We went back to Edinburgh the next day. We still had the castle to tour.

We knew were things were a bit better the second day and we were able to find parking in a hotel garage that was right on the Royal Mile. We didn’t waste any time, and headed right to do the castle tour. The ticket line was long, but while waiting I read the castle map to figure out what to tour. This was a seriously big tour. The castle grounds themselves were amazing and huge, there were a whole series of museums, exhibits, and things to see.

We started by just walking up the entrance, which was grand in itself, and checked out the defensive guns. We went over to the Military Museum first, as it was small enough to get done in time to see the firing of the “One-O’Clock Gun” Quite a crowd gathered in front of the gun, and we moved about to get a good shot of the gun when it fired. Even knowing it was going to happen, we still jumped when the cannon fired. It’s pretty hard not too. Everyone laughed after they jumped, which was good cover for checking to see if you soiled yourself.

We walked up to the top of the castle, and went to see the Scottish Royal Jewels, and the Stone of Destiny. I was excited to see the Jewels, but very excited to see the Stone. Before we left, we came across the movie “Stone of Destiny” on Netflix, which gives the account of a bunch of students going to steal the stone back from the English in the 50’s. They did it (and returned it) and eventually (in the 90’s) the English gave the stone back. It is a huge part of Scottish pride, and was very cool to see.

We toured a bit more, and had lunch at the restaurant inside the castle, it was really very cheap, with huge portions and a view of edinburgh that you could’t beat. We took our time eating, as we needed the rest from climbing castle hills, then toured a few more exhibits, including the Prisons and tower, then left the castle, impressed and tired.

I decided to look for a Quaich, the Scottish drinking cup. I see those used at the Whiskey Society meetings a bunch, and it seemed like a cool souvenir. We went down the royal mile a bit, tasted a few scotches in the Scotch shops, and looked at all the interesting stuff.

We stopped to look in one of the cathedrals in the square, and sat for a bit, admiring the amazing size of the place. It was quiet and serene, with a real presence, until the Americans ran through. A tour group of american kids and their herders came barreling through the place, running and jumping down the stairs, laughing and shouting. In a church. I really hate crap like that. We got out of there before we were associated with the group. Or before I cock-punched one of the little bastards on general principle.

We wanted to find a place for dinner that had some kind of scotch tasting, and not food that came in any kind of nugget form. The cafe at the Scotch Whiskey Experience was an option, as they had an amazing selection, but we wanted something different.

Right across from where we parked our car, we found a pub called “Rabbie Burns” that had a full restaurant upstairs, and and full whiskey bar downstairs. And the entire place was family friendly. This looked to be a winner. We headed in, and the man at the bar confirmed that we could go downstairs to the whiskey bar with Sasha, so we headed down. The place was small, with just a few tables, but had a big selection behind the bar. Sasha ordered some food, she was pretty hungry, but Yulia and I were just looking to snack a bit and try a couple of Scotches.

Yulia was really not liking any of the stronger Scotches, and I was looking for some different types that she might like. We took a look at their list, and after a bit I went up to the bar to look at the stock itself. The owner was there, and I started talking with him for a bit, I mentioned that his stock was excellent, and I asked for his suggestion, thinking that Yulia might like a port finish (similar to what she had on the tour), he brought down Quinta Ruban for her to try, and set her up with an official Glenmorangie tasting glass. As we talked with him a bit, he became very excited that we were interested in good Scotch.

This actually surprised me for a bit, but when you consider that on the other tour and tasting that we were on, the guide had to remind people to not “shoot” the dram of Scotch outright. About half did anyway. Most folks don’t really have much interest past the surface of what the see on tour. So I guess just dropping into a place and asking a few questions in earnest really sets you apart.

In our case, We ended up spending close to an hour, talking about Scotch, tasting a few samples, and having him give us all kinds of talks about several special bottles that had had on the shelf. He was very proud and excited, and reminded me a lot of Angus Robson from the old Unicorn pub. We finally left after having a great time, we hardly drank a thing, but the conversation was unbeatable. That place would be worth returning to.

We went to the car and back to Glasgow, stopping on the way to pick up some dinner at the store. We caught a few movies back at the apartment, and following another set of advice from locals, changed a big part of our itinerary. We had planned on staying in a Castle in Darlington for two days after Scotland, but we were told that Darlington just has nothing of note. And our tours of the castles here were more than enough to skip staying in one that was much less impressive. So we are swapping for two days in York, and set up reservations there.

Should be an interesting change.

We decided on a trip over to Edinburgh today, it is only about a hour’s drive over, so if it wasn’t that great we could always head back. It was an easy drive over, but once you get to the Edinburgh city limits, you go through about 16 different roundabouts to get to the actual city center. Those things get to you after a while.

We circles around the Castle Hilltop, looking for parking, and finally found a spot on the end of Princes Street. The day was clearing up, and the city looked amazing! the view up to the top of the castle from the ground was spectacular. We walked along Princes Street, checking out shops and found an open street market. We grabbed Sasha a Ham Crepe, checked out the stalls, and continued on our way. To get to the castle we had to go up a street called “The Mound” which was pretty steep, and at the far end of Princes Street from where we parked.

The weather was a risk at first, it was raining as we drove into town, and I was worried that we would get trapped in a cafe somewhere looking out the window. But the weather was clearing up quickly, and we had a bright and sunny walk up the hill to the Royal Mile, which is the tourist shopping street that leads to the castle. This was apparently an early defensive measure for the castle, as enemy troops would get caught in all the shops on their way to invade, and the defending Scots could pelt them with haggis.

We enjoyed stopping at the little shops on the way along the street, Sasha found a few cool souvenirs, and we made our way up to the castle entrance. Right before we got up to the castle, Yulia found one cool attraction, and I found another. A high recommendation in the guidebook (a good recommendation this time) was for the Camera Obscura, a 150-year-old attraction that has been a part of the hilltop since it was created. it is a working Camera Obscura (think of a giant pinhole camera that turns), and the other five floors of the building are like a children’s museum dedicated to illusions and optical effects. It is a very cool exhibit, and well worth the time.

It took us a fair time to do the whole exhibit, and I had to run back to the car to feed the meter while Yulia and Sasha took a quick rest at the Deacon Brodie Cafe. Deacon Brodie was a famous local who was the inspiration for Jekyll and Hyde, he was a well respected gentleman during the day, and a criminal at night.

My kind of guy.

I came back up the hill from feeding the car meter, and we headed over to my choice. The Scotch Whisky Experience. This was a Scotch Tour that included a Ride, a Tasting, a our of one of the largest scotch collections in the world, with a bar in the basement.

Let me repeat: we went on a freakin’ Scotch Ride. We got in little Barrel-cars, and were toured around the scotch making process by the “ghost” of the Master Distiller. The whole thing was kid-friendly. We went to the tasting room, where they poured the kids IRN-BRU, the Scottish made soft drink, and we all got Scratch-and-Sniff cards for the main regions to explain the flavors. Sasha thought that the Speyside was her favorite, with fruity-banana like characteristics. Yulia even found a lighter Scotch that she liked. We all got to keep our tasting glasses.

After this it was too late to tour the castle, so we walked down the street to find some dinner. We found what looked like an interesting local restaurant, called the Filling Station. As it turned out, this was some kind of “Tipsy McStaggers” – a Scottish TGIFridays-type place. I ended up ordering Haggis Nuggets as an appetizer.

Haggis. Nuggets.

I’m not sure how I’m supposed to top that.