Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to take my first out-of-country weekend trip to Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Although the trip was filled with rain, freezing temperatures, and loads of nonstop walking around the hilly city, it was an amazing trip and I look forward to going back someday!
The journey began with around twelve hours of public transportation; first, we (my friend Sam and I) had to take a bus 5-10 minutes to get to the Hatfield train station. From there, we had to take a half hour train into London and once in London, we had to take the tube (Underground rail system) from Finsbury Park Station to London Victoria Station. We then walked from there to the Coach (bus) station. After all of that, we settled in for the nine hour overnight coach ride from London to Edinburgh, which I (mostly) slept through. When I woke up we were right in the center of Edinburgh and received a greeting from one of my best friends from back home, who is currently studying abroad in Glasgow and had come down to spend the day with us! Although she had already been to Edinburgh briefly, there was still a lot left for all of us to discover.
When we stepped outside, it was raining a decent amount and it continued on throughout the day. At one point it even started to sleet, but I’ll get to that later. The coach station spit us out in a shopping center near Scott Monument, a Gothic tribute to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott (and the largest monument to a writer in the world apparently, thanks Wikipedia). We started out by taking a stroll through Princes Street Gardens, a large garden/park area in the center of Edinburgh. It was then decided that there was no better place to really begin our sightseeing than with one of Edinburgh’s most viewed attractions: the Edinburgh Castle. Although we did not go in, we did walk right up to the castle and got to see the view over the city, which might I add was magnificent. Before I crossed the Pond, whenever I thought about touring around Great Britain’s countryside and seeing all of the old sights, I imagined them being exactly like Edinburgh Castle: historic and beautiful. After taking a few pictures and taking everything in, we continued on down the Royal Mile, the set of streets that goes through Old Town Edinburgh.
There were loads of pubs, shops, bars, and other attractions to see along the mile, but before continuing on we decided to take a moment to pop into St. Giles Cathedral. A lot of my trips involve visiting cathedrals, because there are so many here and each one of them is equally as unique and beautiful. St. Giles had splendid high flying buttresses and a massive burgundy organ that couldn’t help but draw attention to it. The quietness of the place made things even more surreal, and that much more peaceably serene. After seeing the cathedral, we decided to pop into a free museum (because in university you really learn to appreciate the “free” things in life, no matter what they are) and came upon the Museum of Childhood. It was quite interesting to see how toys and children’s clothing and culture have changed over the years, especially in Scotland. Plus, it gave us another chance to stay out of the rain.
After the Museum of Childhood, we were beginning to grow hungry so we started searching for places to eat. Along the way we saw The Elephant House, the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books (you’ll see me reference the Harry Potter series a few different times since J.K. Rowling drew a lot of her inspiration for the stories from Edinburgh). It would’ve been cool to go inside, but the place was packed so we continued on to find another place to eat, and stumbled upon a little place across the street called “Brunch & Pop Up.” Now, I’m not much of a breakfast person. But there’s something about European breakfast food that turns me into a breakfast-loving fiend. Since it was my first meal in Scotland, I decided to order the traditional Scottish breakfast (pictured below from left to right): eggs, toast with butter, baked beans, back bacon, tomato, mushroom, haggis, black pudding, a tattie scone, link sausage, and Lorne sausage. Although I was slightly concerned to try haggis (a “pudding” made of sheep organs minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach) and black pudding, (blood sausage made from pork fat or beef suet, pork blood, and oatmeal) they surprisingly weren’t half bad. I wouldn’t order them again, but they weren’t as terrible as people make them out to be. Everything else (aside from the raw mushroom and tomato) was absolutely delicious.
Once we were properly stuffed and had dried off a bit, we ventured out in the cold rain once again and headed to Greyfriars Kirkyard, a large graveyard in town. The rain, mud, and overcast skies made the graveyard especially eerie. What was most interesting was that this particular place was where J.K. Rowling got ideas for some of the names of characters in the Harry Potter series. The graves of both Thomas Riddle and William McGonagall (inspiration for Professor McGonagall) can be found if you look hard enough. We were only able to find the grave of Thomas Riddle because there was a tour group surrounding it. I decided to make the messy trek through the mud to get a closer look, and completely ruined my boots in the process (still worth it though). After making our way through most of the graveyard, we headed through Grass Market, a square full of shops, and found ourselves at a little food place called The Castle Rock Fish Bar, where we decided to order a deep fried Mars Bar to split. It. Was. Delicious. I could’ve eaten twelve, but we decided we better not push it and continued on up Victoria Street, J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley. We popped into a bookstore along the road and made our way up to the terrace area above all the shops, which gave us a nice view of the streets below.
As it was getting to be late afternoon by this time, we decided it would be a good idea to check into our hostel, “Kick Ass Hostel” (don’t mind the name). Conveniently enough, it was actually in Grass Market square and we didn’t even have to look for it, we just stumbled upon it. It happened to be sitting just below Edinburgh Castle, so we had an amazing view of the castle on the hill. There was also an ice cream shop called Mary’s Milk Bar placed far too close to our hostel (if we had stayed longer I’m sure we would’ve gone more than once). Once we settled into the hostel, we decided to take a little hike/walk up to Calton Hill, once of the monumental areas of the city. It was a rather steep walk up the hill, but it was short and the view from the top was magnificent! However, it would’ve been even better if it hadn’t started pouring hard and raining ice. It was at this point in time where I came to the realization that the coat I had bought specifically for this trip was, in fact, not waterproof. Despite being soaked and freezing, the trip was worth it for the sights and the view of the city.
After this, we were beginning to grow hungry and Alyssa recommended this wings place (literally called Wings Edinburgh) for dinner. It was tucked away down an alley, but then again a lot of really cool places are hidden down alleys throughout the UK. It was one of the most unique places I have ever dined at. The walls of the entire place were decorated with pictures of superheroes and pages of comic books, and the three of us were actually seated at a table against the wall with a gaming system on it where you could play Gamecube while you ate. The menu itself was literally all just wings and drinks. The place seems very simple, in that you know you’re going to order wings, but there are so many flavors of sauces and seasonings that it’s even more difficult to decide on what you want than it would be at a restaurant that sold more than just one type of food. I ordered the “barbaraki” (BBQ/teriyaki) wings and they were superb. We ate, and drank, and were merry, and it was an extremely satisfying experience. After we finished, we went back to the hostel for some snacks and drinks at the bar, which was conveniently placed on our floor. This was about the only good thing about our floor seeing as it was the third floor (or fourth floor if you’re an American) and we had to walk up four flights of stairs every time we came in. We sat and visited here for a while until we had to walk Alyssa back to the coach station to catch her 9pm coach back to Glasgow. Once we got back to the hostel, it was a little after 9pm and we were completely pooped from all of the traveling and walking from the past day and a half. We climbed into our bunks, but not before our four roommates came in. I could tell they were foreign, but I couldn’t tell where they were from. One girl came up to me and asked me what time we were planning on getting up in the morning. I replied by saying I wasn’t sure, to which she replied by saying that they were getting up at 6am (great). Luckily for me I’m a heavy sleeper and hardly heard them in the morning, so I got plenty of much needed sleep before our next day of nonstop walking around Edinburgh.