A few days in Historic Edinburgh

My husband had been in London for the Somalia Conference, so it seemed a good time to meet him and choose an exploring destination.  Neither of us had ever been to Edinburgh, which seems odd since I lived in the United Kingdom for 5 years while I was in the Air Force.  Back then, we rarely seemed to have time off or money enough for touring though.  As you get older, you find the time and money to do things you might enjoy.

I flew into London and we spent the night there together before flying to Edinburgh.  It was a short flight from the smaller City Airport, a place I didn't even know existed before he booked the tickets.  It was also the cheapest option.  There was a bus directly from the Edinburgh airport (look for bus 100) for only 3.50 pounds, which took about 35 minutes to the city center/train station.  We stayed at the historic Balmoral Hotel which is just above the train station, so it was an easy walk to the hotel where we were greeted at the door by a very tall Scotsman wearing a kilt.  In our room, we had life size movie photos of Sean Connery in the bathroom, but I heard others had Mel Gibson (Braveheart) or Liam Neeson (Rob Roy).  You immediately knew you were in Scotland!
Balmoral Hotel

Our hotel bathroom artwork
The city is a treasure trove of historical places.  Look in any direction and you will see a statue or monument to someone who did something extraordinary.  The buildings are remarkably maintained when you consider their age.  And the most amazing part is that the whole city seems to be built on a piece of rock.  You have layers of streets and bridges that connect neighborhoods without crossing water.  The old moat has been converted to a park.  The city itself is a world heritage site, with about 75% of its buildings being recognized.  Since it is quite compact, the easiest way to see it is on foot...unless you have a problem walking in the rain.  It rained every day we were there, but a dear friend who had been there several times advised us to get out and enjoy it anyway.  Perhaps she knew that it just isn't going to get much better.  We were sorry we hadn't brought mittens and hats, in spite of it being May.

View from deep inside the park that was once a moat
They have a whole city block full of sightseeing buses that run from about 9am until 5 pm.  You can choose a variety of tours and just pay the driver.  They even take credit cards.  We did the World Heritage tour because it drove around the old city, new city, and then went out to the Botanic Gardens.  They are priced similarly, and you can get discounts on some if you book more than one day.  All of them are double decker, so if the weather is clear, you get a great view by sitting on the top.
Edinburgh Castle as seen from the top level of the sightseeing bus- you can see it's very tall!
Azaleas were in full bloom at the Botanic Garden
One simply has to do the Royal Mile, as it is the main pedestrian street in the city and has shopping, restaurants, sightseeing, churches, and no less than 2 castles- Edinburgh Castle and Hollyrood Palace.  You can download a free walking guide at Frommer's, which even includes suggestions for meals.  Most of the shops close in the evening, but you can always find a tour of the underground buildings or history walks at night.  Until a few years ago, these underground vaults and passageways had been closed to the public.  The city is so old that they built right over the old city.  Alleyways were simply roofed over.  It was also a place where people died during the years of the gripping plague, so it's said to be one of the most haunted places in the world.  Look for signs at the coffee shops or churches for free walking tours too.  Many of the tour guides are colleges students who have studied history and work for tips.
With an umbrella and the right gear, you can have fun even if it rains
There's a large hill in the area called Calton Hill, another world heritage site.  If you have nice weather at any point it's a good place to oversee the entire city.  I had read in someone's blog that it was a good place for sunsets.  I also found it was a great place for a sunrise when you have jet lag at 4:30 am.  It has a cluster of monuments and from one side you can also see the sea.  Another good place for a city view is atop the Royal Scottish museum where they have a terrace with roof garden.
sunrise at Calton Hill by the National Monument
When the weather is wet, there are plenty of indoor places to visit.  The city is full of museums and art galleries.  There are places for musicians, artists, writers, history buffs....well anyone can find something there of interest.  The library also does public exhibits! If you only see 2, I'd recommend the Museum of Scotland and the National Gallery.  Both are large and best of all, FREE!  The Museum of Scotland is really too big to see in one day, so I recommend a lunch break in between or go back on another day since it's free.

If you are planning your very own trip to Scotland, I'd recommend a blogger from Wisconsin, called the Traveling Savage, who has become somewhat of an expert on Scotland.  You can peruse his blogs and make a plan.  Let me know what you decide to see.

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