We ventured into Scotland and went to Edinburgh to spend a few nights. More photos are on the Edinburgh page.
Deb, our B&B host, was gracious enough to get up early to fix us breakfast so we could catch our bus. The upside was we got to meet her husband as he was on his way to work. After finishing, we walked the few blocks to our bus, got to the train station, then hopped on. It was luxurious to not need to transfer to a different train along the journey. After arriving in Edinburgh, we counted our change and saw we didn't have the right amount for two all-day bus passes, so we bought a quick snack and had enough change.
The reason we got all-day passes was because we knew we would be going to our B&B to check in, back into town, then back again for the night; once you hit three bus rides, it's cheaper to get the pass. This was actually the first time we've needed to worry about exact change, since on all the other busses we've had so far the driver gave change. For that matter, we didn't always know what the fare would be, since the other busses went pretty far, so the fare depended on how far you were going (as well as one-way, a "single", or round-trip, a "return").
Anyway, we went to check into our B&B, and our room was enourmous. It was larger than our living room at home, and housed a king-sized bed, two twins, and a twin-sized cot, in addition to three large chairs, assorted night stands, small fridge, amoire, and sink. We resisted the urge to spread out into the whole room and went back into town, walking towards the Parlaiment building. Becuase we knew there wasn't much more sunlight left in the day, we did a hike around the Salisbury crags. It was a bit chilly and windy, but the skies were clear and we got some great views.
Looking at the timing of things, we decided to go to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen's residence when she's in Edinburgh. Since we had Great Britain Heritage Passes, we just had to show our cards to get in. We also got tickets for the adjoining Queen's Gallery. Off to the palace and we picked up our free audio tours. Once we did that, we realized that we had a timing problem; the audio tour was supposed to last about an hour, but the last entry for the Queen's Gallery was only 45 minutes away. Our passes are only good for one entry for each thing, and the tickets we had were only good for that day. We decided to go ahead and start the palace tour and see how we felt as we progressed.
The audio guide was well done, talking about not only what we were seeing but the history behind everything, including how people would enter the palace and progress through the rooms. Time was getting short for us, unfortuantely, so we ended up listening to the first parts of the description for each room them moving on. Towards the end of the tour we went up into the oldest part of the palace to the Mary, Queen of Scots part of the tour. We didn't time that one well at all, since we only had a chance to quickly look around the rooms then make our way to the exit. However, we did make it to the Queen's Gallery with several minutes to spare, and went in to look at the Dutch Landscapes exhibit, which was quite good. For me, however, the highlight was the gallery itself, which had a very interesting wood beam ceiling as well as a beautiful staircase railing which went up in two directions and continued on to form a semicircle on the upper gallery.
By the time we got out of the gallery, it was already too late to go into the Parlaiment building, so we grabbed some dinner and headed back to the B&B.
We awoke and went down for our breakfast. I went with the usual full breakfast, but Melody went with smoked salmon (seemed closer to lox) and scrambled eggs. Colin, our host, also gave us a taste of haggis, which we found quite good, sort of like a sausage dresing, but without bread. So what's haggis? It's an assortment of oats and sheep orangs, stuffed into a section of sheep intestine, seasoned and boiled. Really! Colin figured we wouldn't want to order it the first day, but wanted to give us the opportunity to try some. The way he served it looked as if everything were minced up; it sort of resembled cous cous in shape and size.
Our first destination for the morning was Edinburgh Castle, which sits high atop a hill at the west end of the city's Old Town. There were several people there, but it's easy to see how crowded it gets during peak tourist season. The weather was cold and windy, with occasional rain, so it was a good day to do something where a large part is indoors.
Scotland's crown jewels are in the castle, but before you get to the actual jewels you go through a series of displays showing the history of Scottish royalty and how the crown jewels have evolved through the years. The actual crown jewels are in a vault, complete with two vault doors (one where you enter, one where you exit), in a very sturdy floor-to-ceiling case, and watched over by emloyees who also strictly enforce the no photography policy. Photos are also not allowed in the rest of the exhibit, but it doesn't seem to be enforced (there were several people snapping pictures).
While in the castle, we also toured the Royal Palace where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI (who became King James I of England). St. Mary's Chapel is the oldest building in Edinburgh, and is still used today for special ceremonies. Just outside the Chapel is Mons Meg, a siege gun which could fire stones which were over 300lb a distance of more than 2 miles.
One thing we didn't get a chance to view was the Scottish National War Memorial, since it was closed when we were there for Armistice Day. However, we did see a special ceremony commemorating the day which included horns and bagpipes. During the ceremony was a 2 minute period of silence.
After the castle, we went to the National Museum of Scotland, which is in a very impressive building. Instead of the audio tour, we chose to take the guided walking tour through the museum. Our guide was good at giving us a taste for the various sections of the museum, although his favorite seemed to be the basement which had ancient artifacts. We could tell because he spent about half the alloted time there, and there were still five floors to go. He did pick up the pace, however, and the tour ended up being only about 10 or 15 minutes over. Afterwards, he took us up to the roof where it was windy and a bit wet, but we got great views all over the city.
Next on the list was to walk down the Royal Mile, starting at Edinburgh Castle and ending down at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Parlaiment building. The walk took us through the heart of Old Town, past where the town wall used to be, and further down the hill into a section which seems much less busy. Again, it was cold and windy and we got hit with brief bouts of rain, but we did survive.
Once we hit the bottom of the Royal Mile we hopped on a bus to go to the Royal Theatre where we went to see Enron. It was interesting to watch the Scottish players using American accents. For the most part the accents were good, but they were also trying to do Southern accents, which was much more hit and miss. The better ones sounded like they had mild accents, but some of them sounded more like they came from Boston or New Jersey.
We started the morning by walking around New Town which is just north of Old Town. It was a much shorter walk than the Royal Mile, and it was interesting to see how the streets were much wider and the buildings much more regular. It's flanked by a pair of squares on the east and west and the huge Princes Street Park on the south. Just north of Charlotte Square on the west is the Georgian House, but since that didn't open until alter, we first went to the National Gallery of Scotland.
We only spent about an hour in the gallery, but did get to see some great works, including the sculpture The Three Graces by Antonio Canova, as well as a couple Rembrands and some Raphaels.
It was time to work our way back to the Georgian House, which was decorated as it would have been in the early 19th century, when it was occupied by its first owner, John Lamont. It and the houses surrounding it were owned by people who were wealthy but not necessarily aristocratic.
Our last stop before lunch was St. Giles' Cathedral which was actually undergoing restoration work. Even so, we got a good look at a lot of the interior, including the relatively new organ and a small chapel which was made of extremely intricately-carved wood. We then made our way to the café in the basement and had some great food for lunch, one of our better meals in Edinburgh.
Onto a bus again to our last sight of the day, the Royal Yacht Britannia, which used to be the Queen's yacht. It was also used for various honeymoons, including Charls and Diana's and Andrew and Sarah's. While at first blush it looks like a normal (albeit very large) yacht, there are several touches which can be attributed to it being built and maintained to a higher standard. When you stand outside the hull, you can't detect any seams or rivets, and there's a band of gold leaf going all the way around the ship. The engine room is absolutely clean, as if it were brand new.
We made our way back to the room to drop off some of our stuff and headed out to dinner. While we were out walking, it occurred to me that it may be stragne when you're in a car for vehicles to be on the left side of the road, but it's even stranger as a bus rider or pedestrian. Several times we knew which direction we wanted to go, but found ourselves on the wrong side of the street since we were expecting to board a bus which was driving on the right side of the road. As a pedestrian, we're used to walking on the left side of the road (I used to tell my kids that it's better to see the car about to hit you than be hit from behind), so it feels strange to walk on the right side. When walking on the sidewalk, we're used to being able to walk right on the curb on the left sidewalk if we don't see cars coming, but do that over here and you have a bus whiz by from behind less than a foot away. Good thing those bus drivers aren't out to get pedestrians.