Part One saw Matt battle with man-flu and somehow drag himself onto the train up to Edinburgh. After a low-key Friday, the hope was that Saturday would see a stunning recovery!
Saturday morning (aka the long wake up)
I’m not going to lie – waking up on Saturday was tough. A combination of man-flu, a reasonably late night, and a rapidly deflating air mattress meant that a quality night’s sleep was not necessarily enjoyed. Despite this, Saturday was our only full day in Edinburgh – so we had to make the most of it!
We’d sensibly stocked up on breakfast essentials the evening before – bacon, eggs, sausages and beans were all on the menu. Head Chef Matt H was up bright and early to prepare the feast, followed swiftly by myself (seriously!). Whilst Matt H battled with the smoke alarm and general lack of ventilation in the kitchen, I was given the unenviable task of trying to stir Jack and Jonny from their cosy double bed.
Eventually, the four of us plodded through to the living room, demolished breakfast and agreed on our plans for the day. Less than an hour later (no mean feat considering we all wanted to use the shower), and we were ready to go. It was a nice day, so we decided to walk in to town. Matt H needed to meet a couple of friends, so the rest of us thought we’d take the opportunity to head up to one of Edinburgh’s most iconic attractions – Edinburgh Castle.
For the sake of our bank balances, we decided not to pay to enter the castle itself. It costs just under £17 for an adult – no doubt this would be worth it if we had an entire morning/afternoon to dedicate to wandering around, but time was of the essence and we were happy to just have a wander around the courtyard. To be fair, the view from the courtyard over both sides of Edinburgh is spectacular enough to make the walk up the hill well worth it. It’s also a great place to people watch if, like me, you find coachloads of excitable tourists from all over the world fascinating to observe.
With Matt H still in the coffee shop, we thought we’d carry on exploring with a trip up Calton Hill, an unmissable mound just a few minutes away from the southern end of Princes Street. It’s got amazing views over the entire city, as well as some of Edinburgh’s most iconic monuments – including what came to be known by us as ‘Edinburgh’s Parthenon’. It was the scene of a post-midnight snowball fight between Jonny and I during our 2009 visit, so we were both pleased to be making the trip back in the daylight! We have no idea how we actually found our way up there in the first place all those years ago, but that’s a story for another day…
Saturday afternoon – Hearts of Midlothian… aka The Big Game
There was only one thing that we’d 100% planned to do before we arrived – a classic ‘Lads’ trip to the football. Matt H had booked the tickets, so all we had to do was turn up. Normally, we’d spend a good few hours in the pubs around the ground before heading in, but we’d spent so long touring the Edinburgh sights that all we could afford timewise was one pint in what was – to be fair – an absolutely classic football pub. Rammed full to the extent that you can barely move your arms to lift your pint (once you’ve fought your way through to the bar in the first place), and smelling unmistakably of stale sweat mixed with beer. In any other context, it would be hell on earth – but it’s exactly what you’re looking for when you’re going to a match!
We finished off our pints whilst making quiet conversation with each other – safe to say that our English accents stood out like a sore thumb – and began the short walk down to the ground. It’s a brilliantly traditional, old-school arena. Four distinct stands, none of them very big, and all of them fairly full with the type of crowd you don’t tend to get in England anymore. Namely, young people all going to the match with each other. It didn’t quite meet German standards of ‘doing what you want’, but it certainly made a welcome change from the overpoliced, overpriced, oversanitised pantomime that English football has sadly become (don’t start on that one – Lucy) .
Hearts beat Motherwell comfortably (5-0, I believe), and it was a great laugh throughout. Day became night during the course of the match, and it even began to snow – which really added to the atmosphere towards the end. Safe to say that there was probably slight confusion from everyone around us as to why there were 4 English guys, but we joined in as best we could with songs/chants – and made up the words (quietly) when we didn’t have a clue. The match ended, and we added ourselves to the human river snaking its way through the streets and back to Matt H’s flat.
By the time we got back, it’s safe to say we were all starving. We’d all failed miserably to pick up any food during the match, so we headed for the most traditional of Scottish meals – a curry. Us two Matts conspired to share a bottle of wine, which was a welcome change from beer! By this point, the man-flu which had threatened to ruin the trip seemed like a distant memory. Special thanks to effervescent Vitamin C tablets and Night Nurse for my miraculous recovery!
Curry polished off, it was time to head to a bar to meet some more of Matt H’s friends. I forget the name of the place, but it was a typically Hipster paradise and even had an open hog roast fire. Super cool. It was also nice to hang out with a pretty international crowd – something that’s definitely been missed since leaving Uni (or even the all-too-long-ago Year Abroad!). We hung out at the bar for a couple of hours before heading for one last drink as a 4, and finally heading back to the flat. I think we might actually have made it back in time to catch the highlights of the afternoon’s match on Scottish TV – to our great amusement, the commentary was in gaelic. A brilliantly fun sounding language.
With three of us having long journeys back the next day, we decided to call it a night. We could only hope that we still had enough breakfast left over for the morning….
Sunday – The Last Day
And there was enough food! Much to our great relief, we still had food stocks – albeit limited ones. We took a far more leisurely pace to Sunday morning, and eventually were all packed and ready to head off. Jonny’s train to Reading was a few hours before the Leeds train, but we still had time to go on one last exploring walk.
Matt H took us down to the Water of Leith, which reminded us all of some sort of alpine skiing village. It’s certainly not a place I ever would have gone if I was visiting the city by myself – proof that it always pays to have a bit of local knowledge! The walk took us through the ‘alpine village’ and down the bottom of what felt like a gorge, following the path of a river. It was quite easy to forget that you were in the middle of a capital city, rather than a county park! Quite possibly the surprise highlight of the trip, and certainly a place that I’d recommend if you have a couple of hours spare in Edinburgh.
By the time we’d navigated the riverside walk, Jonny was conscious of then need to head to Waverley station for his train. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as it eventually turned out) he’d miss the Liverpool vs Manchester United game – the rest of us planned to watch it in a sports bar near the station before Jack and I boarded our trains. We bade farewell to Jonny as he set off on his long journey down to Reading, and nestled down to watch the match. The less said about it the better (we’re a Liverpool supporting group). I even had a pint of Carling for the first time in years. Yes, the weekend ended on a low.
Before we knew it, it was our time to head off. The only consolation was that Jack and I had nabbed first class tickets for the journey back – hello free sandwiches and drinks! Best of all, we had to swap trains at Newcastle…so we got a double dose of freebies. Massive thanks to Virgin Trains for sorting my work lunches for the start of the week!
And that was that! We rocked up in Leeds, and by the time I’d got back to my flat it was time to go to sleep ready for work in the morning. The weekend had gone far, far too quickly – as weekends like this always tend to do. Here’s hoping we get to have a repeat in the not too distant future…with less man-flu!