My wife, Stephanie, and I have spent the past few weeks in Edinburgh, Scotland. I've decided to write about our experiences (with pictures!) to document them for the eager masses back home in the States to consume, mostly so I don't have to repeat myself a bunch of times. :D This is the first of who knows how many entries in our Edinburgh journal. But first, some background. If you don't care about how we got to Edinburgh, skip to the goods, or jump to the pics
A few months ago, Stephanie and I were eating out on the patio at a local pizza joint when I had what I thought was an incredibly outlandish idea. Sitting outside eating round food reminded me of Paris. We had been there last October for a business/pleasure trip and al fresco was an extremely common mode of dining. Also, the encroaching summer heat made me long for more temperate climes. So, I posed the question to my lovely wife: "Wouldn't it be fun to spend the summer somewhere else? Somewhere cooler? Somewhere European?"
At this point, Stephanie responded with an increadibly surprising, "Yeah, that would be fun... when?" At this point the conversation quickly turned from purely hypothetical to almost scary real. We talked about some places, finally settling on Edinburgh. Then we considered how long we might be able to stay. We wanted to escape some of the summer heat and experience some of what it meant to 'live' somewhere else. After looking at schedules and prices we found that somewhere around 5 to 6 weeks would be affordable and would be long enough to emerse ourselves in the culture.
The following day I brought up the idea of working remotely in another country with my employer and, after some deliberation, they were gracious enough to afford me this opportunity. We don't have many employees who work remotely, but being a software engineer, it's fairly straightforward. Since Stephanie is a teacher and has summers off, there were no problems there. Thus, it was decided, we would spend 5 weeks in Edinburgh, I would work remotely Monday through Thursday, and we would spend 3 day weekends exploring the city and countryside.
The Travel - oh the travel
Stephanie's never had a successful, delay-free flight. And, so far this trip has been no exception. When she flew to Paris last October, she got stuck for a night at Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. when her flight was delayed due to weather. On our way home from Paris, we had a two-hour delay on the tarmac that caused us to miss our connection in D.C. again.
This time, our flight from MCI to Newark, NJ was great, and even arrived early. However, our flight out of Newark, to London Heathrow was delayed 4 hours causing us to miss our connection from London to Edinburgh. We've got our fingers crossed for the return trip, though.
We arrived in Edinburgh on a Friday, but our first weekend in the city was fairly uneventful due partly to our jetlag, but mostly due to the cold, rainy Scottish weather. We were prepared for chilly, but not oh-my-god-cold and rainy. We went to several stores looking for jackets or coats, but apparently they don't sell those here. It turns out we didn't need them though as it's not been as cold since the first weekend.
Our first priority was to find a grocery store where we could buy food for the week. Luckily we found one only about a 15 minute walk away. Our second priority was to explore our surroundings, and explore we did. I think we probably walked about 20 miles in various directions around our flat the first week.
Our second weekend in Scotland was much more exciting than the first. We scheduled a tour of Scotish Parliament and the Scotch Whiskey Experience for Saturday and a Rabbies bus tour for Sunday. We were planning on taking a boat and bus tour on Friday, but it didn't work out due to weather.
Instead, on Friday, we explored the Royal mile. The Royal mile is the collection of streets that connect Edinburgh castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It's not acutally a mile, but rather a Scotish mile which is 1⅛th mile. They say everything's longer in Scotland. While on the Royal mile we found all the places we needed to be for the rest of the weekend and stepped into and looked around a few shops chock-a-block full of Scottish chotchkies and tartans. I would venture a guess that there are north of 100 of these shops on and around the Royal mile.
While up by the castle, we came across the Camera Obscura and went in. The Camera Obscura is an interactive museum style attraction showcasing all kinds of interesting illusions and visual exhibits including holograms, distortion mirrors, a mirror maze, and a crazy spinning light vortex (don't try this one if you're at all prone to nausea). It's all topped off with the camera obscura. The camera was installed in the Victorian era and is Edinburgh's earlisted tourist attraction. I'd say that this is an attraction that any visitor to Edinburgh should put on their list. It was a very fun way to spend a couple of hours.
We also wondered into the Tartan Weaving Mill and Exhibition. The exhibit shows the whole process of weaving a tartan and you can buy a swath of your clan's tartan or a plaque with your family's crest. They've also got tons of cool old Scottish weapons that I'm pretty sure wouldn't make it through airport security. It was fairly interesting, but seemed to mainly be an attempt to get you to buy something.
On Saturday, we started our morning with a tour of Scottish Parliament. The new Scottish Parliament building was completed in 2004 after the UK granted Scotland their own local Parliament in 1999. The building was very interesting and stands in stark contrast to the historic buildings that surround it, including the Palace of Holyroodhouse. And with that, I think I may now know more about the Scottish Parliament than US Congress. I recommend this to anyone visiting Edinburgh, especially citizens of the UK. Why not go see what your £450m has bought you?
Following lunch, we walked back up the Royal mile and to the Scotch Whiskey Experience. We thought this would be distillery tour but it turned out to be a Disney-esq ride through the life of a grain of barley on it's way to becoming whisky. Luckily, you end the tour with a dram of whisky and a viewing of the largest collection of distinct bottles of whisky in the world. As it turns out, you can get a dram of whisky at any pub in Edinburgh and the whisky collection is probably only truely interesting to extreme whisky nerds. Skip this unless you can't find any other way to learn how distilling whisky works.
We capped off the weekend with a Rabbies bus tour. We went on the West Highlands Lochs and Castles tour. This was most definitely the highlight of our weekend. We hopped on a bus at 8:30 in the morning and our driver, Jonathan, took us by many castles including Edinburgh, Doune, Kilchurn, Stirling, and Inveraray.
My favorite of these was Doune castle. Doune is where all of the castle scenes in Monty Python and the Holy Grail were filmed, including the one with the infamous Frenchmen. "Your mother was a hampster and your father smelt of edlerberries!" Stephanie had the lovely fortune of hearing me quote nearly the entire film while we walked the castle grounds.
We were able to tour through the entirety of Kilchurn castle as flocks of sheep grazed nearby. This castle had the most picturesque setting with Loch Awe on one side and the mountains of the highlands on the other.
Finally, we toured the inside of Inveraray castle. Inveraray, unlike the other castles we toured, is still occupied. The castle is home to the Torquhil Campbell, Duke of Argyll and Chief of Clan Campbell, and his wife Eleanor Cadbury, Duchess of Argyll. Yes, those are the Campbells and Cadburys of soup and chocolate fame. Also, noble lines are incredibly difficult to undestand. Woah.
The Rabbies bus tour was an incredible experience and our driver was extremly knowledgable about the history and geography of Scotland. If you come to Edinburgh or Glasgow and do not take a Rabbies tour, you are missing out. We're planning on taking at least one more before we leave.
I feel like we've done and seen so much and that's after only two weeks in Edinburgh. Go check out the photos on flickr. Be sure to come back soon and read about the rest of our trip.