I absolutely loved our 4-night stay in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland.  We also made a day trip to Glasgow while we there.

Although Scotland has a capital, it is not an independent country, even though you may see it referred to as such.  It is part of the United Kingdom.  Scotland is, however, voting later this year on whether to become an independent country.  I’ll be interested to see the outcome of that vote.

Some other facts about Scotland: Whisky is one of their main exports and they spell the word without the e:  whisky, not whiskey.  Scotland also generates a lot of revenue from North Sea oil.   Many of the signs in Scotland are written in both the English and Scottish Gaelic languages.  The national animal of Scotland is the unicorn.  You gotta love a country with a fictitious creature as their national animal.  And another fact is that I love the Scottish accent. 

Sean and I arrive in Edinburgh via nonstop flight from Frankfurt.  By the time we got to the hotel it was mid-afternoon so we just went for a short walk after checking in. 

The day we arrived in Edinburgh happened to be 3/14, otherwise known as Pi Day because the first three digits in the number Pi are 3.14.  I was thrilled, then, that this place was just down the block from our hotel.

I was thinking great, I can have some pie on Pi Day and was already envisioning something yummy like chocolate cream pie.  Imagine my disappointment when I found out that pie means something completely different in Scotland.  The menu consisted of all kinds of meat pies.  That was so not what I had in mind so we continued on our way. (I actually took this photo the following day, when the place was closed, so that’s why you see that the door is shuttered.)

One of the first sights we ran across was this structure that looks like it belongs on the top of a cathedral.

That is the Scott Monument, as in Sir Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe, Rob Roy and many other works.  It’s located in a nice little park called Princes Street Gardens.  The monument was inaugurated in 1846, 14 years after Scott’s death.  It is possible to climb 287 steps to the top of the monument, but we didn’t climb it.  Although you can’t see it in this photo, there is actually a statue of Scott inside the monument.

One of the things I really wanted to experience in Edinburgh was a bagpipe performance and I wasn’t disappointed. 

We saw this fellow on our first afternoon and he was just the first of many.  It seems there are bagpipers on every other corner.  And yes, I did tip him after I photographed him.  We are firm believers in tipping street performers if you’re going to photograph them.

Continuing on our walk, we had to hike up the Playfair Steps that you see here.

They were built in 1828 and were later named after Edinburgh architect William Henry Playfair.  Edinburgh is very hilly, so if you’re going to walk around there you need to be prepared to walk up lots of hills and steps.

Near the top of the steps is the Black Watch Monument.

The Black Watch is a battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, which in turn is part of the British Army Infantry. It has existed for hundreds of years in one form or another.  The soldier depicted in this monument is in Highland dress, kilt and all.  The inscription on the monument reads “To the Memory of Officers, Non- Commissioned Officers and Men of The Black Watch Who Fell In The South African War 1899 -1902”.

This nice-looking building, originally a house built in 1622, is the Writers’ Museum.

We didn’t go inside, but we did sit on a bench in the courtyard for a bit of a rest after all the hill and stair climbing.  The pavement stones in the courtyard are inscribed with quotes from various Scottish authors, such as this one from Nan Shepherd.

It says “It’s a grand thing to get leave to live”.  I can agree with that.

Remember when I said the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland?

That was the first of many unicorns we saw around the city.  It sits on top of what’s called The Mercat Cross.  Mercat is a version of the word “market”.  Important announcements such as successors to the monarchy have historically been made at this site and still are to this day.  The blue flag with the white Saint Andrew’s Cross is the Flag of Scotland.  The bird in the photo is just a bonus.

One of the main streets in Edinburgh is called The Royal Mile, which is actually a group of streets that connect Edinburgh Castle at one end to Holyrood Palace at the other end.  We visited both the castle and the palace so there will be more on these buildings later. 

Edinburgh is full of little alleyways called “Closes” like the one you see here.

The closes were private property that were gated and closed to the public.  A lot of them have decorative work at the top that is related to the name of the close, such as Old Fishmarket Close above with fishes below the sign.

Here’s a view looking down part of The Royal Mile.

The building with the clock that you see is The Tron Kirk.  It was originally built as a church in 1641 but has not been used as a church in over 60 years.  A Tron is a weighing beam that was used to weigh goods at medieval markets in Scotland. 

At this point we decided to stop for a late lunch/early dinner as well as some liquid refreshment.

Sean chose this Caledonia Best, a Scottish beer.  It is apparently a new brand of beer that was launched in 2011.  Caledonia, by the way, is the name given by the Romans to what is today Scotland.  We saw a lot of references to it around the city.

I opted for this Scottish cask ale.

Cask ale, as you might guess, is served directly from a cask.  It is both unfiltered and unpasteurized and is not carbonated. 

Neither Sean nor I would count Scottish beers among our favorites, sadly, but we soldiered through.

You may have heard of a traditional Scottish dish called haggis.

Sean decided to try some haggis fritters before his lunch.  He actually liked them.  The main ingredient in haggis is sheep organs – I won’t go into more detail than that.  Our waitress tried her best to get me to taste them but I’m not a meat-eater on the best of days so there’s no way I was going to try this.  At some point over the weekend we got into a discussion about eating bugs and I said I’d rather eat a cricket than eat haggis, so there you have it.

This is a famous street in Edinburgh.

It was the site of the first venereal disease clinic in Edinburgh.  Just kidding.  It’s actually pronounced “Coe-burn” but I’m sure many a tourist has gotten a giggle out of mispronouncing it. 

After this we went back to the hotel for a short restbefore going out for the evening.  When we went back down to the hotel lobby, my cousin Mary and her husband Charlie were sitting there waiting to surprise Sean.  He was not overly surprised though as he is used to one or both of them popping up all over Europe to meet us. He had even asked me if they would be meeting us and didn’t believe me when I told him no.  They are from and live in England and he figured they’d be there as it’s so close.  What was a surprise to him, though, is that their friend Cathy joined us for the trip.  Sean hasn’t seen Cathy in many years and we were both happy to see her along with Mary and Charlie.

We were both still pretty full from our late lunch, so we just went out and had drinks at two nearby pubs. One was called the Jinglin’ Geordie, which is named after a very wealthy 16th-century goldsmith called George Heriot.   Heriot had no heirs when he died and he designated his fortune to be used to establish a hospital for orphans in Edinburgh. The hospital is today a famous school that still provides free education to “fatherless children”.  His original legacy stated that the hospital was to be for “fatherless bairns”, meaning fatherless children. 

The other was a pub called the Half Way House.

The signs outside the pub state that a pub has been on that site since the 18th century and also that it is “Edinburgh’s Famous Smallest Pub”.  You can tell how tiny it is from the photo above, which shows pretty much the entire inside.  It was definitely a cozy little place.

Both the Jinglin’ Geordie and the Half Way House are in a steep alley called Fleshmarket Close, so named because there used to be a meat market at the end of it.  It was easy going down the alley from our hotel, but going back up involved lots of stairs and huffing and puffing.

The next day, Sean and I head out for an early visit to St. Giles’ Cathedral while Mary, Charlie and Cathy were having breakfast at the hotel. 

This mosaic in the shape of a heart is right near the cathedral and is known as The Heart of Midlothian.

It marks a former execution site as well as a prison.  There is supposedly a custom of spitting on the heart that originated as a sign of disdain for the former prison but is now for good luck.  I neither spit on it nor saw anyone else spitting on it, though.

The inside of Saint Giles’, dating from the 14th century and formally called the High Kirk of Edinburgh, is pretty amazing. 

There is some really beautiful stained glass in the cathedral and here again you see their national animal, the unicorn.

There are also all kinds of memorials in the church, including this one which struck me as a bit odd.

I suppose if you are going to thank God for something, thanking him for the discovery of chloroform anesthesia is as good as anything.  James Young Simpson was a pioneering Scottish obstetrician who discovered the anesthetic properties of chloroform by inhaling it himself.  

This angel is in an area of the cathedral called The Thistle Chapel.

I suspect you won’t find too many bagpipe-playing angels in cathedrals outside of Scotland.

And in another section of the cathedral, there’s those darn unicorns again!

Not far from the cathedral is this tavern.

It’s named after, as you can see, Deacon Brodie.  The mural on the side of the wall says “By day, William Brodie was pious, wealthy and a much respected citizen and in 1781 was elected Deacon Councillor of the city.  But at night he was a gambler, a thief, dissipated and licentious.”  The book Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired by Deacon Brodie.  Brodie was hanged for his crimes in 1788.

After this we met up with Mary, Charlie and Cathy and got on a train to Glasgow.  We were going there to meet up with their friend Dot and her sister June for lunch.  Before we met them for lunch, we met up with my cousin Deirdre who lives in Scotland. 

We had a little time before lunch to tour around the city a little bit.

That building is known as the Glasgow City Chambers, constructed between 1882 and 1888. 

Some of the architecture we saw in our short walk around the city was stunning.

This tearoom was designed by a famous Scottish architect.

Okay, I’ll admit that I’d never heard of him before my visit to Glasgow but he was apparently quite influential.  He designed everything from buildings to furniture to jewelry and was also a painter.

We ran across the back entrance of an old Woolworth store.

It’s always a little sad to see things like this.  I still remember going to Woolworth as a kid in New York.

The Bank of Scotland had some really nice building both in Edinburgh and here in Glasgow.

You have to watch where you’re going in Glasgow because there’s so many things to see above street level.

Lots of buildings had fancy stonework and statues like the scene you see above.

This famous statue depicts the Duke of Wellington.

The statue is more famous for the cone on top of it than who it depicts, though.

The practice of putting the cone on the statue has been around since at least the 1980s.  The Glasgow City Council had planned to raise the statue to discourage the practice, but the plan was abandoned for now due to public outcry.   

This street in Glasgow is where the West Nile virus was discovered.

Just kidding again. 

This sign gave both me and Sean a chuckle. 

BAM is a construction company but of course we took it as if you don’t heed the sign then BAM! – you’re going to get hit by a construction vehicle or something. 

After our little walk it was time to meet Dot and June.  We had already met up with Deirdre in the middle of our walk.  June had arranged for us all to have lunch and it was a complete surprise to Dot, who burst into happy tears when she saw Mary walk into the restaurant. 

The place where we had lunch was called The Corinthian Club and it was just lovely.  The building was beautiful inside and out, the food was fabulous, the service was very good, the prices were much lower than I thought they’d be, and of course the company was excellent.

We spent several hours at lunch until they finally politely told us that they were going to need the table for another party in about 30 minutes.  We left there and went to a nearby pub for a couple of drinks.  After that we parted ways with Deirdre, Dot and June and took the train back to Edinburgh.  Mary and Cathy declined to socialize any further so Charlie, Sean and I went down to the hotel bar for one drink before bed.

The following day Sean, Mary, Charlie and I did some more sightseeing in Edinburgh while Cathy stayed behind to relax. 

Our first stop was the Edinburgh Castle, and on our walk up the Royal Mile to get there we passed the St. Giles’ Cathedral that you read about earlier.

You can see that the steeple resembles a crown.

We arrived at the castle about 20 minutes before it opened for the day.

That big parking lot you see is where the famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place every August.

At the entrance to the castle is this fellow with whose name you are probably familiar.

You may not recognize him without the blue face, though.  It’s William Wallace, portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart. 

It was a surprisingly clear and somewhat sunny day and we were able to see the body of water known as the Firth of Forth.

That little island you see is called Inchkeith.  It’s in the Firth of Forth.  I only repeated that because I love saying Firth of Forth.  I think it’s my favorite place name ever.

The tiny garden you see here serves a sad purpose.

It is the Cemetery for Soldiers’ Dogs and has been used for that purpose since the 1840s.

Here you see the oldest surviving building in all of Edinburgh.

It’s Saint Margaret’s Chapel, built in the 12th century.  It was restored in the 19th century. 

The cannon you see here is called Mons Meg.

It was presented to King James II in 1457 and was used in war against the English.  It was last fired in 1681.  The man you see sticking his head into the cannon is Charlie.

This building houses the Scottish National War Memorial. 

It was originally built in 1927 to honor Scottish soldiers who died in World War I.  It is now a shrine to Scottish soldiers who died in both world wars and other campaigns since 1945.

When we went inside the war memorial building, our group of four was sort of wandering around the place separately.  I saw that there were these huge books all around the building with the names of fallen soldiers.  I opened the very first one and looked for my maiden name, Gilligan.  Lo and behold I found an entry for John Gilligan, which is my father’s name.  I promptly took a photo of it as you can see here.

Well, I had seen the “No Photography” sign at the entrance to the building but forgot all about it when I saw my dad’s name in the book.  Right after I took the photo, a guard came over and said, very politely and almost apologetically “So sorry but there are no photos allowed in the building”.  I said “Oh, I’m so sorry!” and put the lens cap on my camera and skulked away. 

One of the reasons I loved Edinburgh was because of this pervasive politeness.  Had that little incident occurred in Germany, the guard would have screamed “Fotos verboten!” and scared the bejesus outta me.

After touring around some of the other castle buildings, we stopped at the Tearoom on the grounds for some scones and tea.

This spawned the Great Scone Debate of which goes on the scone first – the cream or the jam?  I put the jam on first and Sean did the opposite.  Some people apparently have very strong opinions on this.

After our visit to the castle, we stopped at a place called The Scotch Whisky Experience.  None of us are whisky drinkers so a serious whisky tasting would have been wasted on us.  In The Scotch Whisky Experience, you take a little ride in a whisky barrel while you learn about whisky production.  You then pass around little vials that have scents (but no liquor) in them while the guide describes how the scents relate to different kinds of whiskeys.  Based on the scent you liked best, that’s the whisky you get to taste.  Here’s how they know which one you want.

If you liked the scent in the bottle with the green cap, you put your glass on the green circle in front of you and so on.  They then pour you a little taste of whisky accordingly.  The amount you see in the glass here, barely visible, is the amount you get to taste which was just fine with all of us.  I just couldn’t leave the country without having tasted Scotch in Scotland.

Seen here is a small sample of the whisky bottle collection at The Scotch Whisky Experience.

As you can see by the sign, these are the oldest bottles in the collection, which is the largest in the world.

After the tour we met up with Cousin Deirdre, who had made plans to spend the night in Edinburgh with us.

On our way to the next sight, we passed this restaurant.

The photo is somewhat self-explanatory.  I have to admit I didn’t even know J. K. Rowling lived in Scotland, but she evidently did/does and wrote great portions of the first Harry Potter book at this location. 

Our next destination was to see this cute little guy.

This is Greyfriars Bobby, who is famous for supposedly having guarded his master’s grave for 14 years after the master’s death.  Bobby, the dog, died in 1872 and is buried near his former owner, John Gray.

I had never heard the story before preparing for our trip to Edinburgh but learned that there was a 1961 Disney film called Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog.  There was also a movie made in 2005 called Greyfriars Bobby.  In one of those odd coincidences of life, the week after we got back from the Edinburgh trip, the 2005 movie was on TV (we have FreeSat British TV thanks to cousins Mary and Charlie). 

You might be able to make out that the statue’s nose is bright and shiny because everyone rubs it – I guess for luck – while they’re there taking photos.

We ended up eating a late lunch at the Greyfriars Bobby Inn that you can see behind the statue.

After lunch we headed back to the hotel but first passed St. Giles’ Cathedral again.  John Knox was a famous Scottish clergyman in the 16th century who preached at the cathedral.  He is credited with being the founder of the Presbyterian faith in Scotland.  Despite his fame, this is sadly his final resting place.

Yes, they paved over poor John Knox and he is now lying under spot number 23 in the parking lot behind the cathedral.

Why is Sean standing in a doorway, you ask?

Remember the little alleyways called “closes” that I mentioned earlier?  This one is called Lyon’s Close.  Our last name is Lyons so it would have been better if it had been called Lyons’ Close, but “close” enough.  Ha ha.  I crack myself up.

Also, notice the postcards and Scottish garb to the left of the photo.  I seriously don’t think I’ve seen any other city that capitalizes so much on its heritage.  Literally every other store was selling Scottish souvenirs, clothing, jewelry, food, drinks etc. or selling tours.  It was pretty unbelievable.  I’m sure it’s not like that once you get out of the tourist zone, but within the zone you have no trouble finding a keepsake for your trip if you’re into that sort of thing (which we are).

Not all of the stores were trustworthy, though, as you can see here.

The sign clearly says that the SMITH book is out of stock, yet when I looked behind the sign I found the book that you see at the top of the photo.  Liars.

Remember when I said there are a lot of hills and stairs in Edinburgh?  On our way back to the hotel we took a slightly different route and ended up on what’s called The Scotsman Steps.

There are 104 steps here and each one is made of a different marble.  You can see in the photo above that each step is a different color.  This was the result of a renovation done in 2011 and the steps are actually considered to be public art. 

Once back at the hotel, we all had a little rest and then met up later in the hotel bar/restaurant.  We ended up just hanging out there for a few hours to eat, drink and make merry and then went to bed at a fairly reasonable hour.  What can I say?  We’re old.

The next day was Saint Patrick’s Day.  Cathy again opted to relax for the day and Deirdre had to leave us to go to work.  Mary, Charlie, Sean and I headed out for more sightseeing. 

We headed down the Royal Mile again, this time in the direction of Holyrood Palace. On our walk, Cousin Mary spotted this guy.

He was just sitting in the window of a closed whisky shop.  The newspaper article that you can see says that he was a stand-in for the original Bobby during a Greyfriars Bobby (who you read about above) Commemoration Day.  Behind him you can also see some sheet music for a song called Tribute to Greyfriar’s Bobby (not sure why that spelling has an apostrophe in it).

This lovely building now houses the Tolbooth Tavern. 

A tollbooth in Scotland, from medieval times until the 19th century, served as both a courthouse and prison.  This one was originally built in 1591 and is one of about 90 surviving tollbooths in Scotland.  The section of town that it’s in was actually outside of the Edinburgh city limits when it was built. The area was called The Canongate and it wasn’t incorporated into Edinburgh until 1856. 

A little past the tavern is a church and cemetery where we spent a little time wandering around.  I actually find cemeteries fascinating and peaceful and could spend hours in some of them. 

This structure does not mark a gravesite, though.  Remember the first unicorn I posted above and said it was on top of the Mercat (market) Cross?  Well this is a Mercat Cross as well, for the former town of Canongate that you just read about.  It dates from 1128.  It originally stood in the middle of town and was moved to several other locations before being placed here in 1953.

Just outside the gate of the church and cemetery is this statue.

It depicts the Scottish poet Robert Fergusson.  A plaque in the ground indicates that he was born in Edinburgh in 1750 and died in Bedlam in 1774.  Bedlam was the name of Edinburgh’s first mental health hospital.  The word bedlam is derived from the word Bethlehem, specifically from the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem in London.  It was called an insane asylum at the time and the word bedlam today basically means chaos or confusion.

The hideous-looking (sorry, but it is) building that you see here is the Scottish Parliament building.

We took a tour and I am glad to say that the building is much nicer inside than it is outside. 

The Scottish Parliament was established in 1999, just 15 years ago.  And the Scottish Parliament building was opened by Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain in October 2004, less than 10 years ago.

This is where the members of Parliament actually sit.

It’s one of the few areas in the building where you’re allowed to take photos.

Another area where you’re allowed to take photos is a wall with 3 panels that is a piece of art called Travelling the Distance.

According to the Scottish Parliament’s website: “This artwork is a collection of 100 handwritten sentences made of porcelain. The sentences were collected by the artist on a journey around Scotland to meet 100 women. Each of the 100 women was asked to write something about a woman they felt had made a significant contribution to life, culture or democracy in Scotland. The artist asked each woman to refer her to another woman, which was the basis for the artist’s journey until she reached the 100th woman.” 

In the photo above, you can see two sentences that jumped out at me: “Eve was framed” and “I’m really very nice inside, it’s just the presentation that’s gone wrong.”

Before leaving the Parliament building, we stopped at their café for some refreshment.  As you can see here, they are very proud of their flag.

Sean got a mocha and the St. Andrew’s Cross part of the flag was “stamped” onto it.

Once we were sufficiently refreshed, we walked across the road to visit Holyrood Palace, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland.  It was originally constructed in the 16th century. 

Standing in the forecourt of the palace, this is one of the views.

The fountain is from the 19th century.  Behind that in the distance you see the famous Arthur’s Seat, an 822-foot high hill.  I originally had thoughts of climbing up there, but luckily unfortunately we just didn’t have enough time.

And here you see the little guard enclosures in front of the palace.

That’s Charlie on the left and Sean on the right.

This is the beautiful courtyard.

This sign was very confusing to us.

Thankfully we had Sean with us to demonstrate what to do.

(That little thing behind his head is part of the door, not a wild tuft of hair or a tiny hat.  And the headphones are for the audioguide tour of the palace.)

Before the palace was built, Holyrood Abbey was built in the 12th century.

The roof of the abbey collapsed in the 18th century and it sadly has been in ruins since then.  It’s actually kind of unbelievable because of the historic significance of the abbey.  Among other things, it has been the site of several royal coronations, weddings and funerals.

Leaving the palace, when most of the visitors had left, we had a clear view of the front of it.

In November 1861, there was a terrible house fire on The Royal Mile that killed 35 people.  Rescue workers heard a young man yelling “Heave awa’ chaps, I’m no’ dead yet!” 

The building that was built on the site of the burned-down building includes a tribute to that event above the doorway.

Being that it was Saint Patrick’s Day, we of course had to go out for a pint or four that evening.

There’s me and Charlie about to enjoy some Guinness. 

And one more haggis photo. 

There you see the haggis on top with “neeps and tatties” underneath.  Neeps are mashed turnips and tatties are mashed potatoes.  I still had no desire to try it, but it didn’t look nearly as bad as I’d imagined it would.  Sean and Charlie both had this for dinner and said it was very good.   If you’re an adventurous eater, don’t let haggis scare you away if you’re in Scotland and want to try a traditional dish.

Here’s another traditional dish that we all shared for dessert.

It’s a deep-fried Mars bar.  Honestly I don’t see what the fuss is about.  I wouldn’t rush to try it again.

I will end this blog with the best dispenser that I have seen yet in a ladies’ restroom.

Yes, only in Scotland can you get the McCondom, a Scotch whisky-flavored condom.  It occurs to me now that I should have actually purchased some.  I now have an excuse to return to Edinburgh!

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