Thanks to all the support and encouragement I've received so far. I do NOT consider myself a writer, but I do consider myself a good story teller - with just the right amount of humor, perspective and emotional oomph to make it work. So, I appreciate those that have read this far.
In prepping for what can only be considered "Sarah's most chaotic time of the year" last week, I came across the notebook that I hurriedly used to jot down the initial planning of our time in Scotland. I used the pages for headings, arrival times and then detailed out the things we'd see on that particular date or location. Later on I added in the AirBnB's or guesthouses. It was almost painful to look at it, because that trip has been planned, executed and finished. There's just something about the initial rush of literally mapping out the destinations, the sights and the "how to go from a to b having never been there before."
It reminded me that I still had a whole chapter to write in our journey, which is a great part of the fun, and a great way to reminisce and be thankful for all that we experienced on The BIG Trip 2017.
We arrived to Edinburgh from London after a beautiful 4 hour train ride from London over the English and Scottish countryside. There were many baby sheep (yes, lambs, but it's much more fun to squeal "Baby Sheep!" each time I see them) along with cities, old churches, rolling hills and so much awe-inspiring beauty. I can easily see why authors and film producers find the UK so relevant to medieval fantasy stories and the like. The Edinburgh Castle greeted us from it's throne upon the great hill, otherwise known as the top of the Royal Mile. It's pretty obvious that the castle was a fortress to be reckoned with, as it is protected by cliff faces on 2 sides. The sun was shining for us again and we proceeded to navigate to our flat. When I say navigate, I mean that we argued most of the way, pointing and yelling out street names, only to find that the best/fastest way was up about 110 stairs. You see, most everything in the city center is focused on the castle, so it's only natural that the commerce basically sprung up around it. Which meant getting at least half way up to find our street.
We finally did, and were thrilled that the flat lived up to it's "Castle View" name. It was just a few short blocks from Grassmarket square, a cat cafe, lots of enticing pubs and was right beneath the castle which provided for excellent views right out our bedroom window.
We freshened up and hit the cobblestone to explore. The market was in full swing and we sampled some local mead, crafts, and the like. We then stumbled into Walker Slater, Edinburgh's most premier tweed shop. Both of us were in plaid heaven. Not your touristy knock-offs, these were the real deal, complete with what can only be described as the Sommeliers of suiting. We were immediately immersed into a different era where looking good was the name of the game. After oogling some high-priced desires, and overhearing the designer of the company doing his weekend check-in, we were asked if we'd seen the "Sale Shop" across the way. We nearly ran across the road, and were delighted to find a few things in our size.
The rest of our evening consisted of getting acquainted with the Royal Mile including St. Giles Cathedral, exploring some of the Rick Steves' often-overlooked sights and then finally (after hitting the 20K mark on our Fitbits) set out to look for dinner. At this point in April, the restaurants are starting to fill up quickly anytime between 5p and 8p, often with a 30-45 minute wait for dinner. You see, it became increasingly aware in our 2 weeks traveling Scotland that we were viewing the first in a wave of tourism that will wreck havoc on the country for a solid 6 months. Being that we're pretty flexible and easy-going travelers, each restaurant basically suggested one just down the road. We finally found ourselves staring at "The Baked Potato Shoppe" which was on my list of places to try (Rick Steves has NEVER steered me wrong in the way of food.) Growing tired and increasingly hangry, we gave it a shot. Naturally, the young man behind the counter said he had just put the last of the "tatties" in the oven and it would be about 15 minutes until they were ready. 15 was far better than 45 for anything else we found, and the cheap pricing couldn't be beat. When the buzzer finally went off, I was salivating to tell him my order. In the short wait time, we had gathered a crowd of tattie-craving locals - so when I dutifully proclaimed that I would like to order a "Large" I heard a few snorts of laughter, not just from the counter gent. As if my ability to down a large-sized tattie was in question, I puffed up a bit and looked at them all doubtfully. The counter worker smiled and said "they're pretty big," then proceeded to hold up a large potato that could have doubled as my infant child when I took home-ec back in high school. It had to weigh 5 pounds. I sheepishly snorted myself, and opted for a medium, topped with cheese, baked beans (I learned the necessity of these in London remember) and several other toppings of choice. I'm not sure if he was surprised or proud when I happily took my last bite (that skin was CLEAN) and we waddled back to our flat.
During our next 2 days in Edinburgh we saw some great sites and tried to time our visits to be off of what the normal tourists would do. We visited the Elephant Cafe, where JK Rowling supposedly finished some of her Harry Potter novels at (killer breakfast, either way). We found the Greyfriar Kirk (Church) and cemetery where JK also found name inspirations like Thomas Riddell, and Minerva McGonegall. One of the best photographical moments came when we discovered the much-anticipated wild bird rescue booth tucked in between tchotchke shops and tourist dives. We'd heard about the incredible opportunity to hold a wild bird for a small donation, but were worried we misread or that it wasn't the height of tourist season for enough interest. We were wrong. We parted the small crowd of people to find two handlers holding magnificent owls. We stopped, admired and listened for a few moments, and then Joe dove in. He was able to hold a small, white barn owl with her gentle eyes and fluffy chest. The handlers were great at talking about each bird, and showing him the ropes in how to approach, take hold of, and pet her. I tried to get as many photos as possible of course. Afterwards, I felt that it was enough excitement just to watch, but as I started to step away, I had that nagging feeling of "why not? I'm here!" and so stepped back in line. The line was really just people taking pictures, and so the gentleman invited me up, then looked at Joe and said "we just switched birds, you're going to be jealous, she's about to hold Guinevere." My eyes became as big as daisies when they opened her cage and positioned her on the glove. She was a great horned owl, with pumpkin-orange eyes, and stood about 26 inches tall. She was one of the most magnificent creatures I've ever seen. I carefully slipped on the glove and followed all instructions as the handler guided me. I stood in awe of this creature, perfectly at ease on my now-seemingly scrawny arm and realized the power she held. I tried not to look too terrified in the photos as Joe snapped away. After walking away from that momentous experience, emotion overcame me and I teared up a bit. There are moments in life that just hit you, and this was definitely one of them. I felt thankful for the opportunity, for the folks that do this on a daily basis to raise awareness for these birds. I felt sadness that we even have to fight so hard to protect mother nature. I felt remorse for not doing more in my life to help, and for having the moment be over too quickly.
We obviously explored the Edinburgh Castle and learned a great deal from our cheeky guide Laura.
Somehow it seems more interesting to learn about the history of a country or culture while standing in a place that held so much of its content underfoot. On the evening of our second day in Edinburgh, we followed yet another recommendation by good old Rick Steves and found ourselves in queue at the St. Giles Cathedral for one of their twice-weekly free concerts. It just so happened that this was Palm Sunday and so they had a very special performance of Bach, being sung by their local professional choir, in its original language of German. 1 note into the performance and there was no other place on earth that I wanted to be. The music was beautiful and haunting all at the same time, but hearing it in that place, in that moment, as the last of the sun rays shone through the 500-year old stained glass...it was spiritually and emotionally moving. Something that also struck me, despite not being a very religious person, was that there were at least 30 different cultures, languages, nationalities, all gathered in this place to share something similar. A love, devotion or appreciation for a higher power through beautiful music. The whole experience was something I won't ever forget, and in some ways, it's brought me a bit closer to understanding religion in all its complexity.
Our last day in Edinburgh found us back at Walker Slater. Joe couldn't resist the opportunity for us to both get a truly unique and original gift for ourselves, so we were both fitted and fawned over in order to find the perfect suits. We learned some great facts about tweed, its origins and the proper use and care of it. After dropping way more than we'd like to share (on pieces that will likely be family heirlooms) we decided to walk down the mile to Arthurs Seat. We had no real intention of climbing it, but ducked into the beautiful Scottish Parliament building to do one last bathroom break before photos. At the bottom, we were both a bit overwhelmed with that "you may not be back soon" feeling and we started climbing..."even if it's just to get a better picture of the abbey." We soon found ourselves posing in the St. Anthony's Chapel ruins, circa 1100 AD. It was a powerful and moving place to be, and the view was spectacular. We continued our trek up the really-steep-at-times mountain and finally approached the top. Even though the sun was shining, the wind was howling. It became difficult to stand in some areas but we're so glad we trekked to the top. As we descended, all we could think about was dinner, and the fact that we had at least 1.5 miles back to the flat. We found ourselves tipping our pints in honor of a great time in Edinburgh at "The World's End" pub, a frequent place for Arthur Conan Doyle and other literary celebrities.
And so our time in Edinburgh was coming to a close. Once again we found ourselves thankful for the time and excited for our next stop, Glasgow. I know this blog is evolving to become a chapter by chapter recap of the trip, but shouldn't it? There's far too many experiences to keep to a 2-part post, so I'm going to keep free-flowing this adventure every so often and hope you enjoy the ride!