From the Big City to the Book Town

by Colleen Morrow in ,

We spent one last morning in Edinburgh on Saturday, visiting Craigmillar Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots went when she was depressed and where the plot to kill her husband was hatched. So you know, a very cheery place.   

The castle was left to fall into ruins in the 1700s but the ruins have now been restored and it's a lovely site to tour around. Much of the tower house is open to the elements so there were a lot of nesting birds and roofless rooms as we explored. It was also quite maze-like, it was hard to tell sometimes if we had seen a section or not, with the multiple staircases running through it. It drizzled for most of our touring time, turning to rain near the end and navigating with an umbrella was tricky at points. On more than one occasion, my umbrella was too wide for a passageway and I had to turn it to the side to get through. 

After heading back into the city centre, we picked up our bags and headed back to the airport to pick up our car and make the drive to Wigtown. The drive was on the rainy side, as expected in Scotland, and we were mostly on highways, instead of the motorway.  It was easy enough to adapt to driving on the left - though it took a while to adapt to the rear view mirror on the left. Aside from that, driving was smooth sailing, until I tried parking and ran into the curb. But that happens enough when I drive in Canada that I'm still calling the whole thing a win. 

When we arrived in Wigtown and found our bookshop (The Open Book), we met George, who showed us around the flat and the bookshp. It was late enough in the day that we didn't open but rather wandered around the little village. After an early dinner at the infamous Craft (fish & chips, obviously) we picked up a few necessities at the local co-op and settled in for an early night. 

Sunday morning rolled around soon enough and we got the bookshop open around 9, adding our Canada paraphernalia around the shop. It was a slow day, with only five customers and two sales - though we exceeded last Sunday's sales. We also met Renita and her lab, Bonnie. Renita is part of the organizing team for the annual book festival and runs the event in The Open Book during festival time. She and Bonnie were an excellent welcoming committee, with stories about The Open Book and some of the other bookshops and people in the village. Bonnie spent most of the visit looking for crumbs or leaning against us, demanding pets, which reminded me of someone else I know back in Canada (Penelope, I mean you...)

We closed up shop around 3 so that we could check out some of our competition (Byre Books, Reading Lasses, The Old Bank Bookshop, and Beltie Books.) Reading Lasses and Beltie Books had lovely little cafes as part of their shops and Reading Lasses had a room dedicated to female authors, which was lovely. The Old Bank went on for ages, I was beginning to think it was the never-ending bookshop!! They also made really good use of their high ceiling with bookshelves towering over us. And Byre Books was hidden in a back garden, making it such a delight to find.  

Then it was back home for some snacks before heading back to Craft for their Sunday Roast dinner, featuring turkey roast, so it felt like Thanksgiving. I left feeling like I had just eaten Thanksgiving dinner, too.  

Today, we're back in the shop and it seems like the rain may have let up for the day already. We'll see if it stays dry - I think we'll have more customers if it isn't raining! 



by Colleen Morrow in

Hello from Edinburgh! Or, as the Scots would say... Hello from Edinburgh! 

We've arrived, albeit later than anticipated. After a flight straight from hell (Newark wouldn't let us leave Toronto, our flight from Newark to Edinburgh had a total of 9 delays & left over 5 hours late, and my bag was one of 25 that the Edinburgh luggage people said hadn't been put on the plane) we dropped the stuff we did have with us at our hotel and headed up the Royal Mile to see Edinburgh Castle. It looks pretty much the same as it did the last time I saw it (in 2001) but I'd forgotten so much, it might as well have been my first visit. After that, it was back to the hotel to get checked in and changed for dinner and our whisky tour. Happily, my bag that was supposed to still be in Newark for another 12 hours had been delivered and I was reunited with my toothbrush.  

Dinner was at the Witchery, which was such a delightful little spot, it felt like we were in Harry Potter. It was also very busy and we barely had time for our pudding selection before going next door for our tour at the Scotch Whisky Experience. Our tour started with a barrel ride, which explained the whisky process and then we learned about the five whisky regions in Scotland, complete with a scratch & sniff card. Then, it was on to tasting. We started with three whiskys - Lowlands, Highlands and Speyside - learning about legs and finish and why a Glencairn glass is the best for drinking from (hint: it's very hard to spill anything out of one.) Then it was on to the world's largest private whisky collection and a taste of a whisky from Campbeltown before finishing up with an Islay and a parting gift (a Glencairn glass!) Then, we headed off down the Mile to a whisky bar recommended by the front desk clerk where I had a Taste of Scotland flight to end the night.

That, of course, led to a slow start for me today. But, soon enough, we were heading down the mile to the Scottish Parliament for a tour. It was a really interesting building, with themes of openness and transparency running throughout and symbols of Scotland everywhere you turned. The architect designed everything himself, including the carpets. You'd think he'd have delegated some of that stuff away but nope, he did it all. After a stop for a snack in the cafe, we strained for a glimpse of Hollyrood, which is closed right now because Princess Anne is arriving for a stay tomorrow. Then, it was up to the top of Carlton Hill for the best views in the city. And they were excellent! The hill is the highest point in the city so you could see everything for miles. After that, it was off to the National Museum to take in their Scottish History galleries, which were packed with everything you could possibly think of from coins from when Romans lived here to clips of KT Tunstall singing. That worked up our appetites so we had an early dinner, followed by some time with our feet up before heading back out to get some takeaway dessert (yum, strawberry tart!) and now it's time for bed.

Tomorrow, we're visiting Craigmillar Castle before picking up our car and making the drive down to Wigtown. Let the bookish adventure begin!! 


The Witchery - so pretty!! 

The Witchery - so pretty!! 

No blend for us, just the first five.  

No blend for us, just the first five.  

Yeah, we get it, Edinburgh, you're gorgeous. You can stop showing off now.  

Yeah, we get it, Edinburgh, you're gorgeous. You can stop showing off now.  

Fulfilling my life-long dream of running a bookshop...

by Colleen Morrow in

Yep.  For a week in May, I'm going to be running a bookshop with my sister in Scotland.  Back in 2015, we both heard of this cool Airbnb in Wigtown, where you get to run The Open Book, a bookshop in Scotland's National Book Town where there are 10 bookshops and 1000 people.  And since that's pretty much the most Morrow Sister-y thing that could possibly exist, we booked ourselves a week. (I think the only more Morrow Sister-y thing that could exist is an Airbnb where you run your own winery for a week.  If anyone knows of one of those, kindly let me know.)

We're flying in a few days early to spend a bit of time in Edinburgh before renting a car and driving down to Wigtown.  Once at our bookshop, we'll get to make our own displays, set our bookshop's hours, and meet all the locals that come to check us out.  We stay in the flat above the shop and have lots of time to check out the local pubs and other bookshops.  After our week at The Open Book, we're going to spend a couple of days in Rome, which should be very tasty as I think we'll be spending ~50% of our time eating & drinking.  Then, it's back home to Canada to resume our boring regular lives in financial services & healthcare.  

We've been waiting for this trip for a long time now but I think the next two months will go pretty quickly.  We've acquired some fine bookish apparel and a couple of bookish flasks so we're pretty well-prepared for running a bookshop.  We're also getting into the details of what we'll see in Edinburgh & Rome - we're definitely going to the Vatican (that has been booked for a while already) and we're making our list of castles, museums & gelaterias to hit up.  It's shaping up to be a pretty awesome trip.

(If you're interested in doing this yourself, better hurry - they are booking into 2020 already.)


by Colleen Morrow in

So technically, we didn't go to Iceland. Technically, we went for a weekend to Copenhagen and had a 7-day layover in Iceland. We chose Copenhagen cause there was a really good seat sale and we got the tickets for next to nothing.

And I'm so glad we did.  It was a great couple of days in a beautiful city.

We arrived very early on Friday morning and after dropping bags off at our hotel, we found a coffee shop for some breakfast (and I may have had a little snooze) before heading up to Copenhagen's Torvehallerne market for our food tour. The tour was great - we stopped in a number of places, trying cheeses and juices and wines and beers and sandwiches and hot dogs and chocolates and candies and caramels. Our guide was a Montreal native but has been in Copenhagen since the late 80's and was full of really interesting stories about the city. It was a great way to tour around the city, we've become big fans of the food tour and this one didn't disappoint.

From there, we went to Rosenborg, one of the many castles in the city and the home of the crown jewels. The castle was modest compared to some we've seen so it didn't take long to tour through it. The throne room was beautiful. Hilariously, the king's throne is made of narwal tusks but he told everyone that it was made from unicorn horns. And they didn't have Google back then so they just took his word for it. There are also these three amazing silver lions that are in front of the thrones to guard the monarchs. Also hilariously, 12 were ordered but they were so expensive, they could only get three. Both of these hilarious stories were told to us by the security person in the room, who was so delightful to talk to. Then it was down to see the crown jewels. The crowns of the King and Queen were impressive but the Queen's jewels were really, really impressive. Only the Queen is allowed to wear them and she can only wear them in Denmark so they don't get out much. 

After that, we went back to Torvehallerne and picked up some crackers and cheese and meat and wine and dessert for a little smorgasbord dinner of our own creation, which was delicious.

Our Saturday was jam-packed. We were going to take in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale house until we realized it was a Ripley's museum with a light show, not a preservation of a home he lived in. So we walked down one of the pedestrian streets over to Nyhavn, where the most famous views of Copenhagen are and caught a canal tour instead. The canal tour was a great way to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time, seeing the old stock exchange, parliament, the opera house, and the Little Mermaid's back side, among other things. Once back on land, we walked down to see the Little Mermaid's front side, which was one of the things I was most excited for. 

Then, it was on to Paper Island, an old paper warehouse that has been converted into a street food market. Think food trucks but inside and a bunch of them. It was crazy busy and nearly impossible to find anywhere to sit down once you had something to eat. We ended up stuffing ourselves with duck-fat fries, falafel, carbonara, fresh juice, creme brûlée donuts (they brûléed the donuts!) and a traditional apple cake. SO DELICIOUS. Good thing the next thing on our list was a walk through Christiania, the anarchist community of Copenhagen. They've proclaimed themselves as autonomous from the city and the EU. It's a very popular tourist destination now, though they frown on photographs, probably because they are pretty open about cannabis in the neighbourhood.

Then, it was back to the hotel before one last dinner (delicious! Seriously, the food in Copenhagen is amazing) and a short sleep before a very early flight back to Toronto. It was just long enough in Copenhagen to whet my Scandinavian appetite and now I'm really eager to go back to Denmark for a longer visit :)