Lesson 1: Heed your friends’ advice, especially if they’ve been to Edinburgh and you haven’t.
“You need to plan everything you do on your trip to Edinburgh. You can’t just wing it. ” My friend Alex said to me, her blonde ponytail blowing in the light summer breeze as we walked to the town market after yoga class one late morning in July. I assured her I had plans…and I did… or at least I had the theory of plans. Which I soon learned, was not enough.
Now, here’s where my American naiveté comes into play. For those of you who, like me, don’t know much about Scottish and UK holidays and events, the ENTIRE MONTH OF AUGUST is a festival in Edinburgh. It’s called the Fringe Festival and hundreds of thousands of people flock to the city to see, participate in, or watch theater shows. They come to see the Edinburgh Tattoo, buy or sell crafts, antiques, books and much else. The festival is city wide and while it’s on, it’s expensive as anything to get there, stay there, and experience basically anything in the city (save, of course, the museums and gardens that are always free to visit). But alas, my mom’s birthday and, thusly, their visit to the UK, fell smack in the middle of August and the Fringe.
Several people let met know that the fringe would be insanely busy and it would be difficult to get in, but with… determination and trepidation, mixed with optimism and the desire to see two friends Tim and I met three years ago on our trip to Florence, I proceeded with our plans to visit Scotland’s gorgeous capital city. I was able to book two rooms at a Holiday Inn Express fairly close to the center of the city. While Tim and I don’t mind walking far when we venture to new locations, it’s just not possible for my dad and we wanted to keep everyone as happy as possible. We booked the two rooms for £850 total for two nights…and that was the cheapest we could find!
Even with the expense, I was buoyed by the idea of experiencing a whole new city with my parents. But the more I told people about our impending trip, the more people said things like “oh wow, it’s going to be so busy” and “I hope you’re prepared for all the crowds.”
Now, if you know me, even a little, you’ll know that I have pretty severe crowd anxiety and have been known to have a couple major panic attacks when I’m hemmed in by people and feel trapped. The more people talked about how busy it was, the more I panicked about our trip to Edinburgh. Because of this panic, I did what every girl with anxiety does best… I put off any further planning. I assumed we would take the train up on Monday morning and then figured we could pretty much just wing it once we got there. Obviously… not heeding Alex’s advice.
Best possible outcome: Because I didn’t listen to my friends, we ended up having a really wonderful trip. For each thing that went “wrong,” the outcome of our alternative plans turned out to be spectacular.
Lesson 2: If you want and affordable train ride, book tickets well in advance… and not during the Fringe. We waited to buy train tickets to Edinburgh until my parents arrived, assuming we’d get them a Two Travel Together card and it would save 1/3 of the price. BUT that ended up not meaning much. Even with a Two Travel Together Card, it would have cost over £400 to get us there! £400!!!! (I’m definitely not used to traveling with four people vs two). So that was a no go instantly. (Remember,we were already thinking that we had spent £800 on the hotel). So we decided to drive. Five hours by car isn’t much longer than four hours by train when you factor in the getting to the train station, making it there before the train arrives, etc.
Best Possible Outcome 2: The drive to Edinburgh was absolutely lovely. We were able to stop whenever we wanted for snacks and exploring. Mom’s goal was to see a castle in the UK, any castle. Knowing Edinburgh Castle would be swamped with visitors, we decided to find a castle on the drive up. We took a lovely pit stop at the Newcastle Castle in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Adoringly preserved, it is full of informational signs, videos and fun props for kids to take photos with. (Think, a crown, a baker’s apron, etc). There are five floors of the castle to explore, including the roof which affords amazing views of the city of Newcastle Upon Tyne. Even in the rain, the views were gorgeous.
After our quick stop at the castle, we found ourselves at the cutest pub on the outskirts of Newcastle. Called the Snowy Owl and amazingly cozy inside, I found myself wishing it was closer to my house so I could frequent it more often. If you’re ever in the area, definitely visit. It’s dog friendly (always a plus in my book) and next door to what appears to be an adorable B & B.
As we sat for lunch, we decided to determine what time check in was and where the closest car park was located. It was at this time that Tim noted his account said we were only booked for one room… not the two we had originally reserved. Tim decided to call to find out what was going on. Well… remember a couple weeks back when we called to see IF we could cancel… well they took that as we WILL cancel and they canceled our booking. Not sending a confirmation or anything… just doing it. Lesson 3: If you call to see IF you can cancel… assume they WILL cancel. Confirm your booking before you leave.
Best possible outcome 3: Hours from home with nowhere to stay, and the knowledge that getting a hotel in the city would either be impossible or astronomically expensive, we settled on staying in countryside inn on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The inn we chose was called Carfraemill and was absolutely fantastic. Definitely the right choice for us.
The inn staff was as friendly as could be and ensured we were all well taken care of. Since we arrived later in the evening, they reserved us a dinner table at the inn’s restaurant and assured us that breakfast was included in our room fee. (A very reasonable £99/room). I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again. The countryside was gorgeous and peaceful and it wasn’t more than a 40 minute drive into Edinburgh. Conveniently located, but far enough away from the hustle and bustle that I felt calm and at peace.
Lesson 4: You can’t see everything in a day… not even a little
Best possible outcome: We skimmed passed a lot, walked all over the city and learned a ton of history from Evelyn, our friend and personal tour guide.
When we changed hotels, we decided that staying just one night up in Scotland was plenty and we could get back home to explore other areas and continue to unpack the recently arrived household goods. Because of this, we really didn’t even get one full day in Edinburgh. And even though we saw “nothing”… we experienced a lot. It was a spectacular trip.
After a shopping stop at a wonderful antique warehouse on the outskirts of the city, we headed into madness. We started off slow at a coffee shop and another antique store outside the city center. We then drove to the closest car park we could find and took a ten-minute soggy walk through the city to arrive at Browns, the lunch destination my friend Jenny chose as it was conveniently located near her work and she was joining us on her lunch break. Browns was absolutely fantastic inside and lunch was delicious. They even gave mom chocolate cake and ice cream for her birthday.
After lunch, we enjoyed a wonderful walk through the city, learning the history of it from Evelyn, Jenny’s mum who absolutely loves the city. It wad great to have a friend who knew the area with us and I found everything she told us absolutely fascinating. We meandered down Rose street for some wonderful souvenir shopping, took a taxi up the hill to the Royal Mile and ventured to Greyfriars Bobby to see the statue of the pup who never left his master’s grave. We took a brief respite from the crazy inside the quiet peace of the Greyfriars Kirkyard and I found myself wondering if it was really as haunted as everyone said. If we were there longer, I’d definitely want to take a ghost tour that they offer.
After our long afternoon skimming through the city, we headed to mom’s birthday dinner (which I DID plan ahead for!!) at Ciao Roma, an Italian restaurant that was packed, but delicious. A few more shopping stops on the way back to the car and that was it. Quicker than the time it took us to get there, we were done with Edinburgh. We arrived back at Holmewood house after midnight, relieved for our own beds. Edinburgh truly was a magical experience. From all the wonderful people we met, to the delicious food and beautiful sights, it made for the perfect birthday for my mom. I can’t wait to return, preferably not in August and with more plans next time. But for now, I’ll look back fondly on the trip that could have been an absolute disaster, but wasn’t.