After a nice train ride from London, we arrived in Edinburgh in the late afternoon. With the sun shining strong, we knew we had to take advantage of the beautiful weather! So we checked in, and then set out to walk around New Town, near our hotel. After a long stroll through the streets (and, of course, the occasional shop), we then made our way back to the hotel via the Prince Street Gardens. Another gorgeous afternoon to take in the sights – one of which is the grand Edinburgh Castle looming well above the park on Castle Rock, a large protruding and quite vertical mountain of an ancient and extinct volcano.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat for dinner at a local pub – the fish and chips were spot-on (the carrot soup, not so much!). We then changed into our suits and hit the indoor pool and hot tub. All in all, a soothing way to end our day of travel.
We were up and ready for our tour of Old Town Edinburgh this morning – and were greeted with sunshine again today. Our guide, Jane, is completing her Ph.D. in Medieval English at the University of Edinburgh. We began at the National Museum of Scotland, where we learned about Mary, Queen of Scots, who was the only surviving child of King James V, who died when she was only six days old. She ascended to the throne as an infant.
We then toured the Greyfriars Kirkyard – it is said that J.K. Rowling came up with several Harry Potter character names from this cemetery (she frequented a local cafe in Old Town while writing her famed series). One of the said graves is that of Thomas Riddell (Lord Voldemort’s supposed real name was Tom Riddle). Another is William McGonagall’s grave – a well-known poet and tragedian. While Rowling likely named the intelligent and beloved Professor McGonagall after the namesake on this grave, the actual McGonagall was known for just how supremely bad a poet he was!
Also interesting were the graves with metal bar cages around them. Apparently, when the University of Edinburgh’s medical school began furthering the study of anatomy in the early 1800s, Scottish law required that corpses used for medical research could only come from dead prisoners, suicide victims, or orphans who had died. There was a short supply of corpses, so grave robbing became very popular!
We were able to walk through Old Town and experience a “close,” or narrow alleyway. Old Town was known for how incredibly dense these tall buildings were; exterior walls were literally built within a few feet of each other or were touching with narrow tunnels below. These were called closes. With the lack of light coming in, due to the density, coupled with the grey stone used on many of these buildings, Old Town was quite a dark place in its day.
We then continued along the Royal Mile – taking in all the sights along the way. We stopped at the Giles Cathedral – the High Kirk of Edinburgh and the Mother Church of Presbyterianism. What a breathtakingly beautiful church.
As we passed this roasted hog in the window of Oink sandwich shop, we couldn’t resist, and we shared a Scottish hog roast sandwich. This would give pulled pork barbecue a run for its money! So delicious!
At last, we ended our walk at Holyroodhouse – the Queen’s official Scotland residence. We didn’t get great photos, since we chose not to tour.
Once back at the hotel, the boys ventured out again to the Black Cat (a local pub in New Town) and enjoyed cigars and a flight (or two) of scotches. Karen and I celebrated her birthday with a traditional afternoon tea at Waldorf’s Peacock Alley – which did not disappoint!
Dinner was spectacular – The Witchery near the Castle is in a building from the early 1500s, and looks like it jumped straight out of a Harry Potter book. The food was amazing and the company even better (including the hilarious couple from London sitting next to us). We couldn’t have asked for a better way to top off our day (thank you, David, for the recommendation).
After a nice after-dinner drink in the Caley Bar at the Waldorf, we called it a night. Tomorrow we’re bound for St. Andrews!
PS. We think all this talk about how terrible the weather is in Scotland is just a plot to keep tourists away from this beautiful place! Either that or we have hit two of the best weather days of the year!