Art, History, Romance and 50,000 steps
We could have done a day trip up to Edinburgh to see the Grayson Perry exhibition but combining it with James's birthday we decided to take a long weekend break.
Thanks to seasoned Edinburgh visitor, Sal Calvin, for recommendations on good central hotels, we booked The George on George Street.
First inconvenience of the day was waking up to a message from Trainline that the Whitehaven to Carlisle train had been cancelled. It just meant changing the taxi booking and getting on an earlier train. Pulling into Carlisle station in bright sunlight with the autumn leaves glinting like gold I began to relax. Finally on the Edinburgh train to Waverley through the rolling hills of Scottish countryside I began to feel like I was on holiday.
It has been many years since we were last in Edinburgh visiting the fringe and even earlier still when we had brought the children into Edinburgh and visited the Zoo and the Edinburgh Dungeon.
We were straight off the train and onto Princes Street, where we heard our first strains of bagpipe music as we took the short walk to the hotel and within 20 minutes we were settling in our room.
I had made the hotel aware that we were coming for a birthday celebration. Waiting for our arrival was a surprise chocolate plate with my name on it, staff were thinking it was my birthday, not James's. He said, "You can be like the Queen with two birthdays."
We had a welcome cup of tea and a freshen up before looking for somewhere to eat. Right opposite the hotel we spotted a Hard Rock Cafe. It prompted great memories of our holidays with the children when we would search out the Hard Rock Cafes all around the world, trying to list the ones we'd been to... London, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Sydney, Boston, Washington, Las Vegas, Barcelona and Cartagena in Colombia.
We could now add Edinburgh to the list and ordered classic burgers and chips which we enjoyed surrounded by the huge tv screens playing rock music videos.
The skies were clear and it was cold and crisp outside but walking briskly, hand in hand, we wandered up into the old town with the rest of the tourists.
Strolling back to the hotel we popped into Sainsbury for some booze and snacks. I realised just a bit too late, as I opened my mouth that I was going to say something inappropriate as I asked a young male assistant " Excuse me, whereabouts are your nuts" He smiled and led us to the snack section. I winked and said, " Feel free to use that as an anecdote"
The hotel room was well equipped with luxury toiletries, refreshments tray, safe, fridge and robes and slippers.
The Shibui teas and lemon melts were rather delicious items on the tray, along with the tunnocks caramel wafers.
The breakfast was plentiful with loads of variety with four choices of juice including lime. Lots of cereal choice with more toppings than I'd ever seen.
The cooked breakfast was buffet style which was plentiful but could not quite compare to having it cooked to order like our recent experience in the Selkirk Arms.
The prime reason for coming to Edinburgh was to see the Grayson Perry exhibition. It was the final weekend and the last opportunity to see such a big exhibition from 40 years of his work, including his subversive pots, his intricate maps and his huge, colourful tapestries.
What a feast for the eyes and the witty, audio commentary perfectly complemented the visuals, giving insight and illumination into understanding the rationale for the work.
We heard later that Grayson had been in the gallery and we were disappointed to have missed him.
Emerging from the exhibition into a crisp Autumn day, the bright sun was shining on the remaining yellow and orange leaves. We wandered through the streets stopping to admire the buildings and being caught up in the romance of this beautiful city.
Small crowds were gathered around pipers, street performers and an opera singer as we wound our way up the Royal Mile, past the Mercat Cross, St Giles Cathedral and the Camera Obscura. Panoramic views from the top of the hill from the castle forecourt were stunning in all directions and it was remarkably warm in the bright afternoon November sunshine. The unexpected good weather certainly contributed to the enjoyment of the afternoon perambulations.
We returned to our hotel as the Palestinian rally was dispersing.
Our evening meal was in La Locanda, a small Italian restaurant on Cockburn Street in the heart of the old town, tastefully decorated with wine bottles in an intimate setting.
We had planned to fill Sunday morning with more art, tours of the National Gallery and the City Art Centre.
Highlights were the post impressionists on the 4th floor and probably two of the best known Scottish paintings, The Monarch of the Glen by Landseer and The Skating Minister by Henry Raeburn which I remember on the 1973 stamp.
My favourites were the two Canaletto paintings of Venice. The detail in the Doges Palace is incredible. I remember how much I loved the huge Canelettos when I first saw the paintings in London as a child.
The City Art Centre was hosting the Scottish National Landscape Awards and the winner had woven together strips of sheet music to create a landscape of Bass Rock.
Tea and cakes from Mimi's Bakes kept us going until we reached The Real Mary King's Close for our 3pm tour.
The tour took in a warren of streets frozen in time under the City Chambers, where stories were told about Edinburgh's dark past, and the people who lived, worked, and died on the Close. In this area I also took photographs of the Writer's Museum, a building I am eager to paint.
When we emerged we took time to reflect on the remembrance wreaths laid on the commemorative stone at the front of the City Chambers in the earlier service.
With a late checkout on Monday, we had plenty of time to walk the mile to Dean Village, where we discovered several viewpoints to take in the picturesque landscape. Brightly coloured houses and attractive stonework towered above the roaring waters of Leith as all nationalities snapped away with their cameras. At the heart of the village is Well Court, the most iconic building in the village. This building was built in the 1880s and housed local workers who worked at the water mills. I think it would be an interesting building to paint and so I took lots of photographs.
More train shenanigans on the way home. Our first train journeys in years have not been smooth railing. Bring back the British Rail of my college days and I may be a regular rail traveller again. I can fully empathise with daily commuters that have to put up with the delays and cancellations that surely contribute to the stresses of modern life.
The weekend was packed with art, history and romance, over 50,000 steps and a few arty bicycles, and a rather special postbox painted gold for the Olympic medal winning cyclist Chris Hoy.