Our first morning back in Edinburgh, from the Scottish Highlands tour, began with an authentically Scottish breakfast at a Bella Italia. The server sang his way into the kitchen and returned with two plates of mushrooms and eggs, complete with tasty haggis and square sausages.
Full and satisfied, we left the café to the greetings of clear skies. The sun was out – lucky us – and it was finally beginning to feel like summer in the city. Perfect weather in sight, we had just one plan in mind: to hike the famed Arthur’s Seat.
Salisbury Crags proved mildly trying for a first-time hiker like myself. (Hey, to be fair, the tallest spot in Singapore is a 163-metre hill… which I had never climbed.)
Taking the easiest grassy ascent, we survived the journey up the iconic landmark unscathed. An unparalleled panoramic view of the beautiful city awaited at the fort. Proclaiming acrophobia, Alysa decided to sit right there. So I headed further up the former volcano alone.
The mostly peaceful scene atop was worth every step of the way. That was even if tourists left little room on the peak. A young child refused to get off the block that marked the summit, so I made do with the emptier corner of the crag. I stood near the windy precipice, taking in the spectacular view. Then, out of nowhere, cold rain fell.
For an idea of how erratic British weather can be, I took this picture just ten minutes after taking the photograph above:
Puddles spared no time in forming all around me. Under the darkening skies, I decided to descend before the slope got too slippery. Unfortunately, it already was. Gravel and rocks dislodged, threatening hikers with poor shoe choices.
“We shouldn’t have worn these,” a teenage girl in ballet flats told her friend in dismay.
I nodded in solidarity and overtook the pair, who at least had each other. On the way down to meet my sister, I ran into seasoned hiker and Edinburgher Farid, who unhesitatingly volunteered help. The drizzle stopped mid-climb. Barely five minutes after leaving the peak, we were compensated with the loveliest post-rain landscape:
So there goes any proof that rain has fallen at all. Other than the damp ground, of course. At the bottom of the hill, Farid bid farewell with an enthusiastic honk from his car.
With no plans in mind, we walked on and stumbled upon the Palace of Holyroodhouse. After retracing the Queen’s steps through the royal gardens, we roamed around the stunning medieval ruins at Holyrood Abbey, where kings, earls and countesses were interred.
Our next destination was Calton Hill. More stairs and slopes welcome my endless complaints. At the top was Nelson Monument, one of several structures built in honour of English Royal Navy hero Horatio Nelson. Another 143 steps brought us to the viewing gallery, yet another vantage point where every tourist would want to be at.
The rowdy wind threatened to throw us over the edge of the empty but narrow walkway. We were retreating to lower grounds before long. Near the Dugald Stewart Monument, a group of kids were tiptoeing on the edge for the perfect shot. For the ‘gram or Vine, I guess.
Kids these days, I sighed, refusing to be associated with my generation.
That was when my watch said that we had spent half the day outdoors. A rare feat for hermits! With that, we moved onto Jekyll and Hyde for dinner. It turned out a wasted trip as the empty restaurant turned us away. A server explained that the cash register was out of order… All right, then.
The following day marked our visit to the Edinburgh Castle. Jostling tourists aside, the preserved fortress was a marvel. War museums, military prisons and dog cemeteries made for fascinating but grim history. St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest surviving building in Scotland, still stood. At least one Scot photobombed us. Behind a sea of heads, we managed to witness the loud firing of the One O’ Clock Gun, before wandering onto emptier streets outside.
“Look, a relic!”
At the corner of my eye, I spied HMV and overreacted. The last HMV store in Singapore had closed a year ago, and we did not manage to find the one on Oxford Street. Besides, Rival Sons’ Hollow Bones was just released that very week. So it was no surprise that we spent another hour or so in there.
Back at Jekyll and Hyde later that evening, the cash register was fixed and dinner was finally served.
Bus 900 took us to Glasgow the next morning. It was just an hour and a half away. The largest Scottish city is known for its fine distinct architecture, and deserves to be. With but one day to spare, we did not wander far from the shopping streets, which got dull after a while.
We stopped by Irish bar Waxy O’ Connor’s for our last drinks and giant onion rings in Scotland. Then, it was time to go. Part of me wanted to tear up my air ticket and stay. The other bit protested and boarded the returning flight to Singapore.
It has been two whole months since the trip. As I finally sat down to conclude this long-due travelogue, I am already thinking of heading back on a budget. So till next time, Britain. In the meantime, I’ll be missing your people. And haggis, for sure.