Scotland trip – Edinburgh; museums and lights

Scotland16_1Having attempted to write up my Scotland trip for weeks now, it’s about time I just get on with it.  I’ve had such bloggers block lately!

I’ve already covered where Husband, Tim, and I stayed – the epic Pineapple in Dunmore – which was situated directly between Edinburgh and Glasgow.  Perfect for visiting both the cities.  First up was Edinburgh, and we decided to park-and-ride on one of the trams from the airport.  I know there was a bit of controversy about the trams, but I loved the easy journey in to the city centre, especially with the free wifi.

We jumped out at Princes Street, had a coffee, and then wandered over to our first stop of the day – The Goldfinch at the Scottish National Gallery.  It was so fortuitous that it was being shown at the same time we were there.  All three of us had read the Donna Tartt novel and it felt really strange to me that we were seeing the actual painting.  It was tiny, and so beautifully detailed.  We wandered around the rest of the museum but the absolute highlight for me was The Goldfinch.

Not really having a plan, we then found ourselves up at the castle entrance looking over the rest of the city.  Having done this a couple of year ago, I didn’t have  particular desire to go in again and fortunately neither did Tim, so we decided not to pay the fee.  We trotted down the many steps to Grassmarket and I directed us to Hannah Zakari, my favourite Edinburgh store.  They had posted on their IG page that they were selling their old I Am Acrylic made window display and I wanted in.

Scotland16_5I can’t even begin to tell you the indecision I displayed when trying to figure out which to buy, and I regret not listening to Tim when he said I should buy more than one.  He was totally right.  I should always listen to him.

I left with only one of the sets.  Such regret.

After Hannah Zakari, we somehow found ourselves outside the National Museum of Scotland and thought we’d pop our heads in.  Again, quite fortuitously, there were two things on we wanted to see – Nordic Modernist design, and Wildlife Photographer of the year.  In addition to those brilliant exhibitions, we also spent ages in the Explore gallery which technically is their “family-friendly” gallery but we loved it.

More wandering the city followed, and we walked all the way down the Royal Mile, looked at Arthur’s Seat, and back up again to Princes Street.  We dined at The Huxley which was very festive with twinkling lights in the window.

It was now dark outside, so I dragged the two men up to George Street to see the Street of Light.  If I had blogged about this weeks ago, this would have been a bit more relevant and I would have urged everyone to go and see it.  But it’s way too late now.

Scotland16_2I loved it.  It was the level perfect of Christmas lights for people who weren’t into Christmas.

And then it was time to jump back on the very civilised tram and back to our Pineapple.   I love Edinburgh and am sure this won’t be my last visit.

Edinburgh – The Other Stuff

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Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Wednesday wasn’t cold and rainy, but it was grey and humid, so what could be better than spending the day wandering in and out of shops, and grabbing a bit of culture from some of the museums and galleries scattered around the place.

I had two shops on my to do list – Hannah Zakari and the Red Door Gallery.  I’m technically on a jewellery spending ban, but could not leave Hannah’s store without an I Am Acrylic necklace.  I also wanted to buy ALL OF THE THINGS, but Husband was very tempted by a cute pug notebook, before remembering he has a proper serious job where that kind of thing isn’t appreciated.

The Red Door Gallery was also amazing, but I couldn’t make a decision on what I wanted so left empty handed.  Such regret.  Obviously, Edinburgh has some great shops and I loved their old Jenner’s department store, where we found a beautiful ‘air force blue’ suit that’s gone on to Husband’s wishlist.  I also window shopped many pairs of shoes, but is seemed to impractical to lug lots of shopping home on the train.

Edinburgh15_17Another shop I loved was the one attached to the National Museum of Scotland.  Of course I loved the actual museum as well.  It’s huge, and we spent hours getting lost amongst all the exhibits.  I couldn’t quite get my bearings at first as it only seemed to have odd numbered floors, but then we realised that there was a whole other bit filled with loads more stuff, and even that was with sections closed off for building works.  It’s a gorgeous building though, and we were quite excited to realise that it had a Benugo coffee shop inside – we love Benugo!

Edinburgh15_16This was one of my favourite exhibits, which showed how other cultures deal with death.  The Mexican Day of the Dead items were brilliant, and I love the pink glittery skeleton with feather headdress!

After the museum, I wanted to see the Lichtenstein exhibit at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.  We went into what we thought was the Modern Art gallery, walked through several rooms of very old art, before realising we were in the wrong place.  We scuttled across the road into another gallery which again, didn’t seem to contain modern art.  An attendant rescued us from our confusion and showed us where we needed to be.  Which was miles across town.  Huh, more walking.

To be fair, there was a minibus which would take you there, but we figured it wouldn’t take us too long, and it was a pleasant walk down through Dean Village again.

Right on the top of Modern One (which housed the Lichtenstein display), was a lovely piece of neon by Martin Creed (Work No. 975).  Oddly, Husband and I were to have a huge debate about Martin Creed, an artist who I love but the work displayed at Modern One properly enraged Husband.  It was very amusing.

Anyway, we were there to see the three rooms of Lichtenstein which featured the iconic In the Car, a few from his Water Lilies series, a few from Reflections (which were beautiful) plus a few more.  It was so amazing to see them in person – they were so striking.  Being able to look a them up close was such a treat.

My other favourite room was the Pop Art collection, which featured Andy Warhol’s Portrait of Maurice (which is ADORABLE) and Duane Hanson’s Tourists – hilariously brilliant.

I really enjoyed Modern One, and it was shame we didn’t get to Modern Two before closing time.  We were also too early for the MC Escher exhibit (started at the end of the week) but we did see them building some insane wooden maze outside.

Both the museum and the gallery were free to enter – go British galleries!

Edinburgh15_19Before we started back to the hotel, I had just enough time to check out There Will be No Miracles Here by Nathan Coley in the grounds of Modern Two.  Isn’t it beautiful.

And that just about sums up our trip to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh – The Walking

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Arthur’s Seat

Quick set of Fitbit stats: on Monday, we did 7.6 miles; Tuesday – 16.8; Wednesday – 11.9.

That was a lot of steps.

Walking around Edinburgh city centre was not fun.  The traffic was relentless, the pavements were thick with crowds of tourists – it was hot, smelly, and busy.  Fortunately, we found three relatively peaceful places to escape to.

First up on Monday evening was Calton Hill.  I had no idea this place existed – a hill with panoramic views of the city and covered in monuments.  It was relatively crowd free up there, although there were a few idiots with selfie sticks cluttering up the place.  We had a wander around, looking at the view from each side of the hill – so pretty.

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Calton Hill

From Calton Hill, we could see the destination for our Tuesday trek – Arthur’s Seat.  We had attempted it last year before I yielded defeat and dragged Husband back down with me.  It was much cooler this year, and I had come prepared with better trainers and not in a dress.  I also gave myself a rule – no Arthur’s Seat, no Soderberg pizza.

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I don’t know if it was the thought of pizza or my trusty Go Walk trainers, but we got to the top – go me!  Sounds silly, but I was so pleased with myself as I’m not the type of person to go clambering up massive hill.  We didn’t stay too long at the top as it was fairly busy with people, so after a few celebratory photos, we clambered down.  In the wrong direction.  The wrong direction which happened to be a vertical sheet of rocks.  It wasn’t the best decision ever made and led to me spectacularly falling over and scratching up my leg.  I got completely covered in dirt, and was a hideous mess when we eventually made it to lunch.

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Just before I fell over and lost my sense of humour

We had to go back up the hill for a bit to find our way to the main path, and then descended what felt like hundreds of steps, passing loads of people going up that way.  I am so glad we went the way we did – I don’t think I would have been able to make it up all those steps and I felt really sorry for the people catching their breath all the way up.

The whole walk only took about two hours, so after pizza and a quick shower to get rid of volcano dust, we went of to explore Dean Village.  This was my favourite walk from the trip, an unexpected delight and so peaceful.  Cobbled streets lead to the Water of Leith, and we walked back to the city along the waterway.  We actually did this route twice, as it was also the way to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which we visited on Wednesday.


You couldn’t hear the city at all from here – it was like we’d walked to another town completely.  We left the waterway and went back into town up Howe Street, stopping for a very odd tasting caramel coffee jelly frappuccino in Starbucks on George Street – I’m very proud to say I was the first person to have it in from that store (although is proud the word?).

The other main bit of walking we did on Tuesday evening was to find somewhere to eat south of The Meadows, but I could’t tell you where that was as I was dizzy with tiredness and hunger at that point!  Most of the walking on Wednesday was around the culture, which brings me on to my next post…

Edinburgh – The Food

We ate well in Edinburgh.  Very well. Edinburgh15_4 We went out for a wander just after we checked in, and found ourself in Peter’s Yard, a Swedish bakery and coffee shop right by our hotel.  We both had a delicious kanelbullar (cinnamon bun) and that’s what tempted us back on the morning we left Edinburgh as well.  I loved the bakery – really good coffee, lovely furniture, chilled out Scandi atmosphere.  I could do with one of these near me.

After wandering around Edinburgh for a bit (more on that later), we returned to the hotel to get freshened up for dinner.  Not wanting to journey far, we walked over to the next block of buildings in the Quartermile and into No 8 Lister Square.  We were prepared for it to be busy, but fortunately there was one table left upstairs.  I had the most amazing fish and chips – omg, the batter.  Husband had venison sausages and mash but he regretted not having the same as me because IT WAS AMAZING. Edinburgh15_7I also may have accidentally drank a lot of espresso-based cocktail – a “Café Cubano”: Havana Club 7, crème de cacao, double espresso, sugar syrup, milk, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream.  It came in a frappuccino-type plastic glass and I drank two in very quick succession.  This plus my pudding (chocolate brownie, popcorn panna cotta, and salted caramel ice cream) meant I had a crazy amount of espresso and sugar, which left me awake all night.  No joke.

Still wired from the first night, we skipped breakfast.  Lunchtime on the second day was Söderberg pizza, directly opposite No 8 Lister Square.  We wanted to visit this place for dinner, but we were out of sync as they only opened in the evening at the weekends.  So this was our lunchtime ‘defeating Arthur’s Seat’ reward.  They’re part of the same group as Peter’s Yard – it’s like a Swedish invasion! – and their sourdough pizza is sublime.  I had the 2 slices of the vegetarian and Husband had the meat, but we were given an extra two meat slices so I had some of that too.  All so good.

Tuesday night was a bit of a bust.  We headed over to an Italian that we’d read good things about only to find it utterly rammed.  A real shame as I really wanted some bruschetta.  We walked for about half an hour further trying to find somewhere that had a spare table – we really couldn’t understand why everywhere was so busy!  With Google and TripAdvisor reviews at hand, we eventually found Henrick’s Bar and Bistro which was nice enough, and most importantly, was quiet!  The meal itself was perfectly decent – I only had nachos as I was feeling quite delicate and Husband had fish and chips, trying to recreate the glory that was my previous dinner.  The main problem we had at Henrick’s was the American tourists in the bar were hogging the wait staff, and I needed to get to Sainsburys before it closed at 10!

Lunch was skipped on Wednesday as we’d had the free breakfast at our hotel and after a long day walking about, we stopped for dinner at Burger Meats Bun. Edinburgh15_9A terribly blurred photo but I wanted to get stuck in.  I obviously couldn’t have a holiday without a burger, and popular consensus is these guys have the best burgers in town.  With triple cooked chips and breaded mac ‘n’ cheese bites, it was the perfect last night meal. Plus, their cow mascot wears trainers.  We waddled back to the hotel, and planned not to eat for the rest of the week.  It was a good three days for food.

Edinburgh – There and Back

Edinburgh15_2In a repeat of last year’s pre-summer holiday, we’ve just got back from a few days in Edinburgh.  Feeling a bit more like locals, we didn’t want to repeat the touristy stuff from before, and we mainly spent the three days walking around.  I finally got my 35,000 steps badge from Fitbit which I was very excited about (I was tempted to carry on to 40,000 but I was quite tired at that point).

Getting there
We took the train again, wanting to avoid the stress of going through airport security.  Not only that, but we went first class on Virgin East Coast.

I’ll let that statement sit for a while to give the impression first class was amazing.  It was not.

I’m glad we didn’t actually pay for the upgrade because I would have been epically disappointed.  I had so many Nectar points built up which I converted into East Coast vouchers so it seemed like a fun idea but honestly, there was barely any difference.

The chairs were supposed to recline, but Husband’s chairs were broken there and back, whereas mine was just covered in stains.  The food was ok – sandwiches that were a bit stale, odd rose flavoured cake (although on the way back, we were offered lunch and afternoon tea, so got different cake which was nice).  The first class lounge at Edinburgh was hilariously bad though.  A coffee machine, a water fountain, one type of crisps and one type of biscuit.  Not even little cans of fizzy drink or anything like that!  Needless to say, we would not make the effort to pay for first class.

Where we stayed

Edinburgh15_1We’re building up points on our Marriott account, so choose the Residence Inn in the Quartermile –  perfect choice.  Not only was it super cheap (for Edinburgh), but it was just far enough away from the city centre to avoid the noise.  The Quartermile is an amazingly quiet area right next to the University, with restaurants and coffee shops surrounding our hotel.  I want to live there.

There was supposed to be an Aurora Borealis when we were there, but we couldn’t stay up late enough.  It was weird enough that Edinburgh stays light so late.

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This was 11pm!

Next up – all the yummy food we ate.

Edinburgh trip – boats and (more) booze

BrittainiaWhilst trying not to fall asleep in our Nandos last night, we came up with a plan for our second day.  We figured out which bus would take us to the Royal Yacht Brittainia over by the Ocean Terminal in Leith, so we walked over to the stop pretty much as soon as we got up.  Bizarrely, Ocean Terminal is a mall, and we weren’t really expecting that much from the Yacht – what other royal attraction can you get to through a mall?  After a quick breakfast in the mall, we went up to the entrance, grabbed our free audio commentary handset (take that, Edinburgh Castle) and entered the yacht at the bridge.

We then spent absolute hours wandering around this fascinating ship and I loved every freaking second.  The yacht was decommissioned in 1997 but has since been lovingly taken care of and anyone can visit – there is so much of it open to the public.  You start at the bridge and the deck, then go down through the state apartments – the Queen and Price Philip’s bedrooms, their sunroom, their drawing and living rooms – and then further into the ship where you can walk through the crew quarters.  We visited the crew bunks, their pubs, doctors/hospital rooms and the laundry.  It was amazing to visit the rooms where so much history has taken place.  You end up at the bottom of the ship in the engine room, which was sparkly clean.

Best of all, they have a really nice tea room on board.  We were there at about 11.55 so couldn’t resist the opportunity to have lunch where the royal family enjoyed buffets, so I had a caesar salad and Husband had a salmon sandwich.  We had such a great table as well, right next to the window overlooking the dock, and the service we received was impeccable.

I was very sad to leave the yacht, and would love to go back again.  And also, I want them to recommission it so I can go on a cruise.

We had a quick whirl around the shops in Ocean Terminal, tried to find Husband some new trainers and failed, and then decided to get the bus back to Princes Street for some more shops.  We did eventually find the trainers he wanted, and got talking to a really nice half-Maltese sales assistant who looked quite like Husband (who has Maltese ancestry).  They could have been brothers.  We escaped the crowds up by walking along George Street, and then decided to go back to the hotel.  We’d seen that they were offering cocktails and cupcakes in the very swish Monboddo Bar.  Who would say no to this?

Cocktails&CupcakesI had a Bramble, can’t remember what Husband had, mainly because I got drunk off my ass.  I am such a ridiculous lightweight.  A short nap followed, of course, and we then decided to take advantage of the other dining option in our hotel, the Bread Street Brasserie.  This was really nice, and more alcohol followed (for Husband, I’d had enough).  Again, the staff were so polite.  Nothing like the wait staff we get in London.

The next morning, we made our way back to the south.  We didn’t have much time left in Edinburgh, so after a leisurely breakfast in Bella Italia on the Royal Mile, we soaked up some sunshine in Princes Street gardens whilst listening to a bagpiper playing the Star Wars theme tune.  No really.

Princes St GardensThe journey home felt like it took forever, and were got stuck in Newcastle for about half an hour because of signal failure.  We got home at about 8pm, and whilst I was sad to have left Edinburgh, it was nice to be back home.

Edinburgh Trip – single malts and stacked rocks

Arthur's SeatIt seems astonishing that just a 15 minute walk from our Edinburgh city hotel is a flipping volcano.  OK, so it’s extinct but it’s also extraordinarily beautiful and it would have been crazy not to visit.  We wanted to make the most of the beautiful weather we’d woken to, so quickly grabbed a coffee and headed straight over to Holyrood Park.

In hindsight, it was perhaps a little too hot to be clambering about on the hill, and despite wearing light clothes, we were soon sweating buckets.  We got about halfway, and I begged Husband to not go any further, so we joked that we’d managed Arthur’s Chair Leg.  Still, we had a lovely (sweaty) walk, and a gentle stroll back down into the city.  Edinburgh residents are so lucky to have this.

We walked along the slightly manic Royal Mile over to the castle and paid the (IMO) extortionate entry fee.  Knowing how much we spent to get in, I really didn’t enjoy the castle which was disappointing.  The views over the city were amazing, but we got a similarly amazing view in Gozo from the Victoria Citadella and that was free.  Perhaps not a fair comparison, but it’s what came to mind.  We were there for the one o’clock gun so watched that go off (meh) and then went over to the Crown Jewels exhibit.  I will admit to not reading any of the displays, so when we got to the end, I turned to Husband and said “so, what’s this about?”  It just felt so… boring.  I probably missed a lot of other history, but I just wasn’t feeling it that day.

We spent about an hour in the castle, and walked out underneath the big stadium seating that they were setting up for Tom Jones.  Literally underneath it, as the contractors were fitting the seats to the structure.  We didn’t really have a plan at this point, but it seems as though whisky was calling Husband’s name and we found ourselves crossing the threshold of the Scotch Whisky Experience.  I had been forewarned by Trip Advisor reviewers that it was cheesy and the start of it was super mega cheesy.  Our tour guide, a lovely Swedish man called Marcus, loaded us into our barrels (yes, barrels) and we went on ” swirling, bubbling barrel ride through a replica distillery as you become part of the whisky making process”.  OK then.  It did feel a bit like a really inappropriate kids ride!

Marcus collected us again at the end and we had a short video and ‘lecture’ about the different areas of scotch whisky, which was actually interesting.  I knew a little bit about it – a couple of years ago, Husband, Tim, Jaina, and I were treated to a tour at the Bladnoch distillery, which was a real treat as we weren’t charged and they gave us a lot to sample at the end.  But the Scotch Whisky tour gave us a bit more context and detail about the other regions.

Sidenote – I’ve just gone to the Bladnoch website to find that they’ve gone into liquidation.  I’m genuinely sad about this as they were lovely people who were remarkably welcoming to us that day.  I hope they can find a buyer!

After the video, we smelt each region’s whisky on a scratch card (sounds odd, but effective) and then decided which region we’d like to taste.  I decided on Speyside, and Husband chose Islay.  As a non-drinker, both tasted disgusting to me, but Husband enjoyed them very much.  We drank them in a room containing the world’s largest collection of Scotch Whisky, which was impressively large, and then were taken out to the bar.

Now please bear in mind that I just said I don’t drink.  So what better for someone like me than four more samples of whisky.

WhiskyWe got to taste our samples in the bar, which has wonderful views over the Edinburgh rooftops, and as I’m sure you can imagine, Husband got quite tipsy.  We hadn’t eaten anything since our breakfast croissant, and the whisky went straight to his head.  He made me drink one of them after I watered it down but it’s not for me.  We got to keep one of those glasses, which Husband now drinks his whisky out of at home, and I am very proud of us for not accidentally smashing them on the way back.  Hilariously, the tour level we bought gave us membership of the Scotch Whisky Appreciation Society, so I’ll be sure to put that on my CV.

After a quick stop at the shop to buy some Port Charlotte Islay Whisky, I manoeuvred him back to the hotel and we both had a little nap.  Shamefully, we could only managed the short walk to Nandos for dinner but I was too tired and he was too drunk to manage anywhere further away.  It was oddly quiet with only a couple of people in the restaurant.  I guess  chicken isn’t that popular in Scotland.

 

Edinburgh Trip – sweet potatoes and strippers

Thistle“I’m thinking of taking a week off before the crazy rush starts” I said to Husband at the end of May.  It’s true – I don’t get to take any leave from July to October as this is our insanely busy period, so I like to start with a week at home doing nothing.  Build up my energy to battle the summer.

“Great idea!”  Husband replied.  “Let’s go to Edinburgh!”

It wasn’t on my list (which consisted largely of ‘sitting around in my PJs’), but why the hell not.  So we scoured the internet for some good hotel deals, found literally nothing, and settled on the somewhat above budget Doubletree Hilton.  We booked the cheaper travel option – a 4.5 hour train journey from Kings Cross – and after leaving the house at 8am on Sunday morning, we found ourselves all checked in and eating our complimentary warm cookie by 4pm.

We had a view of… some crappy buildings which was a little disappointing, but the room was so quiet that we really didn’t mind.  Plus, we could pretend we were on an exclusive floor as the top floor was just for Hilton rewards programme members (allegedly).  VIP!

I was feeling pretty yucky from the train, which was a perfectly decent journey and didn’t feel that long at all, so I quickly jumped into the bath.  Grime free, we wandered out into a slightly overcast but humid Edinburgh to find some dinner.

As we walked towards Grassmarket, the area seemed familiar which was odd as I’ve never been to Edinburgh before but I soon realised why.  I had seen this area on a Channel 4 documentary about strippers – LOVELY!  The area is “home to three lap-dancing bars: the highest concentration of strip clubs anywhere in the UK”.  In all honesty, yes it felt seedy but we weren’t too worried.  It might have been different if we were there at a weekend, but if it wasn’t for the neon, you wouldn’t even know they were there on a week day.

Edinburgh CastleThis photo is a slight lie as it was taken the second day, but this is the view we had of Edinburgh Castle from around our hotel.  It was a little surreal looking up and seeing it there!  We decided to visit the next day, but for now, on to the pub.

We folded ourselves into a corner of the Holyrood 9A.  Husband had a porter, I had my usual soft drink, and we both had yummy burgers.  The sweet potato fries I had were amazing and I slightly regret not ordering five portions, but if I had done that, I wouldn’t have had space for the Chockabocker Glory sundae.  Heavenly.  I fell in love with the silver stag heads on the wall and decided I wanted to put them up at home, give our living room a Hannibal feel.  I loved this pub, and all the staff were super friendly.  It was the first of many great customer service experiences.

We waddled back to the hotel room (passed the strip clubs) and back to the hotel where we sunk into the dreamy mattress for a peaceful night sleep.