a TAPIF language assistant blog / un blog d’une assistante d’anglais

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Edinburgh: A Love Story

I'd like to start off with a couple of things.

First of all, I'm happy to announce that five of my six personal "new country" travel goals (Italy, Greece, Spain, Morocco, Scotland) have now been accomplished. (The only one I'm still missing is Croatia, which I've heard is fabulous.) I never would have gone these places if I didn't get it together and make them happen, but I did. Most of my travel wishes came true, plus some! Lesson: If you want something, MAKE IT HAPPEN.

Second of all, how to pronounce Edinburgh: Well, I remember once upon a time, in the days of yore, when I thought it was Ed-in-burg. I said that one time somewhere (pretty sure it was during the time I was doing my undergrad) and someone American laughed at me and said "No, it's Ed-in-burrow." So then I've been saying Ed-in-burrow. Well, in reality, here it sounds like Ed-in-burr-uh. Or, sometimes, just Ed-in-brah. Sooo now I know, and you do too.

Alright, let's get down to the real business of discussing my stay in Edinburgh.

Have you ever fallen in love at first sight? I mean, really. "Love at first sight," it's a thing of fairy tales and silly rom-coms starring ridiculously attractive airbrushed Hollywood people. It can't exist in real life, right?

WRONG. It can, and it does. And I am the victim of this coup de foudre (bolt of lightning), as we say en français. I, Katy Dubya, am in LOVE with Edinburgh. It hit me hard and fast, my friends. From the moment I stepped off my Ryanair flight (while chatting with a lovely native Edinburgher, a musician who'd played in Austin at SXSW) and breathed in the air, I knew I was going to love it. Even as my bus had to drop me off at a provisional stop due to construction, a stop which happened to be in a pitch black square, and I momentarily panicked due to the fact that my perfectly printed directions were now rendered useless, I knew I was going to love it.*

I took it as a sign that things would be okay when I saw this sign...**

...followed by THIS freaking awesome castle.
Edinburgh, even when I'm lost, I like you.

The next morning (Tuesday), I set out with absolutely no agenda or knowledge of what lay ahead of me (my FAVORITE way to travel, as I've discovered this year), and was immediately happy beyond reason. I stepped out the door of my hostel and there, waiting for me literally right outside my door, was the view of the castle that overlooks the beautiful city. I truly, inexplicably felt as if the city had been waiting for me, or I for it. Or both. I have never fallen so instantly and intensely, so suddenly and surely, in love with a city, aside from Paris.*** Immediately I saw the medieval castle perched atop ancient volcanic rock with green gorges to either side (carved out by a glacier during the last Ice Age). There were flowers, both planned to perfection as well as wildly growing according to their own will, trees, churches, statues, and people - tons of people - out to enjoy one of the first spring days. That first day in Edinburgh was beautiful, and I was filled with pure joy to be in this place I immediately loved.


It's not often sunny in Edinburgh (the city has famously terrible weather), so when it is, clearly everyone comes out in droves!

a view of the Royal Mile in Old Town seen from Princes Street in New Town

the Scott Monument
Walter Scott was a 19th century author who brought the Highland identity (bagpipes, clans, tartans, etc.) and put it forth as Scottish identity (prior to Scott's works, you would never have seen a tartan-clad bagpiper on the streets of Edinburgh). He wrote Ivanhoe and The Lady of the Lake, among others. (Don't you love that the most famous Scot's name was, well, Scott?)

Scott Monument & a little bit of Princes Street (New Town) seen from Waverly Bridge, which connects Old and New Town across the valley carved out by the glacier (Waverly is also the name of the train station and in fact comes from title of one of Scott's novels.)

the crags of Castle Rock

more Edinburghers in the valley alongside Castle Rock/the Royal Mile

Edinburgh Castle as seen from New Town

the West Register House in Charlotte Square, which is where I had been accidentally dropped off the first night in Edinburgh

hint: I can't get enough of Edinburgh Castle

Victoria Street seen from the Grassmarket

the Salisbury Crags leading to Arthur's Seat
The Salisbury Crags are craggy cliffs that are kind of an extension of Arthur's Seat. Arthur's Seat is the inactive volcano in the middle of Edinburgh; it lies at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from the Castle. On the first day, it was so beautiful, I decided I simply had to climb Arthur's Seat. I didn't know how long it'd take (maybe two or two and a half hours round trip) or how high it was, but I knew on a whim that I wanted to see it while the sun was shining!

zoomed out of the Salisbury Crags

the Castle as seen from Radical Road, the road which leads around the Crags
It's called Radical Road because the it was built by unemployed workers who were thought to be radical thinkers. Walter Scott encouraged the government to hire these unemployed radical thinkers to build this road to keep them busy (and therefore to keep them from organizing and revolutionizing).

up close and craggy

A happy day!

a view of the Crags from above

mid-hike (post-Crags, pre-Seat) reading break! Do you spy a castle?
ps: At this moment, I was in Katy Heaven.

Arthur's Seat, seen from Katy's seat (See what I did there?)

Then I continued on my little hike... and NO, I did not slip down and fall on my bum during this interval.

Ta-da! Conquered.

From the VERY top. You can't see what my feet are on, but it's very slippery volcanic rock. And no, I did not slip and fall on my bum here, either.

headed back down

(back down into the Old Town of Edinburgh) 
the gates to the more modern Holyrood Palace, which is the Queen's residence when she comes to Edinburgh (which isn't often)

Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh Castle lie at opposite ends of the Royal Mile

This dog was having THE BEST TIME frolicking in this fountain.

Canongate Kirk, which serves as the royal church when any royals are in town

more Royal Mile

Scott Monument

Arthur's Seat and Old Town Edinburgh seen from the Scott Monument

the valley, the Royal Mile, and Edinburgh Castle seen from the Scott Monument

nothing says Europe like tiny spiral staircases serving traffic both up and down

St. Giles' Cathedral, or the High Kirk of Edinburgh
If you haven't figured it out yet, kirk is church in Scottish. Also, the Church of Scotland (which, in the US, is called the Presbyterian Church) is separate from the Church of England (which, in the US, is called the Episcopal Church).

There are all of these little "closes," which are small passageways between buildings, in Old Town. I love them! They often lead to interior courtyards and entrances to other buildings.

the beautiful red door belongs to St. Colomba's Free Church of Scotland

The Last Drop is a famous pub that's located in the Grassmarket in Old Town. The Grasmarket, formerly a market square, was also a popular spot for public executions. The Last Drop is a bit of a double entendre. Get it?

a little hot toddy-accompanied postcard writing (Yes, my second day was a typical Edinburgher day, rainy, grey, and cold enough for a hot toddy, even in May!)

X marks the (former) spot... of the gallows! You can see The Last Drop in the background.

What to do on a rainy day? Head to the free National Museum of Scotland, of course! I stuck to one of the permanent exhibitions, which was about the history of the Scottish people from prehistory through today. Loved it! The museum had a ton more to offer, though.

I headed nearby to this famous pub, Greyfriars Bobby. I went to this statue of Greyfriars Bobby himself that day because I was SUPPOSED to meet up with a FREE Harry Potter walking tour I'd found online! Edinburgh is home to J.K. Rowling and is where most of the Harry Potter series was written. Guess what?! NO ONE SHOWED UP. I waited a good thirty minutes past the appointed meeting time and was NOT happy in the end. I decided to wander over to the nearby Greyfriars Kirk. (HP fans, STAY TUNED! All is not lost.)

This is the famous Greyfriars Kirk. In front, you see a small grave, which is actually the grave of Greyfriars Bobby, the little dog seen in the statue above. This little dog's owner, John Gray, died and was buried (see grave below) in the Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Little Bobby then sat on/hung out near his owner's grave (left) for fourteen years until his own death in 1872. James Brown Sexton (buried right) was the groundskeeper during the time and fed Greyfriars Bobby. 

Here's a portrait done of little Greyfriars Bobby (in his lifetime). He was a Skye Terrier. If this story doesn't convince your of dogs' loyalty, I dunno what will.

Anyway, so back to the disappointing lack of Harry Potter tour incident. I talked to a kind man (with an almost indiscernibly thick Scottish accident) who worked at the church and he sent me on my own little Harry Potter tour through the cemetery.

J.K. Rowling spent a lot of time in this yard during the years when she was writing Harry Potter. Conclusion: She probably wrote many chapters here. No wonder! It's beautiful and very peaceful.

In and around the yard and cemetery are places alleged to have inspired some of Harry's world. Here we see the grave of William McGonagall, who was apparently a terrible poet.

George Heriot's School as seen from the Greyfriars Kirkyard
This 350+ year-old private school is said to have been the inspiration for Hogwarts.

the graves of Thomas Riddell, Jr. and Sr.

Seriously. Doesn't this make you wanna grab a bench and write?

Then, a thought came to me! I remembered passing the now famous café where J.K. wrote quite often. I decided to continue my own HP tour by heading over for a little multi-purpose pause & pout. After a little exploration, I found my way back to The Elephant House.

...and sat myself down for a little hot chocolate and elephant-shaped shortbread (a Scottish specialty, which does not typically resemble a pachyderm)...

 ...in the very same back room where characters I love were brought to life.

Here I found a stroke of luck: I found a wall full of HP/Rowling-related articles, including one that detailed the locations along the path of the Potter Trail. After realizing I'd already seen many of the sights (such as the graves in the cemetery, the cemetery itself, George Heriot's School) and was currently standing in another, I wrote down the remaining stops. With a list and a map, I set out to catch the remaining stops!

Victoria Street, said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley due to its curvature

Victoria Street from above

City Chambers Quadrangle, where J.K. Rowling's handprints can be found, thanks to the fact that she won the Edinburgh Award in 2008

I then headed to 6A Nicholson Street, which used to be a restaurant called Nicholson's Café. This restaurant is where J.K. wrote and edited much of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone. Allegedly she would nurse her coffee for hours so she could stretch her money, as she was a poor single mother at the time. Her baby daughter Jessica always accompanied her in her "pram" (aka stroller for us 'mericans).

Spoon, on the British first (American second) floor, is where Nicholson's Café was located. It's right across from the Old College of the University of Edinburgh.

Here's the famous Balmoral Hotel, which sits at 1 Princes Street (New Town) and looks over the valley. J.K. Rowling stayed in this hotel while she was finishing the last book (talk about a change from her humble beginnings)! She wrote on a marble bust of Hermes "J.K. Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007."

entrance to the Balmoral

Satisfied post-impromptu HP tour, I headed back to the New Caledonian Backpacking Hostel to rest a bit before heading across the street to a Couchsurfing event, which turned out to consist mainly of travelers staying at my hostel! I then cooked dinner with a Spanish guy and a French guy, and met an Australian girl named Caroline who had been traveling on her own for six months. THIS is why I love staying at hostels!

Day 3: My love affair with Edinburgh and its Castle continues.

Before heading to the Castle, first stop: The Scotch Whisky Experience.

In the SWE, I learned about the process of making Scotch whisky, the difference between single malt and blended whiskies, and the regional differences in Scotch whiskies (there are four regions). It includes a tasting, which you choose based off a lesson and this scratch-and-sniff card. I chose the yellow (a Highland whisky), which features notes of vanilla, nuts, and spices.

Glenkinchie (from the Lowlands), Tullibardine (from the Highlands), Benriach (from Speyside), Laphroaig (from Islay), and Antiquary (the only blended malt in the mix)

Here I am in the Diageo Claive Vidiz whisky collection, which is the largest in the world with almost 3,500 bottles.

...and sometimes fake William Wallace shows up.

Finally, it's time to head into the Castle!

view of the city from atop the Castle

views along the castle wall

This is a view down into the soldiers' dog cemetery within the grounds of the Castle.

St. Andrew's Cross, the national flag of Scotland

the Royal Palace in Crown Square (within the Castle), which holds...

...the Crown Jewels!

So, obviously I did NOT take this picture. (No pictures allowed inside, so thanks to visitscotland.com for this one!) Crown, Scepter, Sword of State, and Stone of Destiny: The jewels (used to coronate everyone from Mary, Queen of Scots to Charles II) make up the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles, and the Stone of Destiny is said to have been the stone upon which ancient Scottish kings were coronated. The Stone of Destiny has a long (700+ years) and tumultuous history!

I headed down the Royal Mile for a post-Castle pub lunch at the famous Deacon Brodie's Tavern.

Deacon Brodie is said to have been the inspiration for The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, written by native Edinburgher Robert Louis Stevenson. Deacon Brodie was a respected town councilman and ran a security/lock and key business. At night, he used his knowledge to rob his customers, in part to fund a nasty gambling habit. He was eventually caught and hanged on a gallows (which he had actually helped fund!) at Tolbooth down the street.

my very traditional Scottish meal: haggis with whisky sauce, neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes), washed down with a hot toddy. Haggis is a super traditional meal made of sheep bits (don't look into it too much) and spices. If you don't think about how it's made, it's nice. Very hearty, filling, warm... all good things if you were trying to survive a terrible Scottish winter (or summer, ha).

more St. Giles'

a view down the Royal Mile

I headed out to Calton Hill to hike up it (it's a much easier walk than Arthur's Seat) for my last essential view of Edinburgh. 

very Secret Garden-esque

view from Calton Hill

The Nelson Monument is a memorial to Vice Admiral Nelson, killed in the Battle of Trafalgar. It's meant to resemble an upside down telescope and has a time ball on the top, which is raised everyday and then dropped precisely at 1:00 pm to keep time for the ships at port in the nearby Firth of Forth.

On the left, you can see the National Monument, built to resemble the Parthenon in Athens. Obviously, it was unfinished... they ran out of money. Whoops!

selfie atop Calton Hill, which shows my excitement to be in the beautiful place (with (look what I found!) a Dr Pepper in my hand) as well as my uncertainty about the falling rain. Costarring: a raindrop on my lens.

Old Calton Cemetery

The Scottish-American Soldiers Monument, which features a statue of Abraham Lincoln erected in 1893, was the first statue of an American president outside of the States. It's also the only American Civil War monument outside the States.

I headed "home" after my last full Edinburgher day, found my new friend Caroline from Melbourne (whom I had met the previous night), and headed out to find a pub, despite the typical (i.e., rainy) weather. 

the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters

Uhhh unfortunately I just realized that I don't have a picture of Caroline and me, which is lame. But here's a picture of our Thistly Cross Scottish still cider (yep, a still cider) that we had at a pub called the Brass Monkey that we may or may not have gotten lost while trying to find. As Caroline had been traveling for six months through India, Nepal, and a hefty chunk of Europe, she had loads of interesting travel stories! If you want to meet cool people, TRAVEL. (Obviously that's not the only way to meet cool people. But it helps.) After a cider at the Brass Monkey and a beer at the Scottish-born Brewdog Bar, a cool chain of bars that brews its own beer.

After heading home, catching a couple hours' sleep, waking up at 3:45 am (to catch a bus for my 6:00 am flight), and accidentally leaving my phone in the hostel (whoops, story later, maybe), I left Edinburgh. It's a good thing I had plans lined up for immediately afterward, because if not I may have just stayed there. I mean really, Edinburgh's almost got it all...

Man-made beauty: Edinburgh looks like what you want a European city to look like. That romantic idea you have floating around in your head of a European city (at least if you're an American)? Go find it in Edinburgh. Winding cobblestone roads? Check. Beautiful old buildings? Check. Castle on a hill? Check. Secretive-looking narrow passageways between buildings? Check.

Natural beauty: Lush greenery in and surrounding the town. Seven hills (à la Rome), including Castle Rock, Calton Hill, and Arthur's Seat rise to give the city its shape. Water nearby in the form of the Firth of Forth.

History: A medieval Castle? Check. A more modern Palace? Check. Tumultuous tales of a society's formation, including warriors and royals throughout the ages? Check. Not to mention the literary history. It's no wonder authors such as Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Walter Scott, Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, and of course, J.K. Rowling have drawn inspiration from the streets of Edinburgh. What the Alpine regions of Germany and Austria seem to have done for composers and Italy and France seem to have done for painters, the UK (and Edinburgh in particular) seems to have done for writers: Inspire.

Accent: I'm partial. The Scottish accent happens to be my favorite native Anglophone accent.

Atmosphere: Edinburghers are (at least in my experience) on the whole the nicest group of Europeans I've come across. I have a habit of smiling as I walk, especially if I'm feeling particularly happy, or if I'm listening to music. In most of Europe, people will a) avoid eye contact or b) look at me like I'm crazy. (And yet smiling still didn't wear off, even after eight months.) In Edinburgh, people would say hi, ask how I'm doing, have a mini-convo, and then move on. Whatevs. THANK YOU. THAT is how I like my people. Also, on the "atmosphere" note, I'm sure I'd get annoyed with this after a while... but hearing notes from a bagpipe while just strolling through this regal city made me feel all epic and tingly. And, not that there were any festivals happening during the time I was there, but Edinburgh is famously a festival city.

So why do I say "Edinburgh's almost got it all?"

Weather: Famously sucktastic.

Something tells me this native Texan would not easily acclimate to the famously dreary, cold, and rainy weather which plagues Edinburgh the majority of the year. 

Still, if I were to brave the cold for any city, I'm pretty sure it'd be you, E. ♥


*It was 11:30 on a Monday night, and everything in Charlotte Square (where I didn't know I was) was dark. What did I do? Trucked myself, pink flowery backpack and all, into the nearest pub to ask the bartender how to get to my hostel. Saved, by a few kind lads. My hostel, btw? Fantastic, and fantastically located! Possibly my fave hostel ever. Top 3, hands down.

**While I drew encouragement from this homage to my homeland, it should be noted that I did not go to whatever fast food place this was promoting to seek out said Texan BBQ Supercharger, whatever that may be.

***However, with Paris I expected it. Perhaps one of the reasons this love for Edinburgh is so intense is because I hadn't really expected it.