The trip on the underground was supposed to take 30 minutes. That’s what all the apps told me, but I was worried about getting to my train.
It wasn’t the subway, but instead I was concerned about the crowds at King’s Cross Station, where people visiting London for the funerary spectacle were most likely to get in my way. As a result, I left my hotel almost 90 minutes before my departure.
The trip took longer than expected, however, as the subway lurched forward in fitful bursts, stopping periodically for undefined lengths of time while I waited, anxiously watching the clock. The journey across town took an hour in total, which gave me 10 minutes in a very much uncrowded King’s Cross before boarding.
From thereon out, the trip to Edinburgh was easy, with the train speeding north through England and into Scotland, where it skirted the coast to my right. In the distance beyond my window, the view of the steely North Sea woke images that had long lain dormant in my cultural memory.
Stepping out of the train station in Edinburgh, I was immediately met by a road crossing my path, and ahead there were the steps of the Fleshmarket Close. The closes here are old alleyways that all seem to fall off to one side or the other from High Street, otherwise known as the Royal Mile.
I consulted the map and dove up the long stairway, my suitcase hoisted on my back and my small green backpack dangling from my right shoulder.
The steps continued upward, the pathway gradually widening, until suddenly the buildings parted and I was in the center of a flag bedecked old-town Edinburgh. And my breathing paused with a sudden inhalation, and a big grin opened across my face.
Edinburgh is beautiful and I wasn’t remotely prepared for it.
To my right, I began climbing the gradual slope of the hill, my way pointed toward the castle that I couldn’t see, but I knew lay somewhere in the distance. Passing churches on the left and countless stores selling whisky or tartans, my course finally veered to the left, where I found my destination at the foot of Castle Rock.
I’m trying something new this trip, staying in a hostel. I haven’t done this before, and the hostels here are highly rated, so this seemed a good place to do it. I might be too old, but I might not be. I may learn that I hate the experience and never want to do it again. Or I may learn that, as a solo traveler, it makes a lot of sense for me.
My luggage found its place in my 4-person dorm room, and I checked out the bathroom down the hall.
Overall, I think I like the hostel – it’s funky, clean, and cheap. Clean is the biggest factor, but it’s also nice that our room has a beautiful view from the skylight.
Back out into the city, I had a couple of hours to spend exploring, but much was closed for the funeral. The stores were opened, but I wasn’t interested in shopping. So instead I passed the time exploring St. Giles Cathedral and then sipping a cappuccino while awaiting my evening whisky tasting.
Whisky tasting. That’s somehow become the theme of this trip, whether I intended it or not. I don’t know Scotch whisky, and this seemed like a good time to learn about it. I’ve tried it, but just haven’t appreciated it. And much like wine tasting, there’s nothing like comparison to help a novice learn what they like.
And so at 5 o’clock our guide collected a large group of us and whisked us away to a local pub where we sat and talked, working our ways through 4 drams, learning about history, process, and peat.
It was a great way to spend the afternoon, punctuated in the end by more fish and chips, which is supposed to be best-made in Scotland.
Welcome to Edinburgh my friends! This is going to be a great week.