We felt a bit stupid living in London for three and a half years and yet never making it to Edinburgh. We were keen to make amends for this, so we hopped a very early train on Monday morning bound for Edinburgh Waverley Station.
Edinburgh is a ridiculously good looking city. You might say, it’s the Zoolander of the north. No matter where you look, there’s beautiful old buildings, lush green parks, and all of it overlooked by the imposing castle at the top of the hill.
We totally lucked out with the weather too, which only further enhanced our opinion of the beautiful city. Although it was cold each day (constantly lower than 10 degrees C, and always windy), we were only struck by rain on the day we were leaving, by which time we were heading towards the train station anyway.
By the end of day two, we were already discussing where we’d live when we moved there, and we were wondering how hard it would be to find work in I.T., and how Oscar would cope living in an apartment rather than a house. Yes, pipe-dreams to be sure, but suffice to say – we really, really loved Edinburgh.
We stayed in a lovely self catering apartment on Raeburn Place in Stockbridge. The apartment itself was fantastic – the beds were comfy, it was lovely and warm, and the kitchen was fairly well stocked. The only downside was that nearly all the sights that we wanted to see were at the top of the city (off the Royal Mile), which meant a 2 mile hike (or bus ride) up the hill each morning, then back again for Oscar’s nap, and then (sometimes) out and back again in the afternoon for more sight-seeing.
The location wasn’t all bad though – in fact, asides from its less-than-ideal proximity to The Royal Mile, Raeburn Street was a perfect place to stay! We found wonderful coffee only a few doors up at Peter’s Yard, and our cab driver on the way in recommended a fantastic pub to eat at only two blocks down – The Scran and Scallie. We dined there one day for lunch and absolutely loved their Bangers and Mash.
There’s obviously a load of things to see an do in Edinburgh; here’s what we covered in our short trip.
Eva had told us the penguin parade at the zoo was “not to be missed”, but gave us very few details of what that entailed. As it turns out, at 2:15 PM each day, the zookeepers open the gate at the pengiun pool and let the penguins do a lap of the yard outside. Its optional for the pengiuns, and each day varies as to which ones decide to take up the offer.
We had four king penguins take up the offer on the day we visited, and it was pretty funny to see them waltz straight past us like they owned the place.
There were lots of other animals to see at the zoo of course – meerkats, rhinos, and zebras, for example – but my favourites were the big cats. There was a tiger, a lion, and a jaguar who was sunning himself right next to to the viewing window.
I’m not going to lie – our visit to Edinburgh Castle was pretty disappointing, though its at least partially our own fault. See, we had all slept wonderfully the night before, and as such we awoke feeling full of beans! So, we decided that we’d walk the two miles (or so) from our accommodation to the castle – and even though it turned out to be almost entirely uphill, we arrived at the castle in pretty good spirits.
But alas, it turns out that two miles of uphill walking is about the limit for our almost-three-year-old, and the moment we had handed over our tickets (i.e. the moment is was too late to get a refund), Oscar said, “I want to go back to the holiday house”. From experience, we knew we had 45 minutes to an hour before things started getting really messy, and so we quickly made our way to a vantage point to get some photos looking down over the city.
I decided to rent an audio guide in order to cram in as much information as I could whilst walking around, though this proved difficult for two reasons. Firstly, I was carrying Oscar through much of the castle, as by this point in the adventure, he refused to do any more walking – and whilst I was holding on to him, he insisted very much on pulling the headphone cord at any chance he could.
Secondly – in accordance with the law of maximum inconvenience – the audio guide stopped working once we had reached the summit of a very large set of stairs (which for good reason we named “The Many Stairs of Oscar’s Tears”). Of course by this point there was no way I was going to turn back to swap it for another one, and as such, the only items from the audio guide that I got to listen to were titled “Introduction”, and “Rebuilding the portcullis” (at the entrance gate).
In retrospect, it turns out that we did manage to cover most of the high points of the castle (albeit briefly) including St Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest building in Edinburgh, circa 13th Century), as well as the most popular exhibit (judging by the line up) of The Honours, which comprises a sword, a crown, and a scepter. So I guess our visit to the castle wasn’t completely wasted, but I would have loved to spend more time there – especially with more context (i.e. a working audio guide).
The Real Mary King’s Close
Cousin-in-law Steve had recommended this to me, but warned that it may be a bit scary for Oscar. As it turns out, children under five aren’t even allowed to do the tour, so I snuck away to do it by myself one day while Kristy and Oscar napped.
It was really, really great. In Scotland, a “close” (as in “near”, rather than the opposite of “open”) is another word for alleyway. The tour takes you underneath the city to the ruins of the ancient city beneath, all centred around a very narrow close named after one of the residents – Mary King. During the tour, you learn about the people that lived (and died) in the buildings, many of whom suffered at the hand of the Black Plague.
When the city commissioned the building of the Royal Exchange, they essentially chopped off the top parts of the buildings along the close, bolstered the walls, then simply built straight on top of them – using what remained of the existing houses as foundations for the building above. Seemingly they figured that this was cheaper than leveling the close and rebuilding from scratch, but it also has the nice side effect that the ruins underneath have been wonderfully preserved.
As I said – I thoroughly enjoyed this tour, and seeing a very alternative side of the city. Sadly, no photos to show for it though – photos are (apparently) expressly forbidden by the city!
I really have no idea how to describe Camera Obscura other than quoting their website; it’s “five floors of interactive hands-on fun”. Each floor seems to be set to a theme of some sort; for example, one floor is themed around illusions, and as such has lots of stereogram posters on the walls, plus a shadow wall, and other tricks with light, etc. Not to mention a crazy room which magically shrinks/grows the occupants.
Its the sort of place that had it not have been for Oscar, we probably wouldn’t have visited; but with him in tow, it was fantastic fun.
As you may have guessed, we thoroughly enjoyed Edinburgh, and I’m glad we made the effort to finally get there!