Monday, October 26, 2015

A Weekend in Edinburgh

Wonderful weekend in Edinburgh. This was my first visit to Scotlands' capital city and I totally fell in love with it. The architecture is so wonderful that it's a pleasure simply to stroll - but not too much time to waste as there is a wealth of galleries, museums and shops to visit. Thursday evening we strolled around Edinburgh Old Town and then ate Tutti Frutti di Mare at an Italian restaurant. Interesting and, on the whole, tasty. Unfortunately the whole baby octopus lurking amongst the mussels, prawns, squid etc.etc. was more than I could stomach.

Edinburgh Old Town Roofscape (National Geographic)

On Friday a highlight of our trip - a visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia ( a great day out if you are ever in the area), where we were treated like royalty and enjoyed a traditional afternoon tea on the now- enclosed upper deck.

The Britannia was Her Majesty the Queen's favourite place to be prior to it decommissioning in 1991 - she said that it was the place where she could most truly relax. The ship travelled over one million miles and Her Majesty entertained many heads of state and other dignitaries, including Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandella, during its many voyages.
A salon on the Royal Yacht Britannia

Travel to the Ocean Terminal on the Number 11 or Number 22 bus - around 25 minutes trip - from Princes Street, at a cost of £1.50 for a single journey. (Bus fares are a flat £1.50 regardless of where you dismount. In future I would buy a £4 day ticket for a hop-on, hop-off bus). The Royal Yacht Britannia is accessed via the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre (build in time for shopping, if you still have enough energy,  after your visit to the yacht).

That evening we ate mezes and main courses at a Middle Eastern restaurant (a delicious new taste experience for me).

 On Saturday morning we were up bright and early for me to collect my B.A. Honours Degree, conferred by the Open University, at a fabulous ceremony at the the Usher Hall, during which the congregation was addressed by the internationally acclaimed actor Alan Cumming, who received an Honorary Doctorate for his exceptional contribution to education and culture.

After the ceremony - a gin and tonic in one of the ancient pubs on Grassmarket in the Old Town. Expect to pay  £14 - £15 for a round of three drinks.

Then on to a celebratory lunch at the Outsider Restaurant, where my sister had requested a table overlooking Edinburgh Castle. Fabulous food at a reasonable price (I had a fish stew). Take a look at the quirkily descriptive wine list here

We staggered out for a late afternoon visit deep into a cellar close to the old town, the The Jazz Bar,
which hosts first rate musicians. Very relaxed ambience at this time of day, and we managed to get a table - it's heaving in the evenings.

On Sunday morning we visited the shops on George Street (even if you don't plan to buy it's worth it just to see the inside of the buildings) and then managed to fit in a visit to the National Gallery of Scotland to see an exhibition of art by Arthur Melville before the journey home.

The bonus of visiting in October is that the tourist crowds have dwindled. Many thanks to my sister and number 1 son for bullying me into travelling up for the Degree conferment and for making the whole occasion so memorable.

Top tips
  •  Don't store your luggage in the Left Luggage office at the train station. It costs £6 per bag for up to 3 hours.  £10 per bag for 3 -24 hours. Very expensive, but the train stations now use similar security checks to airports, so I suppose that they need to recover the costs. Serviced apartment blocks similar to the one where we stayed have lockers where for a minimal fee you can leave your baggage until you want to set off for home. Tourist attractions have similar storage facilities, but they are not large enough for anything bigger than carry-on luggage cases. 
  • Familiarise yourself with the bus routes and then use the hop on hop off bus. The cost of taxis mounts up. A bus ticket is £4 for a day, or £1.50 for a single journey. 
  • If you travel by train in the UK try to book your tickets twelve weeks in advance - they will be considerably cheaper than a last-minute purchase. Sign up to emails from Virgin Trains, which operates the East Coast line from London to Edinburgh,  to receive notification of deals. If the budget will run stretch it's worth booking first class for a longish journey (around 4 hours London to Edinburgh) - more leg space, quieter; a meal, drinks, and newspapers included.
  • Compare the price of a train ticket with the price and convenience of a flight. My sister flew from Bristol for £47! 
  • Pack comfortable walking shoes

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