Enchanting Edinburgh part three

Morning all. Happy Sunday. It’s a bit of a miserable day outside today so it’s ruined my plans of getting out in the garden. Apparently Storm Freya is on her way. She’s not headed our way but I guess we’ve got her to blame for the pants weather. It feels a world apart from this time last week when I was headed up to Edinburgh.

Speaking of which, here’s the third and final instalment of my Edinburgh trip. This one will be mostly pictorial I think.

I had some work to do first, so I was up early and headed back over to Waverley Station to get the Airlink 100 back out nearly to the airport where I was meeting some colleagues. That went well and before I knew it I was back on the Airlink 100 again headed for the zoo, which is in between the airport and the city centre. I’ve mentioned my quandary with zoos before. I don’t like to see caged animals, but I do find myself drawn to zoos and safari parks because I just love to see animals in the flesh, and I know that zoos work incredibly hard to maintain endangered species and that they need entrance money to do so. I have to say, on this sunny day the animals seemed to be loving basking in the rays, even the penguins to whom it can’t come naturally.

The zoo has lockers available to rent which I made use of to store my laptop bag whilst I wondered round. I’m so glad they have this facility because my laptop bag is pretty heavy, and the zoo is built on quite a steep hill so I’d have struggled if I’d had to carry it all afternoon. My back was really achy as it was by the end of the day.

First port of call was a cafe! It was about one o’clock by this point and all I’d had to eat was Belvita Breakfast biscuits on the bus so my tummy was somewhat rumbly. I grabbed a sandwich and a scrummy piece of rocky road and headed outside. Picnic in the sun, in February, in Scotland! Bet that doesn’t happen often. I was sat in my shirt sleeves and the sun was beating down on me. Bliss!

My train home was just before five o’clock so I prioritised the animals that I really wanted to see most in case I didn’t have time to get round the whole zoo. Edinburgh Zoo is the only zoo in the UK which has koalas and giant pandas and I was very excited to see them so I headed in their direction first.

There are two adult koalas, a male and a female. I couldn’t get a clear photo of the female because she was hidden up safely at the top of her enclosure because she has a tiny joey that she’s very protective of. The zoo keepers don’t even know yet whether the joey is a girl or a boy.

The male koala was in the next door enclosure, and he was just hanging around in a tree seemingly unperturbed by all the people gawping at him.

Their enclosures weren’t huge, but I’m sure I’ve read that koalas don’t have a big territory in the wild. I remember images of them in wild fires in Australia where people were having to climb trees to rescue them because they were too lazy to bother moving. Amazing that they found the energy to make a joey really! Having seen them in the flesh now, I’m even more convinced that they should officially be called koala bears even though they’re officially marsupials, because they just look so cuddly like bears.

Next off to the giant pandas. There are two, a male and a female on a ten year loan from a Chinese zoo, but I only saw one of them. They’re in identical adjacent enclosures, but they only come together for the small mating window between March and May. Giant pandas on average only spend two to four days a year with a potential mate – this could be the secret to a happy marriage! She’s perfectly free to arrange her bamboo however she fancies with no one to mess it up!

I made my way over to the penguin enclosure next. At two fifteen every day they do a penguin parade. This was accidentally started in 1951 when a keeper inadvertently left the gate open and the penguins followed him round the zoo in single file! The keepers don’t encourage the penguins out using food so it’s entirely up to the penguins if they want to come out or not. I wasn’t in luck – apparently it was vaccination day the previous week and the penguins were still wary of the keepers. There are some great videos like this one on YouTube though if you want to have a look.

I headed over to the grey kangaroos next. There are four of them, an adult mating pair and their adolescent offspring and, I was delighted to see, a joey still living in its mother’s pouch. I haven’t got a photo of it, but I saw the joey poke its head out and have a look around. It was just like a scene from Winnie the Pooh with Kanga and Roo. I stood there, camera poised, for ages after this hoping to catch it on film, but it didn’t reappear. You can see from the first pic below though that there’s definitely a sizeable joey in that pouch.

I also saw the mother and the teenager have a boxing match over some minor disagreement. Maybe he’s annoyed that he’s having to play second fiddle to the new baby!

I was right to prioritise the animals that I really wanted to see because I didn’t have time to make it round the whole zoo before it was time to head back to the bus stop unfortunately. I won’t bore you with every animal that I did see, but here’s a few of my favourite photos that hopefully need no explanation.

So here endeth my Edinburgh ramblings. I had such a fantastic time and I would love to spend some more time up there. I was so so SO lucky with the weather and I probably wouldn’t have been able to do so much if it’d been wet or super cold, but really, there’s a lot of indoor stuff to do as well so it really is an all weather destination. Five stars to Edinburgh!

Enchanting Edinburgh part two

Hello, it’s me again, harping on about Edinburgh some more!

Day two and I woke up in my hotel feeling refreshed and ready for a full day of sightseeing. I got ready, grabbed my Belvita Breakfast Biscuits and headed off down Princes Street to the tour bus stop outside Waverley Station.

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I prebooked tickets for a hop on hop off bus with Edinburgh Bus Tours. It was £55 but I could hop on and off three routes, the red City Sightseeing bus and the green Edinburgh tour which both concentrated on the central sights, and the blue Majestic route which went all the way out to Leith. I also got fast track entry into three attractions, Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse Palace and the Royal Yacht Britannia, and it just so happened that these three were top of my wish list.

I decided to start furthest away from the city and work my way back, so I jumped on the Majestic bus and grabbed a seat on the open top. Admittedly there was a roof over about a third of the top deck, but it was mostly open, and I was warmer than I was on top of the open top bus in Malta! Bizarre weather for February, in Scotland! I was given headphones so I plugged in and listened to the commentary as we drove.

Soon we arrived in Leith and I hopped off excited to see the Royal Yacht. The way they’ve arranged this is really good. The entrance is on the top floor of the adjacent shopping centre and you enter the Yacht via a gangway straight on to the top deck. As you finish on each deck you go back down the gangway and down a flight of stairs to the gangway on to the deck below. An audio guide is included which gives you loads of interesting info.

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On the top deck, fairly obviously you find the bridge and an open deck which must’ve been fab for all those honeymooning Royals in warm climes. Four Royal couples chose to start married life aboard Britannia. Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones sailed around the Caribbean for six weeks on her following their wedding in 1960 and Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips endured twenty foot high waves and severe sea sickness on their 1973 honeymoon also to the Caribbean. Prince Charles and Princess Diana sailed round the Med and the Greek Islands for sixteen days in 1981 after they tied the knot. The state room that they slept in is the only one to have a double bed, which Prince Charles specifically requested for their honeymoon (somewhat ironically given subsequent events!) Finally Prince Andrew and Fergie enjoyed five days cruising round the Azores following their 1986 nuptials. I would recommend that anyone considering marriage doesn’t go anywhere near Britannia in the weeks following their marriage given that in the working lifetime of the Yacht, all those Royals who honeymooned on her ended up divorced!

Next deck down are the state rooms of the Royal Family. The Queen and Prince Phillip had adjoining rooms, both with single beds.

Both were decorated specifically to each occupant’s preference.

Throughout the ship you will also find various reception rooms, some of which are available to hire. I imagine it costs quite a few pretty pennies, but how cool would it be to hold an event on the Royal Yacht? I did wonder how they vet the requests because I noted that there were plush carpets throughout most of the rooms and I don’t think they’d take kindly to some raucous hen do spilling red wine everywhere!

Speaking of alcohol, there was no shortage of opportunity to enjoy a few jars or tots. On the upper decks there were sophisticated bars where the Royals could’ve relaxed before dinner.

And further down you find your pubby type drinking establishments more aimed at the navies where they could wind down after their duties were done for the day.

There were more than two hundred and fifty crew on the Royal Yacht including a military band, all headed by an Admiral.

Their living quarters were somewhat less palatial than those of the Royal Family.

Except the Admiral, of course, who had his own separate quarters near the bridge that were much more suited to his rank.

The ship was built with the dual purpose of being used as a hospital ship in times of need, and it could be completely converted within a week if the need arose (which it never did).

I loved wandering, and wondering, around the Royal Yacht but I had a lot to fit it, so I headed back to the hop on hop off bus, which turned up bang on time, and headed back towards the city and Holyroodhouse Palace.

Holyroodhouse Palace is the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh, and she spends a week there every July (lucky lady) to undertake Royal engagements and investitures. The photo above is the fountain at the entrance to the palace. The water only flows when the Queen is in residence or on special occasions to save it from damage. It’s forbidden to take photos inside the palace so I’m struggling to remember everything that I saw, but I was left with an overwhelming feeling of awe. It’s a wonderful place to visit, full of history and legend. Its walls are covered with the most fantastic tapestries and paintings.

Mary Queen of Scots is probably the most famous former resident. She lived at Holyroodhouse Palace from 1561 to 1567. I walked through her bedchamber with its tiny bed (which must’ve been uncomfortable given that Mary was six feet tall) and through to the outer chamber. This is where Mary was eating her dinner on 9th March 1566 when she witnessed the brutal murder of her private secretary David Rizzio by her jealous husband Lord Darnley and his henchmen. He was stabbed fifty six times! Clearly jealousy is a powerful weapon!

Bonnie Prince Charlie also resided here for six weeks in 1745. He came to claim the throne of Great Britain. It seems he was quite a character! You can walk through the Great Gallery which he used to greet his audiences by day, but then transformed it so he could party the night away in the same space. He slept in the Lord Darnley chamber and the very bed he slept in is still there.

Back outside, I came to the ruins of Holyrood Abbey. This was a grand mediaeval abbey, and although it is now in ruins, from what is left, you can imagine how grandiose it once was. The photo ban is lifted for the abbey, and you don’t have to tell me twice!

There’s a great view of Arthur’s Seat from the front courtyard of the palace. Next time I find myself in Edinburgh, I will definitely attempt to get to the top because the views must be stunning.

Next stop, Edinburgh Castle. So, back on the hop on hop off bus, this time the green Edinburgh Tour. This one had live commentary rather than prerecorded. I wasn’t on the bus long, but I learnt about Greyfriars Bobby.

Bobby became famous because after his owner of two years died and was buried in Greyfriars Cemetery, Bobby slept on the grave every night until his death fourteen years later. He is commemorated in this statue and his grave can be found in Greyfriars Cemetery also, not far from his owners.

Isn’t that heartwarming?

Edinburgh Castle looms over the city. There’s not many places you can’t see it from. It was a Royal residence as early as the twelfth century right up to sixteen thirty three, but from the fifteenth century it was used less and less as a residence and it was principally used as a military base.

There’s evidence inside of the Royal connection, not least through the presence of the Scottish Crown Jewels. No photos allowed, but they’re pretty impressive, although perhaps not as much so as I anticipated. I think I was dreaming of something like this.

I peered into the tiny tiny room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI (and I of England). It’s got incredible painting on the walls and ceilings.

I’m sure she wasn’t really paying attention to that whilst in the throes of labour!

The castle was fortified to the hilt. This cannon could send its contents flying two miles away. TWO MILES!

I have to include this next photo of another cannon purely because I like the photo!

I don’t think I did the Castle justice. I paid for the audio guide, but having spent all day listening to audio guides and absorbing oodles of interesting information, I’d reached saturation point and I couldn’t take much more in. Perfect excuse to go back!

Now, after all this historical culture, I decided it was time for some more up to date exploring – Harry Potter! Of course! Edinburgh is the home of JK Rowling, and Hogwarts and Hogsmeade are fictionally (I think, although as a muggle, I may just not be able to see them) located somewhere in Scotland.

I’d already seen for myself where a lot of the inspiration behind Harry Potter must’ve come from. As soon as I arrived in the centre of Edinburgh, I said to myself (actually out loud I think) as I trotted down Princes Street ‘Hogwarts could NOT have looked any different!) This is what you see as you head away from Waverley Station.

Doesn’t it just look like Hogwarts could be hiding behind the more modern buildings?

Then as I looked around Edinburgh, I saw the spires, turrets and arches of Holyroodhouse Palace …

… the Great Hall in Edinburgh Castle …

… and the Scott Monument in Princes Park …

… and I knew without a doubt that Harry Potter could only have come to life out of the imagination of someone who knew and loved Edinburgh.

I found the elephant house which is the cafe where JK Rowling wrote some of the early books.

I didn’t have time to go in – another thing on the list for next time. Apparently the toilets are daubed with Harry Potter themed graffiti.

I sauntered down Victoria Street which is said to have inspired Diagon Alley …

… and I searched Greyfriars Cemetery for the grave which allegedly gave rise to Tom Riddle, who as any devotee will know, became Lord V …. nope, can’t do it! He who must not be named!

I spotted various miscellany dotted around Edinburgh that made me wonder if JK had seen the same and used them in her writing.

In the castle I saw this crest …

Slytherin?

In Princes Park there’s a statue of Allan Ramsay, the poet.

See his headwear? Did JK see this and imagine a creature living in that scarf? Is that how Professor Quirrell came to be?

A unicorn at Holyroodhouse Palace. This is not an isolated unicorn. They’re all over Edinburgh because, I learnt, the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland! Did this spark all the magical beasts (and where to find them!) in Harry Potter. You saw in part one all I learnt about faeries on my walking tour. It seems perfectly natural now that JK’s imagination gave rise to all these magical, mythical animals.

By now I’d clocked up nearly twenty thousand steps so I was feeling in need of a quick pit stop and then my bed! I found Makar’s Gourmet Mash Bar which I had previously researched on tripadvisor so I gladly fell into a window seat to rest my weary bones.

When in Rome and all that! I had to give haggis a try while I was there. I’d already enjoyed several Irn Brus (although they were in plastic bottles and I’ve since learnt that it tastes much better from a glass bottle) so I upped the Scottish ante and ordered mini haggis, neeps and tatties (otherwise known as haggis, potato and turnip) which promised to be a perfect beginner’s option for those new to haggis.

Yum! It didn’t last long! I followed this up with Bonnie Prince Charlie char-grilled chicken in a whisky, peppercorn and mustard sauce. You get to choose from eight different kinds of mash and I opted for Scottish cheddar/chive cheese mash.

Double yum! I couldn’t finish it, although I really tried hard, and I had no room for dessert.

It would appear that I had rather a lot to say about Edinburgh, and I haven’t even mentioned the zoo yet! I think I’ll save that for another day because regular animals (impressive as some of them were) seem rather misfitting next to unicorns and other magical beasts. Suffice it to say that I had an amazing, awesome, outstanding day. Thank you Edinburgh!

A week of food

I’m actually halfway through a draft of a post I’ve been pondering for a few weeks, but it’s taking me a little while to get it right, so in the meantime I’ve come to tell you about my week of scrummy food. Honestly it’s no wonder I struggle to lose weight!

We had another Gousto box this week and, oh my, it was full of deliciousness!

We started the week with a veggie offering. Neither of us is vegetarian, but we are both animal lovers so we do try to reduce the amount of meat we eat. Hubby tries to only eat it once a day, and I will often choose a veggie option over meat. I’m not a massive meat lover anyway, I don’t really like the texture and I can’t bear fatty or gristly cuts. I find that I get very tired after prolonged periods without meat, so I don’t cut it out altogether. I’m obviously not getting everything I need from my veggie choices.

Anyway, feast your eyes on this.

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This is a spinach and feta tart with crispy potatoes and rocket salad. It was really quick and easy to make and so so tasty. It reminded us both of relaxed and restful Greek holidays, probably just because of the feta. Y-um!

Next up I took a bit of a risk. Tandoori fish! I don’t mind fish (as long as it doesn’t still have its eye looking at me *shudder*) but I wasn’t sure if the delicate fishy flavours would work with the strong tasting tandoori marinade, but it absolutely did. I should have known really because good old Gousto has rarely let us down. I forgot to take a photo of this one, so desperate was I to try it but here’s the Gousto pic.

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Next up was another veggie dish. I love love loved this one, and again it was super easy to make and took less than fifteen minutes. Hubby says he liked it, but I didn’t get the vibe that he loved it quite as much as I did. I love picky food – crisps and dips, crudités, a finger buffet – so Gousto’s halloumi shawarma with hummus couldn’t have been further up my alley.

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We grilled the pittas and pumpkin seeds, fried the halloumi in a tiny bit of olive oil and blitzed together chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil and lemon to make the hummus …… and then the dipping commenced. The nommiest of noms!

Finally we had a meat option, chicken schnitzel with apple and potato salad. I have absolutely no doubt that this will become a regular dish in the Green Girl Gardener household. Really simple and easy to make, oh so tasty, and common ingredients that we generally have in the kitchen already.

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We had a lovely, and delicious, surprise at our front door on Monday this week. Our neighbours held their baby son’s christening at the weekend, and it seems they’d over-catered (always safer than under-catering) and they brought us round cake! How amazing! Cake on the doorstep on a Monday evening. How very kind of them to think of us.

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It was a rocky road style cake topped with teeny tiny marshmallows and hundreds and thousands all drizzled with white chocolate. Sooooooo good! Mindful of having to get into swimwear in the near future, I shared the joy and took the last four pieces to work for my lovely colleagues to enjoy.

The working week ended with another delicious meal, this time out with my Dad and our very good friend in town. Yep, that’s right, I went out! Not just out, but out out. In town! Not the local town, but proper city centre, second city, Birmingham town. Whoop! Don’t do this very often so it feels like such a luxury, and oh my goodness, this restaurant didn’t disappoint.

It’s an Indian restaurant called Varanasi, but this is not just your local sit down, bring your own, have a great time Indian restaurant. This one did Indian food and fancy dining with so much aplomb that my head practically exploded with gleeful wonderment!

First of all I have to show you a few snaps of the interior which dazzled and amazed before we’d even got as far as opening the wine list (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, obviously!) or perusing the menu.

Just look!

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You really feel like you’re entering somewhere special as you’re escorted down that corridor of Buddha-Esque statues. I’m ashamed to say I don’t know who they represented. Krishna maybe?

The restaurant on the other side is laid out over three floors with balconies overlooking the lower levels and low lighting to accentuate the ambience created by the burning incense. I don’t normally like incense, but this was by no means overpowering and made me feel completely immersed in the Hindu inspired environment.

Once we had finished marvelling at our surrounding, and we were seated, we commenced the almost impossible task of deciding what to choose from the menu. Not easy! We had some poppadoms and chutneys whilst we decided.

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Even this was done well with each of us having our own chutney pots to save reaching over each other. This is always awkward I find when you’re out in a larger group and you don’t have the chutney right in front of you and have to either keep leaning over your neighbour or cover your plate in raita which you then can’t quite scoop on to your poppadom!

The waiters were incredibly attentive without being intrusive and were around to give us advice on which dishes to choose. I decided on the Varanasi special chicken curry with steamed rice and I opted to have it cooked with medium spice.

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It was amazing. It had a definite kick (glad I opted for medium) but with a hint of ginger. The dish was beautifully presented and perfectly cooked. It was a veritable delectation for the taste buds! We shared a naan bread which again appeals to my love of picky, dippy food. We were three very satisfied diners.

Goodness knows how, but between us we managed to get through four bottles of the fruity Sauvignon Blanc so a trip to the little girls’ room was required, and luckily I took my phone with me because there were more photo opportunities.

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What a beautiful bathroom.  The hand wash smelt divine! I didn’t use the moisturiser because when our hand towels were brought after dinner which were expanded in little bowls of water in front of us, we were also given a little bottle of moisturiser, so I used that.

All in all, a thoroughly excellent evening of laughs and scrumptious food. I would highly recommend Varanasi to anyone who finds themselves in the vacinity of this great city of mine.

Must dash, we’re off to the matinee performance of War Horse today (in town again, twice within twenty four hours!) so I need to get a wiggle on. I’m super excited about seeing this show. I loved the book and I know several people who have seen the stage show and have raved about it. I’ll let you all know if it lives up to expectations. I have no doubt it will.