Ain’t no mountain high enough…

As has been mentioned, there are a lot of hills in Edinburgh.   Like Rome, the city’s position among “seven hills” is no accident.  It is easy to imagine 11th century nomadic warriors establishing a defensible stronghold here. Among those seven hills, I can’t neglect to mention the biggest of them all:  Arthur’s Seat. Some historians claim this may have been the site of Camelot.   Looming imposingly about a mile to the east of Edinburgh Castle,  Arthur’s Seat rises 610 feet from city level, to an elevation of 823 feet.  (creds: Google).  Actually,  that doesn’t sound like much, does it?  I didn’t think so either.

So,  after a busy day walking alpacas (see previous post), Oldest and I set off from our lodging for a quick jaunt to the top of Arthur’s Seat.  It was on his bucket list for Edinburgh, and who was I to stop him?  A  round-ish 50 something mom who usually sits in an air conditioned office, that’s who.

We didn’t have a map, or consult any guidebooks prior to starting off.  (what?  I didn’t plan the detail of how to get up Arthur’s Seat?  shocking, I know).  We just started walking up from the direction of Holyrood Palace, not realizing there were a number of potential paths for our ascent. As it turned out, the path we chose was the shortest to the top.  That’s great!  Except it also meant that it was the steepest.  Geometry 101.

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Halfway up, view toward the Firth of Forth

Huff. Puff. Wipe off sweat, take in beautiful views, repeat.  By the very top, there wasn’t much of a path at all, just giant boulders to be climbed.  Not only am I 50 something, I have short legs,  so this was quite a challenge.   I was literally drenched with sweat and breathing like Darth Vader. Oldest was well ahead of me,  checking back periodically to make sure I hadn’t croaked on the side of Camelot.

In all, the climb took me about 40 minutes of serious cardio.  With a diet heavy on french fries and beer so far this week,  the exercise was not unwelcome. And while there were moments when I thought I wouldn’t make it to the top, I am so glad I did.  At the tippy top there is a small marker. The moment I touched it, catching my breath, was unforgettable. Not only had I met the physical challenge , but I was rewarded with incredible views over the city of Edinburgh.

 

 

There is some sort of lovely, deep metaphor in this experience.  Oh I know:

 It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves –  Sir Edmund Hillary

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360 degree panorama from the top

 

My alpaca is a slack-a

On our last full day in Edinburgh, we headed out of town for another adventure.    Knowing Oldest is a huge fan of animals,  I booked the Alpaca Walk at BobCat Alpacas, just on the edge of the city center in the area known as Bonaly.  This was our only pre-booked activity in Edinburgh:  if you’re even thinking about it,  do it!  Click here for more info:  BobCat Alpacas

So a few things to know about alpacas:

  • They are as soft as they appear
  • They are typically very social and stay together in small groups
  • They are very photogenic
  • They take a couple of minutes to warm up to humans, then become quite loyal
  • They are (usually) sweet, mellow, and gentle
  • They have truly learned the meaning of “stop and smell the roses”

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Bob,  one of the proprietors, met us along with group of about 10 others for the day’s walk.  Bob and his wife Catherine manage a herd of about 50 or so alpacas.  Each walker would be paired with one adult male alpaca for the walk; before our assignments, Bob gave us a rundown of each animal’s personality.  Balthazar is a leader.  Eureka and Amadeus are best buddies and will walk together.  Artemis is mellow and likes to trail behind others.  (I’m making up these descriptions because I don’t remember which was which except for our assigned alpacas, but you get the idea).  Oldest was assigned Artie, a very mellow alpaca –  and that is saying something, for an alpaca –  who preferred to bring up the rear.

I was assigned Orlando.  I just looked him up on the website’s herd directory, and I see that he is one of the primary stud males in the herd.  Well, that explains a lot!   I should have known….. while the other alpacas had large, soft, lidded eyes and sweet faces,  Orlando’s  heavier brow made him look kind of pissed off:

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The group started off on our walk.  Bob cautioned that we should expect a slow pace, as alpacas like to nibble on the roadside grass. Yes,  yes they do. Our roughly 2 mile walk took over 2 hours, and mostly went like this:
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Orlando, however,  was rarely part of the social group chewing the soft grass.  Like my Youngest,  he chose the road less traveled. His preferred activity was jumping, eating and rolling, tangling his leash in the bristly bushes along the roadside:

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Also unlike the other alpacas,  Orlando took his time warming up to me (or any humans).  He would duck away and snort when I tried to pet him. And he would simply not be told, pulled, or cajoled to leave those bushes.  He and Artie both did, however,  like to pose for the camera:

 

At one point,  we came across a family and their dogs out for a walk.  Alpacas do NOT like dogs.  And when dogs were sighted just as we crossed a small bridge,  we entered Alpaca Jam 2018.  They just did. not. move.  For about 15 minutes.

We finally returned to the farm and were treated to the sight of several newborn crias (babies) with their mothers;  one was as young as 2 days old!  IMG_0828.jpg

Despite Orlando’s stubbornness, he eventually let me pet him and actually seemed to like me by the end of the walk.  Probably because I gave up and let him be his badass self.

 

Edinburgh: walking uphill both ways, part 2

We purchased coffee and breakfast snacks at the market across the street, and Oldest went for a morning run.  He’s a runner.  My offspring is a runner. He runs for fun.  I still can’t get over that one.

fullsizeoutput_45b5Anyway,  we began the day by walking uphill along the Royal Mile, our destination being Edinburgh Castle.     This wasn’t our first bagpiper sighting, but it was probably our most touristy.

 

 

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The castle itself,  which sits on a steep hill above Edinburgh,  is dark, imposing, and simply oozes history.  I have some Scottish blood, and  I had the very creepy feeling that some ancestors were watching me.  Scottish sorcery, I guess.

The green lawn visible in the forefront of the photo above is the castle’s dog cemetary. At least today we experienced typical atmospheric Scottish gloom.

Conveniently located just outside of the castle is the Scotch Whiskey Experience. Oldest and I didn’t know much about Scotch,  so we figured this would be a good way to learn about it.   A cheesy hologram guided us through the history of Scotch Whiskey,  we sampled aromas from the 5 major whiskey regions, and then we sat down for a tasting with about 10 other tourists.   Learning Moment Alert:  We do NOT like  Islay whiskeys (pronounced Isle-a,  not Iss-lay like we thought). Peat just doesn’t seem like something I want to ingest.  Oldest pretty much did not like Scotch, to be honest,  while I enjoyed a smooth Speyside and several blends.  A few photos from the Experience:

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Tasting room display
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aging barrels
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Lots-o-whiskey!
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cheesy ghost hologram

 

After dinner at the World’s End Pub just across from our AirBnb, we wandered uphill toward Greyfriars Bobby –  we love dogs –  but every photo we took included closed eyes.  Really,  we weren’t even drunk (yet).  We’ll try again,  we’re all about the photo op with a dog,  even if it’s just a statue.   After listening to quiet trad music at Sandy Bells,  we headed  to Cowgate, where we stumbled upon Stramash,  a dance hall with a stage and a fantastic band.  Amazingly,  even at my semi-advanced age,  I didn’t feel out of place –  it was that kind of club.   I don’t know,  maybe some nights it’s crazier or hipper,  but on this night, this mom & son fit right in.  We ended up dancing til 2 before walking uphill back home.  Some photos from our evening in Edinburgh:

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we tried…

 

 

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in the lassies’ bathroom

 

Edinburgh: walking up hill both ways, part 1

Not that I ever need an excuse to take a trip,  but the Oldest graduated from college with Honors in May, 2018.  With a secure job he wasn’t due to start until August,  it was the perfect time to embark on a two week journey to Scotland and Ireland. Edinburgh was our first destination.

The Oldest and I  landed in Edinburgh well rested after our first class flight on British Airways from JFK.  I looooooooove to fly first class on an eastbound, redeye, overseas trip.  I also loooooooooove finding such flights using points,  specifically “point saver” deals.   This one was booked utilizing 100,000 Avios Points (50k apiece) transferred through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

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Oldest settles into seat 63J

We got a particular kick out of having seats in the Upper Deck of the 747.  It felt like we were on a private jet!

Our first glimpse of Scotland, landing over the Firth of Forth (say that ten times fast): IMG_0676.jpg

Ah, Scotland.  Sunny, bright, and hot,  just the way it’s supposed to be.  Wait, what?

We may have been well rested, but finding the Airlink Bus, which involved reading signs (in English) and following arrows,  was more challenging than it should have been.   I should note here that we packed lightly for this trip –  a carry on + backpack each –  and now only 30 minutes after landing, I was extremely glad for this as we wandered this way and that, in 85 degree temps, searching for the bus.

The bus ride was fine, but it was also our introduction to a key feature of both Scotland and Ireland in the summertime:  AIR CONDITIONING IS NOT REALLY A THING.

Our AirBnB was a quick, uphill walk from Waverly bus station.  I highly recommend Allan’s 2 BR apartment, which was well appointed and extremely convenient.   https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/531292 We never met Allan during our stay, but he was kind enough to leave us a few Scottish goodies as a welcome gift.  The best part was a window seat with a corner view of lower High St. aka “The Royal Mile” aka Canongate and Jeffrey St./St. Mary’s St.

After a quick and tasty pub lunch at the No. 1 High Street Pub right below our apartment, we started exploring by walking, uphill,  in the direction of Edinburgh Castle at the top of High Street.  We ended up making a loop which took us through the bucolic Princes Street Gardens,  where many locals were soaking up the bright sunshine.  We sat right on the grass and took in the park scenery:


We shortly found our way uphill to the beergarden above Waverly mall,  which was lively with a happy hour crowd watching the World Cup.

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Beer!

After the beergarden stop,  we made our way back uphill toward our apartment.   But not without another stop, at the Whiski Room on High Street,  where the a one-man band playing pop tunes with backing tracks drew us in.  We quickly made friends with Dave,  who seemed to know everyone in the pub.  For my first (but not last) taste of Scottish charm,  Dave insisted that I couldn’t possibly be Oldest’s mother,  because I was only 32!  LOL. He bought us a round of drinks, which we returned in kind.

IMG_0687.jpgIt was a later night than we intended for Day 1,  but we enjoyed lots of laughs before walking uphill to our Edinburgh home.