A Chilly Graduation Trip

Back at the end of January and beginning of February Paige and I took a quick trip over to Edinburgh for a few days. Paige has always wanted to go, particularly because of all the Harry Potter related landmarks around the city, and since we were able to get on the flights and found a wonderful, historical Airbnb right in the Grassmarket by the castle…it seemed like a great, albeit really, really cold, time to go!

After arriving, we bundled up and hiked up to check out Edinburgh Castle. Then we wandered around Victoria Street (which was literally only about a 5 minute walk from our flat). Victoria Street was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books…and we look wandering around the cute shops.

We also found Elephant House, and Spoon, where J. K. Rowling wrote the first few Harry Potter books…

Right there by Elephant House, in the same neighborhood, is the George Herriot School and Greyfriars Kirkyard. J. K. Rowling could see the Herriot School from Elephant House as she was writing, and it was the inspiration for Hogwarts. She would frequently take breaks and walk through Greyfriars, which also provided inspiration in the form of some familiar names….

We took a day trip to Stirling one day, and wandered around the town and toured the castle…

We also did a history-comedy-walking tour of Edinburgh…which was fantastic!

And finally, we toured Holyrood Palace and Holyrood Abbey. We walked around the Scott Monument, we traversed the Royal Mile, and explored Mary Kings Close. We shivered a lot, it’s true (we’re Florida girls!) but we loved every minute of our chilly Scottish, Harry Potter adventure!

Arrived in Spoleto

When we arrived in Italy, we had only the vaguest of plans of where we would go and where we would stay (after Milan.) Our plan was, basically, to be vagabonds – albeit, middle-aged vagabonds. We had a loose plan of trying to fit in a few days in Venice, Florence, Rome…and maybe Siena in Tuscany.

Obviously, our plans have changed a bit. We decided on Spoleto in Umbria rather than Siena in Tuscany, for several reasons. First, haven’t you heard? “Umbria is the new Tuscany.” Or so they say. But seriously, Siena is supposed to be great, but I started researching Spoleto and fell a bit in love with it. And after the overload of tourists in Florence (we loved Florence, we did! But next time we go will be in the middle of winter, rainy season, with few tourists!) we decided to cut Venice out of our plans. We just couldn’t deal with yet another crazy, tourist laden, city where you can barely walk. So we’ll plan another trip in the off season to visit Venice.

But, in the meantime, here we are in Spoleto. Spoleta is an ancient city in Umbria in the Apennine foothills. The Roman name was Spoletium. The first historical mention of Spoletium is the notice of the foundation of a colony there in 241 BC. After the Battle of Lake Trasimene (217 BC) Spoletium was attacked by Hannibal. The inhabitants fought back fiercely and sent Hannibal and his elephants packing! During the Second Punic War the city was a useful ally to Rome…and there are reminders of Rome everywhere.

Roman arch, first century BC

Column from old Roman temple, first century AD

Teatro Romano

Edinburgh Day 3 – Linlithgow 

One of my favorite things to do while visiting Europe is to hop on a train and take a day trip to another town. Rail travel is so simple and affordable in Europe that it makes it quite easy. In the past, we’ve visited Provins in France, Enkhuizen in The Netherlands, Bruges in Belgium, and on our visit to Scotland we decided to hop on ScotRail and visit Linlithgow.

Linlithgow Palace sits on a hill overlooking a loch and has been a royal residence since the 1100’s. Mary, Queen of Scots, was born there. 

In 1746 a fire destroyed much of the palace and it has remained uninhabited ever since. 

Tim and I thoroughly enjoyed clamboring around in the ruins, exploring the palace – from the wine cellars to the Great Hall to the King’s bedchamber and the towers. King James IV’ beautiful fountain still stands in the courtyard and the massive fireplace in the Great Hall is still intact and quite splendid. 

The Great Hall. Long tables would have been positioned down the length of the Hall, tapestries would have hung on the stone walls, and statues would have sat on the pedestals above the tapestries. 


This large fireplace in the kitchen would have held spits for cooking meats. There was also an oven for cooking breads and an additional fireplace. 

The imposing and massive fireplace in The Great Hall

The chapel

St. Michael’s Church sits next to Linlithgow Palace. The original, old part of the church was consecrated in 1242 (although before that it had been a Druid site of worship) and the “newer” part of the church was built in the 1500’s. Oliver Cromwell occupied Linlithgow Palace in 1650 and his cavalry and horses occupied the church. There are still marks in the stone walls from where his men sharpened their swords on the walls. 


Grooves in the wall from Cromwell’s men sharpening their swords. 

It was a fantastic day. History + ruins = happiness. Even after being destroyed by fire and being exposed to the elements for centuries, Linlithgow Palace is magnificent. 

That evening we decided to do one of the many walking ghost tours in Edinburgh. 

Honestly, it wasn’t really that scary. Slightly creepy at times, yes, but also fun and very informative. We learned about (and walked through) the vaults. We also walked through Greyfriars Kirkyard and Tomb of Sir George Mackenzie and the Covenanter’s prison.