Edinburgh Castle & The Royal Mile
Our second day in Edinburgh, Scotland dawned bright and clear. I was expecting more of the drizzle that we’d had on the previous day, so it was a pleasant surprise to be greeted with a blue sky and lots of sunshine on the morning of Wednesday, June 4th.
I won’t lie to you – one of the highlights of Day 2 was that my missing luggage, filled with my beloved “stuff”, made its way back to our hotel room, safe and sound. (I hugged it.)
We didn’t get up early that morning, and so we missed the continental breakfast that our hotel (the Apex International) offered. We decided to look for a bakery, and didn’t have to go far – just across the street from the Apex there was a very nice Italian bakery, which, by the way, had great Cappuccino. We actually ended up having breakfast here the next day also. It was convenient and the pastries were great. I enjoyed the fact that we could sit next to the front window and watch the people who were walking by in the street. And really, I wasn’t eavesdropping, but I also enjoyed listening to the folks sitting at the tables around us; the Scottish accent is musical, aye?
After fueling up with coffee and pastry, we strolled for a bit through the streets of Old Town. We left Grassmarket and headed east toward Greyfriar’s Church, which unfortunately we found closed for renovations. Undaunted, we headed north towards the Royal Mile, meaning to make our way to the Castle, which is the crown jewel (no pun intended) of the city.
Old Town is charming, and if you let yourself, you can almost imagine yourself in the very same streets, but in a different time. This part of Edinburgh still feels, well, old. There is a medieval spirit in the air, or so it seemed to us.
We made our way to High Street, also known as “The Royal Mile” (due to the fact that it connects Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace). The Royal Mile today is quite the tourist mecca, but in spite of that I thought it was great. There are an abundance of shops, each selling the usual “must have” items. The chief item here being tartan; anything that could conceivably be made out of tartan was covered: there were kilts (of course), and scarves, and ties, and blankets, to name a few of the goods that we saw. Some of the shops had bagpipe music cheerfully filtering through so that passers by would know in no uncertain terms that Scotland was being represented here.
We hooked a left on the Royal Mile and aimed for the castle. Along the way we passed the “Café Hub”, which was an old church that had been refurbished into a restaurant. We found it sad that such a grand old building had been steered from its original purpose. Somehow, the building seemed sad too, in spite of the new paint.
Next to the Hub was “The Witchery”, a famous, and expensive, restaurant. We poked our heads into the courtyard, but kept moving. Across from The Witchery were the Scottish Tartan Exhibition, and the Scottish Whisky Experience, which we also bypassed. We were on a mission to tour the castle.
We passed through the temporary stadium that is set up yearly in the esplanade of the castle. Every year, during the Festival in August, the Royal Military Tattoo performs here. Now, in June, it was a flurry of construction. As we approached the castle, we notice the kilted guards standing at attention. One of them obviously had “picture duty”. I did my job as a tourist and posed for a snapshot with him. We made our way past the statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace that were guarding the entryway, and began our tour.
Edinburgh Castle is an amazing place. It’s really a small city within a city. There are winding streets connecting the various buildings, and indeed, cars and trucks with the proper admittance (military, perhaps?) drive in and around and through the complex. The highlights for me were the royal apartments, the chapel, the Honors of Scotland, and the views from the castle ramparts. We could have spent a lot more time in the castle, but we decided to have a sandwich and a cup of coffee, and move on.
We headed back down the Royal Mile, steering for Holyrood Palace. We took our time and wandered in and out of any of the shops that caught our fancy. We were impressed by St. Giles Cathedral and the City Chambers.
Eventually we got close to Holyrood Palace, only to find that it was not open. We weren’t surprised, because by that time it was close to 5:00 pm. As it turns out, Prince Charles and Camilla were in town, so it’s possible that they were at the palace that day, which may explain why it was not open to visitors.
It was at this point that we formulated the beginnings of a plan. We boldly decided to attempt to sample the ale at each of the many pubs that we encountered, making our way back towards the hotel. Understandably it’s all a bit hazy to me now, but my two distinct favorites as far as the pubs go were “The World’s End”, and “Deacon Brodie’s”. It was somewhere in the midst of this that we discovered “Tennents Ice Cold”, a brand of beer that we would remain faithful to for the rest of the trip.
We made it back to the Apex – on foot, mind you – no cabs for us.
A successful day of castle storming and pub crashing, Day Two was over.