A Travellerspoint blog

Christmas in Scotland

The Kammerer Cavalcade Commences!

sunny 1 °C

MERRY CHRISTMAS ALL!!! This post got a bit longer than we anticipated, because we have managed to pack so much into the last few days!

Natalie arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland on Monday night, after 13 hours of trains to Paris, London, and finally Edinburgh. It gets dark really early here – about 4:00pm. So finding the hostel at 8:00pm became a bit of an adventure. With only a couple of wrong turns, and walking into one wrong hostel, she managed to find the right place eventually.

She was up again nice and early the next morning to collect Eva at the airport. We had a surprisingly mature meeting, no squealing or running. Possibly because Eva had been awake for so long. But it was SO fantastic to see such a familiar face! It is still a little hard to believe that we are here, together, in this place that we have both dreamed of visiting.

It was still dark when we left the airport at about 8:00am, so it wasn’t until after Eva was settled in at the hostel that we could really see the city. We are staying in the Old Town area, just a few blocks from Edinburgh Castle, where everything is stone and hundreds of years old. The hostel is for hip, cool, young folk like ourselves – there is a great little bar/café (which is currently blaring techno Christmas classics…), they host game and activity nights, and their logo is a donkey wearing wayfarers and a crown…

The town of Edinburgh has a December event called The 24 Doors of Advent, where each day, a private building is opened to the public for free. Tuesday, it was St. Giles Cathedral, which is even closer to us than the castle. So that was our first order of business. We couldn’t take any pictures inside, but it was pretty incredible. And of course we made up for that with the outside!


The hostel offers a free daily walking tour of the neighborhood, so we were sure to take that opportunity as well. Our guide was a very funny, very energetic New Zealander named Sebastian. He dubbed us “the crazy sisters” early in the tour, but we hadn’t really done much to warrant the title at that point… Much of the tour took place in the Greyfriar’s Cemetery, which is right across the street from us. Fun side note: When JK Rowling needed inspiration for Harry Potter, she looked to this churchyard, where one can find the graves of William McGonagall, Elizabeth Moodie, Thomas Riddell, Amos Digory, and Sirius Black. The last two graves are so popular that the original stones have been stolen and painted headstones have been commissioned to replace them. Now, one can just see spelling references for the artist. There is also a boarding school next door to the cemetery, which is said to be the model for Hogwarts.


Our next priority was lunch, and earlier that morning, we had come across a little vegetarian baked potato restaurant. So, obviously, we had to go back. It was a little tiny place with only one table and an immense menu of topping choices. Eva opted for a veggie curry, but the instant Natalie saw “vegan haggis”, there was no more deliberation. As it was lunch hour and the one table was already taken, we headed back to the hostel to eat.


The vegan haggis, which contained a mix of red and green lentils, sunflower seeds, oats, nuts, and spices, was super delicious. Leave it to us to find vegan haggis in Scotland!

After lunch, we wandered around a bit, but Eva could no longer hide her jetlag. Back at the hostel, Eva opened her Christmas present from Natalie – a box of real for true French macarons! So we found some coffee in the bar, played cards, and ate macarons...

(this picture has winter cherry, peach, pistachio, and spice bread)

After a couple of hours, Eva started to fall asleep midgame, so bedtime was declared. We slept in a bit the next morning, then had a hearty breakfast of Scottish porridge, which was deceptively sludgy and sticky. That makes it sound nasty, but it was actually quite delicious. But there isn’t really any word better than “sludge” to describe its consistency.

Because you can’t go to Edinburgh and not go to the castle, that was our first activity on Wednesday. On the way up, we passed a busking bagpiper in full traditional dress. Actually, this wasn’t even the first one we had seen… While Eva could happily go the rest of her life without hearing another bagpipe, this is just one more reason for Natalie to stay in Scotland forever! The castle is up on top of a big cliffy hill that was super windy and a little bit rainy. We jumped into a tour group that was leaving, so we got to learn about some of the castle’s history, and how it figured into the history of the country. We did not learn this tour guide’s name; but it was probably something like Murray or Donald. He had wonderful plaid pants and probably the thickest accent we have heard yet. The castle was far from a letdown, but very different from what we had been expecting. It was a walled compound of many smallish stone buildings, including, but not limited to, the Main Hall and Royal Chambers (which also held the crown jewels), a War Memorial, and a 900 year old chapel. There wasn’t really a castle in the real sense of the word. But, as you can see, it was still pretty dope.


After the castle, we were super hungry for lunch, and Natalie had her mind set on some real traditional Scottish food. We walked around a bit until we found a hole-in-the wall looking pub. When we walked in, the little bar had three old Scottish dudes talking about the weather. So obviously, we had chosen well! Natalie ordered some bangers and mash (a traditional dish of sausage and mashed potatoes) and an ale that the bartender had recommended. Eva found a vegetarian haggis dish, so she could feel like she was eating traditional food. The old men at the bar and the bartender then had a conversation that went something like this:

“What the hell is vegetarian haggis?”
“Oh, it’s mostly just oatmeal.”
“How do you catch a vegetarian haggis?”
“They’re cage free!”
(Scottish chuckling)

But then, when the bartender told her a few minutes later that they were out of vegetarian haggis, she panicked and ordered the real thing! Not that that mattered though, because there weren’t any other vegetarian options, and Eva didn’t want to be as painfully dull as usual. For those of you who don’t know, haggis is probably the most iconic Scottish fare, and is a mash made from sheep’s stomach, diced sheep’s liver, lungs and heart, oatmeal, onion, suet and seasoning. It was served with a side of neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and mashed potatoes).

The mashed potatoes, much like the baked potatoes from the day before, were wonderfully soft and smooth. (After these Scottish potatoes, we’re eager to see what Ireland has to offer!) We both agreed that the bangers were pretty darned good – reminiscent of a giant breakfast sausage, but way more flavorful, and topped with a yummy gravy. The haggis, however, tested Eva’s abilities of separation between mind and mouth. It was very…flavorful – unlike anything else we have ever eaten. It is important to say “we”, because Natalie probably ended up eating about a third of it. It was interesting, because there was a definite lamb flavor, but the onions were pretty present as well. And the aftertaste was quite peppery. By the end, it had broken Eva’s esophagus - but mostly because she, like a four year old, refused to chew it.


After lunch, we hit up the National Portrait Gallery, because there was a fashion exhibit that Natalie had heard about. Then we looked at (and made fun of) a bunch of stuffy old Scottish portraits. We also came upon a gorgeous two-story library full of old books, busts, and phrenology casts. This was the first time Eva had heard of this science, and she continues to refer to it as “faceology”.


On the way back to the old town (it was only about 4:15, but already dark) we stopped by the Scottish Christmas market, where we bought some German stollen and a little wheel of hardcore artisan garlic herb cheese. We also passed a stand selling products from the Jura Mountains – Natalie’s region in France! Eva almost got to try some comté, but her tummy was still in a fragile state after lunch…


In anticipation of restaurants being closed for Christmas, we headed to a grocery store to stock up. After five-year-old Eva found the candy aisle, and spent a LONG time freaking out about all of the different choices, Natalie decided it was time to start adding some real food to our basket. But don’t worry – we did buy some shortbread and a European Skittle variety.


After a breakfast of porridge and jam and Americanos – aren’t we worldly?! – we packed a bag and headed off to the Stockbridge neighborhood in western Edinburgh. This was so Natalie could fulfill a longtime dream of visiting St. Bernard’s Well. Years ago, she came across a photo of this well and fell in love with it. So, of course, it went without saying that we would see it in person while we had the chance. This hike took us out of the touristy old town and into a very residential area.

"Is that...could it be?"
"I think that might be St. Bernard's Well..."
"By gosh, it is!"

We fully intended to follow that up with a trek to Arthur’s Seat, a peak overlooking the town, but this time it was Natalie’s turn to be a five year old. Her bladder couldn’t make it. So we went back to the hostel and did laundry and wrote this blog post instead!
Our goal is to write one epic post for each city we visit. Sorry for the length, but congratulations – you made it through! We hope that, unlike Natalie, you didn’t have to go to the bathroom three times while reading it… So if you’re to the challenge, check back in the next couple of days for the second installment!


Posted by NKammerer 12:52 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged scotland edinburgh market cemetery cathedral christmas castle potatoes haggis kammerer_sisters_unite greyfriar's st._gile's bangers_and_mash st._bernard's_well scottish_national_portrait_gall

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


What a wonderful adventure. Although I love trying new foods and experimenting, I think you are braver than I. Not sure I could do The Hagis. Can't wait for the next adventure. Merry Christmas.

by Bill Collins-Wolaver

Aye Lassies, we'd be enjoying yer Scottish tales!! Delightful blog, as always! So glad you're having such a great time. Take care of each other, and Eva, chew your food.
All my love,

by Lisa Kammerer

Your dead read the blog to all of us as soon as you posted it, and as always it was very entertaining. Eva, I could never have gotten the haggis into my mouth - you did much more than I ever could! I love the flower you added to your hat; it looks every bit as good as I thought it would. Natalie, it's great seeing you in so many of the pictures now that you have your own personal photographer. I'm so glad you two are having this time together making wonderful memories.


by Judy Trout

OOPS! I just read my prior comment - obviously, I meant your dad read the blog. No hidden message or Freudian slip - just a clumsy typing error on this keyboard. L, Oma

by Judy Trout

What an adventure ! Your mom,dad,Chelsea & Ben will be coming today to spend the weekend. We will miss you but we are in awe of your adventures & pictures. Love you both !

by Muti & Pa

So glad Eva made it there not only safe and sound but hitting the ground running. Love the pictures! Been thinking about you girls so much - and am so happy you are sharing all your adventures with us. I always look forward to reading about all your discoveries!! Now just like always after reading your blog - I have to go make myself a sandwich!!

Love you girls - have a ball!!!

by Aunt Chris

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.