Two weeks ago I met my college friends Ed and Nikki in Edinburgh, Scotland, where we hung out for two and a half days. The weather forecast was right: It rained on Monday afternoon, it was hot on Tuesday, and I thought I would freeze to death on Wednesday—typical spring! We had a great time seeing many of the sights, but my friend Kate McKenna was right when she said, “Two days in Edinburgh is enough”—if you’re there only to see the sights, that is.
Spring had just begun, according to my taxi driver, and Edinburgh was covered with flowers and flowering trees. I particularly loved looking at the hills around the city, which were yellow with either Scotch broom or gorse—I couldn’t get close enough to see which. Unlike Scotch broom, gorse is extremely thorny, and the thorns eventually almost wholly replace the leaves, according to Wiki. Scotch broom and gorse remind me of the southern coast of Oregon. As kids we built forts on a nearby vacant lot that was covered with Scotch broom, and a fire that destroyed Bandon, Oregon, and several miles of coastline in 1936 was blamed on gorse. Scotch broom covers the hillsides in Italy, too, at this time of year. I love Scotch broom in the spring, although the plant, like mint and bamboo, is highly invasive.
I arrived Monday afternoon, but my checked bag stayed in Amsterdam and finally reached me at 9 p.m. We wandered along the Royal Mile (it runs between Edinburgh Castle in the west and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in the east, hence its name) in the Old Town Monday afternoon and evening and had a lovely late dinner at Maison Bleue in the Grassmarket area just south of the castle. I had duck confit (duck leg slow cooked in goose fat served with bean cassoulet with lardons). I think Ed and Nikki both had steak.
The first thing we did Tuesday morning was take a hop-on hop-off tour of Edinburgh to get our bearings and to see what sights tickled our fancy. We chose Mac Tours and were glad we did, because they had terrific live guides and vintage double-decker buses. We especially got a kick out of Margaret, who had pink hair and a wonderful store of anecdotes. We rode the entire loop from the Royal Mile, to the National Museum of Scotland and Greyfriars Kirk, past the bar in which J. K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel, up Calton Hill, down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (where the queen stays when she’s in Edinburgh), past the Scottish Parliament and Canongate Kirk, to the Waverley Bridge. We then rode west on Princes Street (NOT princess), turned left at the Caledonian Hotel (where Roy Rogers’s horse, Trigger, spent the night and where Sean Connery always spends the night, according to Margaret), and drove up the hill to the south of Edinburgh Castle. We saw Edinburgh Castle from every angle. You really can’t miss it, because it dominates the Edinburgh skyline.
We first hopped off to see the Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk (kirk = church), which was completed in 1620 and still holds Sunday services in Scottish Gaelic. We timed this stop perfectly to eat lunch at Greyfriars Bobby, a delightful bar, where Nikki and I had good hamburgers and good beer and Ed had so-so nachos. The pub is named for a Skye terrier who guarded his master’s grave for 14 years until the dog’s own death in 1872. A statue of the dog sits just outside the bar.
Our next stop was gorgeous Calton Hill, which has many monuments and wonderful, panoramic views of the Old Town and which is the seat of the Scottish Parliament. We walked down the hill to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which was, unfortunately, closed that day. We wandered around outside the palace for a while and then walked up the Royal Mile to Canongate Kirk, the parish church for the palace, the Scottish Parliament, and Edinburgh Castle. The two pews in the front of the church are reserved for the palace (on the right) and the castle (on the left). The palace pew has a small crown behind it. In addition to the sky blue pews, my favorite part of the church is the choir. I’ve never seen anything like it—so tiny and colorful!
We then hopped back on the bus and rode to the Waverley Bridge, where we hopped off and made our way to Edinburgh’s most famous hotel, the Balmoral, where we had drinks and nibbles. We had an unmemorable dinner Tuesday evening in the Grassmarket area, and as we walked home at 9 or so, the sky was still quite bright. Edinburgh is on the same latitude as Moscow and Copenhagen and much farther north than most North American cities, except a handful in Alaska and Canada. In May sunrise was at 4:45 or so and sunset was around 9:30 (on June 23 sunrise will be at 4:27 and sunset at 10:03). It’s not the land of the midnight sun, but it stays light for a long time in May!
Wednesday we visited Edinburgh Castle. We decided to arrive a bit late to let the tour groups rush in ahead of us, and we were so glad we did, because just as we got there, the area in front of the main gate was blocked off, and we got to see a short military tattoo! Originally a tattoo was a drum performance, but this one included an entire marching band as well as marching soldiers. I don’t know if the tattoo happens every day, but I was so excited that it happened when we were there.
Edinburgh Castle was originally a fortress. My favorite relic was Mons Meg, a 13,000-pound, 15th-century siege cannon, which shot 330-pound gun stones. I also enjoyed our tour of the royal palace and wish we had spent more time in the National War Museum, but we had to race outside to see the One O’Clock Gun (not Mons Meg), which is fired every day at 1 p.m. The custom began in 1861 as a time signal for ships on the Firth of Forth. The current district gunner is the first woman to fire the gun.
We headed down the hill for a delicious lunch and our first visit to the New Town. Although it was sunny when we arrived, it began raining after not too long, so we retreated to the bar in the Balmoral. We enjoyed an amazing dinner that night at Dubh Prais. Nikki chose roasted salmon; Ed ate breast of chicken; and I had a perfect, rare filet of Scottish Angus beef, which was so tender that I could have cut it with a fork. Mmmmm! Nikki and I ended our meal with a selection of delicious Scottish cheeses—a melt-in-your-mouth cheddar, a wonderful blue, and an excellent brie (I think). Then we wandered around the corner to Patisserie Valerie, which kept catching our eye, and had dessert and cappuccino. A perfect ending to a fabulous trip!
Thanks, Ed and Nikki. I had a ball!
P.S., We stayed at the Radisson Blu, a really lovely hotel that I recommend. The elaborate breakfast buffet was irresistible, as was the hotel’s location at the center of the Royal Mile.