sláinte mhath scotland

Oh Edinburgh, Scotland. What a beautiful place. Ger and I finally got to explore it as an early Valentine’s Day gift to each other. It is known as the hilly capital of Scotland and is composed of a medieval Old Town and a Georgian New Town.  Edinburgh Castle looms over the city and serves as the home to Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny; all of which were used during the coronation of Scottish rulers. Arthur’s Seat is a hilly peak located in Holyrood Park that offers sweeping views of the city, the Firth of Fourth, and the mountains. Calton Hill (the start of which was located right outside our hotel window) is topped with monuments and memorials.  And these are just some of the lovely things to see while visiting. It’s a truly amazing city – one of those unique places that has definite cultural characteristics and a place I would welcome visiting again.

We started our adventure in Edinburgh at The Parliament House Hotel. And, we received a surprise suite upgrade to our room upon checking it.  The suite included a dining room (ridiculous), a globe, a “faux” pet dog (you can see it in chair by the fireplace), a bottle of red wine, and a box of Belgian chocolates. Such a fabulous welcome!After we got settled into the room, we headed into town for a sunset stroll along Princes Street. Princes Street would be considered one of the main streets in Edinburgh and is populated with shops on one side and Waverley Train Station & Princes Street Gardens on the other.  On our walk we strolled past The Scott Monument, the largest monument to a writer in the world (over 200 feet tall). Walter Scott is famous for establishing a new genre – the historical novel – that started with his novel, Waverley.  After soaking up the Victorian Gothic goodness of his statue, we walked around Princes Street Gardens. The gardens are filled with gorgeous fountains and allow for amazing views of Castle Rock.There was a really funky light installation that we stumbled upon while on our walk as well. I’m honestly not sure of the story behind it, but, when you walk through it, the lights you touch are activated along with corresponding sounds. It’s a very unique sensory experience. img_8472img_8483After our stroll, Ger and I were craving dinner and when we stumbled upon a Mexican restaurant, we couldn’t say “no”.  We really love all things Mexican food and will eat it whenever we can.  So, dinner at Barburrito it was.  Now, my favorite shop of all time is Anthropologie and they have a store in Edinburgh (not in Ireland…yet)! So, we had to pop in.  Ger is a good sport for walking around the shop with me. I just love the place.  Post my Anthropologie indulgence, we took a saunter down Rose Street and picked up some local eats for snacking.  Then, we returned to the hotel to turn in for the night. We were looking forward to our first full day in Edinburgh.

The next morning, we enjoyed a tasty breakfast at the hotel and then headed to The Palace of Holyroodhouse, commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace. It is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.  And, it is just as beautiful as you would expect. Queen Elizabeth still spends one week in residence at Holyrood Palace at the beginning of each summer. During that time she carries out official engagements and ceremonies.  I can only imagine the views of Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill that are afforded her from the Palace.From there, we turned our sights on Arthur’s Seat.  Now, admittedly, we were a bit naive about the hike that we were about to undertake.  To be fair, we were wearing runners, but, the mud and ice that lay ahead of us the trail was a whole other level.  There were numerous instances of,  “I’m going to break my face”, going through my mind as we struggled up the slippery hills to the top of Arthur’s Seat. And, I did fall on my bum once.  But, that it only happened once, was a win in its own right.  The views from Arthur’s Seat are incredible: the medieval city, the stunning estuaries, the snow-capped mountains. You must go up there if you are ever in town. Side note: it was also freezing and the winds are quite intense in February. Be prepared. I managed to capture one selfie that encapsulated my feelings once we reached the top.  And, I was honestly relieved to make my way back down the peak via the path less traveled.  We saw a handful of people following a faint trail thru the grasses opposite the muddy trail and that is the path we chose to follow back: it was a great life choice. After making our way slowly back down from Arthur’s Seat, we headed to The Royal Mile. The Royal Mile runs through Edinburgh’s Old Town and connects Edinburgh Castle, with the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The Mile has cobbled closes, narrow stairways, towering churches, local shops, and more.  It is a truly fabulous walk up to the castle.  When we reached Edinburgh Castle, we were delighted. We had walked about five miles at this point, and were excited to focus our minds on the history of the fortress in front of us. Most of the buildings that you can see in the castle today date from the Lang Siege in the 16th century.  But, there are a couple of structures within the castle walls that date back to its 12th century origins. Also housed within the castle walls are old military barracks, prisons of war, St. Margaret’s Chapel, (the oldest building in Scotland), and The Honours of Scotland, a museum that currently holds the Crown Jewels of Scotland and the ancient Stone of Destiny.  Though we couldn’t take pictures in the vault that these beauties were housed in, it was amazing to see them in person. I will note a few details under the photographs below, but, suffice it to say, there is enough history contained in the castle walls to occupy visitors for hours on end.  IMG_5738IMG_5746IMG_5749(Pictured: The Scottish National War Memorial.)IMG_5765(Pictured: The National War Museum and the Governor’s House.)(Pictured: The Prisons of War. The early American flag can still be seen etched into the wooden doors of the prison as well – see below.  American Prisoners of War were housed here during the Seven Years War from 1756 – 1763.)(Pictured: St. Margaret’s Chapel – the oldest building in Scotland.)(Pictured above: Two of the original stained glass windows found in St. Margaret’s Chapel. Beautiful, no?)(Pictured: View of the Royal Mile, Arthur’s Seat, and the Firth of Fourth from Edinburgh Castle.)After we finished our walk around the castle, we settled in to watch the Scotland versus France Six Nations game in town. For those of you who are unfamiliar with rugby (I’m still learning), Six Nations is an annual international rugby competition held between the teams of England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Wales. Scotland won, which was amazing considering the match was on in Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield Stadium. The ambiance in the city was incredible as we were walking to dinner at Angels with Bagpipes. So much so that we decided to pop into a local pub and soak it up for bit prior to eating.  Local brews were on the menu for the night, so, we indulged accordingly. Then came an amazing dining experience at Angels with Bagpipes.  Ger and I decided to treat ourselves to a romantic pre-Valentine’s Day dinner. And, a treat it was. To start we ordered goats cheese with beetroot, verjus, hazelnut and yoghurt along with an order of Haggis with neeps & tatties, black haggis and whisky sauce.  We paired them both with the Scotch Whisky of the Moment that the waiter suggested.  For the main, I ordered venison loin, beetroot, cavalo nero, plum, and croquette paired with a glass of Merlot and Ger ordered cod, harissa, leek ash, smoky veloute, spinach, and chips paired with a refreshing glass of Pinot Grigio. We also added a side of green beans, garlic and shallots along with creamed potatoes.  For dessert, we shared a chocolate brownie with passion fruit curd and coconut sponge. I mean, my mouth is watering again just thinking about how delectable a meal it was. Post dinner, we popped into another local pub to continue to soak up the ambiance of the Scotland win in town.  We created a Scotch Whisky tasting of our own (along with some locals) and headed back to the hotel later in the evening. Suffice it to say, it was a solid night.

On our last day in town, after another lovely breakfast at the hotel, we took a walk around the shops, explored the Royal Mile Market (a traditional Scottish market located inside the historic Tron Kirk – a church), strolled around St. Giles’ Cathedral (also known as the High Kirk, it dates back to the 14th century), and landed at the Scotch Whisky Experience.img_8678img_8801img_8704(Pictured: St. Giles’ Cathedral. Do you see the crown-shaped steeple? Very unique, no?)

The Scotch Whisky Experience was really well done.  Being a fan of liquor, Ger and I have been to Irish Whisky, Kentucky Bourbon, and more “experiences”, and can attest to the high-caliber of this one. You begin the “experience” with a historical ride through the whisky-making process.  Then, you get an overview of the different Scotch Whisky regions of Scotland and what causes the differences in aromas and tastes of Scotch Whisky from each region.  We learned that the different regions are Highland, Speyside, Islay, Lowland, and Campbeltown. #learningisfunFrom there, you are led into a tasting room where you sample one scotch from one of the Scotch Whisky regions in Scotland (your choice). And then, you enter a “Scotch Library” which houses over 3,000 bottles of unopened Scotch – the single largest collection of Scotch Whisky in the world. It’s a truly amazing sight. And, angel’s share is a real thing. There is one bottle that is empty because of it. For those of you who don’t know, angel’s share is the portion of liquor that naturally evaporates from a bottle. After gawking at the insane collection of Scotch Whisky, we moved into the bar.  This is where Ger and I opted for a tasting of four whisky’s.  We ended up adding on a couple more tastings just to make sure we weren’t missing any good ones – though there were hundreds and hundreds to choose from. From here, we headed back to the hotel to fetch our bags and catch the tram to the airport.  We had a truly wonderful time in Edinburgh. It’s a great place to spend a weekend away.  There is so much more of Scotland to explore from the famous Loch Ness, to the Isle of Skye and the Inner Hebrides, to the Northern Highlands, and Glasgow. The options are aplenty and we can’t wait to visit Scotland again.  Until next time, sláinte mhath Scotland!

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