A weekend in Edinburgh – What to see

I should start this post by saying that I went to Edinburgh alone and in the middle of November, so I’m sure there is much more to do if you’re with other people and it’s warm. The Fringe festival in August every year springs immediately to mind. Having said all this, I think it is very easy to see Edinburgh in a weekend and do it cheaply.

The main things to see in Edinburgh are the castle(s) and Royal Mile, but there are also some less well-known tourist sites that you should not miss. The following guide is basically how I spent my weekend.

I arrived in Edinburgh just before noon on Saturday, having caught the high-speed 7 a.m. train from King’s Cross Station in London. While there are cheaper ways to get to Edinburgh (the coach bus or overnight train), if you only have  a weekend then the high-speed train is really your best option. It takes about 4.5 hours, instead of 7.5 and 9.5 hours for the other two, plus the train gets you right into the heart of the city. If you buy tickets in advance, you can find them for about £50.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh’s most famous tourist attraction. The castle is about 1,000 years old and sits on top an extinguished volcano overlooking the city. Even if you don’t want to pay to go inside, you must make the walk up Royal Mile to the castle. It’s the best view in the city. The castle was an important part of both wars between Scotland and England and jailed prisoners during the U.S. war of Independence, the Napoleonic wars and French Revolution. That’s only a very small snippet of its history, which is on full display when you walk through the castle. The castle has the Scottish Crown Jewels and the National War museum. Fun fact: It houses one of two dog cemetery’s in Scotland. Cost: £14 (No student or youth rate).

Royal Mile

Royal Mile runs from Edinburgh castle to the Palace of Hollywood House (hence its name) and includes many of the tourist shops in Edinburgh. I spent about three hours walking around the street on my visit because I was trying to find a scarf in my family tartan. I eventually managed to find some and bought two. I have since lost both. The Edinburgh festival happens along Royal Mile every summer. If you’re interested in tartans, I would recommend stopping into the Tartan Weaving Mill, which is one block from Edinburgh Castle. You actually get to see how they weave the tartan material (and it’s free).

Palace of Holyroodhouse (Holyrood Palace)

This is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland and she spends time there every summer. Whenever the residence is not being used for royal visits, it is open to the public for tours. The palace stands at the other end of Royal Mile and is about 800 years old. Its most famous tenant is probably Mary, Queen of Scots, also known as Bloody Mary, who was actually killed in the castle. Her apartment within the castle is still there and you can see it on the visit. Cost: £10.50 for adults, £9.50 for students and £6.35 for under 17. Free re-entry for a year, if you get your card stamped.

The Birthplace of Harry Potter

Elephant House Café

Located on George IV Bridge. This tea house is famous as the birthplace of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling sat in the café for months and months writing the first few books (until they got too famous and had to be written in secret). I bought a café latte and a carrot cake for about £4. A must-see if you’re a Harry Potter fan, but delicious food too.

National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland is on Chambers Street, just few blocks down from the Elephant House. It includes all the important artifacts from Scotland’s museum. I was especially interested in the story of the tartan (again… what can I say, I like fashion.) Apparently tartan was outlawed in Scotland for almost 100 years during the jacobite uprisings (wars between different monarchs for the throne.) The collection even includes the body of Dolly, the sheep, the first cloned animal. Cost: Free

Greyfriars Bobby

You can’t visit Edinburgh without taking a picture beside the statue of Greyfriars Bobby. Legend has it that after his master died, he spent 14 years keeping watch over his grave. Across the street from the statue is the cemetery where he is buried. You can spot his grave, by all the sticks placed in front of the headstone.

Europe, North America

Destination wish-list

A photo of Wellington taken from the lookout p...
Image via Wikipedia

I’m sitting on my couch right now, procrastinating working on both an essay and an article that I have to finish by tomorrow. (I still have to do one more interview for my article, and I haven’t even started my essay). So, of course, I started looking up places that I would like to visit and I thought I’d make a list of the places I want to visit in the next five years.

1) Dublin, Ireland – When I was kid, I used to joke that I was a mutt. My family came from a lot of different places, so I don’t really have any one specific strong heritage. Having said that, I have now visited every country of my ancestry, except Ireland, so it’s the next stop on my list. I had decided not to go to Ireland, while I was in London, because of the Euro crisis they were facing at that time, but after they received a bail-out from several other European countries, the situation seems to have improved slightly. I’d actually want to spend a couple of weeks at least, travelling through the country, stopping in Cork, Kilkenny and Galway, as well.

2) Berlin, Germany – Last summer, once I knew that I got the CBC London internship and would be spending the second half of the semester in London, I started planning where I would travel to as soon as I finished my six-week placement. I decided that I would go to Berlin. I spent weeks researching places to stay and things to do, and then my parents announced that they would be coming to visit me at the end of the internship to travel around Europe with me. So instead I went to Italy and Spain. While I had a great seeing both countries, I still haven’t gotten to see Germany.

3) Prague, Czech Republic – Something about Prague, just seems so classy and exotic, and almost like you’re going back in time. Most of you know that I’m studying journalism at Ryerson. Well every year, the secretary sends out this e-mail about foreign correspondence training in Prague. Every year, I keep the e-mail in my mailbox and look at it every few days until the deadline trying to convince myself that I can afford the $2500 CAD price tag to spend 8 days in Prague, which, of course, I couldn’t. Fortunately flights from London to Prague only cost a few hundred dollars, so hopefully, I’ll get to visit this year.

4) Barcelona, Spain – I was in Spain in December, but I only got to visit Madrid, Cordoba and Malaga and I’m dying to see Barcelona. Of course it is the known as the party capital of Europe and I hear there is no better way to spend a few days in the summer. Hopefully, I’ll get to make a three or four-day trip there this summer.

5) Sydney, Australia – I’m pretty sure every Canadian has the wish to visit Australia at some point in their life. I think we figure that being there would be exactly like being in Canada, but much warmer (and therefore infinitely better). I’m toying with the idea of spending a year in Australia after my two years in London (I think it would depend if I was homesick yet or not). I would definitely have to see Melbourne and Adelaide as well.

6) Wellington, New Zealand – I never thought much about New Zealand until I met a good friend from Wellington in London last semester. Seeing his pictures of the city and hearing him talk about it, made me want to go see it for myself. It was also interesting listening to him talk about Australia — it’s the same way I talk about the U.S.

7) New Delhi, India – In third year, I took an international journalism class and we were each assigned a country that we had to cover. I got India. After covering it for three months, I developed a very strong desire to go and see it. I also have a friend doing an exchange there, so of course I’m super jealous. though I would want to be able to spend at least in a month in the country and see a fair bit of it, so this trip might be on the back-burner for a while.

8) Seoul, South Korea – I took taekwondo for 12 years of my life. (I actually hold a 3rd degree black belt). So I’ve always wanted to go to Korea and take a class at the Kukkiwon (World Taekwondo Federation Headquarters… any black belt in the world can take a class).

England, Travel Tips

We’re supposed to speak the same language

While I was in London last semester, I accidentally said something hilarious several times because the word I used meant something different in England.

On one particularly embarrassing occasion, I was walking to the bar in a short skirt and was cold. So I announced to my friends loudly: “I really should have worn pants tonight.” Everyone in the vicinity turned to look at me and then burst out laughing. I had forgotten that in England pants are called trousers and I had just inadvertently told everyone that I wasn’t wearing underwear.

So, I have prepared a rough translation tool from Canadian to English. This list only includes words that actually mean something different in each country.

  1. apartment (CA) = flat (EN), (An apartment would be used to describe a condo)
  2. bill (CA) (paper money) = note (EN) (The other meanings for bill are the same)
  3. biscuit (CA) = scone (EN)
  4. bun (CA) = roll (EN)
  5. bus (as in voyageur) (CA) = coach (EN)
  6. chips (CA) = crisps (EN)
  7. cookie (CA) = biscuit (EN)
  8. drunk (CA) (super drunk as in hammered) = pissed (EN)
  9. eraser (CA) = rubber (EN) (The use of rubber to mean condom doesn’t exist.)
  10. fanny (CA) (means ass), kind of cutesy word = (EN) (means vagina) NOT cutesy
  11. football (CA) = American football (EN)
  12. fries (CA) = chips (EN)
  13. jello (CA) = jelly (EN)
  14. jelly (CA) = jam (EN)
  15. jumper (CA) = pinafore dress (EN)
  16. muffin (CA) = bun (EN)
  17. pants (CA) = trousers (EN)
  18. pharmacist (CA) = chemist (EN)
  19. pissed (CA) = angry (EN)
  20. soccer (CA) = football (EN)
  21. sweater (CA) = jumper (EN)
  22. subway (CA) = underground/tube (EN)
  23. tank top (CA) = vest (EN)
  24. underpass (CA) = subway (EN)
  25. underwear (CA) = pants (EN)
  26. vest (CA) = waistcoat (EN)

Pronunciation guide

  • Leicester = Lester
  • Gloucester = Gloster
  • Leinster = Lenster
  • Clerkenwell = Clarkenwell
  • Shire = sure
  • Ham =’am (eg. Tottenham) = (Tottenam)
  • Featherstonehaw = Fanshaw

Other Oddities

In Canada, the first floor and the ground floor are the same thing, so floors go G,2,3,4,5, or 1,2,3,4,5. In England, the first floor is one floor up from the ground floor, so floors go G,1,2,3,4 or 0,1,2,3,4.

If you want to order a coffee with milk or cream in it, make sure to order a flat white coffee, otherwise it will be black. Also water comes in flat or fizzy.

In Canada, I would never, ever say the c-word, but in England it gets tossed around all the time. Also remember that fag in the UK means a cigarette.

A last note

I found it was best to always ask for the toilet when I was in London. While they might understand you if you say bathroom, you’ll get a confused look if you ask for the washroom or worse, the restroom. I felt weird saying loo or lav, especially because they are typically used in different settings. Loo is considered lower class, while lav is considered upper class. Using the wrong word in the wrong place might either make you look uneducated or a snob…. toilet is safest.

England, Europe, Expat

Should I SWAP or not?

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m planning to move to London after I graduate. I’m thinking about moving during the first week of July, which means I should start my visa application in the next few weeks. As a Canadian citizen, I’m eligible to apply for the Youth Mobility Scheme visa.

The scheme is open to people from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Monaco and it gives you a two-year working visa for anywhere in the UK. The only requirement is that you are under the age of 30 and you can prove that you £1600 in maintenance funds, (in case it takes you a few months to find a job).

I meet these qualifications, but I’m a little worried about making a mistake on my application form and not sending in the correct additional documents. Because of this I’ve looked into a program called SWAP, run by Travel Cuts, the travel agency owned by the Post-Secondary Students unions in Canada.

The program costs $525 and actually submits your visa on your behalf, gives you information on taxes and offers what it says is an exclusive tax exemption of 23 per cent, as well as helping you apply for the national insurance card and a bank account and helping you find a job, membership to the international student house in London, a pre-departure session where you meet other people on SWAP, social events in London and two nights accommodation in London when you first arrive.

I’ve spoken to the people at Travel Cuts and while they seem really knowledgeable and friendly, I think $525 is a lot of money to pay a program that doesn’t even guarantee a job placement, especially considering I’ve already lived in London and have friends there. Though, it would be easier to have someone walk me through the visa process, since I’ve never had to do it before and I am a bit worried about applying for the national insurance card. Has anyone has used SWAP or a similar program? Is the money worth it?

Travel Tips

A Semester or Internship Abroad – Part 2, Settling in

Congratulations, you made it. Get ready for some of the best months of your life. The main things you’ll need to keep in mind are keeping yourself and your things safe and not running out of money.

When you first arrive, buy a transit pass. Unless you’re living in a very small town, you’ll be taking transit everywhere. You’ll might also want to go to a mobile shop and buy a pay-as-you-go sim card. I didn’t know this, but outside of North America, you don’t have to pay for incoming calls. So if your family calls you on your cellphone long-distance. It costs you nothing. Depending how much money you brought with you, you might also want to consider opening a bank account.

Don’t be surprised is you experience some culture shock after a few days. Even if you’re staying in a country with a similar culture as your own, you’ll find that the little changes really get to you. This is going to sound silly but when I was in London, I got frustrated when the doors didn’t open the way I expected. (In Canada, all doors must open out so people can get out in case of fire, but this wasn’t the case in London.)

To look less like a tourist, I printed off a map of the city on a regular sheet of paper. This way if I got lost, I wasn’t advertising it to everyone. This doesn’t work for everyone, but if you have a smartphone with GPS, consider keeping it on as you walk around. Then, if you get lost, you can quickly figure out where you are and simply look like you’re checking your messages. If you carry a purse, make it one that you can completely cover with your arm.

Keeping track of your money is definitely not easy. I found it best to only keep the amount of cash I needed for the day in my purse and then replenish my cash every morning. This way I didn’t spend more than I had budgeted for the day. When it came to spending money, I told myself I would spend it on items that gave me the most bang for my buck. When I would go out for a day of site-seeing, I’d buy sandwich fixings at the supermarket and then have a picnic in the park. I’d save my money for sites that I would remember for a long time. (Heading to the market is also a good way to get cheap food and an experience). Whenever, I stayed at a hostel with breakfast, I would discretely save buns and meat to make a sandwich for lunch.