Aaron and I just got back from Edinburgh, so before “real life” swallows me up again, a blog post to capture all of our memories and activities is much needed.
So why Scotland? It seemed random to many! The reason is a good one: our friends were getting married in Edinburgh (pronounced as “Edim-burra“) and Aaron was asked to be in the wedding. I could kiss our friends for having a destination wedding, because it forced Aaron and I to get up and go in the best way. We used to travel so much pre-kids and this was the push we needed to get back to feeling like “us” and importantly, it was something we could do together. Now, we didn’t exactly plan for me to be 7 months pregnant during the trip (we booked it back in June), but it all worked out. Thank goodness.
Just like I did with our summer family trip to Saugatuck, here’s the play by play of our time in the land of Scots. Aaron and I had both never been to the UK before, so we did lots of sightseeing, essentially making our way through all of the popular haunts, with a little Harry Potter thrown in for good measure.
Day 1 – Arrival and a Wedding
So Day 1 was technically Day 2, as a flight delay meant Day 1 had us stuck in NJ for 36 hours. (We stayed in the city and spent the day visiting some of our favorite spots, so not all was lost, but we were anxious to get on our way.) Anyways, when we arrived in Scotland it was around 7 am on 12/28. I booked our hotel for the night before so it would be ready upon arrival, which thankfully, worked out really well. We stayed at a place called hub by Premier Inn in Old Town which we LOVED. It was incredibly affordable (about $600 for a 5-night stay, even with NYE rates) in a great location and brand new. It was positioned as a “sleeping room only” type space which means pod-style, minimalist sleeping spaces in about 130 square feet. Plenty of room for Aaron and I, with a little bit of space to spread out. It spoke to my tiny home heart. 🙂
Day 1 was all about the wedding, which happened the evening of our arrival. The location was Canongate Kirk, which serves as the parish church for the surrounding area, including the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s Scotland residence) and Edinburgh Castle. It was stunning and old… built in the 1600’s. There was also a roped-off bench reserved for the Queen. You know, in case she decided to show up.
Their wedding dinner was held at The Witchery, which was at the foot of Edinburgh Castle. Everything was still decorated for Christmas too, which made it even more charming. The group dined on Scotland’s national dish, haggis (which I later found out was made from a sheep’s liver, lungs and heart…), steak, lots of wine and stinky soft cheeses. Oh yea, and the best vegan, gluten-free cake I have ever tasted.
Day 2 – Christmas Market and the Castle
Scotland knows how to do Christmas, no doubt. Nearly the entirety of Princes Street Gardens (gardens in the middle of town that separate New Town from Old Town) had been transformed into a huge Christmas market—dozens of craft and food booths, rides, Santa Land and so much more. Aaron and I spent a lot of time here, looking for little gifts to bring home and of course, to try out Scotland festival food. Two words: mini pancakes.
From the market, we headed to Edinburgh Castle. It was a huge, looming structure that towered over the rest of the Edinburgh skyline. Built in the 12th century and on top of a defunct volcano no less, it was certainly intimidating. It’s still in use today and holds Scotland’s crown jewels, which we got an up close view of. Below is a photo of the on-site chapel and then following, of Portcullis Gate, which was built later on after a particularly devastating siege in the 1500’s.
I had to take a photo with this man on our way out of the Castle… I couldn’t resist!
That night, after a brief stop at the hotel for snacks and water, we headed to an area of Old Town called Grassmarket to meet up with some of the wedding party. We attempted Mum’s Great Comfort Food, but instead ended up at Made in Italy. It was fantastic… pizza and stromboli was just what we needed after a few meals of sausage and haggis. 🙂
Day 3 – Harry Potter, the Royal Family’s Yacht and Hogmanay
We knew little about Scotland before we left, but we did know one thing: there’s lots of Harry Potter floating around Edinburgh. JK Rowling, while not Scottish, lived in Edinburgh while she was writing the books and drew on her surroundings for inspiration. Perhaps the most popular site, The Elephant House, is the cafe she frequented while writing the first books. The cafe looks out at the Castle, Greyfriar’s Kirkyard (a cemetery, where names like Riddle and McGonagall can be found on the headstones) and George Heriot’s school (Hogwarts).
Inside the Elephant House, the cafe where JK Rowling spent time writing the books, there isn’t much about Harry Potter. That is, until you use the restrooms (or the “toilet” as the Scots would say).
My favorite inscription on the wall: “You taught me how to read!”
After we were done nerd-ing out over Harry Potter (don’t worry, we do more Harry stuff later… I know you’re enthused), we decided to get in some Royal Family action. We headed to Leith to tour the Royal Yacht Brittania, which acted as the Royal Family’s sea residence for nearly 40 years. They no longer use it for travel, but events are held there often.
The inner lurker in me loves any tour related to people’s residences and personal lives. The Britannia tour was excellent for this. We got to tour the personal rooms, both of the Royal Family and of the staff. And the photos…. oh my the photos… personal photos of Princess Diana, Harry, William and even Kate were everywhere, illustrating the time they spent on the yacht.
We headed to the Royal Deck Tea Room midway through our tour. Most had champagne (jealous), while I had hot chocolate and peppermint tea.
Day 3 was also a special day… December 30 to be exact… which marked the kickoff of Hogmanay. My lack of research pre-trip did not at all prepare me for the humongous celebration I was about to encounter. New Years is a big deal here. Some Scottish friends were telling us about the history, that the country wasn’t allowed to celebrate Christmas for 400 years (thanks Protestant reformation) so New Years was the way they celebrated the season. And boy, do they celebrate.
Hogmanay kicked off with the Torchlight Procession, which involved about 5,000 people carrying huge, fiery torches through the city, creating a “river of fire.” We were in that procession (the bride and groom got us tickets! because they’re amazing!) and it was insanely exciting to be a part of it. Drunken people carrying open flames, packed shoulder-to-shoulder with each other, putting out fiery sparks as they fell on your coat… yea, things we don’t get to do here in the US. Haha! It all ended with a big fireworks, bonfire and light show at the top of Calton Hill. (Also… if you’re a The Good Wife or Raising Hope fan, we walked alongside Martha Plimpton for most of the journey. Random, but amazing.)
Day 4 – Palace of Holyroodhouse, Harry Potter and more Hogmanay
Day 4 was our last full day in Edinburgh, so we had a long list of things we wanted to do. We started the day with a quick bite to eat at Canon’s Gait, then made our way down the street to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This palace is where today’s Royal Family stays when they’re in town and we got to tour it and see it decorated for Christmas in all its festive glory.
When we were through with the Palace, we headed back to the Grassmarket area to explore Greyfriar’s. We were in search of Voldemort’s tomb (yes, you read that right). While not technically his tomb, it was Tom Riddle’s and that poor chap’s name was used in Rowling’s writings. Picture Aaron and I walking around a 1600’s-era graveyard in the pitch dark, with only our cell phone lights and other Harry Potter fans to keep us company. It was scary. And creepy. Greyfriar’s is one of the most haunted graveyards in the world and it did not disappoint. Many gave up looking for the headstone (they don’t advertise it, it’s not a ticketed stop) but after 20 minutes or so, we found it near the back. Beyond, beyond creepy. We got out of there as soon as we could.
We had an awesome dinner at nearby Mum’s Great Comfort Food (sausage, haggis, mash and date pudding… yummmm), then headed back to the hotel to pack our bags and get ready for NYE festivities. We headed to the bride and groom’s flat in New Town, where we hung out with our group for the last time, then walked out to the streets to see the huge fireworks and light show from the Castle.
And just like that, our quick trip to Edinburgh was complete. We hopped into a taxi at 5:45 am the next morning and weaved our way through the partygoers (they were still going!) and headed back to the states on New Year’s Day. It was a whirlwind of a trip, mashing a week of activities and wedding events into 4 days, but we did it!
Whenever I’m out of the country, I like to make a list of funny little differences between that country and the States. Here is my list from Scotland:
- No washcloths. Don’t have them, don’t know what they are… next time I’ll bring my loofah.
- “Toilet” is used versus “restroom.”
- No known wedding reception traditions to speak of… they thought we were crazy when we were clinking our glasses to get a kiss from the bride and groom.
- There’s nothing but a chap’s crown jewels under those kilts.
- You don’t hail a taxi, you call a taxi.
- “To let” means “for rent”—I had a fun time daydreaming about real estate.
- There are very few American tourists in Scotland and when you find each other, it’s as if you’ve known each other your whole lives.
- It could have been the time of year, but American celebrities were out in full force. Mark Paul Gosselaar, Gerard Butler and Martha Plimpton to name a few.
- Very few crosswalks. Good luck and godspeed.
- A “close” is a tiny little alley that connects one tier of streets to another. And perhaps makes for the most interesting, charming walk ever.
- So. many. stairs. and. hills. It reminded me a lot of Seattle in that it’s all a tier system. Want to go the next street up? Sure. It’s only about 100 steep steps away.
- The ground floor is “O” in the elevator, not “1”. That subtlety makes for some interesting navigation back to the hotel room after a night of drinking (just ask my husband).
We’re excited to go back as there’s a ton more to explore… the Highlands, Glasgow, Isle of Skye, etc. It just gives us an excuse to head back that way, most likely when our three boys are older. We’ve got to make sure we make them Harry Potter fans first.
I’ll be back soon with thoughts on 2017, a recap of 2016 and lots of project updates. I’ve got a nursery to pull together!
Photo of George Heriot’s School by Yinsong Yue, via Flickr. All other photos are my own, taken with my iPhone.