We ate breakfast at our hotel today (it was just yogurt, toast, and jam, and we missed our English breakfasts from London a little) and then set off for Edinburgh Castle. We took a bus ride up most of the hill to it, and then walked up part of the Royal Mile before arriving at the castle. Mickey and I started our Edinburgh Castle experience with a guided tour. The guide's name was Gavin. He had a great Scottish accent and was hilarious, calling the movie Braveheart a travesty and using expressions like "as useful as a chocolate teapot." He showed us what all the buildings at the castle were and some interesting facts, like that the first archaeological remains on the site of the castle dated to 850 BC, so there's been some sort of structure up there for almost 3000 years, and no one really knows when it first appeared. Like most of the castles we've seen, this one has been added onto over the years. Unlike the other castles, this one is still a military base and contains the house of the governor of Edinburgh. It is also the location of the National War Museum of Scotland, the Scottish National War Memorial, and the Honours of Scotland (the crown, scepter and sword of the kings and queens of Scotland).
Today we traveled to Edinburgh! This involved a four-hour train ride from London to Edinburgh, which wasn't bad at all, because we purchased things from the snack trolley going through (mainly to further emulate Harry Potter's first trip to Hogwarts even more--we left from Kings Cross station and everything!) and looked at the beautiful scenery out the window. The English countryside is mainly very, very green rolling hills spotted with sheep, horses and dairy cows. There are also some really beautiful old stone or brick buildings, stone bridges over brooks, and fields of some sort of crop with yellow flowers. As we progressed further into Scotland, we were also privileged to views of the ocean and the Firth of Forth and patches of evergreen forest.
The highlight of today was the Tower of London! We started with a tour by one of the Yeoman Warders, or 'Beefeaters', who actually live at the Tower and know all about it. The tour was very entertaining and he pointed out the many uses this place has served--from the royal mint to a zoo to a palace for the royalty to its most infamous purpose, a prison. He told us a lot of stories about different beheadings and prisoners at the Tower, and managed to make that subject entertaining and informative.
Today was another busy day in London! We set off a bit later than usual because of our late night at the performance of Wicked last night, and our first stop was the Hard Rock Cafe shop, because a few of the group wanted to purchase souvenirs there. We then headed past several war memorials and arrived at Wellington Arch. We went to the top, where we could see the mounted royal guardsmen passing through the arch, and took a few pictures. Then we hurried off to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard.
Today was a great day--we took a 1.5 hour train ride to Warwick Castle and got to see part of the English countryside, which was very pretty--lots of sheep, dairy cows, and a few horses, with pretty rolling hills and everything is very green! (Our guess was that it's because it rains so much here).
The castle was very big, and the most fun I had was climbing up on the towers and ramparts, but we also got to see the splendid living areas in the castle, a peacock garden (full of live peacocks), and went through a little tour called "Kingmaker." It was a great time.
We started our second day in London with a hearty English breakfast of beans, bacon, and eggs over easy at our bed and breakfast. Beans for breakfast was better than it sounds, though the bacon was more like ham than what we think of as bacon. We also had some toast and fresh-squeezed orange juice, so it was a strong start to the day. Michaela and I also stepped out to have a look at our hotel's garden, and it was very pretty! Afterwards we headed to Waterloo station and then took a half hour bus ride to Hampton Court. (And yes, I did end up with "Waterloo" by Abba stuck in my head all day).
Well, after a very long layover at the Minneapolis airport and an uncomfortable flight almost as long, we made it to London! We got through customs, got our luggage, and got on the Underground towards our hotel. It didn't really start to feel like we were in a different city until the subway started going above ground and we could see all the classic English houses. When we got off the Tube and started lugging our suitcases through busy streets, lined with buildings of many different architectural styles and teeming with black taxi cabs and double-decker buses, it really started to sink in that we were in the UK! We are staying at a little bed and breakfast place on Gower Street, which so far has been great. :)