One week into our trip! So we had to celebrate with a large meal in a cute restaurant, of course. We headed to the restaurant Hemma for a Scottish brunch (very similar to the English breakfast, except with potatoes and spinach instead of beans and the addition of haggis, a Scottish savory meat pudding).
Hemma was very conveniently situated close to Calton Hill, the headquarters of the Scottish government, and Arthur’s seat, the main mountain in Edinburgh and one of the proposed possible locations of Camelot. Granted, there are about twenty or more hypothetical locations, but it’s still pretty cool and everybody loves the Arthurian legend. Both of these mountains, along with the mountain that the Edinburgh Castle sits on, are part of the extinct Arthur’s Seat volcano system.
Afterwards, we made our way towards the main city, starting with the Royal Mile, the main street in Edinburgh’s Old Town, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along the street, you can find souvenir shops, stores selling locally made products, and interesting venues such as the Scottish Storytelling Center, the Museum of Childhood, the EdFringe shop (branching off Edinburgh’s famous arts festival, the Fringe), and much more.
Along the Royal Mile, the St. Giles’ Cathedral stands tall and regal, dating from the 14th century and serving as the main cathedral for the Church of Scotland. Many buildings and streets here are very well preserved so it’s easy to imagine what it might have looked like in the past. Because newer street systems were built over it as bridges, though, the map can sometimes get confusing because streets run along two different levels. We definitely made this mistake and ended up dragging our luggage up a huge hill, so if you ever come to Edinburgh, be prepared.
As we made our way to the Edinburgh Castle, we stopped by Victoria Street, a narrow, winding little shopping street that was the inspiration for Diagon Alley. Many of the shops here now make references to the wizarding world and sell Harry Potter themed items.
Since the main town area is really only about a mile long, we quickly made it to the Edinburgh Castle which sits atop a rocky crag known as Castle Rock, the final mountain in the extinct volcano system. Once you step into the castle, it feels almost like you have stepped into a little village in a world of its own. You can learn about Scotland’s military history, view the crown jewels and state apartments, and find spectacular views of the city.
On our way back to the train station, we stopped to take a look at the Scott Monument and the Balmoral Hotel, both right next to the train station. You can climb steep stairs to the top of the Scott Monument to get a nice view, but we sadly didn’t have time. The Balmoral is the largest and fanciest hotel in Edinburgh. Legend has it, this also happens to be the place where J.K. Rowling finished writing the Harry Potter series in room 552. For all the Potterheads and lovers of myths and legends out there, Edinburgh is definitely one of the most magical places to be. I wish we could have stayed longer, but with one night left before our flight, we were off to Glasgow!
I’ll include the rest of our U.K. trip here since we didn’t do much on Day 8 other than fly back to Iceland, grocery shop, and wait at KFC (the power of free WiFi is strong) for Ben’s flight to arrive. We got to Glasgow in the evening just in time for dinner. Of course, when in Scotland, where else would you grab dinner but at a pub? We walked down the street to a local place in the West End called The Hill. Can’t have a trip to Scotland without grabbing a steak and ale pie and trying some Scottish whisky (Jura Origin recommended by the waitress)! I don’t think I’ve quite figured out how to properly drink scotch yet, despite multiple attempts from friends to teach me. But if you’re an avid whisky lover, the whisky flights in Scotland offer many different options in terms of flavor and they sound pretty interesting.
Because we got in so late, we finally got a good glimpse of the neighborhood we were staying at in the morning. It honestly reminded us so much of San Francisco with the building styles, the hills, and the rain. Home, sweet home. We really didn’t do much in Glasgow other than eat and sleep, but I was determined to have scones with clotted cream and jam, so we made that our final breakfast in the U.K. Sadly, the lady at the bakery forgot to give us the clotted cream as well. Guess I’ll have to save that one for another trip. With that, it was back to Iceland!