Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmastime in Edinburgh

Well, I'm halfway through my Christmas break and just had the least productive day in a long time, on purpose.  It's been a quiet holiday, just the two of us, but one that will be memorable, as we both think it will be the only Christmas we'll ever spend as such.

On Dec-21 we drove up to Edinburgh, a drive that took just about 5 and a half hours from the Sandiacre bungalow.  Some months ago we reserved a flat just off High street in the heart of old town just south of the train station.  Interestingly, the train would only take 4 hours, but 2 tickets cost more than the diesel for the Peugeot 3008, and as you might know from previous posts, I don't mind the drive.

A wee bit of Scottish countryside

I entertained myself with a fuel economy experiment by keeping the speed around 65 (limit was 70) and sticking to the left [slow] lane on cruise control.  The computer system on this compact crossover told me I was averaging 58 miles/gallon!  Ah, but don't get too excited.  Gallons here are Imperial gallons, or the volume of 10 pounds of water (at 62 F, of course).  US gallons only weigh 8.3 lbs, but that means I'm still hitting over 45 mpg, not too shabby!  Considering the cost of fuel here, I'll take it.  It is interesting what you can do with fuel economy when you start taking away performance; weighing in at over 2 tons, this car would not be too popular in America with its 100 hp, 1.6 liter engine and 14 second 0-60 rating.

The ironic bit about Imperial gallons is that no one uses pounds to measure water anymore, since that would be confused with British Sterling, Weight is in kilograms for things (well, technically mass but I won't go there...) and stones are used for people, where a stone is 14 pounds.  I've never heard anyone use decimal points with stones, so I would say I weigh 13 stone 5 pounds.  I think, or just round down to 13 stone, but now we're introducing quite a bit of uncertainty into our measurements, don't you think?

Wow, let's get back on track.  We stopped at Sainsbury's for Christmasy treats, wine, and groceries, then I dropped Kerry off at our flat while I went to park the car at the free park and ride, about 3 miles away.  We brought our little tree with us to give the flat a more festive feel.  We then walked to the Christmas Market; I kept my expectations low after Birmingham, but I will say I thoroughly enjoyed Edinburgh's offerings!  It turns out it was the crowd after all - it was much easier to get around in Edinburgh.  I did note that they contained the beer drinking to a garden, which probably helped the congestion issues we experienced in Birmingham.

Colorful lights abound in the ride section of the market.

Would you rather fight a horse-sized penguin or 50 penguin-sized horses?
For dinner we had a pork roast with sprouts and potatoes, and a luxury chocolate yule log cake for dessert, thanks to Sainsburys.  Then we watched Love Actually with newfound appreciation for actor Andrew Lincoln after just finishing Walking Dead season 3.  Most of the actors in that movie have ended up with pretty successful careers.  2003 was the last good year for Christmas comedies evidently (Bad Santa was released the same year).

On our first full day, the itinerary was to hike up Arthur's Seat - an extinct volcano - and then go to the Castle.  It ended up being a pretty rainy day (surprise?), so we had to roll with the punches.

Loved Edinburgh's architecture

I have not studied Scottish poetry, but now I know where to go.
Working our way up against the wind and rain

Close enough - let's turn back...

We didn't make it to the top unfortunately, owing it to the weather.  Still saw some great views of the city, and this was the 2nd volcanic rock we've climbed in as many weeks!

The rain persisted at the castle.

Brace yourselves, a mob of umbrella wielding tourists approach!

More great views from the castle entrance

There are two military museums on the castle grounds which served to keep us dry and warm as we browsed through Scotland's fascinating military history.

War posters in the regimental museum
And we then got to see the royal jewels - a crown, sword, and sceptre along with the stone of destiny (which looks like a concrete block to the naked eye but has loads of historical significance).

Kings family tree goes way back

The faux fire in the great hall provided no warmth
A huge cannon on display next to Mon's Meg, an old medieval siege gun

The cold was starting to get to us so we headed back home to warm up and eat lunch - this is  a great reason to rent a flat near city center - no fuss finding restaurants.

Kerry warming up by a fireplace-shaped heater that did provide warmth
We rallied to walk around downtown some more at night, taking in the city sidewalks dressed in holiday style, then found a pub for some mulled wine.

Wine and a pint - better prices than the Christmas market!
After a dinner of hamburger patties and roast cauliflower, we broke out a Sainsburys pie and watched Home Alone.  I hadn't watched this one from beginning to end in about 18 years, but I must have watched it 40 times as a kid on VHS; it brought back some good memories.  

Our final full day we went to the zoo!  We are unabashed zoo fiends, and Edinburgh is one of the 16 zoos in 11 countries which have pandas.  We've seen the pandas in DC in 2004, and San Diego in 2009, so it was high time for another panda viewing!   I read in advance that the Edinburgh bus system takes exact change only - I used this as an opportunity to unload the large quantity pennies and 2-pence coins that I've acquired.  You're welcome Lothian bus system.

The Edinburgh zoo is not large, but the exhibits it does have were well done, which is the mark of a good zoo, in my opinion.  Animal pictures through glass never turn out well, but we had a great time.  The weather was just slightly better than the previous day, so attendance was very low.  Panda viewings are usually tightly controlled, but we got to come and go as we pleased.  As pandas sleep 16 hours a day, the odds of seeing them active are pretty low in a 30 minute window, so we thought this was a great opportunity and went back for a 2nd viewing in the afternoon.

Other highlights were the koalas, chimpanzees, penguins, and the squirrel monkey which defecated in his hand and smeared it on the glass right in front of Kerry's face.  

A bit more rain when we arrived, but it cleared up later
Tian Tian (female)
This chimp had remarkably bare arms which showed off his muscular definition

A very friendly Steller's sea eagle
The sun came out for a brief moment!  I believe this is as high as it gets this time of year.

After the zoo we did a quick walkthrough of the National Scottish Museum, we really only saw a small slice of the museum with the time we had (and level of fatigue climbing).  It was pretty large - they combine Scottish history with natural history and art all in one place, so you have to just pick one and go back another day for the others.   Mind blowing fact of the day - 410 million years ago Scotland was a separate land mass from England, that had traversed all the way from the south pole through the equator.  I wonder if the modern border is where they joined up?  And if so, how did they know?

Dinner was roast chicken with green beans and a Sainsbury's Italian panetonne.  Yeah, I know we're getting a bit ridiculous with the desserts but hey it was nearly Christmas!

Christmas Eve, on the way home I took a more scenic route on the A7 thorugh Scottish Borders territory, then took the A68 through Northumberland national park.

A7 Borders historic route

Northumberland Park

Driving on The Street - the GPS did not like my scenic route

Straddling the border

Union Jack - now I get it! (slaps forehead)

So we are home on Christmas Eve, but I'll save the events that unfolded from this point for another post.  This post is way too long anyway.

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