Posts filed under ‘Scotland’

A Writer in Edinburgh

Day 22 of my European adventure was Day 2 in Edinburgh. We had a big day planned, so it began early, with a huge Scottish breakfast. I’m not a fan of sausage and fried eggs, but fortunately, breakfast at the Kenneth Mackenzie Suites had plenty of options. Mom and I caffeinated well and started heading uphill to the western end of the Royal Mile.

The Hub
I thought that this was a church and got all excited, but it’s a place called The Hub. I believe it’s very important when the Edinburgh International Festival rolls around.

Edinburgh Castle
And soon we were enjoying a nice morning at the castle! Edinburgh Castle is basically the key tourist attraction in Edinburgh, so we planned it for day two to have the best chance at arriving before the swarm of tourists. We only had to queue for a couple of minutes, plus the weather was nice (if a bit chilly), so our strategy paid off.

Edinburgh pano
The view looking north across Edinburgh was lovely!

Cannon at Edinburgh Castle
If anyone ever sets off this cannon, the Sir Walter Scott monument is toast.

Heading Down
We went inside some of the main rooms of the castle, but the crowds were really starting to pick up, so we hit the Scottish Crown Jewels (sparkly!) and then started heading down after an hour or so.

Farewell Castle
As we left the castle, it was so lovely that I was starting to hope for a partly-cloudy blue sky all day! (Spoiler alert: this was not to be.)

Tartan Mill
We ducked into the Tartan Mill near the top of the Royal Mile, which was a factory, a museum, and a gift shop on steroids, all rolled into one. Mom wanted to buy some tartan scarves (I did too, but I lacked funds at this point) and we enjoyed our trip through this maze of a factory. I had previously been under the impression that, as McCaghrens (my maternal grandmother’s maiden name), we were related to the MacDonald clan somehow, but we couldn’t find any evidence of this at the tartan gift shops. I bought a little MacDonald booklet anyway, just in case. Our ancestors immigrated from Ireland, but there’s some sort of connection with Scotland. I started doing some genealogy research, but didn’t have time to research the Irish/Scottish parts. I’d love to do more research at some point when I have more time to waste and when I can afford the membership. It’s pricey!

After the tartans, we headed to the next big tourist attraction of the day, the National Museum of Scotland. The weather was starting to turn, so we were happy to spend a couple of hours inside. As a history nut, and one who grew up fascinated by kings and queens, I was really excited to read all about the Scottish kings, and how Scotland came to be a part of the UK, etc. The museum was new, and it was bright and cheery with clear presentations. I also liked the modern exhibit on where Scotland has been more recently and where it’s going in the future.

It was raining when we left the museum, so it was a perfect time for a late lunch at Spoon, which I’d read about in the Frommer’s guide. It was our one fantastic dining experience in Scotland! Spoon is a café that uses lots of fresh ingredients to make delicious soups and salads and sandwiches during the day, just what I want in a lunch spot. We had soup with our meals, which absolutely hit the spot in the yucky weather. I’m not normally a soup-in-July type of person, but I make exceptions in Edinburgh, apparently. The prices at lunchtime were perfectly reasonable, too.

Writers Museum

We needed somewhere else to go in the rain, so we decided to go to the Writers Museum after all. I had put it on my list as a “maybe, if we have time” sort of thing, and I know feel guilty for even admitting that. I am supposed to be a writer! But I guess I’ve never been properly introduced to Scottish writers. The museum focuses on Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson. I’ve never read Scott, I’m sure I’ve read Burns but he doesn’t really stand out, and I never really liked the children’s edition of Treasure Island that I’m sure my mom bought me one Christmas. I’m so glad that we went, though, because the museum is so informative, and it made me want to learn more about all three of Scotland’s classic great writers.

And! By the time we left, it wasn’t raining anymore!

We still had quite a bit of time before we needed to pick up our bags and head to the train station, so Mom and I headed up Calton Hill, where many of Edinburgh’s monuments are located.

National Monument of Scotland
The National Monument of Scotland is the most famous, because it’s still unfinished. It was meant to be a Scottish War Memorial and designed in the 1820s, but left unfinished in 1829. They’ve talked about finishing it periodically since then, even as recently as 2004, but no one’s managed to get anything concrete together.

Nelson's Monument
Nelson’s Monument is also on the hill, and it honours Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar. I think I should start a collection of Nelson monuments…I’ve now been to three (also Trafalgar Square in London and the one in Old Montréal). I was enjoying views from the hill, but sometimes when I’m in new cities, I get the urge to try to conquer my fear of heights in the name of better views. I don’t know. Maybe I think it’s good for me. I guess it is. At any rate, my mama was exhausted from me dragging her all over Europe, so she declined the steps to the top of the tower, and up I went.

View of Edinburgh
Yep, worth it for the view!

Me at the top of Nelson's Monument
Proof that I went!

Parting shot of Edinburgh, with the Dugald Stewart Monument on the right.

We grabbed a bite at Bar Kohl (I think) after that, and then went back to the guest house to pick up our luggage. They didn’t have 24-hour reception, so we had to take our bags and call a cab at about a quarter til 9, which left us sitting at the train station for several hours, but we didn’t have a choice. In hindsight, we should have used our time to track down some earplugs, because we were about to have a night of very little sleep on the train. A few rows in front of us, a group of four laughed and howled (I am not exaggerating) until at least 4am. I have never wanted to throw myself off a train more than I wanted to that night! When we arrived in London the next morning, we walked past their seats, and they had 4 empty bottles of champagne, along with plenty of other spirits. No wonder everything was so hilarious. But seriously, if you’re taking the Caledonian Sleeper, bring earplugs.


April 3, 2012 at 12:18 am Leave a comment

A Day in Edinburgh

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!

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


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