Today is the last day of Christmas Break. Not Winter Break, but Christmas Break. During this time we had a family over for a meal, spent some money, enjoyed Christmas Day, went to a castle, spent more money, watched some College Football, tried to not spend money, and then visited Scotland for eight days. This was to be our longest holiday away from our Melton home.
Originally we were planning on driving up, but when the days got darker and the roads wetter and Winter began to set in we decided that taking the train makes it all a little easier on everyone, though we would have to stick to a more set plan.
Edinburgh, Scotland: 29/12/12
To get to Edinburgh by train we had to first ride for an hour north to Doncaster, then switch to another train to Scotland. About four hours of travel. The train out of Doncaster was packed to the point that people were just standing, even though apparently they had paid for seats! Yes, we were visiting during Hogmanay, which is the New Year’s Eve celebrations that Scotland is famous for, especially in Edinburgh.
We got in to Waverly Station, which can be very confusing to get around in if one is not determined. We found our way out to Princes street (a main drag), and immediately saw a man with a visi jacket on with the words “Information” printed on the back. He told us where to catch our bus to our self catering apartment in Portobello. We have found that getting an apartment is much better than a hotel or a B&B. It affords us to eat in more, the kids can move about more freely, and the chances of bothering others is lessened. Portobello was about a 20 minute bus ride Northeast of Edinburgh, and is right along the beach.
The apartment was just right for us. I brought my school laptop so that we had internet connection. I was in communication with some other Fulbright teachers and we were going to meet up the following night. We found a grocer right around the corner and made chicken burritos for dinner.
Edinburgh, Scotland: 30/12/12
The next day was super busy for us. We took the convenient bus back into town and went straight away to the National Museum. Seeing museums, we feel, is important as a way to orient oneself to where you are culturally, and for the kids there is always something to look at. This place was huge and we only saw a little of it, since there were so many more places we wanted to visit.
We left the museum to visit Greyfriar’s Kirk (kirk means church in Gaelic). Very cool and creepy place. Skulls and skeletons denoted that the buried person was a native to Scotland. Buried here is Greyfriar’s Bobby, a dog that is famous. Its story is easy to look up if you want to know more about it. This Kirk was also famous for the number of graves that were ‘robbed’ of their occupants and sold as dissection material for a local anatomy lectures.
We continued our day visiting the Museum of Childhood, souvenir shopping, a Police Museum, more sightseeing, National Portrait Gallery, etc… I cannot tell you how many times I could hear somewhere in the city Amazing Grace being played by a bagpiper. Even though it was ubiquitous I never get tired of hearing the tune, as it is so grandiose and majestic (well, at least I think so). There was some intermittent rain, otherwise it was just cold and breezy.
At the police museum the retired police gent there told us he had been in Portland last spring! He said that Edinburgh sometimes is not the most family friendly city. We disagreed with him, and he was glad to hear that. We did notice that we were unable to nip into a pub for a pint with kids. We had to actually order meals if we brought kids inside. Thus, no beers were consumed that afternoon.
We met up with four other Fulbright teachers at a restaurant called The Basement for dinner. They had some Mexican food items on the menu, and I ordered a chimicanga. It was not half bad, and reminded me of home.
Us teachers found that we could talk for hours about our experiences. All of us are having a really fun time, though there are trying periods as well. Some of my own challenges shocked the others and they offered their support, though I enjoyed talking more about the wonderful things that me family has been a part of. We all feel that this opportunity is one of the greatest things we have ever been offered.
Last on our agenda for this day was the torch parade. We made an advance purchase for two torches for the kids. Hogmanay sells about 8,000 torches as a fundraiser, and the torchbearers carry these over a one mile walk up to Calton Hill. Anyone can join in the parade and you do not need a torch. Turns out that this year 40,000 people joined in the walk, the largest number ever! It was an impressive sight and a lot of fun. We walked the route with the Pielow’s and Rebecca Smith and her family. It was very crowded and windy, but no rain.
Once at Calton Hill we were treated to a fireworks show. Some of the fireworks were actually fired from below the hill, meaning that they were exploding right over our heads! My kids were very happy and had a great day all around, though they were dead tired. We probably walked over six miles on this one day, and we still had two more days to go in this city.
Edinburgh, Scotland: 31/12/12
As expected, it was hard to get motivated this morning. We were all quite worn out from the day before, but we did manage to exit the apartment. Again we took the bus to the city center. Edinburgh, downtown, is divided into Old Town and New Town. Old Town is, obviously the oldest part, though New Town is still around 200 years old. Everything is so old over here, and I love it.
We first went to Camera Obscura, which a Scot parent at my school highly recommended. Basically it was a museum dedicated to exhibits that trick the eye, question your perspective, and just plain entertain you. It actually has a Camera Obscura in the top turret which we got a chance to view through. Look it up if you do not know what one is. Kids loved the whole place as there was a lot to see and do and be silly with.
From the top of the building you could see 360 degrees of the city.
We spent most of the afternoon at Camera Obscura, packing our own lunch which we ate whilst watching the piper above. I had never seen a kilt shop before, and on this trip I saw about 50. But I only saw about 20 people or so wearing real kilts, or looking traditionally Scottish.
We next went to the Writer’s Museum, which acknowledged the Scottish writers Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Robert Burns. This was the kind of museum that bored the kids (expected), but to readers like Rebecca and I we enjoyed it very much. All three of these men are revered in Scotland, and Scott has the largest memorial in the world built for a writer.
We tried, again, to get into a pub for a pint but without buying full meals we were denied. This was the most disappointing thing we found in Scotland the whole time. Again we were pretty pooped out at this time, so we decided to head back home for our New Year’s Eve. The city itself was setting up with stages for live music everywhere, and crowds expected of up to 80,000 people! People under 16 were not allowed into any of these Hogmanay events, which was fine with us. Rebecca and I made it up to about 12:30 that night before signing off.
Edinburgh, Scotland: 01/01/13
Happy New Year! Refreshed from NOT staying up or out all night, we made our way to Scotland’s biggest tourist attraction, Edinburgh Castle.
Lucky for us it was not too crowded. Mostly other families, and almost all tourists from other countries. Heard some American, French, Spanish, Russian, and British accents. There was not a cloud in the sky on this day, though still a bit windy. The views from the castle were awesome and we spent pretty much the entire day here as there was plenty to see and do and the kids enjoyed it. They seem to enjoy these historical places, especially if there is room for them to bounce about (literally).
There were lots of little places to explore such as dungeons, prison quarters, the Scotland Honours (Crown Jewels), a Military Museum, cannons, graveyards, and spectacular views.
Castles are just so much fun to explore and look at!
We made it home for our New Year’s dinner. We picked up some sausages from the butcher around the corner from our apartment, coupled with a salad and chips and snacks we were set. Oh, and I picked up a small haggis to try. It was a lot better tasting than I thought. Kids ate some of it but did not really enjoy it. I did not tell them what it was made of, though they could identify the barley.
Our time in Edinburgh was coming to a close, as the next day we had a train to catch to take us to our next destination…Inverness.