Tuesday, 9 January 2018

A long weekend in Edinburgh

I get the WORST January blues.

I try, I really do. Every year I think ‘this year, I’m going to OWN January. I am going to be all shiny and new, and drink two litres of water a day and take up yoga.’ Every year I THINK this will happen - I think I've had enough of excess and will be pleased to get back to normal life. But the shift from the sparkle of December to the dullness of January – from drinking prosecco at 5pm every day and guiltlessly eating chocolate oranges for breakfast, to swilling down green juice and spiralising courgettes – it’s just too great for me. Unlike September, when I get a proper ‘back to school’ refreshed feeling and I want to buy new books and start anew, January makes me want to hibernate. I want to stay in my room with the Christmas tree up, chain-drinking caramel lattes and eating cut-priced advent calendar chocolates until it’s Spring.

Luckily, after hoping year after year that this would be the January I came out of my cocoon rather than hid in it, I’ve figured out that it's just never going to happen. So to pre-empt my January blues and try to see them off a bit, I decided to book a little long weekend for my husband and I in the first week of January.  I know, it seems extravagant to take time off when you’ve only just gone back to work – but honestly, it helped SO much. (Plus the trip was his birthday present…something about birds and stones…)

I picked Edinburgh because Ian had never been and I knew he wanted to go and my budget didn’t stretch to the Maldives (plus also – nobody wants to see me in a bikini in January). In hindsight, perhaps I should’ve picked somewhere that wasn’t COLDER THAN YOUR EX-BOYFRIEND’S COLD DEAD HEART.

But never mind.

I had been to Edinburgh once before, but a.) It was eons ago, b.) I was hungover and c.) all I can actually remember is walking around with my Dad for ages to find this clock made out of flowers that he remembered from his childhood (we did find it and he said ‘hmm, not as impressive as I recall,’ and we wandered off). So off we went. I did a little shout out for recommendations on Twitter/FB before I left and my friends actually really came through for me, so I thought in case YOU were considering a lil mini break (and you really should), I’d do a little round up of what we did/ate/liked – and actually get it up on the blog on a timely basis!!!

I know. Wonders will never cease. Well, that’s the longest introduction of all time, so I will get on with it!

Where we stayed
We stayed in the Residence Inn by Marriott and I couldn’t recommend it more for a really reasonably priced stay.  It’s about 10 minutes from the beautiful old town, so you can easily walk everywhere, but it also has some really nice bars and restaurants nearby and despite being very central, it’s in a nice quiet area. Plus there’s a Sainsbury’s and a Starbucks next door – winning. Also, we got upgraded to a suite, which was huge and gorgeous (I mean, we didn’t use the kitchen but it did mean I could put my diet cokes in the  fridge). If you want to see a tour of my room, it's on my Highlighted stories on Instagram (@Catscruse) -it really felt like a luxury hotel without the price tag. 
The main test with any hotel of course is the breakfast buffet, which in my opinion was really good with loads of options. My husband moaned that there weren’t enough hot breakfast items for a vegetarian who doesn’t eat eggs – which I think reflects more on him that it does on the hotel, so there we are.


What we did

First off, Edinburgh is just the most beautiful city and the thing I’d recommend most is just going for a wander, looking around, soaking up the atmosphere and looking at all the buildings and saying ‘What is that?’ and ‘Wow,’ and ‘Isn’t it pretty, though?’ It really is the most stunning place. We were lucky and caught the very last weekend of the Christmas markets, which were also beautiful and incorporated really well into the city (we did walk through them actually taking DOWN the Christmas markets on our last day, which was a little more depressing, but hey ho!) We had so many completely random, lovely moments – too many to mention, but as an example, on our first night we ended up wandering right up to the castle and it looks so nice all illuminated in the darkness.
So wander. On that note, wear comfortable shoes - we walked a LOT. My Garmin HR didn’t know what hit it.

The obvious one, so I thought I’d start with it – we went to the castle on Saturday morning and it is well worth a visit. Tickets are £17.50 which I guess is slightly on the steep side, but there is so much to do and see and you can really see where the money has been spent, so I personally didn’t feel hard done by. You could easily spend upwards  of 3 hours there (and some of it is indoors, which is a relief when the weather is sub-zero.) I particularly enjoyed seeing the Crown Jewels (or the ‘Honours of Scotland’, as they are known). We were also there for the one o’clock gun, which used to be used to set the maritime clock, and is now used to make an entire crowd of people jump/make girls sigh because they didn’t manage to capture it on their Instagram stories.
We went on a Saturday at prime time and had to queue for about 10 minutes for tickets, but it didn’t feel unpleasantly busy or crowded when we were in there.

A recommendation from my good friend Alexa (real life person, not robot), we headed to this quirky attraction on Friday night as it was raining and I don’t own any waterproof shoes. This also meant it was night time, so we didn’t actually get to see the museum’s main attraction (a room in which you can see the whole of Edinburgh in one image on the table), because it runs off sunlight. (We could’ve gone back the next day to see it, but we didn’t have time, sadly).
However, the rest of the attraction was genuinely more than worth it even without that. We started at the top and worked down, where my husband borrowed a stunning umbrella and we took in the seriously incredible views of the city. Then we worked our way down room by room – I don’t want to spoil all the rooms because it’s honestly so much fun, but there are optical illusions, holograms, light shows… it is BRILLIANT. There were no queues at all on the Friday night but we did notice it was out of the door the next day, and it being crowded would spoil it slightly so I would try and go when it’s quieter. But just go. I was a bit dubious but it was one of the best things we did.

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

After spending the morning at Edinburgh Castle (and then thawing my hands out on a Café Nero caramel latte, which – I’m going to be real – just isn’t as nice as Starbucks), we went on a tour of the Real Mary King’s Close. We booked this in advance on the morning – I think if it wasn’t a weekend day you’d be fine to just show up – and our tour group was full, which was just about okay – they could probably reduce it by 3-4 to make it really easy for everyone to see/hear everything because at one point quite a large man trod on my foot and that wasn’t necessarily ideal. But this (a recommendation from my friend Lili) is SUCH a cool and weird place – a 17th century street which, rather than knock down, the council at the time just covered up and built over to create their chamber buildings. So down below is pretty much perfect, untouched street straight out of the 17th century. Our tour guide was really informative and knew a lot of the history and gory details (and ghost stories!) – if you’re a fan of history or architecture you will love it. It’s also just so fascinating as a concept – imagine if now, someone just built over your street and plonked a building on top?!

So. Arthur’s Seat (or Arthur’s Bum, as my Dad refers to it).
This was my husband’s pick and I said ‘sure, okay babe, whatever you want to do,’ without really thinking about it. He just assumed I knew what Arthur’s Seat was, having been to Edinburgh before, but I didn’t for some reason.  And so he didn’t really mention to me that it involved WALKING UP A MOUNTAIN. (I don’t know what I thought Arthur’s Seat was, before you ask – a nice chair, maybe? A throne? Who knows).  
Obviously therefore I was hilariously underprepared (I literally had my nice handbag with me – luckily he had at least told me to wear trainers, unlike my friend Nikki who admitted later she’d done it in ballet slippers) and he had to carry half my belongings as we staggered upwards.
However, it is worth the trek – the views are really beyond anything I’ve seen in a long time. The landscape just spreads out forever, like a blanket under the sunshine. At the top we found puddles of water still completely frozen, with birds attempting to peck their way through, but despite it being 0 degrees it actually felt really warm in the sunshine. I was also quite proud of myself because a few years ago I don’t think I’d have been fit enough to do it and really it wasn’t that much of a struggle.
It is very busy and you could easily do a quieter walk up one of the smaller peaks around it which would still give you an epic view. We know this because despite the crowds we managed to get lost on the way down. Don’t even ask.

After we’d done our walk on Sunday and then had some lunch, the temperature really, really dropped. Like it was minus one and you could feel it. Normally in these situations, if I’m being honest, we just go to the pub, but this time I pulled up Sophie Cliff’s blogpost on her weekend in Edinburgh and saw that she’d enjoyed a trip to the National Museum of Scotland which was a.) free and b.) really near where we were sheltering in a restaurant with the waitress kind of hinting that we couldn’t stay all day. As it was also crucially c.) indoors, we went for a visit. It’s a really, really good museum, with something for everyone – we really liked the wildlife section (I just love giraffes, don’t you?) but the science bit, which includes Dolly the sheep and a robot which can spell your name, was also good for idling away the afternoon. Definitely worth a visit to get your cultural fix.

Where to eat/drink

This isn’t everywhere we ate/drank – just a couple of places I wanted to give an honourable mention. We wanted to have brunch at Urban Angel, a recommendation from my friend Nikki, but sadly it was full – and we equally wanted to have dinner at The Witchery, a recommendation from my brilliant blogger friend Clara, but sadly we couldn’t get a reservation there either (I know, we are very disorganised). We’ll just have to go back! A couple of places I really would recommend checking out, however:

When we didn’t get into Urban Angel we padded down the street and about two doors down we found this epic little brunch spot, which was really cosy and friendly and had loads of veggie options for my picky, egg hating husband. He had a bagel and I had an omelette (I love eggs, like a normal person) and both were really, really good.

I LOVE good Mexican food, but I HATE bad Mexican food, and the trouble is that Mexican restaurants can be so hit and miss so it’s always a risk. Luckily, this time the risk paid off. Honestly, I would go back just to have the nachos alone – they were so salty and crispy and the guacamole was chunky and fresh and delicious – but I also ate this epic prawn salad and it made me feel happy about eating a salad (I know, I’m on holiday but it’s still January, sad face).

This is the café where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter! My friend Lili, the world’s biggest Harry Potter fan (possibly, except those people who get the scars tattooed on them which I think is a bit far), recommended this place to me and I’m so glad she did. If you want to go inside without eating/drinking anything you can but they ask you to pay £1 (which I think is completely fair because otherwise there’d just be a load of tourists bumbling about taking photos whilst customers tried to eat in peace), but if you want to go I would just spend another £1 and get a  coffee, which is what we did. There’s pictures of her writing there and letters from fans, and I put my hand on the table and tried to soak up her talent by osmosis. Pretty sure it worked, I’ll let you know when I make my millions.

Ting Saboteur
On Sunday afternoon after our epic trek up Arthur's Seat, we decided to get Vietnamese and went to Ting Saboteur. Which makes it sound SO EASY, but what we actually did was search the entire city for a restaurant, go into about 8 and leave again, before finally winding up back where we started.
But I am so glad we did because this little find was probably my favourite meal of the week. We had mains and shared a side and every bite was absolutely delicious and this ENTIRE MEAL came to £25. Honestly, if you're even close to nearby, GO. It's like the best kind of meal, where you feel completely happy  and satiated but not like you've done something bad!

PHEW. Okay so that is that – my little Edinburgh round up! I want to go back because despite visiting lots of pubs I still don’t feel like I found the perfect quintessential Scottish-pub vibe I was looking for, and also we didn’t get to do any kind of whiskey/gin experience (sacrilege basically) and I want to eat at all the places we missed. But I MIGHT go back when it’s not freezing. If that happens in Scotland. So if you have been, and think I missed something crucial, let me know!


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