Long before we arrived in England, we discussed how to get from Edinburgh to London. There were two reasonable options, train and plane. Roughly the same cost, but the plane is a shorter trip. But – we opted for train – thinking that travel to/from an airport, going through security, and waiting at the gates wouldn’t be worth it. Soon, we’d find out whether we made the right choice.
We had one day in Edinburgh after the New Year’s Eve extravaganza (we slept in). So far, we hadn’t visited the castle that dominates the city (a more prominent landmark than anything I’ve seen in other cities). That was certainly on the list – beyond that, we hoped for a quiet day of scotch and seeing the town.
The castle really is incredible. Not only is it your traditional medieval-style castle, but it also has really jaw-dropping views of the city, to boot.
Additionally, there were two other museums inside the castle. First, after the time period when it could be a functional castle, it served as a prison. Some of the people held there were American sailors captured during the War of 1812, which was interesting – you tend to think of Americans and British as such allies – and even during the Revolution and Warof 1812, it always felt like “the British come to America,” so you don’t think that some Americans ended up in Great Britain.
We also listened to some Rick Steves – for all the hokeyness of Rick, I think his tour guides and advice for Europe is pretty solid. He offers high quality free walking tours – including this tour of the Royal Mile. It was a good thing we did the tour, which zig-zagged across the street, because it led us to some little off-the-beaten-path courtyards, called ‘closes’ in Scotland. For example, one showed the former home of Robert Louis Stevenson. Others were simply scenic.
Early the next morning it was time to check out and head back to London. We’d find out whether the train was a wise choice. It was a different tradeoff than I expected.
As I mentioned in earlier posts, there was intense flooding across Britain while we were there, and that caused some delays of the train – I think a tree had blown down across the main tracks south of Edinburgh. So we waited in the station for two hours (sitting on the train). It actually wasn’t bad, the train is far more comfortable than waiting on the runway in a plane. When we did set off, it was much slower than usual.
I think we were delayed about two hours, which was a shame, since it meant we got into London in late afternoon instead of midday. On the other hand, the trains in the UK have a policy that delays more than some amount of time (perhaps an hour), mean you can get a full refund. So in the end, our trip from Edinburgh to London was free – we just had to mail in a check.
When we got into London it was raining (surprise!) and from the beautiful St Pancras station, we stopped by at the British Library. I was continually impressed with the government buildings in London. Museums and the library were free – the library had a huge exhibit with historic books and manuscripts, including an ancient bible, a Gutenberg bible, letters from Queen Elizabeth, da Vinci notebooks, Bach musical compositions, the Magna Carta, and notes from when The Beatles composed songs.
Of these, seeing letters from Queen Elizabeth and the Magna Carta were coolest. We’d seen another copy of the Magna Carta in DC, and that was a big deal, lots of security and precautions – here it was just sitting there in a glass case. Very accessible.
Beyond that, we simply did some wandering around the town – we flew out the next day and knew we wouldn’t get a good chance to revisit some parts of the city, so this was an early goodbye.