4: The One in Which I Did Not Get Attacked By a Monkey
Part #5: In Search of a Geisha
Part #6: The Not-So Silver Silver Pavilion

If you like the color orange, you’ll love Fushimi Inari-taisha. Fushimi Inari-taisha is the main shrine located at the base of the mountain Inari. The path up the mountain is flanked by thousands of bright orange gates leading to smaller shrines as you climb the steps and leave the tourists far behind. Inari is the patron of business and merchants, and each of the gates (called torii) are sponsored by a Japanese business. This factoid explains some of the charms I found for sale.

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This is the nature of money. This will hope that you can receive lots of money.

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When you met a bad happen, this will save you.

The beginning of the hike is fairly flat and swamped with tourists. As the path climbs, fewer tourists opt to climb with it, and you’ll have thousands of orange gates to yourself. According to the Internet, the more than 10,000 gates date back to 711.

I can see people saying, “What’s the big deal about a bunch of orange gates?” But I was not one of those people. I loved the bright orange torii, and I loved climbing with them high above Kyoto.

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