A Travellerspoint blog

Oasis in the city

sunny 56 °F

We both wake up early and, at about 8 a.m., walk out into the cold streets to grab breakfast together before Matt leaves for work. We stop at every cafe and coffee shop we see, figuring that people would be grabbing some food or ordering coffee and baked goods on their way to work. However, that is definitely not what happens here. Every coffee shop is closed; we don't find a single place to eat that opens before 8:30 or 9. Wouldn't the morning rush be prime time for the coffee shops? Chalk this up as another big difference between Scotland and the U.S.--no early breakfasts or pre-work coffee!

After our unsuccessful but refreshing walk through Cockburn and the Royal Mile, we return to the apartment and I lay half asleep on the couch while Matt makes his food. After he leaves, I can't seem to drag myself away from the barrage of American shows (Ugly Betty, Rules of Engagement, Supernanny US), especially not when it feels so good to relax and not rush off for somewhere.

A little after 10, I shower and head out the door for a walk up north into New Town. The entire walk is pretty much a steep grade downhill, and the bright wide streets and Georgian-style townhouses with wrought-iron gates, railings and balconies are very striking compared to Old Town.

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By Edinburgh standards, New Town is relatively modern. But by Ohio standards, it is still pretty old. Most the buildings were constructed in the mid-18th and 19th centuries as an answer to the overcrowding in Old Town; the streets are laid out in a grid and are very light and airy. And, I notice, the streets are lined mostly restaurants and cafes, offices, or townhouses, not nearly as many shops as Old Town. But I do like it; Old Town, despite the beauty and history, can be considered cramped and dark even on a sunny day, so a walk into New Town is a nice excursion.

While in New Town, I visit the Royal Botanic Gardens, which is described as one of the most beautiful places in Edinburgh. And it really is. Once you enter the gates, there are woodlands, paths, rock gardens, beautifully manicured hedges, and flowers everywhere. The gardens are laid out by region or theme. For example, there is a Scottish heath garden, native woodland, Chinese hillside and pavilion, Chilean terrace garden, and a section in the center of the garden where, while standing on the hill, you can see the rooftops and spires of the city over the trees.

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I spend a few hours wandering along the paths and admiring the landscaping. And the weather is simply perfect; though it is the standard chilly 56 degrees, the sun continues to shine and adds a touch of warmth. It is easy in this Garden of Eden to forget about the hustle and bustle of life just outside the garden's gates and hedges.

I grab lunch at a quaint, stylish cafe a couple of blocks from the botanical garden called the Circle Cafe. It has high ceilings, beautiful stone and brick walls, and stone slab floors, and patrons are seated at the tables eating lunch or having afternoon tea (advertised as coffee or tea with finger sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, and homemade cakes). I order an open-face skirt steak sandwich on ciabatta with lemon mayonnaise. Yes, it is as delicious as it sounds.

I notice that, unlike in the States, it is perfectly normal for people to eat alone in restaurants (I'm guessing that is because there are so many travelers in Europe, and also the culture calls for more of a cafe-centered type of lifestyle). There are a few people just sipping their cappuccinos, reading the paper or writing in journals. I suppose while going to a cafe in the U.S. is largely a social affair, the cafes over here have a sense of leisure, a chance for people to decompress.

The walk back into Old Town is pretty much how I expected it to be—tiring. It's all uphill for two miles so I walk slowly and take in my surroundings. Overhead, Scottish construction workers with syrupy accents clamor around scaffolding outside a renovated building, singing in unison at the top of their lungs. When I approach Princes Street at the southern edge of New Town, I hear bagpipes like I normally do while walking around Edinburgh, but then I notice that it is accompanied by drums and realize its a Scottish band. I join a crowd of people near the National Gallery and the Princes Street Gardens, and the group, the Spitting Blowfish, has the bagpiper and drummer, as well as a guitarist. They end up being pretty entertaining so I stick around until the end of their set.

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The Princes Street Gardens are nearby, so I walk through the gated garden and pass numerous people lounging in the plush grass, sipping Starbucks or talking on their phones. I reach the Scott Monument and pay 3 pounds to climb all 287 steps to the top. Along the way there are different tiers where you can take a break from the extremely tight stone spiral staircase and check out the views; each time, I think I'm at the top of the monument until I find another set of stairs to climb.

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From each lookout point, the views are incredible in every direction. Because it is such a clear day you can see all the way to the sea in one direction, and then Arthur's Seat and the castle in others. I can still hear bagpipe music on the wind but I can't tell where it is coming from.

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The walkway around the top spire is so narrow that you cannot walk freely around it if there are other people up there with you; it is impossible to move past each other. The staircase leading up to the top is also very narrow, so narrow that both of my shoulders bump the sides as I climb. It's a good thing I'm thin. At one point on my climb back down, there is a group of people making their way to the top and we end up in a stalemate. We all take off our backpacks and flatten ourselves against the walls of the staircase, and our stomachs rub against each other as we squeeze past. Not ideal, but it works.

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By the time I reach the bottom of the monument my legs are burning and I'm more than happy to return to the apartment to relax. When Matt comes home from work a little after 5:30, we go to dinner at a pub on Cockburn called the Malt Shovel. It is tastefully decorated with worn leather seats and antique photos on the walls. We each order a cider (I get an Aspall Draught Suffolk, which is appley and tastes a little like sauvignon blanc. You drink this one over ice. Matt gets Country Perry, a pear cider) and for dinner, I order hand-battered cod and chips and Matt gets a sirloin steak with peppercorn sauce and veggies. The cod is enormous and stretches across my entire plate, the batter satisfyingly crispy. I should note that this is the first time in my entire life that I've ordered seafood at a restaurant; normally I just take a few bites of Matt's because seafood makes me nervous, but you can't go to the UK without ordering fish and chips, right?

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After dinner, in the tradition of our trip, Matt orders a 10-year-old Isle of Jura whisky, which has notes of almond and spice. I don't really taste either of those flavors, but Matt says its good. So far, he says he likes the campfire ash from last night the most.

Tonight, satisfied by our tasty dinner and drinks, we plan to relax and just watch a little TV or read. I've pretty much been sightseeing and never sitting still since we arrived, and now that Matt is doing a 9-to-5 routine this week, we both need to put our feet up and recuperate. I also need to plan my excursions for tomorrow. Who knows what the day will hold?

Posted by GoWander 14:30 Archived in Scotland

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