E is for Edinburgh

Where to begin?

If you’ve read C is for Castles then you already know what an impression Edinburgh made on me. It had me writing poetry. Me. Poetry. Wonders never cease.

The journey began by train. Now, I’m usually not too eager to participate in long train journeys. While the idea of being able to sit quietly watching scenery fly by, reading a book, or listening to music, is of course very appealing, I rarely get to enjoy such leisurely activities when it comes to actually being on the train.

You see, I lack what I have been told is known as a ‘fuck off face’, if you’ll excuse my French.

Scenic views on the train

What this means is, that if there is one weirdo, crazy person, creepy man, talkative eccentric, drug addict looking for someone to look after her child while she shoots up in the loo (true story), then that person will without fail come and sit next to or opposite me.

Joy!

As such, I usually lack the enthusiasm that many show for long train rides. THANKFULLY, the four and a half hour London-Edinburgh train trip was nothing less than absolutely delightful.

My friend, Hayley, and I were seated opposite each other across a rather agreeable little table, which we agreed was the most civilised we had been since we’d begun our journey. The carriage was peaceful, we had free wifi (a luxury when travelling o/s, I tell you), and as we passed through the English and Scottish countryside, I could do little but admire the stunning scenery.

And that was the beginning of what soon became my favourite leg of the entire trip.

The Writers Museum

For a writer (or an aspiring one at least), there is nothing more satisfying than visiting a place that embraces literature with (wide and very) open arms. Edinburgh is the world’s first UNESCO city of literature, so they take the whole business of writing and reading very seriously and you can see evidence of it everywhere. From writer’s museums, storytelling centres, author tributes and pavements quoting famous writers, the city is absolutely brimming with creative energy.

The Writers Museum pays tribute to three notable writers, each who at one time lived in Edinburgh: Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Robert Burns. The museum houses a permanent exhibition to the three writers, displaying rare books, manuscripts, photographs, and original tools of the trade. Like many of the places I visited in Edinburgh, the museum was interactive, which meant that walking into a room could set off an audio reading of one of the writer’s works. Admission was also free, so no excuses not to get your literary nerd on.

"And yet, and yet this New Road will some day be the Old Road too." Literary flagstones on the streets of Edinburgh

Outside the museum, the courtyard, streets and stairs leading to the museum are paved with quoted flagstones, citing famous Scottish writers.

Another place in Edinburgh worthy of literary note is The Elephant House cafe. This cafe, where yours truly just three weeks ago could be found sipping hot chocolate, was where the literary genius of none other than J.K. Rowling wrote parts of the Harry Potter novels.

And who could blame her?

Where magic happens

The back room of the cafe offers spectacular views of Edinburgh Castle (yes the same one I doted on in C is for Castles), and the hot chocolates ‘aint bad either. It has also played regular host to Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall-Smith. They quite clearly put something in the coffee there, and I’m hoping whatever it is they put in the hot chocolate too. Perhaps I left with a little extra writers luck?

But it isn’t just one funky cafe that is fuel for the imagination in this city. There’s a story in every nook and cranny, and you don’t even have to be looking for it. It is hard to say whether writers have found their inspiration in the architecture of Edinburgh, or rather, if Edinburgh was in fact built in faithful reproduction of the fairy tales and romantic stories of old. All you have to do is look up to see Cinderella’s castle or Rapunzel’s tower.

Fairytale buildings

What fascinated me most about this city however, was just that. That it’s a city. And I still loved it. I mentioned in an earlier post that big cities often make me anxious, but thoughts of anxiety were far from my mind when I was there. Whilst it is obviously a tourist attraction, I didn’t get the feeling that I was surrounded by in-a-hurry tourists. The locals were doing their grocery shopping and the students were on their way to classes. The lovers were walking hand in hand and friends were having a laugh at the pub. All this, right in the heart of Edinburgh, amongst the medieval buildings and before the castle’s towering gaze.

Statues in Edinburgh

What’s more, the locals seem to appreciate their city, something people often lose sight of when surrounded by beautiful things every day. Everyone was cheerful, despite the cold, and there were no signs of the graffiti or vandalism that I’ve seen lining the canals of Venice or the streets of London. It’s a beautiful city, and those that live there obviously do not take that for granted.

Whilst the train trip home was just as pleasant as the incoming journey as I watched the sun rise over Scottish seas, I can’t deny I was sad to leave that place. Even now I long to return to Edinburgh.

One day soon…

NB: Edinburgh also had me delving right out of my comfort zone and trying something new to eat – Haggis, otherwise known as sheep’s offal (entrails and internal organs), served with ‘neeps and tatties’, or, turnips and potatoes. I’m happy to announce that it wasn’t bad. Not bad at all.

Bookstores line Edinburgh streets

Holyrood Palace

Me following in J.K. Rowling's footsteps at the Elephant House cafe.

Statues at sunset in Edinburgh

Greyfriars Bobby - the sky terrier known in the 19th Century for spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner

Rooftops of Edinburgh

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46 comments on “E is for Edinburgh

  1. Edinburgh is one of my favourite places. I stayed there for two weeks – right around the corner from The Elephant House. I visited the Writer’s Museum several times and if I had not been offered a job in Singapore it’s where I would have moved this year … next time, perhaps!

    I’m loving your travel tales, especially your photos! Keep ’em coming! =)

    • Thanks Stef! And likewise I am thoroughly enjoying your Singaporean travel tales also.

      Next time you choose another city over Edinburgh though, I may have to whack you over the head with a book. However, in light of your wonderful stories from Singapore so far, I’ll forgive you just this once.

  2. I live in Edinburgh, and except for driving backwards over cobbled streets most of the time, I still have to pinch myself!

    I’ve now read all your travel tales so far, keep up the A – Z!

    Lorna

  3. You actually visited Edinburgh in a great year for literature–it’s the 250th anniversary of the University’s Literature department (the oldest in the world!).

    Did you find Tom Riddle/Thomas Riddell’s grave in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard?

    • Beth, I am absolutely devastated that I didn’t know about Tom Riddle’s grave, because I did visit the Greyfriar’s Kirkyard! I’ll have to look back over my photos…perhaps I snapped it unintentionally?

      250 years? The oldest literature department in the world? My heart swoons!

      • Oldest English Literature department. :) There are tons of events going on in celebration of it.

        The grave’s tucked in the back, near George Heriot’s School. I do have a few photos of it, they may go up in my next photo post.

  4. I’ve never been to the Elephant House, may I ask what street it was on?

    I’m actually quite annoyed that Arthur Conan Doyle wasn’t included in the Writers Museum :( Oh well I’ll get over that but I can never quite find the words to explain to friends and family who’ve never been to Edinburgh, the inherent magic within the city that seems to inspire the literary muse in all of us. It’s one of those great mysteries in life, don’t you think? All the best authors seem to come, not just from Scotland, but from it’s Capital. Weird. :)

    • Totally jumping in…it’s on George IV Bridge, though by that point the street name may have changed. They’re rather fond of changing street names at intersections!

    • In defense of the Writers Museum, they’re working with a very small space and a lot of material. However, Arthur Conan Doyle hasn’t been all forgotten! The Conan Doyle Pub was named after him, and across from it stands a statue of Sherlock Holmes in his memory. So that has to stand for something, surely!

      It really is a great mystery. Scotland is where magic happens!

      • I lived on Leith Walk and in Broughton so I wasn’t far from the statue although the pigeon poop and vandalism of Mr. Holmes did annoy me a bit. Typical Nisha, always complaining, LOL.

        Thanks Beth, didn’t realise the Cafe was on George IV bridge. Must have passed it many times…

      • Not the pigeon poop! And feel free to complain away. I’m British born, so the whinging part of ‘whinging pom’ is in my blood! ;)

  5. I’m jealous that you get free wifi on the train overseas – we don’t have that luxury on American trains.

    • Well, to be fair it was on one of the country explorer type trains, not the tube or the city trains. But our long distance cross country trains certainly don’t have any such luxuries either! They’re spoiled over there in the UK! ;)

  6. Edinburgh is a beautiful city. My auntie lives there and it was one of my favourite places to visit. I love the story of Greyfriars Bobby and seeing the statue and grave was very heart-warming. Great article!

  7. The weirdos and creeps tend to gravitate toward me as well so I know how you feel. When I smile out of politeness/awkwardness, they take it as an invitation to talk more! I’m glad you were able to have a delightful trip. :)

    • Gery! Thank you for sharing this. You know, I’m sure I saw one of these pieces in the Writers Museum while I was there. Now I know the story behind it; and a beautiful story it is! Thank you.

  8. I was in Edinburgh in September and found lots of delights, such as a great Italian delicatessen – Valvona and Crolla. We stayed in a hotel that named rooms after varieties of scotch.

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  10. loving this post about Edinburgh, I live nearby and it’s always a lovely city to visit, although because I live so near I never went to any of the tourist attractions, maybe it’s time to change it. :)

    • It’s often the case that people see more of the world than the place they live. I’m certainly guilty of it. How about you head to the tourist attractions in Edinburgh, and I’ll make an effort to do the same here in Tasmania? :)

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