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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Edinburgh: Arrival and the Princes Street Gardens

     Our time in Edinburgh turned out to be a wonderful experience but it was not an auspicious start.  First, the very popular Edinburgh Festival was still going on so we were dealing with double the usual population of the city as soon as we got out of the Edinburgh Waverly (train) Station.  Crowded sidewalks, meager directions to our bed and breakfast (our fault), and a hike up too many stairs with our suitcases to get to the main bridge, and no wifi connection left me ready to just head to the airport.  That's when we had our first experience with the friendliness of the people of Edinburgh.  A young man stopped and asked where we needed to go, pulled up the bus app on his phone, told us what bus we needed, gave us a printed map he happened to have, and pointed us to the nearest bus stop.
See that little white building down there?  That's part of the Waverly Station as seen from the North Bridge.  Yep, we dragged our suitcases up all of those stairs.

     We were a little apprehensive to see what our accommodations would be because we had booked so late (booking in June for an August-September trip during the Edinburgh Festival is late), but the Dorstan Guest House turned out to be a good choice.  Like many of the bed and breakfasts in Europe, it is an older (19th-century in this case) house that has been turned into a guest facility.  We encountered lovely hosts, a decent-sized double room with an ensuite bathroom, and ate hearty breakfasts every day we were there.  To top it off, we were a 5-minute walk from the bus stop with multiple buses that made the 15-minute journey into the city center.

The outside of the Dorstan Guest House

This shot of the entry way will give you an idea of the style of the inside.

     Once we got settled, we decided there was still enough time in the day to wander around part of Edinburgh so we took the bus right back to where we had arrived.  We wandered around the Princes Street Gardens, a beautiful space occupying a valley that once held the Nor' Loch, a boggy depression that was drained in the 19th-century.
Part of the Prices Street Garden.  Notice the Edinburgh Castle looming over everything.

We were impressed by the size of this thistle plant, so Don stuck me in front of it as a gauge.

The Ross Fountain

We stopped to admire the Ross Fountain (pictured above).  This French cast-iron fountain was exhibited at the International Exhibition of 1862 in London and bought by an Edinburgh gun maker and philanthropist as a gift to the city.  The city was not as appreciative of it as the gun maker (many considered it to be an affront to morality and decency) as it took over 10 years until the city finally finished erecting it in the Princes Garden.  Sadly, it needs more conservation work before the water can be turned on again.

Is there ever a public monument free of birds?  Don wanted a photo of the sun on the metal of the sculpture but never got that chance because it started raining.

   We took time to visit the Royal Scots Regimental Memorial located in the gardens.  The memorial lists the battles fought from Tangier in 1680 to Burma from 1943-47 on slabs of stone.  The fence (part shown here) is decorated with roundels depicting the monarchs that the regiment has served from Charles I to George VI.  In 2007, further plaques in stone and bronze were added to update the history of the regiment.

 Part of the Royal Scots Regimental Memorial

          The largest feature in the area is the Scott Monument, built to commemorate Walter Scott, one of Scotland's greatest novelists.  Built between 1840 and 1844, the structure is 200 feet 6 inches (61.1 meters) high,  made of Binny sandstone from West Lothian, sports statues of Scott himself plus most of  the characters from his novels, and contains 287 steps to the top.  We didn't climb them.

The Scott Monument

A closer view of part of the Scott Monument.

      After the gardens, we wandered around the city center a bit, stopping to watch some of the street entertainment that was part of the Festival and browsing the craft stands nearby.  I bought this juniper and oak trivet from Pure Juniper, a London company that also sells their items in Edinburgh.  The trivet has such a lovely smell to it. 

Oak and juniper trivet

     By that time we were hungry, so we stumbled through the crowds in the Old Town (that part of town built before the 18th century) to find a place to eat.  Every restaurant was busy but we managed to get a place at the tiny Taste of Scotland Bistro on Lawnmarket.  We had fish and chips and I tried a Scottish apple cider to go with dinner.  I thought it was a bit pricey but the fish was nicely cooked, the fries were hot, the cider was cold, and the mushy peas were not overcooked and had a bit of mint in them. Yes I know there is a reason the side dish is called mushy peas but these actually had some flavor to them.
     That was the end of our first day in Edinburgh and I think quite enough photos for now.  Next stop: the Edinburgh Castle.

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