|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
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
|Nothing says 'Welcome' like whisky. And chocolate.|
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,
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.|
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.|
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.