Even without the sideways rain, Edinburgh was cold. At least, without the constant kilt-lifting horizontal spritz, our last day in Edinburgh was nearer to being civilized. An unusual yellow, warmth-providing orb made a surprise appearance in the sky above. We were due for a weather upgrade.
Out of our hotel we were back in Edinburgh’s UNESCO-designated Old Town and on the Royal Mile. This time we turned right on the main street and treaded east to what seemed to us to be the redundantly named Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Holyrood Palace, as it is most commonly known, is the official residence of the monarch of Scotland dating back to the 15th Century. The Queen still spends a week in residence at the beginning of summer before heading to Balmoral Castle for a two-month holiday. It’s good to be Queen.
When the Queen is not there, Holyrood Palace is open to tourists. As it was St. Andrew’s Day and the Queen was out, admission was allowed and it was free. We joined the river of commoners that streamed into the palace grounds. Inside, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is much like the grand castles and chateaus around Europe, with gold leaf accents, ancient tapestries on the walls, antique furniture, canopy four-poster beds, and all. Interesting to visit, but I’m not sure I’d want to live there. How livable can it be if there are no Internet or cable TV outlets? And what happens if you are a member of the Royal family and you favor modern interior design? Maybe there’s a downside to being Queen, after all.
Out of the Palace, we headed west along the Royal Mile. Along the way we searched out one of Edinburgh’s modern attractions. We found what we were looking for in a small fry shop. The shop’s menu reflected the new Scottish culinary tradition—deep-fried food. Pretty much everything on offer at this stand-up restaurant is cooked in a fry bin. And, in Scotland, the “everything” that is suitable for frying is a pretty broad and scary list of items. Beyond the standards, the fish and chips and all, was the legendary Scottish deep-fried Mars Bar. The deep fried Mars Bar is pretty much exactly as described. A Mars Bar is dipped in batter and dropped into a deep fryer for a couple of minutes. The trick is, we inferred, that the chocolate bar has to be kept cold before being fried. When the bar was plucked from the oil, we had our chance to try it. It was, in the end, very good. A slightly crisp batter on the exterior blanketed the gooey warm chocolate bar interior. Who would have guessed it? Deep frying a candy bar is a good idea. Maybe next time we will try the more exotic option, the deep-fried Snicker’s Bar.
Our Edinburgh touring finished up with a couple of pay-per-view historical tours—“The Real Mary King’s Close” and the “Old Town Walking Tour.” This type of tour is increasingly common in the places we visit. The pattern is similar everywhere. A guide, dressed up in historical costume, leads you through parts of a city and explains how life once was from the perspective of his/her character. The tours are part historical reenactment and part comedy, though much of the comic relief comes unintentionally from the guides’ costumes and the occasional lame “special” effect. In the process of these tours, you learn curious little details of historic life in the town you are visiting. On a good tour, what you learn are things that would be hard to casually discover.
The Mary King’s Close tour was particularly informative. The Royal Mile of Edinburgh extends along a saddle ridge between the castle and Holyrood Palace. Very small alleyways or closes extend perpendicularly away from the Royal Mile backbone forming a fish rib like pattern as they drop down the hill. Over time the apartment buildings defining the walls of the closes extended upwards, reaching 11 stories high. These buildings are thought to be some of the world’s earliest examples of high-rise apartment buildings. From the modern perspective, life in these times seemed less than appealing. Waging a war or exploiting a harsh new world would not be so bad, by comparison.
In modern times, the closes have been built over and covered. The bases of the old structures remain, except now the unreinforced masonry serves as the foundations and basements of modern buildings that reach far above the alley level. Edinburgh is not a good place to ride out an earthquake. Our tour took us through a warren of enclosed closes and old alley level houses. It was telling glimpse of historic Edinburgh.
The Old Town Walking Tour followed after The Real Mary King’s Close Tour. As we moved through Edinburgh’s streets learning about the details of life in the Old Town, the mid-afternoon daylight ended as the curious yellow orb in the sky dropped below the skyline. As our historical character finished our tour, we were once again freaking cold. It took another stepping stone collection of pubs and hot toddies to get us back to our room. I’d call our journey back to the room a pub-crawl except our pace between the public houses was anything but slow. Even the nearby Olympic drug testers took notice of our speed. The blood samples that Becky gave could have made a swamp worth of mosquitoes very happy.
We’re not sure why, but Edinburgh seems to have a particularly high density of vegetarian restaurants. There are even several vegetarian B&B’s in the town, a concept that is completely alien to me. What is a vegetarian B&B? Is a vegetarian taxicab soon to follow? I guess vegetarian food just does not fit my preconception of Scottish cuisine. But, in the end, we went with the local trend and had a dinner at the vegetarian restaurant, David Bann. It was a good cap to our trip.
Early the next morning, we’d head out of the cold and dark to a much warmer and sunnier California. As it seems for most of the places we visit, we left much to see and do in the UK. We will have to make a return visit. Next time, though, I think we will do it in the summer. I don’t think our livers can withstand another hot toddy barrage.