DAY 1: Rainy Edinburgh
I can’t remember the last time I was in Europe. It might have been close to 15 years? Don’t remember much of my family trips to London, Manchester, and Paris when I was eight years old. I wonder what I had absorbed as a kid while traveling with my parents. Anyhow, I was excited to meet my parents in Edinburgh, Scotland, after 13 hours on a plane ride. When I arrived, the city was blanketed in a grey sky. There was a light rain when I boarded the taxi. Soon, I was seeing familiar quaint-looking buildings. My dad had booked an apartment to stay since there was my family, and a few of his friends that came on this trip. It was nice in the sense that it wasn’t some business hotel, and we got to experience a part of the local neighbourhood. My dad and his friends planned this trip to see the 2010 PGA Open Championship in St Andrews, Scotland. And, to play a round of golf game on Scottish land, I believe. It was a perfect meeting point for me and my parents; them coming from Malaysia, and me from Canada. Reunited at last! The rest of the day was casually spent catching up with my parents and younger sister.
DAY 2: Girls Day Out
So the boys packed their golf bags and headed towards St. Andrews. We girls started our exciting tourist adventures in the city of Edinburgh. Well, at least I wanted to do the touristy thing since it was my first time here. My mom and sister had been here before. Auntie K just wanted to shop, I think (she’s a shopaholic, a rich one that is). The buildings, even though dull-looking, have a majestic aura to it. And it just felt so romantic walking the city streets.
We were on our way to see Edinburgh Castle. I think my mum sort of led the way and somehow we got to Princess Street Gardens. It was a nice, quiet walk up to the entrance of the castle. Although, we must have taken some side path up to the castle entrance … We were there 10 minutes early. Before the doors at Portcullis Gate opened, a man appeared on the upper part of Portcullis Gate and started playing a tune on the bagpipe. I am guessing it was the national anthem.The entrance was built as the principal gateway into the castle. It originally had four barries – an iron portcullis and three pairs of wooden doors. The iron crooks on which the heavy doors were hung can still be seen.Next to the Portcullis Gate was a steep flight of steps, named Lang Stairs. Apparently, it was the main way up to the summit in medieval times, but we took a more leisurely route on the curved cobbled road ahead. Across from Lang Stairs was the Argyle Battery and the Cartshed. There are six cannons that line the Argyle Battery, and the 18th-century Cartshed was originally used to store cars delivering goods to the garrison. The views of the city from this point were just stunning. Here is a snapshot of the Northeast view of the city. Still gloomy, but spectacular.
We passed through another arched gate called Foog’s Gate. In olden times, it was known as ‘Foggy Gate’, perhaps referring to the thick sea mist called haar that still shrouds the castle occasionally. Up the slope to the left of us was St Margaret’s Chapel. This small structure is apparently the oldest building in the castle, and in Edinburgh. It was built around 1130 by David I as a private chapel for the royal family, and it was dedicated to his mother, Margaret. It has a very plain exterior, but the chapel is well decorated inside. The chapel was converted into a gunpowder store in the 16th century. We made our way to Mons Meg, a six-tonne siege gun, which was a gift presented to James II of Scotland in 1457 by his niece’s husband, Duke Philip of Burgundy. The artillery was simply known as ‘Mons’ back then; named after the Belgian town where she was made in 1449. This looked like one cumbersome gun to carry around back in the fighting days. The view of the city from here, again, was outstanding. Right below us stood a small garden that is actually a dog cemetery; used as a burial place for regimental mascots and officers’ dogs since Queen Victoria’s reign (1827-1901).
We proceeded to explore the heart of the castle, Crown Square, which was created in the late 25th century as the principal courtyard of the castle. Around the four sides of the square were ranged the most important buildings of the castle – the Royal Palace, the Great Hall, where major ceremonies took place, the Royal Gunhouse, where Mons Meg and other great artillery were displayed; and St Mary’s, the castle church.We could not take photos at most of the exhibits inside, but spent at least another hour just visiting the the buildings in Crown Square. Below is a photo of the Great Hall, which was built in the early 16th century, though it was extensively refurbished in the 1880s.
It was close to noon, and our hungry stomachs were looking for a comfortable bowl of hot soup, and perhaps a mind-blowing burger or sandwich to complement the meal. We strolled down Castlehill street, which is part of the Royal Mile, in search for food.
This was my favourite part of the day. Walking by former Victorian church houses and the street being cobble-stoned … it felt so refreshing! As we walked down Castlehill, we could see ahead of us a dark building with a tall gothic spire, towering over the surrounding buildings. This building is known as, The Hub. It is the home of the Edinburgh International Festival, and a central source of information for all festivals in Edinburgh.
As the structure of the building suggests, it was previously used as a church up until 1979. Once we reached the bottom of the hill at Lawnmarket street, we were greeted by many tourist-oriented shops. Naturally, I got sucked into buying some items. What’s interesting about the buildings at this point are the sea of colourful facades of the retail shops padding the grey bricks of the building above. As we walked down the street, little did we know that there was a marching band of a military procession headed our way, towards Edinburgh castle. I was elated to capture this scene on my video camera! The whole experience, I have to say, was pretty cool! We were not sure what the event was but did overhear someone say that there was going to be a ceremony at the castle.
We were already about a third way down the Royal Mile, and was approaching St Giles’ Cathedral, which is the principal place of worship of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. At this point, our hungry stomachs were really throwing a fit, and so we made a pit stop at Saint Giles’ Cafe located at the kitty corner St Giles street, east of St Giles Cathedral. My sister claimed it was here that she had the best hot chocolate. I trust her judgement, and was very content with my lunch platter of cheese and a croissant, ham sandwich. After a scrumptious and relaxing lunch, we headed back onto the Royal Mile, and continued on the journey. Along the way, I noticed many arched pathways that lead to … who knows where. They are probably alleyways that cut across the two major streets, Royal Mile & Princes Street. They looked quite eerie actually, but beyond the dark archway were very nice courtyards of residential apartments. Pretty, but I wasn’t ready to believe it was actually that safe as it was just too quiet and isolated from the bustle on the main street!
We arrived at the intersection of High Street (Royal Mile) & North Bridge. Auntie K suggested that we head back to Princes Street as there would be more shopping to do there. As we crossed the North bridge, we saw two luxury hotels, The Barcelo Edinburgh Carlton & The Scotsman. On Princes Street, we headed back west and saw views of the Edinburgh castle again. Both Princes Street and the Royal Mile are probably the busiest streets in the Old Town of Edinburgh. While Auntie K and my mom shopped in the more modern retail outlets, my sister and I went to check out Scott Monument, which looked quite evil to me from afar, yet so majestic in its own way. The garden at which it stands was very beautiful (Princes Street Gardens). This monument is a Victorian Gothic monument dedicated to Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott, who is a famous historian and poet during his time. My sister and I did not take on the challenge of climbing 287 steps to the very top viewing deck. We figured we weren’t ready for such intense physical activity, especially having walked the streets for nearly half a day! We walked along the gardens until we arrived at the National Gallery of Scotland. We decided it was best we explored the gallery while waiting for Auntie K to finish her shopping spree across the street.
DAY 2: The Royal Yacht
We had two things in mind, which was to visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Royal Yacht Britannia. The Palace of Holyroodhouse was situated at the other end of the Royal Mile, and so we headed back there, and continued our 20-30 minute walk down the Royal Mile to the palace. I couldn’t help but snap a photo of the red phonebooth … a popular icon of the English! Unfortunately, we arrived at the gates to be greeted by a sign indicating the Palace was closed for renovations. It had started to rain by the time we figured out we had to head somewhere else. Since the Royal Yacht Britannia was located at the same place as the Ocean Terminal Shopping Center, we decided to just spend the rest of the rainy day there. The bus ride from the palace to the shopping center took about 20-30 minutes.
It was very windy out on the deck. Auntie K seemed indifferent towards the experience. Perhaps, shopping was all she wanted to do. Therefore, if you are a shopaholic you can probably skip this tour. Even though it is not as huge as Titanic, there is a lot to explore aboard the yacht. It took us at least 2 hours! I was surprised to find some royal gifts from a former Malaysian Sultan (King) to Her Queen Majesty. The gifts were a few silver, gold and ivory keris (traditional sword). Some of the swords had an ivory carved handle, in which one of them was a crocodile carving. There was also a ceremonial mace from the state of Sarawak, a gift for Prince Phillip during his visit to Malaysia in 1989. I felt quite pleased that there was something aboard this ship which I could relate to!
Our hungry stomachs led us back into the mall to find lunch. After lunch, we spent the rest of the day shopping around the mall before we departed back to the apartment to reunite with the boys.
And, that’s it for a good ol’ English holiday. Our next stop – Prague, Czech Republic!