Have you ever wondered what heaven might be like? Because I think I might’ve gotten close to an answer in Edinburgh. As you know, I’ve been to some amazing places this semester, but Edinburgh would definitely be at the top of my list of recommendations; I truly wish I’d been able to stay longer than just one weekend. Shall we discuss what makes this place amazing?
I’m sure you’ve heard of haggis? Well if you haven’t, allow me to enlighten you. Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish of a stuffed sheep’s lung or stomach. The stuffing typically consists of onions, oatmeal, and various spices, and it’s usually served with potatoes and/or turnips. The traditional dish has been banned in the United States. It’s actually pretty good. This meal is a definite must-have if only to say that you tried it. For all you vegans and vegetarians out there, some places offer haggis with alternative ingredients that comply with your lifestyle, so you too can experience it! There’s also a very sweet treat called Scottish tablet, which is sweetened condensed milk and sugar in bar form. It’s extremely sweet and not meant for mere mortals, but should you decide to try it, then I fully support you! It was kind of nice to have after the saltiness of the haggis. Still though, maybe don’t go for the biggest bar.
This time around, I stayed at the Castle Rock Hostel which is just off the Royal Mile and is right beneath Edinburgh Castle. It’s also a pretty social place, so if you’re worried about being bored on a rainy night, odds are there will be something going on. The first night I was there, there was a comedy night going on in the basement and the next night they had a beer pong tournament. The odds of you having nothing to do are slim to none!
Speaking of the Royal Mile, I actually didn’t stray far from it. Edinburgh is really two different towns, old and new, with the new part being roughly 250 years old while the older part has been around for maybe 3,000 years. There is a lot going on along that mile though! If you’re looking for gifts for people, that is the place to go! And there are so many cashmere stores! I would just walk in and check out the scarves and coats and sweaters and dream about being rich enough to buy anything I wanted. Of course, there are some more affordable options if you’d like to get yourself a little something. About half those cashmere stores are outlets and they sell a couple of affordable items and then there are sales, so don’t give up hope on owning something made of luxurious cashmere! There are also plenty of gift shops where you can buy knick-knacks for people back home. I almost got my brother a kilt, but they can be pretty expensive. The cheapest ones I saw were £30, but those were the kind you’d wear to a costume party. The authentic kilts can be really expensive, like £400 expensive! Buy at your own peril. Or rather, your bank account’s peril. Bro, I love you, but that costs almost twice as much as one of my trips! Oh, and ladies, they sell kilts for women too that are really just cute skirts. I really wish I’d bought one, but you live and you learn! Oh, and I have a recommendation for those of you of Scottish descent like me. You should try to figure out which clan you’re descended from because they sell a lot of clan tartans in a lot of shops. I wanted to get one for my dad, but Hampton isn’t associated with any groups (turns out, I was looking online with the wrong last name). Don’t make my mistake. Ask your family about the maiden names of your ancestors so you know what to look for.
Okay and now we get to the section dedicated to Harry Potter! Edinburgh is where J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series, and she got a ton of inspiration from the city. The citizens were kind to her when she was at her lowest and now Edinburgh kind of reaps some of the benefits of her success. I mean, this was practically a holy pilgrimage for a Potterhead like me. You can see so much of the wizarding world just by looking around, like how Victoria Street was the foundation of Diagon Ally. And if you combine Edinburgh Castle and a nearby school, you get Hogwarts! And of course, no Potter Pilgrimage would be complete without a visit to the Elephant House café, which is pretty much sacred ground. Rowling wrote a lot of the first book in that restaurant and they actually bought the rights to call themselves the birthplace of Harry Potter. Yeah, that’s a thing. They even charge you a pound to come in and take a photo of the place. Of course, the money goes to charity, so it isn’t that bad. I decided to go on my last day. I decided to try the traditional Scottish cranachan and a cup of Scottish coffee (which is Irish coffee made with Scottish whiskey) and then I took out my travel journal and began to document my trip. I also may or may not have been pretending to be J.K. Rowling writing Harry Potter. Can you blame me? I then proceeded to commit another crime, allegedly. In the women's’ bathroom, there’s a ton of graffiti on the walls, essentially thanking Rowling for giving everyone the Harry Potter series. I can neither confirm nor deny that I took part, but you could always go to Edinburgh yourself to try to find out and maybe contribute to the growing amount of love to be found there.
I also made sure to take a tour of Edinburgh Castle while I was there. It truly is an amazing place with a lot of history. And who doesn’t love a good castle? All in all, I took 3 tours that weekend and all of them were Sandemans. One of them was my usual free walking tour, but I also did the castle tour that I mentioned and a Harry Potter tour. Let me tell you, I have never felt more like Hermione Granger than I did on that Harry Potter tour. I was the Gryffindor who was able to answer all of the guide’s trivia questions. I have absolutely no shame when it comes to my nerdy tendencies. And Edinburgh is a great place pretty much any literature lover. The original inspiration for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a deacon in Edinburgh back in the day, and Dicken’s character, Ebenezer Scrooge, was born in the city!
Finally, I want to end this post talking about a slightly more serious topic. I don’t think any of you realize it, but I’m pretty behind when it comes to updating this blog. I took this trip Memorial Day weekend, which is what I wanted to talk about with all of you. Here in the UK, Memorial Day is known as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day. Given how close to the war England was, they take the day a little more seriously than we do in the US. This year it was a bigger deal than usual because it was the 100-year anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended WW1. To commemorate the event, the Tower of London lit 10,000 torches in the moat every night for a week. It was a truly amazing sight. But I want to tell you about what you can do to help remember those who sacrificed so much to preserve the freedoms that many enjoy today. The Poppy Appeal is a huge fundraiser that is held each November, where people buy poppy pins to show their support. You can buy the poppies from various stores or even from veterans who are selling them near tube stations. All it costs you is a couple of pounds and you can get a pretty enamel pin to wear. I highly encourage anyone who studies abroad in the fall to partake. Plus, then you won’t stick out like a sore thumb if there’s a parade that Sunday morning like there was in Edinburgh. I missed most of it because of my castle tour, but I saw the tail end of it and the set up for it and it was pretty cool. They even had a couple of US army jeeps that they decorated with poppies.
My next trip will be all about a land with hardly any sunshine and many wardrobe regrets. Iceland here I come!