Shalese Sees the World: My First Trip Abroad, Part Two

Mar 31

After booking the train and hotel for Edinburgh, I kept going back and forth.  Should I have done that?  Did I just try to do too much?  Will I regret missing out on doing EVERYTHING we could in London?  Did I let my obsession with seeing J.K. Rowling’s writing haunts cloud my travel judgement?!  Yes, that’s right!  I wanted to take a 4 hour train ride to Edinburgh because of Harry Potter.

As it turns out, Edinburgh was EASILY Robert & I’s favorite part of the trip.  It is indescribably beautiful, but I’ll try to describe it. 🙂

Day IV: Tuesday

We chose (or rather, I chose.  Robert let me make all of the decisions on this trip.  Every time I asked for his opinion I got, “Do what you want.  This is your trip.”  It was very sweet.) to take the train.  I Googled Ryan Air planes and did not like what I saw.  A train felt safer, and my friend Abby said that the train ride is worth the extra time.  It ABSOLUTELY was.  I loved our time on the train.  Listening to all of the different accents, seeing the coastline with lighthouses and rocky beaches, watching farmers walk across their fields full of sheep . . . it was incredible.

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Oh, and we did depart from King’s Cross because I wanted to be just like Harry Potter.

As soon as we walked up the stairs out of Waverly train station, I knew Scotland was something different.  Looking to the right, I saw H&M and other big retail stores.  To the right, I saw the huge, dark, beautiful Edinburgh Monument and Edinburgh Castle in the distance.  The divide between Old Edinburgh and New Town was PRETTY distinct!

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We hustled on down to Cairn Hotel, our home for the night, hoping they would stow our luggage until we came back to check in at 3:00pm.  It was only 11 something, but our room was ready!  I loved this hotel as soon as we walked in.  It’s like an old, tiny version of Quirk Hotel in Richmond, complete with a fireplace and chess set in the lobby.  The next morning, I would see four impeccably-dressed men gathered around the fire drinking beers.  It was 8:45am.

After dropping our things in the room and using the wifi to check in at home, Robert and I set off to check out the gorgeous church right across the street from our hotel.  This journey led us up Calton Hill, the smallest hill of seven in Edinburgh.  The views were stunning — castles one way, the Firth of Forth another.  Church steeples, castle towers, modern high rise buildings.  It’s wild.

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This is Arthur’s Seat, the tallest viewpoint in Edinburgh.  We didn’t climb it though — it was freezing and rainy, so now we have a good reason to go back! 😉

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It was, however, so windy on that hill that we immediately ran down to the train station mall to buy scarves and earmuffs.  Let me be clear . . . when I say windy, I mean that the wind literally pushed us forward as we walked.  And it nearly pushed me down a little hill because I was standing on one foot to take a picture.  Anything for the shot, amiright?

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We weren’t super sure about getting around in the little city of Edinburgh.  There was a lot of walking involved, and it was FRIGID.  Honestly, I did not pack for frigid.  To get around and learn more about the city, we paid for 24 hour tour bus tour passes, which meant we could jump on any green tour bus we saw for the remainder of our stay in Scotland.

At first, I felt REALLY gipped.  I could barely understand our tour guide, and we were only on the bus for about 20 minutes or so until we hopped off at Edinburgh Castle.  By the time we left the castle, the buses were done running for the day.  Looking back, I think we should have bought the Day Saver bus passes I saw online, but we would have had to figure out the routes and stops.  The tour thing got better the next day, but we’ll get to that!  At least we were on a bus when it started hailing/snowing!!

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Touring around Edinburgh Castle was a blur.  It was so cold I couldn’t even think!  Plus, most of it is outdoor as you walk between towers and churches.  But the views . . . my God the views were worth it!  Just when we thought we had seen the best view, we walked to a higher spot and got a completely different view.  It’s the coolest skyline ever.  🙂

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Inside the castle, we got to see where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to her only son and witnessed her BFF/secretary get stabbed 50 some times by her husband and his friends.  I’m telling you, royal history is CRAZY!!  We also saw where WWII prisoners were kept, which was really interesting.  They made INSANE little crafts with hay and bones from their meat.  Sounds weird, so you’ll have to go see for yourself!

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This was a graveyard just for the court’s dogs.  Sad, but very sweet!

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After getting politely kicked out of the Castle (we were like the last people to leave!), we walked down the Royal Mile to the tune of a man playing bagpipes.  It was perfect.  We ate at a place called Albanach, which is where I got as adventurous with food as I get.  I ate haggis, which is ground up lamb liver and stomach or something.  I didn’t think too much about that — it was delicious.  The waiter said, “If you’re in Scotland for the first time, you have to try it.”  So I did . . . I didn’t want him to think I was a loser American who only eats pizza or something.  10/10 recommend trying haggis if you’re in Scotland!!  I would have bought some to bring home, but I assume it has to be refrigerated.  Anyway!

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Day V: Wednesday

Our train was leaving at 4:30pm, so we got up early to make the most of our final hours in Edinburgh!  After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we left our luggage at the front desk and walked to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.  Robert took us on some shortcut.  He is the BEST navigator — I would follow him anywhere.  🙂

We weren’t allowed to take photos inside, so we played around outside.  :p  Once Robert saw that I didn’t get in trouble for being in the guard’s shed, he wanted to get in, too.

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The ruins of Holyrood Abbey are just breathtaking.

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Holyrood definitely FELT Scottish.  It wasn’t as luxurious as Windsor, but it feels cozier!  Plus, the views of the gardens and Arthur’s Seat are priceless.

Upon leaving Holyrood, we planned to hop on a bus and get off at Spoon, then walk down to Elephant House.  This was my pilgrimage to J.K. Rowling land.  Our first tour bus guide said that every cafe claims J.K. wrote there, but she REALLY wrote at Spoon.  It wasn’t Spoon then though.  It was called Nicholson’s, I believe.  Then it was a Chinese buffet, then it became Spoon.  I read online that someone offered the space to J.K. for one million, but she declined.

Our SECOND tour bus guide was so much more fun than the first, so we stayed on the bus! He’s the one who said I should go into Elephant House and call them a bunch of liars.  We rode through the parts of the tour we missed the day before and learned a lot more about Edinburgh.  We saw their Prime Minister’s house where there’s no security, we saw million dollar townhouses, we saw more gorgeous churches . . . it was awesome.  Robert and I were planning our next trip before we even got back on the train to London.  🙂

Once we finished the tour, my master navigator led me back to Spoon so I could soak in all the Harry Potter magic.  Robert thinks I should write a multi-billionaire dollar book series now since I got all the inspiration in.  😉  AND MAYBE I WILL because popping into Spoon for some breakfast and hot drinks was soul-filling.  Probably because it was SO COLD and pouring down rain, but also because it was just cool to think about my little literary hero in there working away.

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We tried black pudding here and had more haggis.  Black pudding was not my thing, but I’m glad I got to try it!

Next, we went to Elephant House because even though they’re a bunch of “filthy liars,” they DO have books signed by J.K. and lots of cool souvenirs.  Plus, I love elephants, and this cafe inspired my whole Edinburgh visit.  Yep, I bought a t-shirt.  But funny story, apparently a “medium” in the U.K. is more like an extra small!! Such a bummer!!!

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Thanks to my friend Alicia’s Instagram suggestion, we wandered around the Grass Markets (where they used to hang people AND sell animal feed!), and up Victoria Street, which as J.K’s inspiration for Diagon Alley.  It LOOKS like Diagon Alley, complete with a joke shop.  It’s wonderful, and there’s a Harry Potter themed store there that could have bankrupted me.  Luckily, I made it out with my new favorite Marauder’s Map mug.  But I ALMOST went home with Hermione’s wand. hahaha

We popped into a few stores and St. Gile’s Church, but far too soon, it was time to get our things and find our train.  I felt sad to leave!  As we were walking back to the hotel, Robert turned to me and said, “There’s some news.”

We spent the train ride home reading articles and hearing from our friends about the terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge.  It didn’t seem real.  Like, how could that have happened?  We were JUST there.  I’ve never been more relieved that I booked a train to Scotland.  I know it was a huge relief our moms to know that we were in Scotland when this happened.

Getting back to King’s Cross, I felt nervous about what the atmosphere would be like in London.  When we found our Air BnB after some difficulty in the dark, I was emotionally drained.  The whole world felt SAD.  And scary.  I don’t know how other people feel, but I did not love the Air BnB deal.  Our little flat was lovely, and I KNOW it was safe and fine . . . but I just didn’t FEEL safe that night.  And for the first time, I felt very, very far from home.  I would like to blame jet lag finally catching up to me and exhausting my entire being . . . I totally cried that night. Just being super honest — travel is NOT always glamorous and fun and full of adventure!

Day VI: Thursday

Our last full day in London.  Being honest again . . . I think I put too much pressure on this day to be WONDERFUL and PERFECT and full of ALL THE THINGS.  We had booked cheap-ish tickets to Wicked that night, so I was excited about that.  But the last thing on my list of “must see” spots was Westminster Abbey.  A quick Facebook search, however, told us that the Abbey was closed for tourists because of the previous day’s attack.  It was disappointing, but I definitely understood their decision.

So we formulated a new plan.  The priority?  One more full English breakfast from a hole in the wall place.  We actually traveled back to our Covent Garden hotel to go to a place we never had a chance to stop in before!  The owners spoke Italian and the cafe was full of construction workers, so we knew it had to be good.  😉

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Since it was nearby, we went into the British Museum.  They have a lot of Egyptian and Greek exhibits but . . . it was pretty dull.  I wanted to get to the National Gallery to see some Monet!!

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We saw the set up for that evening’s candlelight vigil in Trafalgar Square.  It was sobering to see a lot of extra security, including helicopters hovering overhead.

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The amount of tourists in front of 10 Downing Street was significantly lower because the street was closed just ahead.

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I wanted a last look at the London skyline, so we sat on Westminster Pier for a while just soaking it all in.  The atmosphere, as I said on Instagram, was quiet.  It felt so different from the days before.  There were always people taking selfies and pointing out landmarks and laughing . . . but that wasn’t happening so much on this day.  The flags were half mast, and it seemed like Londoners were beating on with business as usual.  But it was definitely quieter.

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But we do plan to come back sometime to see more of London, like these beautiful Whitehall Gardens that open every April.

Day VII: Friday

Our flight left at noon, and we had about an hour on the Tube to get to Heathrow, so Friday was all about traveling.  We packed everything up and left our Air BnB nice and clean!  I was WAY less nervous about flying on the return trip — I was ready to settle in with some movies and get home to my mama! :p


Train to Edinburgh: Virgin Trains East Coast (you get free wifi passes when you book online!)

Edinburgh Hotel: Cairn Hotel (definitely recommend!)

Castle Tickets: Historic Royal Palaces

Air BnB: located in the heart of Camden (great little place for two people, but I didn’t LOVE the location.  It was super close to Euston Station and shops, which was super convenient.  BUT.  It was also directly above an adult video store and a few doors down from a gentlemen’s club.  Not my favorite.)

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COPYRIGHT Shalese Danielle Photography 2017