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!

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!

History and Home: Elmo’s Diner.

(Part 2 in my Hometown Tourist Summer Blog Series) 

Nestled in the corner of the tumbled-brick, rain-dotted streets that encircle the train-track epicenter of Carrboro, North Carolina, is a slice of heaven served with a side of fries. Though i dream of the days when the dust is unsettled and the nooks and crannies of yet-uncovered places are the itineraries of my soul, there is nothing akin to coming home. The warmth of familiarity, the comfort taken in the known, and the want for the expected are the irreplaceable gifts when all i want is certainty. Coming to this corner of the world is the certainty and warmth and things known i need when i, however long at last, come home.

This is why, forever and amen, Elmo’s diner will forever be my most favorite restaurant in this wide and wonderous world.

Elmo’s is entrenched in history by virtue of its very walls. Its occupation of the corner of Carr Mill Mall stands within the same foundation as when the building was hewn from redclay bricks in 1898. Though the mall now houses small boutiques and the best cole slaw this side of the Mississippi, it was first built as a cotton mill not too far from the American Tobacco District of Durham, NC, where Bull McCabes is tucked away.

However, though Elmo’s tangible history paints a portrait of compelling hole-in-the-wall splendor and quirk, the real magic of Elmo’s – for me – is in the sense of personal history. The ambience of a place dripping with local color and the milieu of a community with roots is inseparable from this sense of home-ness, to be sure, but the persistence of memory permeates and seeps far deeper than the creaking floorboards might, at first, seem.

But what i first see when tracing my fingers along with crumbly, imperfect brick walls, is how much my fingers have grown – and how unchanging and constant those walls have been. I’ve been perching on the edge of Elmo’s green booths and counter-top seats since i was six years old – young enough to be unquestioningly given a kid’s menu and cup of crayons. Elmo’s kids menus have always, at least for the last decade, garnished with a friendly duck with an “E” emblazoned on the front of a polka-dotted tea. More of my works of Elmo’s-duck-art have (shall we say) adorned the walls of the host stand area than there are sculptures by Michelangelo. My family has been dining within the confines of the fairy-lit patio since they first strung up plastic bags filled with water to stave off the ever-omnipresent North Carolina flies. I don’t bother to open the menu anymore; even after they modified the font and prices, i know precisely what i’m going to order every single time.

It helps, certainly, that Elmo’s comfort is manifested most deliciously and directly in its phenomenal diner-style food. They are most famous for their breakfast foods which are, delightfully, served all day long (i recommend a stack of two chocolate chip pancakes with, if you’re feeling ambitious, a side of grits or fruit), but anything you order will assuredly be rife with flavor and fullness. The chocolate milkshakes are nectar of angels, the biscuits are made from dough i swear to be kneaded by holy hands, and, though i don’t eat beef anymore, the burgers are known to the be the best for blocks.

Most of all, however, i can heartily endorse the one thing on the menu that i have unfailingly ordered for every lunch and dinner meal spent in the crevices of tumbled red bricks and formica counters. I can back this recommendation with, firstly, my soul, and secondly, over ten years of consistent perfection on the part of the people in the kitchen.

I give you: The Greek Grilled Cheese with Chicken.

(feast your eyes!)

This Magnificat is composed of: grilled chicken (perfectly seasons) atop a bed of fresh lettuce, tomato, onions, feta cheese, cucumbers, and more feta inside a pita smothered in cheddar cheese. I like to drizzle some of the (what i presume to be) cucumber-esque sauce that comes as a garnish on top, but save half the ramekin for dipping my fries. It’s a monster of a sandwich to consume which, therefore, requires you to look a bit like a monster while eating it. Luckily, Elmo’s is a homeplace for me which, therefore, makes it a judging-free zone when it comes to inhaling creation’s best meal. (It also helps that i try to bring people along who will love me regardless of inability to eat like a dainty lady).

(the damage done)

So whether i’m indulging in a breakfast before dashing off to work (in yet another restaurant) or sharing a slice of my hometown’s history with friends, Elmo’s is an unmistakable landmark in the Triangle area of North Carolina. The service is impeccable and hospitable, the food is supreme, and the salience of memory makes any meal a new kind of remembrance.

And when i’m feeling particularly wistful, well, the waitstaff doesn’t really mind if i color another duck to hang on the wall.

Condensed McMizziview:

Price: 1.0 – 1.5 (0 being fast food, 5 being somewhere super-fancy and of multiple courses (this menu is also contingent on size of portion & time of day))            Atmosphere: 5 (0 being fast food boring, 5 being the full experience of delicious things for eyes and mouth and ears!)                                                                                      Delectability of Food: OVER NINE THOUSAND (0 being fast food, 5 being mouth-explosion crazed-good)

For future Elmo’s Ducks: the website, the menu, and an urbanspoon profile.

current jam: ‘roll away your stone’ mumford & sons

best thing: elmo’s, when shared.