I had a feeling Edinburgh would be wonderful. It seemed everyone who talked about it had their eyes roll back in their head with nostalgia. Now, after having experienced it first hand, there is no question. It is magical.
Having spent my entire life in Cascadia I thought I had a pretty good idea of what lush green looked like. Enter Scotland. There is something about the richness of the trees in contrast with the grey sky and stone buildings that creates an entirely new and vibrant shade of what I am calling "movie screen green."
While I knew Scotland was a part of the United Kingdom I didn't anticipate how "English" it would be. I was delighted to learn I could have some of the same simple pleasures that came easily in London.
For example, Marks & Spencer was down the street making it easy to get healthy food to go. I once again enjoyed scones and clotted cream from Costa Coffee, hooked up the iPhone with affordable data from 3 and found accessible nanny service without any trouble at all. (Thank you Lisa with Butterfly Personnel.) Life is good here.
We stayed in a nice two-bedroom apartment on Princess Street, across from the St. James shopping centre and just a short walk to the Royal Mile. It was perfect. Our building had a shared rooftop garden with amazing 360 degree views. I had hopes of spending a lot of time there with the kids but the rain had other plans for us. A real killjoy as Cinderella would say but then again we have to pay for the green somehow.
Another pleasant surprise was experiencing the first signs of excitement surrounding the 2012 Summer Games. As the UK prepares to welcome the world in the coming weeks little bits of branding is starting to pop up all over town.
The only thing more gratifying than photographing these giant rings on "The Mound" was watching them bring smiles to the faces of others who posed for picture after picture.
Having personally been involved with Vancouver 2010 the Olympics will always hold a special place in my heart. Once again, I find myself deeply touched by its powerful messages of hope. This event pays tribute to the timeless triumph of the human spirit. There truly isn't anything else quite like it.
I was also happy to see that UK's National Portrait Gallery has installed an outdoor exhibit titled Road to 2012. It features beautiful photography of athletes and key figures. Below are a few photos I took of the images while my first official 2012 happy tears were shed. I look forward to more blurry eyed moments as we head back to London next week.
During our walk along the Royal Mile I reluctantly shuffled a "need to nap" toddler and hungry baby into the Queen's Gallery. At first it was a simple an attempt to get out of the pouring rain but my interest quickly turned as I saw they offered tours of the Palace of Holyroodhouse (The Queen's official residence in Scotland.) Much to my dismay, however, they were both closed that day. I enquired further to find that we couldn't go in because they were in use being set up for a garden party. OMG! What I would give to be a butterfly in that garden.
It turns out Prince William and Henry were in da house. We didn't actually see them but it was still awesome to think they were there hanging out doin' their royal things just a few hundred meters away. Perhaps they too were staring up at the same tiny patch of blue sky that decided to make an appearance for the first time since our arrival.
We enjoyed (yes, I did conscientiously write the word enjoyed in this scentence) two meals with the kids. The first was a darling family friendly cafe called Hemma just a hop, skip and jump from the Dynamic Earth museum.
Owned by a couple from Sweden this place offers high chairs, a kid menu and a prize for anyone who draws a picture for their wall. The best part is the treasure chest of toys for wee ones to play with while mommy and daddy drink their wine.
As much as my mind tells me to stay away from five star properties with kids, my heart seeks them out. The truth is they can make traveling with children a heck of a lot easier, especially when you are in a non-english speaking country.
As it was, we couldn't spend the weekend in the UK without enjoying a proper Sunday roast. We were all having a particularly good morning and I decided it would be nice to go out as a family somewhere special. So, I booked a table at the gorgeous Balmoral Hotel next door to our apartment.
All I can say is THANK YOU! Thank you to the manager (Mr. Nair), the service staff, the chefs and even the other guests. What an incredible gift you gave us that afternoon. We have never felt more welcomed at a fine dining establishment.
We were seated towards the back of the restaurant where they had set up a kid's table with toys, books and a video player with the movie Ice Age. They also brought Ava an activity book with crayons. Throughout the entire meal multiple people came by our table to talk with Ava and pointing out various pages, etc. The strange thing is that they all seemed genuinely interested in talking with us. The food was incredible but the kindness they showed our family will never be forgotten.
At one point an elderly woman, dressed in her Sunday best, saw me walk to the washroom with Evan. On my way back she waved me over and asked if she could hold him. Her face radiated with happiness when I passed him into her arms. "Go eat" she said without taking her eyes off him. "Go eat."
I noticed the first time I walked by the hotel that they have a gold square plaque outside the entrance that reads, "Children Welcome." I thought it was novel then but now it has an entirely different meaning. I can assure you the next time we find ourselves in Edinburgh I know where we'll be staying.
On our final night in town I went out by myself for fish and chips. I have no idea what this place is called but the walkway was alluring and the restaurant was cozy and comfortable. They served homemade tarter sauce in tiny mason jar and lemon in a little net tied with satin ribbon. Enough said.
My ultimate goal was to find a bar on the Royal Mile with free Wi-Fi to do some travel planning without family distractions. Several pubs (and coincidentally several drinks later) I had nearly given up when this kind gentleman at The Bank Hotel climbed a latter (in a kilt) to reset their server for me. Brilliant!
Not more than five minutes after I had started working a giant screen above my head clicked on as an important football match was about to begin. The place was suddenly shoulder to shoulder packed. I gave up, ordered another "Highland Bouquet" martini and started cheering.
The photo below makes me smile for several reasons. First off, I went into this shop (located next door to M&S) to buy a wool scarf. I was dumb to the fact that they have one of the best whisky collections in town. More important than the bottles, however, is the incredible knowledge of the man on the far right.
Mike knows whisky. Not only does he know whisky, he loves it. His passion is contagious and exhilarating. You can point to any bottle on the shelf and he can share a handful of interesting details without taking a moment to pause. He isn't all talk either. During the course of our half hour conversation the guy had me sippin' three different samples.
Another cool thing about this photo is the guy in the middle. It just so happens that he is an industry colleague of Darrin and his brother. It was a total coincidence that we bumped into each other and started chatting with Mike the Whisky Man. It is a small world.
One of the things I enjoy about travel is the permission it gives me to wander. The free "hall pass" to be out walking the streets or to simply sit quietly without the need to explain a sense of purpose.
I am sure there are people who are comfortable doing this anywhere but as it stands, I'm not one of them. Only when I am away do I feel content being completely present in the moment. I need distance from the familiar to transition from passing through a place and time to observing as life passes by. Incidentally, travel gives me this golden ticket. It allows me to accidentally be in the right place at the right time.
This particular right moment took place on the Royal Mile outside a quintessential stone church with a traditional celtic style red door. I was sitting there nursing Evan and thinking to myself how angelic it looked through the lightly misting rain. I had just decided to reach for my camera when the magnificent sound of bagpipes filled the air. The door of the church flew open and out walked a breathtaking bride and groom.
Time stood still while I witnessed a private and heartwarming scene unfold as the couple tenderly kissed one another as husband and wife for the first time. I was utterly and completely captivated.
As with many girls, I have spent countless hours dreaming, hoping and wishing about my wedding day. Even after seven blissful years of marriage, I still occasionally think about being a bride in a fairytale setting such as this.
In this whimsical moment, however, I wasn't thinking about myself. In fact, my attention wasn't on the bride at all. As I cradled my baby boy in my arms I looked up to make eye contact with the groom. Tears of joy were gracefully streaming down his face as he turned to embrace the well dressed woman behind him. She held him ever so tightly for several long seconds as only a mother can do.
It was then that a glimpse of my son's bright and promising future flashed before my eyes. There on a wooden bench outside a little enchanted church in Edinburgh I fell in love deeper than ever before.