Sometimes, travel surpasses your expectations. In the case of a recent trip I made to Edinburgh, this was a pretty tall order. Over the years, I’d had pretty big fantasies about the Scottish city, to the extent of using it as a setting in my first novel. My stunning whirlwind of a visit started with an email…
Hope this finds you well; I’m Josh, from the Virgin Atlantic press office.
I wanted to see if you’re interested in joining us on Virgin Atlantic Little Red’s inaugural flight from London to Edinburgh… Richard Branson will be onboard…
Okay, I had requested an interview with Sir Richard Branson, but the most I’d been hoping for was a phone interview. Conducting it onboard the airline’s inaugural flight of its new domestic service, the Little Red line? Something was apparent with this early-morning email: Someone was punking me. Still, hope bursting in my chest that this invitation might be a reality, I phoned Josh.
Shortly thereafter, I received another email. VisitBritain was arranging for me to stay a few days beyond the Little Red flight to explore Edinburgh. My accommodations — the very hotel featured in my novel – The Balmoral. I was, as they say, gobsmacked. Art was becoming reality in a big way.
Suddenly, I found myself sitting onboard Virgin Little Red’s inaugural flight from London to Edinburgh. My seatmate – Sir Richard Branson. Well, for the length of my interview midair, anyway — which you can read here. Upon landing, I experienced one of those moments you only see in movies. The press corps was waiting on the tarmac as the first passengers aboard Little Red deplaned. Playing us down the exit stairs were bagpipers. So this is what the Beatles must have felt like in all those news clips.
Our jubilant throng boarded buses and headed to Edinburgh’s Hotel Missoni for a press conference to be followed by a night of celebrations. As we stepped onto the cobblestone Royal Mile of Edinburgh’s Old Town, bellmen clad in zigzag kilts greeted us, as did a host in the lobby, handing out the hotel’s signature Bellinis.
The five-star accommodations were, as had been described, “relaxed and beautiful interiors inspired by the warmth and coulour of Italian family life. And passion.” All I could think of the hip, sexy, vibe was “Hello, Italian family. Adopt me?” And, fully, clad, I immediately donned one of the groovy bathrobes hanging in the purple bathroom.
After lunch in Missoni’s Cucina, and a press conference with Sir Richard, various tours of Edinburgh got underway. One that went below the surface of the city was Mary King’s Close. Located beneath the Royal Mile, these now-buried narrow alleyways were once a neighborhood in the 1600s. Over time, newer buildings, including the Royal Exchange, were built on top of the close. An archaeological find of sorts, Mary King’s Close is a tourist attraction with actors relaying tales of centuries past. The tour was both eerie and titillating. Definitely not for the claustrophobic or achluophobic [ED Note: Those who are scared of the dark]. The thrillseeker in me, however, was both intrigued and looking for ghosts at every turn.
That evening, our group went underground again. This time, to a “kilts up” party in The Caves, an 18th century sub-structure of Edinburgh’s South Bridge. Whisky was once stored in the caves, and it was certainly flowing that evening as everyone toasted Little Red. In keeping with the color of the day’s festivities, the Red Hot Chili Pipers band members took the stage with bagpipes emitting sounds that were less mournful and all about rocking out.
All too soon, the clock struck midnight. Yes, the dreamiest of days had come to an end. The magic, however, had just begun.
Tomorrow: Harry Potter, the Stone of Destiny and The Elephant House – more of Edinburgh’s magic.
Travel writer Bekah Wright spans the globe experiencing everything from fly fishing to sheep herding. She recently wrote about traveling to Zambia and taking a French river cruise for First to Know. Her writing has been featured in GOOD, Bon Appetit, National Geographic Kids, Los Angeles magazine and TV Guide.