Wednesday, July 20, 2011



We wake up Sunday morning to the sound of a woman shooing seagulls from her porch with the end of a broomstick. It doesn't work, but it looks like she's been engaging in this ritual to ward off her anger at the birds for quite a few Sundays.

It's a gorgeous day out, so we decide to take a leisurely walk to Edinburgh Castle--me in my Airwalk canvas shoes, which prove a bit difficult navigating all the uneven cobblestones, but I'm imagining much better and cooler than the slick leather ballerina flats I also packed. I refused to bring running shoes or even hiking boots-- anything resembling tourist attire-- but looking at Rich in his comfy black walking shoes, I wish I would have relented. We come across beautiful townhomes and buildings housing pubs along the way,

and bag-piping buskers staking their spots

already near the National Gallery.
I can never walk by them without listening or taking a picture.

While we wait to get into the Castle,

scaffolding is going up just outside the gates. We're told the military tattoo takes place here during the Festival in August,an incredible extravaganza involving musical acts, art exhibits and even other festivals, making Edinburgh a week of non-stop events and frivolity that the whole town gets excited about.

The vantage point of the city is quite spectacular from Edinburgh Castle, and since Her Majesty, the Queen, is in the Palace of Holyroodhouse while we're here,we also get to see the changing of the guard in front of the Memorial Chapel inside the Castle.

Actually, we were in Memorial Chapel and on our way out when the attendant told us to, "Halt!" and that the guard changing was about to take place... right in front of us!

I also can't resist getting a picture with one of the guards.

My favorite places in the Castle are the pet cemetery, just outside St. Margaret's Chapel (the oldest building in Edinburgh), where you can barely squeeze in a dozen people,

and the Queen Anne's building.(I didn't mention the Castle's Redcoat Cafe, but it does has delicious scones, as I just found out, since I now have a new daily ritual- a scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam).

The pet cemetery, used in Victorian times to bury beloved animals of officers and regimental mascots who lived in the castle barracks, houses names like, Scamp, Winkel and Tinker. Inscriptions to them grace the headstones, all lovingly buried on a grassy mound you need to stretch yourself out far just to catch a glimpse, but worth the effort. It's outside Wallace window

in the little chapel and beyond the ledge.

The other must-see is the Prisons of War rooms in the Queen Anne building. Just follow the stone steps down to the dungeon prison in the bowels of the building. As soon as you descend, the air gets cooler and you feel a breeze coming out of the prison. You can just imagine the 18th century American and French prisoners, taken from the ship, the Newfoundland, languishing in their hammocks across from an open fire. They were said to have fared better than other prisoners,though, having their own surgeon and daily rations including 3 pints of beer. But the conditions still seem bleak and they must have had lots of time on their hands, carving signatures and pleas into the wooden doors keeping them there. Some made intricate boxes that we'd call "tramp art" in the U.S., by rolling paper into intricate designs and also using straw. They're all on display in the prison.

We decide to split up for lunch since Rich and I want to try a vegetarian restaurant called, Henderson's Bistro on Thistle and Hanover and don't know how it'll be. But it turns out to be better than we could have imagined,

and the best vegetarian food I've had in my life, with the Kripalu Institute in The Berkshires and Erehwon in Los Angeles a close second. At Henderson's I had the mushroom courgette quiche with a Scottish cheese called gruth dhu from Fife, a cow cheese that had the delicate texture of butter, along with a house-made sun-dried tomato dressing over a garden salad. I also enjoyed a pot of organic loose-leaf green tea from the famous nearby apothecary, Neal's Yard, while Rich had the fresh juice of the day- a medley of melon, peppermint pineapple and orange served in a wine glass. While my entree was amazing, Rich's dish was even better.

It's the mezze platter and he has it with hummus, mushrooms marinated in red wine, marinated olives, spicy beans, plus 2 spinach lentil falafels that literally melted in your mouth, they were that fresh and beautifully cooked.

For dessert, I went for the vegan vanilla ice cream that was home-made and tasted more luscious than ice cream, all served by University of Scotland student Carl, who chatted with us after about the rush of the Festival and studying architecture, while having his lunch (the Mexican wrap),and finally telling us that his father is the executive chef of Henderson's.

It's a gem of place that now includes a downstairs cafeteria-style restaurant and a bakery upstairs.

It all began in 1962 when Jane and Mac Henderson wanted to provide an outlet for the produce on their East Lothian farm and it's still managed by the Henderson family.

Hanover Street itself is charming and both funky and sophisticated with quirky places like

the Jekyll & Hyde bar,

and with Thistle Street housing both offices and Michelin-ranked bistros.
After lunch, we strolled down the Royal Mile,

which some say is the most beautiful street in the world and could very well be.

It's filled with buskers who either perform

or are a performance onto themselves.

The Mile is also crammed with souvenir shops, woolen mills, restaurants,

museums and cathedrals.

I find a Wallace plaid wool blanket that will be cherished for years as a family heirloom (I'm putting it on the wing chair in our bedroom), and then we went into a beautiful cathedral

called St. Giles,

with stained glass windows so intricate and grand, you can't help stare at them for a very long time.
When we get home, stopping by the huge giraffes,

we take the kids to supper at LA FAVORITA, where Rich and I have our first half-pint of the trip.

Ben has his own creation-- seafood-de-la-mer-a-la-Ben, is what we call it. That's spaghetti in white garlic sauce with every delight from the sea, including his first langostino. He can't stop smiling. Cheyenne, my other niece who is 13, orders the seafood crepe, hoping there won't be anything with eyes on it like that langostino.

When the very big-eyed langostinos arrive, Ben says, "I'll eat it!" Cheyenne wrinkles up her nose.

"The fish died for you and now you won't even eat it," Ben says to his sister.

"Let's split it," Cheyenne says. "I'll give you half for your services, if you take the meat out of the shell."

With everyone delighted and full from their meals, we decide to each get gelato. Ben keeps the plastic spoon for a souvenir. We arrive home after 10 and it's still light out. Light enough to see that the broom lady has left her weapon on the porch. Now there's pigeons nestled all around it, cooing into the night.

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