Saint Giles Cathedral, High Tea, and the National Museum: Checking in with the Edinburgh Bucket List.

When J and i weren’t cowering under umbrellas in London or making moon-eyes at each other in Paris, we were covering plenty of ground in Edinburgh.

It is, after all, the best city in the UK (in my humble, obviously biased opinion).

I took J to my favorite tourist-y spot in Edinburgh on the first day: the Edinburgh Castle. We visited my second-favorite spot – Saint Margaret’s Chapel – and J geeked out over the weaponry in the Great Hall (there was a lot of rolling eyes on my end).

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Saint Margaret’s Chapel, oldest building in Edinburgh.

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The castle at dusk!

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He really liked the cannons.

My first-favorite thing to do at the Castle, however, has nothing to do with what’s on the inside. The parking lot that stretches in front of the portcullis offers some of the most exquisite views of Edinburgh and the surrounding mountains – and you don’t have to pay the 14 pound ticket fee to get in!

View from the Castle Terrace!

View from the Castle Terrace!

As much as i love going to the Castle (and believe me, i do love it – have a membership card and all) there were also things on my Edinburgh Bucket List that i wanted to make sure we checked off together. With a little less eye-rolling, we made our way through the 5th item on my list: the National Museum of Scotland.

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Jaws in the Animal Room.

The National Museum was the kind of place my elementary school would go on field trips. (I spotted more than a few clusters of children in uniform in the various exhibits). It encompasses everything from Victorian-era taxidermies to artifacts from the Scottish Reformation. It’s free, so for that reason alone, it’s well worth a visit. The best part of the museum, though, isn’t so much the stuffed lions, but the rooftop terrace. A friend had taken me up one Sunday afternoon for yet another exquisite view of Edinburgh and i was eager to share the view with J.

Alas, the roof terrace was closed. We’d run into a lot of closings because of the season: the Eiffel Tower top floor, the façade of Saint Paul’s, compressed museum times. Easily one of the perks of off-season travel is the discounted ticket prices and smaller queues. But you pay for it with the weather and minor inconveniences.

Our disappointment with the terrace’s closure, however, was abated by the beauty of the 6th item on my list: Saint Giles Cathedral. Situated along the Royal Mile with a tremendously distinctive spire, Saint Giles is a landmark i pass almost every single day. I knew it was meant to be gorgeous inside, but i’d saved the trip for when J visited.

St. Giles by night.

St. Giles by night.

I’m very, very glad i did. Calling the sanctuary lovely is a gross understatement, but anything else sounds forced. Sharing in the splendor with J was wonderful – he’s the only person i know who loves looking at old churches as much as me.

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Thistle Chapel

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On J’s last day in Edinburgh after moon-pie-eyes days spent in Paris and London, we went for High Tea at the Carlton. High Tea is just so quintessentially British, and more to the point High Tea is such a delicious occasion to dress up for a man as in love with his sport coat as J is. I got tick number 24 of of my list and J got to wear a tie (he’d packed it just for the occasion. There was more eye-rolling from my end).

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In posh splendor the tea was set out, and the trays stacked three-high with pastries placed precisely on our table. I tried not to slop tea all over my saucer while we talked about our now shared-love for Edinburgh. J plucked a treat off the tray and, before he’d finished sampling it, exclaimed “tastes like a really good Twinkie!”

Always a surprise, this exploring Edinburgh business.

current jam: ‘natural disaster’ zac brown band

best thing: the mediterranean sea!

Serendipity and Serenades at the Eiffel Tower.

So when i wasn’t prowling about the Eiffel Tower looking for a hot dog, i was busy being rather bedazzled by the tower itself. There’s magic in Paris, i swear; perhaps the secret entrance to Beauxbatons lies beneath the Seine.

eiffel tower in b&w, watermarked

Seeing the Eiffel Tower at all is striking and poetic and full of Aristocat-themed-music-making. Seeing the Eiffel Tower at night is unlike anything else; the gold against the purple night, the way it lights up and sparkles for ten minutes every hour, the glow it casts on the whole of the jardins surrounding it make me understand why so many artists and writers came to Paris and never left. It’s the music itself.

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Sparkling on the hour!

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Though initially disappointed to learn that the cables for the lift to the tippy-top were too frozen to function, the mid-atmospheric snow in the air at the second level made us quite content to look out at Sacre Coeur and L’Arc de Triomphe from our frozen perch. It was stunning; the whole of Paris reflected back at us like the lights on the tower itself. Even the Seine glowed. If you’re going to Paris, do everything you can to scale the Eiffel Tower at night. It may be knee-knocking, teeth-chattering freezing, but the view is transcendent.

Windswept!

Windswept!

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Making the climb back down!

Making the climb back down!

The Tower’s magic, though, was not bound in cables and floor and vistas for us, though. In some cosmic convergence, one of my very best friends from Mount Holyoke, Saran, was traveling through Paris at the same time as us. Neither one of us had functioning phones, so through spotty glimpses of wifi we’d managed to communicate online that we would meet at the Eiffel Tower sometime that night.

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My fingers were going numb, refreshing my inbox at the base of the Tower. J and i had scouted the lines, walked the perimeter, tried every cranny we could see to find Saran. Worry we were relying too much on chance in a city too big, i began to fret we wouldn’t find her at all.

Until someone shrieked my name from the other side of the tower.

There was a running and a leaping and a hugging and an OH MY G-D, PARIS-ing. I was so delighted to see her, and a mutual friend from Paris, all basking underneath the sparkling gold beams of the most famous French landmark. We walked, arm-in-arm, to a restaurant a few blocks up and had warm reminiscing and fast catching-up over French cuisine. Entrenched in a language and culture and place not my own, i was home in the hearts of people i love.

Blurry and beautiful because of what this means to me!

Blurry but beautiful because of what this means to me!

Just when you start to disbelieve in the magic that weaves Paris together, the rug is pulled out from under you all over again. I suppose that’s falling in love: being awash in passion, falling into a place of comfortable constancy, and, just when you start to get too comfortable or edgy from boredom, something happens to make you commit and believe all over again. 

Paris certainly lives up to its reputation in that way!

current jam: ‘little bird song’ ed sheeran.

best thing: these INCREDIBLE signs advocating for marriage equality at the supreme court yesterday.

inquiry: would anyone be interested in purchasing a (non-watermarked) print of the eiffel tower (or anything, really)?

Self-Reliance & Southern Fried Chicken.

My inability to cook anything more than rice and eggies-in-a-basket has been a running joke in my family since my brothers learned how to grill steak circa age eight.

I called it my feminist anti-domesticity clause. “I don’t cook because i don’t adhere to gender roles!” i’d stomp and snap. Meanwhile, all my self-prepared dinners consisted of frozen pizza or my tried-and-true favorite eggie snack.

So much for self-reliance.

I knew, in spite of my claim to anti-domesticity, that cooking is not inherently an anti-feminist thing. Obviously, all people have to eat. And i was growing older and pizza for dinner was getting to be repetitive and unhealthy. When i moved into my own flat for the first time on January 11th here in Edinburgh, i knew this was to be the semester of learning and growth abroad.

Fundamental to the growing pains? Learning how to make a balanced meal for myself.

It started slow, tortellinis cooked in slightly salted and oiled water. A few days in i was making sautéed spinach salad, and my first foray into baking chicken was an endeavor of it’s-still-pink-so-five-more-minutes? (For the record, it turned out pretty moist and edible and non-salmonella-filled). I then tried my father’s go-to: honey mustard chicken. A few rounds into those baked delights, i was feeling more assured of my own abilities.

The time had come. My friend Megan and i decided to undertake cooking what we Southern ladies missed the most: fried chicken.

Merlot is the most important part of any well-cooked meal.

Merlot is the most important part of any well-cooked meal.

It was a semi-disaster. We knew, vaguely, that it was best to soak the chicken in some kind of egg-or-butter wash before slathering it in flour and bread crumbs. I always hated how warm the milk was after my mom had kept it beside her while frying up her famous Second-Helpin’ recipe, so i figured milk went in there somewhere.

With a decidedly eff-it-we’ll-make-it-work attitude, we threw all the ingredients together in one bowl. Which turned into dough.

Oops.

Half an hour of packing dough onto chicken legs ensued. Merlot was drunk. Potatoes began to boil. At last, dough dripping off those once-running legs, we threw our concoctions into a pan of oil and prayed to the Almighty Steal Magnolia that She would help us make our mothers proud.

Having no tongs, Megan expertly wielded chopsticks to flip the chicken over until, all but surrendered, we popped them into the microwave to ensure they were fully cooked.

In the pan floated the remains of our dough.

As we sat down to the table, we contemplated our creation. The mashed potatoes and corn, if nothing else, looked exquisite. Bravely, we took a bite of the chicken. Not bad, i thought. Not too bad at all, for making up the recipe on the fly. Sure, it was no Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ but it certainly was good enough for the bone to be licked clean. Megan and i exchanged smiles of victory.

Round 1.

Round 1.

When i told J, the other fried-chicken-master-maker of my life, how our endeavor had gone i think he actually wiped tears from his eyes he chortled so much. My pride mildly wounded, i emailed my mother for her Most Secret Recipe for Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ Fried Chicken.

A Tesco trip later, i was armed for round two.

And this time, i must say, it went peach-pickin’ perfect. I’d had to improvise slightly, because Bisquik isn’t exactly available in Scotland (to my knowledge). But one sizzling pan later, i proffered the generously full plate to one of my flatmates, a hopeful grin tucked into the corner of my cheek.

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Round 2.

“Daaaa-aaaamn!” she exclaimed. There was a pronounced diphthong in her reply, even with a mouth full of chicken. Paula Dean would be downright green in the face.

I’m not sure which was more satisfying: the fact that i’d finally made something worth craving (and not just edible) or the chicken itself. As delicious as the food in Amsterdam was, nothing really compares to the warmth of my Southern Mama’s cuisine.

I’m sure there are immeasurable numbers of my peers who scoff at my simple pride in learning how to balance a budget, much less cook a meal (again, my brothers could grill sirloins before middle school). But i think growing up sometimes can be so taken for granted it’s hard to remember a time when you didn’t know what you know now.

So i’m taking time to appreciate the learning, even if it involves clumps of should-have-done dough and try-harder-next-time chicken. Because nothing tastes so sweet as knowing my own capability, domesticity and all.

current jam: ‘kiss you’ one direction (unashamed!)

best thing: self-reliance is the new sexy, ya’ll.

other cookery blogs: cheese buns & rice.

Markets and More Eating (Amsterdam, Day 2!)

If the Albert Cuyp Market was a field, i was a plow.

I’ve never been surrounded by so many sumptuous and tempting things to try – from the wafels to the hot chocolate to the small bucket of olives i purchased. Plus, as a mayo-loving french-fries eater whose allergic to ketchup, i just adored the frites stand that sold paper cones stuffed with fries slathered in mayo. And the cheese, sweet Holy Mary the cheese! The displays were utterly intoxicating.

(Note the bicycle!)

(Note the bicycle!)

We’d decided, for our second day, to set aside the whole morning to explore the oldest street market in the Netherlands: the Albert Cuyp Market. Lining the block were some of the most eclectic stalls i’d ever beheld (including my experiences in pre-burned-down Owino Market in Kampala). There was an entire pharmacy spread wide under a tent and in the cold, more lingerie shoppes than i could count, a plethora of places to purchase scarves and the like, and a few stalls reserved for Amsterdam-themed souvenirs. Interspersed between the flower stalls (oh, the tulips!) and garter belts were the main attraction: street food.

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(Van Gogh had followed us, even here!)

(Van Gogh had followed us, even here!)

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It was as good as it looked!

It was as good as it looked!

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Making the famous frites!

Making the famous frites!

frites!

Frites!

I love street markets – the chaos, the food, the cool vintage things you can find, the food, and the experience of feeling like a local. As much as i may love doing silly tourist-y thing (see me in a large wooden shoe, below) i always try to find at least on thing per travel destination that gives me some sense of what it would be like to live there. Naturally, we were not the only tourists strolling about the market. But tourists were in a serious minority here, amongst the clamor of Dutch-speaking voices selling flowers and toothpaste and lingerie. I’d easily say this was one of my most-favorite things we did in Amsterdam!

Having sufficiently eaten our way through the market, we made our way over the Dam Square for more sightseeing. At the sight of THE LARGEST SHOE i have ever seen, there was a lot of squealing and leaping in to take pictures. So much for trying to blend in!

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About a block or so up from Dam Square is the (in)famous Red Light District. We chortled our way through all the funny little shops and such surrounding the red-lamped alleyways, but they definitely are not the reason i’d wanted to go to the city. And the whole district is clearly geared for people visiting the city, not the residents themselves. The gift shops are certainly amusing to visit, but once i’d cracked up at enough genitalia plastered on velvet hats (et cetera) i’d had my fill. Definitely would not say this was the family-friendly place to go on a holiday to the city, but as two young women walking around in the middle of the afternoon we felt pretty safe and took the whole thing in with a sense of humor.

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This is not the Red Light District, but it IS a picture of a red lit sign at night, so it metaphorically serves a purpose!

This is not the Red Light District, but it IS a picture of a red lit sign at night, so it metaphorically serves a purpose!

By then it was high time we ate, again. Utilizing a combination of my Lonely Planet guidebook and the MOST EXCELLENT TripAdvisor City Guide App, we arrived at the quirky and chic van Kerkwijk. With whitewashed, wood paneled walls and candles adorning the tables, we knew this promised to be a unique place to dine.

Turned out there’s no written menu at van Kerkwijk, so our gracious waitress just plopped right down at our table and talked us through the extensive list of their eclectic combinations. When asked what was a truly Dutch thing to try, she explained that the port-city-nature of Amsterdam meant all Dutch food was really a mash-up of European and Indonesian cuisine. We asked for an appetizer that involved bread and cheese, so she brought out a bleu cheese paté-type-thing that was incredible. For our entrées, Abby had steak with strawberry cream and goat cheese, and i had Indonesian chicken. We split a salad and (of course!) frites with glorified mayo.

The incredible cheese-and-bread combination!

The incredible cheese-and-bread combination!

It was an exquisite capping off to two days and three nights of fabulous dining. But, alas, the next morning we were whisked off to the airport leaving behind Amsterdam’s canals and bike lanes for a flight home to Edinburgh.

Though we’d only had an all-too-short time in Amsterdam, i was utterly entranced. It is a beautiful place (even in the cold!) and i am ever grateful for the opportunities i had to visit.

current jam: ‘day that i die’ zac brown band.

best thing: productivity. back to dale martin, for now.

of interest: i’ve added a new page at the top of the screen! it’s still a work in a progress, but have a look if you like!

The Only Way to See Amsterdam is from the Seat of a Bicycle.

Amsterdam boasts of being the only city in the world that houses more bikes than people. The bicycles clutter the canal sidewalks, over-run the cars in the streets, and nowhere can one be found in the City Centrum where there isn’t some whizzing ding of a bell making music. (Especially if you’re a tourist walking in the bike lane). There are even special traffic lights just for the cyclists!

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bike lane from inside a tram!

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Naturally, then, the best way to see the city is like a local. At the advice of one of my flatmates, on day 1 of our Amsterdam Adventure, Abby and i took a gander with Mike’s Bike Tours. The ride spanned 2.5 hours and the major circumference of the city – seeing everything from the Anne Frank House to a Picasso statue in Vondel Park. The bike shop even had two shop cats!

CATS AND BIKES

The tour definitely does not shy away from talking about the naughtier sides of Amsterdam (as in, prostitution and drugs) so i wouldn’t recommend it for anyone wanting to stick to pretty canals and old churches.

But Abby and i had a blast wheeling around Jordaan, the Museumplein, and sweet little streets lining the canals. Our fingers and toes were frozen solid in the sub-freezing weather, but there was a pit stop for a much-need hot cocoa and the most delicious apple turnover i’ve ever had in my life at the Bertram & Brood. And, since you asked: yes the Red Light District felt safe, and yes: going about it during the daytime is certainly less seedy than at night. The women who work there are, after all, human beings engaging in a legal and heavily guarded profession.

Right: best place for apple turnovers i've yet found; Left: the church next to the Anne Frank house.

Right: best place for apple turnovers i’ve yet found; Left: the church next to the Anne Frank house.

I have to admit, though, i sort of pictured the Red Light District to be like a scene from Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. You know, 19th-century can-can dresses and simpering red lips. I fear to say my imagination did not match the reality at all!

Riding a bike in Amsterdam, though, is no joke. Sure, the whole city is as flat as Kansas, but being on a bike here is kind of like driving a car in New York City. You have to constantly be aware, assertive, and unafraid to stick to your decisions (even in the face of an oncoming tram!). At one point, a father and his toddler son whizzed past me so fast i – literally – backpedaled. The most embarrassing part? The kid had one glasses like me and looked ridiculously cool for someone who couldn’t have been older than four.

Europeans, ya’ll. I am constantly being out-fahsion-ed. Even by the babies.

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It doesn’t get more quintessentially Dutch than a windmill and bikes!

 Our noses falling off from the cold, our legs sore from out-pumping oncoming traffic, and our ears stuffed with fun tidbits about Nieuwmarket and the vivacity of Dutch life all made for a great afternoon in Amsterdam. Should you ever get the chance to voyage to this once-quaint-seaside-villa, be sure to include a bike tour into your stay!

current jam: ‘lovely ladies’ from les misérables. (i can’t help it! stuck in my head after all that!)

best thing: apple turnovers.

The Edinburgh Bucket List!

In the knowledge that Edinburgh is the second-most frequented tourist destination in the UK, before coming i started to think about what i wanted to do for fun in my five months here. Three guidebooks later, i began to compile a list.

But then, to my book-loving-heart’s-only-mild-shock, guidebooks were not enough. I arrived and suddenly Edinburgh’s vitality and quirk was everywhere, so the list started growing. What had once been ten things turned into twenty. Friends who had studies here, new friends who matriculate here currently, and people from all around have been giving me such delightful tidbits on the hidden treasures encased in this city. (And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of my Scotland Outside-of-Edinburgh Bucket List!)

So here, with no further ado, i give you the ever-elongating Edinburgh Bucket List! (Italicized means completed, and i’ll add links to blog posts about completed tasks as i go along!)

The Edinburgh Bucket List:

1. Stroll along Princes Street; purchase cheesy souvenir.

2. Buy and wear a kilt.

3. Take the ferry to Incholm Abbey.

4. Explore Leith and Crammond Village, the seashore side of Edinburgh.

5. Go to the National Museum of Scotland!

6. Visit and listen at St Giles Cathedral.

7. Do the Literary Pub Crawl!

8. Go to the Writer’s Museum.

9. Make Pilgrimage to the Elephant House, sit in Her seat, and write. 

10. Go to Edinburgh Castle!

11. Go to the National Gallery.

12. Go to the Modern Art Gallery

13. Explore Greyfriars Kirkyard and find “Tom Riddell”

14. Hike Arthur’s Seat.

15. Picnic on Arthur’s Seat!

16. Go to Holyrood Abbey.

17. Picnic in Princes Street Park!

18. Eat fish & chips at a local chippery.

19. Try Haggis (it was awful!)

20. Go Ceilidh dancing, preferably in new kilt.

21. Stroll along the Royal Mile, especially when the street vendors are out.

22. When missing home, eat at that mysterious KFC on Nicolson Street!

23. Splurge and eat a nice place tucked away on the Royal Mile or some fancy equivalent (like The Witchery).

24. Take high tea.

As it stands, i’ve done 9 of my 24 things. Not a bad start since today marks one month since i left the United States!

So to friends who live or have lived in Edinburgh: what else needs to be on this list? Any great pubs or bands or sites that made your time tremendously unique?

Be sure to stay tuned for my Scotland Bucket List, which shall be published tomorrow!

current jam: the new dj earworm mix!

best thing: 28 days.

Vivacity and Verve: The View from the Mountain

Any attraction that boasts of free admission or significant concessions for students has, undoubtedly, made its way onto my Bucket List for Edinburgh. There’s plenty of tight-budget-friendly places to see in the city, so with our sense of adventure in tact Nora and i set out to find the most fun for the most inexpensive fare.

Our first stop was  the Scottish National Gallery for no other reason, really, than it was free. Having once flirted with the idea of majoring in Art History, i have a particular affinity for art galleries and, most especially, one with (you-guessed-it) Vincent Van Gogh. When we stepped into the second-floor impressionist room, i went weak in the knees. On a blue wallpaper’d wall, encased in an ornate bronze-colored frame, were two works by Van Gogh. In living, breathing color. I hadn’t even known they were there.

It was sublime.

The Gallery, as it happens, is an exquisite museum. The collection boasts of works by Renoir, Monet, Raphael, Degas, Turner, and Singer Sargent (to name a few whom i love). The space is moveable, breathable, and does that near-impossible trick of making you feel not claustrophobic when in an art museum. Nora and i toddled about, admiring the neo-classical to the ancient and back again for over an hour. (I would love to show you pictures, but there’s no photography in the Gallery!).

We did, however, attempt to ensnare the beauty of Arthur’s Seat in photographic form the subsequent day.

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Arthur’s Seat, named such for the famous King, is an extinct volcano situated in the heart of Edinburgh. It promised to be an elusively sunny Scottish day, so we set out to hike its peak. With lungs as asthma-plagued as mine are, we had to take frequent stops along the trail – but these afforded us incredible opportunities to drink in the scene unfurling in front of us. The higher we scaled, the more of Edinburgh we could see. In our pink-cheeked, windblown state we were caught somewhere between awe and disbelief at the view.

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Can you spy Edinburgh castle? this is near the start of the trail!

About a third of the way up to the summit!

About a third of the way up to the summit!

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Salisbury Crags & the city from Arthur’s Seat!

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Standing on an extinct volcano.

Standing on an extinct volcano.

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Van Gogh’s ability to sculpt with paint is what, for me, makes his work have such life. The colors weave in this complicated dance that verges on the frantic. Van Gogh painted a breathing world, preserving in solitary images unyielding motion and music.

I felt, standing on the peak of Arthur’s Seat, like i was peering into a painting by Van Gogh. Like the tiny lines that bent and curled into the streets were veins in a living, heaving, singing city. Complicated intersections in the deep browns of the buildings and the painful, cold blue of the sea. Endless movement, preserved like a painting far away from the rocky ledge i stood on.

Adventure shot! Thanks, Nora, for this picture!

Adventure shot! Thanks, Nora, for this picture!

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It’s easy to see how Edinburgh, as a place, has ignited such passion in artists across its history. There’s something romantic, something ethereal about its wideness and complexity. It’s enchanting, in the close-knit closes and alleyways juxtaposed to the expansive monolith that is the mountains within the city limits. Enchanting, bizarre, beautiful, and moving.

Part of this quirk and verve to Edinburgh, i think, stems from the castle that marks its heart. Though the castle is far from a free adventure, it’s worth every cent – so to St Margaret’s chapel and Mons Meg we went exploring.

From the castle terrace!

From the castle terrace!

Alas, with all things, there had to come an end. Nora was back to her university early the next morning and i was left to sift through the mountain of reading i’d put off. It has been a whirlwind of color, of light, and of wonderful friendship shared in the fabric of this magical city.

And yet, even while buried in essay-writing, i’m still enchanted. Perhaps that’s the secret to Edinburgh: how the magic permeates, like the curling streets, into your veins. Making you and the city almost inextricable from one another.

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Princes Street at night.

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The Castle at night!

current jam: ‘below my feet’ mumford & sons

best thing: nutella!

Maps & Gastronomy: Eating and Reveling in Edinburgh

Edward Tufte says maps are metaphors. I’m no infometrics whiz, but i like this idea – if, for no other reason, than my affinity for maps. Splayed across my wall before me is a map of Edinburgh i peeled out of my guidebook. Adjacent to it is a map of Durham, North Carolina that i plucked from a visitor’s desk downtown. Though these maps are from far-away places, the greens couldn’t be of a more identical hue.

I love this metaphor within a metaphor: a town that is known to me and a town that is new are not so very different that they are required to clash. Durham’s streets are reminders of the world that has nurtured me, and Edinburgh’s closes and squares nurtures the at-times-overwhelming feeling of falling in love with a new world.

Yet falling in love with a new place means i need to share this love with the people who make up the home in the map of my heart. I sometimes fear my noticing of the very-matched greens will be a noticing only for me. That while this world i’m coming to know in Edinburgh is vast and exciting and beautiful, it starts to make my own dot on the globe all the farther from the world i knew.

This fear, though, was deeply assuaged this past weekend: i had the delight of sharing my budding romance with Edinburgh with one of my dearest, dearest friends – Nora!

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As she is also studying abroad in the UK, Nora and i threw together a weekend excursion about the city on a whim – a marvelous, serendipitous, and delicious whim. Because i’ve been so focused on making myself feel at home in Edinburgh, i haven’t necessarily done all the typical tourist-y things one might explore on holiday. Having a guest, though, was the perfect excuse to give myself full permission to go light on the schoolwork and heavy on learning all the reasons you should holiday in Edinburgh.

And easily ranked in the top ten reasons to visit Edinburgh would be the food! Thus, this is the first of two blog posts chronicling our weekend together. And it’s all about the food. (Don’t worry, the latter will be about the actual tourist-y things we did!)

Our gastronomical tour began with the comfort food haven, Mums. “Top nosh at half the cost,” according to the website, Mums boasts of a vibrant and edgy charm: they’re home-cooked comfort mixed with urban attitude. I mean, the mac & cheese has a spice kick to it and comes with chips!* Who doesn’t love drowning in cheese and carbs? Their food is locally sourced, their service impeccable, and the deal incomparable to anywhere else. Eating there with Nora was my first time, but it will so most definitely not be my last.

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Having sated our need for traditional fare, the next evening’s meal was one reminiscent of home: Southwestern American cuisine. Living in North Carolina for so long spoiled me, with taco stands and sit-down Mexican restaurants on every block. So to tend to my poor, burrito-deprived needs, we ventured to the local Tex-Mex joint: Illegal Jack’s. It was all i wanted and more, guacamole included.

Our final dinner was at a place i’ve frequented before: 10 to 10 In Delhi, a Halal Indian restaurant with excellent chicken roti and even better student deals. If you’re looking to stretch your pounds, three quid will get you a belly-stretching meal here. We particularly loved the pretty tapestries stretched across the ceiling and the cozy couches!

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Easily the best place we visited, though, was no foreigner to me: The Elephant House Café.

I met Nora in the fall of our first year at Mount Holyoke. She was wearing a Hogwarts crest t-shirt, it was love at first sight, and the rest (as they say) was Hogwarts, A History. Nora and i are no strangers to Harry Potter-themed adventures; in the winter of the subsequent year, we attended the Brooklyn Yule Ball together. On the last day of finals. In Christmas-themed ball gowns. We’d skipped dinner in an effort to catch the last train into the city, downing rolls of bread and Dr. Pepper’s in a convenience store outside the venue as substitutes.

There aren’t many people you can romp about New York City in a gold petticoat with, but Nora has always been an exceptionally genuine and beautifully adventurous friend.

I remember gleefully turning to her, as Harry and the Potters crashed and roared over their keyboard and guitar on stage. “I’m so tired, but i am having so much fun!“she mouthed over the din. It was a magical moment to share with a dear friend then, and it was just as magical to share the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” with her this weekend over elephant-shaped shortbread and excellent cups of tea.

We were sure to leave our own note in the bathroom – signed, as ever, with our nicknames for each other: Padfoot & Prongs.

(note the painting of JK Rowling writing in the café behind us!)

(note the painting of JK Rowling writing in the café behind us!)

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Feeling known is an immense gift. I feel known by this city – but part of this feeling known comes from sharing it with an old friend. Nora and i have a history of adventures (gastronomical and literary alike!) and to make this weekend a part of that map of stories was such a treasure. My green maps still match, and the loves in my life make the most beautiful harmonies when sung together.

current jam: ‘good morning sunshine’ alex day.

best thing: a beautiful place to be with friends.

p.s. you can always find my reviews of restaurants and attractions on my tripadvisor profile!

*for friends in the states: chips = french fries, just in case your daily dose of the BBC hadn’t kept you abreast of British slang!

Learning Curve.

Life in Edinburgh is, at last, normalizing.

My morning routine of brewing a cup of Earl Grey in enough time for it to cool into a drinkable liquid is coming to feel more and more like my favorite sweatshirt. The tear in the cuff is where i last left it. It may take a minute or two to warm me up in the chilly Scottish morning, but when the warmth arrives it feels known.

But with the routine comes the knowledge that this routine is different than any other i’ve known.

Being far from home is no stranger to me; i go to school some 900 miles from Carolina comfort. I lived in Uganda for some three months. Sleep-away summer camp was an expectancy from the age of eleven. I have been blessed with opportunities to grow and explore far from the nest. Homesickness, then, is not a new phenomenon to me – and i must say, this has been the easiest adjustment to being away i’ve ever had. My living situation is supreme, i’m making real friends, and i am madly in love with Edinburgh. Even the weather (most days).

Yet no matter how prepped and rehearsed my dealing-with-homesickness treatment may be, 4000 miles is a vast distance. Sometimes, it feels like nothing at all – like at any moment, i could hop on a bike and be back in time for Hannah’s Second Helping Fried Chicken. But some days, when the rain seeps into the crevices between bones and the winter feels unyielding, it just sucks. No matter how beautiful the city, how enchanting the experience. Yesterday was one of those days.

At my pre-departure orientation whilst still at Mount Holyoke, the global learning folks shared with us this graphic:

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While, obviously, adjustment is different for each, i found then and find now there to be a lot of truth in this curve. My adjustment to Uganda was easily filled with this many troughs and crests (tropical illnesses are no bueno for the needle-phobe, being in South Sudan for independence day ranks in top ten life experiences). So far, my time in Edinburgh has been tremendously a mountaintop – and it is continuing to be. Every day i find something new to revel in. Coffee with new friends. A piggy-bank shaped like the red letterboxes lining the city streets. Mastering my own guacamole recipe.

I have to make the conscious choice, then, to seek out the growth. And the thing about growing things is this: pruning is required. Sometimes, to reach the sunshine and boundless sky, i have to clear out the weeds. I’m learning all over again how to feel the growing pains and channel them into something beautiful. So i don my rain boots, plug in my headphones, and take a walk. Remind myself, even on rain-slicked cobblestones, why i fell in love with this city to begin with. Why i call traveling my first passion. I choose to take pride in my knowledge of the winding streets. Take delight in the wonder of how small and big this world is all at once. Revel in making a routine, and come to my new home to a steaming cup of Earl Grey.

And then my roots are a little deeper, my arms stretched a little wider, and the rain makes all things grow.

current jam: ‘live & die’ the avett brothers.

best thing: padfoot.

Exploits Around the Edinburgh Castle.

School has certainly started to pick up and, as much as i would love to both endlessly explore this city, camera in hand, and write daily about my exploits i fear neither is fully possible. There are essays on Pauline discourses about sexuality to write and films to analyze for the ethical discourse that occurs therein. Ever so slowly i am transitioning from vacation-travel-new-place mode into a normalized, schoolwork-a-go-go mode.

But not entirely yet!

Yesterday, with a group of fellow international students, i got to frolic about the famous Edinburgh castle! You can see the castle from nearly everywhere in the city (tis a useful landmark when you’re lost and trying to test yourself without a map, i confess) which means that from the castle there are stunning views of the surrounding metropolis.

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I was a little too preoccupied with the skyline to really explore the history of the place, though i did get to see some of the crown jewels and the rooms where Mary Queen of Scots was born. Easily my favorite indoor place, though, was St. Margaret’s Chapel:

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The chapel is Scotland’s oldest living building, which is pretty cool – and it was built sometime in the 12th century. Easily the most interesting part of the castle, to me, was the Dog Cemetery!

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But mostly, it was just buckets of fun to muck about with new friends and take in the spread of the incredible city wide beneath us. When the blustery cold had settled into our numbing toes and fingers we went off as a group for Bailey’s and cocoa, which capped off a wonderful day!

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Anyways, i’m off to compile a list of textbooks to purchase and try and cook dinner. My endeavors so far have included pesto-marinated baked chicken with rice and (you guessed it!) a lot of eggs. Considerable growth since my time in Uganda, when all i could make were eggies in a basket and guacamole!

I’ll likely next be back to talk about my weekend trip to St. Andrews with new friends!

current jam: ‘rumor has it’ adele.

best thing: clementines.