This morning we enjoyed an amazing breakfast at our guesthouse: scrambled eggs and tomatoes fresh picked off the vine, Belgian waffles with maple syrup and crispy bacon, and yogurt infused with whiskey and fresh fruits. We felt like royalty.
The air is fresh and clean this morning, sweater weather, so we hiked into town rather than take the bus. Our first stop, Edinburgh Castle, sits high on a hill overlooking the city. The hill itself was created 340 million years ago from volcanic rock and the first settlers arrived 3,000 years ago during the Bronze Age. Our audioguide described it as a 12th century medieval castle which later became a Royal Garrison.
Our first sight was Mons Meg, a siege gun that looked like a cannon that was given to King James 11. One of its cannonballs was unearthed two miles away. A sign on it politely asked visitors to "respect the grand old lady" that terrorized the enemies of the kings of Scotland, but a child beside me, too young to read, happily climbed up its wheel.
Inside the castle walls lies the oldest building in Scotland, a chapel built in 1130. It is tiny, bright, and clean and is still used today for weddings. Outside the chapel was a humorous sight. A couple dressed in ordinary clothes had an iPhone on a pole and was taking selfies all over the place. I wondered to myself if they actually saw anything or if they would later take a virtual tour through their photos to see what they never experienced except through the lens of their camera.
One highlight of the castle is the Crown Jewels. We followed others through winding rooms with storybook style paintings of people on the walls until at last we were able to squeeze into a tiny room. There inside a gleaming glass case in all its glory was a crown, scepter, and sword used in the coronation of Queen Mary of Scott's in 1543. There was a stone on display too that used to be under the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey unti 1997 when the queen returned it to Scotland with the promise that it would be returned to London if there is another coronation. To me it wasn't that extraordinary, but known as the Destiny Stone, it's steeped in history.
Lunch was in the Castle Tearoom. The carrot soup and rocket sandwich were farm fresh and organic. Even my strawberry iced tea had juicy strawberries and fresh mint. It was well worth the stop.
Our final stop in the castle was a prison used for prisoners of war. Right after the American Revolution, an American prisoner of war carved an American flag from that time period into the door. Another interesting display was a model of a sailing ship made by a prisoner.
The Scottish National Gallery is free, but they greet you right at the door looking for a nice donation and convince you that if you donate, you'll get a highlights guide and a sticker so you wouldn't be asked again. I gave them five pounds and we followed the guide to the highlights including paintings by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, Velasquez, Titian, and Rubens. It was as if we were on a scavenger hunt of masterpieces, and we felt triumphant that we had found them all until tonight when I looked at the cover of the guidebook and realized we never even attempted to find their own piece de resistance, a Scottish masterpiece called Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch. There are posters for it all over town!
Jenners is the oldest department store in Edinburgh. It has beautiful winding stairs, statues, and wrought iron railings around the balconies. It was once a store for the elite, but now it's very similar to a Macy's. Outside the store they are getting ready for an international festival and have a huge Ferris wheel. At $15 per person we decided to pass, but I'm envious of those who had an amazing view.
Dinner tonight was at David Bann. It's a vegetarian restaurant one block off the Royal Mile. It was contemporary with low level lighting and the food was delicious. I had a veggie stir fry with Thai spices topped with smoked tofu. The French fries known as chips here, were cooked with thyme and rosemary. We felt quite stuffed leaving , but on impulse stopped at the Radisson Blu for a coffee. Night has fallen on the city and we feel very thankful we are here.