The Dusshehra break is upon us with Diwali soon coming around and then there’s the holiday season, the Christmas break in December. Many of us take a short vacation during these breaks leaving the longish vacation for the summer months. Especially those of us who come from tropical countries (worst, the completely spoilt for acclimatisation, us, inhabitants of Bangalore. The veritable weather heaven of the world!) we can deal with the cold climes of Europe only in the spring or summer. And I love to travel to Europe, all of it. We have grown up on the picture books, story books, fables and legends, songs and rhymes of so much originating from the Europe that it makes us aspire to see all those picture postcard locations walking on those cobbled streets, that still manage to look the same. Well, almost!
So, while we are on a short break, we plan for a long break. What better way to start the planning for next summer than by reminiscing what we did in the last? Here’s a glimpse of it for you. Share yours with me . Your plans for the up coming one and possibly what you did last summer. It would be of great help as I am all set to plan my next.
A bit about the place (and my aspirations before the visit)
Capital of Scotland since 15th century and seat of the monarchy in Scotland, Edinburgh (Edwin’s fort) is one of most populous city in the United Kingdom.
It came onto my map of travel interest for a range of reasons:
- I could use my 10 year existing UK visa to travel around before Scotland walks away from UK what with Brexit!
- I could finally take the Whisky tour, and enjoy the origins of single malt and scotch whisky.
- I could see Scots in kilts (while imagining Sean Connery) playing bag pipes on the cobbled streets – corny but totally cute J
- Check out the town that hosts (and we aspire to attend sometime in the future) the Edinburgh Festival of Theatre and Music.
- Walk the hallowed grounds traversed by Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure island and The stranger case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) and then of course Max Born, Charles Darwin and David Hume.
- Perhaps Andy Murray? J. K. Rowling? Knock Knock…
We flew out from London’s Stansted airport into the Edinburgh airport at Igliston and took a tram ride to city centre. I must say, that the tram ride was a great way for an eager tourist to enter the city. The trams are frequent and comfortable and amble along at just the speed that let’s you look at the many monuments that pass you by. While traveling within the town, we often used the city buses (Lothian Buses) to various places of interest and found them convenient, pocket friendly and a great way to look at many landmarks in the town besides gazing at the castle from various angles and lights through the day. And yes, we did walk a lot, up and down the streets of the town, and up and down the many flights of stairs to the mound. The many gardens, trees and the views were well worth the cardio (and the calories burnt thus) as we ate all that’s fried and had the possibility of being fried. From Haggis to Mars bars!
Place to stay
We stayed in a two bed-sit apartment (Air B and B) which was in the city centre and allowed us into the town centre in a short walk besides offering quick access to various grocery stores for picking up supplies for some of our breakfasts and dinners around the dining table. It helped as dinners back in the apartment was a good way to rest our tired feet, see the day’s pictures and plan about the next day’s itinerary, with the high speed wifi access. Not to mention, savour some scotch whisky while at it.
A few tourist destinations
Hits : (those that we made it to)
Calton Hill – We climbed this on day one as we reached late afternoon. Enjoyed walking around the historic monuments while soaking in the views of the Arthur’s seat with the Crags. The view of the Royal Mile, the Princess Street and many landmarks in the fading sunlight was spectacular.
The Royal Yacht Britannia – Ocean’s terminal leading into the Yacht, was quite the experience for me who had never stepped into a yacht before. Something as grand as this which was home to The Queen and Royal Family for decades as they sailed around the world, was a great way to be initiated into the nautical world. The presentation, the commentary in the audio guide and the intrigue of all the various parts of the ship’s engine, many bars of the crew to the massive laundry area and the little sweet shop selling the fudges, same one that handed out treats to the princes… all made for a great few hours. Viewers of ‘The Last Ship’ TV serial – a must!
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh – I enjoy walking through botanical gardens as much as trekking through natural flora and fauna. I guess the naturalist in me (having studied and taught genetics and life sciences at various points in time) revels as much in the beauty as in the nostalgia of learning/teaching days. The glass house was closing as we reached almost towards the end of the day (it stays open for an additional one hour in summers and they were kind to our curiosity and excitement to let us walk around for additional few minutes). The garden however was open and spring was in. Enjoyed the Alpines, Arboretum and even the Chinese Hillside!
The Scotch Whisky Tour – Silver, gold or platinum… take a choice of tour and enjoy the nosing and tasting after the ride in the whisky barrel :). And then comes the world’s largest collection of Scotch Whisky! It has more than 3000 bottles of various shapes, sizes and labels, unopened – held in a glass vault. It was quite an experience walking and ogling at those with our dram of Scotch whisky (the crystal glasses are your souvenir to carry back). The tasting itself is quite informative and entertaining at the same time with the guide talking through the various whisky regions of Scotland and us smelling the scratch cards for matching the smell to the shots handed out. And just in case, if your spouse is a non-whisky drinker, you get his shots too – Guid luck! (Good luck, as Scots would say)
The Scottish National Gallery – the mound in centre of the city has this beautiful neoclassical building that caught our eye as we walked around it several times in the first couple of days in Edinburgh. We wanted to keep a good half day for it as museums of art take some time to stand and stare! And this one, will surely took that much time. The museum houses the Scottish and international art from the beginning of the Renaissance upto the start of 20th century. I spent most of my time in the impressionist section, admiring some of the Daubigny, Van Gogh and of course Monet. Because in the last few years, I have had the pleasure of discussing Monet with some of my students (no, am not an artist or an art teacher. But you don’t have to be either to enjoy Monet) and visited the Musee de L’ Orangerie on the banks of Siene in Paris and hold your breath… continued along the river to the village of Giverny, Claude Monet’s house and garden. Will share more about it in this series of ‘Been there seen that’.
Blair Street Underground Vaults – Mercat Tours – not to be missed! The nuggets of history of Edinburgh, the simultaneously entertaining yet creepy tour under the town in dark and moist chambers with candle light (and i-phone camera flashes) is enhanced sensorially for a person like me who borders on being claustrophobic… and if you have had a couple of shots of Scotch whisky before that (as we did, from our whisky tour) the vaults under the arches of the South Bridge present themselves at their creepiest best. These vaults were lived in and used as storage for illicit material, bodies for medical experiments, sundry tradesmen. They were discovered to be of existence as late as 1985. More from the cloaked Mercat guides when you visit, they sure are quite performers to thrill you in the dark while it’s still day light above the ground.
The Edinburgh Castle – The iconic castle dominating the skyline of the city is seen from almost all parts of the town and looks amazing from dawn to dusk in different lights. It’s a paid attraction and has a lot to offer. From history – with heritage and museums to spectacular sights of the city. Lots of walking, standing and staring… with audio guide. The commentary with many layers (almost hyperlinked!) was very informative and lucid. This takes energy and mind space as well as almost half a day. We did think that we could have spent more time here. But being the last day of our visit, we were a bit tired and had to catch the flight back that evening. I must say, this was truly a grand finale to our summer in Scotland.
Misses: (not in any particular order)
- Edinburgh Zoo
- The Real Mary King’s Close
- Our Dynamic Earth
- The Edinburgh Dungeon
- The Scott Monument
- Palace of Holyrood House
- The National museum of Scotland
A few out of the way locations that we opted for instead of those on the list of ‘Misses’:
- The Sheep Heid Inn is said to be the oldest Scottish pub since 1360, that supposedly got it’s name (and the logo) from the heads (heids for Scots) of the sheep that were slaughtered in Duddingston in the medieval to modern times to be taken to the Fleshmarket in Old Town. The heads were made into dishes “powsowdie”(sheep heid broth) and singed sheep heid. Or was the name derived from the royal gift in 1580 of snuff box that was an ornate Ram’s head, given by King James VI of Scotland? Whatever might be the origins, we quite enjoyed the thought while sitting in their cosy bar that Mary, Queen of Scots had stopped there many times to play skittles in the courtyard behind the pub! We wandered into the nicely preserved bowling alley that was to have been built around 1870 and is the last such alley in Scotland. Surely that is quite a distinction from the many other taverns in that area. It’s a good watering hole after scaling Arthur’s seat. We found a few dogs with their patrons on doggy beds under the table as well. All adding to the experience. Would recommend booking in advance, especially if it’s a weekend that you are going there.
Escape game – existence of which we chanced upon when we were walking about in the area and waiting for a Celtic music concert in the area. Do book in advance.
Or eat and wait for your team’s turn at the Reekie’s Smoke House for a big bucket of Scottish Barbeque for share. Great price for the portions, sauces made from scratch and chunky finger fries of sweet potato, with root or lager or cider to go along… What’s not to like!
- The Lock Ness, Glencoe and Highlands day trip: The sight of the snow striated Ben Nevis (Britain’s highest mountain) was as memorable as the history of Glencoe, scene of the infamous massacre in 1692, as the boat cruise on Lock Ness with the watching the sonar videos showing the measuring of unfathomable depths of those waters. This loch (lake) contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. And the hairy coos on the way… completely selfie worthy. The chatter of our lovely bus driver cum tour guide was the highlight of the highland tour J She was chirpy and courteous, knowledgeable and witty! Looking out for Nessie? Totally worth the day!
What I would go back again for…
Four days were hardly enough! So would love to visit all the ‘misses’ listed above. But most importantly, what Robert Louis Stevenson described as “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of it’s bold design.” The Arthur’s seat. There’s a certain intrigue with which the volcano site of the age of about 350 million stands to protect it’s geology, grassland habitats and various uncommon plant and animal species. And what about the 17 coffins found in a cave on the crags there? Now displayed in Edinburgh’s Royal Museum.
Some dos and don’ts
Do fly to Edinburgh if you are on budget (of time and money) as we did otherwise take a train from London to Edinburgh (about 5 hours). The views are beautiful they say, especially the Scottish border country just outside the city of Edinburgh.
DON’T buy a bottle of whisky on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, if you’re planning to travel out by plane to London, as you may have to pay many pounds additionally to put the scotch in your checked in baggage.
Do eat out. French, North African and of course Scottish cuisine. Edinburgh is said to have more restaurants per head than anywhere else in the UK. Then there’s the national dish of Haggis and the water of life, whisky…
Don’t step out without either of these: sunscreen lotion and sunglasses or an umbrella and jacket for the weather is indecisive… and it can be hot and sunny or cold, windy and rainy in the same day. We just wore jacket with hoodies that came off and on and that way avoided carrying additional material in the back packs on us on the long and very enjoyable walks between the sights and the eateries.
Do explore the little closes (streets with cul de sacs/dead ends/no through access) all around the Old Town. You can never lose your way as there’s always a recognisable landmark close by and then there’s the castle to orient yourself by at all times of the day and night.
Don’t call it Edinborrow… check out the pronunciation as I did for each time the spelling initiated a new possibility 🙂
Been there, seen that – watch out this space, as more would be coming up soon from Mist in Munnar to Art Biennale in Kochi, Shakespeare’s Stratford upon Avon to Monet’s Giverny. Follow my blog and twitter @nmukerjee1 for updates.