09.23.2012 - 09.23.2012 56 °F
We wake up a little after 8 a.m. and walk into New Town, where we grab breakfast at a little cafe on George Street called Caffe Centro. It's a bright, tasteful eatery that is already nearly filled with people. Matt orders a cappuccino with his breakfast of scrambled egg with smoked salmon and wild mushrooms, and I order a breakfast panini with bacon, sausage, baked beans and Swiss cheese.
After breakfast we walk east down Princes Street to Calton Hill, a prominent landmark within Edinburgh. From most parts of the city, Calton Hill is a visual staple just as the castle and Arthur's Seat are. The park is filled with various monuments, including the Nelson Monument that looks a little bit like a lighthouse, as well as the National Monument that is reminiscent of a Greek acropolis. From the various observation points that look down on the city, we have, without a doubt, the best view of Holyrood Park, Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags. The castle and Scott Monument are visible in the distance, as is the port town of Leith and the Firth of Forth.
We wander around Calton Hill for awhile, snapping photos of the monuments and admiring the view of the rest of the city. When we are ready to move on, we follow the winding paths back down to street level and then follow Elm Row toward Leith. It is a fairly long walk—over two miles one way—through upscale, commercial New Town, through streets with overflowing trash bins and newspapers laying crumpled on the sidewalk, to the waterfront of upscale apartments and historic restaurants.
Located at the mouth of the Water of Leith, the town of Leith is Edinburgh's shipping port and has a riverfront walk lined with seafood restaurants, coffee shops and canal boats. We walk along the river and check out the canal boats that line the promenade; it appears that many of them have been transformed into restaurants or even business offices. Since it is Sunday, most of the boats have their gangways pulled up until the work week starts.
We stop for lunch along the riverfront at the Kings Wark, a restaurant/pub with quite a fascinating and illustrious history. The building originated in 1434 as a royal residence, storehouse and armory for King James I. The interior of the structure was destroyed in 1544 during the Hertford invasion and was rehabilitated by Queen Mary; it was later converted into a plague hospital. Today it's a beautiful restaurant with thick stone walls and wood plank floors, and a menu full of local seafood and UK favorites. I order a blade of Scotch beef topped with horseradish cream, Yorkshire pudding with onion gravy, and roast potatoes. Matt has baked smoked haddock with brown shrimp, caper and parsley butter, roast potatoes and vegetables. We both wash our lunches down with a Strongbow cider.
After lunch we walk around Leith and, when we need to give our legs a break, stop in to a cool bar for cappuccinos. We sit in a glass-enclosed back patio with comfortable armchairs and loveseats, and notice the interesting paintings on the walls. One wall itself has a big, somewhat creepy painting of an evil-looking bartender holding an absinthe bottle as an evil-looking female patron sips from her glass and another patron is passed out at the bar. We notice that there are little green fairies painted sporadically around that wall and that there are decorative absinthe bottles being used as candle holders in some built-in alcoves. It appears we found a bar that serves absinthe and flaunts it in the décor. We joke about trying it but decide that hallucinations might dampen the rest of our day.
We then walk a mile northwest to Newhaven, a little seaside town that has a tiny harbor and some nice-looking seafood restaurants. We walk on the pier enclosing the harbor and then head through town a little ways; we notice on our walk back that what we thought was a big Gothic church has a sign out front that said “Alien Rock – Come climb with us!” Intrigued, we walk through the doors and see that this old church had been transformed into a rock climbing center, with walls of all skill levels covering the entire interior of the building. Interestingly, the original ceiling of the church is still visible, as is part of a stained glass window peeking over one of the climbing walls. We are absolutely enthralled by this discovery and spend some time watching expert climbers haul themselves up the harder section, clipping carabiners on their way up.
We make our way back to Leith for dinner at a place called Khublai Khan's, which is a Mongolian buffet with exotic meats. And I mean exotic. So here's how it works: you add a starch to your bowl (noodles or rice) and add whatever vegetables you want. Then you choose from a huge selection of spices and sauces to mix in (as well as a menu of suggested combinations of flavors). Then add your meat. Here is what they have: zebra, kangaroo, wildebeest, venison, ostrich, camel, a game mix of venison, pheasant and rabbit, wild boar, baby octopus, prawns, squid, mussels, haddock/cod, and the regular beef and chicken. I assemble bowls with wild boar and camel, while Matt puts together bowls of zebra, kangaroo and wildebeest.
We try a bit of each other's food and determine that we like the camel and the wildebeest the best (both are very tender and mild), but they are all very good. I also get a dessert with my meal—a toffee pudding with ice cream. It's actually more of a toffee cake drizzled with toffee syrup a la mode. We've noticed this dessert on pretty much every menu here in Scotland, and now I understand why.
We leave Khublai Khan's feeling stuffed, but we decide to make the 2-mile walk back to Old Town instead of taking the bus. To pass the time and take my mind off my tired feet, I sing Irish songs under my breath. By the time we make it back to New Town and Princes Street, the sky is painted with the oranges and yellows of the already-set sun. Scott Monument is a stoic silhouette against the evening colors; Edinburgh Castle, atop its perch above Princes Street Gardens, has a deep pink hue to it, as does the entire panorama of the Old Town rooftops.
When we finally trudge up Cockburn to our apartment, we flop down on the couches and relax for about an hour before we go back out to the Royal Mile at about 9. We somehow manage to grab a table in the packed Whiski Bar and order a first round of cider for me and a Bruichladdich Organic whisky for Matt (which has notes of toffee in the nose and a very light smoky aftertaste). Second round is a Bailey's latte for me and, for Matt, an 18-year-old Glendronach (aged in a sherry cask, with some sort of smoke or peat aftertaste).
At 10, a traditional folk band—Old Town Sessions—begins playing a set of toe-tapping fiddle music and lively beats, as the crowd cheers and claps along. We stay for the duration of the first set and head back out into the 45-degree night, which feels refreshing after the balmy, body-heated warmth of the pub. On our walk back to Cockburn, we pass pub after pub, each with a live band that can be heard from the sidewalk. The songs range from traditional folk to contemporary pop; the Scotsman's Lounge has the singer that we watched on our second night here. Everywhere we walk, the night is alive with guitars and fiddles.
We return to our flat and happily take some time to put our feet up. Let's do the math—to and from Leith is about 4.4 miles total, plus 2 miles to and from Newhaven and Leith. And taking into account the walk up into New Town for breakfast, the hike up and around Calton Hill, and the walk down the Royal Mile, I'd estimate we walked about 9 miles today.
And tomorrow we are in for another busy day—a train trip! Finally Matt will be able to get outside Edinburgh and see a little bit of the surrounding area. But right now, we are looking forward to a good night's sleep.