Who knew Edinburgh had hills? No one, I suppose, other than a person with a rudimentary knowledge of geography and history. That is, someone other than the author.
We left London on the 1200 train from Kings Cross Station. We arrived in plenty of time to find a McDonald's, as was promised to Owen the night before. For some inexplicable reason, the station had just about everything -- even a Platform 9 3/4, for goodness sakes -- other than the Golden Arches. Perhaps there was a McDonald's there and we muggles simply needed the right magical spell to make it appear. Oh well, Owen handled it with grace and both he and Lauren made themselves right at home in our first class British Rail seats.
The trip between London and Edinburgh was really nice -- lush English farmland and gracefully rolling hills followed by dramatic Scottish coastline. Not that Lauren or Owen got to enjoy much of it. Between their card games and constant use of electronic equipment, they were much more focused on what was happening inside the train than out. Keri and I got a few hours of relative peace and quiet, though, which, in retrospect, only prepared us for what was to come.
We arrived at Edinburgh Waverly Station at 420. On our way into the station, I had looked up our flat location and saw that it was less than one-half mile from the station, probably closer than our London flat was to Victoria Station. Such a short distance, I thought, would make it absurd to take a taxi. Let's, walk, I said to Keri, and get to see some of the city. (In my defense, the mileage was accurate, it simply did not account for the elevation change.)
The good news is that my wife and children are still speaking to me. The bad news is that this was far from certain yesterday afternoon. Our trek out of the station started with a steep ascent to Waverley Bridge. About halfway up, Owen had given up on pulling/pushing his large bag. Lauren was not far behind. Keri was stuck dragging two bags. I took two, as well, while at the same time trying to navigate through a city that I knew not at all. It got worse. We crossed Market Street and headed up Cockburn Street, which winds its way up -- and I do mean up -- the hill that leads to the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle. As I pulled two bags, with the kids walking with me, Keri was a good twenty feet back, clearly miserable. A stranger saw her travails and offered to help. She graciously told him no and then shot me a look.
We made it in, started to unpack and, a few minutes and apologies later, resumed normal conversation. As Keri and I agreed later that night, if this is the worst moment of our trip, we will be just fine.
Today, Keri's parents joined us on a visit to Edinburgh Castle. The castle sits on the plug of an extinct volcano, right in the middle of the city -- and a couple blocks up the street from our flat. (Again, a person more thoughtful than I would have put extinct volcano and proximity to flat together, and hired a taxi.) The first significant structure was built on the site in the 12th Century. Over the next six-hundred years, the Scots and the English took turns holding the site, using it as a royal residence and military fortress, and, of course destroying it (on at least one occasion, by the Scots, to keep the English from using it against them). Most of the present structure dates to the 17th Century, and includes defensive structural features from that time.
The thing that stands out most about this castle is the site. As mentioned above, it sits on a large hill in the middle of a city. The views in all directions are dramatic, and you can really see the strategic importance the site holds to this city. You can appreciate how difficult it would be to attack the castle, as its natural defenses are so pronounced. You can further appreciate that the site would be vulnerable to a long-siege, given its limited water supply and ability to bring in supplies.
At least three other things make a the visit worthwhile -- (1) the Scottish Crown Jewels, not anywhere as visually impressive as their English cousins, but with an accompanying narrative that makes the jewels (which are the crown, scepter and sword traditionally used in the coronation ceremonies of Scottish kings and queens) worth checking out, (2) the National War Museum, an impressive collection of weapons, uniforms and stories of the role played by Scots in the military forces of the United Kingdom (among the interesting things I learned was that more than 11% of the population here was in active service in World War I, the greatest percentage of any nation), and (3) the overlap in royal dynasties between the Scots and the English, in particular the importance of the Stuart family as the first Scottish rulers over England.
We spent the better part of one day at the castle, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. We'll probably meet Keri's parents for dinner this evening and then head in different directions tomorrow, as they are taking a day tour up to Loch Ness. We'll spend three days in the Highlands after they leave.
The family Eckstein has been here less than one day and, after a rocky start, we seem to be settling in pretty well. The four of us look forward to the rest of our week here, and, hopefully, only gentle slopes from here on out.