Edinburgh has a small town feeling with truly majestic buildings. From my travels so far, I’d say that it feels incredibly walkable like Dublin but that the architecture is similar to London. You’ll see a centuries old cathedral now turned into something like a Pizza Express!
On Friday night, I walked no more than 20 feet outside of Waverley station, and found myself at the doorstep of the City Art Centre, one of the various sites hosting the Edinburgh Jazz Festival. At 7:32pm, I bought a ticket for the John Nemeth Band performance …starting just 10 minutes later. Who is John Nemeth? Not a clue at the time, but I couldn’t pass up a cheap jazz ticket on my first night in a new city! Turns out John Nemeth is actually from Boise, Idaho but has since put down roots in Memphis due to the blues scene. He validated his love for the city by pointing out that he can only wear coveralls during shows now because of his strong admiration for Gus’ Fried Chicken. I’ve got to agree that Memphis doesn’t disappoint with that fried chicken. My dear friends, Nibette and Kwaku, can also show you some delicious plates of Memphis bbq that made their way to the top of my restaurant list in a day’s time!
John Nemeth had me with his harmonica and his love ballad about being a country boy in San Francisco, but lost me with his final song about wanting to experience other women even while having a good girl at home. That’s not the blues, John- that’s just greedy. For a late night meal, I wandered to Bene’s, a sure fire fish and chip shop. But they were closed until the end of July?! Though I missed out, Bene’s is worth a mention since this place was listed on various websites as a spot to check out. I found my way to Whiski’s, and coincidently ordered the same charcuterie plate as the man sitting next to me. Turns out he’s a Boston native, and we spent some time over a beer exchanging travel stories in the UK.
Saturday, I went on my first Sandeman’s Walking Tour. The guide, Jen, was full of energy and I imagined her talks being similar to Jamie Lynn’s touring style at UC Davis. The tour was three hours long, and combined facts and fiction every few feet.
Here are a few stories that stuck out to me:
- The Royal Mile isn’t really a mile. It’s 1.8 km (while a mile is 1.6 km). It also isn’t royal any longer. It connects Holyrood Palace with Edinburgh Castle, but no one royal actually lives at the castle.
- Scotland’s national animal is a unicorn. Apparently, that’s the only animal that is a threat to a lion (aka the Scottish mascot is really a big middle finger to England…)
- Deacon Brody was a real locksmith who rose to lead the Edinburgh city council. In the evenings, while drunk, he would make copies of local keys and use them to rob citizen homes. He’s the inspiration for story Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
- The stadium next to Edinburgh castle is rebuilt every year during the festival season (takes 40 days to put up and 39 days to take down).
- I saw Hogwarts! Well, I saw George Heriot School, originally founded for gifted and talented orphans. This school is directly next to the Greyfriars Kirk (cemetery) where JK Rowling used to spend time writing chapters of the Harry Potter series. The names on the headstones were the inspiration for many of the character names as well (i.e.: Professor McGonagall, Peter Pettigrew, and more).
After my walking tour, I grabbed lunch before heading out to climb up to Arthur’s Seat. You’re probably wondering why there aren’t numerous pictures of my meals in this post, but to be honest, the views were much more exciting in Edinburgh. Arthur’s Seat took 25 minutes to climb since I chose the direct path to the top. I walked alongside a variety of locals and tourists alike. The top of the dormant volcano was a pretty mixture of grassy knolls and reddish rock. You could also see 360 degree views of the city and beyond.
After trekking down Arthur’s Seat, I wandered through Newington neighborhood, checked out Armstrong’s Vintage shop, and popped into Dagda bar for a ½ pint of lager and a ½ pint of stout, both by Black Isle. It was at this bar when I realized that I’d had beer with about every meal, but being in Scotland, I should be drinking scotch or whiskey! What an oversight, but what a fun goal for the latter part of my Saturday evening. Dinner was a plate of bangers and mash at Mum’s Great Comfort Food (on Forrest Street!), and then on to my second evening at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival. This time, a show featuring a unique pairing: a Scottish fiddler named Seonaid Aitken playing with the Tokyo Django Collective (one of the guitarist’s name was Daisuke! I miss my Papas). They played mostly fast-paced gypsy Jazz, a genre new to me. This was also the first show that Aitken and the Collective played together so I may have witnessed the joining of a new group.
Now to Bow Bar for a wee dram of whiskey. A glass of Old Pulteney, described by the bartender as having the taste of the sea, is made along the northern coast of the country. I don’t know if I tasted the coastline, but the whiskey was good, and the bar was a small space full of locals having a good ol’ time. The next spot, The Devil’s Advocate, was definitely more posh with a focus on whiskey cocktails. This time I was determined to get a smokey Scotch. This bartender pulled down three options, and described how small casks help create a ‘full on’ flavour. I opted for a Kilchoman, which was the bartender’s favorite. Definitely another good choice, but at this point, I had to be honest with myself that tastings are better done in groups so that you can have more of them in one evening. I retired feeling warm and fuzzy and happy with my 24,000 steps in the day (just had to brag on that one).
Sunday was drizzly and grey, but still easy enough to be out and about in. This was my first outing into the New Town (this is clearly a relative name based on the fact that it’s still over 200 years old… but the Old Town is about 3000 years old, so I get it).
The first stop was Stockbridge Market, where I picked up a vegan quiche with a side salad. This heavy box of quinoa, couscous, and various rice salads with focaccia bread turned into my breakfast, lunch and dinner – for a mere seven pounds. I struggled to make a dent in the box all day. My participant suggested that I walk along the river Leith. I found my way through Dean Village, and tried to capture the natural beauty up against the resident buildings.
I checked out of the hotel and did a final stop at the National Gallery to see an Impressionist Exhibition featuring Daubigny’s influence on both Monet and Van Gogh. I couldn’t get over one of Daubigny’s paintings where his moon actually looked as though it was glowing on the canvas. There was also a space that included all three artists’ paintings of poppies in the French countryside. Really neat to compare their styles this way.
Edinburgh’s small-town vibe meant that I didn’t feel rushed when choosing what to do for my weekend away. Many of my photos illustrate how the historical and modern elements of the city are neighbors to one another, and at times, are competing for tourist attention. But in general, I liked that one could sample spirits, walk amongst green parks, and learn about the city’s long history all in a weekend’s time.
Friday July 22, 2016
- Dinner at Whiski’s– flights around £20; live music at 10pm
- See if you can find an events schedule for July and August. It doesn’t bode well for hotel prices, but the city sure does like a good festival.
Saturday July 23, 2016
- Sandeman’s 10am Walking Tour around Old Town. You can definitely cover more of the city in three hours than this tour did, but hearing the stories is a really fun part of the experience, and it’s pay what you like.
- Lunch at Mosque Cafe for cheap curries
- Walk to Holyrood Park and then hike Arthur’s Seat
- Afternoon refreshments at Dagda Bar
- Dinner at Mum’s Great Comfort Food– local beer on tap, daily sausage specials, and friendly staff
- Have a whiskey at Bow Bar (Grassmarket) and The Devil’s Advocate (near Advocate’s Close)
Sunday July 24, 2016
- Breakfast/early lunch at Stockbridge Market (in Newtown). Stockbridge also felt like ‘charity shop haven’ on the main street in this neighborhood.
- Walk along the River Leith to Dean Village, and then meander back a different way to check out the different neighborhoods
- Lunch- I was still eating the veggie salad from my market purchase, but I’ve heard these would be good choices: World’s End pub for fish and chips (Old Town), Fishers for seafood (New Town) or Ting Thai for… you get the idea (Old Town)
- Spend the afternoon at the National Gallery and then take a stroll through Princes Garden, a walk that sets you right next to Waverley station if you’re heading back to London or Leeds for summer institute