The ominous sky was a promising start. Delving right into tourist mode, I started in New Town and wove between the streets before finding at a vegetarian/vegan piano bar for a quick bite to eat. I sat on the “lonely singles side” of the restaurant (it was a scene out of a sitcom I promise you) and enjoyed my salads while taking a moment to study the city map I picked up at the airport tourist office. The lady finishing up her meal sitting directly across from me struck up a conversation – whoa, way to catch me off my Parisian guard! We conversed about life, she a Scottish self-employed professional balancing a busy work and travel schedule while care-taking for her mother who lives in England. We well-wished each other before parting ways. That conversation was the first of many I would share with other travelers and locals during my brief trip to super-friendly Edinburgh.
Lesson one when traveling around Edinburgh: ignore any and all weather forecasts. Layer and laugh at the changing weather patterns that delight throughout the day. Oh, and wear layers, did I mention that already?
Lesson two: you need exactly 1 pound 60 cents for the bus and dare I mention that bus drivers don’t announce the stops. The consolation prize, aside from punctuality, is the classic double decker aspect that allows for space to sit but also to enjoy free wifi! Bonus! The bus driver drove with extreme confidence zooming around like the scene out of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban. (It’s a funny scene). Fortunately for me, people were getting off at every stop and I found my gracious host easier than imagined.
I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do in Edinburgh, but the only thing I committed to paper was visiting the Edinburgh castle.
The day was cold and full of wintery goodness. I started my castle visit with the National war museum where it was toasty warm. I was just about done when I overheard another tourist say to another that it was time to go the canon ceremony. So I followed the herd until I was met with every visitor clustered around every view point where the canon was sequestered away. I stood on my tippi-toes (and I’m 5’9) to get a partial view of the captain giving the rules and some history before he lite the canon he timed precisely (to his watch). The impressive sound it gave off once detonated had all cell phone photographers a little surprised. A generalized chuckle resounded among the crowd. I doubt any first time goers got a good shot of the shot, (excuse the pun!) unless their cameras were on tripods and they were professional photographers! What about my photo you ask? Blurry. Why? I jumped when the canon went off.
The sleet started to fall when it was time to gather at the meeting spot for the 30 minute tour. An elderly Canadian senior from Winnipeg happened to ask me if she was at the right spot and then proceeded to talk my ear off until well after the tour and the hilarious reenactment in the Great Hall. She was a widow in her 80s traveling to Europe alone for the first time. She had signed up with CAA to travel with a group from Canada. She told me her kids were concerned and told her she shouldn’t travel to Europe and the UK but she was happy she came anyways. I was proud of her!
The entrance ticket price to visit the castle is steep but after 3-hours of wandering around including a quick whiskey tasting, it was time to move on!
Following this fabulous start to my day, I roamed around Royal avenue and some other cute side streets like Lawnmarket until I finally found Mary’s Milk Bar. It is a vintage-like looking ice cream parlor with a devilish hot chocolate! After the sugar from this decadent delicious sugary drink hit my veins, I continued my window shopping around the windy streets.
Missing the museum hours, I wandered to St. Giles church where I finally heard my first bagpiper in Scotland who was being heavily photographed across the street. As soon as I stopped to listen, he stopped playing whatever he was playing and then started to play “Amazing Grace”. Quite the emotional trigger for me. I was transported back to my mom’s funeral 10 years before when we had hired an extraordinary bagpiper to play Amazing Grace as per her request. She would have loved this moment I am sure! Once he changed songs, I visited, only briefly, this young church founded in 1124.
I walked to New Town in search a pub that was recommended. Unfortunately upon entering this public house, there was an overpowering aroma/smell (choose the word most fitting) of body odor that forced me to leave quickly! My throat burned as I spent the better part of the next city block coughing. Not all pubs were like that, just for the record. I popped into Neal’s Yard for a hit of natural aromatherapy and recalibration. Hallelujah! I chatted and learned a lot from the sales clerk as she welcomed me to finish the tea in the thermos prepared for visitors. Super hungry, I then walked along George street and chose a spot called Cafe Analuz for some tapas. Not exactly traditional Scottish fair but I enjoyed some spicy delights before heading back to my friendly abode in Leith.
To start my second day in Edinburgh, I was planning a long walk near the sea and of Leith’s water walk. Did you catch the part where I said ‘was planning?’ I was about 15 minutes into it when gale force winds and hail came with a vengeance. I used my umbrella as a type of force field sheild of protection. However, these powerful winds quickly destroyed my beloved Parisian pocket umbrella that had a French existence before the UK. Scotland – 1, Parisian precious umbrella – 0. Well played Edinburgh, well played. *Sigh*
Not quite in the mood for feeling at sea on stormy day, I walked back to the bus stop, shifting the itinerary I was making up as I went. My first stop was the National Museum of Scotland where I skipped the permanent collection in exchange for the attractive looking Celts exhibition featuring over 300 objects from across the UK and Europe. Stunning!
Embodying my no-rest-for-the-wicked-policy, I walked to the Writer’s museum featuring the stories and artifacts of three great Scottish writers – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. It was a cute and small museum definitely worth the stop over. Back into the rain, I stopped by a lovely shop to try a bit of Scottish tablet (fudge). You just need a little! These fudge shops are filled to the brim with endless flavours which invoke a certain amount of agonizing – but in a good way.
That evening I went to a local pub in Leith (walking distance from the apartment) and ordered a pint before realizing there was no where to sit in this packed to the rafters watering hole. And after a long day of standing and walking, some newly appearing sun and cloud inspired me to find a piece of dry bench outside. I befriended an English couple and their newly adopted dog and we chatted for a good while. They told me of their love for Scotland and that they bravely bought a home just last year. They couldn’t be happier!
Photos from around Leith, near the Pub
They asked me to dine with them but as we were about to be seated inside the restaurant, they enforced their ‘no-dog-after 6pm’ rule, so we decided to go our separate ways. They did however give me a great recommendation for some authentic curry at a great place called V deep. I enjoyed a 1/2 pint and journalled about my day while I waited for my order. I then took my legitimate curry and large piece of naan bread back to the apartment where I could put my feet up. A solid end to day two!
My last full day (no rain all day!), I decided to visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse where they were featuring an exhibition called: “Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe” in honour of the Queen’s 90th birthday. I took advantage of the audio guide and did a thorough visit inside and outside. The dresses from the exhibition were exquisite to see in person. It is still an active castle where the Queen comes to visit for week at the beginning of the summer and for formal Scottish business.
As no photos were allowed inside, here are a few from the outside including the Ruins of the Holyrood Abbey and part of the garden.
After I had my fill of pretending to be royalty, I ventured to Holyrood park. Heading up the right side of Salisbury Crags I was hopeful that I’d eventually make a turn to Arthur’s seat, mais non. The path I took was a steep incline for good while until forced to shimmy down to street level. Oy vey.
Take Two! I then found ‘the right way’. The New Yorker (now living in London) that I befriended jokingly said that she hated me for being determined to try again! Ha!
It ended up being the perfect day for this hike and I was grateful to make it to the top! I would periodically stop to take photos in order to catch my breath rather than keel over from time to time.
View from around and on top:
I enjoyed blustery winds at the top among the birds that you can see on a video I posted on my Facebook page. Feeling like I had reaped the rewards of this Saturday promenade, I took my now wobbly legs back down to street level.
“Ok” I told myelf: “I can walk back to the Palace and find my bus”. Except, you know how the Brits drive on the opposite side of the road? I kept finding the bus stop going in the opposite direction I needed so I just kept walking. My body begging for a sit-down, I stopped in at this cute coffee nook and enjoyed a Flat white outside while I collected my body before embarking down Easter Road.
After finding a cute bakery and delightful gift shop that would break anyone’s bank account, believe it or not, I then proceeded to walk to the apartment and skipped the bus trip entirely. What’s another 5km after three long days of walking (and hiking)? I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I was however exhausted and although I had made evening plans, I modified it to a quick walk about in the sun around Leith before calling it a night!
It was a great 1st trip to Scotland! And surprise to surprise, my list of places to visit in the UK just grew, again!
I’m not sure where my next adventure will be, but I’ll be sure to loop you in!
Sending loads of love and light wherever you are.