8 days off... what to do? Backpacking around Morocco? Staying home and catching up on jobs and endless "to-do" lists? Well the unlikely outcome was a flight to Edinburgh. A city I have been in and out of for nearly 6 years, but never truly dedicated time to it alone. A weekend being a tourist and a photographer was just what the doctor ordered...
What evolved over the coming days was a somewhat new travel style for me. A balance between business traveller and photographer. And I liked it. Instead of bringing all my kit bag -multiple lenses, tripod, two bodies and filters- I just brought the shoulder bag with the Nikon 24-120mm f4 VR on my Nikon D700. But instead of feeling limited, I was forced to work with what I had, and stick to the pure principles of photography.
The trip nearly came a cropper before leaving the airport however. Leaving passport control I was struggling to fit my reading book back into my bag. How on earth had it become more full since landing??? Frustrated, I threw the bag to the floor and ripped it open, ready to tear the contents apart in rage.... except I recognised nothing... it wasn't my bag. The joys of flying on a regional jet service means that there isn't enough space in the cabin for passengers AND their carry on bags. So they all have to go in the hold (the bags that is). That, plus half of the UK travelling community now has the same 'Wenger' bag, courtesy of Tesco...
So a fellow passenger had decided to take mine. Never mind, I had his. And his driving licence and credit cards. A fair trade seeing as he had my Mac Book Pro. I figured if the 'Airport (un) Helpful Desk' couldn't return the bags then I had time to buy a new Macbook Pro on the newly acquired credit card. Apparently the airline customer service staff were too busy discussing last nights episode of 'Come dine with me' so we had to solve the bag situation ourselves. Which we did. And we all left happily while the airline customer service staff didn't even notice. My advice: when you can... take the train. But this blog is meant to be about Edinburgh, and not the rambings of a travellers frustrations. So...
Day One. Arrived late in the day, so just enough time for a wander around town (in the rain, but what do you expect? This is Scotland not the Caribbean)
Had I a tripod, time and patience on my side, then some long exposures under an umbrella of the wet night streets would have proved interesting. But I would also contradict myself when I said having just a simple camera and shoulder bag was enjoyable. So no regrets. But I did grab a few unexpected shots I like on the double-decker bus home (yes, in the front seat like you did as a kid). I love the water droplets with the close focus, the bokeh effect in the background and the colours of the streets and cars at night. I will be adding a few of these to my galleries. I see them printing very well on large acrylic or metallic showcase prints.
For 6 years I have passed this impressive and iconic masterpiece in the centre of Edinburgh, and finally, I have taken the time to visit.
Edinburgh Castle, from a whopping 3000 year history to the present day. This mighty fortress has protected and housed Kings and Queens for thousands of years, and even to this day it hosts the world famous Military Tattoo and protects the nations (original) Crown Jewels.
From the Great Hall, along with its superb red carpet and surrounding coats of arms to the top of the castle with its panoramic views of the city and surrounds. To this day, ever since 1861 (with a stop only for WW1 and WW2, Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday) the One 'O Clock Gun has fired. Not quite as impressive however as the 'Mons Meg' - a whopping 150kg (330lb) gun, one of the oldest in Europe, which can (could) fire a stone ball over 2 miles (3.2km) !!
City centre: 15 minute walk from Waverley Station to the top of the Royal Mile. From the airport the Airlink runs every 10 minutes, 24/7. £3 single from the airport or £1.50 from outside of the airport perimeter. Allow a good 2 hours to visit the castle (closed 5pm in winter and 6pm in summer). Cost: (a little on the steep side, but consider it a one off and a history lesson!) £16 per adult (£9.60 child). TIP: The guided tours are FREE - so take them!! Audio guide is extra. BONUS TIP: The castles' cafe lemon cake is to die for...
The Scottish National War Memorial:
The most moving part of my day, was a visit to the war memorial. A very respectful and tranquil shrine to all those who have fought and given their lives from WW1 onwards to present day. As I stumbled upon the large book dedicated to the RAF I felt an eerie reality when I turned the page to see a name of one of my own family. George Scully - wireless operator and air gunner for the Royal Air Force, killed in service on 17th August 1943, aged 34. We never really knew exactly what happened but I have his RAF logbook safely at home which is something really special.
Edinburgh has the best of both: It is easy to walk around, AND it has a superb public transport system. Thankfully we were lucky (very lucky) with the weather so we pretty much walked everywhere.
From Haymarket, head north along Hope Street. Through the beautiful Georgian circular housing terraces, each a mini version of the Royal Circle in Bath. Pass through Great Stuart Street and into Moray Place. Continuing north-east will bring you onto Gloucester Lane. Stay north and you will find yourself in Stockbridge, which hosts a beautiful little market along the river. From local bio and natural food products, international cuisine, hand made soaps, antiques to fine whiskeys. This place has a great local vibe. Along the river is 'Water of Leith', home to more charity shops than houses, but if you are looking for random and quirky bargains then why not head in! You wont imagine what you might end up buying! More importantly, it has some great coffee shops, (local ones as well as the monstrous American chains) that do excellent home made cakes and breads, washed down with super fruit juices.
From Stockbridge, you can take a lovely walk through local Edinburgh, and back into the heart of the city. We ventured along Queen Street Gardens, past the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and taking the side-streets behind 'Saint James Shopping Centre' we took a walk up Calton Hill.
Again, we stayed lucky with the weather. (Even risked leaving the umbrella in the hotel this time.) Carton Hill seems rather popular among the hippy community, who provided musical entertainment as we enjoyed the 360 degree views. Looking East I rather fancied climbing up to Arthurs' Seat, but the pub was calling, and I think the rains were coming...
The National Monument was hosting what appeared to be a mix of a battle reenactment and a human rights protest with a lot of drumming and hippy clothes. But people were enjoying themselves, which was great to see. Heading back down the hill I succeeded in getting us lost, followed by a pure incidental discovery of just the pub we had been looking for... you see... getting lost IS a good thing... you never know what (pub) you will find!
For some seriously good ales, and an insane amount to choose from, head to Brew Dog. The bar staff are actually trained in what they sell (which is rare these days) and will happily let you "try before you buy"... I love that in a pub! Try the insane 'Cocoa Psycho' (a coffee black ale), that is actually pumped through coffee beans as it is poured. It will knock your socks off. We decided against the wooden tray of 6 different beers and ales, as it was only 3 pm and after all day walking around the city a siesta would have been unavoidable. The best thing about Brew Dog (in their own words) ... "No live sport, No shots and No Carling!"
The best thing with Edinburgh, is that in such a culturally rich city, it doesn't matter that it rains. As nothing can beat a rainy afternoon in the pub, with a pleasant pint of 'Flying Scotsman' next to the fire... Superb.
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