M & K in San Diego

the west coast adventures of two east coast kids

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Epic UK Adventure: Day 5

We could have stayed in Edinburgh for several more days and fully enjoyed every minute, but the next day, we had a train to catch to St Andrews. It didn’t leave until the afternoon, though, so we decided not to waste our morning. Instead, we hiked up Calton Hill, where there are beautiful panoramic views of the city as well as a few monuments to climb on.

To get the best views, we all climbed to the top of the Nelson Monument. We then clambered up onto the National Monument, mostly for the photo ops.

By now we were getting a bit peckish, so we headed down the other side of the hill via some ivy-covered stairs, wandered through a graveyard, and finally made it to Tolbooth Tavern for some yummy food and beer.

After lunch, we said a fond farewell to Edinburgh as we headed to St Andrews. We got there with plenty of time to wander around, and we especially enjoyed taking a look at the famous Old Course, since K’s dad and her brother Michael were able to get a tee time for the next morning! We were all thrilled for them, it was an amazing opportunity.

For dinner that night, we ended up at a little place called The Doll’s House, where Michael fell briefly in love with our adorable Scottish waitress, we all fell in love with the beautiful evening and delicious food, and we all got perhaps a tiny bit tipsy.

Filed under travel epic UK adventure family trip edinburgh st andrews train tourists calton hill nelson monument scotland national monument tolbooth tavern old course golf the doll's house

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Epic UK Adventure: Day 4

We awoke in Edinburgh to Scotland’s standard chilly drizzle, and to the sad news that K’s brother Jack was going to have to head home early. Travel arrangements were made for him, farewells were said, and while K’s dad stayed with Jack to make sure he departed safely, K, M, and K’s other brother Michael headed up the steep streets to the ancient castle on the hill.

You can see in that picture how Edinburgh Castle was literally built into and around the volcanic rock on which it stands (that’s the black stuff). It’s pretty amazing.

We stood in line for a while to get tickets and an audio guide, which turned out to be pretty cool and helpful in addition to K’s guidebook. We headed up to St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building on the castle site, and admired the stained glass image of William Wallace. We viewed the enormous Mons Meg - a very old cannon last fired in the 16th century which still hangs out up on Castle Rock.

We saw the Scottish Crown Jewels - not nearly as impressive as the ones at the Tower of London, but still very cool - and the Stone of Destiny, which has quite a history. Legend holds it to be the Stone of Jacob, where the biblical dude was said to have laid his head when he slept in the wilderness. That makes it a pretty big deal, so it was stolen by Edward I of England and used for centuries as the Coronation Stone, fitted into the Coronation Chair which England still uses. Recently the stone finally found its way back to Scotland, with the understanding that England gets to borrow it whenever it’s time to crown a new monarch.

While at the castle, we also saw the firing of the One O’Clock Gun, wandered around the grounds for a while, and walked through the Prisons of War exhibit, which showed what conditions were like for prisoners kept at the castle over the centuries. We left the castle around lunchtime, having made plans to meet K’s dad and his wife at a pub on the Royal Mile. After lunch, we all went to Mary King’s Close for their guided tour of the spooky underground neighborhood. Apparently, there are a number of alleyways over which buildings were built a few centuries ago as the city expanded and grew - and some of the streets remain preserved underground. These alleys are called “closes” and this particular one has been made into a fascinating, eerie, historical tourist attraction. It was crazy to walk up and down a street which was once - back in the 1600s - a bustling, busy alley, lined with shops, directly connected to the Royal Mile.

After our tour of the close, we split up again - K’s dad and Claudia headed to the castle, while M & K and Michael wandered the Royal Mile in search of interesting places. We peeked into St Giles Cathedral (the “Grand Kirk of Scotland”), and K took some pictures, but the real highlight came after that, when we randomly decided to try the Scotch Whiskey Experience. The advertising made it sound hokey and silly, like a Disney ride all about alcohol - and it sort of was - but it was really interesting and fun as well!

First we went on a ride in a “whiskey barrel” (see photo above) on which we learned all about the distilling process. Then, we learned about the four distinct regions of Scotland which produce different kinds of scotch whiskey, all with unique characteristics (Islay, Speyside, Highlands, and Lowlands). We then got to taste some scotch whiskey from the region of our choice - naturally we three each picked a different region, and enjoyed tasting and smelling each others’ scotch to pick out the differences. M chose Islay, and his was so smokey it tasted like a bonfire - he and K both thought it was delicious. K went with the Highlands and got a much sweeter, fruitier flavor. Michael’s choice was Speyside and his was pretty spicy.

While we tasted, we marveled at the tasting room - it houses the largest collection of Scotch Whiskey in the world, donated to the Scotch Whiskey Experience by a South American collector who wanted the amazing collection to “go home to Scotland”.

In addition to this amazing assortment, the next room had several cases of more unique, and sometimes goofy or crazy looking, bottles.

For the rest of the afternoon, we enjoyed a lovely afternoon on the streets of Edinburgh. We even had a bit of blue sky! That night, we had dinner at an Italian place called Gusto - it was delicious - and later, drinks at the Dome, a really cool bar in a building that used to be a fancy bank. It was an amazing day.

Filed under travel epic UK adventure family trip edinburgh tourists edinburgh castle stone of destiny mary king's close st giles cathedral scotch whiskey experience royal mile the dome

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Epic UK Adventure: Day 3

On the third day, we traveled. Our original plan was to catch a mid-morning train up to Edinburgh, but sadly, as we were in the middle of tourist season and had neglected to reserve seats, we ended up having to wait several hours to leave. We made the best of the situation, found a pub where we could park ourselves and our stuff for a while, and K realized that the British Library was just down the street, so she and M headed there to take a look. For zero dollars (or pounds for that matter), we got to see two copies of the 1215 Magna Carta, a copy of the Canterbury Tales, and many other original copies of literary works that totally blew K’s mind. Both of us loved their music section, which included original pages of Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s wedding contract, the sheet music for Bolero, and a whole case full of Beatles paraphernalia, including original sheet music and lyrics with notes from McCartney and Lennon. So cool! The Library was also featuring a new (temporary?) Sci-Fi exhibit which was full of interesting tidbits, copies of famous (and less-so) works of science fiction, and a variety of informational videos and interviews with authors playing throughout the exhibit.

We made our way back to the pub to join the others in a few pints before catching our train. I think all of us had perhaps one or two too many…

Ah, the joy of family time.

Our train ride to Edinburgh was fairly uneventful. We mostly read, napped, chatted with each other. We did see some lovely views, especially as we crossed into Scotland, but of course it’s difficult to capture those vistas from a quickly moving train…

Once in Edinburgh, we quickly made it to our bed and breakfast (where we all fell instantly in love with our beautiful, comfortable rooms), and then headed out to get some food. K’s brother Jack chose to befriend some locals, but the rest of us wound up at a place called Cafe Royal for oysters, wine, and some really delicious food.

Filed under travel epic UK adventure family trip london edinburgh tourists train british library magna carta cafe royal bed and breakfast