Andrew and I decided it would be fun to take the Caledonian Sleeper train to Edinburgh. Basically, you get on the train at bedtime in Euston, London and arrive in Edinburgh at 7:30am. This was a bad idea for the following reasons:
1. The average journey time from London to Edinburgh is four hours. Why force it to take 8 hours? We’re still trying to figure that out.
2. “It is like trying to fall asleep on the Titanic…as it is sinking.”
3. A giant, loud Scottish man enters your berth at 6:30am to bring you instant coffee and says “YOU’RE WELCOME” louder than any human has ever said those words.
The plus side is that you arrive really early in Edinburgh on an empty stomach before any food places are open, so you have time to climb King Arthur’s Seat, a lovely 45 minute climb to a very high peak in the middle of town in Hollyrood Park. We didn’t quite make it to the top, but this is our own version of King Arthur’s Seat.
I would recommend doing this on a full stomach with plenty of water and proper shoes. The views are gorgeous to the Firth of Forth and to the Edinburgh Castle. We felt at home instantly!
9:30am – We make it to Leo’s Beanery on Howe Street in Stockbridge. What a great place! Smoked Salmon on a bagel or a veggie breakfast, complete with vegetarian haggis, great coffee and friendly wait staff. This is a local spot, off the beaten tourist path. Highly recommended!
Seeing old friends is the best part about travelling, so we were happy to be introduced to Cuckoo’s Bakery by my Scottish friend, Sarah. They have won the Scottish Bakery of the year award. A perfect place to catch up.
Despite our efforts to avoid tourist areas at all costs, it is worth it to explore a town with those who know it well. Following our cupcake, we were able to climb a mound called Calton Hill, which is home to some interesting things, none of which I remember, because Sarah and I were reminiscing the whole time.
A surprising treat was going to two of the Scottish National Galleries. Over the past few years here, we have learned quite a bit about British Art. We even challenged ourselves to name 20 British artists, and we could do it! We started at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which was home to some great pieces by Hockney, Freud, Bacon, Nicholsons, and currently a Lichtenstein exhibit. The Scottish National Gallery houses lots of the Dutch painters, French impressionists, Italian Renaissance works, and much more. It is much cosier and manageable than the National Gallery in London, and we never had to battle crowds to see a particular painting.
Shout out to our B&B: The Dene Guest House! What an ideal place to stay: Free breakfast, clean rooms, great temperature and staff. We would stay there again! A major plus was that it was around the corner from the Royal Botanical Gardens. It was a drizzly day and we weren’t sure what to do, but we went out with our umbrellas and paid the 5 pounds to get into the greenhouses. This is a nice, warm place to go on a cold day. Also, the surrounding grounds are lovely as well. They’ve got sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy, Barbara Hepworth, and plants from all over the world. A major plus: it’s not under any type of flight path like Kew Gardens in London.
Our friend Andrew told us about a great walkway near our guest house called the Leith Water Walk. We decided to walk along it one day and it was pleasant and not at all scary like some of these canal walks in cities can be. We took it into the heart of Stockbridge, a neighborhood that we loved. We ended up there many times to eat and drink.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the bar scene in Edinburgh. Eight years ago when I went to see my friends here, we were hitting the pubs and even nightclubs. Now, in our thirties, it is nice to be able to go sit at a civilised place and be able to hear each other talk. This under ground gin bar, simply named “Edinburgh Gin Distillery” is an unmarked establishment that has sort of the speakeasy vibe, but not in the annoying way. All of the drinks were fancy, but simple, and the music was quiet and mostly Paul Simon. Yes!
Overall: Edinburgh is a great place to visit and reminds us a lot of PDX. It was sad to leave there, but there’s a lot more of Scotland to explore.