March 11, 2008

Destination: Edinburgh

My husband's journey of discovery into the legal system of the United Kingdom sent him up to Edinburgh to meet with some Scottish advocates and the kids and I tagged along. The train ride up to Scotland took almost as long as our flight from Washington D.C. to Heathrow, but we were looking forward to the adventure of it all.

Unfortunately, I have discovered that I do not do very well when I arrive places after dark when it is cold and rainy. Edinburgh, as we discovered is built on two levels, which don't actually show up on maps as different levels, so we got a bit lost getting to our lodgings. The kids never complained, but I was feeling very whiny.

We stayed in the SmartCity Hostel, which was centrally located and cheaper than most other options, though since everyone seems to charge by the number of guests rather than by the room, nothing was actually inexpensive. This hostel, unlike the ones I stayed in whilst in college, had private rooms with connected bathrooms, and though you had to make up the beds yourself, my kids wouldn't have been half as thrilled to stay in a five-star hotel, because the hostel had bunk beds! Truly, that was probably their favorite part of the whole trip.

The next morning it was cold, blustery and raining (naturally we'd left our raincoats back in London), we went in search of breakfast and found a little place called the Southern Cross, where we ordered a vegetarian Scottish breakfast that came with vegetarian haggis. I wasn't strong enough of stomach to try the real thing, but the vegetarian version made from lentils, carrots and various other stuff and spices, was very tasty. I have no idea whether it was anything like the real sheep's stomach stuff though. The kids opted for toast and scrumptious hot chocolate, thinking beans and tomatoes were not proper breakfast foods.

We parted from my husband after breakfast. He headed towards the Old Parliament buildings and we to the Museums of Scotland. Pretty soon they will be closing down the Royal Museum half of it for a few years and revamping, so we were lucky to be able to visit it all. The National Museum side had all sorts of amazing things -- some ancient chess pieces, a harp-like instrument given by Mary, Queen of Scots, lots of swords -- but the children's favorite part was the children's discovery section on each floor. I'm not sure they discovered so much, but trying on clothes from different historical time periods, listening to music from different eras and bashing down castle walls with a miniature trebuchet were definite crowd pleasers.

After several hours, we went through the wall to the Royal Museum side, where the kids, who had never before heard of Dolly the sheep, were nonetheless fascinated to see her and were excited to see a robot build their names with blocks and other delights. We saw a bit of the china and crystal collection, but I was just about as bored as the kids were by that stuff. My daughters played in the old red telephone booth on display having incredibly realistic one-sided conversations and we saw the collection of stuffed animals much like those at the Natural History Museum back in London.

When we left for Scotland we'd brought our peanut butter and honey jars with us, but we'd been out of bread and planned to get some up there. I hadn't done so and therefore hadn't packed us any lunch. By the time we'd gone through the museums, it was abut 2:00 and I didn't know where to get lunch, didn't have any food on me and being a cranky, hungry pregnant lady, I was actually starting to tear up at the overwhelmingness of it all. But I did manage to settle us down at the museum cafe and feed the hungry lot and shortly thereafter my husband was done for the day and came to the museum to meet up with us.

We took him around and showed him some of the interesting museum artifacts and then, in spite of the wind and rain outside, we walked around the Royal Mile area a bit. After some time, we ventured into a tea shop I'd noticed down one of the closes off the Royal Mile. That was the best part of our whole Edinburgh trip as far as I was concerned. The place was tiny and decorated in the style of someone's grandmother, and felt warm and inviting after the damp outside. We ordered tea and scones and the owner sat down and chatted with us, showing us photos of a trip she'd taken once to Arizona, and before we left, giving the kids little presents -- stuffed animals for the boys and lavender sachets for the girls.

We went back to our hostel room and rested up for a bit before trekking over to the other side of town for dinner at a Nepalese restaurant. Maybe it was just this restaurant or maybe it is Nepalese food in general, but almost everything on the menu was remarkably similar to Indian food. On the way there we passed a million or so pre-teen girls lining up to go into a theatrical version of High School Musical. Brigadoon would have been so much more appropriate to my mind, but nobody consulted me, and I didn't have to attend the show, but Disney truly is everywhere.

The next morning we tried a restaurant called Spoon for breakfast. Their food was delicious and the hot chocolate amazing. Then we walked up to Edinburgh Castle, where we decided after seeing the views and the prices of tickets and doing a quick bit of reading about what was inside, we opted not to go in after all. We walked around the city a bit more, grabbed lunch and headed for our train home.

Our train ride home wasn't a direct one and we had some problems with the car we were booked to ride on on the first leg not actually being there, but found seats, made it out of town and eventually arrived back in London.

I really, really wanted to like Edinburgh, but the combination of tourist fatigue, drunken college students all over town, and nasty weather really dampened (literally as well as figuratively) the experience. Perhaps another visit when I was fresh in my travels and the sun was shining would make a difference. I'm glad I can say I've been there, but I don't have the starry-eyed memories of the place that everyone else in the world seems to. I'd go back, but it wouldn't be the first place I'd rush off to. My husband, who has a penchant for wind swept lonely places, is ready to move to the Scottish coast after glimpsing the desolate, wind swept terrain from the train windows.


Having stood in the actual windswept ruins of Whitby Abbey in the Newcastle area (close enough to Scotland for my money), the wind sweeping through is nowhere near as attractive as it looks from the train window.

When there's nothing between you & the North Sea but a few stray sheep, it ain't romantic - it's just *%$# cold.

Posted by: skinnydan at March 12, 2008 06:24 AM