I found myself in Edinburgh (it doesn’t sound like Pittsburgh…say Ed-in-burra…and roll the r’s) the day of the referendum, not entirely by accident. I woke to the announcement of a vote that had divided Scotland roughly in half. David Cameron rushed to promise more devolved powers, not just for Scotland, but Wales and Ireland as well.
This was the momentous backdrop for a single day of touristing. A day that dawned as many do here, with drizzle and fog that hinted it might clear up in the afternoon…or it might not. A fitting analogy for the politics of the day.
As if to add to the fire, when we arrived in the lobby of the hotel, no less than THREE managers in ties were lined up waiting by the elevator. Not to greet me, but rather the deputy prime minister who had waited out the result of the vote in downtown Edinburgh. My wife rode down in the elevator with him and his rather annoyed secret service equivalents. It was a shame we had no idea who he was until later in the day.
I love Edinburgh because it is so walkable. Nearly all the of the cool sights can be walked, strolled or hiked to but be prepared that it may be colder and wetter than you are prepared for!
The day began at the Elephant House, a coffee shop that is the self-proclaimed birthplace of Harry Potter. Given the pictures that surround the place of JK Rowling working on the novel, and the fact that she has not sued them into silence, she must have been quite fond of the place. I can see why. It is warm and inviting, the breakfast was tasty and the cappuccino was beautiful. Oh, and the spectacular view of the castle out the back windows doesn’t hurt anything either.
The most interesting part of the Elephant House was the mad rash of fan graffiti on the walls in the tiny bathroom. It was a bit embarrassing to stand outside the door of the bathroom and repeatedly tell my 16-year-old daughter that she needed to come out so someone else could use the bathroom. My favorite on that very momentous day: “Dobby is a free elf.”
Poignant and more than a bit ironic given the outcome of the vote. I suspect that Dobby would have observed a moment of silence for those in the Tartan Kingdom who yearned to be free of the UK’s yoke. Although my history is deeply imbedded in Scotland (my clan has two tartans), I have very mixed feelings about the vote. As an American Scot, there is a certain amount of rah-rah that wells up in me when I think about it. You know, sort of a “We threw the British off…you can too!” but that is balanced by the pragmatic side that wonders how they could possibly work out the issues of currency and dependency. I think a close no vote may have been the best thing that could have happened…but my opinion has very little value.
Warmed by the coffee we made our way up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle as it sat brooding in the fog watching over the old and new city. It sort of appeared out of the mist as we got closer in a very Hogwartsian fashion. I am pretty sure that Hogwartsian is a word…
We did not leave enough time to truly do the castle justice (I think a little over two hours would be about right) but we enjoyed seeing the seat of power for Scotland, the Royal jewels that were found by Sir Walter Scott and the chapel onsite for all of the Scots that have died in countless wars. As I told my wife and daughter, Scotland has three big exports: wool, salmon and soldiers.
My sixteen year old daughter kept poking me and saying, “It looks just like Hogsmeade,” so beware that the Harry Potter fanatics in your household will be quite taken with old town in Edinburgh.
A business acquaintance and I are in the habit of trying to “one up” each other on good restaurants, and being Scottish he had laid claim to taking us to lunch this day. He chose Restaurant Mark Greenaway on the edge of the new town.
Sometimes really pretty food is short of flavor, or overly fussy or just plain disappointing. Mark Greenaway was none of these. While dinner would have been pricey, the two course for lunch was £17 and featured a short list of very fresh dishes with local ingredients. Over the top! Do not miss it if you are in town and need someplace to celebrate.
We left full and happy and spent several hours walking around Edinburgh trying to offset the calorie intake. Some souvenir shopping..
…a jaunt through the park by the Sir Walter Scott memorial thingie
a short detour into a random church…
…before a little break at the hotel and we were ready for some scary night time escapades as Edinburgh has a reputation for being more than a bit ghostly.
We settled on the Ghost Bus as our venue for viewing a haunting.
The Ghost Bus is more campy than curdling (think the Munsters) with a ride through the downtown focusing on various famous macabre events from Edinburgh’s past. From Burke and Hare robbing graves for fun and profit to suspected witches being burned, drowned or starved, the ride is punctuated with some mid level special effects and corny story telling. It was good fun, if overpriced, but it does give you the lay of the land. I did manage to negotiate the price down a bit with the driver when we walked up, so don’t hesitate to ask if they have any specials…
If we had not been so impossibly full from lunch I had thought about ending our day at the Witchery or possibly a classic pub. I did learn the hard way that a sixteen year old cannot be in a pub after 8 PM, even just to eat. Seems strange for a country that offered her wine and beer at every meal! Something to be aware of if you are craving fish and chips and have your kids along.
Edinburgh has a little of everything to offer the itinerant adventurer. Castles and literature, history and hysterics and a burgeoning food culture. You can do Edinburgh in one really hard day…but you will be happier if commit to at least two!