The Edinburgh Tales – Part 1

Freezing outside the castleI like to think of myself as a bit of a seasoned traveller. I never used to be, barely having been out of Australia, but since living in London I’ve visited a lot of places and just in 2012 visited 7 different countries. I don’t always get it right, but I’m a pretty switched on traveller in most senses. I’m good with directions, I can read a map and I always have my wits about me. Match that with my organisational skills, the fact I’ve never lost my wallet, phone or passport and I think I do pretty well. Or so I thought. Over the next few posts I am going to describe our trip to Edinburgh to you. Before you read too much into it, it was brilliant, but hell if it wasn’t a bit of a roller coaster of successes and fails! Let’s just hope that it wasn’t an omen for the way 2013 will pan out!

I think the problem is that C and I don’t really plan our holidays that much. The destination, flight etc. yes, but the actual ins and outs of every day we like to take as they come, depending on our moods or what we see that might spark our interest. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. So here goes…

The main purpose of our visit was to experience Edinburgh’s Hogmanay. We had planned a trip earlier in the year to see a bit of the Scottish countryside but it got cancelled due to work commitments. For this trip, we only had 3 days so decided to spend all of them in the fair city of Edinburgh and save the viewing of the countryside until we had more time and warmer weather.

If anyone ever said anything bad about the Scots, they were very wrong. We were welcomed in Edinburgh with open arms and wide smiles. From the minute we got there we found it easy, found the people to be friendly, approachable and helpful and overall thought the place was stunning.

We arrived late at night on the 30th. Enough time to get our bearings, fill our bellies and get into bed before a big day on the 31st. After a hearty breakfast where I tried my first taste of haggis (gross), we decided to go on a bit of a look around and see Edinburgh Castle. We were staying about a 10minute walk from the castle, right on the edge of the Old Town and were immediately in love with the beautiful city we were in. I love old buildings, especially when they are older than the country I grew up in, so I wandered around in awe of the stunning buildings, cobblestone pathways and winding streets.

We were surprised how warm it was in Edinburgh when we arrived considering the time of year and thought we were incredibly over-prepared for the cold after our first few steps out. So we decided when we left that day that we didn’t need quite so many layers and left in just some jumpers and body warmers instead of our big winter coats. But we grossly underestimated the fact that the castle itself is on a hill and catches the wind from the water… holy hell it was chilly up there! The other people walking around the Old Town who were wearing many more layers than us should have been a clue, but it wasn’t. I’d hate to see what it is like when it is actually snowing and quite a few degrees colder than it was when we were there.

We stupidly didn’t think ahead and pre-book a ticket, failing to take into account how many people would be in town on that particular day, so after a long wait in what seemed to be a never-ending line, and barely able to hand over our money due to our frozen fingers, we finally got our tickets and headed in.

The castle itself is beautiful and has some stunning views all over the city. It was a nice enough day that we could see quite a bit but we were so frozen we were pleased to find that a lot of the attractions are actually indoors where we were able to warm up intermittently in between visits to the various buildings.

We saw the crown jewels, the royal rooms, the great hall, a chapel and many other rooms as well. We learned about some of the Christmas/New Year banquets the Royals used to have and why they cooked things in certain ways. Namely the ‘Great Pie’, which is made differently to the pork pies of today, using the pastry as a cooking apparatus, rather than cooking the meats and so on first and then adding the pastry to finish. Back then, the pastry was not intended to be eaten, but instead the meat to be scooped out and the pastry to be thrown to the poor beggars waiting outside the castle grounds.

We also learned about the sugar cannons. These were made entirely as entertainment for the Kings and Queens and Royal guests to play with while they were enjoying their supper, rather than to be eaten. I wonder whether their mothers ever told them not to play with their food?

After the castle, we decided to go on a walk around the Old Town, mostly to check it all out but also to try and find a restaurant that could fit us in for dinner on New Year’s Eve… again this is one of our not-so-clever moments.

After finding somewhere to eat for the evening and spending a little too much time in the cold we decided to warm up by checking out a few pubs. I can’t get through my account of Edinburgh without mentioning this fantastic little place we found. It was so cute inside, with stone walls, big Cheshire chairs and lounges, top hats for light shades, old-school phones and the biggest whisky list C had ever seen (yes Mum, bigger than the one we saw in the Lake District). The fact that it was a Whisky House probably helped with the number of whiskies we saw on the menu but the point of the matter is this place was so lovely inside, cosy, warm and really beautiful décor. We didn’t eat there but the menu looked fantastic and we gawked at a few meals as they went by our table and they looked (and smelled) delicious!

We went back there on our last day and discovered that it also had an upstairs area, which was not as lovely as the downstairs bar but clearly catered for a much younger, ‘cooler’, hipper clientele. What we discovered was downstairs it was a Whisky and Haggis bar catering for those who wanted to sit and have a quiet drink and a lovely meal, and upstairs it was a Vodka Bar which was aimed more at the party people who were up for much more than a quiet drink. The upstairs was much more ‘disco’ in appearance with mosaicked chairs that were lit from within and lots of red lighting.

Not a bad start to our trip, but this story is only getting started. Stay tuned.

Stunning views

Winding streets of Edinburgh's Old Town

The castle

Great Pie, and sugar cannon

More views

Edinburgh

Haggis and Whisky

Happy with his whisky

Top hat light shade

Mosaiked Chairs

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