Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Edinburgh (pronounced ED-in-bra)

Keenan and I went up to Edinburgh for a ’36 hour city-break trip’ and it was fantastic. The Scottish capital encapsulates everything that Scotland has to offer: stunning architecture, amazing topography, excellent seafood from the North Sea, and ‘loads’ of atmospheric cobblestone streets. Edinburgh is a neatly planned city built on a grand scale around two hills with Waverley Station separating Old Town and New Town. The former is dominated by its most distinctive landmark -the gorgeous medieval castle looming over the city, while the ladder is graced by beautiful Georgian architecture.

We started our day bright (correction: cloudy) and early Saturday morning at the Farmers Market. There’s nothing quite like the smell of fresh produce, coffee, and a tasty bacon and sausage muffin to start off your day. From the base of Edinburgh Castle, we walked along The Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace, the official residence of Her Majesty The Queen. The Royal Mile is as kitschy as it can get for a main tourist drag; it has everything from Scottish kilts and bag pipes, ghost tours (Edinburgh is haunted afterall), junkets/postcards, whiskey shops, and everything in between. But that said, The Royal Mile is also lined with some impressive Gothic/Victorian sights -- with the exception of one building: the uber-modern Scottish Parliament which sits opposite of the elegant Holyrood Palace.

Contrast between New & Old (top: Scottish Parliament; bottom: Holyrood Palace)

We made our way up to Edinburgh’s highest point – Arthur’s Seat, the 251m high rocky peak, for a fantastic view of the city. Keenan always wanted to hike the Scottish Highlands; not sure when that will happen, so until then our 2 hour teaser “hike” will have to do.

On top of Arthur's Seat:

Working up an appetite, it is now time for a pub lunch! My co-worker lived in Edinburgh for some time and gave us lengthy list of suggested places to eat. We opted for a causal low-key place called The Basement in New Town for lunch of fish and chip and steak pie. No, we did not try haggis -- maybe next time.

Following lunch, we explored the area near Waverly Station before heading back to the hotel to rest. There are 'loads' of hills in Edinburgh, not quite like San Francisco hills, but more like North Berkeley -- made me kind of homesick. We walked past the beautiful Balmoral Hotel where J.K. Rowling wrote her latest Harry Potter book. Edinburgh also has some nice open space, namely the Prince Street Gardens, a wonderful little oasis. We spent the evening exploring the Grassmarket area and Victoria Street where we had dinner at The Outsider for modern Scottish food. There are 'loads' of high quality restaurants around this area including Howie's and The Grain. Back in the 17th century, the Grassmarket area was used to conduct public hangings; today the square is filled with traditional pubs, restaurants, and trendy bars with awesome views of the castle.

Sunday was surprisingly sunny! We started out with coffee at Wellington Cafe on the corner of Hanover and George Street in New Town. Planned as a grid city, New Town is a stark contrast to the windy narrow streets and close of Old Town. Both parts of town are atmospheric in their own right. We wondered around George Street popping into a few outdoor clothing stores as we are in the market for some heavy duty winter gear, and then back to Rose Street, a narrow pedestrian thoroughfare for lunch. This time we had seafood at the Mussels Inn. Yum -- classic seafood chowder and one kilo of mussels was exactly what we were looking for. We spent a leisurely afternoon walking along Prince Street, its main shopping artery, towards Calton Hill for panoramic views of the city. On top of Calton Hill is the unfinished monument (National Monument) commissioned in 1816 meant to replicate the Parthenon in Athens to commemorate those who died during the Napoleonic War. There is a good view North of the ruddy-coloured cliffs of Salisbury Crags, Arthur's Seat, and the undulating slopes of Holyrood Park.

Sad to see the weekend come to an end. We toasted to a fantastic weekend at the Last Drop before making our way to the airport. Edinburgh is a lovely city! I now understand why Londoners rave about the Scottish capital. If I had to pick between Dublin or Edinburgh, I'd go to Edinburgh in a heart beat, but I'll let you be the judge of that. Next stop on our trio of '36 hour city-break' weekend trips: Paris!

Photos from our "36 hours in Edinburgh":
From Edinburgh, Scotland

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