We were sitting in our swanky hotel lobby on our last day in Edinburgh, combating the nippy weather with complimentary coffee, when a well dressed man walked over to my family to greet us.
“Hello, how are you?—Has your stay been enjoyable?”, he asked, as he prepared a cup of his own.
We started speaking with man, who turned out to be the hotel's general manager. He wasn’t actually Scottish (nor was any of the hotel staff, to be honest, in this pre-Brexit visit) but rather Italian. He mentioned that he got his start managing beach-side resorts along the famed Italian Amalfi Coast. Curious, we asked what would drive someone to leave paradise for the wintery wonderland that we were, at the present moment, avoiding.
“Something new—a new challenge”, he replied.
It felt canned and cliché when he said it, but he went on to explain that Edinburgh was actually bustling on the tourism and hospitality scene: that the city was voted the #1 European Destination for 2016. In a matter of fact tone, he went on to elaborate that Edinburgh had the history and charm that tourists look for in European city—but that it was small enough to not be considered a first-tier target for terrorism. People felt safer traveling here.
While the latter took us aback, he wasn’t wrong about the first part. Edinburgh offered everything you could want out of a European vacation, packed in a completely walkable footprint.
As such, a walk is how we began our second morning in Edinburgh.
Our visit to Edinburgh involved two days, split by two other days in the Scottish Highlands. The highlands were a perfect backdrop to some of the most beautiful stretches of road I’ve ever seen. But that road could easily be underestimated. There, distances seemingly took longer to pass, a detriment when our entire stint in the highlands was over-committed—something I will explain in a future blog post. The result of this is that stops had to be cut off of the itinerary, including a much-looked forward to hike through Glencoe.
The only problem with this plan was the weather. This was the third day that an unusually-timed winter storm was pushing through the northern United Kingdom! During our visit, the weather ranged from temperate blue skies to frigid snow falls. To paraphrase one local weatherman: “Here we are knocking on summer’s door and a good ol’ fashioned February storm is pushing through for one last hurrah!”
Sure enough, when we left our hotel early that morning, the temperature was hovering at about 4°C, or about 40°F. Now, for those of you judging me, this is quite cold for a Southern Californian! But still, it didn’t seem so bad down at ground-level and so we walked the mile from our hotel to the base of the Salisbury Cliffs in Holyrood Park.
Then, we started to climb.
As we gained in elevation, the wind began to pick up and push us around. It was playful when Cindy’s umbrella inverted at ground level but it was far less fun on the bluff, where we felt less stable on the slippery peak. The extra air I had to take in to climb was cold and dry; it started to get to my lungs.
When we passed the half-way mark, it began to snow on us. It wasn’t cold enough to stick (although we could see it trying atop Arthur’s Seat) but it still slowed us down. In the fast wind, sleet pellets pushed into our skin. We covered our faces with our scarves but that led to foggy glasses and frosted eyes.
We were about three-quarters of the way to the top when we realized something: “This isn’t fun anymore.”
And so, we paused to take our panoramas and selfies and then turned around at that very moment.
We originally found it novel that we had the entire park to ourselves. On our way down, we realized that it was because no one else was stupid enough to go out in that weather!
We returned down the gradual descent of the cliff-tops and walked the defeated mile back to our hotel. There, we stood in the shower for an eternity, letting the hot water thaw us back to life like Han Solo out of carbonite.
Despite the weather, we didn’t want to spend our entire second day in Edinburgh indoors. So when we caught a break in the rain, we decided to capitalize on it!
My mom, dad, Cindy, and I made a break for the outdoors, encouraged by the recommendation of a friend. We walked a few blocks down Princes Street to execute her advice: get some cookies from Ben’s Cookies and then sit in the park beneath the Edinburgh Castle, soaking it all in while devouring the treats.
While the benches were far too wet for a seat ("soaking it in" would have involved wet asses, no doubt), cookies and a stroll sounded nice. We walked along a path of tulips and read the plaques of statues dotted along the stretch. Most were dedicated to those who fought or died in the wars of the last 150 years, starting with wars of Imperialism, entering the World Wars, and then stretching up to modern day.
We walked until we reached the cross street returning to our hotel. My parents decided to turn back but Cindy and I were eager to fill the last two hours of our stay. We knew that the National Museum of Scotland was a stone’s throw over in Old Town and that it was free. The two of us decided to make one final trek into the charming hillside town and see what the museum was about.
The museum entrance funnels you into a crypt-like space from which you emerge upward into the Grand Gallery. The Grand Gallery is a beautiful Victorian structure inspired by historic London’s Crystal Palace.
The Grand Gallery serves as a hub from which the rest of the museum pushes off of. The exhibits were a strange combination of world/natural history and Scottish history/art, with a loose tie between the two.
Still, the museum was free and a great way to close out Old Town. But sooner than we imagined, it was time to return to New Town and our hotel.
There, we met up with the rest of the family for some more coffee and more cookies. We spoke with the general manager, as previously mentioned, took inventory of our luggage, and then walked out of our hotel for the last time. A short skip across St. Andrew’s Square from our hotel was the Edinburgh Tram. We hopped on for the third time in three days in route to the Edinburgh Airport.
There, we were greeted by a great sign promoting the city. The kind of sign you’re supposed to see on your way in, not on your way out. Still, it was worth commemorating our time with a few photos.
We entered the airport and prepared for our flight back to London. After the 45 minute flight, we would be staying in a hotel across from Heathrow before returning to the States.
When I started the Edinburgh blog, it quickly became apparent that it would be too much to cram into one post. And so, I split them between days, the most natural way I could think of doing so.
However, as I wrote this, it became immediately apparent that we did far less on this day than on our first. We were tired and looking to relax. But still, I rather liked that about the trip. We satisfied our tourist-itch but I’d like to think we took a bit more time to wander and soak things in as well. Regardless, I have only a few more photos to share of this brilliant city.
I loved Edinburgh and can’t wait to go back. Until then, here’s a few more photos from the gallery to share with you…