The Magical City Of Edinburgh

Nossur! I am not trying to be overly dramatic by saying that. But let me ask you one thing… Are you a Potterhead? Well then, do you know that Edinburgh is actually the birthplace of The Boy Who Lived? Well then… if you don’t know what I am talking about, let me explain it to you in muggle terminology: “Edinburgh is actually the city where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter”.

Legend has it that J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter while sitting down at The Elephant House Cafe in Edinburgh. The cafe has the spot overlooking the Edinburgh Castle, and it’s been said that it was then the lady herself breathed the life into the boy wizard.

Well… I am not a massive fan myself, so I didn’t get in to the cafe. In my defence, the cafe was jam packed with Potterheads, and my phone was dying, so all I wanted at that time was to find a place to sit and plug. So apologies for not getting photos.

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But you know what? I am not surprised that Ms. Rowling got her inspiration in this city. Not only by looking at the magnificent looking castle, I believe. The city itself offers an unlimited number of inspiration — the kind of inspiration that actually urge you to write, if you are into writing.

No, I am not overselling it, I bought a notepad because somehow I had so many thing in my head to write down, random stuff. In the hand of a more capable author, I won’t be surprised that it could end up as ten magical years of Harry Potter.

I mean, look at it. The castle, the cathedral, all the museums… the people… As someone who’s got an unhealthy appetite to languages, my ears were constantly spoiled with foreign languages around me. If I closed my eyes (I didn’t, by the way — for safety reasons, obviously) I could hear them chattering in different dialects, and languages. All of them… are aliens there. For that magical moment, I felt the sense of belonging — that I wasn’t the only alien.

That’s my personal magic moment, of course.

But, what if you don’t do Harry Potter (or you don’t read at all), and you don’t like language like me (or you don’t care about things like that)? Could you find magic in Edinburgh? Sure you can…

You know who does magic? Yes… yes… white magic, black magic? WITCHES! Yes!

If you are into that sort of thing, there are billions of ghost tours and witch hunt tour and show scattered all over the oldtown. I didn’t do it though, I though I saved it until I go back there again with my grumpkins, preferably not during the summer though…

Feeding The Alien: The Scottish Way

Where I came from, we have numerous regional food. Each province has their own way to do rice. Each city has their own kind of soup, or broth, or stew. Every time my friend and I talked about travelling locally, we would have a dedicated time of the day to savour the rich variety of food in my planet. Culinary travelling… That’s how we call it. Somehow, though, the possibility of local speciality food in Britain never occurred to me when I first arrived here.

Of course as time went by, I learned that faraway there on the South West part of the island they have Cornish Pasties, or here in Norfolk we are quite famous for our Cromer Crab. But that’s about it.

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British people are really good at making crisps, though. They’re very creative with these…

So, when I thought of travelling within the UK, culinary travelling has never crossed my mind. Yes, we do have gazillion castles, and ruins, and monasteries, and churches, and museums, and galleries, and everything that shouts history. But food… I remember one anecdote I heard before… “British people don’t have cuisine… They have food… ” Shame that I don’t really remember where I heard that.

The lack of finesse in culinary department was also depicted in Agatha Christie’s novel, where our beloved Belgian sleuth, Poirot had to deal with British food. That’s been the running joke, of course. I do love British food, and I think some of them are simply gorgeous. However coming from a culture that worship food, I can totally understand Poirot’s frustration

Therefore, after trying several fry-ups, and fish and chips, I have to admit that I didn’t have a lot of expectation about British food. And, all those rambling was just to justify my ignorance of Scottish food.

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The ignorant me thought that Scottish food means Oatcakes

 

 

The first time I went to Scotland was just to go to a rock concert. In the B&B, I was offered “Full Scottish Breakfast”. I was excited then, but I realised that what I got there was basically fry ups which the English called “Full English Breakfast”. I am pretty sure if you go to Cardiff, they will call it “Full Welsh Breakfast”. So, I have decided for a while, so that I wouldn’t offend anyone, I might just call it “The Fryups”.

Since then, and until I went to Edinburgh last week, I never went to Scotland anymore. My knowledge about Scottish food was limited to whisky, and oat — both in oatmeal and oatcake. Ooooh, don’t get me wrong. I LOVE oatcakes. Scottish rough oatcakes, plain — just the best way to enjoy it. And whisky… well, I am not so good at handling my alcohol, so I have to be careful with that pokey stuff.

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No, I haven’t drunk it yet. That drip of 25ml is the serving size
I did try local whisky in Edinburgh. My goodness, it felt like my face and throat melt on the first sip. I have to say though, the aftertaste was wonderful… In case you wanted to try it too, I tried: Highland Park 12 Year from Orkney. I tried it in Bar 50 in Edinburgh.

If you’re into a less pokey alcoholic drink, there’s also a local product called Hollyrood pale ale. Fruity and tasty, but if I have to choose, between both, I will pick the whisky.

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This one has a better serving size…
But the best thing about Scottish food is what I just learned on my last visit to Edinburgh. And it is called: Haggis.

Okay… a lot of people would ask about what Haggis actually is, but then when I explain they would go, “eeew…. you eat that?” Seriously, why the hell not? It is probably one of the best thing I have every tried. When I had my first bite of Haggis, it was the moment I questioned everything in life, and wondered to myself: How could I live without knowing anything about this food?

Well, it was a bit hyperbolic. But I am being serious about how tasty it is.

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No, I am not joking. This is a smaller portion.
I heard about Haggis for so many years from my grumpy darling, but only when I was in Edinburgh I got the chance to finally tasted it. It was not without struggle though. Most of Scottish food was served in a gigantic portion, which I could never be able to finish without hurting myself permanently. My opportunity came when I found a restaurant who served both Haggis, and children size fryup breakfast.

I asked the lady if I could swap the bacon with the haggis. Don’t… I know bacon is tasty, but trust me, there is world outside bacon. And the swap was worth every bite, okay? And with that, I owe a huge apology to Scotland for my ignorance about your food culture. Your Haggis has opened my eyes and satisfied my taste buds.

There you go… Scotland fed me, and it fed me well… I am a happy alien.

The Good People Of Edinburgh

I did mention earlier that some part of the city did let me down, but I have to say that IF I ever decides to move to this city, it must be because of the people. Yessur… not the tourists I am talking about, but the people of Edinburgh.

At first, I thought Edinburgh is just the northern version of London. I mean, you see the building constructions, the crowd, the traffic, the noise, the late night entertainment… even the parliament. I thought the only differences were the accent and the sense of fashion, but after staying for only few days in Edinburgh, I was proven wrong.

People in Edinburgh were very friendly, and kind to me, and were incrediblty thoughtful.

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Nossur, not the tourists…
When I was in the visa application centre, I had to make another photocopy of my passport because the copy I brought was not the correct standart photocopy they wanted. Fair enough. They have got a photocopy machine in the reception area which everyone can use for 20p per sheet — I suspect it happens a lot when people forgot to make a copy, or something like that. And I walked to the photocopy machine, with my passport on my hand.

Okay, I have operated photocopy machine before, but one photocopy machine is not the same with the other. I don’t know this one, and I don’t like how it looked… these guys were a bit shifty. So I went to the reception and asked the lady there how to get going with these machines.

After knowing that I was only going to make one copy, she decided to make one copy with her own machine. For free. I mean… what?

On the way back home, I took the bus which costs £1.60 for a single trip. Which is totally fine. I had the money, and I was prepared to pay. No biggie.

But I had it in a big banknote, and I guess the bus driver didn’t have change for that. So, instead of sending me off walking back to the city (or make me buy some sweets from poundshop), he asked me how much I had in change. I showed him all the pennies I had in my pouch, and he said…

“That’ll do…”

And off I went.

Wasn’t it wonderful, the kindness and thoughtfulness. They obviously know that I was alone, and that I wasn’t from the neighbourhood. I mean… I did look a bit like a lost puppy sometimes. But really… That would never ever happen to me in London…

BUT… the most memorable character in Edinburgh is definitely the woman who I call “The Singing Punk Spinner of St. Giles Cathedral”. Why I called her that? Why not?

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This is the cathedral, you’d find her there…
Okay… If you ever had the chance to go to Edinburgh, walk the Royal Mile to St. Giles Cathedral. I saw her there twice, and I assume that it was her spot. It is not easy to miss such a character like her there — a skinny lady with punk hair spiking straight up. She wore a tartan corset, and a pair of leather boots. She sat on he wooden stool, spinning on her wooden spinning wheel. Like I said, she’s hard to miss… but just in case you don’t see her, try to listen…

She sang a kind of folk song about spinning wool… sometimes in English and sometimes in Scottish. I wish I could understand what the song was about.

I didn’t take her photo, nor record a video of her, because she refused to be photographed or videotaped. I think it is only proper to respect her wish not to take her photo or video without her consent. If you’re there and you want to take photo or video, make sure you ask her first. Okay? Remember… without consent… it is B A D.

 

More Museums…

Edinburgh made me realised that there is a museum for everyone. I believe that there is a strong correlation between the kind of museums you enjoy, and your personal background. The British Museum and the Scottish National Museum for example, are great museums, and I know a lot of people who enjoy them. But if you ask me, I pick York’s Jorvik Museum or Leeds’s Thackray Museum every time. So, my opinion about the museums I am going to mention next is not necessarily reflect the quality of the museum, okay? It’s just how I enjoy one better than the others…

Right… Disclaimer’s done, now the museums…

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The third museum I went to was Edinburgh Museum. I saw this museum when I was on my way back from the Scottish Parliament building, it’s not far from there. Although it is small, you would spot it quite easily as the colour is bright — contrast to the other surrounding buildings.

Don’t let the size and the facade of the building fool you though. It is free, so come and have a look, you might be surprised. They have a lot… and by a lot, I mean a lot of artefacts related to the city of Edinburgh. Silverware, glassware, and ceramics… Some artefacts from war time as well. Even if you don’t like looking at stuff, you can enjoy the building too.

Ooh… I enjoyed walking around the house, among the creaking floor and wonky doors.

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The next museum was also like that. The People’s Story is only few metres away from Edinburgh Museum. It is a bit more obscure, as the facade of the building blends really well with other buildings surrounding it.

I think among the three museums, I like this one the most.

Instead of offering stuff to look at, The People’s Story offers me… well.. story. There are a lot of well made mannequin, dressed up to show how life was in the old time in Edinburgh. The best thing is, it is also from the real people who used to live in Edinburgh. I really wish this museum was bigger, so there would be more story to tell…

This museum is also free, but I think donation is very much well appreciated. They have a really funky donation box near the reception.

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The last museum before I went home was The Museum of Childhood. This museum was awarded with some tourism something, but at that time I thought it was slightly overrated. However, now I think my opinion about this museum is pretty skewed because of the situation.

Compared to the last two museums, this museum was in a much better condition. Located in a busy high street, it was crowded with at least three groups of school kids. I was expecting a museum where old people reminiscing their childhood, instead of museum full of small noisy children. So yeah, my opinion is very bias. I could have enjoyed it better when I can stop and actually look at the stuff without all the noise.

Oh by the way… I am not showing you any photo of the stuff inside. You have to come yourself if you want to see 🙂

Have fun!

The Museums…

You bet! I am going to talk a lot about my trip to Edinburgh in this blog, so if you really don’t want to hear about it, you can come back next week. You know.. like when you go decide to avoid going to any shopping centre until Christmas is over because you can’t stand listening to Jingle Bells in the background. Yea… more or less the same.

Anyway, Edinburgh… Like I said in my previous post, Edinburgh has plenty of museums. It is with my deepest regret — and I do blame the timing, that I cannot visit them all. I tried to visit those which is located near where I stayed, the ones that I though is interesting, and was open when I visited, and also… without entrance fee. Yes… interesting enough for me to take the walk, and accessible (close, open, and free of charge). Sadly.. it means I didn’t go to the Surgeon’s Hall Museum, and Edinburgh Castle, because they’re not free. I’ll save it later when I go there with Grump, or my siblings.

I visited there five Museums. I only have three days there, and also an appointment in the visa application centre as the priority in my itinerary. So, five museums, I think it is good enough.

 

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It doesn’t look like that in reality, but the panorama mode with me standing in one place makes the photo looks slightly bendy…

The first one, is the National Museum of Scotland. It is a massive stone architectural structure — I deliberately said that because “building” doesn’t cover it. It’s so massive, I don’t think you can finish looking at every single item in it in one day. Note if you want to visit this place, come early and bring something to eat if you don’t want to spend money on the cafe (hey, I am telling you how to have a fun travelling with minimum budget!).

It is like the British Museum in London, but with an awesome Scottish twist in it. There is a section dedicated for the history of Scotland and the kingdom of Scotland. So yes, if you went to British Museum before, you can now imagine how big the place is. If you like this kind of museums, I suggest you allocate a whole day in this place with rest in between. I believe they have a cloakroom, so you can have your heavy rucksack stored while you’re taking your time there.

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The next one is The Writers’ Museum. Of course! We have to go there, don’t we? It is a little bit of an effort to get to this one. The location of this little museum is a little bit hidden behind the crowded shop, just off the bustling street of Royal Mile. You could easily miss it if you don’t have your keen eye… or your trusted Google Map with you. Like I said… an effort.

Having this dream of one day being a writer myself, I made it my quest to visit this museum even before I set my foot on Edinburgh soil. I thought, I might learn something, or get myself possessed by a great writer, or something like that… However, I think it is a little bit cheeky to say that this is the Writers’ Museum, isn’t it? Because, to be honest… it is actually The Scottish Writers’ Museum — mainly three biggest writers Scotland has — Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I went to this place, but definitely more than three writers (which works I haven’t even read).

My goodness I am rambling again. I think I need to save the other museums for next one, as I do really need to rest my finger to some good stuff with food. See you around.

Choo… Choo…

I think one of the best thing I like being in the UK is the trains. It is so easy to travel in this country, compared to where I came from. I think the transport system is very well maintained, and managed, and it is very comfortable too (especially if you are in the “QUIET” carriage).

Of course a lot of people here love to moan about the train. But they do love moaning about everything under the sun — see Grumpy for the best example.

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You see this from your train window, you know you’re close 😀
Anyway, I came back from Edinburgh. It is, I believe, the capital city of Scotland. That was my first time ever visiting the city, and I was extremely excited about the adventure that was about to happen. Although, I must say, that my main mission to go up North is to apply for a Schengen visa.

Why didn’t I apply in London, though? Well, that’s a good story of mismanagement, and disorganisation. Lesson learned — organise better next time.

Now back to Edinburgh… It was… uhm. I wouldn’t go as far as disappointing, because I love museums, and Edinburgh has loads of them — free and paying. Just on the top of my head they have: The National Museum of Scotland, Museum of Edinburgh, The People Story, Museum of Childhood, Surgery Museum… and those don’t include places like The Edinburgh Castle, or the galleries.

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They do know how to impress you with their massive imposing structures…
The buildings were incredible — something that Grump could appreciate better than I did. The gardens were so beautiful. And the view… Oh the view was majestic. Unlike our lovely Norfolk Broads, Lothian has this hill and valley, the terrain that add this extra seconds of breathtaking moments. It just can’t be translated into words. This is where picture does better than my mere explanation…

But… oh what a dirty road. I mean… not just dirty with dirt. There are a lot of dog poos, and they’re everywhere. I don’t know… in Norwich they are very rare, and most of the time you won’t find it in the high street. But you do in Edinburgh… in front of one of the museums, even. So I assume dog owners don’t bother with criminal persecution for not picking up after their dogs. NOT the kind of people I want to be around, obviously.

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The Edinburgh Castle is probably the most crowded of all. This is probably my seventh take of the photo, because there were always too many people in view.
And the city… It is so crowded and so touristy. You bump into people everywhere. It’s almost as packed as London. The city is big, but the street feels claustrophobic, especially with the construction sites everywhere. It doesn’t feel welcoming, although when I was there it was unexpectedly warm — well, warmer then the Southern part of the island anyway.

But in the end, I must say, I enjoyed the whole experience. I haven’t done it for a very long time, and I was most definitely refreshing and inspiring. And as much as I do love coming back home, this little trip to the North has a wonderful reminder why I was a wandering Alien to start with.

Aaaaand, I will write about it another time, because it’s lunchtime, and I love my lunchtime.