Edinburgh My Gateway to the United Kingdom

It was December 2018. My partner decided to fly back to the UK for the holidays. It was already over a year since the last time he flew back to visit his family in Newcastle upon Tyne. I just finished my bar exam and badly needed a break. He convinced me to apply again for a UK visa after rejecting my first application in November 2017. 

I learned from my previous mistakes and beefed up my application. Fresh from taking the Bar Examinations, I was unemployed and had no means of income to justify a tourist visa. So I did my research, revised the direction of my application, and to my surprise, was granted a six-month tourist visa a few days before Christmas.

After informing him of the visa grant, my partner bought my plane tickets, that, in hindsight, are very expensive given that it’s the height of the holiday season. And I flew KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) on the 23rd of December 2018 from Manila via Taipei and Amsterdam to Edinburgh. 

It was exciting as it was my first-ever long-haul flight. It was also my second overseas trip and the first time to my partner’s homeland. When I sat in my assigned seat, I had a sudden realization. This is really, is it? I would finally see my boyfriend’s hometown.

We had an hour-and-a-half layover in Taipei. It was uneventful as it was already nearly midnight when we disembarked our plane waiting for us to embark again on the same plane and with the same assigned seats. When we left Taipei, it was the start of the long flight to Amsterdam.

The KLM flight was comfortable. I flew economy, but I had no complaints. I enjoyed the food, and I arrived at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam well-rested and ready for the final leg of my journey. I flew with a smaller plane, one that reminds you of Cebu Pacific or AirAsia planes in the Philippines, from Amsterdam to Edinburgh. 

My first ever photo in the United Kingdom. Took this photo in Edinburgh in December 2018.

Arriving in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland. My boyfriend chose this as my airport of arrival to the UK due to the city’s proximity to his hometown of Newcastle upon Tyne. 

Edinburgh’s airport is small compared to most capital cities. When we landed, passengers had to disembark at the tarmac, walk into a side entrance, and climb several stairs to arrive at the passport control. And I was not prepared for the weather when I had to do the short walk on the tarmac. 

I was wearing a shirt and a thermal jacket. But I forgot to close my coat, thinking it would be enough to warm me. But boy, I was wrong. 

When I left the plane, the wind blew at -2 degrees Celsius. It was chilling to the bone. But I had to pretend it was nothing until I reached the inside of the airport building. I even secretly blow my breath to see what winter breath looks like. 

I was like a kid, experiencing many new things all at the same time. I went through the immigration, and gladly it went through. The officer asked me the purpose of my visit, and I candidly told them that I was visiting my partner’s family in Newcastle upon Tyne. 

I waited at the arrival gate for about ten minutes before Michael and his mom, and stepdad came. They took time looking for parking, but I didn’t mind. I was just excited to finally visit places in the UK that I have only read in books before. 

Because it was my first time in the UK, we unanimously agreed to explore Edinburgh before starting the 2-hour car journey to Newcastle. It only makes sense since we’re already there. 

Rooftop view of Edinburgh
Edinburgh city rooftop view with historical architecture. Image by TravelScape on Freepik

The Royal Mile

A visit to Edinburgh would only be complete with walking at The Royal Mile. And we did that precisely after leaving the airport.

The Royal Mile is the main thoroughfare of Edinburgh’s Old Town. It is a succession of streets between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. And for someone who has been in love with castles and old architecture, I was like a kid left at a candy store.

Michael’s mom was kind enough to offer me a warm cup of coffee as she might have remembered it was my first time in a sub-zero climate. The coffee did help warm my body and prepared me for the long walk. 

The walk leads to Castle Rock, the hill on which Edinburgh Castle sits, overlooking the entire city of Edinburgh. The weather was cold and damp, but that did not stop me from feeling immense warmth and gratitude for the opportunity to visit the city. 

But we four felt a little peckish. So we stopped by to buy sandwiches at Greggs, a quintessential British bakery chain. The shop was just around the corner from The Royal Mile’s main street. 

Edinburgh Castle
A view of Edinburgh Castle nestled atop the Castle Rock. Photo by Ben Guerin on Unsplash

Edinburgh Castle

The historic castle was a stronghold sitting atop the Castle Rock. It is the most visited tourist attraction in Scotland and the second in the entire United Kingdom. Many of the buildings in the castle complex are of 16th-century architecture and still have an active garrison operated by the British Army.

It was a serious climb on the way to the castle. And since it is a popular tourist attraction, hundreds of Chinese tourists were there to visit. I even joked with my boyfriend that it felt like I had never left the Philippines or Asia since most of the people I have met are my Asian brothers. 

In front of the castle is the Esplanade. It was initially designed as a parade ground and is currently the location for the  Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Nearby is the Half Moon Battery, where seven bronze guns are mounted called The Seven Sisters. From the Half Moon Battery, you’ll get a fantastic bird’s eye view of the entire city of Edinburgh.

Crown Square

It serves as the main courtyard of Edinburgh Castle. It dates back to the 15th century. Standing at Crown Square feels like you’re on a platform because it was, in fact, an artificial platform itself. It is an imposing area as you get surrounded by the primary and more grandiose elements of Edinburgh Castle.

After our castle tour, we walk around the narrow streets of Edinburgh Old Town occupying the slopes of Castle Rock. It was my introduction to British shops, high-quality artisan goods, and confectionery stores. When they thought I had enough of the sigh-seeing, they asked if we’d start to head now to Newcastle, which is a two-hour drive down south. 

Me at Carter Bar
The Carter Bar is a boulder that marks the boundary of England and Scotland.

We returned to the parking lot, and I bid a silent goodbye to Edinburgh. It was my first day in the UK, but I already fell in love with its beauty. And this is how Edinburgh became my gateway to the UK.

Shelu Abapo
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