At Home in Edinburgh

posted September 28, 2010 by Holly Hayes part of trip: UK + Western Europe 2010

We arrived in Edinburgh around 1:30pm on Sunday, which was earlier than expected, and it was great to have the extra time to wander around at our leisure. The sun was shining brightly and it was actually warm all afternoon, which was a pretty nice welcome. We're quite happy with our hotel, too.

Hotel room at the Fraser Suites

I lived in Edinburgh for a year in 1999-2000 while I earned a master's degree and I loved it here. Even after 10 years it still feels so familiar and homey. This familiarity can actually be a bit of a surreal time warp - when I walk up the Royal Mile and hear the bagpipes, it feels like I still live here and never left - except that I'm suddenly 10 years older and have a husband along! Here's a tour of some of my old haunts:

My college is the building with the spiky towers in the center. It was built in 1865 and therefore known as "New College."

View from below



Statue of John Knox, Scottish Calvinist reformer

I lived up a flight of stairs from the college, right on the Royal Mile. My room was a couple levels up, on the right in the corner.

Alley and stairs under my place, leading downhill to my college and all the shops - it was quite a hike back up with books and groceries!

And here are some general views of the lovely city:

View from hotel window

General view from castle

National Gallery and Princes Street, from just below New College

Princes Street Gardens. There's an ice rink here in the winter.

Princes Street, the main shopping area, as seen from the castle.

Statue of David Hume, Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, in front of St. Giles Cathedral

George IV Bridge, looking to the Bank of Scotland building

We had another really delicious dinner Sunday night, which we didn't bring our cameras along for. Sorry. It wasn't quite as rapturous as the one in Melrose, but seriously good. David had a cold salmon starter followed by a roasted chicken breast over champ mash with red wine sauce. I had potato-leek soup followed by tagliatelle with butternut squash, blue cheese and parmesan. YUM.

Full Day 1: Monday

We both went to bed early and slept in Monday morning (relatively speaking - after 7am). We had a nice cooked breakfast in our hotel that did not include either haggis or black pudding. But as is often the case with hotel breakfasts, it was a little overpriced.

The last couple days the weather has been much more typically Scottish - cold, windy, cloudy, and often either raining or misting. It has been good to have two full days in one place where we don't have a very big "shot list" to take care of, but we've nevertheless kept really busy and managed to wear our feet out on all the cobblestoned and hilly streets.

Monday morning David did some wandering and shopping (he'd like to find a Scottish sweater) while I took care of some photography tasks in the city churches, then we met up for a lunch of soup and sandwiches from Pret. We ate on a bench under a tree in Princes Street Gardens, which has a lovely view of the National Gallery of Scotland, the castle, and my old college.

Then we walked down to Holyrood Palace, located at the bottom of the Royal Mile, which is the Queen's official residence in Scotland. It also has plenty of good history involving many Scottish royals including Mary, Queen of Scots, and there is a Gothic abbey ruin behind it. No photos allowed inside, unfortunately, but the grounds and abbey were beautiful.


While down there we also had a look at the new Scottish Parliament building, a rather ugly ultra-modern building that was just beginning construction when I lived here. I also showed David the wonderful hill called Arthur's Seat, which is part of a large park that I used to enjoy walking and running in. It was covered in misty fog and looked quite beautiful.


I spent most of the evening doing photo management, yesterday's blog, and researching accommodations in the Highlands, and then at 8pm we met my friend Lizzie and her husband Peter for dinner. It was great to see her again and meet Peter for the first time. Lizzie was one of my roommates in Edinburgh and we've kept in touch; we last saw her when she came down to Oxford in 2006.

We had dinner at an Italian place called Vittoria's, which was very good, followed by drinks at the Jolly Judge pub. The pub was very close to where Lizzie and I lived, just off the Royal Mile near the castle. It was quiz night and quite crowded in the small pub, but fortunately (and surprisingly) we were able to sit at an outdoor table without getting very cold. We were out well past our usual pathetic bedtime, but it was very much worth it. Good times.


Full Day 2: Tuesday

This morning we had a nice breakfast at a place called Always Sunday, just down the road from our hotel, then visited Edinburgh Castle just as it opened. David was initially skeptical it was worth the effort (he's looking forward to rural Highland castles) but really enjoyed it, and I had fun revisiting it and taking some photos for the website (it qualifies for Sacred Destinations thanks to a 12th-century chapel).

The One O'Clock Gun - it makes a big boom at exactly 1pm every day.

An interior room

St. Margaret's Chapel (12th century)

After a brief stop at the hotel, we had another healthy and delicious lunch at Pret in the New Town:

Tuna and cucumber baguette sandwich to share, piping hot lentil-bacon soup for each of us, and bircher muesli with pomegranate and pistachios.

From there we hopped in a black cab to go see the Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh's harbor. There is also a major mall at the harbor, called the Ocean Terminal, and we considered a movie in its big cinema before deciding we didn't have enough time.

Ocean Terminal mall

Any cinema with a wall of candy and its own Ben & Jerry's has to be good.

The Britannia was fun - David especially enjoyed it, which made me happy. It was commissioned by the current Queen back in the 1950s and sailed all over the world before it was retired in 1997. I especially loved all the 1950s electronics.

The Britannia, with mall on left

A smaller racing yacht

State dining room

The Queen's bedroom. If I were the Queen, I'd have a much bigger bed!

The Duke of Edinburgh's sitting room

Officers' mess

Sick bay

Engine room


Back in town, we quickly checked off the final sights on our Edinburgh photography list just before they closed. I expected to take care of it myself but David wanted to accompany me, which was great.

First stop was Greyfriars Kirk, a church with a very atmospheric graveyard. Unfortunately we didn't get to go inside because there was a wedding.

Greyfriars Kirk

Next was the National Museum of Scotland, just across the street from Greyfriars, which was even better than I remember. Admission is free and photography is allowed, so it would already be a winner even if its exhibits weren't great. But they have so much great stuff from the Roman, Early Christian, and Viking periods, which I love. And for David, they have Jackie Stewart's Formula One car! He was so surprised and thrilled to see that. And the upper floors have displays on the development of modern Scotland, which looked interesting, but we didn't get a chance to see them before they kicked us out at 5pm.


And finally I popped inside St. Giles Cathedral to take some interior photos. I don't think I visited much while I lived in Edinburgh, and I was surprised by how beautiful it was.


Our feet were about ready to fall off by this time, but there's one thing that can inspire us to press on: Marks & Spencer. We have a microwave in our hotel room, so we decided to get some meals to heat up and a nice pudding of some kind. It did not disappoint. We each chose the same chicken dinners we had in our Cambridge apartment, followed by one of our favorite pub desserts that we have been on a mission to find (Cambridge didn't have it) - spotted dick!

Our little kitchen


And finally, after sunset I had one more task to accomplish - some night photos with the tripod. I had a good time and did fairly well until it started raining on me! But I persevered, protecting the lens from raindrops as best I could with my coat. It was a learning experience, anyway!


So it has been a busy and really nice couple of days in Edinburgh, but we are excited to move on to the Highlands. Tomorrow morning we'll go to St. Andrews, then make our way slowly up to Inverness.

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