Touring Mary King’s Close

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Like snapping photos from the Vennel and walking along Circus Lane, it took four visits to Edinburgh to do this activity…touring Mary King’s Close.

On my first visit, my cousins and I toured underground vaults instead and didn’t make it to Mary King’s Close.

Two visits ago, while in Scotland with my mom, sisters and niece, we tried to book a tour of this famous close. They were booked up beyond our stay date.

Last visit, my sister and I didn’t even try. We stayed busy with the Maitland Clan Gathering.

This trip, I felt determined to finally see what this popular attraction on the Royal Mile is all about. I’m glad I did!

Touring Mary King's Close title

What is a Close?

Closes are narrow covered alleyways that branch off the Royal Mile. The city of Edinburgh is built on an extinct volcanic, with the Mile moving down the spine of rock. It’s a wide, beautiful street.

When the city first grew, beyond the cluster of small houses near the castle, closes and wynds fell away from the Mile, connecting the main thoroughfare with other sections of town. Businesses and tenements, as tall as eight stories, sprang up along these narrow closes.

All classes of citizens worked and lived in these stone townhouses. The wealthy occupied the top stories while merchants lived and worked in the middle levels. The poorest in the city lived at ground level, where sewage and waste, mud and muck were real problems.

Touring Mary King's Close barries close
Barrie’s Close is a good example of a close that still exists in Edinburgh today.

Who Was Mary King?

Closes were often named for the activities along that lane. Bread was baked in Bakehouse Close. Lawyers lived and worked along Advocate’s Close.

And some closes bore the names of influential people who lived there.

Mary King was born near the end of the 1500s. Her marriage to Thomas Nemo is recorded in 1616 and together they had four children. Thomas died in 1629, leaving Mary to raise their four offspring alone. She moved her young family into what was known then as Alexander King’s Close or simply, King’s Close.

After Alexander King died…he was not related to Mary at all…and his heir did nothing with the property or close, the name gradually changed to Mary King’s Close.

She became a merchant, to support her family, selling fine fabrics and sewing garments for others. Mary now occupied a house near the top of the close. She also rented a small shop on High Street, the upper section of the Royal Mile…a very desirable location, so we know she did well.

When Mary died in 1644 she left a will. Her belongings included silver spoons, gold rings, furniture, cushions and pillows, fabric, sewing supplies, velvet trousers, bedsheets, cloth napkins, wine and beer, tartan plaids and ruffs.

Touring Mary King's Close home
Touring Mary King’s Close – an illustration of a home in the close, from the Mary King’s Close tour book

A Foul Pestilence Strikes

Three months after Mary’s death, plague erupted across the city. Outbreaks were common during this time in history, with the sickness carried from port to port on ships. Flea infested rats inhabited those ships and those tiny parasitic insects carried the plague.

This pestilence became the last great plague outbreak in Scotland. The city elected a plague doctor to try and control the spread of the disease. Wealthy city dwellers fled to the country to escape however the poor and working class had no where to go. And in their crowded and unsanitary living conditions, many died.

Contrary to myths, the sick inhabitants of Mary King’s Close and the other closes were not walled up to starve to death. The city did what it could to care for people, creating quarantine houses and providing families with food and drink.

It’s estimated that at least a fifth of Edinburgh’s citizens died during this plague. Some push that estimate closer to two-thirds. Councilmen died as well. Merchants and bankers and children died. Doctors dressed in long coats and gloves and wore bird shaped masks with herbs in the beak portion for protection. And yet, doctors died too until the disease finally ran its course.

Mary King's Close book
No photos are allowed while touring Mary King’s Close. I purchased this book to help me remember all that I learned and for the photos in the book.

Hidden Below

By the 1750s, many of the closes needed repairs. Rather than improve the area, the city built an enclosed building over several closes, including Mary King’s, in hopes that merchants would move their businesses there.

The plan didn’t work. People preferred living and working in the now covered over closes. By 1850 most of Mary King’s Close lay in ruins. One family chose to stay in the close, operating a saw shop and living there. The city began buying up the property that included the hidden closes and finally, in 1930, that last family was bought out.

During World War II, Mary King’s Close became an air raid shelter. Although it was used infrequently, there’s still a generator and equipment in one of the below ground rooms of the close.

Air raid shelter during WWII
Touring Mary King’s Close – it became an air raid shelter during WWII. Photo from the tour book.

The Ghosts of Mary King’s Close

Of course such a historical and ancient place houses a few ghosts. After the plague residents of Mary King’s reported ghosts of the unfortunate dead roaming the closes.

One story published in Edinburgh in 1685 told of a haunting in a couple’s home in Mary King’s Close. Apparently they were terrorized by a disembodied, floating head, a small child and a variety of spooky creatures. A few short weeks later, after reporting the haunting, the husband died.

A worried looking man and a woman dressed in black are still seen today, wandering the closes. Is the woman Mary?

And the most famous ghost in the close is Annie. Years ago, a Japanese physic found a room off of Alan’s Close troubling. She reported the ghostly presence of a sad little girl named Annie, who couldn’t find her family. And the wee girl had lost her doll as well. The physic had a doll brought into the room for Annie, to keep her company. Today that somber room is full of dolls, stuffed animals and toys as visitors from around the world bring Annie gifts, to show her love and respect.

Annie's Room
Annie’s room, full of dolls. Photo from the tour book.

My Experience Touring Mary King’s Close

I enjoyed this delightful, educational tour. First, I deeply appreciate the ongoing research being done at Mary King’s Close. As the researchers learn more about the inhabitants of the close, and the city itself, they flesh out the stories told.

And second, the tour is fun. Costumed tour guides lead visitors through the labyrinth of underground closes. Although the pathways and rooms are well lit, the floor is uneven in places and there are quite a few stairs to climb up and down. Walk with care.

Displays set up in rooms and computerized presentations make this tour unique and interesting. I learned a great deal about life during Edinburgh’s younger years.

As an intuitive, I felt that familiar tingle of energy across my back and scalp several times. And when we entered the home that contains Annie’s room, I felt a very strong presence there before I realized where we were. There is sadness and grief in Annie’s room, in spite of all of the dolls and toys.

If you plan on touring Mary King’s Close, book online HERE or purchase tickets as soon as you arrive in the city. It’s likely you’ll have to book a day or two in advance. Tour groups are purposefully small because those rooms and tunnels are small with low ceilings in many areas.

I highly recommend a tour of Mary King’s Close. Would you visit?

Me in Mary King's Close
They take photos of each guest, in the close, that you can purchase after the tour. That’s a “ghost” of a plague doctor creeping up behind me!

 

Traveling to Scotland this year? I highly recommend a lightweight waterproof jacket like this one. Click photo to order.

 

 

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Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail

 

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I visited the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens on my third trip to Scotland, checking it off my “must see” list. The sprawling gardens are wildly beautiful and my sister and I enjoyed wandering down the pathways, stopping to inspect new to us plant species.

When I returned to Edinburgh last December, I noted with excitement that a special event was going on in the gardens, coinciding with the holidays. I booked my entry immediately.

My first full day in the city concluded with the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail, an after dark spectacular featuring lights and music.

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail title

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens

The Royal Botanic Gardens, founded in 1670, began as a space to grow medicinal plants. Today the garden occupies four sites across Scotland: Edinburgh, Dawyck, Logan and Benmore. Each offers its own special collection of plants. The Edinburgh site hosts the main garden. Its outdoor collection consists of more than 13,000 plant species and almost 300,000 individual plants.

Originally the gardens flourished near Holyrood Palace, at the foot of what’s referred to as the Royal Mile. It is the second oldest botanic garden in Great Britain, after Oxford’s. That first medicinal garden occupied a 40 foot by 40 foot plot, and housed almost 900 plants. When the site became too small, the garden relocated in 1676 to Loch Nor, not far from High Street. Today Waverly Railway Station occupies that space.

In 1763 the garden moved again to Leith Walk, away from the more populous part of Edinburgh. And in the early 1820s the garden moved to its current location adjacent to Inverleith Row. The garden occupies 70 acres and includes a variety of collections including Alpine Plants, Chinese Hillside, Rock Garden, Scottish Heath Garden and Woodland Garden. There’s also an Herbarium on site, that houses more than 3 million specimens.

During the rest of the year, entry into the botanical gardens is free. There is a small fee to enter the greenhouses.

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail lanterns
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail – lanterns

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail

Also called Christmas at the Botanics, the event runs for five weeks, beginning the third week in November. Guests enter through the East or West Gate. Once inside, a clearly marked one mile path weaves through the garden displays.

The beautiful displays feature a variety of lights and light shows with accompanying music, making the walk through the gardens magical.

Look for light projections that tell a story, against Inverleith House, Father Christmas and decorated booths selling hot chocolate, mulled wine, spiced cider and snacks. The main building at the East Gate is open so that visitors can use the restrooms, check out the gift shop or warm up for a few minutes.

Last year marked the sixth time for this special night trail. The event has become an important fund raiser for the Gardens. The funds help support plant research and conservation work.

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail magical
The Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail is magical!
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail father christmas
Father Christmas delights the young and young at heart.

What You Need to Know

From Old or New Town, the gardens are certainly walkable. However, with the event taking place during the colder months and after the sun sets, many opt to take a city bus or an Uber or taxi.

Reserve entry time online HERE for 2023. Tickets specify whether you enter through the East or West Gates. Show up 15 minutes early so you are ready to have your online ticket scanned.

If arriving by car, taxi or group bus, select entry through the West Gate on Arboretum Place . Use the East Gate on Inverleith Row for public transportation or when walking to the gardens.

This is a ticketed evening event. You must purchase tickets online, reserving your time. Last year, advance tickets were 21.50 pounds.

Entry begins at 4:15 pm with the last admission at 8:00 pm. Timed entries are spaced 15 minutes apart per group.

Expect to spend at least an hour and a half wandering through the festive gardens.

Red flower lights on the night trail.
Red flower lights on the night trail.
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trails japanese
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail Japanese house

My Experience at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail

I booked my ticket online and selected 4:15 pm as my entry time. Remember that in winter, it gets dark EARLY in Scotland. The sun is completely down by 3:30 in the afternoon.

Although the gardens are located a 20 minute walk from Princes Street, I decided to take an Uber since it was already dark and cold. I dressed in warm layers and a heavy coat, pulled on my red stocking cap and gloves and arrived 15 minutes early at the designated gate.

I spent a little more than an hour and a half walking through this enchanting garden. My group started out together and I made friends with a woman from London. However, we all quickly spread out over the grounds as some walked faster or slower and others lingered over displays. The paths are indeed well marked and security personnel stood in key locations to help, if needed.

I love botanical gardens anyway. This nighttime experience was unforgettable. The lights, from flickering candlelight to thousands of tiny white lights to brightly colored laser shows created such a fresh experience in the gardens. Most of the light displays had music as well. I felt like I’d wandered into a place where magic truly is possible.

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail tunnel
Tunnel of Light. That white circle was a full moon…perfect for the evening!
Water Lilies
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail – water lilies

Visit the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail in 2023

For a beautiful night time experience in Edinburgh, check out the lights and music at the botanic gardens. Artist created displays change each year, or at least some of them do. Tickets go on sale in late fall.

And do stop by Edinburgh’s botanical gardens during the day if you are in the city during any season. It’s well worth the time spent walking among the trees, flowers and water features there.

Have you ever visited a botanical garden during the holidays? Which one?

Me in the Gardens

Get a warm, lined red stocking cap like the one I wore HERE.

 

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Edinburgh Christmas Market

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The primary purpose of my Edinburgh trip in December last year was to experience the city’s Christmas Market. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years. For the last three years, photos of the Edinburgh Christmas Market decorated my vision boards.

Sadly, the outbreak of a world wide pandemic shut down the Christmas Market in 2020 and 2021. Watching news in Scotland last year, I saw with excitement that the Edinburgh Christmas Market was back! I booked my trip in August.

If you’ve ever wanted to experience a European Christmas Market, consider visiting the one in Edinburgh. In addition to the market, there are other fun activities to do in the city during winter.

Save this post for information to help you plan your trip!

Edinburgh Christmas Market title

Edinburgh Christmas Market 2022

The festive market opened on Friday, November 25 and closed January 3, 2023. Unique Events hosted the market and the end of the year Hogmanay as well.

Hours for the market were 10:00 am until 10:00 pm daily except for a few exceptions. The event closed at 8:00 pm on Christmas Eve, closed completely for Christmas Day and opened from noon until 8:00 pm on Boxing Day. Hours on New Year’s Eve were 10:00 am until 6:00 pm and on New Year’s Day, noon until 8:00 pm.

The Christmas Market is located along the East Princes Street Gardens with entrances into the event on Waverly Bridge and off of Princes Street. While there isn’t an entry fee for the market, expect long lines on the weekends and evenings. I found weekday afternoons the least crowded.

The market remains open during rain, snow and cold temps. Dress warmly! I highly recommend this heavy coat designed for outdoor adventures in winter.

Food and drink are available on site as are restrooms.

Edinburgh Christmas Market above
Edinburgh Christmas Market – a view from above

Edinburgh Christmas Market Stalls

The market featured more than 70 stalls, vendors who sold Christmas decorations, gift items, clothing, pottery, art and a vast variety of unique finds.

One of the greatest appeals of the market is wandering slowly through, weaving in and out of the stalls set up inside. In the US we have craft fairs. The Christmas Market is similar to that, in the wares that are offered. This is Scotland though so expect items unique to the country.

I spent parts of three days at the Edinburgh Christmas Market, seeing different stalls each visit. Plan to spend at least three or four hours there, more if it’s crowded.

The vendors are friendly and helpful and I thought the prices reasonable. All stalls accept debit and credit cards and cash, which in Scotland is the same as England, pounds rather than dollars.

Edinburgh Christmas Market booth
A pottery stall at the Edinburgh Christmas Market
Edinburgh Christmas Market ornaments
Beautiful, colorful ornaments and gnomes at a market stall.

Edinburgh Christmas Market Food Stalls

Among those 70+ stalls in the market is a delightful variety of food booths. If you don’t have directions to the Christmas Market, simply follow your nose. On those cold, crisp December days the aroma of hot food cooking was tantalizing.

Visitors can choose from German food or curry, hot smoked salmon or pizza, crepes and pancakes or nachos, burgers or vegan pigs in a blanket, loaded fries or vegan haggis. There truly is something for everyone there, including an assortment of sweet treats.

Enjoy a glass of mulled wine or a stein of beer, hot chocolate or a local favorite, mulled Irn Bru, cold soda or refreshing water, hot tea or egg nog. I found hot chocolate made with dairy free milk as well.

You must eat while at the Christmas Market, for the pure joy of trying different foods. I chose vegan nachos for lunch on my last day at the market, made with vegan haggis! It was delicious.

Edinburgh Christmas Market food stall
Edinburgh Christmas Market food stall.
Edinburgh Christmas Market german sausages
German Food at the market.

Edinburgh Christmas Market Wheel

The big Wheel at the center of the market offers riders the opportunity to see Edinburgh from a high vantage point. The cars of the Wheel are completely enclosed and provide 360 degree views of the city.

It costs 10 pounds to ride The Wheel and debit and credit cards are accepted along with cash. Expect to stand in line with shorter waits on weekdays. The ride lasts about ten minutes.

As a solo traveler, I thought I might have to ride with others, and that was okay. However, I felt delighted when I was allowed to ride in a car alone. I could move from one side of the car to the other and take photos and videos. My inner child laughed with joy.

If you don’t like heights, this ride may not be for you, however I’d encourage you to give The Wheel a try!

There are a couple of other rides at the market. And at the opposite end of Princes Street Gardens, Santa Land for the young and young at heart. More rides and stalls are located there, in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle.

The Wheel
The Wheel at the market.
Edinburgh Christmas Market a view from the top
A view from the top of The Wheel. Love the shadow I caught.

Edinburgh Christmas Market 2024

This year the market opens on November 25 and closes January 3. It promises to be another festive time in the grand old city. Edinburgh celebrates the holidays in a BIG way. It’s fun to wander the cobbled streets, looking at the elaborate Christmas decorations and lighted displays.

Have you been to a European Christmas Market? Would you enjoy the one in Edinburgh? Let me know in the comments below.

Me? I’ll go back. I can’t stay away from Edinburgh for long. Next on my wish list for this city is to experience Hogmanay, the Scot’s wild and fun New Year’s Eve celebration.

The Wheel at night
The Wheel at night.

 

Check out these posts about Edinburgh as well:

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter

CoDE Boutique Hostel

Vegan Eats in Edinburgh

Vegan Afternoon Tea at the Dome

 

Cindy Goes Beyond is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This affiliate program provides a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com, all at no extra cost to you.

Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclosure Policy for details.

My favorite seasons are spring and fall, primarily due to the mild weather experienced then. It’s easy to enjoy outdoor adventures or explore sprawling cities unhampered by temperature extremes.

Of all the seasons, winter is my least favorite for adventures. I love the holidays and I celebrate my birthday in January, however I don’t like the cold. Let me appreciate the beauty of winter indoors, through a window, while sipping a cup of hot tea.

So my strong desire to experience the Edinburgh Christmas Market in December was tempered somewhat by my dislike of the cold. I love to walk a city, explore new to me areas and take lots of photos. Edinburgh, Scotland is far enough north that the winter days are incredibly short, and frosty with rain or snow a definite possibility.

To get all that I wanted from my explorations I needed to adjust my thinking about low temps and prepare for hours spent outdoors. I did both and the visit to Edinburgh in winter was a success! These are my essentials for cold weather adventures.

Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures title

Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures

I spent a week in Edinburgh in early December. While temperatures there that time of year typically average 45 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and dip to the mid 30s at night, during my visit temperatures stayed below average.

Fortunately, I researched what the weather is like in Edinburgh well before my trip and started watching daily forecasts on the Weather App two weeks out. I saw how cold the week of my visit could be and planned accordingly.

This is exactly what I purchased and packed for my trip, using a carryon only plus a roomy cross body purse. The following items proved essential indeed.

Thermal Underwear by Thermajane

Layering is key to staying warm in cold temps. I purchased a thermal top and thermal leggings to wear beneath jeans and heavy sweaters. Greg loaned me a second set of thermals as well. I alternated the sets of thermal wear, washing the thermals I wasn’t wearing in the sink in my apartment and drying them near the radiator on a chair-turned-drying-rack.

What I love about Thermajane thermals

This set is a nice, heavy weight, lined, stretchy and comfy. Beneath my clothes and outerwear, they kept me toasty warm in temperatures as low as 20 degrees. They also wicked away moisture, which proved valuable when walking actually caused a sweat. And they dried quickly when washed.

Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures thermals
Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures – Thermajane thermal top

Socks, Socks and Socks

When my feet are cold, the rest of me is miserable as well. These knitted wool socks by FYC kept my feet comfy and warm. I bought two packages of socks and packed enough for six adventure days. On travel days, I wore compression socks. Packing tip: tightly roll socks and place inside boots or shoes.

What I love about my socks

I’m one of those people who LOVES good socks. I appreciated the warmth of the FYC socks and loved the fun patterns.

On the long flights to Scotland and home again, I wore knee high compression socks, which helped to prevent swelling and restless legs. And I removed my boots and slipped on a pair of these thick cushiony thermal socks, over the compression socks, for warmth and comfort.

Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures socks
Fun patterned knitted wool socks for warm feet.

Heavy Outdoor Campfire Sweater by Magellan

I discovered Magellan’s campfire fleece sweaters before my Washington DC trip. The one I bought was perfect for DC’s cool, rainy weather. The sweaters breathe and wick away moisture, for comfort, and yet trap body heat for warmth. I loved the sweater shirt so much that I bought another one in a different color so that I had two for Edinburgh. I also purchased a thick cowl neck sweater that I wore for afternoon tea.

What I love about campfire fleece sweaters

The Magellan sweaters are trim fit, so not too bulky, AND they have two front pockets, which I appreciate. I took two on the trip and alternated wearing them every other day. On my afternoon tea day, I wore a pretty dark gray cowl neck sweater.

Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures heavy sweater
Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures – campfire sweater

Boots by St John’s Bay

With the sweaters, I wore jeans every day. For simplicity, I took two pairs of black jeans on the trip. I also wore a pair of boots and packed a pair, one black and one brown. With the cold, rain and snow, I always had dry boots by switching them out every other day. Because I am vegan, I purchase boots with man made uppers, from JC Penney.

What I love about boots from St John’s Bay

Both pairs of boots worked well and stood up to miles of walking, in all kinds of weather.

Boots made for walking
Brown pair of boots from St John’s Bay

Heavy Waterproof Coat by Gemyse

I’m not a coat person. Even in cold weather, if I’m mostly riding in a car or moving from car to indoors, I don’t bother with one. So a heavy waterproof coat became a top priority. The coat by Gemyse worked so well!

It’s lined and insulated with multiple pockets, including inner ones, wind guards, a lined hood and adjustable cuffs with stretchable, fingerless gloves with thumb holes. The coat is designed for cold temps and outdoor activities.

What I love about the Gemyse coat

This coat, worn over my warm layers, kept me dry and comfortable and provided lots of pockets. The outer hand pockets are zippered. Plus there’s a zippered pocket on the chest that’s perfect to hold a phone. And the large, mesh inner pocket easily held my portable battery for my iPhone.

I love this heavy, waterproof coat.
I so appreciate this heavy, waterproof coat with many pockets.

Cashmere Tartan Scarf

It’s so cozy, wearing a cashmere scarf around my neck. And a few times, I pulled that scarf up to cover my lower face and nose. Purchase a similar scarf HERE.

What I love about my warm scarf

This scarf, made in Scotland, is my Clan Maitland Tartan. I proudly wore it every day while out exploring.

Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures scarf
Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures – tartan scarf

Stocking Cap, Gloves, Snacks

I grouped these together because I have a photo with all three!

Stocking Cap by Couthie Gifts, Scotland

My red stocking cap came from a Wee Box subscription box. I love the pop of red and matched my gloves to it. It’s lined with a faux fur and is sooo warm. Keeping my head warm helped keep the rest of my body comfortable. Get a similar one with this LINK.

What I love about the stocking cap

I never left the apartment without my cap upon my head. I received many compliments on it!

Cable Knit Wool Gloves by ViCherub

My thick, fleece lined gloves kept my hands warm and dry. I matched them to my cap, color wise.

What I love about the gloves

For convenience, I purchased gloves with touch screen finger tips, so I could use my phone and camera while keeping my hands warm.

Munk Pack Snack Bars

Yes, I traveled with Munk Pack snack bars! Why? When it’s cold, the body uses more energy to stay warm. I wanted to keep my body fueled and energized. I slipped a couple of bars into my sling purse every day and when I need refueling, I ate a delicious snack.

What I love about Munk Pack Snack Bars

These yummy bars are low sugar and highly nutritious. Plus they are so easy to pack for adventures. Order on Amazon or pick them up at Walmart.

Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures cap, gloves, snack bars
A trio of essentials – stocking cap, gloves and snack bars

Extra Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures

These additional items contributed to the success of my trip.

Voke Energy Pack

To help combat jet lag, I included Voke Energy Packets. One chewable berry flavored tablet, twice a day, naturally gave me a boost. I don’t have time for jet lag, not when there’s a beautiful city to explore.

What I love about Voke Energy Pack

Each soft packet contains six tablets, making them easy to tuck into my carryon.

Voke Energy Pack
Voke Energy Pack to combat jet lag.

Natural Dreams by Univera

Univera provided another way to fight jet lag. I took their sleep supplements the first three nights in Edinburgh. Natural Dreams sleep aid promotes deeper sleep, which allows the body to rest and restore itself. Those nights of deep, restorative sleep enabled me to wake up refreshed and ready to explore.

What I love about Natural Dreams

This product didn’t leave me feeling groggy and the ingredients are all natural.

Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures natural dreams
Natural Dream provides a restorative night’s sleep.

Shampoo & Conditioner Bars from The Earthling Company

I tried shampoo and conditioner bars for the first time this trip…and I love them! They are easy to pack, come in small reusable cardboard boxes so no plastic and they are simple to use. Back home, I’m continuing to use them.

What I love about shampoo & conditioner bars

These bars are plant based, with no parabens, sulfates or silicon. The shampoo bar suds up wonderfully and yet rinses clean. The conditioner bar is easy to use as well. Together they leave my hair clean, soft and less frizzy. Plus I love the coconut vanilla scent.

Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures shampoo and conditioner bars
Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures – shampoo and conditioner bars

BOOM Trio

The BOOM Trio makeup sticks are super easy to pack and to use. I slip the three BOOM sticks into their canvas zippered bag and carry them in my purse.

What I love about BOOM Trio

While I use a variety of products for skin care, my makeup is extremely simple: three sticks for moisturizing, color and a touch of glimmer! I’ve been using BOOM, designed for mature women, for years and continue to appreciate it. The moisturizing Glow stick is also handy to prevent dry, cracked lips due to the cold.

BOOM Trio makeup sticks
BOOM Trio Makeup sticks.

Sling Purse by Chala

Since I travel solo, I wanted a small purse to carry while out walking in the city. This cute sling purse worked perfectly. It was just big enough to hold a couple of snack bars and my debit card. I chose to carry my iPhone in a coat pocket however it fit in the purse too. Use this link for a similar purse.

What I love about the sling purse

I wore the sling purse UNDER my heavy coat. When I needed a snack bar or my debit card, I’d unzip the top of my coat, reach in and unzip the purse and pull out what I needed. I could explore without concern about a noticeable purse and keep my debit card safe. Packing tip: I placed the empty sling purse in an outside pocket on my carryon.

Loved this sling purse
Loved wearing this sling purse UNDER my coat.

Batt Pack Portable Battery by Octave

I ordered a new iPhone 14 Pro before my trip, however it didn’t arrive until January. To keep my old iPhone charged up and ready for photos, I carried this handy portable battery. While flying it traveled in my purse. While out exploring, it fit perfectly in the mesh inner pocket inside my coat. In my cozy apartment, I plugged in the portable battery every night to recharge. Get a portable battery HERE.

What I love about the portable battery

I quickly discovered that extremely cold temps drained my iPhone battery. It was necessary to connect it to the portable battery about half way through the day. The mesh pocket was big enough to hold the portable battery AND the iPhone connected to it. By the end of a day of exploring in the cold, my phone usually quit working until it warmed back up.

Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures portable battery
Essentials for Cold Weather Adventures – portable battery

Cold Weather, No Problem

With all my essentials for cold weather adventures, I truly loved my week in Edinburgh. I learned that preparation and proper clothing and outerwear make a HUGE difference. Even with temps in the 20s, rain and snow, I spent hours outdoors every day enjoying fun experiences and discovering new places to explore in a city I dearly love.

I look forward to more cold weather adventures, at home and abroad.

Do you have any cold weather essentials to add to my list? Please share them in the comments below.

And I close with one more item that’s a fun essential.

An online friend created the perfect travel t-shirt for me, with my departing airport, Springfield, on the front along with my destination airport, Edinburgh. I added a long sleeve gray shirt beneath and enjoyed wearing it on my long travel day to Scotland. So many people asked me about it that I want to share it with you. Get your travel tee by visiting my friend’s Etsy shop.

I treasure this shirt! It makes a wonderful memento of my trip.

Travel Tee

 

Cindy Goes Beyond is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This affiliate program provides a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com, all at no extra cost to you.

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclosure Policy for details.

My three previous visits to Edinburgh, Scotland all took place during summer or fall months. However, for many years, I’ve dreamed of traveling to Edinburgh in December, to experience the city’s Christmas Market.

COVID closed down the event in 2020 and 2021, postponing my plans. When I learned the city intended to open the Christmas Market in November 2022, I booked my trip…in August.

What an incredible experience, exploring Edinburgh in winter. Not only did I enjoy the Christmas Market, I discovered many other fun things to do during the colder months.

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter title

Edinburgh in Winter

Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, offers so many exciting experiences year around. During the month of August the city hosts the Fringe Festival, which draws a huge number of tourists from around the world. I’ve experienced Fringe, and everyone who enjoys art and media should. Lasting the whole month, Fringe features more than 60,000 performances of 3800 shows in 320+ venues, including along the Royal Mile.

The other eleven months of the year, the streets are still busy with throngs of people, but less crowded. I found that while the Christmas Market area was packed during the weekend, weekdays were less crowded and the rest of the city very easy to navigate.

Normal temperatures during December average 45 degrees Fahrenheit by day and drop to mid 30s at night. I began watching the weather in Edinburgh two weeks before my trip, using the Weather App. Rain is a daily occurrence in Scotland throughout the year. So snow was a possibility in December. And, watching the predicted weather pattern I saw that temps were expected to be lower than normal, in the 20s and 30s. This knowledge helped me to prepare for outdoor adventures in cold weather. Watch for an upcoming post about what I purchased, for adventuring in the cold.

I planned out what activities I wanted to do during my week in Edinburgh, leaving some free time for spontaneous adventures. Here’s where my explorations took me.

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter wheel
Exploring Edinburgh in Winter – The Wheel at the Christmas Market. I rode it and loved the views from the top.

The Christmas Market

This event is what drew me to Edinburgh in winter and I was not disappointed! The Christmas Market opened November 25 and closed January 3. Stretching along Princes Street, in New Town, the market includes stalls with vendors selling crafts, gifts, Christmas items and clothing. Everything imaginable, really, is available there. There are also lots of stalls selling all kinds of food including German food, fair food, nachos, crepes, burgers, fish and chips, Scottish food and even vegan fare plus drinks such as beer, wine, hot tea and hot chocolate, soda and water.

The Wheel offers riders the chance to see Edinburgh from above while a few other rides appeal to people of all ages. Music plays throughout the market, from fiddles to bag pipes, lights decorate stalls and trees and there is a festive atmosphere that permeates the area along with the tantalizing aroma of food.

The Christmas Market is free while The Wheel and other rides have a small fee. Restrooms are available on site. As noted, the market was extremely busy Friday night through Sunday evening. I visited during weekdays and only walked by over the weekend. My last day in Edinburgh, which also happened to be the coldest, I enjoyed vegan nachos with haggis for lunch and a hot chocolate.

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter stalls
Stalls with goods and food for sale, at the Christmas Market. This is a small section of the market. It covered a large area.

Santa Land

At the other end of Princes Street, down in the gardens, is Santa Land. This event is geared toward younger children. A variety of rides, fun booths and food stalls invite families to stay and play. The event is free to walk through with the rides requiring a ticket.

I enjoyed walking through the area and capturing photos of Santa Land with Edinburgh Castle perched high above. The Ross Fountain is in that area as well and worth taking a photo of.

Santa Land in Edinburgh
Exploring Edinburgh in Winter – Santa Land

Christmas Decor

Edinburgh certainly decorates for the holidays! I enjoyed walking around, camera ready on my iPhone, looking at the decorated store fronts, restaurants and townhouses. New Town seems to decorate more than Old Town, however it’s worth walking the streets in both areas. Lights strung across the cobblestone streets lend holiday cheer and some of the storefronts are astounding!

Walk around St Andrew Square and along George Street, both in New Town, for some of the best Christmas decor.

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter Christmas decor
This storefront was one of my favorites!

Christmas at the Botanics

The Edinburgh Botanic Garden hosts a lighted trail walk every year during the holidays. I visited the garden for the first time on my last visit, in July 2019. What a magical experience to visit again for a nighttime walk through enchanting gardenscapes.

While the botanic garden is free during the rest of the year, there is a fee for the Christmas tour. It is worth the price! There are timed entries, every half hour. Once in the garden, you can stay as long as you like. It took me about an hour to slowly wander the trail.

The themed displays all feature light and music. You can’t get lost. The trail is well marked and personnel are posted throughout the garden. Restrooms are available, in the heated main building, and there are stalls in several places selling food and hot drinks.

Beautiful display at the Edinburgh Botanic Garden
Beautiful lighted display on water at the Edinburgh Botanic Garden.

Ice Skating Rink

The ice skating rink opens when the Christmas Market does and closes on the same date. This year the rink set up at the end of George Street, in an enclosed rectangular structure. There is a fee to rent the skates and enter the rink however there is space at one end with tables and chairs for spectators. Food and drink stalls are in this area as well.

I have never ice skated and didn’t attempt it…this time! Rather I enjoyed watching the skaters glide by. A large carousel is available outside, for those who would rather ride in circles instead of skate.

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter ice skating
Exploring Edinburgh in Winter – ice skating

St Andrew Square

At the other end of George Street is St Andrew Square. It’s decorated with lights and trees. And this green space partnered this year with Social Bite’s Festival of Kindness, spreading goodwill and helping others.

People could donate meals, gifts and accommodations for those in need. Social Bite, with the help of Essential Edinburgh, set a goal of providing 250,000 meals and essential items during the winter months, for the city’s most vulnerable, the homeless. The charity installed huge lighted Christmas Trees in the square and asked people to purchase one extra gift during the holidays, to donate to those in need. St Andrew Square served as the collection site for those gifts.

I was very impressed and moved by the work of Social Bite. Hopefully this is an event that continues year after year.

St Andrew Square
St Andrew Square focuses on helping others.

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter

Exploring the city is a fun activity on any visit to Edinburgh. Add in frosty temps and a dusting of snow and familiar landmarks and locations take on a fairytale quality.

While exploring Edinburgh, I visited two new to me areas, The Vennel in the Grassmarket area and Circus Lane, in Stockbridge. I also revisited one of my favorite Edinburgh gems, Dean Village, and explored many of the closes off of the Royal Mile.

The Vennel

This scenic location, with an excellent view of the castle, requires a bit of hunting to locate. An old, steep stone staircase, separating two buildings in Grassmarket, leads to a platform where you can turn and see the castle in all its glory.

While this spot isn’t well known, more and more people are finding it, thanks to photos on social media. When I climbed the stairs, coated with a thin layer of ice and snow, a handful of people stood on the platform. We all took turns capturing the shot of the castle. I needed to catch my breath anyway, after all those stairs!

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter the vennel
The Vennel offers a spectacular view of the castle.

Circus Lane

I saw photos of this pretty lane on social media as well, which is what inspired me to walk there to see it myself.

Circus Lane in the Stockbridge area is a favorite for photographers, with its narrow curved street and cute mews houses. It’s not far from Dean Village and only required a 10 minute walk from my accommodations on Rose Street.

Circus Lane is, indeed, extremely picturesque, even in winter. I loved walking along the lane and taking photos. And afterward, I ate lunch at an amazing vegan restaurant in the area. Check out vegan eats in Edinburgh HERE.

Exploring Edinburgh in Winter circus lane
Circus Lane is a wonderful street to take photos on.

Dean Village in Winter

This hidden gem in Edinburgh is one of my favorite locations in the city. If I could live in Edinburgh, I’d want to have a flat in Dean Village. Tucked in a valley, and lying along the Water of Leith, this area once housed mills and the people who worked in them. Today it is a quaint village that still retains the charm of the past.

I walked to Dean Village on the coldest day during my visit. Temperatures never rose above the low 20s. And when I first descended into the valley, fog hung over the water. It looked so magical though, with the wispy fog and the snow. I enjoyed walking around the village and standing on the bridges. And I gratefully bought a large hot chocolate from a vendor with a small cart.

Beautiful Dean Village
Beautiful Dean Village in winter.

Royal Mile Closes

Closes are narrow alleys that connect the Royal Mile with other streets and areas in Edinburgh. Originally there were about 250 closes. As medieval Edinburgh grew, tall tenements sprang up along the closes. Some of these lanes were eventually filled in, or sealed off, as is the case with the most famous one, Mary King’s Close.

It’s fun to wander down these closes and see where they lead. I had time to explore many of them, seeing new sights. And I took the Mary King’s Close tour for the first time, an experience one pays for. I discovered the Writer’s Museum, in the Lady Stairs Close. And found the Bakehouse Close, where they filmed scenes for the Scottish series Outlander.

On a couple of different days, in all kinds of weather, I wandered the length of the Royal Mile, exploring the closes and stepping back in time, it often seemed.

A gorgeous capture in Advocate's Close.
A gorgeous view through Advocate’s Close.

Walking and Taking Photos

My favorite activity, exploring Edinburgh in winter, was simply walking the city, Old Town and New Town, and taking photos. I’ll never tire of this city. Every visit I see something new and discover different areas to explore.

In Scotland, the days are very short in December. The sun rose about 8:40 am and by 3:40 pm, it set. The golden hour, the best time for taking photos, occurred between 2:30 and 3:30 each day! That meant I got up early and headed out so I could see as much as possible in daylight.

It’s magical to walk at night in Edinburgh as well, although being a solo traveler, I never stayed out too late. I loved seeing familiar streets dressed for the holidays and watching the lights come on, late afternoon.

Cockburn Street in Old Town
Cockburn Street in Old Town.

Have You Visited Edinburgh?

What an incredible trip, exploring Edinburgh in winter. This first international solo trip taught me things about myself. (I can handle navigating HUGE airports and make it to my gate on time.) And I learned more about this marvelous city. I feel a deep connection to Edinburgh and it will continue to haunt me and draw me back.

I can check Edinburgh Christmas Market off my bucket list. I think I’ll add Edinburgh Hogmanay though! I’d love to experience the city’s new year celebration.

Have you visited Edinburgh? Or have you experienced a European Christmas market?

Edinburgh in LIghts

 

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Year of Alignment

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A new year brings with it so much anticipation! Fresh year, fresh start, new experiences and new opportunities make every January exciting for me.

Each new January also brings a fresh theme for the year along with a symbol to guide me and a song to inspire.

This is the Year of Alignment.  Learn more about how that word will shape the next 12 months.

Year of Alignment title

Year of Alignment Theme

My word for 2023 is alignment. By definition, alignment happens when thoughts, choices, actions and beliefs all honor higher purpose and core values. Alignment is the resulting state of agreement or alliance.

The word originates from the Old French alignier meaning “set, lay in a line”. I like that it also refers to a direction or course, such as in life.

Alignment for me is when my inner world…my thoughts and beliefs…line up with my purpose in life. And how do I know that I am in alignment? I observe what is going on in my outer world. When my outer world and the way I am living my life are in agreement with my thoughts and beliefs then alignment occurs, bringing joy, peace and a high level of vibration.

Year of Alignment word for the year
Year of Alignment – word for 2023

Year of Alignment Symbol

Each year also brings a new symbol to guide me. It represents the theme and when I see the symbol, it is a reminder of what’s important to me this year.

The word “alignment” doesn’t automatically bring to mind symbols associated with the word, beyond perhaps a straight line. However, as I considered what alignment means to me, I realized the importance of recognizing that the world I create and live in is a reflection of who I am, what I think and what I believe.

Reflection.

A mirror seems the perfect symbol.

When I look in a mirror, what I see reflected back is the reality of who I am, in that moment. When I look at the world around me, and whatever is going on in that moment, that is a reflection of my thoughts and beliefs. It doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen in the world or that I cause them. However, my response to those things, good and bad, and how they impact me, is on me. I can shape my own responses. And I can choose to shift my thoughts and beliefs about what’s happening.

For example, if I believe it is a beautiful day, then my reality shows me that it is, no matter the circumstances. If I’m experiencing a challenging day, my reality is showing me a reflection of what’s going on in my heart, mind and spirit. I need to pay attention to that reflection so that I can shift my thoughts and beliefs back to a higher vibrational frequency.

So not only is a mirror a symbol for 2023, the reality I experience, when seen as a reflection, is symbolic as well for what’s going on in my inner life.

Year of Alignment mirror
Year of Alignment symbol – mirror

Year of Alignment Song

Finally, I chose the song for 2023. The song, like the symbol, serves as a reminder of the year’s theme and what’s true for me.

I knew immediately which song represents alignment for me.

A Million Dreams, from The Greatest Showman movie and soundtrack, captured my keen interest back when I watched the film for the first time.

In the movie, PT Barnum (portrayed by Hugh Jackman) grows up with a vivid imagination that guides and inspires him to take risks and create the reality he wants to live in. I love that. It’s a wonderful song to feed my inspiration and creativity as well.

“Every night I lie in bed, the brightest colors fill my head. A million dreams are keeping me awake. I think of what the world could be, a vision of the one I see. A million dreams is all it’s going to take, a million dreams for the world I’m going to make.”

My Year of Alignment

I’m always excited as a new year begins. This year is no exception.

I feel like my theme for 2023 is an expansive one, a deep one. And yet, each year is a progression for me. The words/themes, symbols and songs aren’t random. No, they are a progressive map of my life and each new year provides a hint of what’s ahead on the journey.

This year promises to be life changing, with an intense focus on my inner life and manifesting a reality that matches…that aligns…with who I am at my core.

I’m already amazed, a week into the new year, with all that is showing up as I focus on alignment.

Do you have a word or theme for 2023? A symbol? A song? Please share them in the comments!

Year of Alignment 2023
2023 Year of Alignment

Need help choosing a word or symbol for the year? Check out this post.

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CoDE Boutique Hostel

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When I’m planning a trip, the first thing I focus on, even before checking flights, is accommodations. Where I stay is important, especially since I’m on foot during most of my stay.

My ideal accommodation is located near the area I most want to explore, has a kitchen or mini kitchen and is unique.

As I searched in Old and New Towns, in Edinburgh, I browsed through many hotels. I found several that met my criteria, however the price per night was high for all of them. I hoped to spend 5 – 7 days in Edinburgh so I kept searching.

I’m not sure how I ended up on the CoDE Boutique Hostel sites. I apparently clicked a link or a photo and rather than click away, I kept scrolling through their info. CoDE features sleek, comfy pods in dormitory style rooms, similar to Japanese hostels. Intrigued, I considered booking a pod in a female only room.

And then it happened. CoDE operates two hostels in Edinburgh, one off of the Royal Mile and the other on Rose Street. Rose Street felt perfect, location wise. As I looked at the dormitory rooms I discovered that the Rose Street location offered a top floor “penthouse” with a full kitchen, private bathroom, incredible floor to ceiling windows AND a balcony.

My heart beat faster, a sure sign that I’d found my accommodations. And, the price was incredible. I could stay a full week at CoDE for less than the cost of 3 nights at the hotels I’d been perusing. My trip to Edinburgh came together quickly after that remarkable find.

CoDE Boutique Hostel title

CoDE Boutique Hostel

With their private pods, ear plugs and sleeping masks, this luxury hostel offers a great night’s sleep with an emphasis on privacy and security.

They provide cozy common rooms to encourage social interaction among the guests and the CoDE Court Hostel off of the Royal Mile offers waffles for breakfast every morning. Amenities include free wi-fi, storage lockers, toiletries and a place to stash luggage if you arrive before check in time.

The Court in Old Town is so named because the building formerly served as a courthouse and jail. The cells are now individual rooms and the courtroom a sleeping studio with pods.

The pod beds feel private with curtains that close at the foot of the pod. The pods contain a shelf, LED lighting, hooks and USB ports. Each pod has a corresponding locker with a digital lock that securely holds luggage and personal items. Female only and coed dorms are available.

The CoDE name comes from the fact that each guest receives his or her own unique personal code for access to the building and dorm room or apartment.

CoDE Boutique Hostel Loft

The hostel I chose, located at 50 Rose Street North Lane, provides long term living options in a beautiful old building in the heart of New Town. This hostel offers discounts for stays from a week to several months, making it ideal for my trip.

There’s also a family room at this site, with a double pod and two single pods, perfect for parents with kids who want to share the same space. Each of the floors contain two pod rooms with shared bathrooms. The penthouse, a cozy and cute studio style apartment, sits at the top of the building. My guess is that this is a recent add on.

On the ground floor is a full kitchen for guests to prepare meals and a common room for social interaction, watching tv or working on laptops.

The spotless apartment contains a spacious bathroom with walk in shower, a kitchen with mini fridge, full size electric range, microwave, plates, glasses, mugs and silverware and cooking essentials, dining area/workspace and a double bed. The large windows look out over charming buildings in the area and at the end of the apartment, a sliding glass door opens onto a large private balcony.

Take a tour of the penthouse apartment with me as I point out some of the amazing features!

CoDE Boutique Hostel exterior
The exterior of the CoDE Boutique Hostel.

Common Room and Shared Kitchen

Using the personalized code, I entered a hallway that leads to storage lockers and stairs going up to four floors of rooms. There isn’t an elevator.

Immediately inside the entrance and to the right is the common room with a shared kitchen, tables, sofas and a television mounted on the wall. I don’t believe the pod rooms contain a tv although the apartment does.

The kitchen is stocked with cooking essentials and free coffees and teas.

There isn’t a check in desk. Arrangements are made online and my card was charged right before I arrived. There are helpful staff onsite. The young man working the day I arrived graciously carried my luggage to the top floor!

I met several of the other guests although I never used the shared kitchen or hung out in the common room. Everyone seemed kind and thoughtful.

CoDE Boutique Hostel common room and kitchen
CoDE Boutique Hostel common room and kitchen

CoDE Boutique Hostel Apartment Hallway

The industrial style door opens onto a hallway with storage, hangers and cubbies for clothing. At the end of the hallway is the bathroom. The living area/bedroom opens off of the hallway as well.

A perfectly placed full length mirror made the clothing storage area a wonderful spot to get dressed and don coat, hat, gloves and scarf before heading out to explore. I really appreciated this handy area.

Apartment hallway with clothing storage area.
Hallway with clothing storage area.
Bathroom at the end of the hallway.
Bathroom at the end of the hallway.

CoDE Boutique Hostel Apartment Bathroom

I loved the large bathroom! Subway tiles, an awesome shower, dual mirrors, the ledge near the sink for toiletries and the cheerful orange rug all enchanted me. Plus, it absolutely gleamed!

CoDE provides two hand towels and two bath towels, shower gel and a hair dryer, which meant I didn’t have to pack one or use electrical adapters.

A small wall radiator kept the bathroom cozy. Also, blue mood lighting installed along the baseboards served well as a nightlight.

CoDE Boutique Hostel bathroom
CoDE Boutique Hostel bathroom
Awesome shower
Awesome shower

CoDE Boutique Hostel Apartment Sleeping Area

A double bed, two bedside tables and lamps and a wall mounted television occupy one end of the studio style apartment. The thick, comfy mattress provided the BEST night’s sleep after a day of exploring.

Above the bed, the words “Wake up and be awesome” inspired me every morning.

Charging ports built into the walls made it easy to plug my phone in for charging and again, I didn’t have to use the electrical adapters that I brought.

The two exterior walls contained large windows and a sliding glass door opening onto the balcony. I loved the light and the views.

Wake up and be awesome
Wake up and be awesome!
What amazing views
What amazing views!

CoDE Boutique Hostel Apartment Kitchen and Dining Area

At the other end of the apartment an island with four stools provided dining and work space near the windows.

And the kitchen offered a full sized stove/oven, a microwave, mini fridge, toaster and my favorite, an instant water kettle for making hot tea. The kitchen contained everything I needed to create meals. Because I’m plant based, it’s easier for me to make my own breakfasts and dinners and eat lunches out at various vegan restaurants. Cooking saves me money and I know I’m eating healthy. A corner grocery store a few blocks away made shopping convenient.

 

CoDE Boutique Hostel kitchen
CoDE Boutique Hostel kitchen
Dining/work area
Dining/workspace area with a peek at the private balcony beyond.

My Experience in the CoDE Boutique Hostel

I immediately fell in love with this apartment!

Yes, at least twice a day I climbed four floors to reach my apartment. By the third day, I made that climb easily without feeling out of breath. And oh, that climb was worth it!

I raised the shades first thing every morning, ate my oatmeal and berries sitting in front of those windows, watched the sun rise, the snow swirl, the clouds gather, darkness fall. The views from that top floor apartment melted my heart.

In fact, my first evening in the apartment, after exploring for a few hours, I stood at those windows and said aloud, “I’m in Edinburgh!” And I promptly burst into tears. It was such an emotional experience.

I loved everything about the apartment: location, beauty, kitchen, balcony, dressing area, bed. By nature I’m a tidy person, so I kept the apartment clean… picked up, bed made, dishes washed, clothes put away tidy.

One thing the apartment does not have is an indoor chair. There are the stools at the island and the bed but no chair. So I brought in one of the eight outdoor chairs on the balcony and set it up in front of the window. It became “my place” to greet the day, eat meals, plan for the next day and meditate.

And on the day of heavy rain and snow, that comfy chair served as a drying rack near the radiator for my coat, hat, gloves and scarf!

A snowy day in Edinburgh
A snowy day in Edinburgh.

Who Might Not Like This Luxury Hostel

CoDE Boutique Hostel perfectly fit my needs and exceeded my expectations.

I’m aware, however, that not everyone would appreciate this type of accommodation.

Why you might not like this hostel:

  • you can’t climb stairs
  • there’s zero parking for a rental car…the location is ideal however for walking
  • while staff are onsite, there’s no check in/check out desk
  • instead of a room key, you receive a unique to you code to punch in on a keypad
  • there’s no daily room cleaning service in the apartment…it’s cleaned between guests
  • pod rooms share bathrooms
  • Rose Street is a busy pedestrian street, which means you might hear some noise late at night as people walk down the street (this didn’t bother me or keep me awake)
  • guests come and go at all hours of the day and night (again, this didn’t bother me or keep me awake, since I was at the top of the building)
  • there’s no gym, pool, business center or complimentary breakfast at the Rose Street site
This is Edinburgh
My apartment was the Edinburgh Suite. I loved that.

Would I Stay at CoDE Boutique Hostel Again?

So…would I stay here again?

Yes! I absolutely would. The apartment became my home base as I explored Edinburgh. Its convenient location made it easy to stop by after lunch to drop off any purchases and refresh before heading back out.

The staff answered all my questions and when the heat didn’t kick on the first night, a quick email resulted in an even quicker fix. They were able to turn on the radiator remotely.

I so enjoyed my stay at CoDE that I felt genuinely sad when I left for the last time, to catch a flight home. For a glorious week, that little apartment WAS home and it served me well.

I can’t really say I experienced a traditional hostel stay, since I had my own private space, but I loved this new to me type of accommodation, nonetheless. My stay at CoDE contributed to my Edinburgh trip in very positive ways. I’d definitely stay here again or even consider a stay in the females only pod room.

Would you stay at CoDE Boutique Hostel? Why or why not?

CoDE Boutique Hostel balcony
Enjoying a light snowfall on the balcony at CoDE Boutique Hostel.

Other Unique Places I’ve Stayed:

citizenM Hotel Washington DC

Sailor’s Rest Airbnb

Culture Boutique Hotel

 

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Fun Things to Do in Washington DC

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What an amazing experience, exploring Washington DC for the first time. The city surprised me in so many ways, and I wondered why I waited so long to visit. My grandson Dayan moved to DC last summer, for post graduate studies, and for work. Dayan living there prompted me to travel to DC so I could not only see my grandson but see the city through his eyes.

There are SO many fun things to do in Washington DC, and most of those activities are free.

Haven’t been to DC yet either? Use my experiences as a guide. Been to DC already? Share your favorite things to do in the city, in the comments.
Fun Things to Do in Washington DC pinnable title

List of Fun Things to Do in Washington DC

For reference, I spent four days and three nights in DC, at the fabulous citizenM Hotel located a couple of blocks from the National Mall. A nearby Metro station made getting around the city easy. And, DC is very walkable if you don’t mind walking a LOT. I’d suggest comfortable, sturdy walking shoes.

I experienced rain every day of my visit. That didn’t stop Dayan and me from exploring all day long with the help of rain jackets and an umbrella.

Here’s a list of fun things to do, while visiting the nation’s capital.

Tour The Capitol Building

The United States Capitol, typically called The Capitol or The Capitol Building, is the seat of the legislative branch of the United States federal government. It is located on Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall, on a plateau 88 feet above the level of the Potomac River. From The Capitol you can look west and see the Washington Memorial 1.4 miles away and the Lincoln Memorial, 2.2 miles away. These three structures line up on the National Mall.

The Capitol is home to the House of Representatives and the Senate. As the country and city grew, so did The Capitol. Building began in 1793 and the first congress met there in 1800. Currently the building contains over 1.5 million square feet, 600+ rooms and miles of corridors. The structure is crowned by the magnificent white dome and is an iconic symbol of the US and her people.

You can participate in a paid tour of The Capitol. Only visitors with advance tour reservations may enter the building. Check out tour info HERE.

Dayan and I toured The Capitol Building shortly after my arrival in DC. The 1 1/2 hour tour begins with a 30 minute film about the construction of The Capitol and its purpose. I felt SO moved during the film. It brought home to me the importance of this historic building and also of the city itself. It’s one place…for many people…for ALL people. Inscribed in the rotunda is the Latin phrase, “E Pluribus Unum”, from the many, one. One government, representing all.

We loved this fascinating tour and learned so much.

Fun Things to Do in Washington DC dayan
I not only enjoyed the tour of The Capitol, I enjoyed watching my grandson’s delight.

Explore The National Mall

Nicknamed “America’s Front Yard”, the National Mall is where the country’s most iconic memorials, museums and statues are found. You can participate in guided tours of the Mall, or walk the area yourself. The space stretches from The Capitol Building to the Tidal Basin area beyond the Lincoln Memorial to the White House on the north side. It is flanked by the Smithsonian Museums.

A 5 mile loop around the Mall takes approximately an hour and a half to walk. You can easily spend days exploring in just this area, visiting memorials and museums.

Dayan and I wandered around this area on all four days, popping into museums and art galleries, to escape the rain, and visiting monuments and memorials. Seeing the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, after reading about them and seeing photos of them my whole life, was an emotional experience for me.

Fun Things to Do in Washington DC national mall
Fun Things to Do in Washington DC – National Mall

Discover Monuments and Memorials

While exploring the National Mall, stop at the many, many monuments and memorials.

The Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial are the most well known however there are more than 100 structures in the area. These monuments and memorials honor America’s forefathers and heroes and tell stories about our history.

Places to visit include Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, National World War I and World War II Memorials, Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, Albert Einstein Memorial, Vietnam Women’s Memorial, African American Civil War Memorial and DC War Memorial.

There are many other sites set up in memory of a person or group. Part of the fun is finding them.

The Lincoln Memorial
Fun Things to Do in Washington DC – Lincoln Memorial

Visit the Smithsonian Museums

DC can boast that it has the world’s largest museum complex!

Around and near the National Mall, 16 Smithsonian Museums offer exhibits that range from art to science to history. The National Zoo is included as a Smithsonian site as well. All Smithsonian Museums are, amazingly, free to enter. Some do require a timed entry. You can reserve your pass online.

Smithsonian Museums include:

  • Anacostia Community Museum
  • Arts & Industries Building
  • Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden
  • National Air & Space Museum
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • Renwick Gallery of Smithsonian American Art
  • National Museum of African Art
  • National Museum of American History
  • Smithsonian Institute Castle
  • National Museum of the American Indian
  • National Museum of Asian Art
  • Smithsonian National Zoo
  • National Museum of Natural History
  • National Portrait Gallery & Smithsonian American Art
  • Smithsonian Gardens
  • National Postal Museum

Among the museums, the National Museum of Natural History, with its dinosaur bones, sea life exhibits and rock and mineral section, is the most popular. It ranked first, with almost a million visits in 2021, with the National Zoo a close second.

Dayan and I enjoyed visiting several of these museums, including Natural History, the Portrait Gallery, American Art and American History. We also visited the National Gallery of Art, which is not a Smithsonian Museum. However, it is worth a visit as well, for its amazing works of classic art.

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
Fun Things to Do in Washington DC – Smithsonian Museums

Walk Through the United States Botanic Garden

In the middle of the city lies a beautiful garden. This is the United States Botanic Garden, established 200 years ago. It too is free to enter.

The US Botanic Garden offers uniquely beautiful exhibits that not only delight but inspire us to become better stewards of the plants on the earth.

You can wander through outdoor exhibits that include vegetable gardens, flower gardens, sculptures, fountains and seasonal displays.

Indoors, in the conservatories, stroll through world regions that include desert, tropical, subtropical and Jurassic. There’s a medicinal garden, orchids and endangered plants.

I love to visit botanical gardens in every city and country that I visit. This one was magical!

United States Botanic Garden
Fun Things to Do in Washington DC – US Botanic Garden

Take a Photo of the White House

At the northern edge of the National Mall, on Pennsylvania Avenue, sits the beautiful White House. This magnificent structure has housed every US president, since John Adams in 1800.

Did you know that the White House is modeled on Leinster House in Dublin? Irish born architect James Hoban intentionally created the neoclassical structure based on the Irish Legislature building.

The West Wing was added in 1901, by President Theodore Roosevelt. Eight years later President William Taft added the Oval Office. And the East Wing was completed in 1946. The executive residence includes six stories, 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases and 3 elevators.

Tours of the White House are free, however, you must contact your representative to make a request. Submit requests at least 21 days in advance or up to 3 months before your visit. There are a limited number of visitors allowed.

I didn’t discover the 21 days in advance rule in time to request a tour. However, Dayan and I explored nearby Lafayette Square and took photos of the White House.

The White House
Fun Things to Do in Washington DC – take a photo of the White House

Enjoy the Views from the Old Post Office Clock Tower

What a wonderful way to get a different perspective of the city!

The Old Post Office, located at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, is a National Historic Site. Completed in 1899, this post office replaced an earlier general post office building from 1839. The clock tower is the third tallest structure in DC.

It ceased existence as a post office in 1914 at the beginning of WWI. After avoiding demolition for many years, retail space, a food court and a roof skylight over a central atrium brought new life to the old structure. The building operated for four years as a luxury hotel before reopening this year as the Waldorf Astoria Washington DC.

The 315 foot high clock tower houses the “Bells of Congress” and on its observation level, offers panoramic views of the city. Entrance is free.

Dayan suggested this site, and I admit giddy relief when he told me there’s an elevator to the observation deck! The wind was brisk and cold but what amazing views over the city! The final photo in this post shows just how beautiful those views are.

Old Post Office Clock Tower
Fun Things to Do in Washington DC – the Old Post Office Clock Tower

Walk Around the City

Besides the National Mall, there’s much to explore in the city, such as charming neighborhoods, museums like the International Spy Museum, historic spots like Ford’s Theatre, restaurants that specialize in brunch, cool coffee shops, gardens and stunning architecture.

In spite of the rain, I spent Monday afternoon walking in downtown DC, after one last lunch with my grandson. I “gwalked”…walked and gawked at the same time! DC is a gorgeous city, clean and friendly with lots of green space. I loved everything about it and simply enjoyed being there.

Ford Theatre
See what you can find, as you walk the city!

Take a Tour

There are many tours available in DC, from historic ones to memorial tours to ghost walks. The city offers bike tours, bus tours, walking tours or you can explore by moonlight in a trolley.

I spent the remainder of my last afternoon in DC on a 90 minute bus tour. It got me out of the chilly rain, which was quite heavy by then, and I appreciated the stories the tour guide shared. We stopped at the Lincoln Memorial and I snapped additional photos.

I love experiencing ghost tours in the cities I travel to. This time, however, Dayan and I created our own walking ghost tour, stopping at haunted locations in the city to take photos. Check out my post, Ghost Stories from Washington DC.

Take a tour of the city
Take a fun tour of the city.

Have you visited DC?

My four days in DC flew by! There’s so much to do and see that I need another trip there. I believe I could visit DC yearly and never run out of experiences to enjoy. Let these fun things to do in Washington DC give you a starting point.

Have you visited DC? What experiences did you most enjoy? Add to my list by posting your recommendations in the comments below!

View from the top
Fun Things to Do in Washington DC – clock tower view

 

DC Finds from Amazon:

 


 

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citizenM Hotel Washington DC Capitol

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclosure Policy for details.

On my recent trip to Washington DC, finding the right accommodations landed high on my list.

I’m drawn to unique, fun properties. Location is important of course, as I’m usually on foot. And eco-friendliness is a huge factor as well.

As I sorted through possibilities, one hotel stood out to me as it checked all my boxes. Location…perfect. Eco-friendliness…outstanding. And uniqueness…through the roof!

I’m excited to share citizenM Hotel with you, the Washington DC Capitol location.

citizenM Hotel title

The Story Behind citizenM Hotel

The citizenM hotel franchise opened its first hotel in Amsterdam, in 2008, with a big mission: to become the leading transformational hotel inspiring a new generation of modern travelers in the big cities in the world by offering an affordable luxury lifestyle.

They are a new breed of boutique hotel that disrupts the traditional models by eliminating the frustrations travelers shared and offering a luxury experience in central city locations for an affordable price.

This hybrid hotel isn’t just a place to sleep, but a place to work, relax, and play. It’s a place to meet like-minded people and get inspired. citizenM feels like home the moment you walk through the door with its free Wi-Fi, comfortable furniture, and an extremely comfy bed to crash in at the end of a long day exploring.

They call themselves the brand with attitude…playful, cheeky, fun, outrageous. It’s a hotel brand that connects to the young at heart, no matter the actual age. They are proudly colorful, confident and artsy. And the hotels encourage guests to gather outside the cozy rooms in bright common areas, work spaces and meeting rooms.

citizenM Name

According to citizenM, mobile citizens cross continents as easily as they cross streets. They appreciate more than chocolates on pillows. And they mix and match their choices from clothing styles to travel modes.

citizenM is named for these mobile citizens. Every decision they make for their hotels is based on the needs of these travelers.

Currently the company operates 20 hotels in Europe, Asia and the US, with 18 new hotels in development, globally.

citizenM Hotel gathering area
citizenM Hotel Washington DC Capitol – one of the inviting living rooms in my hotel

Why I Love citizenM

Washington DC offers two citizenM Hotels. I chose the Washington DC Capitol location, due to its proximity to the National Mall with its monuments and museums and the Metro system. Once I downloaded their cool and easy to use app, I made my reservation through it and looked forward to experiencing their uniqueness.

I was not disappointed!

Here’s what I love about citizenM, in no particular order.

Quick Contactless Check in

Using the app, I checked in as I arrived at the hotel, located at 550 School Street SW, Washington DC. I paid on the app too, as I walked into the lobby. From there I simply picked up an electronic key to my room and chatted for a moment with the friendly ambassador, available to offer aid and answer questions. Because I arrived hours before check in time, they kindly stowed my carry on so I could head out with my grandson to explore the city.

Check in is SO quick and easy. For those who do not have the app, computers are set up for self check in.

When I left I checked out online and dropped off my key.

Common Areas and 24/7 canteenM

Before going to my room, I wandered around downstairs. I loved the bright, inviting common areas, the table with a bank of computers and all the amazing art.

canteenM is a kitchen/cafe, open 24/7, for drinks and food. I could fill my water container here, eat breakfast from the buffet, grab a late night drink or snack or have a cup of tea.

cloudM is the rooftop bar, however, with the steady rain during the four days I visited DC, this open air space remained closed.

The mezzanine features meeting rooms and a gym.

citizenM Hotel mezzanine
citizenM Hotel Washington DC Capitol – meeting rooms, restrooms and gym on the mezzanine level, overlooking canteenM below

Green Hotel Practices

Eco-friendliness is SO crucial to me. citizenM is kind to the planet with a focus on building and operating healthier, greener hotels. They promote water conservation with water bottle filling stations on site, have a “no single use plastics” policy, provide on site recycling, contribute to local charities and organizations and offer choices on housekeeping.

I chose the option of no housekeeping in my room while I was there. I choose that option in every hotel I stay in. However, citizenM takes that choice one step farther. They donate $3 or 3 euros to charity, when a guest stays 2 or more nights and chooses the “no cleaning” option.

The LED lights automatically turn off when guests leave the room. A light automatically turns on at dusk, in my hotel at least, so that you never walk into a dark room. And all rooms have individually controlled heat/air so that only occupied rooms use energy.

They partner with the TooGoodToGo app to sell breakfast buffet leftovers that would otherwise go to waste.

Read more about citizenM green practices HERE.

canteenM
canteenM with the friendliest staff

The citizenM Room

All rooms at citizenM are the same, designed for one or two adults, with a single extra large king size bed.

This hotel likes to boast about their comfy beds…with the fluffiest pillows and snuggliest duvet comforters…and it’s true. I LOVE the big oversized bed, positioned next to the huge window for great city views. After a day of walking and exploring, it was pure bliss to crawl into that bed. I slept soundly and deeply.

Fun fact: my bed was sprinkled with red balloons when I arrived.

Under the bed storage bins provide ample room to stash gadgets, shoes, luggage or a laptop. There’s also a safe in one of the drawers.

Besides the comfiest bed, what else do I love about about the room?

iPad Controlled

This is fun. The whole room is controlled by an iPad. Lights, the window shades, the television and room temperature, all controlled via the iPad screen. There are mood lights in the sleek bathroom that change colors, lights that brighten or dim or lots of entertainment on the big screen tv on the wall at the foot of the bed.

You can also find traditional light switches on the wall.

I found the iPad easy to use and loved the convenience of changing lighting, tv channels and room temperature from the bed.

citizenM Hotel howdy
citizenM Hotel – a greeting from the iPad in the room

Recycling Bin in Room

The multifunctional counter with sink, storage, refrigerator and lighted vanity mirror also contained a recycling bin. That’s a first for me and I used it for paper disposal.

Multifunctional counter
Multifunctional counter that includes recycling bin

Sleek Bathroom

The room makes the absolute best use of space. The sink is outside the bathroom area while the shower and toilet are enclosed. The walls are opaque. There is a privacy curtain guests can use if desired, to separate the bed area from the bathroom.

You can change the lighting color over the shower, which offers nighttime and daytime shower gels/shampoo and an amazing shower head.

citizenM Hotel mood lighting
citizenM Hotel – mood lighting in the bathroom

Desk with Charging Stations

Next to the bed is a desk and chair. The iPad has a charging dock here plus there are built in charging plugs on the wall above the desk. It’s so convenient to plug in my phone at night.

Desk with charging stations
Desk with charging stations

Window Shades

The large window next to the bed offers wonderful city views. During the day, I could raise the shades to let light in. Or I could lower the thin shade that still allowed light to come into the room while providing privacy. And then there’s the room darkening shade, for sleeping.

Every morning, lying in bed, I’d use the iPad to raise the darkening shade and then the privacy shade and welcome in the new day. What a beautiful ritual that became.

citizenM Hotel shades
Good morning DC!

I’m a citizenM Fan

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at citizenM Hotel Washington DC Capitol. Everything about this place enchanted me, including the cheerful, helpful staff.

And yeah, I know it won’t be everyone’s preference. citizenM is colorful, playful, bold, progressive, untraditional and outrageous. I believe it’s the hotel of the future, here now in the present. It’s a place where travelers feel understood and acknowledged and encouraged to keep following their hearts as they explore.

I appreciate everything that this hotel franchise offers and the changes they are making in the world.

I’m a citizenM fan, so much so that I’d love to visit ALL of their hotels around the globe. They happen to have hotels in most of the cities on my travel list.

Coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidence. It’s fate. And it’s a big goal, to make this desire a reality.

Have you stayed in a citizenM Hotel? Which one? And if you haven’t, would you stay here? Ask me your questions.

Click this LINK to see citizenM Hotel locations and book a room.

Matching the lobby
Citizen Cindy, in the lobby and accidently matching the decor.

Watch for more posts from my time in DC. And check out this one on Haunted DC.

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Antonia Graza Ghost Ship

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclosure Policy for details.

My sister and her family are Halloween party planners, extraordinaire. They create the most amazing themed parties each year…when COVID (2020) or a move to a new house (2021) don’t cancel the highly anticipated event.

Check out the 2018 and 2019 Halloween Parties…more themed parties available by clicking links at the bottom of those two posts…and prepare to board the Antonia Graza Ghost Ship, for a voyage into spookiness.

Antonia Graza Ghost Ship title

The Antonia Graza Ghost Ship

This year’s theme included a backstory, cleverly posted as newspaper headlines on the walls. My niece Ashley makes full use of her incredible graphic design abilities.

Reading the headlines from various national newspapers reveal that the MS Antonia Graza never arrived at her destination, after embarking on her maiden voyage October 29, 1922. All on board, 600 passengers and 500 crew, are listed as missing. Initial rescue efforts fail to locate the Antonia Graza.

Eventual sightings of the vessel lead to recovery crews boarding the ship, which appears operational although no sign of the passengers or crew are reported. Rescue efforts halt when the recovery crews fail to return.

The Antonia Graza roams the seas for 100 years, all lives…including those of the rescue crews….presumed lost. In 2022, the Antonia Graza is sighted once again, cruising along on her original route in the North Atlantic.

We each received electronic invitations to board the Antonia Graza Ghost Ship, if we dared!

Antonia Graza Ghost Ship staircase
Antonia Graza Ghost Ship – grand staircase

Tour the Antonia Graza Ghost Ship

Come on a tour of the ghost ship with me. My sister Debbie and her family transformed the lower level of the house and the upstairs hallway and bathroom.

The attention to detail is perfect. Using estate sale and thrift shops finds, these creative souls go way beyond adding a few ship worthy decorations. They paper the walls, creating areas of exposed “brick”, add seaweed and cobwebs, add sound and light special effects, remove existing furniture, build false walls and prepare a spread of theme appropriate food. Lights flicker. Red alerts sound. Fog roils past the front door. In costume violinists perform a hauntingly beautiful song in the dining hall.

Guests arrive in costume, ranging from 1920s aristocrats to “dead” crew members to sharks to passengers who perished aboard the ship.

Have a look!

Antonia Graza Ghost Ship buffet
Antonia Graza Ghost Ship – buffet spread out over three rooms.
Antonia Graza Ghost Ship dining
Ship dining room (in reality, this is the family room) for gathering with plates of food and drinks.
Ghost Violinists
Ghost violinists
Antonia Graza Ghost Ship elevator
Upstairs an elevator malfunction! I love the little touches, like numbers on the doors.
Upstairs bathroom
Upstairs bathroom
Antonia Graza Ghost Ship quiet moment
My sister Debbie enjoying a quiet moment in the ship lounge.
Ship clock
Ship clock

Antonia Graza Passengers and Crew

Here’s a peek at the creative costumes of those attending the party.

Antonia Graza Ghost Ship crew
Antonia Graza Ghost Ship crew, my sister and her family, hosts for the party.
Antonia Graza Ghost Ship sharks
Baby Shark with Mommy Shark and Daddy Shark
My brother and sister in law
My brother and sister in law.
Cousins photo
Adult cousins photo. The outdoor deck provided a great gathering spot.
Antonia Graza Ghost Ship greg and roy
Greg and Roy. Perhaps they are members of the rescue crew.
Antonia Graza Ghost Ship sibling photo
Sibling photo – me, my brother and my sisters

Fun Evening

What an amazing voyage, aboard the Antonia Graza. I captured photos of most family members, however there were many more guests that came and went.

We all enjoyed the evening, the food, the music, the decorations and chatting in groups that formed, broke apart and reformed with new people.

I so appreciate all the hard work that goes into this annual event. I absolutely know that my sister and her family could create a successful business around their creativity and their love of Halloween. They currently do all of this for fun. And fun it is.

Does your family celebrate Halloween? If you had a Halloween party this year, what was your theme?

Me and my girls
Me with daughters and granddaughter, We missed my son and his family at the party!

Ghost Ships from Amazon:

 


 

Cindy Goes Beyond is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This affiliate program provides a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com, all at no extra cost to you.