Edinburgh: Castles, Whisky, Ales, and Ancestry

We arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland on a Friday afternoon ready for whisky tasting, castle exploring, and digging in to our family roots. It immediately reminded me of London. The sky was overcast with misting rain, everyone spoke English (some signs were in Scottish Gaelic), and older men were already past their limit in the pubs as we made our way to our hotel. We traveled about 45 minutes via train to the center of town and had a short walk to our hotel, Old Waverly. This 3-star hotel was in a prime location for exploring the city by foot for the weekend.

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Edinburgh Castle 
Our first stop was a walk through the Old Town down the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is the name given to the main street in the Old Town. It begins at the entrance of the Edinburgh Castle and ends (but under a different name) at the waterfront of the North Sea. Street performers lined the cobblestone road dressed in kilts playing traditional bagpipe melodies, shops with plaid everything adorned the storefronts, and we couldn’t walk ten feet without seeing another pub. Speaking of which – we also couldn’t resist the temptation of a Scottish ale and made a pit stop at the Toolbooth Tavern for a quick pint.

After meandering the Royal Mile, people watching, and taking in the sights at night, we wandered up to the castle for a decent view of the city despite the darkness.

Our next day in this fairy-tale city consisted of whisky tastings, the Crown Jewels, and a fun, interactive science museum. Being enthusiast of whiskey in general (maybe it’s in our Scottish blood!), we were excited to book a tour at the Scotch Whisky Experience. The tour was informational and also entertaining. We patiently sat through a vivid presentation of how whisky is made and how each whisky varies in taste depending on which region of Scotland it was produced in. The most fascinating tidbit that resonated with me was to learn which region-produced whisky I enjoyed the most according to the taste.

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Regions of Scotland. Photo from http://www.acespirits.com
After the tour, it was on to the tastings! We sipped five different samples from each region and talked with our tour buddies of which we appreciated the most. I enjoyed the flavors resonating from the Speyside region that come from distilleries such as Glenlivet.

Random fact: Scotch Whisky is spelled without the “e,” whereas Irish whiskey is spelled, “whiskey.” There’s also a difference in how each batch is made. Kentucky Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey also have different characteristics and names.

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Rows and rows of Scotch Whisky
Once we were finished tasting the “water of life” (the Scottish Gaelic name for whisky, uisge-beatha, translates directly to this) we wandered back up to the castle to take a tour and see the Crown Jewels.  This was truly a fascinating sight. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed in the room of the Crown Jewels, also known as the Honours of Scotland. We floated through a couple rooms adorned with Scottish history facts noting all the way back to the Roman Empire in the 1st century.

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Road leading to the front of the Edinburgh Castle
We ended our night at the interactive and fascinating Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. This fun-zone featured magic galleries, illusions, holograms, and more all while informing visitors of Scotland’s history.

The Camera Obscura was live moving images of Edinburgh throughout the years. And from the rooftop of this beguiling museum were some of the best views of the city.

On our last full day in Edinburgh we brunched at Mimi’s Cafe in the neighborhood of Leith, about a 45-minute walk from the center of town near the waterfront. The bakehouse won “Scottish Baker of the Year” for the past two years, and we understood why after tasting the delectable morsels of scones and cakes. I ordered the Afternoon Tea menu which included an Earl Grey tea, mini sandwiches filled with ingredients such as honey roasted ham, apple sausage, and caramelized onion chutney. An assortment of cakes and scones adorned the 3-tier tray which was almost too pretty to touch.

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We couldn’t leave Edinburgh without stopping by The Elephant House. This tea and coffee house is most famous for inspiring J.K Rowling – she wrote a lot of her early novels here overlooking the castle and Old Town.

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I left a piece of my heart in Edinburgh. I’m not sure if it was the whisky that tugged on my heart strings, the charming Old Town and it’s beautiful castle, or that my family’s ancestors hoofed this country many years ago. But I do know that I cannot wait to go back and explore more of this majestic land.

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Near the waterfront in the Leith neighborhood
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Love this picture of the hubs – his family’s roots also lay in Scotland
 

 

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