British Isles 2015:
Day 12 - Edinburgh, Scotland


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British Isles 2015: [Day 1 - London] [Day 2 - Dover/Calais] [Day 3 - Southampton] [Day 4 - Guernsey] [Day 5 - Cork] [Day 6 - Dublin] [Day 7 - Liverpool] [Day 8 - Belfast] [Day 9 - Glasgow] [Day 10 - At Sea] [Day 11 - Invergordon] [Day 12 - Edinburgh] [Day 13 - At Sea] [Day 14 - Versailles] [Day 15 - London] [Day 16 - London]

Wednesday, July 29, 2015: Sail in to the Firth of Forth (for real) was very scenic.

This was our second and final tender port and we had learned from experience that the first tender of the day wasn't full, so off we went.
Sure enough, we had plenty of room in the back of the spacious tender to enjoy the trip in. The red bridge here is the Forth Bridge.
It is used only for rail transportation. At this point, we were undecided about whether we'd take the train into the city or look for an alternative.
A Scottish group were performing for us when we arrived. Bagpipes, yay.
After taking a good look at how far away the train station must be if the tracks disappear into the top of the hill somewhere, we were happy to see a shuttle bus and information sign on the street at the end of the pier.
Craond Coaches shuttle bus service was waiting for us with a very reasonably priced 10 pound roundtrip ticket.
Our driver told us that this place, Stewart's Melville College, was part of the inspiration for Hogwarts.
Or maybe it was this place: Fettes College. Or maybe he said both. The Internet claims lots of places as the inspiration.
We were dropped off near Charlotte Square right in the city.
These Andy Scott sculptures are miniature versions of gigantic horse head sculptures called the Kelpies. We had seen another one of his sculptures in Greenock.
OMG! OMG! It's Boyzone!!! Debbie loves Boyzone!!
We walked to the Rose Street to see the bar where our friend Mike's parents met, but it was too early to step in for a pint.
Rose Street is conveniently marked with a flower mosaic.
Here's more of it.
We turned on South Castle Street and got our first impressive view of Edinburgh Castle.
Lush!
Here's the view up the Mound past the the Royal Scottish Academy.
Here's the other side of the Academy with the National Gallery in the center of the photo.
And here's the view looking back from the top of the pyramid. Why did we photograph this? Because this is where the big finale of the movie "Sunshine on Leith" was filmed and we love love love that film.
Tucked in the corner of this square is this sculpture of the castle and the surrounding neighborhood, created so that people with impaired vision can feel how it looks.
We walked up the steps to ...
... the intersection of Market Street and Bank Street, where this fellow stood guard.
We walked up Mound Place past Assembly Hall, ...
... and up steep Ramsay Lane, ...
... until we reached Castlehill.
It was too early to start waiting in line to enter the Castle, so we went to the huge gift shop right outside for a while. There's the Macalester tartan, but Debbie was able to resist.
If we hadn't had an entire day of walking ahead of us, some of these packages of haggis might have come home with us. Maybe not the vegetarian haggis though.
Shortly before the Castle opened, a group had formed outside, then they let us in to the Esplanade where the Military Tattoo is held each year, and we formed into lines once we made it across this expanse.
We had prepurchased our tickets, so we didn't have to stand in the long line to buy tickets.
Once inside, we still weren't inside. We had to make it up to the gate entrance up ahead. Most people were being turned back due to not yet having tickets, but we sailed right in.
By now, we had outrun people at the first entrance, bypassed people at the second entrance, shown the magical tickets at the third entrance, and now all we had to do was beat a couple dozen people to the place to be: the Crown Jewels exhibit. We should have taken the staircase on the left since it was the top secret shortcut, but instead we climbed the entire spiral up the hill to the top.
As we arrived, we saw another couple emerge from the top of the stairwell, so they beat us into the exhibit, but we were next.
Another spiral staircase, ...
... and we were in the exhibit. We had the entire place pretty much to ourselves once the other couple zoomed ahead. Here is Robert the Bruce crowned with a circlet of gold in 1306.
The Scepter and the Sword came to Scotland as papal gifts to King James IV (1488 - 1513). These are two of the three treasures that make up the Crown Jewels, or Honours as they are known here.
Here's a reenactment of the Sword of State being presented to King James IV.
Here's Mary Queen of Scots. It was a nice little exhibit, but it was the window in the back that caught our attention.
On this entire trip to the famously wet British Isles, we had only one weather requirement: Sunshine on Leith.
And here it is! Oh happy day!
Here's the view further to the right where we'd be spending some time later in the afternoon.
So, back to the Honours. Here's where the Honours were saved from Cromwell in 1652, ...
... and here they are being restored in 1660.
Then they were locked away in 1707 and rediscovered in 1818.
This room was the last one before we entered the room where the Honours/Crown Jewels were on display. One of the security guards excitedly told us that we'd have the Crown Jewels room all to ourselves and how incredibly rare this is, especially since there was a huge cruise ship in port that day and they expected to be slammed with visitors. We laughed when we told him that were from that cruise ship. We weren't allowed to photograph the Honours in the next room, but there were sculpted replicas of them here: the Sceptre, ...
... the King's Crown, ...
... and the Sword of State.
The Stone of Scone was also in the next room. But sorry, you don't get to see any of them because we didn't take any photos. But we got to see them with no one else around but a couple of security guards.
Next, we toured the royal apartments, ...
... including Laich Hall.
Next, we took a more leisurely look around the castle grounds.
We got our perfect "Sunshine on Leith" photograph. That's Leith on the water in the center of this photo. You know, where the sunshine is.
Just below the overlook was a cemetery for soldiers' dogs.
Here's Mons Meg, the Castle's giant cannon built in 1449.
Here's the view looking down to the road below that spirals up the hill.
Way off in the distance, our ship and the Firth Bridge were visible because they are both THAT LARGE.
St. Margaret's Chapel is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh and we believe it.
We headed into the whiskey gift shop ...
... where free samples of Bruadar liqueur were being offered. It's a tasty beverage made of malt whisky, honey and sloe berries.
We also sampled the whiskey cream they were offering, and ended up taking home a mini bottle of the Bruadar liqueur.
From this display, we picked up a small bag of three tiny whiskeys and a bottle of whiskey shaped like Edinburgh Castle in a wooden box.
We added a whiskey measure to the pile of purchases and we were done.
Pretty flowers.
This photo shows how the road spirals down the hill.
Next up: Museum of the Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) and The Royal Regiment of Scotland.
Here's a well-dressed gentleman.
This display tells the story of Private McBain at Malplaquet whose baby mama left him with the kid before a battle, so he brought the wee bairn into battle with him. That's Junior McBain in the bag on his back.
Shiny drums.
Shiny medals.
Shiny pressed penny machine. Debbie was able to resist its charms, but there was a time long ago when she would've been unable.
This was the Prisons of War museum.
It didn't look too scary except for the fact that you never, ever got to sleep on a flat surface.
We grabbed a seat and a hot chocolate for a short break. Yes, in July, a hot chocolate seemed like the appropriate drink to have.
Here's the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Regimental Museum. We only ventured in here as far as the gift shop and bought a couple of Diet Cokes.
We were starving by now and couldn't wait until our 1:00 food tour started, so we had elevensies. Yes, you're looking at a Scotch Egg in Scotland. It was almost too good to be true. Washed down with an Edinburgh Castle 80 Shilling Ale and accompanied by a couscous salad.
We sat here. You don't care, but we like to keep our memories.
Here's the One O'Clock Gun. We listened for it later about a half mile away downhill and didn't so much hear it as felt it, like thunder in the distance.
Here's our last shot of the castle and the mobs who were now there ...
... before heading back across the Esplanade and on our way out.
We headed out down Castlehill ...
... and got sucked into the gift shop at the Scotch Whisky Experience. Every time we saw Highland Park whisky, we were compelled to photograph it, since Debbie is a graduate of Highland Park Senior High, home of the Fighting Scots (not to be confused with her college, Macalester, also home of the Fighting Scots).
This wall was filled with hundreds of miniature bottles. So tiny! So cute! So little luggage weight left!
So obviously, this was out of the question. But this time, we got the name of the manufacturer. Gentle reader, please buy this tray for us.
Aw, adorable -- here's a Highland Cow stuffed toy.
Down the street was the Witchery, where they probably keep people who can control vacation weather as well as Debbie can.
This store sold local brews along with the requisite Scotch selection.
This tavern was at the corner of Castlehill and George IV Bridge. If we had continued going straight, ...
... we would have continued down the Royal Mile on Lawnmarket.
Instead, we turned right on George IV Bridge to get to the start of our 1:00 food tour.
We passed the very adorable Edinburgh Children's Library, ...
... and the Elephant House cafe, famous for being the place where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter, ...
... the Frankenstein Bar and Diner, ...
... and the National Museum of Scotland.
"Austentatious" -- this looks fun!
The meeting place for our tour was the Whiskey Snug at the Hotel du Vin & Bistro.
Our guide, Alan, met us right at 1:00 (after we listened for the One O'Clock Gun) and escorted us into the restaurant area of the hotel.
We had introductions all around. With the exception of one couple, we were all from the cruise ship.
Alan gave us some history of the building we were in and the local area. He told us a little about the sample we were trying: fried herring with chutney. It was interesting but not something we'd seek out again.
Then we took a quick tour of the lovely building, including the exquisite wine tasting room, ...
... the wine attic with its view of the restaurant below, ...
... and the chandelier in reception made out of wine glasses.
We set out for the next spot on our tour, passing Greyfriars Bobby Inn.
It's named for a dog who remained loyal to his master even after his death, and there's a statue of the dog on the street out in front with a fountain that used to dispense water into a bowl at dog-level.
We walked down Candlemaker Row, ...
... to the corner of Grassmarket, ...
... where some sort of festival was occurring.
Then we went up Bow Street with its very colorful storefronts.
The other side of the street is just slightly less colorful.
We reached Castlehill, where we'd been not long earlier. Alan pointed out the major buildings around us and down the Royal Mile.
Debbie was taken by the beautiful tartan dress in the window at the Tartan Weaving Mill. Who knew tartan could be sexy?
We walked up Castlehill for a very short distance then ducked through Lady Stairs Close.
This took us to a courtyard ...
... with the Writer's Museum on the left.
Scattered all over the courtyard and sidewalks were quotes from authors ...
... like this, ...
... and this, ...
... and these.
We passed through the courtyard to the street beyond, then took a quick right turn into Makar's Rest.
Our first tasting was a cocktail featuring Edinburgh Gin's Raspberry Liqueur mixed with prosecco.
Don't mind if we do.
Cheers! It was very tasty.
For food, we sampled black pudding from Isle of Lewis and venison pate on toasted crackers. The black pudding was surprisingly delicious.
From there, ...
... we walked down the Mound, ...
... back past the National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy, ...
... to West Princes Street Gardens, ...
... where we took a quick peek at the Floral Clock.
We walked up Hanover Street (Hey, we watched "Mr. Selfridge"!) ...
... past this statue that commemorates George IV visiting Scotland in 1822.
Up one more block, take a left on Queen Street, and we arrived at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
We were seated in a private room ...
... and Alan told us all about scotch, the society, and what little he could about the bottle we'd be sampling.
Identified only by a number (123.14), an age (9 years), a distilling date (2005), and a bottle count (one of only 225 bottles), this single cask whisky contains a full description of the taste ending with the phrase "Curious but playful and enjoyable."
Here it is.
For those of us wanting to add a drop or two of water, our choices included tap water or specialty waters meant to compliment Islay malt whisky, Highland malt whisky, and Speyside malt whisky. We picked one and tried not to look too ignorant.
Our beverages were served with Findlay's haggis, neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes). It was very delicious and we are relieved to say that we've finally tried haggis.
We snapped a photo of the beautiful staircase as we were leaving.
We resumed our westerly stroll down Queens Street.
That's St. Stephen's Church in the distance.
Queens Street had many colorful, interesting buildings, including this ornate pawnbroker, ...
... the Brotique men's store, ...
... an outfitter of highland garments, ...
... and a barbershop that is actually a secret cocktail bar.
We turned left on Charlotte Street at the foot of a monument to Catherine Sinclair, a Scottish author.
On Charlotte Square, we passed Bute House, the official residence of the First Minister.
Up ahead was the pickup point for our shuttle service, right in front of the Register House (with the green dome) on Charlotte Square.
We took a side street past the Register House to our next stop, ...
... La P'tite Folie wine bar.
This was a large, bright room ...
... with a bunch of bar tables and stools waiting for us.
We were all given our choice of red or white wine, ...
... then we shared plates and baskets of bread, crackers, veggies, meats,and cheeses (including goat cheese and cheddar). Tasty!
From here, we walked down Charlotte Lane and Queensferry Street to our final stop, ...
... Ghillie Dhu, a Scottish pub in a beautiful old building.
We all fit into a large booth, ...
... where we were served a delicious dessert made of berries, cream, and whiskey, with a shortbread cookie. As we sat and talked, Alan told us that he had been inspired to start an Edinburgh food tour after taking one in Seattle -- the same food tour we had taken in Seattle the previous month! Small world.
We walked a couple of blocks back to Charlotte Square where a return shuttle bus was waiting for us, ...
... and we were back at the tender pier in no time.
We got great seats up top on the tender and enjoyed the sunny ride to the ship.
We spotted more lion's mane jellyfish in the water. We had seen them occasionally throughout our trip in the water.
Because of our afternoon food tour, we knew we wouldn't be hungry by the normal dinner time, so we booked an Ultimate Balcony Dinner. We had really enjoyed the experience in Tahiti several years earlier. A ship's photographer took a photo of us that was included in the price of the dinner.
We started with fresh flowers and cocktails, ...
... and a plate full of canapes.
Our appetizer was a crab cake in a pastry shell.
When we finished our cocktails, we opened the bottle of champagne.
This was the only misstep of the entire meal: a huge, incredibly heavy salad. It was good but it had at least a cup of walnuts and half an apple in it, so it was very filling and impossible to finish. We weren't at all hungry for our entree after this.
We had timed our dinner to coincide with sail out, so we enjoyed the changing landscape as we ate.
We had a great view of the city of Edinburgh for much of the meal.
After great weather all day, it was fun to see the rain roll in. Here's a plane landing at the airport, and that's Bambougle Castle right next to the ocean.
Dinner was surf and turf. Since Debbie was too full to eat her steak, we saved it for breakfast the next day.
More cruising, more relaxing on the balcony, and more scenery. It was now getting a little chilly, so we had our travel blankets on our laps and our fleeces on.
Dessert was a decadent chocolate structure of some sort. Again, delicious, but Debbie saved hers for the next day.
Our last course was a plate of petit fors, which we wisely decided to save for another day.
We were finishing up about the time that the pilot boat came along to pick up the harbour pilot.

Day 13 >


British Isles 2015: [Day 1 - London] [Day 2 - Dover/Calais] [Day 3 - Southampton] [Day 4 - Guernsey] [Day 5 - Cork] [Day 6 - Dublin] [Day 7 - Liverpool] [Day 8 - Belfast] [Day 9 - Glasgow] [Day 10 - At Sea] [Day 11 - Invergordon] [Day 12 - Edinburgh] [Day 13 - At Sea] [Day 14 - Versailles] [Day 15 - London] [Day 16 - London]

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