Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Chapter 7: Can you hear the pipes?

After having breakfast and saying our goodbyes we left the Astor Hyde Park Hostel and headed out. We'd decided to catch the number 10 bus instead of the Tube because it went directly to Kings Cross Station, we wouldn't have to change trains and it was a lot cheaper. We walked across the road and waited for the bus and climbed aboard realising straight away that we weren't going to be able to get upstairs let alone sit down due to our huge backpacks strapped to both our front and back.

We squished in and tried not to knock anyone out. The Bus made its way slowly up Oxford St, thanks largely to the second day of the post-Xmas sales and the resulting crowds. By now we were starting to worry as we were getting close to our departure time and we weren't even half way to where we needed to be.

We stood side by side waiting and waiting for the Bus to say it had arrived at Kings Cross Station and when it finally did we had less than 10 minutes till the train left. We ran into the station and found the automatic ticket dispenser. The easiest machine ever, using the credit card that we booked the tickets with 2 months earlier, we instantly grabbed out dispensed tickets.

We found our way into a huge open train station like I hadn't seen before. It had as many lines as the huge station in Bangkok or back home at Spencer St in Melbourne, but it was all made out of wood with vaulted ceilings. We walked past platform nine and three quarters to our platform, secure in the knowledge that we had a few minutes to spare and found our train and our allocated chairs.

We were facing backwards and sitting down, but that was the end of the similarities between this and any train we'd caught before. The chair had sturdy tables that came down off the back of the seat in front of us. Similar to an airplane, but more solid. There was a power point on the floor next to the window to plug in your laptop and free wifi! This was amazing.

As we pulled out of the station Drew Skype called his parents, though due to the overuse slowing the bandwidth it was easier just to use text chat. We played on the net, ate a dodgy meal from the food car. We watched the snowy English landscape change into a wild Scottish countryside marvelling as the flat lands changed into rolling hills so quickly once we were over the border.

People got on and got off the train as we stopped on our way to Edinburgh and we realised that there was a huge lack of seats. People were standing in the walkways packed together so tightly that they could hardly move with all there belongings at their feet stopping people from being able to squeeze past.

Overhearing conversations we discovered that you can book allocated seated or non allocated seated tickets. Non allocated seating was cheaper, but they still sold them after they sold out of allocated seating meaning that all the people with non allocated seating were standing up and like late day female commuters in high heels, all vying for the one seat that gets freed up each time someone gets off the train.

If you went to the toilet you'd come back to Drew or me trying to explain that the person sitting in the spare seat would be back and no, they couldn't take the seat. As amusing and oddly embarrassing as this was, we will never forget the people that had to stand up the whole way and will never book unallocated seating. What a horrible time they had with little kids crying and parents at a wits end. They couldn't even sit on the floor because they'd just have to get up for someone to go around them.

We pulled into Edinburgh station and as it was almost 3:30pm it was about dark. We made our way into the foodcourt at the station to find a map and a toilet (which you have to pay for in Scotland). The map was quite hard to find and the city was being descended upon for New Year. We tracked a dodgy map down with adverts all over it and found our way out of the station.

When we came out of the tunnel onto the street we were immediately overwhelmed by the old stone buildings. We walked along past so many dark towering buildings that even with the map we were starting to second guess our ability to find our way. We turned a corner and asked some policemen who, with adorable Scottish accents, pointed us in the right direction.

We walked up a small alleyway and out onto what could only be the main street in the old town. It stretched as far as we could see down to the sea in one direction and up to what from this angle looked like more buildings on the hill. The afternoon sun had set by now and visibility was quickly slipping away, much like our feet underneath us on the slippery ice covered stone.

We followed the map and the Policeman’s directions and walked up past a lot of Scottish themed souvenirs shops and onto the quieter street that our hotel was on. We walked around the corner and noticed the amazing view that left us standing in the cold staring. It really was Castle Rock!

The huge castle standing on top of the hill in the middle of Edinburgh was monolithic and Gothic in the encroaching dark and we were left feeling overwhelmed by the sight. In the end the cold got to us and we made our way into the hostel and checked in. There was going to be a meet and greet tonight and we would have a few hours to kill before then. We made our way down to our room past the suits of armor and the huge murals on the walls. Our room was a huge open space with our bunk beds all pushed up against the walls leaving a large open space in the middle of the room.

We wandered outside and walked down through the town a little bit. We made our way out of the old town and over the other side of the parks where we walked into some of the newer shops and picked up some bits and pieces we wanted. Slowly we made our way back towards the hostel with more “oohing” and “aahing”. We slipped into a pub just up from the hostel and grabbed some dinner and a drink.

After relaxing a little bit we headed back to the hostel and met with some of the people we'd be touring with. We went down to a bar called Dracula's and had some free shots and some normal drinks. We chatted to some people and met out driver whose name was Neil, who would turn out to be the best tour guide ever! We had some competitions and won some Macbackpackers stuff and then made our way back to the hostel for bed. Tomorrow would begin out great Scottish adventure and we couldn't wait to get started!