I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself. James Baldwin
Aug 26-Sep 6 2014
Scotland was Maggie and I’s first international trip together. It was the first time I had set foot on the continent of Europe. My heritage can be traced back to the Scottish highlands, and thus it was a family trip, meeting up with his parents for the duration of the trip.
The first day was spent resting up from the jet lag and getting our bearings for the area. We stayed in an area of Edinburgh called New Town, but it really isn’t new as the name implies having been built between 1767 and 1850, it’s just not as old as the Old Town neighborhood just to the south. The area is defined by a grid like street pattern full of old stone buildings ranging from three to five stories and is often considered a masterpiece of city planning. Lots of small alleys filled with small pubs and stores could be found inbetween the larger city blocks which make it a pleasant place for exploring.
One of our first stops after some rest would be the National Museum of Scotland, as well as the Royal Mile and the Walter Scott Memorial.
The National Museum is a large complex that covers everything from science and technology, to natural history and world cultures. The highlight being Scottish antiquities, culture and history. It even includes one of the original clones of Dolly the Sheep.
Next, we strolled along the famous Royal Mile, the name given to a succession of streets found in the Old Town that form it’s main thoroughfare. It runs between two significant locations in the history of Scotlan, Edinburgh Castle and Hollyrood Palace. The area is a mix of electic shops, pubs, restaurants and visitor attractions. It is an exciting area full of street entertainers and buskers all competeing for attention. We would return to this area throughout our time in Edinburgh as there was a lot to see and discover in the roads and alleys that wind and twist around the area.
Our last stop for the day would be the Walter Scott Memorial, set near the depression between the Old and New Towns where the Nor Loch formally flowed, now a large park, full of people picnicing, playing games and relaxing in the sun. The memorial itself is dedicated to the famous author and is the largest monument to a writer in the world. Made of stone and marble, it soars over 200ft. and dominates the area. It includes many figurative statues with 93 people depicted, including two dogs and a pig.
On day two we visited Calton Hill, Edinburgh Castle and an old cemetary.
Calton Hill contains the National Monument of Scotland, The Nelson Monument, and various other memorials. The hill rises to the east of the New Town and offers a panorama over the city, including the nearby North Sea. To the south is a view of Old Town and the famous Arthur’s Seat.
In the afternoon we visited the Edinburgh Castle, a highlight of any trip to the Scottish capital, an 11th-century castle and barracks housing the Crown Jewels and National War Museum of Scotland. It is perched near the center of the city and is lit up in beautiful lights in the evening.
During our stroll afterwards we checked out a small cemetery that contained a monument in memory of Scottish-American soldiers, and in the evening we walked around the Meadows of the University of Edinburgh. At night we relaxed and did some drinking at a local pub near our apartment and ended up meeting and hanging out with members of the Scottish rock and roll band, the Holy Ghosts, a fun and nice group of guys.
Day three was spent exploring the Royal Mile once again, including walking around the nearby Scottish Parliament and the official residence of the British Monarch in Scotland, known as Holyrood Palace. The palace itself was built between 1671 and 1678 in the Baroque style, in stark contrast the Parliament was built in 2004 in the Post-modern style. Of course, it was a very interesting time to be visiting Scotland as the vote for Scottish Independence from Great Britain would be taking place just short month later. Everywhere we went we would see signs and flags displaying either ‘Yes’ for independence, or ‘No’ for those against it. We also witnessed the occasional rally being held by either side. It seemed that the urbanized areas were more pro-independence, while the urban cities tended to lean against it.
After the Holyrood area, we headed just south for the obligatory climb up Arthur’s Seat, formed by an extinct volcanic system like Calton Hill, but a bit higher. It offered more spectacular views out across the city and surrounding areas. The hike was a challenge for sure as it was especially windy that day. We tackled it from the much steeper west side, where as the east side is a much easier climb being a gently rising grassy plain. The name derives from being one of the possible locations for Camelot, the legendary castle and court of the Romano-British warrior-chief, King Arthur.
After the hike we visited a kilt making factory, various cheese shops and had delicious lobster and langoustine for dinner at a fantastic restaurant called ‘The Dogs’, located near our apartment in the New Town. Speaking of food, I highly recommend salmon when visiting as well, we had it on multiple occasions while in Scotland, and it was truly some of the best tasting salmon we’d ever had.
For our last night in Edinburgh we went out drinking once again, at a neat little speakeasy called Panda & Sons for some cocktails. Being a speakeasy, it looked like a traditional barber shop from the outside, and once inside you entered through a hidden bookcase door- totally unexpected and with no signs indicating the place was even there.
The following morning it was time to leave Edinburgh and continue our trip. We rented a small car at the main train station and begin our travels north towards the Scottish Highlands. It was the first time for me driving on left side of the road, sitting and shifting from the left seat. Luckily, I have always drove manuals and it was easy to pick up otherwise after practicing for a few minutes in the rental car parking lot. You can read about our next part of the trip in the posts Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye.