Edinburgh Revisited

I am back in Basel after a weekend in Disneyland Paris, where the rest of the fam abandoned me to head back home. It’s weird being here without all of the chaos of the past week.

In any case, it’s time to travel back in time to close out last weekend in Edinburgh, where the overwhelming theme of our short stay in Scotland seemed to be castles.

2402-2019-06505452105016788102196135832798665609277.jpeg

Night Tour

After arriving back in Edinburgh from our Highlands trip, we did a quick Royal Mile tour for Laura and Gianni. We did a number of the spots that we hit last time and, given how many walking tours we did last time, passed on a “telephone” version of the history.

img_20190216_1950518917920354322524006.jpg

This meant that we made our way up the Royal Mile, past St. Giles Cathedral. We showed them Elephant House (where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter) and made Mia very sad by standing across the street from her beloved Nandos. Mia was suffering from a cold, though, so we were on the hunt for soupy food. She once again lost her chance at trying out Nandos. Some other time, I suppose.

From there, we went around the corner to what I guess has become an obligatory trip to see Greyfriars Bobby (aka, “the goodest boy”). There were so many sticks near his grave. It warmed my heart. Also, the sign where you can see people who Harry Potter characters were named after was about as deep into the kirkyard that I wanted to venture at night. The ghost tour in November was enough quality time with that place at night for me.

img_20190216_19153836377165016175551.jpg

From there, we walked down to the Grassmarket area and then up Victoria Street before doing a night stop at the Edinburgh Castle. We didn’t spend much time there because James was tired and cranky and Mia was sick. Instead, we got some takeaway soups from a Japanese restaurant our hotel and called it a somewhat early night. It was a long day.

img_20190216_1933543330414127498941810.jpg

Arthur’s Seat

During our last trip to Edinburgh, the only thing James wanted to do was see Arthur’s Seat. This is the peak of a series of hills in Edinburgh, where you can get a beautiful view of the city (especially at sunrise). The problem with James’s request was that he didn’t mention this until 3/4 pm on our first day there, which in November meant that we didn’t have much light left in the day. All of our mornings were unavailable and I didn’t have hiking stuff, so it never happened.

I felt bad this time around and packed my hiking gear just in case James 1) still wanted to do the hike and 2) actually would wake up early enough to catch some of sunrise from Arthur’s Seat. Surprisingly, he was actually okay with this. I guess he really wanted to do the hike.

Now, I did enough research on the hike the night before to know there is an easy way up and a hard way up. Except, I was exhausted from the tour and late arrival the night before, so I didn’t actually look at which trail head was the right one to get to said easy hike. So, when James actually called me on his “wake up early and I’ll go” challenge, I just followed Google Maps. Unfortunately, this did not take us to the easy trailhead.

lrm_export_2339984529061671_20190217_1444526916184511774507058582.jpeg

We didn’t realize this at first because the trail was pretty mild and there were people running up the hills. It was all fine until we got to the top of a pile of rocks saw a path that both knew we would absolutely not be comfortable with. The high winds did not help the situation at all. After some creative maneuvering, we realized that there was no easy way to get there.

img_20190217_095143_5478225337792237222374.jpg

Now, for the sake of making my baby brother happy, I grumbled but lived with the fact that the hike was starting to turn into a rock climbing experience. I think the rule of thumb for me may be to turn around whenever I get close to uttering the phrase “it’s a good thing I had a six month indoor rock climbing phase”. In any case, it wasn’t until we got to this narrow muddy path with a very steep drop that my fear of heights kicked in and I made James turn around. This, itself, was messy, because it hit pretty bad and it was hard to even just back track.

With our hopes of climbing to the top of Arthur’s Seat dashed, we found an alternate trail that would have gotten us a beautiful sea view. This hike involved less rock climbing and more comments about I was going to go the way of Rapunzel’s Prince.

img_20190217_082841724587486377610808.jpg

img_20190217_0823526205895600362180144.jpg

From this trail, we could see the long path to the easy trail up Arthur’s Seat, but were happy with our new plan. This was until we got to another long stretch of very narrow trail where I made James turn around again. You can see the around the area I panicked on this trail in the second photo. It actually wasn’t as bad as the first one and I think I would have been fine with this one at the end of the day had it not been for the winds. Oh well.

In any case, despite our failure in getting to the top of Arthur’s Seat, our attempted hike was fun and it was nice having the Alea-James bonding time. We did get some nice views of Edinburgh and the sea, even from where we were and caught some of the sunrise. It wasn’t all bad.

img_20190217_0830474327215319701665170.jpg

We took a different route to get back to our hotel that took us through Holyrood Palace. It was at this time that we found the trailhead for the easy route. It looked significantly easier than the route we had just taken. I guess it wouldn’t have been as entertaining if we had gone the easy way. We would have just had photos of pretty sunrise views of Edinburgh. Boring.

2402-2019-07473602109634424722605648758459397160388.jpeg

Edinburgh Castle

After a shower/breakfast break, we made our way back our to the Royal Mile to finally do Edinburgh Castle. We got the explorer pass at Doune Castle the day before, which I believe paid for itself with the two castles. The rest of the group was supposed to do Holyrood Palace after I left, but they decided against it in the end and I think some of the group did Mary’s Close.

2402-2019-0739154210835236015269741912895643332712.jpeg

img_20190217_1116536599215500001955328.jpg

img_20190217_1116519133257568296017145.jpg

img_20190217_1116487626176346551577870.jpg

You can see Edinburgh Castle from a lot of the city, so I don’t know why none of us expected the castle to be as big as it was, but it was enormous. We didn’t grab and maps of the castle on the way in, so we spent the first few minutes in the castle a little overwhelmed by the sheer size of the castle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We spent a few moments taking in what turned out to be a pretty good view from the castle (I guess we didn’t need a hike) before aimlessly exploring the castle grounds for a while. After a while, we decided to start at the prison. It was an interesting mix of history with some spaces that were staged to look like the prison.

img_20190217_1139453592144910287447746.jpg

From there, we did the crown jewels, which was incredibly packed. You walk through the history of Scottish royalty and the stories of how the crown jewels had to be hidden to protect them. It ends, of course, with the jewels themselves. No photos allowed, but they were pretty cool. They even had the Stone of Destiny there, as it had been returned to Scotland by the Queen back in the 90s.

img_20190217_1213588420014360885208608.jpg

The crown jewels were followed up almost immediately by the royal apartment, where we learned a lot about the Stuarts. Everyone lost track of each other through all of this, so we waited in the rain as everyone slowly trickled out.

img_20190217_1221304246469600485974366.jpg

We didn’t have much time left if we wanted to eat before I went to the airport, so our last stop of our Edinburgh Castle tour was the National War Memorial of Scotland. It was enormous on the inside but quite beautiful. Apparently we missed the dog cemetery, though 😦

2402-2019-07471902107832722383224455920626825458455.jpeg

We made our way back down from the castle, which was a bit of an adventure on already sore legs. We ate near the hotel so I could grab my back while we waited for the food. The restaurant was called the badger. They had a pretty good meat pie, but the decor was a little creepy with images of rodents in old-fashioned clothes everywhere. The trip back to Basel was generally uneventful, except for the fact that my connection was incredibly close and I had to run across the airport to get to my gate in time. No big deal other than that small detail.

All in all, it was another fun trip to Scotland. Despite the fact that we were there only a few months ago, we managed to make a pretty different experience out of the trip and it was fun adding a Gianni and Laura to the trip.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Weekend in Zermatt

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Happy Mean Girls day. We spent the past weekend in Zermatt, which is where the Matterhorn is. That, in addition to the fact that the town is picture perfect, means that we essentially spent another weekend in Disneyland.

We got into Zermatt late Friday night after a three hour train ride from Basel. We got in so late that they had to leave a key for us at our hotel so we could check in. The cool thing was that it was just dark enough that you could see the outline of the Matterhorn even at midnight.
Day One

After waking up to a perfect view of the Matterhorn and the sounds of the Valais sheep hanging outside of our window below and then immediately causing a ruckus at breakfast (99% me), we made our way into town to catch the cogwheel train up to Gornergrat. It’s about a forty minute ride up, during which you essentially make your way up the mountain and winding your way around the Matterhorn. Once you get all the way up, you get spectacular views of the Alps. You’re also high enough that you can see snow. You expect to see it, but it’s still kind of weird.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We climbed up to the observatory for a little bit to take some goofy Instagram-worthy photos of each other with the great views behind us. You even a get view of what I am now calling my okapi pants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After our mountaintop photo shoot was completed, we did a somewhat impromptu hike down the mountain. We weren’t really wearing the right shoes, so we lasted about an hour (ish) of the hike. Chris was wearing worse shoes for the hike than I was (I was at least in running shoes). The views were spectacular and I was sore from this hike longer than I was sore from the half marathon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We made it to the next train station down the mountain before deciding that it was time to call it a day with the hike. I saw a lake a little further down the mountain and could tell it was a good photo op, so I made the very painful hike down the mountain while Chris waited up top. I think Chris missed out on the amazing view of the Matterhorn reflected in the lake, but I guess he also didn’t have to hike back up that portion of the mountain and he certainly didn’t almost fall into said lake while trying to take the photo.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We dragged ourselves back up to the train station just in time for the train to get there. It was almost one by that time and we were pretty hungry. We saw a few restaurants the next train stop down the mountain, so got off there. Unfortunately, those restaurants weren’t open since they were closed for off-season. We knew there was a restaurant at the top of Gornergrat, so we got on the next train up to try to eat there. Unfortunately, the ticket only works once, so we had to turn around and get back on the train down.

We were about one stop away from the starting station but ended up going on a truly impromptu hike. The problem was that I had been reading about some great restaurants in Findeln, which is a little higher than Zermatt. I got the names mixed up and dragged Chris off the train stop at Findelbach, where there most definitely were not restaurants. We decided to just hike down to town instead of wait for the next train. It didn’t look that far, at least. There was a nice waterfall and the views of Zermatt weren’t too bad either.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Eventually, we did make it down to Zermatt. We were pretty tired and hungry by that point, so we ended up at a pub of all places for lunch (Brown Cow). A lot of people seemed to rave about the burgers there. We both got the Zermatt burger (cheese and bacon), which was quite delicious. Between the burgers, the beer, the fact that they were playing Tallest Man on Earth and the soccer on TV, we were quite happy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We dragged ourselves back up to our hotel and recovered from hiking for a while. We also tried out the sauna at our hotel, which reminded me of the height of the summer here in Basel. It felt pretty nice though and, somehow, worked up our appetite for dinner, where we went back into town for Swiss food. We got fondue, of course. I’ve also found out that it’s not gross to eat the crispy cheese at the bottom of the pot (Chris and I call it the cheese nurenji), so I felt somewhat vindicated. At least, that’s what the internet says.

img_20180929_2033454085396001397875513.jpg

Day Two

Our initial plan for Sunday was to try out the mountain carts, so we could channel our inner Mario Kart characters. We ate breakfast, checked out, stored our stuff in the train station lockers, and made our way up hill to what we thought was the station that would get us up the mountain to the mountain carts. Unfortunately, we found out when we got to the cable car station that we went to the station on the wrong side of town. We were hit by a wave of laziness mixed with the soreness from the hikes from the day before and just decided that we would take a trip up Klein Matterhorn instead.

The tickets to get up the Klein Matterhorn are not cheap (thanks, Half Fare Card), but half of the adventure is the trip up. It takes a cable car and two very pack gondola rides to make it to the top of the mountain. Along the way, you pass by Gornergrat and realize how insanely high you actually are.

img_20180930_1056592766844248626312197.jpg

img_20180930_1118156270408961682804618.jpg

We were a little light headed by the time we got to the top. We also very much underestimated how cold it’d be on top and were probably not adequately dressed for it. We managed, though. We spent a minute or two in the cinema space, where you can watch videos of the area while sitting in little eggs, before we made our way to the observation deck. Unfortunately, the clouds had come in to cover what would have been a fantastic view of the Matterhorn, but it didn’t cover all the views.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Klein Matterhorn was a little more focused on skiers, which neither of us are, and the glacier attraction was closed, so we didn’t end up spending too much time on top. We hung around the gift shop and walked around a little more before heading back down to Zermatt.

We made it with enough time to take the train back that we wanted to take, so we grabbed some kebabs from a local kebab shop and made our way to the train station.

img_20180930_131907712264360674908753.jpg

This time around, we got to enjoy the views on the train between Zermatt and Visp that we missed on the way up to Zermatt, which meant more cows, sheep, and mountain views. The downside of the train ride is that it’s a little rickety.

img_20180930_15085110114851789303370.jpg

All in all, our trip to Zermatt was kind of fantastic. The town truly is like a little Alpine Disneyland and things aren’t cheap there (even in off-season), but the views were quite spectacular. It’d be nice to see the area covered in snow, but I appreciated the mild crowds and the bearable weather at the end of the day.

img_20180930_1152454432728906710600457.jpg