Tuesday, April 21, 2009

History with a view

Last night we had the company of new Scottish mate Mark, from Airdrie, (who we had previously met on the Isle of Islay) for dinner. It was so gracious of him to come to us after a full working day which meant that he didn't get to Edinburgh until almost 7 pm. But dinner was ready and we relaxed over the meal, not finishing until about 10:30 pm and then we sat sharing yet another bottle of red. We initially finished the last of the 2007 Cantinot from Blaye. Mark had bought a bottle of Chateauneuf de Papes (from the Avingnon area) - a 2001 drop, no less! It was sublime. Mark had also bought an apple pie for dessert and to this we added the stewed berries (strawberries and fresh raspberries) that I had cooked along with an egg custard I made - this is a great way to use up eggs and milk! So just shy of 1:00 am Mark heads back to Airdrie which will take him about 45 minutes at that time of the night - he was on call and I sure hope that he got some sleep before he needed to head off to work. We will say ciao for now Mark - keep in touch new friend.

Realising that there was so much to see in Edinburgh, we tried to get another two nights at the Waterfront Unit but they are fully booked and so we have had to look for other accommodation. We actually managed to find another lot of serviced apartments that are closer to the City and cheaper! So we drove over to the Lochend Serviced Apartments this morning hoping to be able to at least put our gear in the unit, but it is not ready yet. The Manager is happy for us to leave the car here though and I park it as close as I can to the office. They are here only until 6 pm so we must be back to register in before then.

Car safe, we walk down 100 yards or so to the bus stop and it is not long before we are on the 34 bus into the City. We are travelling through residential areas that are unfamiliar to us, but as we turn on to London Road, we feel easier as we begin to recognise landmarks. It is only about 10 minutes until we are in Princes Street, the main street that divides the Old City and the New Town, outside the absolutely stunning Balmoral Hotel and the Visitor Information Centre and just a stones throw from the railway station and the starting point for the tourist busses.

Then named the North British Hotel, this hotel was built for wealthy and discerning travellers in 1902 by the North British Railway Company. The hotel always had a sense of exclusivity enhanced by a private elevator guests could take from Waverley Station right up to the arrivals hall. After being sold in the 1980s and refurbished it had a name change in 1991. But the opulence remains at what must be one of the current number one addresses in Edinburgh. This is the photo that features in the night shot in the last blog.

So, alighting the local bus our first stop is the Visitor Information Centre where they have 5 consultants having a very busy day with a considerable queue! Initaly we get the rather tired spiel re tourist attractions, but a few pointed questions and some enthusiasm soon loosens the passion in the young man serving us and he starts to point us in the direction of more unusual places to visit. We'll tell you about them as we explore them over the next few days (patience!) For today, we have opted to get an overall understanding of the City and its treasures and to visit the Edinburgh Castle.

We have purchased a 48 hour Royal multi-tour bus ticket. This is the most flexible way to see the most of the City. We start with the historic red Mac Bus that concentrates on the Old Town. There was so much to see that Michael has taken exactly 600 photos as we have travelled around - now don't get alarmed, I am not going to be uploading many of them at all - but be on notice - there is the mother-of-all slide weekends happening when we get home - put it in the 2010 diaires now everyone! There are so many wonderful sights that I am going to split them over the next few days as we explore them a little closer. One that Michael got up close and personal with this morning was the Scott Memorial. This is the most amazing memorial to a much loved local son - author Sir Walter Scott. And the view from here are fantastic.

After completing one circuit, we transfer to the Edinburgh Tour that will get us to the Castle the soonest. The route is slightly different to the Mac Bus tour and it takes about haf an hour to get up to the Castle that teasingly towers over us for most of the tour. One of the interesting points that we learn is that the reason for the blackened buildings is twofold - one of course is the ever present coal dust from industry past as well as the heating and cooking fires of residences. The other is that there is an oxidisation that occurs when the local sandstone is exposed to the air. Interesting and all of a sudden the city does not look quite so gloomy! Guess the old adage - don't judge a book by it's cover applies here.

When we finally arrived at the castle precinct we are met by contractors busily erecting spectator stands around the apron leading to the castle gates. It was not obvious at first, but we are later enlightened as to all the preparations - 'Edinburgh Tattoo'! It takes three months to convert the apron into a stadium, and a further three months to disassemble it after the event! The 'stadium' is used also for concerts, leading up to the tattoo; and one group which will be performing on the 11 July is Crosby, Stills and Nash! Hmm - guess that we could provide some vital event planning guidance here - it only takes us 3 days to put up the entire HMTC event site and less than 1 to pull it down!!

The approach to the castle entrance is by way of the main bridge and portcullis. However, as we admire the main entrance guarded by the sculptured effigies of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, (and two guards from the Scottish Rifle Regiment - who are real,) we are asked to stand back from the main entrance by small group of castle wardens. The Changing of the Guard is to take place, a ceremony which occurs on the hour! As the reserve squad marches into position and the Changing of the Guard occurs, are we permitted to continue our reconnaissance.

As we've found with most citadels of some age, negotiating the pathways is all uphill and Edinburgh Castle is no exception - including the omnipresent stairways. Fortunately, the castle provides two cafes the 'Queen Anne' and 'The Red Coat', we opt for the latter as it's the closest. Sustenance is required before we proceed further, so we decide upon having lunch in lieu of coffee and cake - considering that it has started to rain.

Lunch finished and the rain abated, we walk over to the walls to see the cityscape spread below us - the view from the castle is breathtaking, as is the distant skyline; a prelude to our exploring this citadel. There is so much to see here in the complex that dominates not only the skyline, but also one of the main reasons for the blooming of Edinburgh. I will leave you all to clink on the link and suggest that you so and take a look at the Virtual Tour as it really is wonderful.

There were a couple of real highlights for us - the Scottish National War Memorial where we cannot take photos - an inner sanctum of reverence and calm in the most beautiful setting. And Michele you will be thrilled to know that we found your grandfather on the Roll of Honour - I am just sad that we couldn't take a photo to show you. The guide here tells us that the same information is replicated in the Australian War Memorial.

Then there was the 12th century St Margaret's Chapel that is the oldest building in the castle complex. The photo of me in the doorway shows just how much taller we have become in the intervening centuries! There was the Great Hall, Davids Tower, the gun batteries, the main courtyard, Mons Meg, the Honours of Scotland and the original of the Stone of Scone (skoon!) that we had first met at our recent day at Scone Castle.

It is overwhelming how much history that there is to take in. And a wonderful bonus are the amazing views of the City of Edinburgh that its position on a volcanic plug high above the city that the castle affords.

Knowing that we have to be back at our accommodation before 6 pm (earlier in this trip I would have said sundown, but twilight falls about 9 pm these days!) we head down the Royal Mile about 4 pm to get the bus back into the terminal and then board a local bus.

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