The train from Glasgow to Edinburgh was straight forward and our lodgings in the city were in a spectacular location – right by Waverly Station, with Chalmers Close connecting it to the High Street from the back. I totally recommend Jury’s Inn Edinburgh for that reason alone.
View from the Tourist Centre toward our hotel
This time, we couldn’t get an early check-in, but at least we were able to dump our packs there before heading out for some sightseeing. As in Glasgow, we opted for the hop-on/hop-off tour to get us oriented. I must say that Edinburgh runs strong against Dublin, Ireland as one of my favourites. The architecture is sublime, and there are enough bridges, crazy walks, closes and easily walkable districts to keep one content for a long time.
The other cool thing about where our hotel is located is that it was like being in the thick of a personal Ian Rankin what’s where – we were right by the Caledonian, Fleshmarket Close, Mary King’s Close (more on that later), High Street, Princes Street, and so on. Though we didn’t make it to the Ox.
Anyway, we elected to stay on the bus for the whole route, and that worked out well, since we could take in all of the info and spend the afternoon doing our own thing (plus we were on the top deck for a change and didn’t want to give up our seats). At lunch, we got into our room to freshen up, and then it was off to the Castle.
On the way, we did a decent amount of shopping – if you are looking for jewelery, kilts or even kitsch, you’ll find it here. Oh yes, and whisky too.
Edinburgh Castle is a ghastly £13 to get in, but it was worth it. Some awesome-looking guards were out front with great spats. The Castle is built on an extinct volcano, and there are records of there being a fortress there as early as 600 AD. By 1130, some of the buildings that are still there were already built, including Margaret’s Chapel – which I would have loved to have seen the inside of, but it wasn’t open (apparently you can rent it for small weddings – that would be gorgeous).
Beautiful - and you can see how it's situated on the rock
In the 1300′s the Castle changed hands between Scotland and England several times due to its strategic and symbolic significance. David did some work in the 1400′s and then James IV built the Great Hall in 1511. The “Honours” are also assembled during this timeframe, and we got to see them as well (they spent some time in other castles during various seiges – like at Dunnottar, which we also visited, to keep them away from the filthy hands of Cromwell in the mid-17th Century). James VI was born in the Castle to Mary, Queen of Scots, and of course he went on to become James 1 of England.
The Scottish War Memorial – in the former St Mary’s Church – is one of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen of that type. No pictures allowed inside, unfortunately. It was very quiet and respectful in there, though you could hear people turning pages in the books of the dead – just looking at names, or looking for relatives, I suppose.
James’ Great Hall was great. Also rentable for weddings and parties. The hammerbeam roof is original and amazing – puts that new fangled one at Stirling to shame. Though the rest of the room is pretty much a reno from Victoria’s reign.
That's some aged wood
Fortuitously, on the way back down to our hotel, we found the Real Mary King’s Close, which is something that was on my “want” list. This is one of the only ways you get to see the “old” streets from 17th Century Edinburgh, preserved underneath the modern construction. Back in the day, the Close was a group of very narrow streets with tenements up to 7 stories shadowing the bottom. The were all oriented from the main street down toward Nor Loch, and that’s where all of the sewage ran to as well – so you can imagine how clean the air was.
On the tour, the in-character guide tells you a lot about the plague and about the ghosts that supposedly haunt the Close. Mary King herself was fairly prosperous – earning a whopping £100/year, though the dentist was earning double that. There was one man still living there in the 19th Century who didn’t want to move out. He also had the only flush toilet, which he positioned in the front room where he could show it off by using it with the front door open. They did eventually get him out, and it was amazing to still see some of the Victorian wallpaper in his old townhouse.
After a bit more shopping, we headed back to the hotel to offload and get ready for dinner. We wandered over the bridge to Rose Street area. As we were crossing a street, there was a young couple with a scrawny baby in the carriage and he was carrying on to high heaven about something. So Dad pulled him out and Mom placed on his head a jaunty tam o’shanter that was bit too big, but it was the magic hat, man. Little guy was giggling and happy to see the world after that. So if you are ever down in the doldrums, put on your jaunty cap and you’ll be fine.
I had a real craving for pizza, and we found a decent Italian restaurant. I had some great crumble for dessert – not so scottish, maybe, but very yummy.
It was amazing that it stays light so late at the northern latitude. We were wondering around close to 10pm with twilight barely setting in.
Photo album for Edinburgh