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Notes on our Edinburgh trip (end of May 2017)

Notes on our Edinburgh trip (end of May 2017)

Jun 18th, 2017, 05:05 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2017
Posts: 13
Notes on our Edinburgh trip (end of May 2017)

Starting out:

My brother and I had wanted for ages to visit the UK, not having been since our childhood years. The exchange rate put us off (CAD to pounds) until we realized it would never get better and that we might as well seize the moment.

We flew from Toronto to Edinburgh via London on May 22 on an Air Canada Boeing 777. Never again will I fly that airline and route again. The economy configuration was 3-4-3, with seats expressly designed to make one feel like a sardine in a can. To make matters worse, there was a wide post of some kind dividing the floor between my feet and making it impossible for me to stretch my legs at all.

Let’s not even talk about Air Canada’s economy meals. I bought a couple of croissants at the airport before boarding and they tided me over.

Getting through Edinburgh airport was pretty quick and we easily found the tram into the city that deposited us a short walk from our charming New Town Airbnb flat. We settled in, went to Tesco for groceries, and made plans for the next day.
mirai is offline  
Jun 18th, 2017, 05:07 PM
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Day 1 in Edinburgh:

Mercat Royal Mile tour – It was my first experience with a walking tour and I was curious as to how it would go. At times, our guide’s voice was drowned out by the noise of traffic and occasional sirens – not really preventable – but she made the tour entertaining and fed us lots of interesting historical snippets.

Edinburgh Castle – the Mercat tour included the castle as an optional extra. Laura told us to listen for the 1 pm cannon (a tradition that grew out of helping nearby ships set their clocks), walked us around some of the buildings while explaining their significance and then left us to continue exploring on our own.

At one building, the lineup at the doorway marked “Crown Jewels” was daunting indeed so we decided to put it off. We walked 90 degrees left and found another doorway to the same building with no-one in sight. In we went, and guess what – we saw a special exhibition and the jewels both! Someone should tell the lined-up crowd there’s a faster way to achieve their goal. The prison is very interesting and the overall views from the castle were worth several photos.

After a good four hours at the castle, we set off down the Royal Mile, taking in the sights and sounds, and snapping pics of the prettiest closes. We didn’t quite complete the mile – our legs were getting mighty tired and we wanted to fit in Princes Street Garden. So we detoured there for a bit and then set off home.
mirai is offline  
Jun 18th, 2017, 05:22 PM
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Day 2

Today was the tour of the Kelpies, Loch Lomond, and Stirling Castle with Rabbie’s and our guide Liam, a skinny, cheerful type. Liam kept up a funny, informational chatter a lot of the time but but wisely played Celtic music for several stretches too – both to give us a flavour of cultural touchstones and to save his voice, I should think. The weather couldn’t have been more fabulous.

First stop was the Kelpies for some photo ops, then, with the group’s agreement, Liam drove through Aberfoyle (a scheduled stopping point) and stopped at Loch Lomond for a couple of hours. He led those of us who were willing through a short but somewhat challenging hike, and then we all gathered at the Oak Tree restaurant for lunch. My selection of chicken rice soup was not great flavour-wise, but it was lovely to get off my feet and down an ice-cold Pepsi, my guilty pleasure.

The next main stop was Stirling Castle where we had 2 hours to explore the castle and/or town. We chose to start with the castle and never ended up seeing the town – this was one of those moments where being in control of timing would have been desirable. The castle has lovely gardens and several interesting structures and exhibitions. The battlements and Wall Walk provided some of our best pictures. We were thoroughly happy with the decision to devote our available time to seeing every bit of the castle as possible.

Back in Edinburgh by 6:30 pm, we were struck by the idea to head to Calton Hill to make the most of the warm day. Tons of others had the same thought – there were dozens of youngsters and oldsters lounging on the grassy hillsides, climbing the gigantic steps of the unfinished Acropolis, and walking the paths. What a lovely, peaceful place – and the views of the city were fabulous.

We rested our legs at the flat and then chose Giuliano’s on Union Place for dinner. As others have mentioned, almost every restaurant seemed to have EU migrants as staff – in this case, every one of the 5 waitstaff we spoke to were Italian. Dinner was good with huge portions, dessert was okay, and so day 2 came to a close.
mirai is offline  
Jun 20th, 2017, 03:37 PM
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Day 3

We had made a booking before leaving Canada for an 11 am tour at Gilmerton Cove, so caught the bus for a 30-minute ride there. Only one other couple was present which was great – I do love small group tours. Gilmerton Cove is quietly fascinating. A series of hand-carved tunnels and chambers with detailed engravings on the walls, sleeping rooms, communal rooms, and more – historians and archaeologists are still working on figuring out exactly when they were built, and why, and how extensive they are. Some of the more recent (i.e., 18th century and later) uses to which the site was put were related – as a gambler’s den, a shelter for persecuted religious folk, and so on.

The guide mentioned that if/when the true age and purpose of the caves are known, thee site may be declared protected and be made off-limits to visitors except for those who want to peer down from ground level through glass partitions. So glad we went when we could get up close and personal with everything. Note that you will be given a hard hat to wear and the flooring is uneven, sometimes wet, in places.

Once back in the city, with the delightfully warm temperatures, we decided we needed a hit of ice cream. We made our way to Mary’s Milk Bar, an ice cream shop in the Grassmarket area, that I had come across in my research before the trip. Well, the lineup snaking out Mary’s door and down the sidewalk didn’t lie. If you like gelato and milkshakes, then add this place to your must-visit list. Their flavours are unique and very good. I had the rose, the lemon-rosemary, and the chocolate orange – no, not all at once! Over 3 separate visits.

Sweet tooth satisfied, we explored the lovely winding streets of Grassmarket, and took several shots of the brightly painted shops.

Our next stop was Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions – a gallery of optical illusions. This is apparently Edinburgh’s oldest attraction, built in 1835, a mere 300-400 feet from the castle esplanade. Over 5 floors you will find all manner of intriguing images and things - photographs of people fully painted to look like lizards or flowers, holograms, a mirror maze, vortex tunnel, and at the very top, a dark room presentation of live shots of the city and pedestrians projected from the still-existing camera obscura. My brother and I agreed that this was one of the most unusual and enjoyable sites we’ve seen in our travels.

By this point, it was early in the evening. We were steps away from the Real Mary King’s Close, so we stepped inside to book ourselves onto a tour. To our dismay, we were told all tours were fully booked for the next 90 minutes. I was too tired to wait so I chose to head home while my brother made a booking for himself. He toured St Giles church and caught a choir practice until his Mary King booking time drew near.

He reported afterwards that it was enjoyable but he wasn’t sure he would necessarily recommend it. In part, this was because a number of the stories the guide shared were the same as ones we had heard on our first day Royal Mile tour – i.e., stories of how the rich and poor lived, hygiene practices, and so on.
mirai is offline  
Jun 20th, 2017, 04:05 PM
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Day 4

Our last day in Edinburgh. We woke up realizing that we hadn’t yet made time for souvenir shopping, so that was our first priority for the day. We found several beautiful fridge magnets (paintings on wood shaped like postage stamps) at one shop on the Royal Mile, and I picked up a great t-shirt for my husband in Waverley station. The t-shirt showed the map of Scotland in blue and white, with all the various town/city names superimposed in such a way that the very names curved and flowed at the borders to form the shape of the country.

Next up was our final trip to Mary’s Milk Bar – because it was earlier in the morning, the lines were shorter and the place was quieter, so we decided to grab a couple of seats by the window to enjoy our treats.

We had pencilled in the Museum on the Mound as the next stop, interested in its focus on aspects of art and design, technology, crime, and security of money. Unfortunately, we had lost track of the days of the week. We got there at noon and found that the museum was due to open only at 1 pm on the weekend.

So we changed course and made our way to the National Museum of Scotland. We spent three or four enjoyable hours there, paying special attention to our favourite themes – science and technology, sculptures, and costumes/fashion.

While excited about spending the next 8 days in London, I was dreadfully sorry we hadn’t planned more time in this beautiful, charming city and country.

A few final observations:

• I am among those who feel Stirling Castle is more impressive than Edinburgh Castle, although seeing the Scottish Crown Jewels at the latter via a moving walkway – that’s one way to keep the masses on their way! – was quite memorable.

• Here in Canada (maybe also in the US), we’re used to food service staff wearing gloves and/or using tongs/spoons to handle and serve products in places like ice cream/sandwich establishments. This isn’t the practice in Edinburgh or London, in our experience.

• One of the American posters on this forum, I unfortunately don’t remember whom, mentioned her husband going in determined search of puddings from the Pots & Co. brand during their last visit to the UK. Well, I kept my own eyes peeled. I found that Waitrose carried many more flavours than Tesco, and between those two supermarkets I ended up sampling 4 flavours (chocolate orange, lemon-lime, orange-passionfruit, and salted caramel-chocolate) during our time in Edinburgh and later London. Thank you so much to whomever you are; those puddings were definitely high quality stuff!
mirai is offline  
Jun 20th, 2017, 05:19 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,406
Thanks for sharing your trip. I found your report very interesting. I have a great memory of being on Calton Hill in the evening during the Fringe festival in August, when a tent was set up there for a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. I got some great photos in the wonderful evening light, a memorable view.
Nikki is online now  
Jun 20th, 2017, 06:20 PM
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 991
Thank you for your report! We hope to go to Scotland soon. I'm interested in doing more research now about Stirling castle, based on your comments.
Iwan2go is offline  
Jun 21st, 2017, 08:41 AM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 1,348
thanks for the details. I now have Mary's milk bar on the list for our upcoming visit
mnag is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2017, 09:53 AM
Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 795
Me too! Thanks for the TR, Mirai!

Just curious - what made you pick the tour of the Kelpies, Loch Lomond, and Stirling Castle over their other tours?
Did you feel Rabbies was far better than the other tour companies because of the smaller group?

Given that we only have 4.5 days in Edinburgh, would you still recommend a visit to Gilmerton Cove? Did you think about making a trip to Glasgow?
excited_confused is offline  

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