Edinburgh – Where my solo adventures began

My first solo trip ever happened in the summer of 2010. I travelled alone to London, stayed with a friend for a couple of days and then took a week’s trip (alone) to Scotland. It turned out to be one of my most memorable trips ever.

Early on a June morning I took the morning train out of King’s Cross to Edinburgh. The journey takes about 4 hours, and the trains are very comfortable. The train was also a great way to see more of the countryside, which was truly beautiful. And yes, I realised that all the cliches I’d read about were true: rolling meadows, cows in peaceful pastures, churches, picture-book cottages and houses with sloping shingled roofs.

I was really excited about getting to Scotland, but also just a little bit nervous. I didn’t know a single soul there, I had never travelled alone this far and I had no idea what lay in store. So yeah, there were definitely some butterflies in my tummy as the train pulled into Waverley station, Edinburgh. It was overcast and a drizzle started up almost immediately; luckily the hostel I had booked was just a 5 minute walk away. St. Christopher’s turned out to be a good choice.

My first evening in Edinburgh was also the day I fell in love with the city. Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town and the 18th century mostly Georgian New town are both World Heritage sites, and one can spend days just exploring them. I stayed in the city for three days here, and spent hours just walking everywhere.

On this first evening I was still too jetlagged to do much, so I just took an exploratory walk up the Royal Mile.  The Royal Mile is a cobblestoned street that connects the Castle with the Holyrood Palace, and actually measures about a 100 yards more than a mile. The part of it closest to the castle is where you will find most of the souvenir shops, restaurants, T shirt sellers, and all the usual suspects. But it is still an interesting walk, with medieval buildings on both sides and dozens of narrow alleys (called Wynds or Closes) leading off from it. Go down any of these wynds and you never know what you might find. Also, a part of the Mile is fully pedestrianised.

I also walked across Waverley bridge to the New Town side of things, and took a look at the Monument, the Royal Academy, the adjacent National Gallery, the Mound etc. Old Town and New Town used to be divided by the Nor Loch – the town’s water supply/sewage dump. This was eventually drained and converted into a beautiful green area called the Princes Street Gardens. It’s a great place to sit and people-watch. You also get great views of the Castle, and some decent ice cream!

My first day in Scotland turned out great. I managed the train connections safely, found myself in a beautiful city with three days to spend as I wished, and made friends. My roommates from the hostel, Amanda and Melissa, ended up giving me company over the next couple of days’ explorations of the city.

From Edinburgh I took a trip into the Highlands and Skye. More on that in a later post!

Top ten things to do in Edinburgh

 

There is so much beauty and history in Edinburgh that you can spend days getting to know your favourite parts of it. Here’s my list of the Top 10 interesting things to see and do in Edinburgh:

1. Free Walking Tour: The tour starts from the Starbucks on the Mile and lasts about 3 hours. The guides pepper the facts with humour, making it overall a fun tour. They work for tips only. The tour will give you the general layout of the town, and also acquaint you with the legends and celebrities connected with the city. You would probably see the St Giles Church, the Elephant Café (where JK Rowling used to write before becoming JKR), the Heriot School (inspiration behind Hogwarts), the Writers Museum, Princess Street Gardens etc.

2. Ghost Tour: This one is usually a paid tour and full of drama and gory stories, as expected. You will also be taken to the cemetery and on to Calton Hill, from where you can get a lovely view of the city below as well as a Parthenon-style incomplete Monument.

3. Visit Edinburgh Castle: Located on top of Castle Hill, the 12th century castle is the result of years of building, rebuilding and renovation. I am glad I paid extra for the audio guide, it’s of a high quality and allowed me to explore at my own pace. You can easily spend an entire morning wandering around here.

4. Climb Arthur’s Seat: If you have a reasonable level of fitness, climbing up to Arthur’s Seat can be a fun activity. It is an extinct volcano and Edinburgh’s highest hill, offering fantastic views. Early morning or evening would probably be the best time to go.

5. Walk the Royal Mile: The lower part of the Mile especially Canongate is a nicer area than the upper half, less crowded and touristy. You just have to veer off into any of the narrow lanes leading off the main road and you find yourself in beautiful little residential areas with gardens and flower-boxes in the windows and that kind of thing.

royal mile
The Royal Mile

6. Party at the Grassmarket: Grassmarket in the Old Town is a vibrant and lively area full of pubs and restaurants. You can choose to pub crawl, or have a casual dinner with friends, or sit in the central square and people-watch.

7. Try the local food: Popular Scottish dishes include Haggis (minced liver, heart and lungs of a sheep mixed with oatmeal, onion and spices) usually eaten along with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). I was lucky enough to find a vegetarian version of the dish at The Last Drop pub. You can also try Black pudding, Leek and Tattie soup, Scotch pies, shortbread, sticky toffee pudding and the fabled deep fried Mars bars!

veggie haggis
Vegetarian haggis (!!) with neeps and tatties

8. Take a tour to the Highlands: I took a three-day backpacker’s coach tour to the Highlands and Skye from Edinburgh, and it was just amazing. If you prefer you can hire a car and drive yourself. The highlands are beyond scenic, and you will find some great photo ops everywhere you go. More detailed post on this part, to follow someday soon!

9. Visit a distillery: Lovers of Scotch whisky cannot miss this. A number of companies run tours from Edinburgh to various local distilleries, covering the history and process of whisky production with tastings thrown in.

10. Cultural immersion in New Town: New Town on the other side of the bridge can be termed the cultural hub of the city. It has some highly rated museums such as the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, etc. New Town also has The Edinburgh Playhouse, the largest working theatre in the UK, which routinely stages musical productions.

I hope this list will someday help someone out there who is planning a trip to beautiful Edinburgh. To me, it was a walk down memory lane just putting this together. More posts to follow soon, on my tour to the Highlands and the Isle of Skye!

Remembering my first solo trip: Scotland – Part One!

My first ever solo trip happened in the summer of 2010. I travelled to London, stayed with a friend for a couple of days and then took a week’s trip (alone) to Scotland. It turned out to be one of my most memorable trips ever.

Early on a June morning I took the morning train out of King’s Cross to Edinburgh. The journey takes about 4 hours, and the trains are very comfortable. The train was a also a great way to see more of the countryside, which was truly beautiful. We passed scores and scores of sarson ke khet (mustard fields), which reminded me of home. And yes, I realised that all the cliches I’d read about were true: rolling meadows, cows in pastures, churches, picture-book cottages and houses with sloping shingled roofs…Beautiful.

I was really excited about getting to Scotland, but also just a little bit nervous. I didn’t know a single soul there and had no idea what lay in store. So yeah, there were definitely some butterflies in my tummy as the train pulled into Waverley station. It was overcast and a drizzle started up almost immediately; luckily the hostel I had booked was just a 5 minute walk away.

My first evening in Edinburgh was also the day I fell in love with the city. Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town and the 18th century mostly Georgian New town are both World Heritage Sites, and one can spend days just exploring them. I stayed in the city for three days here and spent hours just walking everywhere.

On this first evening I was still too jet-lagged to do much, so I just took an exploratory walk up the Royal Mile.  The Royal Mile is a cobblestoned street that connects the Castle with the Holyrood Palace, and actually measures about a 100 yards more than a mile. The part of it closest to the castle is where you will find most of the souvenir shops, restaurants, T shirt sellers, and all the usual suspects one expects to find in any touristy area. But it is still an interesting walk, with medieval buildings on both sides of you and dozens of narrow alleys (called Wynds or Closes) leading off from it. Go down any of these wynds and you never know what you might find. Also, a part of the Mile is  pedestrian-only. I think I went crazy just taking pictures of everything – every building looked beautiful and there were some great views.

I also walked across Waverley bridge to the New Town side of things, and took a look at the Monument, the Royal Academy, the adjacent National Gallery, the Mound etc. Old Town and New Town used to be divided by the Nor Loch – the town’s water supply/sewage dump. This was eventually drained and converted into a beautiful green area called the Princes Street Gardens. It’s a great place to sit and people-watch. You also get great views of the Castle, and some decent ice cream!

By the time I finished my walk it was around 8pm, and it was still bright and sunny. To somebody used to night setting in by 7-7.30 pm in summer, it was strange at first to see dusk extending as late as 10pm here. It was a little disorienting, especially since all shops and cafes shut by 6pm. The only shops open till late turned out to be stores owned by Punjabi-speaking immigrants from India/Pakistan!

My first day in Scotland turned out great. I managed the train connections safely, found myself in a beautiful city with three days to spend as I wished, and made friends. My roommates from the hostel, Amanda and Melissa, were to give me company over the next couple of days’ explorations of the city. More on that, in the next post!