Trains, Reigns and Other Exciting Things to Do in Edinburgh

The past couple of blog entries have centered around my sudden uprooting – the death of my beautiful grandmother, leaving Louisiana and living in an upside-down world. This one is different. I’m still trying to figure everything out, but there’s no reason why I can’t do it while sightseeing like a royal. Before heading off to explore exciting things in Edinburgh, I made a list. Warning, I saw the sights, and I have the 5,000 photos to prove it.

The first time I visited Scotland, my friend Don, a Glaswegian, hoped I’d prefer his city over that other regal one. Thanks to a crazy snowstorm, I never had the chance to find out; it kept us from leaving the town we were in, Inverness, and getting into Edinburgh. At least that’s what Don told me back then. However, he recently confessed he preferred Edinburgh over Glasgow, but to, shhh, not divulge his secret. Sorry, Don. Your brothers don’t read my blog anyway. I think you’re safe.

A little over a week ago, once again in Inverness, our ailments were waning, our ennui was gaining and good excuses like Valentine’s Day and the Super Bowl were pulling at our coattails. With travel predestined, we’d decided that visiting cities during the unpredictable winter weather would be better than braving the blustery western isles (another area of Scotland I’m excited to visit). Edinburgh was top on the list. And Don’s arm didn’t need twisting. Within seconds of us putting it out into the universe, Don had booked first-class LNER train travel (awwww …) and hotel reservations. Ooooh, well this is exciting!

Thursday

Heading out in the wee sleeting hours (at 7:15am, it’s still dark and sometimes icy), we took a taxi to our first stop, Inverness Station. It was cold. I hadn’t slept much. And my ears had already started that stopping-up thing again they love to do right before I head off on a big trip. Woe is me. But once settled comfortably on the train, all my complaints melted away. Because …

That view! Thank you, Scotland.

The morning train from Inverness to Edinburgh takes a little over three hours, arriving a few minutes past 11am. Clever man that he his, Don had booked a hotel steps from Edinburgh Waverly station, which meant quick access to drop off our bags and get on to seeing the city. Our next stop, St. James Quarter. I’d read about their fun weekend Valentine offers throughout some of their shops and ended up reserving a complimentary HydraFacial via the Cavendish Clinic of John Lewis. A relaxing scrape, rub and moisturize later, and I was feeling like the pampered princess I pretend to be. Definitely recommended.

A quick cocktail at Harvey Nichols then back to the hotel for a spruce-up, and we were off to slurp down some happy hour (£1 a piece) Carlingford and Loch Fyne oysters, oyster-infused martinis and monkfish satay at White Horse Oysters and Seafood.

A short walk through Old Town brought us to a couple of Outlander hotspots, a beautiful photo of Princess Diana

And a quick but delicious Indian bite at The Pakora Bar.

Stuffed and defeated, we decided we’d rather save any leftover energy and belly room for the following day and so returned to what Don called our bijou room for a solid night’s sleep.

Friday

The next morning, after a full Scottish breakfast at the hotel, we parted ways to explore different parts of the city on our own. My journey took me down Princes Street, in for coffee at Cairngorm Coffee, up through Stockbridge and back into Old Town.

Chopping pork at Oink Hog Roast
High Street Crooner

After reconnecting later in the afternoon (following an amaaaazing browse through Armstrong’s Vintage), we stopped by cozy and slightly intimidating Armchair Books and walked up the Royal Mile for an impromptu, yet incredible, dinner at The Witchery (sorry the pics aren’t more presentable – low lighting + my camera). The staff were personable and attentive and the dishes mouthwatering.

Later at Tiger Lily, the loud, pumping music and unavailability of the peat-vodka martini I’d been looking forward to trying didn’t deter us from enjoying a nightcap. In fact it reminded me of my nights out in NYC in my 30s. Those were the daze. Oy.

Cocktail in pretty restaurant with pink flowers

Saturday

After a night of resting our bellies, brains and achin’ feet, we spent Saturday morning exploring the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Founded in the 12th century, this majestic residence has been home to Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Queen Elizabeth. If they’re looking for a new resident, I’m available.

Somehow we still had the stamina and foot/ankle power to continue our journey throughout Edinburgh. The scone and coffee helped.

I could have spent a day or three in the Surgeons’ Hall Museums. Unfortunately photos were not allowed or you would be seeing a lot of bobbing body parts in jars. Definitely worth a trip. I also dream of working/studying at the University of Edinburgh. That or being a royal.

After our rambling and a stop in Napiers for herbal teas, we went on the hunt for a pub to watch the rugby match. We walked and we walked and we walked but no dice; all pubs were full. Finally we came across a restaurant/bar called Bertie’s, a fish + chips place with a poster outside advertising the match. Walking in, we neither saw nor heard the roar of rugby. But the hostess assured us the game was on and led us upstairs to a large room where she then sat us front and center before a huge screen. Game on! Although Scotland lost to Wales, the fish + chips dish was a winner (moist on the inside, crispy on the outside). I even had my first deep-fried Mars bar. It was just as you’d expect: gross and delicious at the same time.

This gave us enough energy to pop into glorious St. Giles Cathedral and wander a bit before heading back to the hotel for a long winter’s nap.

Sunday

After waking up with yet another full Scottish breakfast at the hotel, we took a bus ride to the Port of Leith on the Firth of Forth and spent the rainy morning on the Royal Yacht Britannia. All I have to say is, how absolutely civilized.

What an incredible visit! After this excursion and a little shopping, we headed back to the hotel to rest before dinner at Le Bistrot, a cozy spot located at l’Institut Français off the Royal Mile. Can you believe we’re still eating?! Although out of a dish I’d had my eye on (a recurring theme during Brexit and Covid), the restaurant was warm, the staff were personable and the dishes were delicious. They even surprised us with a yummy chocolate mousse-filled Valentine’s heart cake. A quick drink afterward at Bar Prince inside The Balmoral hotel and we were back inside to rest our bellies and tootsies for the night over sweet dreams of the Super Bowl. Yay Rams!

Monday – Valentine’s Day

Before crawling our way back up the Royal Mile to visit Edinburgh Castle — hailing from the 12th century, it is “one of the oldest fortified castles in Europe” — we stopped by La Barantine for delicious French pastries.

1pm Gun Salute

The wind and history and ghosts spurred our desire for contemplation, and a libation. Taking a turn down a curious close led us to The Devil’s Advocate where we shared a plate of corn fritters and I had one of the best Old Fashioned’s ever, prepared with Ardbeg.

We didn’t want to eat too much (quelle choque!) as we’d already booked Afternoon Tea at Prestonfield House. I’d done a bit of research on Afternoon Teas in the city since I absolutely love them and hadn’t yet had one during this UK trip. We’d planned to do The Fingal after the Britannia, but it was already full when we finally got around to making arrangements. We’ll save that one for next time. Or we may just move into Prestonfield House, which became our dream the moment the host ushered us into one of the most spectacular drawing rooms we’d ever been in. Absolutely splendid. We ended up chatting with the adorable neighboring couple from Michigan and who agreed Prestonfield House would make the perfect home. Thinking of it again now, I’m speechless. See for yourself.

Too depressed to have left our new home, we concluded the evening with a drink at The Dome, because, well, why stop now.

Tuesday

Our stay in Edinburgh was nearing its end, and I was surely turning into a pumpkin. But with a few hours left, we gave it our all. A lovely walk around New Town, a stop by the Bank of Scotland, a scrumptious Thai lunch with a stunning view at Chaophraya and a gentle farewell to our adopted city of Edinburgh.

I have to say that even though I’d seen photos of Edinburgh, I never thought it would be this magical. A few places on my list were closed due to Covid, but most were open, safe and inviting. Of course, I wouldn’t eat and drink and walk as much as we did if I lived here. But this sojourn was incredibly special, exactly what I needed and in a city much more enchanting than I imagined. Bon appétit!

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