Spring Break in the UK – Day 6: Edinburgh

18 May

We were rushing around in the train stations again on Thursday morning. This time, it was to catch a budget flight north to Edinburgh.  We had been lucky with the weather on the trip thus far, with high temperatures in the 55-65°F range and no rain (warmer and dryer than typical London climate).  However, the spring drizzle was upon us this Thursday with noticeably lower temperatures.  Upon landing in Edinburgh, it felt like a mild, rainy Texas winter.  A short ride on the Airlink airport shuttle (complete with plaid seat coverings), we arrived at our modern, comfortable hotel south of the Royal Mile near the University of Edinburgh.  We checked out a college favorite for lunch, Kebab Mahal (7 Nicholson Square).

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With a colorful and low-budget exterior, along with late night weekend hours (open until 2:00am), this joint serves traditional tandoor and curry dishes at cheap prices for a quick meal or a late night munchies cure. 

Inside, we found an interesting mix of sleep-deprived graduate students and tweed-clad professor types dining at the tables and a few construction workers and college students lined up for kebab takeout. We decided on the chicken tikka masala (£5.55) and the lamb tikka bhuna (£4.15), excellent values for budget-minded travelers.

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I’m not a big fan of lamb curries so I only had one bite of that dish (I don’t like that lamb-y taste , I love lamb in Greek food because the gyro meat doesn’t have that lamb-y taste). The chicken tikka had tender, moist chunks swimming in a creamy, exotic sauce. An excellent topper to the fragrant Basmatic rice and naan.

Interesting side note: when we got change from lunch, we were given some unfamiliar banknotes. As it turns out, the Scottish have their own currency which is valued the same as the British pound. The two currencies are interchangeable in Scotland, though the Scottish currency is sometimes not accepted in England. Tricky, tricky.

Our lunch at Kebab Mahal was perhaps the only lucky chance-happening on our first day in Scotland. Though the drizzle stopped in the afternoon, we were unlucky in practically every sight-seeing attempt.  We decided to tackle the Royal Mile on this afternoon, only to find that Edinburgh Castle, our first stop, was closed due to a water outage.  So we trekked along the Royal Mile to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland.  We stopped along the way at the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre for a quick tasting.  I had been to a couple of promotional Scotch tastings in Dallas (Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker) and found that it’s an acquired taste that I haven’t quite acquired.  I let my companion enjoy his single malt fun but saved my thirst for something better later.

I found that better (and equally warming) beverage a few blocks later at Plaisir du Chocolat

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A cup of piping hot, rich, slightly bitter hot chocolate (£2.00) is just what the doctor called for on this slightly chilly day.

We made our way to the end of the Royal Mile and arrived at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, only to discover that the winter operation hours were still in effect in March and the Palace had closed 15 minutes prior to our arrival.  Failed sight-seeing attempt #2.

Discouraged and annoyed, we decided to relieve our pent up frustration in the form of exercise, a hike up Calton Hill.  When we finally arrived at the top, it was worth every step and almost made up for all the sights we’d missed that day.

View of Edinburgh (right down Princes Street) from atop Calton Hill at sunset:

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It was windy atop that hill, though!  Time to warm up with the late afternoon pub crawl.  We started out at the Guildform Arms (West Register Street right off of Princes Street).  Over 100 years old, the pub serves a good selection of ales and over 20 malt whiskys. 

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Our second stop was The Abbotsford (1-5 Rose Street, New Town), a larger pub with a restaurant upstairs (where we eventually had dinner).  With a slight younger crowd than the Guildford Arms, The Abbotsford appeared to be a popular hangout for young professionals looking to unwind after a long day at work.  One thing we seem to consistently notice in these pubs is that the Scottish tend to serve their ales colder than the English (whose ales are barely colder than room temperature), slightly more accomodating to our “colder is better” American beer taste.

For whatever reason (too many beers, probably), neither of us were too hungry for dinner.  We decided to split a cheeseburger at the restaurant at the Abbotsford for dinner, which is actually a semi-upscale joint, so we felt a little out of place getting a burger while dressed down in our tourist tennis shoes and casual clothes.

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The place was so nice that they pre-split our burger and gave us twice the fries and salad.  It’s a simple burger but it was a quality, tasty one with 100% lean Aberdeen ground beef and fresh toppers.  Of course, with a £8.45 price tag, one would expect an exceptional burger.

We were tired since we got up really early to catch our flight to Edinburgh.  We decided to stop at the Royal Oak (1 Infirmary Street) near University of Edinburgh to see some live Scottish folk music acts before calling it an early night.  Somehow our short stop turned into a 4 hour visit.  Between chatting with Bob the bartender, Allen the folk musician, and Joe the librarian about anything from sports (soccer and American football) to politics (Scottish independence, Bush and the war in Iraq), we were downing pints of ale and having a great time.  It was the kind of evening that really rescued our otherwise mostly disappointing day of sight-seeing.  It was the kind of evening that all tourists are looking for, to hang out where the locals do and to participate in their everyday life.  Between drinking one too many Kopparbergs (Swedish pear cider) and folk lyrics like “fair maiden, don’t let that sailor boy one inch above your knee” playing in the background, going to bed was the last thing on my mind.  A couple of interesting quotes from the Scotsmen on the issue of Scottish independence:

“I don’t hate the English.  I hate the English media.”

“A patriot’s not the same thing as a nationalist.  A patriot is someone who loves his country, a nationalist is someone who hates everyone else’s.”

I had no idea such strong resentment against the English still existed here. 

It turns out that Joe the librarian lives outside of Edinburgh near the town of Roslin, home of Rosslyn Chapel, where they filmed the final scenes of The Da Vinci Code.  Joe insisted that it was a worthwhile sidetrip while we were in Scotland, even with our short schedule.  Now, anyone who has traveled with me knows that I am very much an itinerary person.  I do extensive travel research beforehand and plan out almost every activity to pack all the days we’re on vacation (it can be so exhausting sometimes that we have to give up some of the activities).  For me to agree to this, a random side trip suggested by a guy at a random pub that we had no idea how to get transportation to, was completely against my normal control freak nature.  I must have had quite a few drinks.

With that, we stumbled back to the hotel with a trip to Rosslyn Chapel on our minds.

Onto Day 7 

Back to Day 5

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2 Responses to “Spring Break in the UK – Day 6: Edinburgh”

  1. VindalooQueen 05/13/2010 at 3:22 am #

    Hi, just a question. Is the kebab mahal ok to go in for a woman on her own? or would I look out of place?
    Thanks, VindalooQueen

  2. donnaaries 05/13/2010 at 7:29 am #

    Hi VindalooQueen, this article is from a trip I took to the UK 3 years ago. From what I could tell at the time, there should be no problems for a woman to go on her own to this restaurant. It’s near the university and caters to a diverse clientele.

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