The first thing you see in Edinburgh Airport are a Costa and a ‘Spoons. Just like London. Whatever Nicola Sturgeon says about an independent Scotland, the first things you get on your arrival in the capital are English…and then you get on a tram just like at East Croydon. Because I hadn’t left Croydonia only 4h earlier. From East Croydon. If you want a change of scenery you really have to go to the Highlands, it seems.
As soon as you step onto the Royal Mile it’s like walking down Westminster Bridge, with the usual bagpipes, but you’re surrounded by more characteristic architecture and lots of tartan (and weddings. Lots of weddings). My favourite thing about the area is all the statues of philosophers, although they don’t get quite the attention the statue of Walter Scott gets (clue: it has a monument almost as big as Prince Albert’s memorial).
We detoured towards the Grassmarket, where there’s a decently sized and, most shockingly of all, decently priced vintage clothing shop among all the historical taverns and French cafés. It was also market day and, despite the lack of cattle and shouty red-faced 17th century tradesmen (or public executions), it was really enjoyable. The view of Edinburgh castle on the rocks is rather stunning, but it’s quite a trek to get there so I would discourage doing it in heels.
I was at first surprised to read a positive mention of James II on a wall plaque, then remembered that I was really in Scotland so it was the actual James II and not James VII, so that made sense. My favourite thing to have read so far was a pub on the High Street claiming “Mary Queen of Scots probably drank here”. For days I had planned in vain to take a selfie in it to tag “Yes, she did”.
I have left my money in a fancy pub near St Giles’ Cathedral instead. It appears it was related to some 18th century chap who got hanged nearby, although after one named The Last Drop in Grassmarket I had stopped being surprised. Slightly less gruesome stories were behind the fairly pretty Ryan’s Bar on Hope St and probably the Standing Order on George Street (which is a really lovely area to walk in), although since it’s Edinburgh I wouldn’t put a bet on it.
Food was mostly homemade or some random shop except for the two birthday meals, an all-you-can-eat Chinese at China Red on Grindlay St, which is much better than pretty much anything in Chinatown in London, and one at a lovely French restaurant called L’Escargot Blanc, which is already my favourite French restaurant outside of France (I still have to follow through with a suggestion I was given for a place in London, though). They have also managed to take me clubbing in a club that didn’t have exclusively indie music, the Hive on Niddry St. Everyone was almost young enough to be my own child but it was mostly alright in the one room blasting dance music from when I was 14.
Among the cultured things to do in Edinburgh my limited time meant I’ve had to miss the National Portrait Gallery and an exhibition I really wanted to see but we had a browse around the National Gallery and its lovely Italian Renaissance paintings (as if I hadn’t just finished a paper on the artistic representations of power in, you guessed, the Italian Renaissance) and the other nice things they had, a small museum but worth it. I have also failed to figure out which one among the cafes boasting about this honour was the place where Harry Potter was written. What I could not have missed was, however, visiting the palace of Holyrood House.
After a walk in the cold and strong wind down the other side of the Royal Mile, past somewhere to do with John Knox and the horrible new buildings of the Scottish Parliament luckily not made worse by bumping into Nicola Sturgeon (or better by bumping into Ruth Davidson for that matter) I arrived in front of the place that was once the home of Mary Queen of Scots for a while when pregnant with James the VI and I, and excitement could not be contained.
To be continued.