Monday, April 14, 2014

Edinburgh Castle and Haggis

We bought tickets in advance for Edinburgh Castle. It saved us a few pounds and some time since we avoided the long line of people waiting to purchase their tickets, and instead went straight to a self-service kiosk (no line) to retrieve ours.

Edinburgh Castle

The oldest part of the castle, St. Margaret's Chapel, dates back to the 12th century. It was used as a private place of worship for the royal family. I was surprised to learn that it's still used today for christenings and weddings!

Scottish National
War Memorial
We visited the Great Hall of King James IV and the Royal Palace. Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to James VI in the palace. The dungeons below the Great Hall housed prisoners of war from the late 18th to early 19th centuries. We also gazed upon Scotland's crown jewels, the oldest in the British Isles. The Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, is the main attraction in the Crown Room. For centuries it was used as a traditional coronation seat for Scotland's kings and queens. It was stolen in 1296 by English King Edward I and taken to Westminster Abbey. In 1950 some Scottish Nationalists brought the stone back to Scotland but it was soon returned to Westminster. Finally, in 1996, the Stone of Destiny was given back to Scotland and installed in the Crown Room.

The Scottish National War Memorial is very moving. It commemorates those who died during World Wars I and II, and of military campaigns since 1945. Inside the Hall of Honour is a steel casket containing a complete Roll of Honour of the Scottish dead. The shrine is illuminated by beautiful stained glass windows.

Regimental Museums Entrance
We also strolled through the Regimental Museums, comprised of the Royal Scots Museum and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum. These regiments are two of Scotland's oldest and their histories are told in chronological order using everything from medals and old maps to personal accounts and artwork. Both museums are comprehensive and one could easily spend several hours wandering through and absorbing all of the history.

One of the world's most famous guns is also located at Edinburgh Castle. Mons Meg was given to King James II by Duke Philip of Burgundy in 1457. The 6-ton canon is capable of firing gunstones weighing 330lbs to a distance of nearly 2 miles. Mons Meg was last fired in 1681. A plaque beside it reads: "Defend Mons Meg! Please do not climb on Mons Meg. She leveled castle walls and terrified the enemies of Scotland's kings. But that was more than 500 years ago. Please treat this grand old lady with some respect."

Mons Meg

And speaking of canons, we stayed around to watch the One o'clock Gun Firing. It happens every day except Sunday and draws quite a crowd in anticipation. The origin of the tradition comes from the days when timepieces weren't available to sailing ships. They were able to check and reset their chronometers based upon the firing of the gun.

One o'clock Gun Firing

After our morning spent at the castle, it was time for lunch. We decided to browse colorful Victoria Street until we found a place that piqued our interest. We ended up having a very nice lunch at Howie's, The menu was an interesting blend of Mediterranean dishes and Scottish favorites.

Having accomplished almost everything on our Edinburgh To-Do List, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Edinburgh, investigating Closes and window-shopping to the soundtrack of bagpipes. The weather was perfect and it was a nice way to cap off our final day.

We really wanted to try a traditional Scottish dining experience for dinner so we made reservations at Dubh Prais (pronounced Doo Prash). Reservations are a little difficult to come by so we ended up with a very early dinner time of 5:30. Though early, we weren't alone in the popular restaurant. Other diners quickly filled the small room that seats just 24 people. Our waitresses were very friendly and we even caught glimpses of the chef and owner as he prepared and finessed the dishes. I chose soup for my starter while my brave husband went in for the kill with haggis. Every restaurant prepares haggis a little differently. At Dubh Prais it's rolled in oatmeal, pan-fried, and served with a creamy leek and whiskey sauce. My husband had a bit of a difficult time getting it down but for some reason he had resolved to eat the entire portion and he achieved his goal. It wasn't until when we were at the airport waiting to board our flight back home that he looked up the official ingredients of haggis and turned a lovely shade of pea green.

For the main course I chose salmon and he went with a saddle of venison. Dessert was a light, delectable lemon shortcake. The food was excellent and I think if you are on a mission to eat haggis while you're in Edinburgh, Dubh Prais is probably one of the best options. Make sure to reserve well in advance for a more traditional dinner time, but if those slots are filled just take the earlier time-- you won't be sorry.

Our time in Edinburgh had sadly come to its end. We spent a lovely two days in the capital city and I would be happy to return again any time. People were very friendly, the city wasn't too overcrowded with tourists, and it was nice to be able to read and hear things in English. Sometimes you just miss small talk.

Until next time, Edinburgh. Keep the haggis in stock for my husband!

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