Camera Obscura, Candlemaker's Row, Deacon Brodie's Tavern, Durham, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh ghost tour, Edinburgh Modern Art Museum, Edward Munch, Greyfriar's Bobby, Greyfriar's Bobby's Pub, Holyrood Abbey, La Favorita, Leith Walk, London 2012 Olympics, Royal Mile, Scotland, sheep, The Ship on the Shore, whiskey, whiskey distillery
Here in the UK, there have been commercials for months since the beginning of the London 2012 Olympic Games promotion as July and the beginning of the games nears, inviting all those that live in England to visit the rest of the UK – Ireland and Scotland instead of vacationing outside of the UK this summer. Cram as many people as we can into the UK!! Why not?? The population in the UK as of the 2007 census was recorded to be 60,975,000 people. England making up a vast 51 million of that number equal to Scotland on a mere 137,745 square miles of land. We have plenty of room to host as many visitors as we can squeeze in! Perhaps if we just sent all of our residents north to Scotland and Ireland to stand on a white cliff and take in the scenery?
Not under suggestion, but as a trip that had been planned last year that had fallen through a few times, our family took a week long trip to Edinburgh, Scotland with Mei’s godparents and Cousin Hannah. At first planning, we were going to take this trip just after Mei turned two-weeks old, but at a ripe 14 months I think she really enjoyed this trip as well! Mei has done a bit of travelling at her young age and we were very excited to keep with tradition and take her to yet, another country, and why not a scenic one?
For those who have not visited Europe (or perhaps you have), the train is an absolutely brilliant way to travel. It is cost effective, comfortable and just easy – especially if you have young children as you don’t have to pay extra for strollers or luggage, etc and there aren’t any weight limits and the stuff that you have to worry about with air travel. You also get to see a lot more of the country this way and it’s just exciting!
Our first three legs of the train journey, to get on the correct railway to Scotland were short, quick rides but by the fourth leg, we bought lunch, snacks and ale (for those of us that were interested in drinking, ie. not me) and settled into our seats to watch scenic England pass us by as we approached and passed through the southern reaches of scenic Scotland. Each town we passed grew in it’s apparent antiquity and expanse, until we began seeing very large and impressive castles and cathedrals marking the town centers and suddenly, Edinburgh was upon us.
After getting to our hotel and getting our bearings, we caught up with Cousin Hannah who had arrived about an hour before us and met her for dinner at La Favorita on Leith Walk, rumored to be the best Italian and pizza restaurant in Edinburgh.
Let me just say that the wait staff was absolutely exceptional (reservations can be made within hours of dining, encouraged and appreciated) and the food stood up to it’s reputation.
We spent the next few days touring the different things Edinburgh had to offer, starting with the Castle. We had lunch at the Redcoat Cafe – which is fairly cost effective and filling! The castle itself was quite beautiful and a great place to visit. We all had fun looking through the various exhibits, it is set up similar to the Tower of London and we learned a lot about Scotland and Edinburgh this way. I have to say that the Crown Jewels are smaller, and fewer than those of England but much more impressive and easier to view. As far as being stroller friendly, the cobblestone is a bit difficult to navigate in parts, making for a really bumpy ride but there are rather more paved and smooth but all the parts of the castle are completely accessible although there are some stairs to get up and down but they aren’t very steep or too cumbersome for even a 7 month pregnant woman carrying a 20 lb toddler and stroller around as necessary during our tour.
One neat aspect of the Castle was seeing the various prisons where they had displayed the doors that various prisoners and groups etched their names, ship names and signatures into which was really quite fantastic to see. We walked through just a small portion of their living quarters which consisted mostly of hammocks and overturned crates for chairs and saw the old bread oven that they used to bake their bread, as the prisoners were responsible for caring for themselves.
Another one of our tours, which happens to be just outside the front gate of the castle, is a whiskey distillery which offers tours and tastings, which we were eager to participate in. Mei even enjoyed the barrel ride and sitting down for some chips (french fries for my American readers) and juice while the boys tasted a few different whiskies at the end of our tour. We even walked away with some neat whiskey snifters for “free!”
We wound up spending a lot of our time on the Royal Mile, which is one and one eighths of a regular mile, better known as a Scot’s mile which is the area of original Edinburgh. St. Gile’s Cathedral is located there, along with the many ghost tours of old Edinburgh – which was a bit disappointing in the “scary” factor, although seeing the Underground City was pretty neat!
On Cousin Hannah’s last morning in Edinburgh, which came about two mornings before our last morning since she had exams and classes to get back to in London, we all went to the Camera Obscura. It is a great place to visit and Mei, being just over a year old enjoyed everything it had to offer, being a kind of house of illusions. She explored changing colors, spinning vortexes and plenty of other illusions and other fun things. Mei’s godmother Carly, of Nakedcarly Art, took some amazing photos of our fun at the Camera Obscura.
Walking around Edinburgh is a great way to see all the fun things that are tucked into each neighborhood and along the base of the Castle, which is where we found a fun little cemetery. The heavy, old headstones would be set down or laid flat if they were in danger of toppling over to protect visitors as playing or walking around the headstones was discouraged due to the antiquity and unpredictable nature of the headstones, but we managed to enjoy taking plenty of photos while Mei took a nap with her little Scottish ram that we bought for her while shopping for postcards on the Royal Mile.
We did have lunch at Deacon Brodie’s Tavern – where the food was good and filling but the service was horrendous. We just had a terrible experience there, our waitresses ignored us, took a minimum of 30 minutes to deliver drinks and only brought half of our table’s main lunch order at a time, so it took us a bit longer to get through lunch than it should have at any tavern, pub or restaurant. But it was a very neat, historical place to have lunch, being the tavern that the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came to be created.
The next day for lunch, we went to Greyfriar’s Bobby’s Pub on Candlemaker Row is the oldest pub in Edinburgh with the most interesting story to boot! It is said that the first policeman in Edinburgh had a dog that would work with him everyday and after the policeman died of some illness, the dog, Bobby, would watch over his grave everyday. After Bobby died, a monument was constructed just meters away from where his owner was buried, just a couple blocks from the front of the pub which was renamed in their honor and as a testament to the dog’s loyalty. How much of that is fact? There are a few versions of this same basic tale but one thing can be certain, this dog was incredibly faithful and loyal to his owner – more than most.
We wrapped up our time in Edinburgh with a trip to the Modern Art Museum, which had some brilliant signage in front of it and plenty to offer – but turned out to be a rather quick morning activity. Edward Munch’s work was being displayed, which Mei’s godparents viewed, but we sat out from with a rather sleepy and grumpy Mei. Carly took some great photos of the statues and such on the exteriors of both Modern Art Museums and wrote a lovely piece about all of it and you can read about it here. The evening wrapped itself up at a local Spanish tapas bar just off the Royal Mile and a trip to the Our Dynamic Earth, which was a very interesting hands-on science museum about the Earth’s creation and features which Mei also enjoyed quite a bit and it very child and adult friendly. We all had fun there!
One of the last restaurants that we had dinner at was called “The Ship on the Shore” (24-26 The Shore) with a view of the Firth of Forth, a large fjord of Scotland’s River Forth which flows into the North Sea between Fife to the North, West Lothian, Edinburgh and East Lothian. An exceptional place to dine! Especially if you love fresh seafood, wafting smells of salty air and a great ambiance while you dine! We all thought very highly of both this restaurant and La Favorita (from our first night) and would gladly recommend it to future visitors of Edinburgh! Here are some photos to drool over…
The train home proved to be my opportunity to take some great pictures of the scenic countryside that we travelled through on our way to and from Edinburgh. There were picturesque, perfectly fluffy white sheep with brilliant black legs munching in the fields that were virtually impossible to take good pictures of and plenty of patchwork fields with farmers hard at work. Being a rather windy, rainy and blustery day though the pictures were hard to take and most of the countryside felt gloomy and abandoned compared to our trip to Edinburgh, where you could see farm equipment, more animals and the occasional farmer walking through the fields.
One town that we passed through on the way to Edinburgh, but that I didn’t have the opportunity to snap some pictures of was Durham, a stunning town with an enormous castle and cathedral crowning the town and looking down at the small, tiny, winding roads below. It is one of those places that I can’t find a photo to really do it justice, but here are some Google pics of it until we get a chacne to take some passing pictures of Durham another time. All in all, we really enjoyed our time in Edinburgh and Scotland and it is totally worth visiting if you are in the UK for a visit, or for the London 2012 Olympics!