Edinburgh, Scotland

Scotland would have to be the greenest country I’ve ever seen. Never-ending fields, bordered by knee-high stone walls, made up the majority of our view on the journey to Edinburgh. A light rain fell from the sky, and the way it danced in the wind gave the appearance of snow. Despite the low hanging clouds, the hilly landscape was beautiful and everything I imagined Scotland would be.

 

Despite the campsite only being eight km south of Edinburgh, we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. The lady at reception warned us about strong winds coming from the west coast, where they had experienced 60 foot waves, and said we might be in for a rough couple of days. With that piece of news, and that fact that it was already dark outside (at 4 p.m.), we settled ourselves in our van and Danny put on the kettle for a cup of tea. In the middle of boiling the water our gas ran out. Highly inconvenient. With incredible luck, though, the campsite not only replaced gas bottles, but also happened to have exactly the brand we needed! Within minutes Danny had bought a new bottle, connected it and finished making his tea. Also on the premises of this lifesaving campsite was a TV room, which I think was the first one we had come across on our travels. It was made even better by the fact that they showed English-language shows. So far, Scotland was awesome.

The lady at reception wasn’t lying: the next day was one of the windiest days of our lives. We hardly slept because the van rocked all night – we were actually fearful that it might tip over. Looking around outside I couldn't believe that more trees weren’t uprooted. I’m sure there would have been hundreds in Melbourne, but I guess the trees are used to it here. 

After catching the bus (complete with tartan-covered seat covers) into Edinburgh, we made our way to the National Portrait Gallery. Once again, our plan was thwarted by renovations (for roughly the hundredth time this year), so instead we just wandered around the new town area. We stumbled upon a fantastic Christmas market full of stalls selling hot food and mulled wine. Much to my disgust, Danny couldn't go past a haggis roll. I was game enough to try it, but after one bite I could confidently say I wouldn’t be putting haggis anywhere near my mouth again. I opted for an Angus beef burger, a much tastier and less nauseating choice in my opinion. Mulled mead, a first for me, was a winner as well.

Next on the agenda was the Edinburgh Castle, high up on a hill with far-reaching views all around. The admission line was infuriating long, although I guess not surprising for a weekend. Luckily, we passed through the entrance just in time to secure a perfect spot for the 1 p.m. canon firing. In hindsight though, being only 10 metres from the action may not have been the best position. The boom was way louder than I expected, making me jump so high that I almost dropped my camera. Following this deafening display, we toured through all the main Castle highlights - the War Museum, Crown Jewels, Great Hall, Royal Apartments, Chapel and the old vaults, used to hold prisoners during the war. In the end the wind became too exasperating (I seriously thought I would be blown over), so we decided to escape to safety back down the hill. 

 

Following this blustery ordeal, we walked over to the relatively calm National Gallery, housed in a beautiful building with burgundy walls and octagonal shaped rooms. We skipped about 90% of the works and concentrated on the 19th century and the modern Scottish art. Not the most impressive gallery we have visited but it wasn’t too bad either. Exiting the building was a little disorientating, as our watches said 3.30 p.m. yet it was almost dark outside. With the limited light left we did a little shopping along the Royal Mile (main street): souvenirs for me, scotch for Danny. Before heading back to the van we passed a young piper, dressed in the traditional garb, busking for the meagre tourist crowd that had formed in front of him. Tartan, haggis, scotch, bagpipes, kilts – there was no doubt as to which country we were in.

Another rocky night in the van, with horizontal rain that struck our windows with force. By morning it had diminished from cyclone-level down to just a regular amount of wind.

First stop in Edinburgh today was the Modern Art Museum. Half of the rooms were closed off for “rehanging” (how long does it take to rehang a few paintings?) so there wasn't a whole lot to see, but the remaining works were worth the visit. Afterwards we walked the full length of the Royal Mile, which felt considerably longer than a mile but, being used to the metric system, we are probably not the best judges of how long a mile actually is. The road ended at the space-age Parliament Building and more classical Palace of Holyroodhouse. We didn't enter either. Instead, we walked up Calton Hill to one of the most impressive lookouts we have been to. The views not only extended over the city and the suburbs, but also stretched all the way out to sea.

From Calton Hill we returned to the Christmas market, where Danny became caught up in a Scotch tasting (he didn't need much convincing). I’m not a scotch fan but it’s a million times better than haggis. Plus, the huge samples involved free shortbread, so I was happy to munch away while Danny became tipsier and tipsier. This was followed up with more beverages, ones that I could join in on: mulled white wine and mulled cider. Neither was great, but the wine was definitely more drinkable than the cider. To counteract all the alcohol, we chowed down on potato noodles, which were similar to fried gnocchi and covered in cheese sauce. I could have eaten 10 plates-worth.

 

Fully liquored up (well, Danny was anyway), we had the bright idea to go ice skating in an open-air ice rink. Neither of us have attempted ice skating in over 10 years, and never outdoors. By the end Danny had fallen over four times while I managed to stay on my feet the entire time. I think it’s clear who the superior skater is. It was loads of fun, even though my ankles were throbbing and Danny had too many injuries to count.

Once it was dark (late afternoon) we joined a tour of Mary King's Close, a section of Edinburgh kept frozen in time since the 1700s. It was entirely underground, as the new city was built right over the top of the old one. Clearly modifications had to be made so the Edinburgh we know today could be supported, but we could still wander through the original buildings while learning all about their woeful living conditions (no money, no sanitation, the plague). The grand finale was walking along one of the former streets, which now had a ‘roof’ (the floor of the current City Chambers). We were even told a ghost story, which produced screams from several people in the group (although Danny will never admit to it). The site was really cool, unlike anything else we have ever seen.

As we were walking back to the bus stop we detoured via the Christmas market and kids fair, where we randomly caught a fireworks show. There was also a colourful light display projected onto the Castle. We had no idea what the occasion was but we stayed for the entire performance. Right place, right time. 

Before we left Edinburgh it was imperative that we fixed the roof of our van. Incredibly, Danny’s repair job had held up well in the torrential wind and rain of late, but it was going to make it a little difficult to sell in a few weeks' time. We called a repair man to come out and take a look, which he did right away. He gave us the name of a store nearby, told us the exact part and size we needed and said we could fit it ourselves. Half an hour later we were the proud owners of a brand new skylight, which was stark white compared to the rest of our van but it was preferable to the alternative. We also enquired about a new awning pole, but we were put off by the exorbitant price and lengthy waiting time while it was ordered in. With our campervan now intact, it was time to head north. 

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