Our morning began with a walk to Grassmarket in search of a breakfast place I had found online. As you can guess from its title, this was once a grassy market area where livestock was sold, but it was also a place of public executions, with commemorative plaque at the spot once occupied by the gibbet. In a period known as ‘The Killing Time’ (1661-1688) over 100 Covenanters were executed here (Covenanters were a Scottish Presbyterian movement). But you would never know, just walking through the old market area, surrounded by pubs, clubs and shops on a warm September morning, of this gruesome aspect of its history.
We found our sought after venue for breakfast, Caffe Piccolo, only to discover that it was closed for the owner’s wedding! Such a lovely reason for not opening for business, but that did not help us in our search for breakfast. So instead of setting out again for one of the many recommended spots online, we found a little unassuming place called Look Café – the kind man was happy to make me anything on the all day menu for breakfast, so I indulged in the falafel wrap – delicious (am not a big fan of traditional western breakfasts).
From there we walked to Charlotte Square, arriving just as they were opening The Georgian House (no. 7 Charlotte Square) owned by the National Trust. Scotland’s branch of this trust certainly knows how to preserve and present their properties. We started with an excellent film on the (almost) top floor that had actors re-enacting a day in the life of the original owners of the property. One might think this could be a bit ‘naff’ but it was very informative and well made (good camera angles). Spent a surprising two hours there, including my time in the shop, which is unusual these days – while I always like to look, I’m more likely to be in and out of the shop in a flash without buying anything. This time we walked out with a few trinkets and plush, personal grooming items. Really enjoyed chatting with the NT volunteers, too. Very knowledgeable about the property and engaging with their stories, not just rattling off dates and facts.
At the western end of George St, was Las Iguanas. I had found this place online and flagged it as a possible choice for a meal because it had oodles of vegetarian options (and vegan and gluten free, too), AND it was South American. What a find! Both of our choices were Brazilian, and they were so tasty that it was tempting to return, but we didn’t (at least, not in Edinburgh – there is another in Glasgow – yep, flagged already!).
Full of vegetarian, spicy, Brazilian goodness, we wandered down George St, which used to be the financial centre of Edinburgh. Since that was moved to another part of town, this precinct has become a hub of fabulous restaurants and upmarket boutique shops. A lovely spot for an amble in the warm autumn afternoon.
And the weather has been tops! Now THAT is something that we weren’t prepared for. It’s been glorious so far, so it will be interesting to see how long it lasts! Apparently it had been raining for the few weeks leading up to our arrival, so we certainly got lucky!
Popped across to the National Gallery for a brief visit, eating up the gems in the collection. Love that cities offer up such beautiful delicacies for free. Art and culture is so much a part of who we are as human beings, both as individuals and as societies, so it shouldn’t just be for those who can afford it. Shame that some of our performing arts are beyond the financial reach of a lot of people. At least we have the inanimate work of visual art, full of life of another sort that is within everyone’s grasp to experience, if they want it.
More wandering through the New Town until we ended up in Café Royal Circle Bar – an iconic pub that takes you back in time to the Victorian era as you walk through the door. We scored a corner booth, smaller than the rest, intimate and cosy. Timed our visit well – it was the last booth, and the place filled pretty quickly after that (we were there about 3pm). I had a ½ pint and John a full pint of their recommended EPA brew on tap (extra pale ale). It was suitably aromatic. The tiled portraits of Scottish inventors on the wall were a stylish touch, adding to the charm and atmosphere of this heritage-listed gem.
Dinner was had in Mother India Café. They offer a new take on Indian food – tapas! Don’t know why more Indian restaurants don’t do this, it’s a great way to share a bunch of dishes and try new options. Of course, we ordered too much, but had them box up the rest for leftovers.
Royal Yacht Britannia
On our final full day in Edinburgh we caught the bus to The Royal Yacht Britannia, now permanently moored at Ocean Terminal. Such a classy lady…as is the Queen, for toning down all the original ostentatious designs submitted for her approval when it was built in the 1950s. Everything was understated yet stylish, not at all flashy royal! All of the bedrooms contained single beds, which surprised me, except for the lone double bed brought on board by Charles for his and Diana’s honeymoon.
It looked to be a nice life for the ‘yotties’ on board – the Association of Royal Yachtsmen. Not quite the same gig as that of a regular sailor in the navy, that’s for sure! It was a beautifully preserved museum, a fascinating, timewarp experience.
Employed one of our usual plans of going to a fine dining restaurant for lunch rather than dinner, making the most of the incredible two or three course lunch menus on offer. Today’s venue was Wedgwood the Restaurant with the incredible bargain of £14.95 for two courses of vegetarian deliciousness with an Argentine Torrontes to accompany it, quality at a bargain price.
Caught a bus to Dean Village (west of Charlotte Square). Gave a pound to a guy with a dog in his lap who I had seen earlier near the train station, but had no change to give him the first time. We had a bit of a chat and I patted the dog. Nice guy.
Dean Village is a labyrinthine medieval pocket of Edinburgh that is unbelievably charming. I know that the continuing sunlight on the day of our visit enhanced the enchantment, and the realty of downpours and slippery cobblestones in winter would soon tarnish its allure, but for the moment we indulged in the fantasy of a life in this little corner of the world. Would cost a bomb to live there!
We climbed Calton Hill for the vantage point that took in the length of Princes Street, with greater Edinburgh fading into the afternoon sun. It was a weird little spot in its attempts to look like Athens. There was a Parthenon-like structure that was half finished because money ran out during the Napoleonic wars when it was being built, and they’ve never bothered to get back to it. This incomplete Parthenon is officially called the National Monument. There was also a columned rotunda (Dugald Stewart Monument), the tower that is the Nelson Monument, and an observatory – all a bit random and ‘folly-esque’. But clearly a popular spot for people with time for rest and relaxation.
We schlepped back to our digs where we had a nap before dinner. We finally had a meal at ‘our place’, the Inn on the Mile. We enjoyed the special of the day, tomato soup, a falafel and spinach burger and some buttered broccoli, accompanied by prosecco and red wine for me, and beer and whisky for John.
Of course, we couldn’t leave this historic city without another evening walk. Well-placed lights complimented the contours of medieval stone of stately buildings. Just like all classy ladies as they age, lighting can make a great deal of flattering difference to these old girls, and so we savoured our last moments with them, smitten.
Accommodation: Inn on the Mile, Edinburgh
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Part 2 (current): The New Town & Britannia