Day 10: CLASSIC EDINBURGH
It was about 6am when I awoke to my alarm. Knowing that Julie and Tahia needed to sleep (especially with Tahia seemingly having a cold), I was going to scout out the rest of the charming parts of Edinburgh then make my way up to the top of Calton Hill. So after quickly brushing my teeth and putting on my outdoor clothes, I was out the door by 6:10am.
Being centrally located at the Royal Ibis right next to the Royal Mile of Edinburgh had its benefits. In this instance, I was able to be smack in the west-center of the Royal Mile (closer to Edinburgh Castle than to the Palace of the Holyroodhouse), and it didn’t take me long before I got on the familiar North Bridge where I got to witness the Balmoral Hotel again (that historic-looking building I saw before the lightning and thunder overtook the city yesterday afternoon).
When I looked out towards the east, I could see that apparently the sun had already risen above the horizon and was hiding in the clouds above. I was a little bummed that the forecast called for clear skies in the morning, but clearly this wasn’t the case as of this moment.
Still, in the space beneath the clouds, I could see a distinct orange. But I knew the dark clouds above meant the nice morning light I was hoping to have to capture decent photos of Edinburgh Castle and Dugald Stewart Monument atop Calton Hill was probably not going to happen.
Nonetheless, I pressed on. By about 6:45am, I would finally make it to the top of Calton Hill. And sure enough the big patch of dark clouds remained stubbornly in the way muting the otherwise soft glow of the sun that would have been shining on the subjects of interest to the west. I could see clearing skies to the north, but the winds looked like they were coming from the west and the clearing wasn’t imminently moving to the sun.
I was going to play the waiting game by hoping the sun might eventually show itself while I was up here. But that wasn’t easy as the winds atop the hill had a biting chill to it. So I did what I could by moving around a little bit to photograph the National Monument (which was the Acropolis-looking thing), the Dugald Steward Monument, the Nelson Monument, and the City Observatory. I was even trying to photograph Arthur’s Seat to the south.
Meanwhile as I was doing this, there were a few guys sitting on the Acropolis-like National Monument plus a handful of joggers and ladies walking their dogs. At 7:10am, the clouds remained stubbornly in place. At this point, I decided I’d wait for another 15 minutes before I head back to the hotel. The winds were persistent and I actually had to use the walls of the Observatory complex as shelter so my toes didn’t suffer from frost bite induced by the wind chill.
I took my photos where I could, but with the sun muted, the subjects just didn’t have that glow that I was looking for. And by 7:20am, I started to descent Calton Hill and return towards the city center.
But instead of going back the way I came, I decided to keep going on Princes St towards the Waverley Bridge. There, I was drawn by the Scott Monument as well as lower views of the Edinburgh Castle in the distance.
Well, I had to get back to the hotel to get Julie and Tahia out of the room and towards the Edinburgh Castle when they opened at 9:30am. But I was a bit dismayed to see that they were still sleeping when I had returned.
So it wasn’t until about 9:15am when we were finally out of the room. The Victorian buildings along the Royal Mile had a nice glow to it, and as the city center was waking up and starting to bustle, we’d eventually be queueing up to enter Edinburgh Castle at 9:40am. By now, there were already tour groups but I sensed it would have been even more chaotic had we come later based on what we saw during our 11am arrival here yesterday.
Once we were inside, we quickly made our way up to the main part of the castle after we immediately saw that the first overlook was overcrowded and there happened to be a higher vantage point in the main castle area. So once we were in there, we quickly got up to the cannon and started getting our views to the east and north.
The sun was coming in and out of the clouds, but for the most part, it was sunny now. After having our fill of this initial overlook, we then made our way to the crown jewels area.
At this point, there were already a lot of tour groups crowding in here creating long queues and a sense of haste since the corridors in there were narrow and dimly lit. There really wasn’t much room for people to pass.
Julie, Tahia, and I were caught amidst what appeared to be a Danish or Swedish tour group composed of girls at either high school or uni level. There really wasn’t much time to take photos or even read the signs in there, and so we’d eventually make it out into a courtyard area where there were a lot of people, but not as much as the even longer queues lining up waiting to enter both entrances of the crown jewels area.
We then did a little more exploring of this castle area consisting of the war memorial and some living quarters. And when we were done with this part of the tour, we then started to hear bagpipes and drums being played so we quickly picked out one of the available arrow holes looking down at the band and the crowd of onlookers. The moment felt like a quintessential Scotland experience where we were simply enjoying the music while just soaking in the atmosphere and history of this place.
By about 11:05am, we were doing some final bit of exploring the unexplored parts of the castle complex. This consisted of another war museum area with vistas out to the north and west, then we checked out the one o’clock cannon though I never recalled it going off (but maybe we were too far away from it each time we had the opportunity to hear it?).
Finally at 11:30am, we spontaneously decided to have lunch at this place called Victor & Carina’s Contini, which was just in front of the Edinburgh Castle and the stands of the Military Tattoo. We were drawn here because Julie noticed some gelato flavors in the basement floor through the window. But on the way towards the gelato floor, that was when Julie saw they were serving paninis with other interesting dishes on offer.
When we got the food, we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the panini filled with prosciuto along with bruschetta topped with pork belly. After the lunch, we then had the gelato downstairs though because they charge more for sit down, we got it as takeaway. However, our table upstairs was still there so we basically reclaimed our table at the top and ate our takeaway gelato.
At 12:20pm, we were done. As we were back on the Royal Mile, we could see that clouds were once again blocking the sun. At this point, Tahia had a second wind and we walked all the way towards the familiar North Bridge. This would be the first time that Julie noticed what I saw yesterday and this morning. And it was on this bridge that Tahia finally was complaining and wishing me to carry her.
So now we finally put my carrier to use as Tahia napped in it, and I would carry her back up Calton Hill. We’d by up there by 1:20pm but by now the sun was sidelighting the castle in the distance. And it didn’t take but a few minutes more before the sun would be hidden by clouds again.
By about 2pm, we had our fill of Calton Hill and we headed back down to the Royal Mile. This time, we were making our way to the Palace of the Holyroodhouse. The walk down to the east end of the Royal Mile was made a little longer because Julie was popping in and out of various cashmere stores looking to get some of the Scottish cashmere for herself, but the prices were way beyond our affordability range so she ultimately passed on it.
At 2:30pm, we finally made it to the Palace of the Holyroodhouse. After getting the tickets, Tahia had woken up and now she was able to walk again. So with my hips and my shoulders feeling much more relieved with her being back on the ground, we all proceeded to do the self-guided tour. This time, they included an audio guide, which we followed all the way through the facility. Since they didn’t allow photographs anywhere indoors on the complex (only outdoors), we were pretty much captive audiences to the audio tour.
The rooms were clearly very elaborate. Most of them were dark, but each of the rooms were grand. By about 3:30pm, we made it to the ruined Abbey at the very end of the tour. And by now, the weather had turned and it was raining. So we took the abbey shots in the rain, then we had to scramble in the rain towards the exit before finally seeking shelter under some buildings back at the Royal Mile.
The rain eventually turned to sprinkles, and as we made our way back up the Royal Mile, Julie was in the mood for tea and she had her heart set on this place called Patisserie Valerie. We had to wait about 15 minutes before we’d be seated, then we had to wait another 10 minutes more before even having our order taken. But at least the indulgent dessert of two vanilla bean ice cream scoops atop warm Belgian waffles was a hit as Tahia, Julie, and I devoured the dessert quickly. Julie wasn’t nuts about her fruit tart. Still, the tea was fragrant.
After the tea break was over, we were back at the hotel at 5:15pm. We did this to drop off our stuff and get some umbrellas, which we had forgotten to bring during our tour throughout today. And inside the hotel, we saw there was a massive tour group crowding the lobby. So that meant that we’d have to be up and out of here before the tour groups take over tomorrow morning. Once again, we had better be out early…
A few minutes thereafter, we finally decided on having pizza at Pizza Express. Normally, we’re not fond of chain restaurants, but in this case, it turned out that the superfood salad and the Romana-style pesto pomodoro pizza was way better than expected. I think this might be the very first meal where all three of us were actually full after a meal, though the dessert and tea we had an hour earlier probably exacerbated this.
When the dinner was over, we were back at the room at 6:40pm. We had to get packing and to be quickly in order to ensure that we’d be up and outta here first thing tomorrow. For starting tomorrow, it was back to the business of waterfalling as we would head into the Highlands of Scotland…