A Long Weekend in Edinburgh
Between Christmas and New Year's we traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland by train. Edinburgh is a unique and beautiful (and a little spooky) city with a rich history. We explored the city and made sure to check all of the touristy destinations off our bucket list. Lucky for us, we also happened to be in Edinburgh for part of Hogmanay. We were able to see the Torchlit Procession and hear some traditional music (with bagpipes of course). We headed home (or at least planned to, continue reading for an explanation) on New Year's Eve and avoided the craziness that is downtown Edinburgh the night of December 31st (and also avoided the surge hotel prices).
We took a train from Bristol to Edinburgh, the ride was around 5-6 hours. We left early in the morning (with Stanley too!) and arrived in Edinburgh a few hours before sunset (which is super early this time of year). The ride wasn't bad! We got to see some pretty scenery on the way, many sheep and we passed through some cities that are also on our bucket list. The last hour or so of the train ride was along the coast, meaning we had a nice view of the North Sea. Fortunately the sun was out that day so the views were at their prime, however the train is not air conditioned... Luc and I (and most others in the train) were fanning ourselves pretty regularly toward the end of the trip. Stanley was a very good boy and slept for most of the ride!
We arrived in Edinburgh with Stanley and our backpacks in tow. We were immediately awestruck by the architecture towering over us and the mountainous backdrop. Edinburgh feels like a somewhat dark fairytale, which isn't to be unexpected given that it inspires Harry Potter. We had been sitting in the train all day so we were more than willing to walk to our hotel, however we failed to consider that Edinburgh is full of steep hills... We had to climb what felt like 15 flights of stairs to get from the train station to the higher streets of Edinburgh. My cardiovascular fitness is not great so I was heaving by the time we got to the top of the stairs, Luc only mocked me a little. We finally arrived and rested for a bit before heading out to explore. That evening we went to Greyfriars Kirkyard (some say it's the most haunted graveyard in the world), where the grave of Tom Riddle can be found. JK Rowling used to walk around the yard for inspiration, some say that the graveyard scene in Goblet of Fire is actually inspired by Greyfriars Kirkyard! The graveyard (kirkyard=churchyard=graveyard, by the way) is also famous for Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who sat by his owner's grave for 13 years after he died. The dog has a monument in the yard and is buried next to his owner. We arrived at the Kirkyard a few hours after sunset, so it was extra creepy. We had dinner at Greyfriars Bobby Bar. I had fish 'n chips, Luc had a burger.
We dragged ourselves out of bed early our first morning, our plan was to get to the top of Arthur's Seat by sunrise. Being us, we of course ignored our alarms and slept UNTIL sunrise (which was at 8:45). I eventually dragged Luc out of bed (surprising, since 99% of the time HE has to drag ME out of bed). We grabbed an uber and were lucky enough to have a local driver with plenty of hiking tips. It was cold, windy, and snow was in the forecast, so we had our driver drop us off as close to the top of the hike as possible! I'm glad we did, otherwise I don't think we would've made it...
Hiking Arthur's Seat
The first half of the hike was just fine. Pretty much just a steady incline on a well-defined trail. Then we began to approach the second half of the hike which was BASICALLY ALL ICE. Pure ice. At one point I slipped and slid on my bum down the icy trail until I hit a bump in the path. The higher up we climbed, the more we both fell! Eventually our only hope was to climb via bear-crawl (on all-fours, hands and feet) to continue on. After many falls and sniffles from the cold wind, we made it to the top! Though the climb would've been simple on a nice warm day, we agreed that the view from the top was worth climbing up the side of a frozen rocky extinct volcano, even on a gloomy day. We rested for a bit and enjoyed the 360 views at the top then began our climb back down, which was essentially sliding on our bums down the icy path for the first half of the hike down. It began snowing pretty soon after we started our bum-slide down, and we passed many hikers attempting to climb up the icy path that we had just somehow conquered... My favourite part of hiking up a hill (or mountain or volcano) is passing the heaving hikers climbing up while you are walking back down. Though I do also sympathise with them, especially the ones who are really struggling, since (as aforementioned) I am not in the best of shape...
We passed the ruins of St. Anthony's Chapel on our hike down. We're learning that we love ruins and are excited to see some ancient Celtic ruins when we go to Ireland next!
At the end of our hike was a pond with SO MANY SWANS.
After finishing the hike, we made our way back to the hotel. Showering felt SO GOOD after hiking in the cold wind. We then checked out of the hotel and moved our luggage (and Stan) over to our next hotel, where we stayed for 2 nights. Then we spent the afternoon wandering the city and checking some sites off our bucket list.
Mandatory photo at The Elephant House, which Harry Potter fans will appreciate. We didn't go inside because it was super crowded and it cost £1 just to enter. Seeing the location was enough for us! Next we visited Victoria Street, which is said to have inspired Diagon Alley! The shops on this street are quirky and cute. Luc really wanted to get a kilt, which of course I encouraged. (Sadly he never got his kilt because they are QUITE pricey).
St. Giles' Cathedral
European cathedrals are beautiful. We aren't religious but go inside every cathedral or abbey that we can when visiting a new city. St. Giles' is Luc's favourite cathedral so far. (Side note: don't you love how my autocorrect recognises that I'm in England now and changes all of my American-English words to British-English? It even happened in this side note, changing recognIZES to recogNISES)
Dinner at Whiski Rooms
After resting at the hotel (and giving Stanley some snuggles, he's a good boy), we made our way to Whiski Rooms for dinner. I got the recommendation from my favourite travel blog, Weekend Candy. I started with a flight of Scottish whisky, which gave me the liquid courage I needed to try Haggis. It actually wasn't bad! I ate my whole plate! Probably won't ever order it again though. Luc got a burger (noticing a burger trend here?).
Edinburgh Christmas Market
We were surprised when we discovered that the Edinburgh Christmas Market is open past New Year's! Of course this meant we had to do some exploring. I bought a roundabout candle with little sheep on it. We also bought a fancy heat pack (I had been missing mine, which I left in the US).
Hidden and Haunted Tour
Despite being terrified, I agreed to go on a ghost tour through the Edinburgh vaults, which are believed to be one of the most haunted locations in the world. That's TWO "most haunted in the world" places in one city! And I went to both! And I'm a wimp! We didn't have any paranormal experiences but heard many stories.
Funny story time:
So before going down to the vaults our tour guide led us around some spooky locations above ground, one being a spot where a king-murderer was publicly tortured. The tour guide vividly described how the murderer's intestines were tore from his body while he was still alive then thrown into the fire before his own eyes. The tour guide then pauses and says "mmmm...HAGGIS." I felt a little queasy here as I could still taste the haggis I had boldly ordered for dinner... Never again.
We woke up early (or early for us, at least) to get to Edinburgh Castle when it opened. I'm so glad we got there when we did, because by the time we left it was crowded. The castle is positioned on top of an extinct volcano, making for great views leading up to and from the castle. We saw the Scottish crown jewels, where Mary Queen of Scots lived, the birth chamber where James VI was born, a 16th century battery, cannons from the 1800s, St. Margaret's Chapel, a dog cemetery for the pets of military men, and war prisons (my personal favourite). We also had afternoon tea, which was decadent but small portions (for us supersized Americans).
The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile starts at Edinburgh Castle and ends at Holyrood Palace. We spent the next hour or so of the afternoon making our way down the mile. The top of the mile is crowded with tourists, shops selling cashmere and tweed, and bagpipers. Further from the castle are unique restaurants and pubs, more shops, and various historic sites.
We eventually arrived at Holyrood Palace, where we were met with a steep entrance fee. We had only wanted to walk around the palace to see the ruins of Holyrood Abbey nearby, but sadly this was included as part of the palace entrance fee. We didn't feel like spending more money, so we got an uber (we didn't feel like walking back UP the hill that is the royal mile) back to our hotel for an afternoon rest and a snuggle with Stan. For anyone wondering, Stanley is a great traveler! He doesn't get nervous in new places and loves to explore. Every time I get out my suitcase he tries to jump inside it! He's a smart pup.
Mary King's Close
While it's a bit touristy, Mary King's Close is worth seeing. We got to see what the original streets of Edinburgh looked like, learned what Garde de l'eau! means, saw Edinburgh's first toilet, visited rooms where sufferers of the plague were quarantined, and heard some ghost stories (yes, ANOTHER HAUNTED PLACE). No photography was allowed on the tour, but I was naughty and snapped a (blurry and poor quality) photo at the end.
We got some cheap dinner at a mediterranean restaurant (delicious) then headed back to the hotel to pick up Stanley, who got to go with us to my favourite event of our weekend: Hogmanay's Torchlit Procession! The streets were crowded but attending this event was well worth facing the crowd and a great end to our weekend. The parade of people walking down the royal mile with torches never seemed to end!
We slept in the next day (which was New Year's Eve), had some pizza at Civerinos for lunch (where we met some fellow Americans!), and hopped on our train home. Our return travel plans were disrupted by a person being hit by a train just outside Edinburgh (this happens more often than you would think), our train was cancelled, we had to board a separate train, ended up leaving an hour later than scheduled, and missed our connecting train in London. I wasn't too upset about this, however, because it meant that we got to spend New Year's Eve in a swanky London hotel! I say swanky but it was the cheapest we could find, only £98 for a night. I assume it was cheap because we booked it last minute. I'm not going to disclose the name of this hotel because we were naughty and snuck Stanley in (no pets allowed). Lucky for us, Stanley is a good boy and was perfectly fine with being in his shoulder-bag-carrier covered in my scarf while we checked in. Good boy Stan. Our hotel room was on the 5th floor with a huge window, where we could look out and see fireworks all across London (even the London Eye fireworks in the distance!). We hopped on a train to Bristol the next morning and made it home safe and sound.