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, coffee...you 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.  


8 comments:

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

Oh Caroline this is absolutely splendid. What a good writer you are. You have it spot on about breakfasts. You get totally delicious full Welsh breakfasts round here. The component parts are always much the same, maybe with the odd regional variation. You are more likely to get black pudding in northern parts for instance. But the ingredients shoul be bought locally so up here you would get local eggs and sausages from Edwards of Conwy or our local butcher. People would look at you as though you were nuts if you called it a full English breakfast when all the ingredients come from Wales. National pride probably!

MsCaroline said...

Thank you for the kind words, Elizabeth - that means a lot to me, coming from you! I feel the same way about your writing! And you're right about the regional differences - we have an Irish friend we sometimes visit, and he sometimes includes potato farls or soda bread with his breakfasts, but things are mostly the same, only local. Our landlady also made hash browns one morning - for some reason, I thought that was a North American thing! In any case, we definitely enjoyed it, although I have had to diet assiduously ever since we got home!

Trish Burgess said...

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this - informative, even for me as the wife of a Scot, and, as always, very funny too.
What a great weekend: so much more fun than shopping for men's socks.
I had a look at the website for your B&B - hash browns must be a regular part of the breakfast as they are listed!

Nance said...

Your order of gin would be far more scandalous had you asked for Vodka.

The full Scottish Accent is completely glorious and always feels so cuddly to me when I hear it. It is not so cool and aloof as a British accent can be, and not as winky-winky as an Irish accent can sometimes sound. The Scottish brogue makes me feel comforted and warm, as if the person speaking is somehow wiser, maternal/paternal, and will take care of everything.

Love that teeshirt. Probably the end of the Empire if the reverse said, "Oh, alright, but with cream and sugar." ;->

MsCaroline said...

Nance - true. We actually learned that Edinburgh has its own gin distillery as well, so our behavior wasn't as egregious as I'd feared. As far as the Scots accent goes - yes, it's a nice one, and the Edinburgh one is particularly easy for Americans to understand, compared to the sometimes-slippery vowels of the West Country, where we live - probably because of the sharper 'r's (compared to the British accents, that swallow them or let them float away in the air). When I hear those 'r's at home in Bath, I always perk up and assume it's a North American accent. I heard this everywhere in Edinburgh, and it just turned out to be the local burr. The t-shirt ended up coming back with me for a friend's son, but I never thought much about the milk and sugar - many of my Brit friends take it that way - does that make them subversives?


MsCaroline said...

Trish - I must say, though, M&S have a very nice sock selection, although the ties were sad. We'll have to go to John Lewis when he needs those! Funny about the hash browns - we didn't get them the first morning (black pudding) but did get them on the last - I think it just depends on what she's got in the fridge/freezer. Needless to say, you never go hungry! And mind you - while you were waiting for breakfast to cook, you could take the edge off with fresh fruit, yoghurt, or cereal, along with your tea or coffee (funny, all of us drank coffee - I was sure we would be the only ones...) And please extend our compliments to Dougie - we think Scotland's brilliant! ; )

Nance said...

My point was with saying "cream." Any English friends I have are horrified if they are offered cream or half-n-half with their tea. Only milk, ever, they say.

MsCaroline said...

Nance - ah, so that was it. I think what threw me was the inclusion of the sugar in the phrase. I guess I've lived here long enough that I didn't even get the difference since we drink milk in our coffee and tea - when I hear 'cream and sugar' I always mean 'milk' anyway, so I couldn't imagine what you meant!