Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Life in England: A Weekend in Edinburgh: The Distillery Tour

MrL is Excited About Whisky
As I'm sure all of you know, Scotland is well-known for its whisky production. MrLogical being an Enjoyer of Whisky (I don't think he's quite at the 'connoisseur' level yet), it goes without saying that our trip to Edinburgh was the perfect opportunity for a closer look at the inner workings of a Real Live Scottish distillery (or two of them to be precise.)

It should be noted that, while I am not a particular Enjoyer of Whisky myself, I don't actually hate it or anything, and I am always up for a new experience, so I did a bit of research and booked us for a 1-day "Discover Malt Whisky" tour.  This was offered by Rabbie's Trail Burners, who specialize in small-group tours, and came highly recommended.

According to the description, we would be traveling in a small group out of Edinburgh to a distillery just north of Glasgow, stopping for a meal and some sightseeing at Loch Lomond, and then looping back to Edinburgh with a stop at a second distillery on the way and a return to Edinburgh around suppertime.  While MrL was looking forward to seeing the distilleries (not to mention sampling the whisky), I was looking forward to seeing the Loch, learning a bit more about Scotland and its history, and finally seeing the countryside which had figured prominently in so many books I'd read over the years.

The tour was set to begin at 9.15, but we arrived almost 40 minutes early at the centrally located pickup point, Rabbie's Cafe, which is owned and run by the tour company.  This was absolutely ideal, because you could grab a coffee or something to eat whilst waiting out of the weather for your tour to start. In addition, there were clean toilets and a large digital display board listing each tour, its guide and start time, and its status ('loading' departed' etc.) (MsC has participated in more than one of this sort of day tour where the meeting place was a chilly/rainy street corner in front of a hotel, and she can assure you that this arrangement was highly preferable.)

Our group consisted of 12 people ranging in age from 20s to mid-50s and covered about 8 nationalities, and our vehicle was a 'mini-coach,' a smallish bus with enormous windows that held about 15 passengers   While we drove through the chilly February rain, our guide, a young woman named Audrey, somehow managed to deftly drive the coach while also regaling us with a variety of facts about Scottish history, folklore, politics, legend, geography, and pretty much anything else you could think of. (Since I am the sort of person who insists on absolute silence when trying to drive somewhere even vaguely unfamiliar, I was in awe of Audrey's formidable multitasking abilities.) 

Our first stop was the Forth Bridge, a cantilever railway bridge built in the late 19th century over the Firth of Forth ('firth' = estuary), a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a symbol of Scotland.  This was not, strictly speaking, part of our tour, but upon learning that all of us wanted to stop and have a look at it (we were passing right by anyway), Audrey obligingly pulled into the parking lot and let us all disembark for  photo ops before continuing on our way.

An hour and a half or so later, right on time, we were pulling into the parking lot of the Glengoyne Distillery.

Sipping the 'wee dram' of whisky which we'd been handed on our way into the reception area, we watched a brief, informative video about the history of Glengoyne (complete with subtitles, in case you didn't quite understand some of the very strong Highland accents) before trooping out to the distillery for the tour of the facility.

 For those of you who are interested in the actual process of whisky making, let me just say that I am not an expert, even after touring 2 distilleries, so I am not going to even to attempt to describe the process for you in detail.  A very brief overview is that it involves water and malt being cooked together, with yeast being added at some point, the product of which is eventually distilled into an alcoholic beverage,

Stills at the Deanston distillery

which is then poured into oak casks and aged. It is the casks (most of which have been previously used to age anything from port to bourbon) that impart the flavor to the whisky.
Who knew that Scotch whisky was aged in  Kentucky bourbon casks? 
Since I am more or less a whisky philistine, it never occurred to me that whiskies could have complex flavors.  Mostly what I noticed is that, when you drink whisky without a mixer, it burns your mouth. Nonetheless, by the end of the afternoon (and the second distillery tour) I was able to appreciate the difference in quality between a 10-year-old and an 18-year-old whisky. Or it could possibly just have been that 5 shots of whisky in one day just made me think I was appreciating the difference in quality. In any case, both tours were very interesting.

Our charming, well-spoken young guide in the duty-free room at Glengoyne.  I was slightly disappointed that he wasn't wearing a kilt, but  I couldn't blame him, given the weather. I was somewhat mollified by the fact that he was wearing tartan trews.
After visiting Glengoyne (which was definitely our favorite of the two distilleries), we piled back into the coach and made the short drive to the cozy Oak Tree Inn, right by the banks of Loch Lomond. Since the day had been chilly, with sporadic rain, we were all happy to get into the warmly-lit dining room. The Inn is a popular stop along the route of the 151-km  West Highland Way walking trail, and, despite the cold and the rain, the restaurant was full of rosy-cheeked walkers in damp waterproofs who had obviously earned their lunches.  MrL and I, who had expended no more effort than it took to climb up a few ladders in the distillery, nonetheless managed to find room for more haggis, Cullen skink, and steak and mushroom pies, accompanied by locally brewed Balhama ales.

Cullen Skink, traditionally made with smoked haddock, is ideal on a chilly winter day.
MrL is waiting for his beer.  It may seem that he is not impressed by the cozy decor, but he really is.
The ever-thoughtful Audrey had given us a generous amount of time for lunch, with enough leeway for those of us who wanted to take a stroll along the banks of the loch to do a bit of sightseeing and take some photos, so after eating we headed out to find a trail that she had mentioned, which was 'down the road a bit, and up the hill."

We walked along a path on the banks of the Loch, crossed the road, found ourselves at the foot of a rough uphill path, and puffing our way to the top, were rewarded with a jaw-droppingly gorgeous view of the loch:

MsCaroline's sense of romance and mystery was fired up by all those distant snow-capped peaks; clearly, MrL did not feel quite the same way...

MrL knows how to appreciate a loch

We had enough time for a few photos before we turned around and headed back in the direction of the parking lot in time to board our coach and head toward distillery #2, Deanston.

After a morning of whisky tasting followed by a hot meal and scrambling up hills in fresh air, MrL and I took advantage of the cozy seats and the warm coach, and dozed a bit (one of the advantages of having someone else doing the driving on a distillery tour) but roused ourselves now and then to listen to one of Audrey's many entertaining and informative tales about various aspects of Scottish history, or listen to some Scottish music.  My favorite story involved the legend behind the folk song, The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, which most North Americans recognize only by its refrain, "You take the high road and I'll take the low road and I'll be in Scotland afore ye" and which turns out to actually be a pretty sad song about two brothers who are taken prisoner by the English and who do not expect to meet again in This World.  Which was a bit of a bummer -but only in a sad, distant, romantic long-ago way -and still added a nice flavor to our drive through the Highlands.

The Deanston distillery, while not as posh as Glengoyle, was warm and welcoming, and - bonus - allowed photos during the distillery tour, of which we took full advantage. As at Glengoyle, the tour ended up in the gift shop, where we all had the opportunity to taste - and buy - a couple different types of whisky.

Our guide, Franz, telling us about the 12-year-old whisky we were about to taste.
By the time we finished our whisky and made our purchases, we were ready to head back to the bus for our return to Edinburgh, with more stories - and more napping for MrL some of us.  As she drove, the ever-helpful Audrey also gave us a plethora of suggestions for ways to spend our evening in Edinburgh - from a bar that regularly featured ceilidhs (pronounced 'kay-lee' - a type of Scottish folk dancing, similar to American square dancing, complete with a caller) to another one that featured live music (including bagpipes) to restaurant recommendations that were off the beaten tourist path.

Arriving back at the cafe in Edinburgh, we headed out into the cold evening to find what every tourist in Edinburgh is yearning for:  good Mexican food. (After 5 years overseas, we had more or less given up trying to find real, authentic Mexican (or Tex-Mex, as most Mexican food is in the USA,) and it is the one thing we still really miss, so anytime we see a hopeful-looking establishment, we try it.)  Anyway, we had seen a small, unassuming-looking restaurant in our wanderings on Friday and, after reading some glowing reviews, thought it might be worth trying out in our never-ending quest for some good Mexican food in the UK.  We were well aware that our chances of getting a table without reservations on a Saturday evening were slim, but we were highly motivated, so we headed to Cockburn Street (one of our favorites, a really eclectic mix of independent shops, restaurants, and pubs) to see if they could fit us in at Viva Mexico.

We took this photo on a Sunday when it was closed, so you can't really get the full effect of the crowds queuing to get a table.

Naturally, it was packed, but (miracle of miracles!) the hostess told us if we came back in an hour, she could get us a table. So, we headed back out into the night to find a pub where we could while away the hour, ending up just a short trip down the street at The Malt Shovel, which was also packed with people, but that didn't matter since you can drink just as easily standing up as sitting down.  While we were standing there, we chatted with the 2 middle-aged gents standing next to us who turned out to be expert Scuba divers who had been diving pretty much everywhere in the world and regaled us with their tales of WWII wreck dives off the Scottish coast and the excitement that comes from diving in a loch. (Note:  MsCaroline is certain that diving in a loch - or any other cold water - has many untold charms, but she freely admits that she is more of the 'tropical blue water and coral and clownfish' sort of scuba diver, and she is happy to leave the wreck diving in the cold waters of Scotland to the professionals.)

Eventually, the hour came to and end, and we headed back to Viva Mexico with an air of anticipation, hoping that our wait had been worth it.  No need to fear: it had been.

What looks like a tiny storefront restaurant is actually much larger, with a good-sized dining room downstairs - authentically decorated with a mix of Mexican folk art and a dash of kitsch.

Starting with the authentic basket of hot tortilla chips and salsa down to the just-right pitcher of margaritas, we were pleased at every step.  The meal we ordered (enchiladas for MrL, beef and chicken fajitas for me) would not have been out of place in a restaurant in San Antonio - and from us, that is high praise.  We hardly even spoke, just ate and reveled.

The take-away from this experience? If you want authentic Mexican food in the UK, you won't go wrong in Edinburgh.

Replete with the sort of haze that can only come from drinking a pitcher of margaritas after touring 2 distilleries a day spent enjoying the Highlands, we headed off into the evening toward our cozy B&B to plan out our adventures for the next day, which would be our last.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Life in England: A Weekend in Edinburgh, Part II

We'll have to try these on our next visit.

Note:  This is the second in my series about our weekend in Edinburgh. In my last installment, we were wandering down the Royal Mile, looking for lunch.  You can find Part I here.

While we enjoyed the shops and the many lovely historic buildings, what we found really interesting along the Royal Mile were the closes.  close is sort of a 'lane' or even an 'alley' - a very narrow walkway between 2 buildings.

 These can be found all along the Royal Mile, tucked between the shops and restaurants -and were once themselves full of stands and stalls as well as people going about their daily business(how they all fit, I've no idea.)  Today (no doubt due to Health and Safety regulations) they are empty of everything but pedestrians, but still narrow and a bit dark (Edinburgh had some of the earliest 'skyscrapers' even in the Middle Ages, with some buildings as tall as 14 storeys, which effectively block out much of the sunlight.)  The old buildings and cobblestoned streets make it all seem very romantic and historical.  The closes were often named after the businesses  to be found within the close:

We ended up finding a bar/restaurant in the Advocate's Close (no idea what an Advocate was, unless it was some sort of medieval attorney) called The Devil's Advocate, which got extra points in my book from the very beginning for such an excellent play on words, and extra points in MrL's book for stocking a wide variety of local ales and beers. It featured a cozy interior, about a bazillion types of whisky, and a simple, but sophisticated lunch menu:

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That's my 'do not take a photograph of me I've been wearing a hat all morning' face, which is hardly attractive.  But isn't the place cozy?
After we'd thawed out with some stout and lamb burgers with goat cheese and beetroot tzatziki (I would never have thought of this combination, but it was excellent), we wrapped ourselves up and headed out to see some more of the city.  

At this point, as it was still bitterly cold, windy, and sporadically raining, we decided that seeing something indoors would be an excellent plan, which is how we ended up at the Surgeon's Hall Museums, a place that had been on my list for quite a while due to its historicity, obscurity, and creepiness - all things that MrL and I enjoy (in moderation, of course.) As we approached the building, we could see that, if the banners and courtyard art were anything to go by, we'd be experiencing quite an afternoon:

There's nothing like the Hand of Sauron wielding a bone saw to let you know you're in for a treat.
As Edinburgh is the home of one of the UK's oldest and respected schools of Medicine, it makes sense that it would also house a museum featuring a mind-numbing array of historic medical and scientific paraphernalia. Visitors can be deeply grateful they live in the modern era view the development of medicine from the earliest times through the modern day, starting with ancient Latin texts listing diseases, symptoms, remedies, and treatments, most of which seemed to involve removing the majority of the patient's blood, or administering medicines made of things that, today, would probably be classified as biohazards(urine was a popular ingredient.) As far as we could tell, the practice of medicine didn't seem to greatly enhance anyone's lifespan until sometime in the late 1800s, when physicians started to (grudgingly) wash their hands between patients and some decent anesthesia arrived on the scene. (It is true that early anesthesia did often kill the patients, but it was, apparently, greatly preferred to the 'here, bite on this rag while these burly lads hold you down' variety.) The history of anesthesia (or, rather, the lack of it), medical technology ancient and modern, dentistry, and surgery (in the days before anesthesia, 'quick'= 'good')  were all featured in a variety of exhibits and there were lots of evil-looking ancient medical instruments on display as well.

Photographs are not allowed in the museum.  This is the one MrL snapped of the display case in the reception area, which should give you some idea of what we were walking into.
The crowning disturbing glory was the Pathology Museum, which contained hundreds (thousands?) of glass and plastic tanks, containers, and jars holding every possible body part (or sometimes entire bodies,) affected by every imaginable disease, floating in peaceful, disembodied repose in row upon row of labeled shelves. These samples, we learned, are still studied by medical students today. (Note: While the various pickled organs, appendages, and extremities are undoubtedly immediately recognizable to your average medical students, civilians like us were often dependent on the labels to figure out what we were seeing.  If you don't know your spleen from your lung from your  fatty lipoma, it all, as MrL observed, 'looks like waterlogged chicken breast.')

We spent an morbid interesting couple of hours wandering through the halls until we both reached our saturation points, such that one more disembodied ear floating in a jar of formaldehyde would have sent us both over the edge.  We agreed that a scenic stroll, some souvenir shopping, and a few strong drinks were in order, so we headed through the streets of the Old Town toward the West End and Usquabae, a celebrated Edinburgh whisky bar and restaurant where we had made dinner reservations.

(Note:  In case you were wondering, "Usquabae" is the Irish  (Gaelic) word for whisky.)  We'd read great reviews of the bar, its whisky selection, the ambiance, and the food, and considered ourselves fortunate to have managed to book a table on Friday night.  We got there a bit early and had a drink in the bar to help us forget all the pathology specimens.   

Yes, we were drinking gin.  In the whisky bar.  So sue us.
By the time we'd finished our drinks, our table was ready in the restaurant, which is in a basement with an incredible 'wine cellar' vibe.  Not a dark, gloomy, cold dying-with-the-cask-of-amontillado wine cellar either, mind you; this one was warm, cozy, and softly lit.  The hostess led us through the main dining room and bar area into one of about 6 little curtained alcoves located all along the periphery.  Each alcove was lined with backlit glass display cases featuring a variety of whiskies (some of which probably cost more than our house.)  MrL and I settled in at our candlelit table for two and proceeded to drool over the menu.

Perusing my menu in the soft glow of the whisky bottles in our private dining alcove.

MrL switched to whisky. And yes, I stuck to gin.  Because I am nothing if not consistent. 

The next few hours passed in a sort of a food coma, during which we ate and drank far too much but we didn't care because vacation.  If you are interested in such things, we ate Cullen Skink (a type of milk-based fish chowder), venison, mussels, Balmoral chicken, haggis, turnip and potato mash, and sticky toffee pudding (whisky-infused, of course.)
Venison and mussels in the foreground.  Chicken, haggis, and turnip and potato('neeps and tatties') mash in the back.
And, yes, I ordered haggis, and it was really delicious.  In fact, as far as I can tell, haggis is more or less the meat loaf of Scotland (the gravy sort of meat loaf, not the ketchup sort) and is very much a yummy comfort food as long as you don't dwell overmuch on its ingredients.  If you question MsC's judgement on this, be aware that, after nearly 4 years in Korea, MsC's concept of 'edible' has broadened, and she will now eat pretty much anything as long as it is not still moving.  

We didn't linger too long over our coffee, since we had to be up early the next morning for our much-anticipated "Experience Malt Whisky" distillery tour.  We paid our bill, wrapped ourselves up, and reluctantly left the cozy warmth of the restaurant to head out through the dreich* evening back to our room.

*dreich:  driːx/ adjective(SCOTTISH)  (especially of weather) dreary; bleak.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Life in England: A Weekend in Edinburgh, Part I

A 'hairy coo' (a type of Highland Cattle) which (it turns out) is Not A Yak.

Note:  For those of you who may not yet have been to Edinburgh (or, if you have, were not aware of this,) let me provide you with this free tip:  Despite its appearance to the contrary, 'Edinburgh' is not pronounced 'Ed-in-burg' as you would expect, and not even 'Ed-in-burrow' (although that's closer) but 'Ed-in-burra.' You're welcome.

One of the things that MrL and I talked about when we found out we were moving to the UK was the fact that we would be so close to the rest of Europe.

With most of  it more or less on our doorstep, we imagined we'd be heading off every available weekend to some exotic locale, taking in the sights and living la Vida loca.

Needless to say, what with coordinating our 3 schedules (#2 was still at home until August) along with the Dog's needs and MrLogical's   puritanical very strong work ethic that made it very difficult for me to ever plan anything in advance - my vision of us as a globe-trotting, jet-setting couple off to points unknown every weekend has not exactly come to fruition, and most weekends find us squabbling over the Cabernet selection at Majestic Wines, schlepping the dog through miles of soggy English countryside, and running lackluster errands (last week it was Marks and Spencer for Men's Socks. Try to remain calm.) If we get really wild, you may find us at a pub with some friends for a few ciders on a Saturday night - before retiring to bed at a decent hour as is consistent with our advancing age.  Of course, it's equally likely you'll find us eating take-away doner kebabs in front of the telly, so rest assured we're not complete party animals.

The point is, while we have traveled a good amount, it's not quite what I'd envisioned.

Nonetheless, we have persevered, and - while we're still spending more weekends running errands than we are flying somewhere, we're starting to tick the boxes off (slowly.) (Since we moved here last year, we have been to any number of Stately Homes and landmarks in the UK, and traveled to 3 countries, so we're not complete couch potatoes.)

I promise to tell you all about it sometime, but I am not going to say when, because I hate deadlines.

The point is, last weekend, we (finally) headed for Edinburgh on one of those weekend jet-setting jaunts I have been envisioning since we moved here just over a year ago.

Neither of us had ever been to Scotland, and, since Edinburgh is only a 55-minute flight from Bristol, we decided that it would be an easy weekend trip with minimum travel time.  The fact that we wouldn't have to loiter at immigration (since we weren't leaving the UK) was an added bonus. Also, MrL had a strong interest in whisky, which the Scottish do rather well, so the matter was settled, and we headed out on a Thursday evening after work.

We got through security relatively quickly, and had just enough time to wolf down some dinner - we started off optimistically at the Brunel Bar and Kitchen (sort of a gastropub, and quite nice for an airport) - until they informed us it would be a minimum of 30 minutes before we could hope to get our food before boarding our flight. So...Burger King it was. (The glamour just never stops, does it?)

For those of you unfamiliar with EasyJet, it is a discount, no-frills airline that serves England and Europe, sort of like JetBlue in the USA, only even cheaper.  Some of the flights to Edinburgh (not ours, sadly) were as low as £19.99 each way (that's about $30) - although the really cheap flights tended to be at less convenient times.  And, of course, as is the case for all discount airlines, you pay for every.single.additional.thing.  (Oh.  You want to choose your seat? That'll be an extra £5.  Want to check in online instead of queuing at the airport? That'll be an extra £6. What? You want to sit in the first 5 rows? Extra £.  You get the picture.)  On the plus side, though, for a 55-minute flight, it really doesn't matter much, and - most importantly - It Is Relatively Inexpensive.

So, we arrived in Edinburgh around 10, and caught a taxi to our B&B. As we climbed in, I gave our driver the street address and then added uncertainly, "Do you want the postcode as well?" (postcodes are far more accurate than the American zip code - they target precisely where you live to the actual street, and they are worth their weight in gold when trying to drive somewhere unfamiliar in the UK using a SatNav(GPS).) The driver, a genial middle-aged Scotsman with a delicious accent, snorted indignantly and said, "Not at all.  This is a proper taxi." (In retrospect, I am somewhat surprised that he didn't add, "I don't need no stinkin' postcode," but I'm sure that's what he was thinking.)

He was, of course, correct, and -sans postcode - had us at the door of the The Victorian Town House just 15 minutes later.  The owner - sort of a magical Scottish combination of Mrs. Doubtfire and Paula Deene (and the level of welcome we got would not have been out of place at a family reunion somewhere in Georgia or the Carolinas, so warm and welcoming was she) was waiting to let us in and show us around despite the late hour.  After filling us in on breakfast time and details about keys and checkout, she left us to collapse in our cozy 'Africa'-themed room and to enjoy shots 'a wee dram' of complimentary (!) whisky before heading to bed.
Nothing says 'Welcome' like whisky. And chocolate.
We slept - as MrL so eloquently put it - 'like the dead' and were shocked to discover that it was already 8am when we finally roused ourselves - almost unheard of for 2 people who are typically up (even on Saturdays) before 6.

Mrs. Doubtfire/Paula Deene was already in the breakfast room with another couple when we arrived and proceeded to simultaneously take our breakfast orders, make introductions, and start the conversational ball rolling with the skill of a seasoned diplomat, and we ended up talking to the other couple (in Edinburgh for a wedding, 4 grown sons, 1 of them living in the US and another in Hong Kong) as we all worked our way through our enormous Full Scottish breakfasts:  eggs made to order, sausages, bacon, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, black pudding, toast, get the idea.  (Note:  as far as we could tell, this was more or less exactly like a Full English, but maybe we were missing some subtleties.)

As an aside; talking to the other B&B patrons at breakfast was actually one of the highlights of our weekend. I've been to plenty of B&Bs where guests - after a brief nod and smile at their neighbors - sit at their tables and communicate in hushed whispers and strained murmurs for the entirety of the meal, but this one had more of the air of Old Home Week.  Our hostess - a past master at the art of conversation - was delightful about introducing her guests to each other every morning and we ended up meeting some lovely and interesting people as a result.

An hour or so later, glutted stuffed full of breakfast and armed with muffins (also provided by our thoughtful hostess 'to have with your coffee later' -I suppose because she was concerned that 3,000 calories' worth of a cooked breakfast might not hold us past 10am)  we headed out the door in the direction of Edinburgh Castle, which was about a 20-minute walk away (probably less time for people who hadn't eaten Full Scottish Breakfasts.)

Edinburgh Castle is one of those 'must-do' items on the list when you are in Edinburgh.  In comparison to many others we've seen since living in the UK, it is in remarkably good repair -a number we've visited have been basically just ruins: splendid, amazing ruins, but ruins nonetheless.  Of course, this Castle has also been used more or less consistently for its entire history (and continues to be used for a variety of purposes today) so that probably has a lot to do with it.  It is less a single castle edifice and more of a small, interconnected town within the castle walls up on top of a huge outcrop of bedrock overlooking the city of Edinburgh and - in the distance - the Firth of Forth(that's an inlet or estuary, in case you're not up on your lochs, firths, and closes - of which more later.)
View of Edinburgh, the Firth, and some distant snow-capped peaks from one of many ramparts in the Castle.
You can easily google 'Edinburgh Castle' for all the historical details if they interest you, so I am not going to include any of them.  Suffice it to say that, when you are standing up on the castle ramparts (I love that I can include the word 'ramparts' legitimately in my blog post), the view of Edinburgh is absolutely magnificent.

The rest of the castle is pretty magnificent, too. It is so huge that there are several museums included within the various buildings, among them:  a museum featuring the Scottish Crown Jewels (smuggled away and buried for years during English rule); a museum that has been made out of the castle's prison (which at one time incarcerated Americans held during the War of American Independence); the Scottish National War Memorial, and the museum of the Royal Scottish Dragoons(a 'Dragoon' is a type of cavalryman.  You're welcome.)
At the entrance to the Royal Scottish Dragoons Museum.  No, I was not incognito.  Yes, it was cold.
As you may also imagine, I found this to be especially touching:

However, as charming and interesting as I found the castle to be, it was difficult to ignore the high-velocity wind, frequent rain showers, and chilly temperatures. There is a good reason that February is considered to be the 'off' season in Edinburgh, which means that we spent far more time inside the various museums within the castle (which, I would add, are waterproof and reasonably heated) than we did taking photos from the ramparts where all the other tourists were jostling cheek-to-jowl. Nonetheless, we spent a pleasant (if chilly) 3 or so hours wandering around before heading down the hill to the Royal Mile in search of food and warmth.

The Royal Mile is a charming, historical cobblestoned street that runs from the Castle directly to the Houses of Parliament, and which is lined with shops, pubs, restaurants, and various historic buildings. It is fairly touristy, but mixed into the aggressive tartan/ bagpipe/knitwear/ t-shirt souvenir tsunami are some lovely, quirky shops, pubs, and restaurants.
Little boy playing the pipes next to St. Giles' Cathedral

Best t-shirt I saw.

Presumably, there were some butchers located here.

 I'll be back tomorrow with Part II, in which we visit the Surgeon's Hall Museum (medieval medical instruments, vivid paintings, specimens in jars) and (daringly) drink gin at one of Edinburgh's most popular whisky bars.