Last time I was in Edinburgh, it was 2008 and we were on a mission. We were there to visit Edinburgh Castle and boy did we ever. We explored the hell out of that castle. We listened to audio clips about every cannon, gate and wall. Every word was fascinating and boy did we learn a lot of facts to forget later.
So with a little less than two days in Edinburgh, I decided that the Castle was one tour I'd skip. We had arrived on Thursday and gone out to diner, but that was an uneventful meal at a pub, cut short by loud, live music.
On Friday, while most of the group went to the castle by taxi, my brother, father and I walked for an hour to the Royal Mile. Walking through Edinburgh was kind of important to me. Not just to save a few pounds (or try to shed a few) but because I wanted to see more of the city and I love to walk. Edinburgh is strikingly similar to Montreal aside from certain very mild differences. Obviously the 'European' dial is turned to ten. Cars, brands, restaurant and store chains are all foreign to us except for a few outliers. Apart from that, the mix of old and new architecture is everywhere. People have the same pace and streets have very similar smell. Even once on the Mile, the tourist activity and shops are extremely reminiscent of Saint-Paul street in the Montreal Old Port.
We went down the Mile to Holyrood Castle where we took a break, and then back up the Mile and towards the Game Hub. Warning non-nerds: geek talk ahead.
The Game Hub is a gaming store in Edinburgh and its on the razor's edge between awesome and terrible. It's awesome because it's got a lot of the ingredients that I believe makes a successful game store. It had hot paninis, coffee, snacks and drinks, gaming space and even board games for people to enjoy. The staff was friendly and very welcoming. However, being in Edinburgh, where space is both at a premium and building configurations are sort of messed up, the store is divided into a series of smaller rooms spread over two floors like a gaming warren.
We played a board game called Formula D. It was fun. I tasted Scotland's second national beverage, Iron Bru. It was not fun. After the first game though, I was eager to go back to visiting the city and that's what we did.
Killed some time wandering the streets, walking the Mile some more, until we decided to get some food. We walked into the first pub with wifi and sat down to have a pint and some food. I'm kicking myself for not taking down the name of the place, because it had fantastic haggis and was, for the most part populated by locals. The wifi however was an utter disappointment.
After diner, we meandered our way towards the Real Mary King Close tour, where we met up up with the rest of the tour group. The tour was broken up into two parts: a tour of the close under the city streets and a tour of the area around the close, outdoors.
The underground tour showed us how people lived in Edinburgh, from the most horrid squalor to whatever passed for rich on Mary King Close. There was of course talk of the Black Plague and how the people handled it and we were treated to two ghost stories. What was most impressive about the tour was the level of tech involved. Projections, lighting effects, interactive displays, mannequins and decors. Our guide was also delightfully funny and fun to have around. Easy on the eyes too.
The outside tour was just as informative but relied on the splendor of the city instead of tricks to impress the group. We went down several of the Closes and dis covered how little of Edinburgh we had actually seen. Between each block is a world of hidden architecture and history and we got to sample some of it (like important figures burried under parking spaces).
Saturday we went on the Scotch Whiskey Experience. We took the 'Gold Tour' which includes all the basic stuff from the 'Silver Tour' plus a tasting of four Scotches at the end of the tour. The tour itself starts with a Disney World style ride in 'barrels' with little dioramas and videos teaching us how Scotch Whiskey is made. After that, we got some more information about Scotch (nothing new after four distillery visits) from our guide, Iain, who is clearly very passionate about Scotch. We did learn a lot about the four regions where Scotch is made and the differences between them.
After that was explained we each got to pick a region and get a taste from a whiskey of that region. However, before we were allowed to taste it, we were taken to another room, a special room, the room where the largest collection of Scotch Whiskey in the world is kept. It's a gorgeous room and there Iain gave us a course in how to drink and appreciate Scotch. Of course ther's no 'right way' to drink scotch, but there is a 'recommended way'.
After a few more explanations in the Amber Room next door, the 'Silver Tour' was over... But the 'Golden Tour' wasn't. Four of us total had signed up for the Gold. My brother, father and myself as well as a young chilean woman from Nottingham. We all drank our four Scotches in slow succession, discussing the favors amongst ourselves and Iain. Our tour guide mentioned his favorite Scotch: an Ardbeg Uigeadail. He made us smell it's aroma and I immediatly purchased a dram. It was everything Iain had said it would be.so we each bought a bottle. Before we left however, I had chatted with our Chilean friend during the tasting and upon leaving she gave me her last dram of Scotch.
At this point, I was on my seventh dram before noon. We finished off our Scotch Whiskey Experience with a bit of shopping (see bottles bought above) and then some lunch further down the Mile.
The rest of the day was spent traveling andvwas therefore uneventful. The next day:Nottingham.