Friday, April 13, 2007

Edinburgh Trip: The City

Our trip to the UK was in two parts: to spend Easter with family and before that, to spend six days on holiday in Edinburgh.

Why Edinburgh?

Well, actually we chose the destination based on which places we could fly to using my airmiles, and Edinburgh was the favourite on that list. Readers of Bloody Marvellous! will know what I think of frequent flyer schemes, and bmi didn't fail to disappoint again, by severely limiting where they would allow me to go with my 300,000 saved up miles. In fact, there were NO bmi flights that would let me buy tickets with my miles, to anywhere, so I had to turn to other Star Alliance airlines Swiss and Lufthansa.

It turns out that Edinburgh was actually a great choice. It's a beautiful, interesting city with a long and chequered history; one that you could easily spend two weeks in and around without getting bored.

It's a very hilly city, and while we were there chilly and windy too. It was nice to be somewhere where you need to wear jumpers and coats for a change. Towering above the city is Edinburgh Castle, which sits on top of a large hill, and the main thoroughfare from it -- The Royal Mile -- goes in more or less a straight line for a mile down to ground level, and the palace of Holyrood House. The flat we'd rented was situated right on the Royal Mile, so couldn't have been in a better location.

On Day One we trudged up the Royal Mile in the wind, to the Castle Esplanade, where you can get a great view of the city's New Town.

New Town and Princes St., from the top of Edinburgh Castle

Abigail meets Braveheart.

The Royal Mile and the Castle are in the Old Town, with its medieval architecture and the New Town is all Georgian architecture, with the two being seperated by Princes St Gardens. The gardens used to be Nor Loch before it was drained to become the public gardens you see there today. also in the gardens is Edinburgh's Waverley train station. After looking in a few shops we stopped for lunch at Deacon Brodie's, which is a pub on the ground floor and has a restaurant on the first floor.

Deacon Brodie's

We had a great lunch of traditional food -- I had Haggis, Neeps and Tatties -- and good local beer Belhaven Best (we didn't all have beer; that was just me). Then after lunch we walked down the hill and across the gardens, past the National Gallery to Princes St., Edinburgh's main shopping street.

A McBusker

They have all the big chain shops you could want here, and even their own traditional department store, Jenners.

...and I thought Elliot was getting tall!

That evening we went to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner, where we first learned of something that was to mar our visit to Edinburgh slightly: their licensing laws are very family-unfriendly. The Hard Rock shocked us by saying that they didn't admit under 14's after 8pm because they didn't have a licence. We've been to Hard Rock Cafe's all over, but have never encountered this restrictive practice before. Turned away from there, we went to TGI Friday's which was just around the corner, but they were full and had a 45-minute wait for a table, so we moved on into Rose St. and tried a pub/restaurant called Dirty Dick's. They would admit us but were also full, but they directed us further down the street to the Bad Ass Bistro: another pub owned by the same company, and we have a really nice dinner there in a cosy informal atmosphere. I looked it up later on the internet, and apparently only one in fifty-two of Edinburgh's pubs admit children, a policy that make less sense for a couple of well-behaved teenagers than for very small children. We wanted to eat local food on the trip instead of Indian, Chinese etc., so the pub/restaurant style places were pretty much our only option, and this policy really limited our choices. The ones we did use were very good indeed, but there were many more that we couldn't go into as a family. It wasn't a disaster but nevertheless it was irritating.

On Day Two we turned left out of the flat and walked downhill to the bottom of the Royal Mile, where two buildings, old and new, stand more or less facing each other. Holyrood House Palace is the official residence of the Queen, and across the road is the new Scottish Parliament building. Built in the mid-90's and designed by a firm of architects from Barcelona, the new building is pretty unpopular with the locals as they feel it doesn't go with the much older buildings in the Old Town. My own first impression agreed with them, but once we went inside I began to feel differently. I don't know if was good Feng Shui or what, but the more time I spent i there the more calm and at peace I felt. We looked around the reception area with its exhibits and displays, then went upstairs to the Public Gallery of the Debating Chamber. A light, airy room which seemed to me to be the perfect place for all those important decisions and votes.

Part of the Scottish Parliament Building

The Debating Chamber. Each identical desk has laptop power, a microphone, and an electronic voting computer that MSPs login to using their ID badge.

We left the Parliament building and did a tour of Holyrood House next. They give you a cool headset thing containing an audio tour guide. It was really easy to use and very effective; just go to the next location and press Play.

Holyrood House Palace

Lunch was at Clever Dick's on the Royal Mile, Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, and another couple of pints of Belhaven Best, yummy! That afternoon we walked past St. Giles' Cathedral and saw an advert for a night-time Ghouls and Ghosts Tour.

St. Giles' Cathedral

When we turned up at eight pm however, the tour was already full so we had to think of something else to do. I know, dinner! (we'll come back and do the tour another night). Dinner was at Maxie's Bistro just off the Royal Mile. During dinner at Maxie's we started talking about where we would have lunch the next day, then suddenly realised that our whole days seemed to be being arranged around mealtimes. No sooner did we sit down to eat than we were starting to plan our next meal!

On Day Three we had a little trip out to Leith to tour round the Royal Yacht Britannia, but I'll cover that in full in the next posting.

Day Four morning was spent touring Edinburgh Castle, again with an audio tour. The castle and all the buildings and tenements of the Old Town look like they're made of the same rock of which the hill is made, giving the impression that they have been chipped out of solid rock by a giant sculptor. I was reminded several times of the city of Minas Tirith from the Lord Of The Rings, there were so many tall buildings of rock, pedestrian alleyways, steep stone stairs, and winding streets all built on top of each other.

We spent the afternoon buying souvenirs,

then chilled out at the flat for a bit before heading out again, this time to the Edinburgh Playhouse to see Cole Porter's High Society, starring Wayne Sleep. In case you don't know it, it's the musical that gave us songs like Who Wants To Be A Millionnaire? and What A Swell Party This Is. Very good show with some really slick dance numbers.

After the show we got a taxi to the top of the Royal Mile for a Theatre Supper at The Witchery, one of Edinburgh's best restaurants. Quite a good idea: they do a fixed price supper for theatregoers. Good for us because it's an affordable way to eat at a very expensive restaurant, and good for them because they get another cover on an otherwise empty table at the end of the evening. The food was simply superb and the atmosphere delightful. If you ever go to Edinburgh, save up some extra spending money and have dinner at The Witchery.

Our final full day was spent on a bus tour to Stirling Castle and Loch Lomond. I'll cover that in a separate posting in a day or two.

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