Our Trip to Edinburgh

Our Trip to Edinburgh
20-27 December 2004

We spent the first week of the girls' Christmas vacation up in Edinburgh. We all had a good time, and the weather even cooperated and provided the kids with their first snowfall. We definitely want to get back there during warmer weather (and more daylight!). It's a beautiful city, and there's far more to see than we could do in a week. Glaringly obvious things we missed: Holyrood, and Arthur's Seat (seen here in the distance from the top of the castle).

We took the train both ways, splurging a bit on first class for the return journey. The Brits love to gripe about their rail service, but compared to the mostly non-existence of such service in the States, we've been quite happy with the trains here. Given British roads, it was definitely easier to get to Edinburgh by train, instead of by car.

We stayed in a beautiful Georgian apartment in a circus (circular street) in New Town, within walking distance to most everywhere. The bathroom had been redone and the very small kitchen had some strange but perfectly efficient German appliances. The apartment was next to an area of the city called Stockbridge, which is full of speciality delis, restaurants, and little shops. Alan and the girls also managed to find a great playground on one of their walks. One of the pleasures of self-catering (as they call this type of holiday apartment rentals) is that you aren't forced to go out to eat for all your meals. Instead, we indulged ourselves with lovely meats and cheeses from the deli, Scottish smoked salmon, and of course, whiskey by fire in the evening. Would you believe that at one of those delis, we also found the best tortilla chips in Great Britain (we think)? Seems residents of ol' Reeky (nickname for Edinburgh) love Mexican food. Go figure.

From a Castle cannonport looking Northeast towards Scott Monument, and, of course, the ferris wheel.

The girls saw their first real snow the night we arrived! We had a picture-perfect snowfall during dinner, with just enough on the ground afterwards to make a tiny snowman. Rowyn claims it's because she called Mother Nature on a special phone to arrange the snow right before we left. Since our choice of Scotland was partly inspired by the kids' desire to see snow, this may very well be true. (The phone in question probably only works for kids.) Alas, the snow had melted by morning, and for most of the rest of the week we had great weather.

During the week, we celebrated the Winter Solstice and the most of Chanukah. We even bought and decorated a tiny Yule tree, which made it all the way back to Cambridge with us only to freeze to death later in the winter, poor thing. The girls also got to see their first Nutcracker in a lovely little production by the Royal Scottish Ballet.

below: The Edinburgh Festival (of Lights)
above: A little greenery in our
Georgian Townhouse
above: Their first ballet

One of the first things we did was take the tourbus to get a handle on the size and scope of what we might be able to see in a week. This is the same company which runs the Cambridge tourbus, one of the London tours and loads of other cities. Not cheap, but a quick and dirty way to put reference points in one's head.

Edinburgh has some fabulous architecture, including its share of monuments like this ostentatious and bizarre gothic tower monument to Sir Walter Scott which dominates over some the beautiful Prince Edward's Gardens. And of course in these gardens which used to be a moat for the castle (see below), there was a Christmas Fun Faire (seemingly unavoidable everywhere we go on holiday: see our trip to France) with a huge ferris wheel and plenty of kiddy rides.

From ferris wheel East along Princes Street;
Scott Monument and Railway Hotel behind Naomi
Looking Sou'west towards the Castle

We felt required (partly by our own enjoyment of the water of life, but also by our large number of friends who are similarly inclined) to visit the very touristy Whisky Heritage Museum where we rode a goofy fake half-barrel at a speed of about 2 miles per month around a giggle-inducing diorama of the history of scotch. Still (no pun intended), it wasn't a waste of time. When I asked Rowyn later how to make scotch, she correctly parroted the voiceover from the ride: "barley, water and time". Years later, maybe she'll wonder why there's no thyme in scotch.

A British family confronts lifelike wax figures of early Gaelic distillers and are rendered speechless...or perhaps they've just fallen asleep

Of course, the centerpiece of the city is the Castle which even looks like a God-given castle should. Somehow, despite being nearby (and almost always within earshot during the week) we managed to miss hearing the famous 1 o'clock gun! Because it was a vacation week, the castle had a few things going on; madrigals (which we missed a lot of) and one historical recreation (about the level of Ren Faire in terms of accuracy). This little skit involved some interacting with the audience and was done by two Scotsmen dressed as smugglers circa 1700 recounting their troubles. They looked like pirates, had a brief sword fight, and a bag of gold exchanged hands--what more could kids want? Rowyn and Naomi missed a lot due to the speed and density of their banter. Even Debbie and I missed a few phrases now and then. But it nicely set the tone for the rest of the day as we walked around the various beautiful royal apartments and checked out the numerous cannon ready to repel the Anglish once more. On that note, we never did get to the new Parliament building because it was still under construction. Currently, the Scottish Parliament meets in a modified appropriately gothic church. In the future, however, instead of using a historically relevant building, they've decided to build a whole new one for security reasons. What a sad statement that is. [update: The Scottish Parliament is now meeting in their new building.]

We also hired a guide to take us out of town for the day to visit nearby Rosslyn Chapel and Glen. Although the Chapel itself is interesting on many levels, it was the walk through the Glen that we really enjoyed. We saw the ruins of the old castle, then hiked down into the Glen and saw some Neolithic rock carvings. We didn't quite make it as far as the caves up the Ross where Wallace supposedly hid (of course, every cave in Scotland claims this). Just to cap off the day, it snowed again during our late lunch at a local pub. We were accompanied by another tourist who turned out to be a roommate of a beloved Hungarian friend from Budapest when I was there in 1989. Truly bizarre coincidence.

On our last day before our afternoon train, we visited the fairly famous Toy Museum which, with multiple rooms and floors, houses an impressive collection of toys dating back a hundred years and more. Most of the rooms even had toys the kids could touch and play with so it wasn't all a dusty, dry history lesson.

All-in-all, a wonderful trip! We would love to visit Scotland again, but sadly, it probably won't happen before we leave to go back. Northern Scotland is calling, calling...