Still not in Italy, Aunt Jane and Ian are posting from the UK.
On Monday, we set out for the other end of the Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyrood House. This is where the Royal Family stay when they come to Edinburgh, not the Castle at the other end. Its origins date back to 1128, when an Abbey was established there, and since the time of Mary, Queen of Scots, it was much preferred to the drafty pile of rocks up the hill.
Ian and I were quite eager to visit, although Rick Steves only gave it one “triangle” (Rick doesn’t like to use stars, I guess). It looked quite beautiful from the outside. However, we couldn’t get beyond the gates because Prince Charles and Camilla are in residence until Thursday. What the bloody haggis is that all about?
We’ve been to about 18 different royal residences on this trip and no one’s been home at any of them. And now Chuck and Horse Face (thanks, Becky Stryker, if you’re reading this, for supplying that nickname), have to ruin our well-laid plans? Bollocks to that, we say.
Our next destination was to climb nearby Calton Hill, not even mentioned in Rick Steve’s book. Let me just say right now, Ian and I are pretty certain that the Rick Steves Scotland guidebook is fake. It’s full of inaccuracies, huge gaps and bad info. We think it’s a forgery, perhaps written by Mick Steephs. More on that later.
Anyway, the woman who owns the flat we are renting highly recommended a visit to Calton Hill in her extensive guide to the apartment and Edinburgh, so we decided we would check it out.
According to Wikipedia (infinitely more reliable than “Rick Steves Scotland”), Calton Hill is a UNESCO World Heritage site, includes the seat of Scotland’s government as the Parliament building and other notable buildings are on it’s southern slope, which is true, we passed them on our ascent. It also has several monuments, as well as the City Observatory.
Our city map wasn’t very clear on exactly the best route to take to the summit of Calton Hill, but it became evident that we’d missed the turn to the main road, and instead, if we didn’t want to backtrack, we had to take a trail called “Jacob’s Ladder.” This was about 7 or 8 flights of stairs straight up the
hillcliffside that brought us up to the main road, which was really just great. But then we still had to climb up to the top of Calton Hill. Let’s just say Aunt Jane earned her Negroni at dinner that night.
We were rewarded with spectacular views of Edinburgh. Ian decided to climb to the top of the Nelson Monument (another 135 steps), which was shaped like a lighthouse and is still used by ships to navigate in the Firth of Forth.
We returned to the Royal Mile and found a nice pub for lunch, and something cold and refreshing to drink. We were able to sit outside and people watch, which is definitely a great pastime here in Edinburgh. A couple of observations so far. Men in this town don’t seem to be that reluctant to take their shirts off and walk around. I would say we see at least two to three shirtless men a day. On our first day, a middle-aged couple, blithely walking down the street hand-in-hand, he was shirtless We observed another man take his shirt off in a hotel lobby. A bus passed us and a male passenger was bare-chested, calmly eating french fries on his journey.
Hair is a big trend here, too. Men with very long hair and a lot of it. Not since I was at the Renaissance Fair in Kansas City have I seen so many long flowing locks on men. Also, handlebar mustaches. A lot of them.
But, I digress. After lunch, Ian and I continued our trek up the Royal Mile. (Note: a lot of people take the easy way out and walk down the Royal Mile. Not us.) We stopped at Gladstones Land, which is basically a recreation of the home of a prosperous merchant along with a shop on the Royal Mile circa 1650. It’s actually a lot like the Tenement Museum in New York City’s Lower East Side, just about 250 years earlier. It was very well done, although I think Ian was a little bored, and eager to get to our next destination.
And, our next stop was…Edinburgh’s Scotch Whisky Experience. Imagine if Walt Disney World decided to create a theme park on the Royal Mile to educate tourists on how whisky is made. That is pretty much what this attraction is all about. You enter a fairly non-descript building just outside the gates of the Edinburgh Castle. After choosing your tour — silver, gold, or platinum — you hop on something that’s not unlike Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to learn all about how scotch whisky is made.
After the magical mystery tour, we were escorted into a tasting room for a short and informative lecture on the different regions where whisky is produced in Scotland, and then given a choice as to which region/type we wanted to taste.
As Ian had never had Scotch before (hard to believe in our family), we had no idea if he even liked it, and since I’m pretty much a bourbon girl now, we opted for the silver tour/single taste. Gold and Platinum tours would receive a full flight of scotches to taste.
I chose a single malt from the Highlands, and I think Ian chose something from Speyside. He’ll have to tell you about it. Mine tasted like, well, a Single Malt Scotch.
The highlight of the tour was seeing the Diageo Claive Vidiz collection of over 3,500 bottles of Scotch, collected over a lifetime. It was mind-blowing. I’m pretty sure I saw a bottle of the Clan MacGregor in there somewhere, Aunt June.
That about did it for us on Monday. We went back to the flat and took a rest. Then had dinner in the new town at Gusto, an upscale Italian eatery on George Street. It was a beautiful evening and since it stays light long after 9 pm, we sat outside and enjoyed the evening air. I think I could get used to living in Edinburgh in the Summer.
Boy was today interesting.. We took the hop on hop off bus to Holyrood Palace, which took us about 25 minutes longer compared to if we had just walked. Either way it was closed because some prince and not so attractive wife were there for a couple days. Don’t they know I am also visiting??
We found our way to Calton Hill and the Nelson Monument which I went up alone to find the best view one can get of Edinburgh. We walked down to the Royal Mile once again for lunch on a beautiful day. We visited St. Giles Cathedral, which is the Westminster Abbey of Edinburgh, and then we headed to Gladstones Land. Much like the Tenement Museum, it was pretty interesting and gave a good idea of what it was like to live and work on the Royal Mile back in the day.
Next was the Scotch Whisky Experience. Seeing as how Scotch is a very big part of my family (almost as big as Scottish/West Highland Terriers), I thought it was necessary to check it out. As Jane said above, the start of the tour you ride in a slow moving barrel that explains the process of making scotch whisky. I was not that interested, I just wanted to try the stuff. I did learn a lot of cool things though but eventually we were able to try some!
We were educated that there are 4 different regions scotch is made: Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside and Islay. I tried the Speyside, more specifically Mannochrome 12 year old. Everything my father has told me is exactly right; its an acquired taste. I wouldn’t say it was bad because I could see myself enjoying it more as I mature into a fine man.
The room we tried the scotch in was truly and amazing sight. 3500 bottles of unopened scotch (gramps and dad would of been in heaven) lined the entire room in glass cases. It was a great experience and I think I’m ready to try a wee dram with my elders when I get home!
When Aunt says that there are plenty of men walking without their shirts on, she is 100% right. Its not what you expect either, these are burly men who obviously do not like the heat (so maybe it is what you expect :p). I can see why they are doing it because we have had some really hot days here I can tell because I’ve been getting a nice tan myself.
We had another great meal and by the time we finished (10 ish) it was still bright out! Scotland really is unlike any place I’ve been and we’ve been tempted to leave our lives in America to stay in this great country.. You can all come visit whenever you want, though!
Stay tuned for a great post tomorrow: Jeff the Scotsman, Nessy and the Highlands
Lots of love, Ian