When Dani told me she was going to be studying at the University of Edinburgh last year, it really came as no surprise. The girl is a firecracker, always going after her dreams (that look to me like stuffing her brain with as much knowledge as it can hold, which in her case is much more than the average human's brain can) and living a purposeful and intellectually full and impactful life. So, I knew I'd go visit right away. It was just a matter of buying some plane tickets and picking the proper time.
So at the beginning of March, I hopped on a plane to Boston, to London, to Edinburgh, and spent five (ish) glory-filled days with my closest friend since college, my kindred international spirit and fellow caffiene addict.
I flew a couple airlines I'd never tried, JetBlue and WOWair. I knew from friends that JB was totally fine. And I was impressed. Wifi, exceptional staff, and that free bag check (carry-ons at the gate). WOWair had less exciting reviews on the internet, but after flying in Asia and Europe for as many times as I did, I wasn't that bothered by the small seats/no leg room/have to pay for water deal. The one hostess who let me have a cup of ice for free is my favorite person in the world. Once WOWair got me to Gatwick, I saw the Cooper Black and blazing orange of easyJet and instantly felt like I was back traveling Europe with Pattie in the first couple weeks of 2016.
Arriving in Edinburgh was simple enough, and when I headed to the trams to take me to the city center (you knew Dani had to live in the center, don't tell yourself otherwise) I got a little turned around not realizing how they operated... same thing happened with my last tram experience. Seems like I must really just struggle with that method of transit. While I was trying to figure it out, a sweet old man–-he must have been in his sixties, says, "Yew're goain' th'rong whey, sweetheart!" And he proceeded to direct me to the proper door. Not one to enjoy being found out that I don't know what I'm doing (who does?), it was a new experience to decide I truly loved a person simply because they corrected me. Scotland was already the best place I'd ever been.
With Waze as my companion, I walked from the tram stop on Princes Street to Dani's adorable flat, lovingly marked by a green door and snugged between a coffee shop (naturally) and a Mexican cantina (maybe not so naturally, but I'll take it). Up up up the stairs we go (5 points if you read that in an Andy Serkis rasp) and I finally arrived in her adorable and oddly spacious flat. I took some pictures later in the week that you can see below, but all I wanted to do right at that moment was take a hot shower and eat something, anything. After I didn't look like a monster, we settled on Asian tapas at Wagamama, a place that would drain my wallet every month if it existed in Nashville. We filled our bellies with spicy seafood and edemame, and headed a few steps down the road to Innis & Gunn Beer Kitchen, where we chatted with the friendly bartender about what sorts of things American girls want to do in Scotland, and how we probably weren't going to do much of that.
In the morning we began the hike to Arthur's Seat, hoping to make it to the top. But because we did not realize that so much mud would be present and I wasn't prepared with my city boots, we made it as far as St. Anthony's Chapel ruins, soaking in the spectacular view of the city. I was technically Dani's visitor guinea pig, so all future visitors now know: bring hiking boots. Also, it should be noted that we carried our to-go coffees from Coletti & Co for more than two miles and still were able to balance and take as many pictures as we wanted. Talent. Also Dani began the puddle-tapping trend that followed us for the rest of the week.
We walked the Royal Mile back to eat breakfast at Kilimanjaro Coffee, a place Dani had been very much looking forward to taking me. The bacon, brie and cranberry ciabatta was to die for (thank you Drip Columbia for ruining me for ever ordering anything else on a menu if something with brie and fruit and bread exists), and Dani ordered her usual: zucchini fritters with avocado and poached eggs. Because we are creatures of habit, our next stop was Machina Espresso, where we began the first of many "Dani has to read for class so we'll just stay here for a bit" moments. There was an adorable little creature behind me and I'm thankful I could pet him without his owner really seeing my facial expressions (crying), because missing my own pup had come with a vengeance.
Sometimes I really love leaving the walking of a new city to my eyes only. In Edinburgh that was nigh impossible. Each new alleyway had something beautiful about it, be it the light, some abandoned bike or some shut up store front. The light was constantly changing from cool to warm with the amazing amount of fluffy clouds that non-normal Scotland weather was bringing us. This means that almost all of my shots are under- or overexposed in some way, but there was absolutely no way I could stop myself from documenting some of the lovely views inside Edi. I've been told that J.K. Rowling spent a load of her time writing the Harry Potter series in Edinburgh and that plenty of her inspiration for the look and feel of the setting was borne from it. I could see so many pieces and parts of frames from the movies that hit the city spot on. For example, Candlemaker Row is the real life inspiration for Diagon Alley, and (seen in a picture later) the café where Rowling liked to park and write is a huge draw for tourists, and even it has a whimsy about it that's hard to pinpoint. The bathrooms are COVERED in notes written on the wall thanking Rowling for her writing and her brain.
In the evening we headed to the Scotch Whiskey Experience. Lucky for us it was right next to the castle for some fun sunset sightseeing. We had a lot of fun here, and it all began with the Disney-esque ride in a "whiskey barrel car." Dani wouldn't quit humming the Haunted Mansion theme from Magic Kingdom, and it was oddly fitting due to the "ghost of a host" we had teaching us about the process of making Scotch whiskey at every turn of the tracks. Once that portion of the show was over, we filed into a viewing room where we watched a beautiful film about the five regions of Scotland and how the whiskey distilleries in those regions differ in taste and notes. We were offered a scratch-and-sniff card to help us learn about each region. Ingenious idea. We each selected a whiskey to taste at the end, learning what all the different factors of a whiskey taste say about the way it was distilled and what sort of cask it might have come from. We did this inside a vault containing the largest collection of Scotch whiskey in the world, funnily enough collected by a Brazilian. My limited knowledge of whiskey comes from my first job out of school while managing a volunteer team for GAWF, and I was informed (along with all the other semi-offended but mostly amused Americans) that we are too impatient and prefer bourbon to actual whiskey so we can drink it sooner. Am I surprised by this statement? No.
Definitely hungry, we stopped at Thai Orchid, a tiny little red-fronted restaurant. Ordering all the best: Massaman, larb, spring rolls and sticky rice, I got my fill of speaking with the ladies who were working and working up an appetite to spend the night exploring more of the city. We went to Panda & Sons, a sneaky dive bar hidden by a barbershop storefront that feels like you're stepping into another world where animals talk and completely unnecessary garnishes and niceties make total sense. Sorta like Narnia. I don't remember what I ordered and I don't know if Dani does either, but I know that mine came with some chai incense just hanging out on it. And they serve popcorn. We also stopped for a little bit at Tonic, a pop-art-ish cocktail bar with super comfy leather booths and an atmosphere I can only describe as vibey. The bartenders here took a few pages out of Panda and Sons's book, the making of drinks was a spectacle to behold.
The following day found me exploring a little in the morning alone while Dani did some classwork. Per her recommendation, I headed to Lovecrumbs for breakfast, and like you do in any country that isn't the US, I had cake and espresso. The place was gorgeous and made me think of old books with quirky characters and farmhouse grandmas who make all their cakes from scratch. There was also a way to sit in the window, which I'm sure was a surprise for unsuspecting commuters outside to walk past what they believe to be a regular storefront display only to discover its moving occupants.
While in Boston the few days before Scotland, I had begun reading Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go at the public library, and, unable to put it down without severe regret, I headed down the street from Lovecrumbs that morning to a little used bookshop called Armchair Books to pick up my own copy. I've been to many bookstores, but my favorites are always the ones like this: shelves piled high with books to the ceiling, creating a hedge maze of information and an weirdly comforting sense of booklaustrophobia.
I swung back by Dani's flat to pick her up for lunch at Coro: The Chocolate Café, and after essentially submitting ourselves to a chocolate coma after their to-die-for crêpes, walked a little bit of that off as we ran in circles at the Cath Kidston store, unable to decide what to purchase. Dani then left me on my own while she headed to her class for the afternoon. She didn't leave me empty-handed, however, she decided to give me a list of coffee shops to visit. I definitely got lost searching for a few of them, but ended up happily visiting Artisan Roast and Cairngorm Coffee.
Cairngorm was a refreshing place, full of bright light bouncing off the white walls and those coffee cups you see in all the trendy shops. Artisan Roast had a college shop vibe, but no counter when I walked in so I just felt, well, intrusive? The barista proceeded to dig through a chest of different coffee beans when I asked what coffee they had brewing that day, so I settled on something Ethiopian on a whim since I wasn't used to having this choice. It ended up being a fantastic cup of coffee, and while I was there I met a charming Australian named Alex who was also studying in Edinburgh.
Once Dani's class was finished, we furthered our Harry Potter themed trek around Edinburgh and ate dinner at Under the Stairs, a cozy and quirky restaurant that was, literally, under some stairs. In true fantastical fashion, we ordered a couple of pints (which we actually didn't expect to be pints, and I may or may not have sang the song from the Green Dragon...) of St. Mungo's beer, brewed in Glasgow.
Dani had done a little research before I arrived on Scottish cèilidhean, which are dances that could be the equivalent of American contra dances for Scotland. She'd been to a couple before but had told me that there was a cèilidh (pronouced kaylee) happening on the Tuesday of my trip. We were pretty excited about going, and my new friend Alex from Australia (who we affectionately nicknamed "Aussie Al") had mentioned he enjoyed them as well, so we planned to see him there and just generally enjoy our time figuring out some Scottish dance moves. Little did we know how popular of an event this cèilidh would be, and we showed up without tickets to a sold-out dance.
After the dance let out, we met up with Alex at Finnegan's Wake, where we impressed him (most likely not) with our knowledge of whiskey from our class the other night, and he showed us his favorite spot in town, Divino Enoteca, an Italian wine bar of such epic repute that my head was in a spin. I know nothing about wine, but when we walked down into the cellar like place, we partook in a wine tasting where I simply followed Dani and Aussie Al around the floor, nodding at their mentions of different tastes and acidities and thinking the whole time, this just tastes like fermented grapes.
On our last day in Edi, the day I'd head to London, we began our morning at Pumpkin Brown, a place I recognized from all of the instagrams Dani has posted of their colorful açai bowls (here, here, here). I picked one aptly named the unicorn bowl, and it had more colors than I'm used to eating at one time when it's anything other than a cup full of sprinkles (I don't actually do that, ever). They had turmeric lattés, matcha lattés, and a wide assortment of organic and health foods, and the place itself was energizing and filled with lovely light (though that may have been the unreal sunny weather that would not stop following us around).
As the sun kept getting higher and my plane escape kept getting closer, we headed to Edinburgh Castle once more, this time we could actually see the castle and not be blinded by the sun or looking from afar (from most places in the city you can see the castle looming and gorgeous above everything else). We made the mandatory stop at Rowling's Elephant House, sitting at the table that looked over at the castle, probably where our dear author sat a bunch. I was regretting not scheduling my departing flight for weeks later when we realized that this lady is trying to get our attention to film us. The Today Show was just hanging out there in the café with us and they were filming portions of this spot on Scotland. We didn't actually make it on TV, but we were close!
My last stop before packing and getting on the tram was Mademoiselle Macaron, where all my memories of toting macarons away from the malls in Thailand came rushing back to me. I tried a few different ones and couldn't stop myself from eating them all while I waited for the tram for all of ten minutes. I have no self control when it comes to sweets, it's true.
Edinburgh you were so welcoming, I think if I had spent anymore time with you I could have called you home after just a week. Visiting my dear friend and seeing how she lived life in the shadow, and in the light, of such history and impressiveness was so much fun. Living in another culture changes you, I think mostly for the better, since you're merging your life with its life, you're learning to find yourself wherever you are, adapting to and enjoying a new idea of home. The artsy and quippy literary historian that Dani is is the perfect version of Edinburgh expatriate and I wouldn't mind becoming one of those myself.