A Royal Day in Edinburgh

Oooooh, my dogs are barkin’! And by dogs, I mean feet. And by barkin’, I mean hurtin’. But today (actually Monday, as I didn’t quite finish this post in time) was another great day, so the temporary foot tiredness is just fine. If that was really a problem for me, I wouldn’t travel the way I do!

Looking at our list of things to do, we landed on some more winners (if I do say so myself), including:

  • The Real Mary King’s Close – a historical close (alleyway – actually, a collection of alleyways, this case) named for a burgess (land-owner, one of the few female land-owners of her time). Although rumors abound that this was some kind of underground city in its day (17th century), it was never enclosed then, though today, these former alleys are indeed underground, having been incorporated into the foundations of the buildings above.
  • St Giles’ Cathedral – AKA the High Kirk of Edinburgh, this was once a Catholic church and was built nearly 1,000 years ago, but today it’s part of the Church of Scotland.
  • Palace of Holyroodhouse – the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland.
  • Arthur’s Seat/Holyrood Park – a VERY hilly park next to the palace that has, at its very top, Arthur’s Seat.

Right, first things first – waking up! We went to bed much later last night (around midnight) as we were both feeling pretty awake, unlike the previous night. And as I had a lot of photos from the day to edit before writing this blog, I figured I would be up later than the previous night regardless, but somehow these posts (much as I enjoy them) take longer than I think they will, so I didn’t even get this post completely done (clearly, since I’m finishing it on Tuesday). To be honest though, I’d rather write a really complete post than a half-assed one, so I don’t mind taking the time to do it right. And I enjoyed hanging in the hotel bar with a beverage and my blog, so don’t feel sorry for me (as if you would!). Anyway, going to bed later meant waking up later, but we still didn’t get up until almost 9a, giving us probably 8.5 hours of sleep. We had to be a little bit more on the ball this morning though, as we already had tickets booked for Mary King’s Close at 11a and we also wanted to avail ourselves of the hotel breakfast again, so we made sure we got ready in time to do that and then get to Mary a few minutes early. Speaking of Mary…

The experience at Mary King’s Close was okay, but not amazing. I’m fairly certain I did this same tour when I was here several years ago, but don’t have strong memories of it. It’s one of those tours led by someone mildly in character as someone from the period when this close (as you learned above, that’s a passageway or, in this case, a series passageways connected together) would have been actively in use. As for Mary herself, she was a land-owning merchant, which is how this particular close (which, by the way, is pronounced like close as in “close call”) came to be named after her. Also as mentioned above, it’s become a bit of a legend that people in this close lived underground (meaning, the entirety of the homes were under the streets of Edinburgh), but that’s not true at all. The buildings that were in the close(s) were largely derelict and empty by the time the city wanted to build a new structure on top of them and bring everything to one level, so they simply (physically) cut them off at the second level and built over them, leaving the remains of the buildings below the second level to become part of the foundations of the new structures above. Kind of weird, right? But I suppose it was easier than completely tearing the buildings down and starting over, especially given the limited technology of 150-200 years ago. Our guide was okay and I appreciated the dry comments he made about life in that era, but he didn’t seem to be all that into his role. Still, it was an interesting tour, but at £16.50/$20 USD each, I couldn’t put my hand to my heart and swear it was the best value for money. But, it’s only money and now we can say we’ve visited Mary King’s Close. 🙂

Ready for a “close”-up on the first round of photos?

Since I mentioned the hotel breakfast a couple of times, I thought I’d show you what today’s cheese toastie and fruit cup looked like. Better than yesterday’s bacon sandwich!

Luckily, the close is on the Royal Mile, maybe ten minutes from our hotel.

Only the real deal here!

Outside, waiting to go in.

See, there’s her name on the wall!

This was a milking room, which would have been found in the cellar of nicer homes.

Not sure if this street sign is original or not, but I’d like to think it is.

People in the era of Mary King’s Close had to deal with bubonic plague and the “doctors” who treated victims (they weren’t real doctors, by the way) wore these masks. Maybe Scott has a new career on the horizon??

Scott is SO good at planning our days that our next destination, St Giles’ Cathedral, was literally across the street from Mary and her close. How convenient! The current church (there was another church building on the same site previously) was built sometime in the 14th century, which is amazing to think about when you’re standing outside, in this busy, thriving city in 2019, looking at this building that dates back hundreds and hundreds of years. Seeing things like this is a big reason why I travel! There was actually a short service happening while we were there (running from 12-1215p, so *very* short), but it seemed like the minister there was used to large groups of people wandering around while he preaches because he didn’t seem to miss a beat. And we tried to be as quiet as possible so as not to disturb him! One interesting thing about this church is that, strictly speaking, you aren’t supposed to take photos inside unless you buy a £2 photo permit (which amounts to a sticker to prove you paid), but the desk at the front where they sell them was unoccupied, so I put £2 in the donation box instead. Of course, I realized afterwards that I could have bought one at the little shop at the back of the church, but oh well. Didn’t seem to be a problem!

Time for some £2 photos!

I often have to wait longer to get photos like this one to avoid masses of people walking by, cars, etc., but it’s always worth it.

Walking into the cathedral.

Really striking stained glass.

Bell inside the cathedral.

More colorful stained glass.

Love a big church organ!

One more stained glass photo for the road.

Our next stop for the day was at the other end of the Royal Mile and the other reason for its “royal” moniker – the Palace of Holyroodhouse (AKA Holyrood Palace). It has served as a royal residence for hundreds of years, though Queen Elizabeth II only spends one week here each year. Must be nice to have so many palaces, castles, and royal apartments to stay in that you can have a huge palace like this and only spend one week there! As palaces go, I honestly found this one to be a bit lackluster, especially given the £15/$18 USD entry fee. For as HUGE as it looks on the outside, it felt like there wasn’t a huge amount to see inside, though I realize palaces/castles like these do have other functions (like, you know, people living in them), so the entire place can’t be open to the public. The same is true of Buckingham Palace, but somehow that tour felt like better value for money. Also like that tour though, there were no photos allowed inside the palace, which always really irks me for some reason. It feels like we should be able to take photos when we’re paying money to be there, but again, it is what it is.

Despite the fact that we couldn’t take photos inside, we could take plenty outside and little did I know that outside included the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, built onto the side of the palace. I do love ruins that you can walk through, whether castle, church, or anything else. There’s something so cool about walking through the literal history as it decays back into the world around it. These particular ruins date back to the early 1100s, though it was actively used as a church until the 1700s and has been in ruins since then. I really enjoyed walking through them – it took me alllll the way back to my first UK trip in 2003, when I got to walk through the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. Getting to walk through these ruins was a nice bonus! The gardens around the palace were also nice and there weren’t many people around, so we had a nice time wandering around before heading off on our big climb…

Before the climb, let’s get royal for a minute, shall we?

We stopped by Forbidden Planet here as I always find something fun in the London branch, but nothing jumped out at me here.

We didn’t go to the Tollbooth Tavern, but the building looked really fun, so of course I had to take a photo.

The Scottish Parliament Building, with Holyrood Park behind it.

The Queen’s Gallery is an art gallery just in front of the palace (which we didn’t visit).

Approaching the palace.

The quadrangle just inside the palace’s main gates.

Since there were no photos allowed inside the palace, we skip right to the photos of the abbey ruins.

At least some part of the roof still exists.

I bet this had some amazing stained glass in it at one point.

A tomb in the abbey ruins.

Looking towards the front of the abbey from the back, under the huge window.

Outside the front of the abbey.

Lots of nice landscaping to see in the gardens.

Also in the gardens, a creepy statue or two.

Another view of the abbey.

That big window (shown a few photos above) seen from the outside.

The remains of additional abbey ruins.

After we finished getting royal’d up at the palace, our plan was to go next door (more or less) to Holyrood Park (also called Queen’s Park or King’s Park, depending on the gender of the current regent) so we could walk up to the top of the hill to Arthur’s Seat. I’ve mentioned Arthur’s Seat in previous posts, but I wanted to call out an important distinction – Arthur’s Seat is actually the very, very top of the large hill in the park, not the entire hill itself. I did walk alllllll the way up to that spot on my last trip here (not by design, mind you – I started walking up and just kind of kept on walking) and we thought we’d do it again on this trip. Not that I have an expert memory of that specific walk, but right off the bat, I did see that the path I started on all those years ago was closed due to a rock fall, so we had to go to a different (but still well-marked) path. That path took us by an ice cream truck (it would have been rude to just walk on by it, so of course we stopped) and we then continued down the paved path, but pretty quickly, we saw a few other walkers going up a non-paved path that we thought might be a shortcut. It was indeed a shortcut, but not to Arthur’s Seat, but rather to a different, lower peak (not sure if it had a name). It was a VERY steep climb though and on an unpaved path, so we definitely felt like mountain goats going up it! Even though it didn’t land us 823 feet up at Arthur’s Seat, we still got some amazing views over Edinburgh, so it was definitely worth it. We considered still going to the peak, but based on what the path looked like from the peak we got to, it felt like it would be a ton of work (since, again, we wouldn’t have been following the standard, paved path). Also note, just like my last walk up, it gets VERY windy on these hills, so brace yourself and your stuff to make sure none if it flies away.

Ice cream, walks, and views await!

What better way is there to prep for a long walk than to eat a tasty treat?

Taking the road less traveled, it seems.

And that path just keeps going higher and higher, it seems.

Fabulous views over Edinburgh, though!

More of those great views.

And of course, a nice panorama at the top.

And also made sure to take a selfie! Much harder than it sounds when high wind is blowing at you and you’re not too far from an unprotected drop-off.

In lieu of a simple selfie, I present Scott’s photo of me taking a photo. Trying to keep my balance in the wind!

After all the energy we exerted going up, we had to get down again! While easier from one standpoint (we weren’t huffing and puffing this time), it was harder from another as we had to keep our balance to stay upright given the steepness of the hill. Still, we eventually made it back to solid (paved) ground and made our way back to the hotel, with a stop at a local fudge shop near the palace to buy a treat for later. We didn’t have anything else planned until dinner, so we had a few hours to get back to the hotel, relax, edit photos, and watch a little TV, which was a nice way to unwind after a busy few hours. It didn’t give me enough time to get this post completely done, but at least I got that round of photos done!

After our time at the hotel, it was time to head out to dinner at The Voodoo Rooms, recommended to us by the husband of Scott’s cousin (thanks Vada!). Despite the trippy name, it seemed like a pretty standard bar/restaurant, though they also host live music performances (none while we were there) and have some nice, cozy seating to enjoy a meal in. We had made a reservation, so we sat right down (it didn’t seem too busy anyway) and quickly found drinks from their extensive cocktail menu that looked good. Although it’s also a restaurant, The Voodoo Rooms specializes in drinks, so be sure to give their drink menu a look when you go! Scott settled on the No. 171 Cooler (gin-based, with spiced tea) while I had A Grape Deal (vodka-based, with Chenin Blanc, vanilla, and frozen grapes). They were both super tasty and mine in particular was nice and refreshing – it would be the perfect drink to enjoy on a deck on a warm summer evening. Food-wise, we had a fabulous starter platter with salami, prosciutto, cheese, bread, and other goodies, with a gorgeous presentation to boot (see below). We probably didn’t need to get that and I didn’t finish my actual meal as a result, but it was definitely worth it. The meals we had were pretty straightforward – burger (with really tasty fries) for me and lemon-herb chicken with coconut rice for Scott. Both very good! Between the food, the atmosphere, and even the price (it was about $70 USD for both of us, including drinks), this recommendation passed with flying colors!

Tasty photos ahoy!

I dig the logo for this place.

Scott’s No. 171 Cooler on the left and my A Grape Deal on the right. Refreshing!

How delicious does this look?!

I enjoyed this chandelier above our dining area.

To round out the day (no, we aren’t done yet!), we did a ghostly walking tour of Edinburgh through City of Edinburgh Tours. Like the Mary King’s Close tour, it was led by someone in character as Dr. Joseph Bell (a well-known doctor and teacher at the University of Edinburgh and also the inspiration of Sherlock Holmes as Arthur Conan Doyle was one of his students) who told us some “spooky” stories of his (character’s) life and took us around to some supposedly haunted sites, mostly places we had been to (St Giles’, Greyfriars), though we did also go underground briefly to learn about some bad guys who hid out under the city hundreds of years ago. The tour wasn’t particularly scary, but it was all in good fun and it was a neat way to learn some of Edinburgh’s history. And our Dr. Bell (real name Isaac) put a lot of heart and gusto into his performance, so that made the tour extra enjoyable. At £12/$15 USD each, it was worth it, though I think it would have been better to do it on the first day of the trip to help get the lay of the land.

Warning! Haunting(ish) pictures ahead!

Our “Dr. Bell” telling his first spooky story, about the Scottish man who signed the document unifying Scotland and England.

Another scary story, this time in the Greyfriars kirkyard, about George Mackenzie.

Dr. Bell in front of Mackenzie’s mausoleum.

In the underground passage, where we learned about a scary old harpy ghost, nicknamed Anne, as well as two friendly child ghosts.

Alas, we didn’t see any ghosts! But don’t let that stop you from booking your own tour the next time you’re in Edinburgh.

After our tour, it was time to head back to the hotel. It was a full day, despite the afternoon break, it definitely enjoyable. We’ve decided to head to St Andrews, the home of golf, tomorrow as we’ve seen the stuff we wanted to see in Edinburgh. Click here to see if we hit a “hole in one” with that decision!

See what I did there? 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!