We landed in Scotland on a rainy Sunday and it was exactly what I would picture Edinburgh to be like. First things first. We had to learn how to pronounce Edinburgh. It was not “Edinburg” it was “Edin-borrow”. So this took some practice for us.
We cabbed into the city and as we drove along, we couldn’t get over how similar it appeared to London. The Tudor-style row houses, big beautiful gardens and parks, old churches….
and of course everything was in English!
Our Air B&B was in the Leith neighborhood, named after Leith Street, a long bustling road that takes one right into the center of Edinburgh, where almost all the sites are! We had a great apartment. It was clean and newly renovated with just enough room for us to breathe but with a cozy den and kitchen where we hung out when we were there.
Sunday night, Chuck and I did our usual grocery trip at a fabulous grocery store called Tesco and I was in heaven. It was full of tons of interesting products but what I loved the most was how many of our favorite foods from home we found! Like Kerrygold butter! Dried fruits and cereals, snacks and tons of prepared veggies, like sweet potato noodles! These types of convenient prepped foods are hard to find in Clermont.
The next day, Chuck had to do some work in the morning, so we took it easy and headed out late morning to find lunch. There were some great coffee shops along our walk into New Town, and we were thrilled to find big coffees for a change!
Lunch was a great spot called Gourmet Burger Kitchen. While the name was kinda generic, I”m so glad we gave it a second look. From the super nice waitstaff to the cozy decor (big leather booths), we loved it even before we got our food. But the food was even more wonderful. We all had burgers, and my lamb burger came with fried zucchini and a vinegar slaw that was soooo yummy!
Sadly, the weather was still quite rainy and foggy so we took our time at lunch, but then we were ready to get out and see what we could see.
The castle was just barely visible that first day, so we decided to do any sightseeing the next few days when the weather would be better.
On that first day, we took advantage of the wet weather and explored shops and scouted out restaurants and neighborhoods instead. The boys had a good ol’ time playing in the streets..
We decided to walk through Dean Village, a picturesque residential area full of windy rivers, beautiful gardens and old homes that literally looks like a storybook…
We wandered through the village on our way into Stockbridge, another area full of vintage shops, cafes and bakeries to explore, but the weather had other plans, and so we ducked into a great pub, Hamilton’s of Stockbridge which was full of burning candles, big old wooden farm tables and cozy couches and set up camp.
A round of hot drinks (hot cocoa for the boys, Irish Coffee for me) a cold one for Chuck, and few rounds of Uno made for a really fun (and dry!) late afternoon, even though we ended up missing a stroll through Stockbridge.
That night, we went to an Italian restaurant back in our neighborhood which was simple, easy and the boys always love Italian. It was raining too hard to do much else that night.
The next morning, it was still raining, so we decided to go check out the Camera Obscura, a museum up on Castlehill, off the Royal Mile, full of optical illusions that we’d heard was quite interesting and fun for the kids.
From the outside, it just looked like a tall old apartment building. But inside, this, the oldest visitor attraction in Edinburgh, there were so many interesting optical illusions, tricks and hands-on experiences scattered throughout 6 floors. We started at the top of the museum, where we were able to walk around outside and take in all the amazing views of the city…
Our tour started with a demonstration where we learned about the history of the museum and a unique camera known as a telescope camera, that was created during the Victorian ages by a female opthamologist and introduced Edinburgh to the idea of moving pictures on a screen, years before film was even invented. It is so unique, in fact, that the Camera Obscura museum has even been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In order to better understand how the camera works, our guide took us into this dark room where we were able to see moving images of people down on the streets below, in real time reflected onto the screen. No windows anywhere! It was intricate, a bit complex and fascinating. Essentially, there was a long pole extending from a dark room on the top floor of the museum up onto the roof where a mirror on the top of the pole was pointed downwards toward the street; the images on the mirror were then reflected onto a series of differently angled lens which then sent the image down onto a large screen in the dark room.The name camera obscura means “dark room” and is also referred to as a pinhole image. Unfortunately it was too dark in the room to take any pictures during the demonstration.
So many hands on and interactive things for the kids that demonstrated just how easily our brains can be tricked and create a variation between what our eyes see vs. what is actual….
We ended with this crazy hall of mirrors; we had to put on plastic gloves and try to find our way out… it was not easy, especially for the few of us that are a little clumsy anyways…
The rest of the afternoon, we spent time walking down the Royal Mile, taking in some of the various outdoor spectacles as part of the Fringe Festival, which happened to be taking place when we were there! The Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world. There were hundreds of venues featuring different shows for all ages, inside and out, in the streets, there were tons of people handing out flyers, promoting their shows.
We walked around Old Town awhile, searching for a few things we’d hoped to find in Scotland…. Tweed- I’d watched a documentary on Harris Tweed, a company based up in the Outer Hebrides, a group of small islands of Scotland that sells tweed fabric handwoven by the islanders in their homes. After this beautiful wool fabric is finished, it is then sold to different companies to use to make their products; thus you can find basically anything made out of tweed while in Scotland. But, there are lots of knock-offs too, so I wanted to be sure we found the real thing, so it was fun to visit different shops to see what different items they sold and all the hundreds of different fabrics.
One thing I knew we would not end up seeking out while visiting Scotland was Haggis, a very popular Scottish dish which is actually a “pudding” made with sheep organs (heart, liver, lungs), mixed with oatmeal, spices, onion, stock and traditionally encased in sheep stomach….
It was literally everywhere, on every menu, served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, on pizza, you name it…
We were more into things like this… shortbread…. my favorite thing we ate the entire trip 🙂
That afternoon, after lunch at a Mexican restaurant, the rain had finally stopped so we decided to climb Arthur’s Seat.
Edinburgh is surrounded by hills, of which Arthur’s Seat is the main peak just to the east, sitting high up above the city and offering a beautiful view. A popular hill to climb among many visitors to Edinburgh, there are all kinds of different ways to approach it. There are longer, flatter paths that are more gradual in ascent, as well as much steeper, rockier paths for more serious “hikers”….I’d read lots about hiking Arthur’s Seat with kids and we decided to take the more gradual, “less rigorous” path; the ground was still wet and as I’d mentioned in my Iceland post, we hadn’t been able to bring any hiking gear, boots, etc due to space limitations.
On our way towards the base of the hill, we walked past Holyrood Palace, home of the Queen of Scotland and peaked in through the gates…
As we climbed on this “easy” path, it wasn’t 10 minutes before the boys were slipping and sliding and Owen was wearing mud (shocker :)). The further up we got, the steeper the climb and our choices were : rocks or mud.
We haven’t done lots of hiking here in Europe, but we’ve done a bit and after adding in the extreme wind the higher we got, it definitely made for a rigorous climb!
The view at the top was beautiful. But, it was quite rocky with drop offs and it was so windy that it made it hard to stay up there too long.
After we made it down to the bottom, it was late afternoon and time for a snack, so we stopped at Waverly Market, a cool area tucked back off the touristy Royal Mile where there was a band and food trucks.
We found this ADORABLE ice cream spot….
Why sell just ice cream when you can sell ice cream between 2 cookies and top it with something else yummy like pretzels? Genius.
The last day, we took the Mary King’s Close tour.
One of the coolest things about Edinburgh are these narrow alleys called “Closes” that are tiny alleys, privately owned and gated, that dropped off on either side along High Street, part of the Royal Mile. They are found everywhere throughout Old Town.
Each close was named either after the family that owned that particular property, or the business that took place there. As population in Edinburgh soared in the mid-17th century, in order to stay within city limits, there was no where to build but up, higher and higher on top of already existing buildings, creating these dark, almost cavernous, dungeon-like alleys.
We had found an interactive tour, called The Real Mary King’s Close, which took us into a narrow dark alley and down underground into a still-preserved ‘close’, full of dark tiny rooms with low ceilings where we learned about how difficult life was for people who lived back then. There was no sanitation. Families lived cramped together in one room, with a pot in the corner to use as “the bathroom”, no privacy, no toilet to flush… and, the youngest member of each family would empty the pot 2x a day by tossing its contents out the window and down into the alleys below, all while yelling “Gardie-loo!!”to warn any poor individual down below…. can you even imagine what that would be like to be walking through one of these alleys at the wrong time? As such, the lower levels were inhabited by the poor, whereas the wealthy lived several stories up, away from the stench and filth…unfortunately, we weren’t permitted to take pictures during our tour, but it was fascinating and we learned so much. It made us thankful for the space, sanitation and other luxuries that we have today.
On the last day, we walked around the city some more, enjoying the beautiful sunshine and stopped to watch this guy start off his magic show. We just happened to be walking by when he was setting up and he asked us to stay and watch him. He asked Owen to help him perform a few tricks and at one point, the magician (from South Korea, who travels the world performing his shows on the streets), pulled Owen’s folded up playing card out of his mouth, swallowed a 2 -foot long balloon among other things!
Our name! Another thing we had wanted to find was our coat of arms! We searched and searched but after several days, we still hadn’t found it. And, there was no “Mc”, just “Mac” and we only saw it on a store front as we were leaving Scotland. So I started wondering. Could the McFaddens be Irish?
We had an early flight out of Edinburgh, but we could not leave without some whiskey to bring with us. We had run out of time to visit one of the Distilleries or tasting rooms during our visit in the city, but the airport had a huge store with hundreds of different types of whiskey. It was 8:30 in the morning, but never too early to walk up and taste any type you’d like..
They ranged anywhere from 30 Euros to thousands… The boys could not get over the price on this one.. 16,000Euros!
This was more than we paid for our CAR! Wow.
As our trip came to a close and we headed back to Geneva and on to Clermont, our bags and our hearts were so full of many treasures to enjoy and share with our friends and family. With each new country we visit, we remain in awe at how big our world truly is….