Potter Pilgrimage to The Elephant House.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

One of the most famous spots for Potterheads to see while in Edinburgh and a natural "must do" during my visit is grabbing a bite to eat or a cup of coffee at the Elephant House. Elephants are my favourite animal, Harry Potter is my favourite...everything, and coffee is also a favourite - it drew me in like a magnet. 

J.K. Rowling wrote much of the early books sitting at this cafe near Greyfriar's Kirk, and has been since coined "the Birthplace of Harry Potter". Check out this early interview with Jo at the cafe here, where she is gobsmacked at the fact that she's sold 30,000 copies in the U.K. and discusses how she's in the process of writing "number three" (Prisoner of Azkaban)

Interviewer: "Do you think there will be more Harry Potters?"
Rowling: "I know there will be." *sneaky Jo smile*

While my breakfast wasn't necessarily anything to write home about, I do love Scottish shortbread biscuits a whole lot, and the elephant shape was adorable.

The best bit about the whole cafe is definitely the bathrooms. Fans have taken sharpies to the walls, mirrors, doors, and just about any free space they can find to leave messages for Jo. I spent a little too long in here, reading as much as I could and snapping photos of my favourite ones.

Holyroodhouse Palace + Arthur's Seat | Edinburgh.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat is impossible to miss from wherever you look in Edinburgh. Similar to the rock that hosts Edinburgh Castle, the peak is made up of an extinct volcano, about 350 million years old. A round trip hike up the mountain will be about 4 hours, depending which route you take and how long you spend at the top taking in the insane views. 

Still laughing at Scottish weather. If you aren't enjoying it, just wait a few minutes and it'll change ^ v

Although you can get access to Holyrood Park from just about any side - from Edinburgh Castle, stroll eastbound down the Royal Mile. Before heading up the mountain, stop by Holyroodhouse Palace, sitting at the opposite side of the castle. Home to the Queen during the first week of summer, the palace you see dates back to the 1600s although it used to be the spot of Holyrood Abbey established in 1128. Some of the ruins of the abbey remain alongside the palace. Although it's usually open for visitors, it was closed when I was there because the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was staying there. I'm not sure if he could have a longer title.

Caddy corner to the palace and alongside a road leading you towards Holyrood Park is the Scottish Parliament Building...which did not look like I expected it to. So funky and modern, like a spaceship.

Arthur's Seat is named so because it's one of the possible locations of Camelot, King Arthur's legendary and mysterious castle. The park is 650 acres, and hosts lochs, ruins, glens, crags, trails, and plenty of wildlife.

I didn't make the trek up Arthur's Seat for the sake of time, and my legs were still wobbling from exploring the Highlands for 12 hours the day before. I walked around part of the perimeter of the park and climbed up a few less intimidating hills that gave me some nice views and played "spot the tiny human".

Gardens, Trains, and the Deathly Hallows | Edinburgh.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Despite a few downpours accompanied by freezing wind, I was pretty fortunate to have some rare Scottish sunshine while in Edinburgh. Squeezed between the towering Edinburgh Castle and Calton Hill lies Princes Street Gardens and Waverley train station, where Edinburgh's "new town" begins. On the north side of the park boasts high street shops including familiar faces like Topshop and Barbour. I really wish I could justify owning a Barbour jacket, paired with a shotgun, wellies, and some floppy eared springer spaniels running amok in the green hills. I can dream, okay?

Waverley is the main train station in the city, with routes going all the way to Inverness, Plymouth, London, Bristol, and many more across the U.K.

Walking along Princes Street towards Calton Hill, you pass the Balmoral Hotel, one of the most luxurious places to stay in Edinburgh, rooms running at about £500 per night. Most importantly (to me, anyway), this is where J.K. Rowling finished 17 years of writing Harry Potter with the Deathly Hallows - see the clip of that here, starting at 15:48. You can even stay in this "J.K. Rowling Suite" for £1,000 a night - the room contains her writing desk, a bust of Hermes that she signed, and the door knocker was switched to an owl in her honour. It's probably my biggest dream in life to stay a night here and have a straight up sleepover with my best friends and sister, having a Harry Potter marathon - duh. 

Roaming Around Edinburgh.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

After wrapping up my term papers last week, I treated myself to a mini getaway to Scotland before I get the ball rolling on my dissertation. I had visited Edinburgh previously, but it was about 10 years ago and I remember very little from the trip other than my best friend and I clutching each other atop Calton Hill with full blown glitter eyeshadow and braces, squealing things like "JK Rowling is somewhere down there!!!" (some things don't change, luckily my choices in makeup have).

Other than a booked day tour of the Highlands, I hadn't really planned much for my time in the city other than a few "must-sees," all in walking distance from the AirBnB I was staying at. After a speedy 45 minute flight across Great Britain, my feet hit the pavement and I pretty much just didn't stop walking for the following 4 days.

Rule #1 of Scotland - Don't bother spending a lot of time doing your hair. Exhibit A...

Rule #2 - Be ready for rain. And then sun. And then hail. And then wind. And then so much sun you'll sweat. All in 10 minute intervals.

Rule #3 - Walk. Walk everywhere you can. While everyone knows about the big name roads like the Royal Mile, a stretch of shops overflowing with tartan scarves, golf balls, and whiskey from Edinburgh Castle all the way down to Holyroodhouse Palace, Edinburgh is bursting with tiny side streets and alleyways, begging to be explored. While the city has a pretty efficient and handy bus system (don't mention the trams to the locals), I found it to be super walk-able, give or take how the weather is behaving.

Rule #4 - Take advantage of the city's parks. Princes Street Gardens, Holyrood Park, the Meadows...etc. They all offer different views of the city and completely unique vibes.

Enough of me babbling...onto the good stuff.

Edinburgh Castle, probably the most iconic landmark and impossible to miss as it dominates the city skyline. Historians say that there is evidence of human settlement on this 350 million year old volcanic plug, or "Castle Rock" as it's more commonly known as. Beat the crowds and get there early, as exploring this massive castle and learning its centuries of history will take hours. While J.K. Rowling was writing the early Harry Potter books, she would try to snag a window seat at the Elephant House Cafe with a direct view of the castle for inspiration.

Not to mention there are pretty great views from the hill!

I love that you can see the sea from the centre of the city thanks to all of the hills.

Heading east down the Royal Mile, through the throngs of tourists. I know I'm technically a tourist but I always work in the fact I live in England into conversations, to let people know I'm a tourist but not a tourist-tourist...right, fellow expats?

St. Giles Cathedral, showcasing just how temperamental the weather can be...entered the cathedral in blinding sunshine, exited about 30 minutes later to moody skies and rain.


If you told me this canal was in Bristol instead of Edinburgh, I would totally believe you if I hadn't seen it myself. The beginning of the canal was in the more modern area of town, lots of shiny buildings and people in suits - but nevertheless a nice place to sit with easy access to the Old Town.

I have no idea what this street art meant. But I liked it. And it was purple. I just hope it's not connected to some weird campaign while I'm over here thinking it's philosophical.

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