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22 November 2017

Edinburgh, Scotland #HogsAbroad in England

Let me just start by saying I could seriously see myself living in Edinburgh. Aside from the cold. I was absolutely smitten the second we got there. It helps that we had beautiful weather this past weekend, but I absolutely loved the city. It is roughly 400,000 people, so it’s got a lot to do, but is significantly more laid back than London is. A lot of the buildings have that very medieval style character to them which I’ve always loved (it’s what I was so homesick for while I was in Greece – that’s right I’m such a local that I actually got homesick for London!) and I think it combines that character seamlessly with all sorts of cool restaurants and shops. The people are so so friendly and as if that wasn’t enough, I really love the outdoor culture of Scotland. I first experienced this when going back to Norway – beautiful places like that just make people want to get outside and experience it. Edinburgh definitely has some of the Highlands that Scotland is famous for and it is absolutely beautiful. I love being in a big city in the sense that you never run out of things to do and see and there’s always some cool new place to go, but I’m also a pretty outdoorsy person and I loved that both of these things were so present in Edinburgh.
But enough talk. Onto my trip πŸ™‚
This was another Arcadia trip at another amazing price. Seriously. The entire excursion was barely more than what a round trip train ticket there and back would be if you were just trying to do it on you own. Plus it is SO NICE to not have to plan any of the travel and housing logistics and to just show up where you’re supposed to be and they’ll get you there!! I knew a couple different girls that were going on this specific trip, 1 of them was actually my roommate during Arcadia orientation and in my Health and Society class. But the best part was that we were all Harry Potter fans which, when you are going to the birth place of Harry Potter and the home of JK Rowling, is very important to be.
We left on Friday afternoon and didn’t get in until Friday evening – the train ride was 6 hours long! Definitely could have been more direct, but that’s how you save money! Unfortunately in our particular carriage the AC had stopped working, so it was a long and hot 6 hours!! But this was soon greeted by chilly Edinburgh, and some of the first really cold days here I’ve had so far (upper 30s, lower 40s). After we checked into the hotel, we went to a seafood place that had really good reviews to eat. Until we were turned away at the door because we didn’t make a booking. Bookings are very very common in Europe. (In London, they actually started advertising for Christmas bookings at the beginning of October!) Because apparently eating is an all night long EVENT. And I never really know whether to make a booking because sometimes when you don’t you can just walk right in and they’ll squeeze you in (“do you think you can be done in 1.5 hours?” uh yeah..) but other times they won’t even take you. On the flip side, when I made a booking for afternoon tea, we were the only ones in there for 30-45 minutes. And on top of that, some restaurants don’t take bookings at all!! It’s all still a little confusing to me. Just something to be aware of in case you were like me and reallyyyy looking forward to some good seafood.
But of course, there’s always the trusty pub to fall back on and they’re literally on every corner in the UK it feels like. Plus, it just feels wrong to go to Scotland and not eat pub food. Plus, pubs are so nice because you just order everything at the bar and just pay right there so that whenever you finish your food and you want to leave, you can just leave. Versus waiting 5 years for the waiter/waitress to bring you your check not because it’s bad service but because like I said above, eating is supposed to be an all night EVENT. Anyway, I ordered a really nice Scottish ale from the bar (beer is slowly growing on me. But only certain types. And let me just say that UK beer is WORLDS better than American beer) and for my food I got the “Balmoral Chicken.” This consisted of a filleted chicken breast with haggis inside, a piece of bacon on top, and drenched in a “whisky drippings sauce.” It also came with mashed potatoes and veggies.IMG_9907
So what the heck is haggis. I’m not really sure. My friend Tina had just mentioned that it was a Scottish thing but that it was also made of a bunch of things that seemed not appetizing. When we looked it up I saw words like “heart” and “liver” so I didn’t read that closely, especially since I knew it was coming in my meal haha. To be fair, I tried it like a champ and it wasn’t bad… but it wasn’t good. It was kind of like hamburger meat except every now and then I got a little taste of blood. Not like a bloody steak blood, but like actual blood. Hahahaha. Yum right. But it also wasn’t inedible. Regardless, I won’t be ordering it any time soon on its own, but I feel like I really embraced Scottish culture in that moment πŸ˜‰
The next morning we grabbed breakfast in the hostel and then went on a 2 hour walking tour of Edinburgh. Our tour guide, Fraser, was so knowledgeable and came decked out in a kilt and high socks representing his clans tartan. We started in the New Town, where our hostel was, and slowly made our way to the Old Town, walking up the Royal Mile and ending at the top at Edinburgh Castle. He explained do us that a lot of Edinburgh’s geography is defined by old volcanoes and other rifts. For example, the Old Town and the Royal mile make up the “backbone” with Edinburgh Castle residing at the top, and everything spread off of it downwards, since this “backbone” was at the peak of a long sloping downwards hill. No one really ventured past this and towards the water for a long time, until they tried to establish the port areas more and the New Town was established. I also really enjoyed the architecture; all the buildings are very reminiscent of castles, and like I’ve mentioned before, biiiiiig castle girl πŸ˜‰ Here are some of the features of our walking tour!
View from a hill in New Town; you can see Edinburgh Castle at the top in the distance
Unfinished monument on the top of the same hill
Yes that’s Abraham Lincoln in Scotland! This was a memorial to the Scottish-American soldiers who lost their lives during the Civil War.
Part of the Royal Mile featuring the Knox house where John Knox may (but probably did not) have lived
Apparently this tenement collapsed in the 17th century and someone was buried alive under the rubble and this is what he called out to people to dig him out – this collapse led to major policy change in the construction of the tenements and buildings here
St Giles Cathedral
The Writer’s Museum – the building dates back to the 1600s
John Knox’s grave… now currently in a parking lot

When we made it to the top of the hill and the Royal Mile, we grabbed a bite to eat and then went into the Castle. I really liked it in the sense that it was a true castle, but I wish there would have been more of it to tour! We did end up seeing the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Royal Apartments. There were lots of exhibitions on the Scottish Army so I think if you were more interested in that you could have spent more time there. The views from the Castle were pretty amazing though! I’ve always been very interested by Mary Queen of Scots so it was interesting to see the Crown from the Scottish perspective and imagine what it would have been like over almost 450 years ago!
Where the Scottish Crown Jewels are kept
After we finished with the castle, our plan was to shop til we dropped! I would like to say that I’ve been budgeting fairly well and trying not to make too many compulsive purchases in London and my travels elsewhere… in preparation for this. I knew that I wanted to stock up on nice scarves and even buy a kilt! I already really like tartan, and I knew that these would be classic and practical British purchases πŸ˜‰The entirety of the Royal Mile is pretty touristy and they all have scarfs and kilts and capes and tartan souvenirs and shortbread and mini bagpipes, you name it. We spent a reallyyyy long time walking through every single store in order to gauge the prices of items and see what different patterns were available. The prices of things were basically the same everywhere. The patterns varied a little bit depending on what brand they carried, but they were still all made in Scotland, and pretty good quality for the prices I think. So if you find yourself there, spare yourself the trouble of looking through every store and if you see a pattern you like go ahead and buy it because its most likely the same exact price everywhere else. Also if you’re planning on making a haul like we were (once we finally committed to a store, we went ALL OUT) try making all your purchases in one store if it has what you want because if you spend a certain amount you’re eligible for a tax refund! Yay for getting 5 pounds back!! But hey, it’s better than nothing. Also if you have any Scottish heritage I think it would be fun to figure out which clan you belong to and see if you like your clans patterns – almost every store has a section devoted to different clan specific items. I feel like I may or may not have a tiny bit of Scottish blood but have no idea what clan I would belong to so after searching every ancestral and maiden name in our family I could think of, I took a Buzzfeed quiz to see which one I would belong to. It was the Cameron clan, but I didn’t much care for their colors πŸ˜‰ In other news I am definitely pumped to wear my kilt!!!!! Definitely one of my best purchases.
As a side note, we popped into St. Giles Cathedral at this point because earlier there had been a wedding going on. It is gorgeous inside. We made our way to a chapel honoring members of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, which we were informed is literally the highest honor you can hold without actually being like the King or something. It’s like the Scottish version of the Order of the Garter. The reigning monarch is the head of them, and there can only be 16 living members at a time. If someone dies, it is the monarch’s job to pick a new one. New life goal.
After we had conquered the Royal Mile, it was time to satisfy our Harry Potter fandom goals. Our first stop was the Elephant House Cafe, where JK Rowling wrote the first books in the Harry Potter series. So cool.IMG_0037IMG_0040
Next, we hit up the graveyard just behind where Rowling supposedly walked around in to get ideas for character names. We checked out the 2 most famous gravestones there, the ones that inspired Tom Riddle and Professor McGonagall. Apparently, every Halloween, people actual go to Tom Riddles grave to duel over Voldemort’s grave!! A little upset that we missed this by only a couple days!! I know there are other names in there as well so if you ever go you’ll have to see how many you can find! The graveyard itself is just a really cool place; Sean, you would LOVE this one!IMG_0046IMG_0048
Tom Riddle Sr and Jr !!!!!!!!
Our final Harry Potter thing was to check out the street that inspired Diagon Alley, Victoria Street! Let me just say the people of Edinburgh have TOTALLY embraced the whole Harry Potter thing; there are plaques on the streets talking about it, we popped into a vintage bookshop that apparently may or may not have inspired Flourish and Blotts, and there is a really neat Harry Potter shop on Victoria Street that has all kinds of cool stuff! And, the stuff is different from Harry Potter World at Universal so yet another excuse to check it out πŸ˜‰
Seriously check out this bookshop though, it had a really awesome collection of vintage maps and books
All of this stuff is in the Old Town and actually pretty close to the Royal Mile so we didn’t have to walk very far to do any of it. At this point we were pretty hungry so we literally turned the corner of Victoria Street to find ourselves in the Grassmarket where there’s more shops and pubs and that sort of thing. They actually have a farmer’s market here every Saturday morning too! We popped into a pub and I ordered fish and chips because pub and because Scotland. And it was amazing. We also decided to go out of our comfort zones a little bit and order whiskey. Aka scotch to everyone outside of Britain. Oh man. We asked the waitress for a recommendation and even the one that she told us was “light and goes down smooth” was b u r n i n g. Maybe not my drink of choice. But hey, when in Scotland!
I ate all the peas Mom!
Ok so remember when I said the people here are nice? After we finished our meal, we were about to get a grade A example of that. Our waiter gave us the check and asked if we had any plans for the night. We just kind of looked at each other like ……….. sooo I asked him if he had any good recommendations. Oh did he ever. He pulled out some receipt paper and wrote us an ITINERARY. And he wasn’t much older than we were so we thought the places would be pretty good. Actually in all honestly we didn’t really know what we were expecting but by golly we were gonna follow this itinerary to the end! He was like, “Ok these are some of my favorites. So you’re gonna leave here walk straight this way and you’re gonna be in an area called Cowgate. Really cool area” (and in hindsight, that really is just a cool and unique area. Definitely worth spending some time poking around in, and pretty central too). Our first stop was Three Sisters, which was a sports bar that you could literally find every type of person in. We were really glad it was a sports bar because it was a Saturday night and all the football games were on so we really wanted to do the whole “watch a game in a pub” thing. They had an outdoor and indoor area and there was a back room that had floating candles that looked just like the Hogwarts Great Hall (told you they embrace it). There were the college kids out with friends, there were like 4 bachelorette parties, there were couples on casual dates, devoted fans, and men who had just come from work to enjoy a pint. Such a fun and eclectic atmosphere to be in. I ordered a Guinness. Because Guinness is my beer of choice when it comes to football. I think the proximity of a football game makes it taste better hahaha.
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This is the outdoor portion of the Three Sisters; and you can kind of see the indoor entrance. This isn’t my picture, but you get a feel for how popular it is and just has that old classic tavern feel to it
When the game on there finished, stop #2 was a place called City Cafe. So at first we were thinking this list was just gonna be a bunch of different bars so we were like well what’s a cafe doing on here this should be interesting but we gotta stick to the itinerary!! We walk in and it’s like a diner style restaurant and bar place. And then I saw the milkshakes. And we all knew that this waiter knew exactly what we needed at this point in time hahaha. The milkshakes were honestly some of the best I’ve had in my life. If nothing else get a milkshake here. But it just seemed like a really cool place to come hang out with friends, grab a bite to eat and maybe a drink, and there was even a pool table in the back. A different atmosphere than the sports bar, but still we could definitely appreciate it. And I think they had really good deals so it was a good student hangout too!
Ok so I stole this picture too, but this is exactly what my milkshake looked like. Y U M
Stop #3 was Cafe Voltaire. Our waiter told us it was attached to a speakeasy – so imagine those kind of vibes for this next place. The cafe was definitely more bar oriented than City Cafe, at least that’s what it seemed like at 9:30 hahah, but it was super relaxed and cozy. This would be a great place to grab drinks with some close friends and sit and have some really deep talks. Amazing what behaviors environments alone can inspire!!
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Not my picture again! But you can see how nice and cozy it would be! Definitely for those looking for a quieter night.
We didn’t actually stay for more than 5 minutes because we are students ballin on a budget who had just spent all their money on tartan so we just took in the atmosphere, checked it off the itinerary and headed to the final stop. Our waiter had told us that it was a really cool live music venue. What he neglected to tell us was that it was inside an old church. See how cool Edinburgh is?? The venue was called Stramash, and there was an upper level and lower level with a dance floor in front of the stage and you could order food and drink there as well and enjoy the show. Another super cool and super unique place!
Last time I steal pictures off the internet, but it was dark in all these places!
Entrance to “Stramash”
So I know I went into very extensive detail on this night but I think it just really goes to show what a unique city Edinburgh is. There is literally a place for everyone and so many cool venues with really interesting concepts to be explored! I think just the size of London makes it a little hard to do this kind of thing if you don’t have an idea of what you’re looking for but all these places were within a block or 2 of each other!
Alright. The next morning. We were supposed to be able to check out at 9:30, leave our bags at the hostel and have some free time, and then meet at the train station at noon. Really not a whole lot of time, but I had a mission: to hike up Arthur’s Seat. It actually used to be an old volcano and you can see it towering in the middle of Old Town, coming from Holyrood Park, right next to Holyrood Palace where the Queen’s residence in Edinburgh is. I really wanted to get a solid hike in and take in the natural side of Edinburgh but I had no idea how long it was actually going to take. Or how hard it was going to be. Nevertheless, I convinced my friends to come with me and we walked to the base and tried to make a game plan for how to go about this with our limited amount of time. We thought about just hiking up Salisbury Crags which are this crags that are still pretty high, but sit below Arthur’s Seat, but they actually looked much closer when we got there so we just decided to go all out and hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat and be as quick as possible!! Because it’s not every day that you’re in Edinburgh and get to walk up an old volcano in the middle of the city! The weather again, even if it was a bit cold, was GORGEOUS. Rolling green hills paired with blue skies… it was so so nice. And it was our reward for the hike because while it wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done, it was pretty much a steep uphill all the way to the top and we were definitely taking off our jackets about halfway there.
Holyrood Park, where the actual hike begins
Super hard to see thank you sun but that “mound” is what we hiked to the top of
People were actually running this… Dad???
It was just so beautiful we couldn’t stop taking pictures!!
So at this point we were about 75% of the way up and were just blown away by the views. But when we turned around, we still had this to go…IMG_0112
It was pretty much just rock climbing at this point and I was really wishing that I wasn’t wearing cute riding boots and actually had sturdy hiking boots on. But in the interest of packing light for the weekend, I had only worn the one pair! (Because I didn’t know I would be scaling a volcano haha.) We finally made it to the top, and I would say it took us about 40 minutes to get there, and that was with a few breaks to take pictures and such. Online it says stuff like how it will take 2 1/2 hours but I think there’s an actual trail that goes all the way around and up this entire formation that must take longer. So if you want the quick route, start at the base in Holyrood Park and take the path with the paper sign that says “Main Path!”
We started down where the city was at sea level!!
Scotland is so beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So it was definitely a worthwhile risk for us to go ahead and make the hike, and don’t worry, we made it to the train station on time πŸ˜‰ I think this was hands down our favorite thing just because, like I always say, nothing beats some good views, especially after a hike!! I really feel like we were able to embrace the trendy and more natural side of Edinburgh, even on this short day and a half trip, and now I just want to come back and do it all over and see even more!!!
Well I don’t think I’ve missed anything; hopefully you get a little sense of what Edinburgh is like, why I loved it so much, and why you’ll probably love it too!!
Thanks so much for reading,
-Katie πŸ™‚
Katie, a senior Biology major, is spending the Fall 2017 semester studying Health & Society at King's College in London through Arcadia University.
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