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.

All the traveling (and walking) was starting to catch up to us, so we slept in a bit, then started cooking a big breakfast. When at the store, I found a thing called the “Traditional Breakfast Pack” including Pork Sausage, Beef Lorne, Fruit Pudding (not actual pudding), and Black Pudding (also not pudding). This and a couple of eggs was just what the doctor ordered, assuming that the Doctor was Scottish and making you breakfast.

We started the day back on the main shopping street, Buchanan St. It was vaguely reminiscent of Paris, since there was a lot of art nouveau architecture due to the influence of Rene Mackintosh. We walked all the way to the end and had coffee in another Cafe Nero that was built into a little castle-looking structure that apparently used to be the subway entrance.

After a quick refresh we went back up the pedestrian mall to the main shopping center, and caught the metro out to the West End. The Metro itself was amazingly small. I swear the cars were about 5 feet tall, with doors that curved up the whole side so you could get in without crawling on the floor. Apparently they bought the whole system from the Mines of Moria when that place closed down.

It was fast though, and we were at our station quickly. I had advice from one of my buddies at Microsoft, Gerry, who is a local to Glasgow, that we should start at the Hillhead station, but I had a walking tour in my guide book that started at St. George’s Cross station, so instead of listening to the local, I followed the book.

Idiot.

St. George’s Cross was not what I would exactly call in a great part of town. We tried looking for the items on the walking tour, but we gave up as the neighborhood was pretty beat up, and just made for the cafe street recommended on our guidemap. This was a bit of a walk, and we were hungry for a good meal by the time we got there. This too, was not what I would call a very happy area.

We asked one of the passing locals where the better places to eat were, and in a dramatic change of pace, we actually started following the local’s advice. We walked past the university, and found an excellent street filled with shops and restaurants. It was full of students in Cap and Gown and their parents, as it was apparently Graduation day. It was really cool. Everyone was out having a great time and celebrating, and we found a nice place in a funky alley a few blocks down called “The Bothy” that had a great 2-course lunch meal, and was pretty swank to boot. After resting, having some great food and a few drinks, we headed back out to check out the area. I could see a subway station across the street.

Naturally, it was Hillhead.

We walked around for a bit, then hit the Hunterian Art Gallery to see the Mackintosh House. Apparently, after Rene Mackintosh died, large parts of his house were saved from demolition, along with the matching furniture, and the were assembled in full inside the gallery. Bits of the house poke out of that wing of the gallery, including the windows, and front door, which is about 10 feet off the ground, if it opened.

The exhibit is fantastic, very reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s house in Oak Park. All the furniture is made specifically for the house, in an amazing art nouveau style. The rest of the gallery was excellent as well, including a huge exhibit of Whistler’s work. Once we finished with the Gallery, we were beat and caught the train back at Hillhead to the center of town. We went to a local Tesco Grocery, bought some dinner, and headed back to the apartment.

I made us dinner of Steaks, Mushrooms, and Haggis Patties. This was my first exposure to Haggis, and it’s pretty good actually. Liver, Heart, Oats, and other ground up animal bits. My kind of food.

As a bonus, the TV was working again, so we watched a few movies and sacked out. Yulia and Sasha let me finish their Haggis for some reason.

Can’t imagine why.