For the first of the 2016 long weekends over here in the UK we decided to revisit somewhere we’d already been, albeit very briefly. The last time had only been a stop for an hour or so on our way back to London, on a fairly wild night, and even based just on that we were both keen to see some more. And so on Saturday morning, at a far more respectable time that usual, we set off towards Edinburgh.
We decided to take the train again for this trip. Did I mention I love trains as a mode of travel? Well I do. Step on in central London, and off in central Edinburgh – definitely the most hassle-free way to get places. This particular route is also quite scenic, especially once the train enters Scotland, which is just an added bonus.
It was a little walk from the central train station up to our hotel, Mercure Edinburgh Haymarket, up behind the main castle. No big deal with just a shoulder bag, which is normally all we take for a weekend trip, and we got lucky with a little break in the weather when we arrived. I think I’d booked the place late in the evening after a whisky (to get me in a Scottish frame of mind while selecting a place to stay, obviously), but thankfully it turned out to be a very pleasant place to spend a couple of nights.
Lothian Road, which had led us up to the hotel, also turned out to be a pretty cool area as well – after dropping our bags we went straight back out to catch up with another kiwi mate at a place called The Beer Kitchen, which was just one of a number of appealing places we had passed. I thought this was a great place (with a fire, for the 345 days of the year when it is cold in Edinburgh), somewhere I’d certainly revisit if we lived in the city, and the drink options were also just about all new to me too. The brewer behind the bar, Innis & Gunn, appear to specialise in beer which is aged in whisky barrels, which give it a very unique (and very delicious) taste.
The ride from London to Edinburgh does take a little while, and so by the time we were finished at the bar it was nearly time for dinner. My mate had to leave, but before he did he pointed us in the direction of Bread Meats Bread, and tiny little burger joint across the road. I think this was the first place we’ve ever lined up to eat at since coming to the UK (and therefore ever, since that isn’t a thing back in NZ), but my goodness I’m glad we did. It was epic. How does a hearty beef patty with cheese, candied bacon, spicy beefy mayo and crispy fried onions tucked inside a grilled glazed ring donut sound to you, when teamed with maple bacon sweet potato fries and a huge thickshake? I know, amazing. And the inevitable heart attack later that evening was only minor, and totally worth it.
We began the next day with a little exploring, and feeling a rather thankful for our last-minute decision to run back up off the street to grab an umbrella as we were leaving our flat in London. It was raining, and the clouds felt like they’d be around much of the day. While this was a slight inconvenience on a walking day, we decided that Edinburgh actually suited a bit of drizzle.
We ducked into St Giles Cathedral for a look, and to dry off a little. A small aside – I’ve started leaving coins in the donation boxes at most of the grand old churches we visit on our travels. Not to support the religion, as such, but because I love the old buildings and I recently discovered how much they cost to look after. Canterbury Cathedral, by way of an example for which I’ve still got the info booklet, costs around £19,000 each and every day to run and maintain. And since I dislike having coins rattling round my pocket, I drop them now whenever I can.
Edinburgh Castle was our destination in the afternoon. After a few hours of intermittent showers the weather had cleared up nicely, and the walk up the hill was quite pleasant. From the top the views were pretty spectacular, and I was pleased to find the crowds were a lot less than what I’d been expecting – a great start. The castle itself is hugely imposing up close, and I was interested to find later that with 26 identified sieges in its long history, Edinburgh Castle is officially the most besieged place in all of Britain.
We paid the £16.50 admission each and went in for a look around. The buildings inside the castle come from a surprisingly large range of times, from St Margaret’s Chapel (built 1130-1140) through to the Scottish National War Memorial (opened 1927), so as you wander you get to see a nice slice of Scottish history. I liked the way the place was set up too – rather than being corralled along set routes in big crowds, like you are in some tourist spots, you’re left to roam free at your own pace. We stayed for at least a couple of hours doing just that.
For dinner that night we went to a Japanese place. Hardly a proper Scottish experience, I know, but we used to eat it all the time back in New Zealand and since moving to the UK good Japanese food has been almost impossible to find (or rather, good Japanese food that isn’t ridiculously, crazily overpriced for what it is). So we were both super excited to find that Kanpai Sushi was fantastically good and quite reasonably priced, and we still joke half-seriously even now about going back to Scotland sometime soon just to visit this place again. Such good food, which was actually the case everywhere we went in Edinburgh.
On our last morning we woke up to another rather gloomy looking day, and after a nice breakfast (does every place in Scotland give you a proper plunger when you order coffee? It certainly seems so to us, and it is amazing) we went for a wander around some of the nice inner city streets. This eventually took us down to the Royal Botanic Gardens, where we took advantage of a brief burst of sunshine to have a look around. My favourite part was the hugely extensive glasshouses – they were the only part you had to pay for, but they were also totally worth the small fee to get in.
After this we went back into the main part of town and learned two important lessons which I shall now pass on to you. The first is that a wet day in Edinburgh means a VERY wet day – the weather had closed in by lunchtime, and although we both had umbrellas, we still managed to get nearly totally soaked during the fairly regular downpours. We ended up spending an hour or two just ducking from shop to shop to try and keep out of the rain.
The second lesson is that for many attractions in Edinburgh, you do actually need to book in advance rather than just turn up on the day. We were keen to try a tour of the Edinburgh Vaults, which is a walk through the old chambers formed by the arches under the South Bridge. They were built around 1730 and rediscovered in modern times during an excavation in 1985, and in between were used in a lot of different ways – business, housing, storing illicit goods (even reputably the murdered victims of serial killers Burke and Hare, which were then later sold to doctors to use for learning). Unfortunately, we tried a couple tour companies and they were all sold out. Only slightly deterred, we moved on to a tour of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, only to find that was sold out for the day as well. So – book ahead to get the best out of this great city.
Never mind though. Missing out on a couple of things (the other I really wanted to do was the Arthur’s Seat walk, but the weather was just too poor) only means we’ll have to go back again, and as we both really enjoyed our time up in Edinburgh that is definitely not a bad thing at all.
Until next time, B & A.