Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Scotland + Ireland: Edinburgh Days 1 + 2
We've just returned from our fabulous 12-day #greensgogreen trip to Scotland and Ireland! Everyone is struggling a little with getting over jet lag and getting back on a normal schedule, but while we are glad to be home, we were also all incredibly sad to end our trip. We moved around a lot more than our trip to Italy last year and I have mixed feelings about our approach to trying to see a little bit of everything. On one hand, we got to see a lot of both countries. On the other, I felt like we didn't get to spend much time in any one place and I left each city and area of the countries feeling like we needed at least an additional day there. I guess we'll just have to go back!
We also traveled with more than just the four of us this time. Several members of Joel's family came along to celebrate a big birthday of my MIL. So his brother Steve and his girlfriend Leslie came along for the whole ride, and we met up with my MIL (Nona) and FIL (D-Rock) in Ireland for the second half of vacaye too. So not only were we moving around a lot, we were moving a lot of people around a lot. But it worked out splendidly, if I do say so myself. There's a lot to share, so I'll just jump. on. in.
Our flight over was kind of a S show. We flew to Chicago first and met up with Steve and Leslie there. We had a little layover, but since Joel travels all the time, we had club access. The kids now think that's just a normal way to travel! It does give a nice place to fuel up, charge technology, and stretch your legs a bit though. So I'm always grateful. We knew the next flight was probably going to be dicey (Cam didn't sleep at all on our overnight trip to Italy), but our plane was delayed for a "bathroom problem." Then delayed again. And again. And when we got in, we could smell why. Unfortunately, our seats were one row from the back of the plane (and the troubled bathroom). But everyone sucked it up and did a fairly good job on the flight over—the kids both even slept a bit.
We arrived to the rain we expected so I was super glad that I'd carried on the kids' rain gear (I bought each a new real raincoat and rainpants that were waterproof, but breathable and easy to pack—they were KEY! I highly, highly recommend them for traveling in that kind of weather. And we folded up their existing rainboots which were indispensable and absolutely worth packing). Before we knew it, we were checked into our apartment at at the pub across the street for a full Scottish breakfast and Irish coffee. And that's where the first of the kids' trip obsessions reared its head. Last year it was invisible hangman and rock/paper/scissors on repeat. This year the staring contests began immediately and lasted the entire trip. No matter whether we were sitting across the table from them, hiking up a rocky outcrop on the seashore, or in the middle of an emotionally intense tour, those two would ask anyone close by for a "staring contest." They developed cheats (sunglasses) and moves to entice blinks (look a bird! look my finger in your eye!), but they kept it up the entire trip. Leslie was a good sport to say the least (and doesn't cave either)!
We'd planned to be in Edinburgh during the annual Fringe Festival—the largest arts festival in the world. There are more than 3,000 events spread throughout the entire city, but many are located right in the center of town along the Royal Mile. And our apartment was just one block off of it. It was a constant party (the bar across the street stayed open until 5 a.m. and you could hear it until then too!), but it was such a perfect location because we could basically walk to anything. The digs weren't anything fancy, but they fit everyone easily and we had a washer/dryer which makes a HUGE difference when traveling that long with kids.
My favorite thing to do when we start exploring a new city is an overall walking tour of a main area. It's good to do when you're jet lagged and just need to get out and about a bit. My go to for all things travel related is Rick Steves. He always gives a great easy-to-follow self-guided tour in his books and recommends great travel guides you can book if you'd rather have someone show you around. So we clutched our multiple copies of Rick Steves Scotland and started out to explore the Royal Mile in the old town, which stretches from the Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The wind and rain whipped up, but it didn't stop us. We rubbed David Hume's toe for a little knowledge, goofed around with the mirrors outside the Camera Obscura, and took a peek at the castle that we were going to visit the following morning.
The Fringe Festival basically doubles the city's population in August, so after a while we tired of fighting the crowds on The Royal Mile and tucked into The Whiski Rooms for a nosh and drink. Joel and his brother are both big, big whisky fans so we had plenty of imbibing stops worked into our vacation plans. The kids were happy that meant more Pokemon Go time for them along with plenty of snacks. And they became connoisseurs of Shirley Temples too. But the jet lag started to hit after sitting for a bit, so we dragged the kiddos back to our apartment for a nap before the underground ghost tour we had planned.
The sheer number of festival events available was kind of daunting, but Joel and I decided to pick a few very kid-centered things since we knew we'd be doing plenty of grown up tours as well. The Haunted Underground Experience looked right up their alley and met right by our apartment too. We met our guide and went under the city to explore historical and allegedly haunted vaults. It was entertaining and not overly scary, but I didn't think it was anything spectacular. The kids seemed to enjoy it though and I guess that was the point. And we all enjoyed the hot chocolate and flat whites we picked up from a cart right outside too (I am SO obsessed with real flat whites now that I've had one. Too bad I'm off dairy!).
Once we came up for air, we realized we were all starving and were not going to make it to our planned dinner without another nosh. We headed across North Bridge to explore the New Town area and happened upon Boxsmall—a pop-up market on the roof of Waverley mall that had a huge kids area and lots of yummy local street food traders. The kids were pumped to get fab pizza and fresh air. We wanted to pop in to nearby Harvey Nichols to show Cam, but were tempted by the live music we heard booming from St. Andrew Square as we walked by so we popped in for a drink and a listen. We just couldn't get over all the fun free fabulousness of the festival!
We took the walk back to our apartment and met up for dinner at Ghillie Dhu. Unlike almost all of our other vacations, given the size of our dining party on this trip and the festivities in town, we did a bunch of research and reserving ahead of time for dinners. You'll want to make sure and do the same if you're traveling with kids because many restaurants and bars have strict rules about when you can bring kids in and it's not always logical. Ghillie Dhu had delicious food and allowed kids in the dining room until 8 p.m. (but they won't seat you with kids if you arrive after 8, FYI). We didn't stay out late—we had tickets for the Edinburgh Castle the following morning and I knew everyone needed to sleep.
Everyone slept well and was up and ready for Day 2. Lines for the castle can get obnoxiously long, so I made sure to purchase tickets ahead of time and get us there right when it opened at 9.30. The early morning walk up to the castle was gloriously free of people and it was nice to catch all the Royal Mile sights without the crowds. We arrived right in time for one of the free group tours and I was glad to have a great guide walk us around the beautiful historical site which sits atop Castle Rock, a spot that has been occupied by humans since at least the 2nd century AD. It was all incredibly amazing—especially the Crown Jewels.
We hoofed it shortly after our tour back to Boxmall for a quick lunch on our way to meeting the shuttle for our Glenkinchie Distillery tour. There wasn't photography allowed during the tour, which turned out to be awesome because it meant we were touring the actual historical and functioning distillery. The kids turned out to be fascinated by the science of it and Cam couldn't get over all the smells—she has such an insane nose for scent and could pick out and accurately name a whole range of random things. Kane was particularly pleased to find that the Glenckinchie logo (GK) also served double duty as his own monogram (KG). They did a great job paying attention and asking questions, our guide said at the end "by the way, your children are brilliant." And we thought the kids wouldn't enjoy the grown up tours!
We headed back into town for dinner at Wedgwood, which is a tiny restaurant on the Royal Mile that was absolutely delicious. It was definitely my favorite dinner in Edinburgh. I always find that jet lag hits harder the second night, so I was happy to take the kids back to the apartment while the rest of the group went out for a bit. As you might expect, we had big plans for our third day!