Wow... what a weekend!
Our planned trip to DisneyLand this summer was scrubbed due to this London thing, so we instead treated ourselves to a long weekend away in Edinburgh, Scotland. We picked up our rental car (a Chevy Matiz, 4 cylinders of internal-combustion-fury... NOT!) around 12:30p and headed north. Our hope was that by leaving before rush hour, we'd have a relatively easy drive up. Apparently, half of metro London had the same plans as us, as it was hellish for a good portion of the trip. (We were told by Peg's coworkers that it usually about a 7-hour ride - it took us 10, including a stop for a sit-down dinner.) After we cleared the Liverpool-Manchester corridor, we were treated to both lighter traffic and some great vistas of expansive sheep pastures and stone fences on rolling hillsides near the Lake District. We eventually crossed into Scotland, got off the Motorway and headed east towards Edinburgh along a 2-lane highway that took us through some small and quaint villages. As alluded to above, we reached our hotel around 10:30p, tired, but glad to be there.
We got up on Saturday relatively rested and, after taking in some breakfast, walked up to Edinburgh Castle to take a tour. And on our approach, we can see why this was a formidable castle to attack by the enemies of old – there is a pretty shear rock cliff around 270 degrees of it, and a well-fortified wall on the remaining 90. I won't bore you with all we saw and heard, but we were able to see the "The Honours of Scotland" (aka the Crown Jewels of Scotland), tour the Royal Palace within the castle (there's another Royal Palace we visited, so read on), the Scottish National War Memorial (boy, they have had a few scrapes in their past!), St. Margaret's Chapel (the oldest building in Edinburgh), and the firing of the one o'clock gun. As to this last item, it's a near-daily-ritual started in 1861 that was done in concert with a ball drop on a nearby tower to provide both a visual and audible time signal to ships in nearby waters.
After the tour and some lunch, at which we all gave haggis a try, we strolled the Royal Mile - a stretch of road that connects the Castle with the (other) Royal Palace - for a bit, and then took a bus tour ride of the city to rest our feet. We got to see some more of the Old Town (the area of the Castle and palaces) and what they call New Town, the part of the city built in the 1700s as overcrowding took over the original old section. Post-bus-tour, Chloe and Peg headed back to the hotel to swim and rest (respectively), and I stayed at a nearby square to watch a bike ride that happened to be taking place.
Sunday's plans were to visit the other royal palace in Edinburgh, the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Having some indoor plans worked out well, as the morning's weather was windy and rainy. This palace acts as the official Scotland residence of the Queen, or whoever happens to be England's monarch. As it turns out, the Queen was coming to the Palace in two days' time to begin her official visit to Scotland, so we were glad we visited when we did as public tours are halted during her stay. We were able to see several rooms, including the Dining Room, the Great Gallery which contains portraits of Scottish kings, and the bedroom of Mary, Queen of Scots. Thankfully, the weather improved as we ended the interior portion of the tour, and we were able to visit the remnants of the nave of the monastery that once stood on the grounds, and the gardens.
It was then back to the other end of the Royal Mile (near the castle) to check out a camera obscura stationed there. A simple technology, it provided a great 360 degree view of the area, and allowed Chloe to play around with the image a bit. The organization that runs the obscura show also houses a couple galleries of other optical oddities, like funhouse mirrors, many optical illusions, holograms, etc. which kept us entertained for a while. After lunch, a visit to the Museum on Childhood (pretty boring actually!) and some obligatory ice cream, it was back to the hotel to relax (for Peggy and me) and swim (Chloe.) And after a nap for some (a-hem), it was off for a nice dinner to celebrate a wonderful mini-vacation in a great city (and of course, ponder our next trip back!)
We left this Edinburgh this morning to make our way back to London, this time using the eastern route, the upper stretches of which took us along the coastline of the North Sea. It was an uneventful ride back (thankfully so) and we rolled into Hammersmith right around 4:30p.
Next stop: Geneva (next weekend).
Quirks and Tidbits
- There's a skiing hill near Edinburgh, and it's pretty unique in that it is on an artificial surface. Ironically, though, when it snows, one must still ski on or above the artificial mat due to ski area policy.
- Why is the gun from Edinburgh castle fired at 1 o'clock and not the expected 12 noon? We were told during our tour of the castle that the Scottish, being a practical and frugal people, felt it was too expensive and wasteful to fire 12 salvos, so opted for the more economic one salvo instead.
- There are some great pub names in the city. The one we ate haggis at was called The Last Drop. One may think this refers to the last drop of beer or scotch in the place, but actually it is in reference to the last hanging that took place at the gallows that stood outside its doors many years ago. (Apparently like Salem, MA, witch hysteria was pretty big here.) Another pub with a great name is The World's End. This one is located at the site of a former gate that used to separate the medieval city of Edinburgh with the rest of the world. At that time, one would have to pay a toll to not only enter the city, but to leave the city as well. These tolls were too much for the poorer residents, and they could never leave the city's walls. So that part of the city was essentially the end of their world.
- At breakfast on Sunday morning, there was a guy sitting next to us with a Colorado State University shirt on.
- Haggis review: not bad at all. It's easy to be turned off by reading what's in it and how it's made, but if you can get over that, you'll find that it tastes like a meatloaf/sausage amalgam. Chloe and I also happened to try - and like - black pudding.
- MAN, does it stay light late up there! Because of its latitude, the sun wasn't setting in Edinburgh until around 10:00p.
- Visually, both the Old City and New City are just stunning. It doesn't appear that either were harmed to any great extend during World War II, so there is plenty of old architecture to soak in.
For pictures visit here and/or here (artsy fartsy.)