Who knew that if you wanted to get warm in April, you head to Scotland!? A couple months ago, we decided to take a trip to Scotland and figured we’d be wet and cold. To our surprise and delight, we never saw a drop of rain until the train ride home. We had t-shirt weather every day!
On Wednesday morning, a car picked us up at 8am and took us to a nearby train station. We caught a 9am train headed to Edinburgh. It was nearly empty, which was great for the kids – they got to try out every seat on the train, watched some iPad movies, ate a lot of snacks, and stood in the rumbling and bumpy parts in between the train cars (that was their favourite). Four hours later, we arrived in Edinburgh and took a short 15 minute cab ride to the Apex International Hotel.
The hotel was not terribly expensive, catered very well to kids (all kids meals were free), and was in an excellent location. Out the dining room window was a stunning view of the Edinburgh Castle. There was a short cut pathway between the castle and our hotel which made the visit a snap.
My only complaint – dirty. It took several tries on the plate stack at the breakfast buffet before finding a clean one. We moved Kevin’s bed up against the wall so he wouldn’t fall out, and underneath was the most disgusting dust, dirt, and stale food you could imagine. The trays on the highchairs were sticky with food that must have been weeks old. You get the idea. But, the sheets were clean (we think) and the staff was incredibly helpful and nice and accommodating to the kids. They also had a pool, which I’ll get to later.
While we waited for our hotel room to be ready, we wandered down the hill a short walk to Princes Street Gardens. Within minutes, we were listening to bagpipes from a chap standing on a street corner. Interestingly enough, that was the only bagpipe player we heard on our entire trip!
Dave and Kevin climbed 287 steps up a narrow, winding, cement stairway to the top of Sir Walter Scott monument. Kevin was quite proud of his stair ascent and descent – “I did it all by myself, Mom!”
After hotel check in, we walked less than ½ mile to the Museum of Scotland. This was a free museum with a great kids’ section, which featured a race car (we could test drive), an astronaut suit, a rocket ship, lots of buttons to push to make lights flash or fans spin, and a real stuffed sheep (Ryan spent most of that visit wandering around saying “baaa baaa”). A great place – which we visited two times during our stay.
Gray Friars Bobby is most commonly known as a kids’ story (and movie?) about a loyal terrier. It is a true story and we visited the graveyard of that devoted dog. We probably need to get the book for it to mean much to us, but the kids loved running wildly around the graveyard, leaping from tombstone to tombstone talking about the dead people buried underneath. It was a beautiful sunny day with lots of green grass on which to roam – doesn’t get much better than that for a 1.5 and 3.5 year old.
We tried out the swimming pool at the hotel just before dinner. Kevin has been taking swimming lessons once per week for the past 5 weeks, so he’s getting more comfortable with the water. As a former swim instructor, I’m afraid he isn’t where he should be at the age of 3 1/2. Nonetheless, he’s currently in a good state of mind about it, and in the matter of 3 days at this hotel pool in Edinburgh, he has improved his skill, confidence, and boldness greatly. This is the kind of home video only a parent can like, but if you wish to watch, here’s Kevin at his bravest point.
All four of us sleeping in one room was not ideal. Kevin coughed all night. Ryan woke up with the loudest humanly possible hiccups before 6am. Needless to say, we were tired. Dave had a traditional Scottish breakfast at the hotel (including haggis and blood pudding). The rest of us ate cheese, salami, and fruit – relatively unsatisfying, but not scary at least!
We took a cab to Calton Hill – a cold and windy hilltop with a great view of the city and a 15th century Portuguese cannon. It was hard to get the boys off the cannon.
We walked across town to the Edinburgh Castle – the highlight of the trip! More cannons! And thankfully, there were dozens so every kid there could have his own. Three young Japanese girls thought Kevin was so cute, they insisted on getting a picture with him. He wasn’t sure what to think. We saw the Scottish crown jewels (and, sorry to say, they are nothing compared to the British ones), the great hall with armor, and the old prison.
By lunch time, we were all tired and a bit on edge. We ate at the cafeteria at the Castle, while waiting for the 1pm cannon shoot. While standing in line, Ryan stuck his fist into an entire chocolate cake, then spilled half of my lunch on the floor, then proceeded not to eat anything for lunch. Kevin whined. Fun times. We watched the military dudes shoot a huge cannon precisely at 1pm. It was loud, as expected. We went back to the hotel and all took a 2 hour nap.
We tried the fancy restaurant at the hotel for dinner. We were alone (since we ate at 5:30pm) and the boys had a great time making friends with the wait staff. Even with a 2 hour nap, the boys went to bed at 8 and slept hard.
The hotel fire alarm went off at 7am, forcing everyone outside. Thankfully(?), we’d been up for over an hour already, so it wasn’t terribly inconvenient for us. I went for a run in Holyrood Park (big hills on a lovely trail). After I got back, Dave went for the same run. Teamwork fitness.
We spent the morning at the Dynamic Earth Museum – about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. It was an awesome place for parents and kids. Tickets are pricey, but it is a treat in every way. For about 1 hour, you are taken from room to room by friendly guides. There’s the ice age room (it was very cold in there with 10’ square glacier in the middle of the room), jungle room (humid with snakes), time travel room (the platform shook beneath your feet), volcano room (fake hot lava flowing toward your feet), dinosaur room, etc. Each one was very different and very educational/entertaining. The highlight of the museum visit was a dome movie called “Astronaut.” Kevin asked about the movie 5000 times that morning. It was a 20 minute film on astronaut training and what life is like in space. We all thought it was great, especially our future astronaut (Kevin).
All in all, it was a fantastic place. The staff went out of their way to make the boys feel special. It is a must-see for visiting kids. Ryan was tuckered out and couldn’t even hold his head up by the end.
After a yummy pizza dinner, Dave took off with his tripod and camera equipment and hiked to the top of Calton Hill to get a nighttime Castle picture.
Today we rented a car and drove 3 hours toward Lochness. Dave picked up the rental car from the nearby train station. It was a manual diesel station wagon. And they drive on the left in Scotland. A challenge, but Dave handled it well.
After several missed turns, wrong turns, and panics, we got out of the city and on the highway to Lochness. The Scottish countryside is beautiful – lots of rock walls, sheep, and greenery. Our first stop was Fort William. We ate lunch in a small downtown pub (I think this may have been Kevin’s 4th consecutive meal with fish and chips). Fort William is the outdoor capital of the UK. While it is nothing like Queenstown (the outdoor adventure capital of New Zealand), it is mountainous and has a lot of offer in the way of biking, skiing, and mountain climbing. We rode in a Gondola to the top of Aonach Mor, the 8th tallest mountain in Great Britain. Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain is close by Fort William. The boys loved being up so high – and no seatbelts required! The peak of Aonach Mor was even better – they had a kids play area, which consisted of a ropes and balance obstacle course which Kevin completed a dozen times. Once we told him I brought an extra pair of shoes, he was immediately traipsing through the creek, up to his knees in freezing cold water. He had a blast – probably the highlight of his trip.
Next we made our way to Glengarry Castle, our home for the following two nights. The grounds were manicured to perfection. The castle/hotel had 26 rooms, several fire places, a fancy dining room, and old creaky doors and stairways. It was not kid friendly, which caused a bit of stress for Dave and I – trying to keep the boys quiet and out of trouble. Ryan simply couldn’t pass up the big bucket of black coal near the fireplace – he wanted to touch it every time! He also yelled “Hot! Hot!” every time we walked by. We spent a lot of time outdoors running on various paths around the castle and through the woods.
I went for a run in the morning and it was one of the best running trails I’ve ever been on. Leaving the castle, I ran on a single track path through the woods with a river on one side and a forest on the other. It was invigorating.
Our plan for the day was to take a boat trip on Lochness to look for “Nessie.” The boat required 12 people to head out, thus the 10am, 11am, and 12pm boats didn’t fill up. Major disappointment for us. In between pleading for a boat trip, we visited nearby Urquhart Castle. It was mostly ruins, but a beautiful place with plenty of stairways to climb and nooks and crannies to hide in.
During the boys’ naps, Dave went for a run and then we sat on the back porch reading books. It was warm and sunny – for the first time since we’ve moved to the UK, sunblock crossed my mind.
Since our boat trip didn’t work out, we rented a row boat for £4 and Dave and Kevin went out on Loch Oich for an hour. Kevin was very proud in his lifejacket and enjoyed his adventure to see a half-sunken sailboat, castle ruins, and big buoys.
Before dinner, the boys spent an hour playing in the rental car (what they miss most about home in California). Kevin had fish and chips for dinner. Surprise.
Today was a big travel day for us. We left the Glengarry Castle at 7:30am for the 3 hour drive back to Edinburgh. Then we returned our rental car at the Edinburgh train station and caught the 4 hour train back to London. Kevin and Ryan were very good kids in the car and both slept hard on the train.
Overall, it was a fantastic trip. Dave did all the planning and made all the reservations. We fit in a lot of activities, but didn’t overdo it.
I’ll leave you with the only family photo we have from the vacation. This was taken by some jogger and her dog. The dog was peeing behind us in the picture, so Dave erased him. Can you see where he was?