I made the most of my last day in Scotland, doing lots of walking and enjoying some amazing music along the way. I didn’t really have a set plan for the day other than that I wanted to see the lower end of the Royal Mile this morning and hear the Barnsley Youth Choir this afternoon. I stopped at the Fringe box office and got a ticket for the concert as well as a ticket for another concert late morning. Then I walked the length of the Royal Mile down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh). I had to walk quickly to make it back to the “Best of Broadway” concert by American Performing Arts International. The concert was excellent, with seven men and women singing tunes from lesser known and newer Broadway musicals. I didn’t know many of the songs, but the singers were great and the hour passed quickly.
I had time for a quick stop at Clarinda’s Tea Room for my last scone in Scotland (unless I find one at the airport tomorrow 😉 ) before heading to Greyfriars Kirk to hear the Barnsley Youth Choir. This had been on my “must do” list for the Fringe Festival, and all I can say is “wow”! The choir stood around the church for the first couple of songs and then made their way onto the stage. There were only 75 performers there today from the senior choir, but the choir is made up of 450 children and young adults who otherwise may not have access to musical opportunities. Most come to the group with little or no musical background and end up touring the world as part of the choir. They are the fourth ranked choir in the world, singing everything from ballads to spirituals to popular music. I could go on and on about how great they were, but I’ll just give you this YouTube link so you can listen for yourself (same soloist; different year). The concert was so good I immediately bought a ticket for the 5PM show (a completely different program).
On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at Let Them Eat Too for a sandwich and made a pit stop at Tesco for some goodies to bring home. Now it’s early to bed partly to make up for yesterday’s late night and partly because I need to be on a train back to Glasgow around 6 o’clock tomorrow morning…
I managed to pack a lot into the day today… and I still love Edinburgh, despite all the crowds! I started the morning at Mary King’s Close. This was one of the things I was most looking forward to in Edinburgh. Mary King’s Close is one of the tiny alleyways off the Royal Mile that has been preserved and turned into a museum of sorts. Sadly no photographs are allowed inside. The tour winds its way down through the close stopping at various points for some background on the locations, conditions, and families who lived in the closely packed tenement buildings (some could be as tall as 10 stories!). The tour lasted about an hour and was a neat way to see some of the original parts of the city. After the close, it was off to see the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.This particular performance was staged by an American high school acting group. It was my second time seeing the play and I laughed several times and had forgotten a few of the scenes, so it was a good choice.
Can you guess what I needed after my busy morning? Yep, a midday scone, this time at Loudons Cafe. I’ve only had a couple of scones this trip, but this was definitely one of the best I’ve ever had. Very light and fluffy, and once I smothered it in clotted cream and blackcurrant jam, it was even better. I thought I might go back to the hotel to rest this afternoon, but I’m in Scotland. I can rest all I want when I get home. So I spent time walking around Greyfriars Kirkyard (kirk = church) before enjoying some afternoon Scottish folk music and cider at Sandy Bells pub.
Then it was off to the theater again. One of the performers from the play “Departure Date” was passing out flyers on the Royal Mile this morning and it looked good. A depressing storyline about a man who finds out he has 24 hours to live and decides to try to live it up with a girl he’s had his eye on actually made for a good 40 minutes of laughs. As one of only 10 people in the audience, I felt like I was completely immersed in the story. I had dinner at Deacon Brodies Tavern on the Royal Mile tonight. Part of the chain of Nicholson’s pubs throughout the UK, the atmosphere was pure British pub with food to match. Bonus: excellent sticky toffee pudding!
The final and best event of the day was the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. This will probably end up being the highlight of Edinburgh. Not to be confused with body art, the Tattoo is a nightly ceremonial performance involving military bands, dancers, and various other performers from the U.K. and around the world that takes place every August. Think Disney World meets British pomp and circumstance. Set up on the castle esplanade, the Tattoo is a 90 minute spectacle that is completely amazing and choreographed with all the pageantry you can imagine from a British military ensemble. The evening is capped off with a fireworks display over the castle. Picture perfect!
Edinburgh… this is the Scotland I’ve been waiting for! I took the 8AM train from Glasgow (just 45 minutes), dropped off my luggage at the hotel, then set out to explore the Old Town. I just got here, and already I don’t want to leave. This is everything I’d been hoping for in Glasgow. A woman sitting at a table next to me the other night said that Glasgow has a more trendy/hip vibe, while Edinburgh is more posh. I’m not sure I’d use the word “posh”, but I know exactly what she meant. Pubs galore, cobblestone streets, and just a more traditional British feel. I had a ticket to the castle, so I made that my first stop. I took a quick 30 minute guided tour before exploring on my own. I got to see the Scottish crown jewels and heard the 1 o’clock gun which is fired daily to allow mariners in the nearby Firth of Forth to set their clocks. I should probably mention there are tons of people here. With multiple festivals on and the military tattoo (I’ll be going to that tomorrow), Edinburgh is certainly a busy place. The Fringe Festival alone has more than 50,000 shows on over the next 3 weeks.
After the castle, it was time for my midday treat at Lovecrumbs. I thought I had read they had scones, but I was forced to settle for a slice of Victoria Sponge Cake and salted caramel hot chocolate. I bake just about every weekend during the school year, and I’m going for a British theme this year, so it was purely research based. I should probably note that it is finally sunny out today, so I’m sure that is also influencing my love for Edinburgh.
It is wall to wall people all along the Royal Mile (the road between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse). There are buskers everywhere and literally hundreds of people handing out cards and flyers advertising their Fringe Festival performances. I had to stop to pick up some tickets for events tomorrow, then I just wandered through the wynds and closes (tiny alleyways off the Royal mile). There was an original musical that had looked interesting to me in the Fringe guide, so I made my way to St. Columba’s by the Castle to see 89 Nights. It was about a girl who has 90 days (89 nights) on a tourist visa to the US and her experiences in Manhattan. Interesting, enthusiastic cast, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I had planned to have dinner at a nearby pub, but they only serve food until 3, so I missed out. Instead I found an Italian place (that I’m pretty sure is a chain) and had a piadina with Parma ham and mozzarella on the patio.
Today was a mix of sightseeing and gymnastics. If I was only visiting Glasgow on this trip – and aside from the gymnastics – I’d say I was ready to go home. This city just doesn’t interest me, plus the weather has been gloomy since I got here (though the sun came out this afternoon for a bit). But I’m heading to Edinburgh on Monday for three days at the Fringe Festival, and I have a feeling Edinburgh will be more my type of city.
Gymnastics didn’t start until 1 o’clock today, so I had the morning to do something. I lazed around the hotel room for a while before walking to the Riverside Museum, a little over a mile away. The Riverside is a free museum dedicated to transportation. (I know, I’m getting desperate…) It was actually pretty interesting, with walls of cars, several trolleys and buses, and numerous train engines. A highlight of the museum is the tall ship Glenlee which you can also tour for free. Coupled with a scone and hot chocolate in the museum cafe, it was not a bad way to spend the morning.
Next up: the Senior Women’s Gymnastics team final. The Hydro was jam-packed with spectators today to see the best teams in Europe battle it out for the team gold. Sadly, Great Britain had a few missteps and finished fourth behind the Russian Federation, France, and the Netherlands. It’s exciting that many of these same gymnasts will be competing at the Olympics in 2020! Seeing them in person has been a once in a lifetime experience. Tomorrow is the individual apparatus finals, and then I have a two week break before seeing the best of the best American gymnasts challenge each other for the national championship in Boston.
After the medal ceremony, I (and everyone else it seems) took the train to the city centre. I wanted to get a couple of t-shirts and check out George Square, which is ground zero for the Euros. The area was amass with people and a quick walk through and stop at the merchandise shop was enough for me. I had a cute little pub picked out for dinner nearby. I got a corner table and all was well until the waitress came back to tell me she didn’t realize my table was actually reserved and would I possibly like to squeeze into a table in the courtyard? I passed and found a table at Bread Meats Bread (which I had read good things about online) and enjoyed a buffalo chicken poutine instead. If that sounds like a weird combination, it was… and it was amazing! Last night’s plan to catch up on sleep backfired as I watched the hours tick by with no sleep in sight. I’m calling it an early night again tonight; hopefully with better results!
Another day of gymnastics. Since I hadn’t decided whether to do a day trip today or go to the Junior Women’s gymnastics, I waited to buy my ticket until yesterday and was in the very back row on one side of the arena. Hardly close enough to see anything. People don’t seem to show up for all of the sessions, so there were plenty of empty seats and I was able to move closer for all of the sessions.
I went to the first session and then walked into the city centre for “tea” at the Willow Tea Rooms, tucked into a little room on the second floor of a building on Buchanan Street. I recently saw clootie dumplings on the Great British Baking Show, and it was on my list of foods to try in Scotland if I had the chance. Well, today was the day! It’s probably not something I would order again, but it was an interesting fruitcake/gingerbread-type cake with rich custard on top. With the open window and a bagpipe player on the street outside (albeit with a limited repertoire…), it was a perfect place to rest for a bit.
After my midday snack, I went back to watch the second gymnastics session, which included Great Britain and Italy, both of which have amazing junior teams and were ranked 2 and 3 at the end of the session. I felt like I had enough gymnastics for a while after that so I attempted to take a nap and then had dinner in the hotel restaurant before heading back to watch a little of the final session. My lack of sleep is catching up to me, so I only stayed for a short while and then called it a night.
Today was the first day of the European Gymnastics Championships, so I spent most of the day at the SSE Hydro arena taking in the action. I didn’t feel like I was missing very much sightseeing-wise. As a city, I feel like there isn’t a whole lot to interest me in Glasgow, and I saw the highlights I wanted to see yesterday. Anything else will be a bonus. Contrary to yesterday’s prediction, I slept pretty well, save for about 3 hours in the middle of the night when I couldn’t fall back to sleep. So I slept from about 4:30 to 9 last night, and again from midnight til about 5:45 this morning. Not too bad.
The SSE Hydro is literally a 5 minute walk from my hotel so I strolled over in time for the first session of the day. With teams from 26 countries vying for the 8 spots in the team final on Saturday (the top 8 gymnasts on each event also qualify for event finals on Sunday), there were 4 subdivisions in the qualification round today. Each subdivision lasted around 2 hours with about an hour between each round. It was a long day, but these 4 days at the Euros are probably the closest I’ll ever come to an Olympic-like event.
I left the arena after the first subdivision and headed to the Hidden Lane Tearoom nearby. Hidden Lane is really a little alleyway off Argyle Street that opens to a small courtyard of homes and businesses. Since I didn’t get to have a scone yesterday, I made up for it today by enjoying a sultana scone with cream and jam and a Belgian white hot chocolate (complete with marshmallows and whipped cream, thank you very much).
Then it was back for subdivisions 2 and 3, with a short walk back to the hotel in between to charge my phone. Subdivision 4 followed shortly after with enough time for me to grab a Welsh rarebit and sticky toffee pudding for dinner at a restaurant across the street before it started (I know… carbs, carbs, and more carbs today!). Subdivision 4 was the most exciting because the top 8 teams from the 2016 Euros were automatically assigned to the 4th subdivision today. Which meant I finished up my day watching the teams from Russia, Great Britain, Romania, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and France.