We arrived in Edinburgh on Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008, sometime around 10:00 in the morning. The flight from Newark was mostly uneventful. Glenn was able to sleep (he can sleep anywhere), but I think I was too excited to get more than a few minutes of real REM in. The fun began after we disembarked, and I realized that my luggage was still in Newark . Or somewhere. After the initial shock of realizing that I would be without my “stuff”, I wished the luggage Godspeed, and decided that the only course of action was to plow ahead and to use this as a good excuse to do some shopping while in Edinburgh.
My first sight of Scotland was through the windows at the airport, and I was suitably enthralled. Of course (!) it was raining, but it was a gentle rain, which really only served to add to the beauty of the distant hills. Cheered up by this sight, we rallied our tired bodies and made our way through customs. It was our first encounter with the Scottish accent, and with a little help we were able to get our passports stamped and move on.
We were met at the airport by a representative from our trusty travel company, Clans and Castles. Her name was Jane Sanderson, and she is a gem among travel agents. Upon realizing that my luggage, and hence my coat, was gone, Jane gallantly offered up her jacket to me, a sacrifice made even more generous by her admission that this was her golfing jacket. Scots do take their golf seriously, a topic which I shall have to address in another blog. At any rate, Jane got us squared away with a cell phone and steered us toward the queue for the taxis.
Our hotel in Edinburgh was the Apex International. We were, on the whole, very happy with it. The location was maybe the best possible location for newcomers to the city – it was on Grassmarket Street, which was almost literally a stone’s throw from Edinburgh Castle. The only negative, which was unforeseen, was that there was a great deal of construction going on in the Grassmarket area, and there was quite a bit of noise, and the usual unsightliness associated with construction work. I think that the project was meant to be providing a pedestrian area, and once completed it will make a fantastic location even more fantastic.
The Grassmarket area has an interesting history. It was originally designed to accommodate the horse and cattle markets that were held here weekly from 1477-1911. The area was also used to conduct public executions, and rumor has it that the infamous “body snatchers” of medieval times would sneak in and remove the bodies, all in the name of advancing science.
Fortunately for Glenn and me, these aspects of the Grassmarket are indeed history. We found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable area, with a very medieval atmosphere. We commented to each other a number of times how much we felt that we were in “Diagon Alley” from the Harry Potter stories. There were many colorful shops, restaurants and pubs, with hardly a modern building in sight. We loved walking through the winding cobbled streets, and soaking in the local sights, sounds, and smells.
While waiting for our room to be made ready, on that first morning, we had our first experience with “pub grub” on Grassmarket Street. We ate our first meal in Scotland at a pub across from the Apex International. Glenn ordered the fish and chips, which was quite respectable, and I ordered a beef pie, which was delicious.
After this, we settled down for a nap in the lobby. We weren’t trying to be obnoxious to the hotel staff; we just literally couldn’t stand on our feet any more. I don’t know if the fact that Glenn was snoring REALLY LOUDLY helped our cause, but we did get into a room in short order.
The room was great, but the real magic was in the view. Edinburgh Castle was right outside our window, and throughout the next couple of days we got to experience the sight of the castle in all sorts of different lighting and weather conditions. I tried to capture it on film, but I don’t think that I really did it justice. The castle is incredibly beyond description. I will blog more about the castle in another post.
After a quick shower we decided to see what we could of Edinburgh. We walked to the west and the north, up King’s Stable Road, around the west side of the castle. We ended up on the grounds of a very old cathedral and cemetery, which as it turns out was Cuthbert’s Church and churchyard, which was built on the oldest church site in the city of Edinburgh. It was very picturesque, and I couldn’t stop myself from taking pictures. The site of the castle above the churchyard was so much like being in a fairy tale that I couldn’t help myself.
We made our way through the churchyard and on to the main street above the castle, which was Prince’s Street. This is a fairly modern area of the city, with both basic and swanky shopping and the hustle and bustle of traffic, pedestrian and otherwise. It was on Prince’s Street that we found “Boots”, the chemist’s, or “drug store” as we would say in the U.S., and I was able to replenish my stock of shampoo and makeup to cover what was lost in transit inside my luggage. At a 2 for 1 exchange rate, this hurt, but I really didn’t have a choice. In any case it was fun to see what kinds of shampoo and soap Scottish women have to choose from.
We spent the afternoon roaming the streets of Edinburgh. We were mostly north of Prince’s Street, and took in things like the Scott Monument, the Melville Monument and the Financial District. We found the Financial district to be quite interesting; a lot of the old original banks and such had been converted to restaurants and shopping stores. It was an odd juxtaposition to see such serious architecture being used for such lighthearted purposes. The Melville Monument also had a funny story; the coffee dude at the Starbucks in front of the monument told us that Melville was a notorious political figure, so it’s quite odd that there would be a monument for him still standing.
Eventually we wound our way back to the Apex, and had a nice dinner there, looking out on to Grassmarket Street. By this time, the construction workers had put their jackhammers away, so it was relatively peaceful and relaxing.
The Scottish summer is an interesting thing. Due to the latitude, the sun doesn’t set until somewhere around 10:30 pm. After the afternoon rain, we were treated to a wonderful sunset over Edinburgh. The weather being cool, we kept our hotel room windows open and were able to hear the live band playing at the pub across the street.
A great end to a great beginning. Day one was over.