A Day in Edinburgh

March 23, 2012 at 11:57 am Leave a comment

I left you on a cliffhanger with my last post, but as you can see from the title, my mom and I did make it to Edinburgh, although not without a good deal of worrying! We waited in the train station until about 11.30, then collected our luggage and started heading down to the platform. After a few minutes, a couple of other travelers joined us, and we figured out that they were in the same boat as we were. Once they began boarding, we talked to the conductor, and he was pretty sure we’d be able to get on, although he managed to convince us that we didn’t want a sleeper compartment (something about our suitcases being large). And a few minutes before the train left, we were finally ushered onto one of the coaches. The seats on the Caledonian Sleeper are more comfortable than a traditional train, but we weren’t really prepared for having to spend a night in a regular coach. Some ear plugs would have done wonders for our sleeping, especially because the train is actually pulled apart during the night, with half of it going to Edinburgh and half going to Glasgow. Of course, there’s no excuse for us not having ear plugs on the way back, but that’s a story for another post.

Shortly after 7, we arrived in Edinburgh’s Waverly station. We wanted to book our reservation on the return train, so we had to wait for the ticket office to open. Fortunately, we were back in the land of coffee shops, and easily passed the time with coffees from Costa. Unfortunately the train home was already sold out of sleeper compartments, but we at least secured our reservation back to London. From then, we had quite a journey ahead of us, navigating Edinburgh’s hilly, cobblestoned streets to arrive at our guest house. Just getting out of the station turned out to be quite the effort, but we finally found the main street (up a level from the station) and found some friendly locals who gave us directions, even offering suggestions for which streets were the least steep, since we were pulling some serious luggage.

We were both tired, but of course we’d arrived long before we could check into our rooms, so once we dropped our bags off, we charted a course for the day. Edinburgh is just about the easiest city for first-time tourists to visit, especially if you like walking. Almost all of the main sites are along the Royal Mile, a street right through the middle of Old Town.

Royal Mile 1
Royal Mile 2

Old Town is definitely picturesque! Even on an overcast morning, it felt a little magical.

Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Royal Mile stretches between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (above). It wasn’t raining, so we decided to head to the Palace end first, where we planned to walk around the park. It hadn’t occurred to us to check and see if any royals were in town, but it turned out that they were, so the palace and grounds were closed to the public. Ah well.

Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament is adjacent to the palace and is a modern building, built in 2004, that contrasts with the rest of the architecture on the Royal Mile. The Scottish Parliament was established in 1999, and while the Scots are still under British rule on certain matters, they govern themselves in the areas of education, health, agriculture, and justice. Or so says my guidebook.

Scottish Parliament and Arthur's Seat
While the architecture is obviously very different from the rest of Old Town, I do think that the wooden elements help to tie the building in with its surroundings, including Arthur’s Seat, the hill that overlooks Edinburgh.

Canongate Kirk
We went inside the pretty church on this end of the mile, Canongate Kirk, where we wandered in with a tour group and were met by cheery guides. In terms of style, the building was more like a country church than a central urban one.

After the church, we went across the street to the Museum of Edinburgh. It’s an older museum and it isn’t very fancy, but it’s full of information about the city, past and present. I didn’t take many photos inside, but I did snap this one of some of the glassware that Edinburgh is known for:

When we left the museum, it was starting to rain, so we popped open the umbrella and kept walking up the Royal Mile.

Royal Mile
I really hate being out in the rain, but I kept calm and kept looking for opportunities to shoot. I ended up getting this shot of St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile that I really like. I love the bright umbrellas against the dreary background.

We were both getting hungry, so we started looking for something reasonable, and ended up in a full-on American-style touristy restaurant. Oups? Well, Edinburgh isn’t really known for its food, so we thought that a restaurant catering to picky tourists would be a safe choice. I think the food was okay, but our plan of waiting out the rain over lunch didn’t exactly pan out—it was still raining when we left. But at least we had time to plan our next stop, and after lunch, we headed across the bridge to the National Gallery of Art.

Mom and I love art museums, and we both enjoyed the National Gallery, which is free to visit! Even better. We wandered through some of the Renaissance rooms and of course the Impressionists (a smaller collection here, but very nice). We obviously had to see some of the Scottish art on display, and I was thrilled to see Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddington Loch by Sir Henry Raeburn, one of the most famous paintings depicting figure skating. The Edinburgh Skating Society was a major player in shaping the early years of my favourite sport, and this painting is often used to represent the beginnings of skating.

When we left the art gallery, the rain had stopped, and a bagpiper was playing on the terrace outside the gallery that overlooks Princes Street Gardens. Just perfect!

Scott Monument
Edinburgh has a bit of a history with Over The Top monuments (more on that in the next post), and this is the elaborate monument to Sir Walter Scott, arguably Scotland’s greatest literary figure. Marianne Dashwood would be so proud of me for paying homage. (Just don’t tell her that I don’t think I’ve actually ever read any Scott.)

One of the advantages of rainy weather, for the landscape photographer, is the unpredictability of the sky. Mom and I walked around New Town for a little bit and when we decided to head back to our room, we were greeted with this view when we passed over Princes Street Gardens.

Princes Street Gardens
What a difference an hour made!

Unfortunately, the blue sky was just a patch, and it was nowhere to be found when I took this photo of red telephone booths:
Red Telephone Booths

We headed back to our guest house to check in and nap a little bit before dinner. We were both exhausted from the overnight trip and sightseeing all day, so we didn’t feel like venturing anywhere far for dinner. Everything I read about Edinburgh indicated that they are starting to improve their infamous cuisine, but you generally have to pay quite a bit for the good stuff, and it’s not necessarily convenient to touristy Old Town. So I convinced my mom that what we both ultimately wanted was a classic pub dinner. We tried The Worlds End on the Royal Mile first, since it had good reviews, but it was packed, and I think we ended up across the street, at The Tass. I didn’t write down the name, so I’m not positive. Wherever it was that we went, we enjoyed our fish & chips and cider on tap, and as a bonus, a rockabilly band was scheduled to play that night. I was born in central Illinois, and we lived in a small town there for my first three years. One of the guys we know from my “hometown” is in a rockabilly band, and we both thought it was hilarious that although we’d never been one of Lane’s shows, we were hearing rockabilly in a pub in Edinburgh. Nice way to end the evening, and we both slept super well that night!


Entry filed under: Churches, Edinburgh, Europe, Photos, Scotland, United Kingdom. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

Adieu, Paris! A Writer in Edinburgh

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A serial road tripper chronicles her adventures.


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