Some journeys take lots of preparation before they are undertaken, but this cannot be said for my recent trip to Edinburgh with Rachel. She suggested we go for the weekend back in August and within a few weeks, she had booked flights and accommodation for merely £100 each. I rarely manage to find mini breaks that quickly or cheaply; she is the Queen of cheap travel. Rachel had visited the city previously to see her friend Terri, but I had never ventured so far North before. We proceeded to irritate our friends by breaking in to Scottish accents whenever we got excited (which was a LOT) and when the time finally came, we were ready to embrace Scotland’s capital.
Plaque outside The Elephant House Café
We flew from Stansted on Saturday 13th December at 9:00am, and landed in Edinburgh an hour later. After a short bus ride, we arrived in the city centre to the sight of a Christmas Market, and the smell of sugared donuts. We checked in at our hotel and headed straight for The Elephant House Café, famous for being a writer’s hotspot, and the birthplace of Harry Potter. Rachel & I sipped cappuccinos and enjoyed a generous serving of cake, pretending to be JK Rowling (well, I was, I assume Rach was too). We strolled through the streets admiring the architecture and Christmas lights and briefly visited the National Library, which housed a Christmas tree made from books. We returned to the Christmas Market for a mug of Mulled wine (with a shot of rum, which nearly burnt the lining of my oesophagus) before wandering up Calton Hill. The views of Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle, the city and the mountains beyond were breath-taking. Unfortunately, so was the cold, and we resolved to find somewhere warm to grab some grub. We ate at The Tron pub, where we were advised by the barman to head to The Vaults if we were out on the town that night.
Views from Calton Hill
A little later in the evening, clad in thermal tights and sassy shorts, we headed out in to the delicious dark to sample Edinburgh’s night life. We began at Vodka Revolution with cocktails and shots of flavoured vodka, and moved on to a bar called Pilgrim. We were drawn in by the JRR Tolkien quote on the side of the road ‘Not all those who wander are lost’: if that’s not advocating drunken stumbling, then I’m a ‘fool of a Took’. Once inside, we took full advantage of the very cheap drinks, which lead to us befriending two young Americans. After chatting away about Literature, Scotland and whatever else you talk about when you’re half-cut on tequila, we realised the bar was closing and that we needed somewhere else to go. Fortunately, our American friends had the perfect solution: a bar called Banshee. From what I can remember, it was a Labyrinth of small bars and rooms playing different types of music. The best thing about the club however, was the cinema room in which they were screening Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. It may have been Tarantino’s genius direction, it may have been the Tequila: but I was mesmerised by Uma Thurman’s bob cut. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen DVD player issues, the film was cut short, and we all agreed it was time for chips and then to part ways. For Rachel & I, this did not mean the drinking stopped. Once we were back at our hotel, we thought it would be a brilliant idea to order more tequila in the form of margaritas at the 24-hour bar. By the time we realised what we were doing, it was 5am.
Sunday was a dark day. It was dark because we didn’t wake up until midday, and we didn’t open the curtains to let daylight in; we lay festering in our beds trying (and failing) not to be sick. To ease our hang-overs we watched The X Factor (part of which literally made me sick), Catchphrase, Wheel of Fortune and 10 Things I Hate about You (twice, God Bless STV+1). At 7:00pm we finally felt human again, and headed out in search of pizza. After lining our stomachs we walked to a pub called Jekyll and Hyde for a drop of gin (NO TEQUILA) and to admire the wall disguised as a bookcase when actually, it is a secret door to the loos. It’s hard to find sober, let alone after a few beverages. We decided to have one more drink at the cocktail bar next door and paid just £3 for an apple and ginger mojito. The taste was as delightful as the price.
Jekyll & Hyde pub
The following day, hang-over free and with a fully restored appetite, we checked out of our hotel, ditched our bags and went straight to The City Café for breakfast. Rachel had Eggs Benedict (possibly because she loves Benedict Cumberbatch?) and I had French toast, bacon and maple syrup. We decided to satisfy our cultural appetites by climbing the 300-odd steps to the top of The Scott Monument. This Victorian, Gothic beauty was built to honour Scottish author Sir Walter Scott, and it offers fantastic views of the city. After successfully burning off our breakfasts, we visited the National Museum. We paced the 5 floors with eager eyes, and I was chuffed to see that the museum housed some of the Benin bronzes which I had studied as part of my Open University course earlier in the year. After a mooch around the museum, we decided to visit the extravagant Edinburgh Castle.
The Scott Monument
My historical knowledge is limited in every sense, but I am easily seduced by the sight of a fierce Castle or a grand church, so Edinburgh Castle ticked these boxes. We arrived just in time to see the 1 ‘o’ clock gun being fired, and proceeded our tour from there. A local school choir had the privilege of performing Christmas carols in one of the castle’s halls, and we had the privilege of listening to them; it was sweeter than a slice of Christmas cake. We concluded our tour of the castle with a peek at the Crown Jewels, and then went to meet Rachel’s friend Terri for a quick drink at Brew Dog, before beginning the short but reluctant journey home.
Edinburgh Castle from Calton Hill
Edinburgh has proved to be one of my favourite European cities, and I look forward to returning to sample the many gin joints we were too drunk to discover, taste some real highland whisky, and conquer the distance to Arthur’s Seat. (No tequila next time, and some photographs that prove Rachel actually came with me would be good).