When traveling in Scotland during les vacances de Noël last year, I was struck by the contrast between the two cities which I visited: Glasgow and Edinburgh. While the former is very much an artsy, progressive city, the latter is very much rooted in history, with its eponymous castle and medieval old town, thereby making it a popular destination for travelers when visiting Scotland.
After spending three nights in Glasgow and a day trip to the Scottish Highlands, I set off for Edinburgh, taking a bus over and arriving around 11h15. As it was the case for my vacation so far, I would also be Couchsurfing there, but wasn’t meeting my host until later that afternoon, around 16h00 or 17h00. That said, I decided to spend the day exploring the city, since I’d arrived on Christmas Eve and knew that things would be shut the following day for holiday observance, so I wanted to see as much as possible before then.
Walking along Princes Street, a busy street known for its bustling shopping scene, I was pleasantly surprised to experience sunny weather. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Scotland isn’t necessarily seen as having pristine, let alone consistent weather, especially in the winter. I suppose I got lucky with it that day, and I found it to be actually quite warm! The bright sun also shone on the high, sweeping buildings, which gave a wonderful glow to the entire city.
I weaved my way through the large crowds of people, who were all doing their *very* last-minute Christmas shopping before places closed the next day, and made my way to the Princes Gardens which I’d heard is gorgeous with its grassy, hilly landscape and a lovely view of the Edinburgh Castle from above. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very green when I went since it was winter and too cold for that, so that proved a bit disappointing. The views of the castle from the Ross Fountain, however, were still stunning, as the photo above shows.
Made a loop around the gardens, then headed up to the Royal Mile, which consists of several streets (e.g. Castlehill, High Street) which all, in turn, make up the long stretch of road that goes from the Holyrood Palace at the base of the hill and ending at the top of Edinburgh Castle. It’s located in the old town of Edinburgh and is the busiest, touristic place in the city. To my surprise, it wasn’t as crowded as I’d thought it would be, as I walked up to the Edinburgh Castle. I didn’t go inside of it, since it required an admission fee and it didn’t come cheap at nearly 17 pounds; I just photos from outside and it was fine by me!
Around 12h30, I headed over to a restaurant-bar on the Royal Mile: I’d been in touch with another Couchsurfer who was also in Edinburgh that day, and we’d made plans to meet up, have lunch, and spend the day together visiting the city. Couchsurfing isn’t just for finding people to stay with, but also to meet up with travelers for company when sightseeing a place. It’s very resourceful!
Met up with the Couchsurfing traveler at the restaurant-bar, and we had lunch together. I ordered a Scotch whisky cocktail and decided to go for haggis which is, if you don’t know, essentially is the sheep’s insides (offals, as they are called: heart, liver, and lungs) which are wrapped up inside of the animal’s stomach and then cooked. Because of its lovely description (you detect the sarcasm here, right?), haggis is a notorious dish to try (or to avoid) when visiting Scotland. I am an adventurous eater and am willing to give almost any dish a go whenever I travel, no matter how disgusting it might appear. Only exception, though, are insects!
The Scotch whisky cocktail was sweet, but I didn’t taste too much of the whisky. The haggis, though, was interesting, because the one that I’d ordered didn’t resemble what it should look like, but rather a modified version of it. I wasn’t very sure if it was even haggis to begin with, but it didn’t taste bad- just like meatloaf.
In the meantime, we ate and talked, getting to know each other. The Couchsurfing traveler was a girl around my age from Brazil who was studying abroad in Ireland for school and was currently on holiday. We made pleasant talk, and after lunch, we walked down the Royal Mile where I wanted to check out the Museum of Childhood. Interesting as it sounds, I had been recommended by other travelers to visit this museum, which houses a large collection of toys and childhood memorabilia. Better yet, it was free admission! There were surprisingly three or four floors of exhibitions, from dolls to model trains to even cough syrup medicine, dating back to the early 20th century! Probably one of the most interesting museums I’ve ever visited and seeing all of those objects displayed definitely put me in the nostalgic, childhood mood.
Spent about an hour in the museum before heading out with the Couchsurfing traveler, this time in search of Arthur’s Seat which is a mountain in Holyrood Park known for its beautiful landscape and fantastic views of Edinburgh from above. We got a bit lost trying to find Holyrood Park, then lost again when climbing up the hills and slopes for the vantage point. In the end, we gave up and turned back, since it was starting to get dark with the sunset (at only 15h30, what?!). We returned to the city center where the Couchsurfing traveler decided to return to the hostel she was staying at and for me to go meet up with my Couchsurfing host. Parted ways at her hostel, and I left for Princes Street again, where I was to see the host.
Met my Couchsurfing host at Starbucks, where he was working on a school paper: he was a man in his late twenties from Jordan who was studying in Edinburgh for a Ph. D in architecture, I believe, so he lived on campus. However, I didn’t know that the university campus was far out from the city center, about 35 to 40 minutes by bus, which definitely made things inconvenient in terms of transportation. Plus, it wouldn’t be operating on Christmas Day, so I couldn’t go into the city center to explore more. Which was a bummer, but in turn, I spent Christmas at the university, since my host had invited me over to a holiday dinner at the campus’ chaplaincy, for overseas students who couldn’t otherwise go home for the holidays (which was sort of my situation, in a way, albeit working). It was actually quite fun, as I spent the whole day helping out in the kitchen, preparing the food, baking a chocolate cake, meeting lots of people, eating and drinking (a lot of wine), and playing Cards Against Humanity…UK version! Very interesting to see the differences between that and the US version, since we certainly don’t have cards which mention Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair in the States!
The Christmas party went on all day, from 10h30 to 22h00. Super exhausted at the end of all of it, but I had a good time. My Couchsurfing host was super nice and even though he could only offer me a large, lumpy mattress that took up the walkway of the room for me to sleep on, he was a respectful host who made me feel welcomed in Edinburgh, especially during Christmas. I left the next morning, since I’d only planned on staying two nights, and thanked him for the pleasant stay. Took the bus back to the city center, where I walked along Princes Street again, popping into a few clothing stores to check out the Boxing Day sales before leaving Edinburgh for my next destination for les vacances.
Overall, I’d say that Edinburgh is a lovely city, with its historic architecture and lively, pleasant atmosphere on Princes Street and the Royal Mile. Due to timing issues with the fact that I was visiting right smack-dab on Christmas, I wasn’t able to explore as much as I could have. While I wish that I had more time and opportunities to actually find Arthur’s Seat, as well as check out the National Museum of Edinburgh and Holyrood Palace, I was regardless happy to have spent Christmas day in good company, eating and drinking all in good, merry cheer. Perhaps I’ll make a visit back someday to see more!
More to come on my travels from last year’s holiday season. Next up: London!