Friday the ship anchored in the Firth of Forth, just down the river from Edinburgh. We had to tender ashore to the town of South Queensferry and then it was 30 min into Edinburgh via car, bus, or train. We ventured off on our own and had a great time exploring the castle, doing a whisky tasting, touring the royal yacht Britannia, and shopped til we dropped, all despite a misty rain. Saturday is an at sea day, then we are on to our final stop in Normandy, France on Sunday and the ship docks in Southampton on Monday.
We got up early to catch the tenders before all the tour groups left en masse and swamped the boats. We met a nice couple in their 50s on the boat ride who were also planning to either cab or train into town towards the castle. We opted to share a cab and had a very nice conversation with them about world travels and Rick Steves. I reminded them a lot of their daughter in law who also has dark curly hair and loves to plan travels. They insisted on paying for the cab ride since they would have done it anyways on their own and wanted to treat "the youngest couple on the ship". As we were all exiting the cab, the Engineer noticed that the man left his phone behind and grabbed it for him. He was so thankful he offered to pay for our cab ride back too! We of course did not accept but told him that the good deed of paying for our cab had already paid off!
We had read about the crowds at the castle so we bought our tickets online ahead of time and printed them out and were in the first 10 people lined up to enter. It was quite a crush with all the tour groups and a bit chaotic, but we got right in and headed straight up the 7 gates of the keep to the highest tower to view the crown jewels. We had the whole exhibit to ourselves and really enjoyed hearing the history of the sword, sceptor, crown, and the rock or scone (pronounced skoon) upon which the Scottish king sits to be crowned. Since we got through the exhibit in record time, we took another hour to view the others rooms of the castle and the military museum. We stopped in the cafe and I tried a plain scone with strawberry jam - very good but not the best I have had on the trip.
We exited by 11:00 and headed over to the building next door for the Scottish Whisky Experience tour. Rick Steves poo-poos this attraction as a tourist trap but considering we didn't know much about whisky and really just wanted to learn and taste, it was perfect for us. You sit in whisky barrels and are taken on a ride through a series of rooms that explains how single malt whisky is made. You then meet up with the group and sit through a guided "scratch and sniff" explanation of the 4 major whisky producing regions in Scotland and the flavors and aromas that are distinctive to each region. After this, you choose one region that you want to have a tasting of based on the qualities of the region. I picked the Highlands which are known for floral and honey notes due to the heather that grows there. The Engineer picked Islay which is known for smokey flavors because of the high amounts of peat they use in the burning and toasting. He quite liked his sample and said mine was good as well. Despite my best efforts, it still just tasted like burning alcohol even after adding a drop of water and warming it. Whisky is just not my drink I suppose!
After the tasting, we wandered the Royal Mile which leads downhill from Edinburgh Castle through the old town and is lined with shops and pubs and museums. We picked up some souvenirs and I looked at wool blankets and sweaters but nothing caught my fancy. The Engineer picked out a scarf in the Clan McLaren plaid.
We stopped for lunch in a pub and enjoyed fish and chips, steak and kidney pie, and split a sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream for dessert. The Engineer said he has found his favorite beer so far on his quest - The Flying Scotsman. Its an English beer that is served slightly warmer than usual and is less carbonated. Its pulled by hand from the tap and he absolutely loved it!
After lunch we wanted to head over to the area where the Queen's yacht, the Britannia, is moored. We had trouble finding a cab in the rain, so we hopped a bus bound for the right place and sat on the enclosed upper deck for a nice view of parts of Edinburgh that you normally would not see as a tourist where every day living happens. Arrived after about 20 minutes and then headed to the ship exhibit. The yacht was used from the 1950s until the late 1990s when it was decommissioned and turned into a museum. It was filled with artifacts from its time in use and wonderful pictures of the royal family and the yachtsmen at work and play. We both really loved it and would highly recommend it.
After we finished, we looked for a cab back to the ship but the taxi stand was empty. We were about to call for a cab when we saw a tour bus parked which carried a group from our ship. We wandered over and asked the driver if there was any way we could hitch a ride back to the ship with them and he said no problem as they had plenty of empty seats! We had thirty minutes until they left and so we went inside the shopping mall next door and I found wonderful clothes at H&M. Not sure if it was British stock, or we just had not gotten the fall clothes in the states when I last went to the store, but I loved everything they had here and walked away with a sweater and a coat and could have shopped more if we had time. Caught the ride back with the bus, and were quite pleased at our thrifty transport skills today. Instead of a £25 cab fare each way, we only paid £8 all day for transport for the bus to the yacht and a tip for the driver who let us on!
Back on board we met up with our usual trivia group at 7 pm and then after dinner we participated in a gameshow on board and our team won! You had 4 minutes for 1 person on your team to describe words given and try to get your team to guess the word without using the word - basically like taboo. I was the describer and we got 36 in 4 minutes! Lots of fun!
Sea day is next, and then we are in Normandy, France on Sunday.