London and Scotland Days 4 and 5 (long)
Monday was a travel day, and although we had originally planned to get to the Tate Modern for a short time in the morning,it didn’t work out. The London City Airport is small with just a few people, gates, and smaller planes. It is much easier than Heathrow which we wanted to avoid. Although, we had to carry bags up and down stairs more than a few times, yech! Upon arrival at Edinburgh, the biggest problem was finding a cab. Only one came at a time, every 3-4 minutes which did not appease the 20 parties or so ahead of us in line. We were lucky enough to get an Uber which 40 minutes later got us to our hotel. Some of the roads were blocked, but, all in all, except for the cab problem, we seemed to avoid the Queen’s cavalcade through the city.
Met our tour mates in a quick meeting with Linda, one half of our guide team. (Steve,the other half is in Iceland, and will meet us in a few days). We had a lovely dinner across the street at a Parisian bistro and started getting to know some of the other 14 people taking this tour.
Day 5, Edinburgh Walking Tour, Edinburgh Castle, Tablet Candy and Haggis
Edinburgh is over 1000 years old, and, a little like Rome, lies on seven—not hills- but extinct volcanoes. Our tour guide, Fran, a soft- spoken women in Scottish dress led us through the main areas of this town including the Grassmarket, where our hotel, the Apex Grassmarket, is located, New Town, and the Old Town including the "Royal Mile". Grassmarket used to be the only sunny and open area as well as the market area for food and livestock. Today, it is very European looking with lots of restaurants, shops and pubs right across the street from our hotel.
The New Town (not new, but built between 1767 and 1850) was an effort to get some of the masses into what was then, a planned neighborhood. Edinburgh was steeped in poverty and the unwanted effects of that: dirt, disease and overcrowding. So they ran a contest to find a planner, and started this section of somewhat bigger, and certainly newer housing. Now, Princess street is lined with many galleries, shops, gardens and beautiful views of Edinburgh
We stopped at a very famous monument of Sir Walter Scott, alongside his beloved dog.
The Royal Mile is in the old town , a processional route for royalty for the last hundred years, which was last used for royalty as of……yesterday! More on that in a bit.
It officially goes between the Palace of Holyroodhouse to St. Giles’ Cathedral and is very touristy with tiny shops selling scarves, woolen clothing, whisky, and, of course, all manner of restaurants.
We spent a bit of time outside of St. Giles where, less than 24 hours earlier, Queen Elizabeth II laid at rest so more than 20,000 people in Edinburgh could pay their respects. After a service of remembrance, her coffin was then brought through the streets, eventually to the airport, and, as of today, is in Buckingham Palace in London. So that is the timeline of what has been happening as we have made our way from London to Scotland, parrying around these activities of the Royal family.
There were still many barriers along the sides of the road, TV cameras, news people and BBC broadcast trucks around the church, and we were not allowed inside, but life was returning to normal.
In front of St. Giles, there is an interesting landmark called the Mercet (Market) Cross. From the top of this, announcements were made to the public. When James 3rd of Scotland became King of all of England, it is said that a horseman rode non-stop from London to this spot to announce to the Scots that their King was now the King of England. True to tradition, although the official "Ascension" announcement of the now King Charles III was made in London, it was also made atop this famous spot, following a 21 gun salute,while the Royal family was here in Edinburgh.
After St. Giles, we explored the Royal Mile on our own and found some lunch before heading up,…and up the long hill to Edinburgh Castle.
Edinburgh castle is steeped in history, although we were a little underwhelmed by the audio tour’s dry and endless take on it. But it is very impressive. High atop a huge rock of volcanic material, it is the highest spot in Edinburgh and has beautiful views. It was an impregnable fortress, housed ( and still does occasionally) hundreds of troops and an armory as well as the Scottish royal jewels. It has an impressive hall of remembrance for all the Scots who have died in battle from WWI through the Afghanistan conflict. St. Margaret’s Chapel, dating from the 1100’s is the oldest building in Edinburgh and is used occasionally for very small life cycle events, and the Great Hall is used occasionally for special events as well as movies.
Exhausted, we walked down about 10 flights of steps to work our way back to our hotel. Dying for an ice cream, we saw a local candy/ ice cream store on the far side of our hotel. The friendly proprietor thrives on chatting with customers and explains both his very old fashioned candies (think Scottish penny candy in glass jars, 2 ft licorice,or bubble gum, not sure), and the Scottish treat of "tablet"-a strangely named candy made of carmel, condensed milk, a little butter and maybe a couple of other things. After he gave us a taste, we had to get some along with ice cream. But he wasn’t done. He bent our ear about how he loved doing this, how his wife makes the tablet (recipe is online), and especially his travels. He is leaving on holiday tomorrow. A lovely and unusual way to end the afternoon.
After a nap, we went across the street to the supposedly haunted White Hart Inn. It is one of the oldest pubs in Edinburgh dating back to 1516 and frequented by renowned Scotsmen like Robbie Burns. We each had an ale and shared…wait for it….haggis, neeps and tatties. It was actually pretty good! ( Neeps are turnips, tatties are potatoes, and if you don’t know what haggis is, you might want to look it up.) Wendy took advantage of the hotel’s pool before bedtime. Tomorrow is a trip to St. Andrews.