Some folks have enough interest in their family history to travel back to the “Old Country” to see what the ancestors left behind. The Morgan family made such a pilgrimage over my strong personal reservations regarding crowds, holidays, and safety, but the logic was we should go before Europe finally surrenders to the Caliphate.
Our main stop was #Edinburgh, #Scotland, and in spite of my concerns, we had a great time. The following are some bits of advice and impressions that might be helpful to others considering a visit to that region.
Weather: Plan for highly changeable weather. Our visit in late December was unusually warm and dry with temps running from high 30s to mid-40s. Rain was a more or less constant threat, and when it decided to rain on us it tended to heavy drizzle rather than pounding storms. Dress in layers and keep a poncho handy. Umbrellas are worthless in the wind.
- Get a hotel close to Old Town.
- Edinburgh is not that big, and the weather makes walking pleasant even if it really seems like every street is “uphill both ways”.
- Navigation Tips
- A “close” is a narrow alley between buildings, and they connect streets, so you don’t have to go around the block. Some pubs and shops open off of the close, so pay attention. If you can’t find the place a map says is “right here”, it might be located on a nearby close.
- A “stair” serves the same purpose as a close, but it is a set of steps.
- A “wynd” (pronounced like what you do to a watch) is another walkway that joins thoroughfares.
- A “crescent” is a cul-de-sac.
- “Arcades” are like the others listed above, but they have shops along them.
- Sometimes you have to walk through a close to get to a courtyard “inside” the building that faces the street in order to get to the business you are looking for. The Writer’s Museum (http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/venues/the-writers–museum ) is just such a case.
- Street signs are posted on the sides of buildings above the first story level instead of a pole on the corner like in the US.
- We stayed at The Carlton on High Bridge Street (https://www.thehotelcollection.co.uk/hotels/carlton-hotel-edinburgh ).
- The façade of the building has been styled to fit into the castellated architecture of the district, but the hotel has been recently renovated.
- The staff is great.
- You get a real breakfast with your room, so take full advantage. The hot “English Breakfast” consists of Eggs (sunny side or scrambled), sausage links, bacon (aka ham), black pudding (blood sausage), and potato scones (potato pancakes). Baked beans, fried tomatoes, and haggis round out the options. Try the black pudding. I didn’t find it to have much flavor, but it is definitely not as unpleasant as the name implies.
- The Carlton is located about a 10-15 minute walk from just about every tourist attraction in town except the zoo.
Things to do
Edinburgh Castle is a must-see. You have to pay to get in. Make sure to tag along with one of the tour guides. There is a local ale called Edinburgh Castle that is worth tasting.
- The National Museum of Scotland has two sections. The “new” section is dedicated to Scottish history from the Stone Age to the present. The “old” section is more of a natural history exhibit. You can see if Dolly the Sheep is on display. The museum is free.
- National Gallery is also free if you are into art.
- City Bus Tours – One street over from South Bridge at Waverly Station is a bus stop for tour buses. These buses are driving tours of the city. You plug in your headset and listen to a recorded tour as the bus drives around. Your ticket is good for 24 hours, and you can get on and off the bus as much as you like in that time. This is a great way to get oriented and to pick out places to visit. The bus ticket has discount coupons for various attractions, so keep it handy.
- The Edinburgh Dungeon is a haunted house style tour of some of Edinburgh’s more unsavory past. Under 16 requires a parent to get in. Good fun. Discount coupons are available to look for them.
- Pubs & Dining
- An important note about pubs. If the place has a liquor license, everyone under 16 years old must be out before 8:00pm, so plan your dining accordingly.
- The reason pubs have a reputation for a friendly atmosphere is because they are rather small and cramped. You will be close enough to chat with the folks at the next table, so don’t be shocked if they join your conversation.
- In general tipping is not done in the UK, but we went into one place where the credit card machine offered us the choice to add a percentage for a tip. The waitress explained their restaurant we based on a Canadian/US model, so tips are part of the compensation. This may be a changing trend.
- Credit cards are processed at the table in front of you, so when the server presents the check just tell them you want to pay with a card, so they bring the machine.
- Every pub will have a Scotch whisky list that will make your head spin. I learned that drinking scotch with a splash of water opens the bouquet of the whisky and allows you to enjoy a variety of flavors that are covered when you sip it neat as I usually do. Don’t waste time with soda, just get some plain water and try adding just a splash to your shot.
- We ate our first supper in a place called “Arcade” on Cockburn Street. The food at Arcade was very tasty, especially their Robert Burns haggis plate.
- “End of the World” is a pub at what used to be the wall surrounding Old Town. Another nice friendly place I would be happy to return to. Great fish & chips.
- We had Christmas Dinner at “Rabbie Burns Café and Whisky Bar”. Not very posh looking from the street, but really tasty pork pie with brown gravy and grilled veggies.
- The “MacGregor” pub was a must considering that is our Clan. They serve great Admiral’s Pie and Steak & Ale pie.
- AVOID “Mother India”. The spice level must be reduced to avoid scaring the locals, and the portions were too small for the money. We were very disappointed.
- AVOID “Patisserie Valerie” on High Bridge as if your life depended on it. The pastry is awful, the sandwiches were stale, and the staff were quite put out by having to make a sale. I’m used to this kind of crap in America, but we didn’t encounter anyone else in Scotland who treated us as bad as this place. Every other person we dealt with made it apparent that they were quite happy to have our business.
- Arthur’s Seat is one of the volcanic cones that Edinburgh is built on. It is surrounded by a large public park with hiking trails leading to the summit. The path we chose was great until we got to a stone stair that looked straight out of the Morgul Vale in Lord of the Rings. Remember the stairs Sam, Frodo, and Gollum climb to reach the giant spider? Yeah, like that. Wear good shoes with ankle support and you will be fine. The view is worth every step.
- Shopping is a lot of fun for a day or two. After that every shop starts to look the same. Occasionally you can find some good bargains, so take the time to look around. Sometimes the same company owns multiple shops on different streets, so if the one you are in does not have your size, color, & etc., ask if they have another location and have them to call to check availability.
- TAX REBATE – Tourists can get their sales tax rebated if you file the correct paperwork at the airport. Make sure to ask for a tax reimbursement receipt when you buy tangible goods (not food). Several locations around town will process the refunds immediately, but they take a commission on each receipt they process. If you file through the airport kiosk, you get the full amount back on your credit card. Not a huge amount back, but every nickel counts. The minimum purchase amount when we were there was 35 pounds. This could be on a single receipt or on multiple as long as the total was over 35 pounds.
- MONEY – Scots Pounds are issued and accepted in Scotland along with English Pounds. The reverse is NOT true. If you plan to travel in the UK outside of Scotland, make sure you trade your Scots Pounds for English before you leave Scotland.
- Day Trips – We took two day-trips by bus to see Hadrian’s Wall and Loch Ness.
- Hadrian’s Wall with Rabbie’s (https://rabbies.com ) – Rabbie’s tours depart from a café just off South Bridge and Prince’s street about 5 minutes from The Carlton Hotel. We booked the trip online, and everything went very smoothly. Our guide, Joe, provided a running commentary on the areas we drove through on the way to the wall. The trip consisted of several stops including one on the border between Scotland and England. We also stopped at a Roman fortress called Vindolanda (http://www.vindolanda.com ). A very pleasant day trip and well worth the price.
- Loch Ness with Gray Line Tours (http://www.grayline.com ) – Gray Line offers hotel pick up service that I’m not sure was worth the trouble. Our guide, Graham, had a great sense of humor and was very entertaining as we drove through the highlands. The boat ride on Loch Ness cost extra, and we enjoyed ourselves.
- If I had to make a choice, I would say I preferred Rabbie’s as a tour company because the online registration was more convenient than Gray Lines, but that is the only reason. Many companies offer these tours, so shop around.
- One trip we were not able to take was #Alnwick Castle (http://www.alnwickcastle.com ) that was used as the model for #Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. The castle is closed between October and March, so if you plan a winter trip to Scotland, you can’t see that castle.
- When we entered any business we were greeted with a very enthusiastic MERRY CHRISTMAS! No Happy Holiday or Season’s Greetings garbage to pollute the holiday spirit. This applied regardless of the ethnic origin or obvious non-Christian religious leaning of the person greeting us. It was “Merry Christmas”, and be damned to you if you don’t like it. I have never more disgusted by American’s PC poison as I was on this trip.
With the exception of the jerks in “Patisserie Valerie” everyone we met were very friendly including the folks we talked to in pubs.