We left Cork after returning our risky little rental and arrived to Edinburgh at night, efficiently making our way by bus from the airport to our hostel named Code. We’ve become increasingly better at evaluating transit options and their respective routes since we started this journey over a month ago. Maybe that’s not something to brag about, but we’ve certainly had to work hard at it.
We booked 2 nights at Code online before we left Ireland (a decision purely based on price). We had no idea what we were in for, and to be honest, didn’t have the highest hopes nor expectations.
BUT (much to our surprise and delight), Code was brilliant. Modern and clean with super-friendly staff and a central location. Also, PODS! Pods are the best hostel innovation ever made – blowing conventional bunk beds out of the water.
These pods were essentially human cubbies; enough room for grown adults to stretch all the way out. Fully loaded with everything a weary traveler might need: USB chargers, storage racks, towel hooks, personal lights and dark privacy curtains. They may not be 5 star hotel standards (or even 1 star hotel standards), but in the pods, we felt like royalty.
We liked Code (and Edinburgh!) so much we opted to stay 2 additional nights, 4 nights total. At around $15 per person/per night, how could we not?!
We unpacked, organized our pods and hustled off to find dinner and explore. A local recommended a spot called Sygn (pronounced sign). This place, much like our hostel, was on point with trendy decor and friendly staff. We ordered a few items then braved the chilly night back through the cobblestone alleys, back to our hostel for much needed Zzz’s.
One of our favorite activities when arriving in a new city (besides eating and drinking) is discussing whether or not we can imagine ourselves living in that particular city. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes not. But, almost every time we discuss this topic, there seems to be a certain intangible presence or feeling which can sway us one way or the other.
It wasn’t until our first morning in Edinburgh, when able to see everything in daylight, that we really began to love it. What brought on this feeling, we asked ourselves. Maybe the proud Edinburgh castle, seemingly built on a cliff ledge, nested above the city center? Or, the adorning Georgian architecture around almost every corner near our hostel?
Whatever it was, Edinburgh had it. We could totally live here.
If a castle is near, you can be sure Blondie and the Beard will explore it. Edinburgh Castle did not escape us.We followed the steep paths from the Princess Gardens climbing toward the castle, each step creating wider views of Edinburgh’s skyline.
At the top, we could see for miles. Thankfully, another unexpected clear day allowed us great photos. A mild-weather trend has seemed to follow us on this trip, we like to think it’s the California vibes we packed with us. From the castle gates Edinburgh stretched out on both sides of us, the Royal Mile at our backs.
Venturing inside the castle’s main gate, the size is shocking. As if it’s own village, the fortress is made of millions of rocks, bricks and mortar. We explored the castle for a few hours before the rain, finally, hurried us out.
Trying to cram as many sights and activities into each city can be tougher than one thinks, especially when juggling a tight budget. When we originally considered traveling to Scotland, many landmarks and points of interest came to mind, but we were forced to narrow them to just a few.
One of the more memorable days during our short stint in Scotland was our trip to the city of St. Andrews. For those unfamiliar, St. Andrews is a notable city for a couple reasons: it’s home to the University of St. Andrews (one of the first universities in the English speaking world), and, St. Andrews is the birthplace of the game of golf.
If you’re into romance, we later learned the University of St. Andrews is where Princess Kate met Prince William.
We decided to pony up and take a tour bus to St. Andrews. It’s located almost two hours north of Edinburgh, so we’d have the opportunity to visit a few more coastal towns along the way. We found our tour company and caught an early bus headed north.
First stop, the Forth Rail Bridge. The rail bridge is an impressive feat of 19th century engineering, erected in 1890 after 8 years of work. 8 YEARS. How can we be so sure? We did mention we were on a guided tour bus, right? No wikipedia, this time.
Our guide explained the bridge was built to be “over-engineered,” and will likely remain structurally sound for decades to come. With over 4,600 workers employed during the construction (knowledgeable tour guide gets the nod again), we aren’t surprised. The (relatively) dainty white bridge in the second photo below is the Forth Road bridge. Not close to as strong, certainly not as impressive.
Along with the bridges, we stopped at a few fishing towns along the coast of Scotland.
Approaching St. Andrews, our guide gave an overview of its 3 main streets, along with 2 pick-up locations on both ends of town. We were given 3 hours to explore the town before the bus would head back to Edinburgh. We were ready to explore, having been glued to the seat for over an hour and a half.
Fortunately for us, the bus’s first stop was right along The Old Course at St. Andrews Links. Seeing the clubhouse and the iconic neighboring buildings in person was a bit surreal. Like we’ve seen on TV several times, the green turf weaves the coast line following the natural features of the windblown dunes.
At an earlier point in our trip to Scotland we had entertained the idea to play a round on The Old Course, but the cost is 180 pounds per player. Not to mention the several month waiting list, our pipe dream was lost. One day, though. Definitely one day.
One of the highlights of our time in St. Andrews was the uninhibited opportunity to see the Swilcan Bridge. Almost any memorabilia one sees from The Old Course at St. Andrews involves this bridge. The bridge’s most famous moment may be when Jack Nicklaus retired from the game, his emotional farewell atop the Swilcan Bridge.
Wish we could’ve been closer to the bridge, and we did contemplate running out to snap some photos on the bridge, but we’ve too much respect for that.
We made our way across town toward the now ruined St. Andrews Cathedral. Just like The Old Course, it sits atop the shoreline. The weathered stone walls adjacent several rows of headstones poured-over us an ominous feeling as we first stepped through the gates.
The weather was grim and light rain drops had begun to fall as we walked the path in silent respect. The Cathedral was built in the mid-12th century, but fell to ruin 400 years later after Catholic mass was outlawed under Scottish Reformation.
We headed back to Edinburgh shortly.
Our time in Edinburgh has become another highlight of our travels. While cooking and writing in the hostel’s common room we met other travelers and quickly developed friendships. Sharing travel wisdom and stories while bonding over who found the cheapest wine, we found fun discovering others like us, on the same journey. If you’re reading Lee, Brittany & Consey, we hope you’re doing well and finding your adventure.
From Edinburgh, our travels take us south, back to London. Already we’ve come full circle, having originally arrived in Gatwick when we left California.
Once again, we’ll lean on the generosity of another gracious Shaw family member. Ann’s nephew, Edward, before even meeting us, has offered us to stay with him in London.
We’re continually amazed by and grateful for the gratuitous kindness of others.
Blondie and the Beard