I wasn't intending to travel until July but three weeks ago, I finally went to Edinburgh after more than fifteen years in the UK. Thanks to my niece for suggesting that we should go to a place where we both haven't been before.
So, it was time to see my old friend again (that is Easyjet) as we took the 0825 flight from Gatwick Airport. The forecast was rain and wind, but luckily when we arrived in Edinburgh at around 10am, the sun was shining. It wasn't that windy until about midday.
Our first stop was at the Edinburgh Castle. We decided not to go inside the castle because we only had five hours in Edinburgh, but just being at the castle satisfied the tourist in me. I loved the brick cobblestone pathways and castle walls the most, and of course the astonishing view of Edinburgh from the castle.
As we walked down from the Edinburgh Castle, the towering gothic spire of The Hub caught my attention. It is apparently the highest point in central Edinburgh.
We then passed through the beautiful cobblestone street of The Royal Mile.
As you would expect when I travel, we took the wrong turn on our way to Old Town. We turned right at The Hub instead of going straight through the end of The Royal Mile towards the High Street. Luckily, my niece is one of those people who likes getting lost and taking the road less travelled. Therefore, we had fun going around the circle and finding our way to where we were supposed to be.
We might have lost at least half an hour taking the wrong route, but at least we came across some really great finds like the attractive door of St Columba's Free Church.
And the view of the Edinburgh Castle sitting on Castle Rock, plus a very blue sky.
That was it for me really. I just wanted to see the Edinburgh castle. But apparently, I was in for some magical experience as my niece took me on a surprise Harry Potter walking tour. No, we didn't join an official tour. We did it all by ourselves. Just like how JK Rowling did it- but not quite.
So, to begin our Harry Potter adventure, we went back to The Royal Mile. Along the cobblestone street is a strikingly beautiful architecture with its stunning crown spire- the St. Gile's Cathedral. Unfortunately, we were unable to enter the church due to time constraints.
Between (Royal Mile) High Street and Lawmarket is George IV Bridge where our Harry Potter walking tour began. Now, I am not a Potterhead to know exactly everything about the "magical" places that we went to. In fact, I only learned about these places after my niece told me about them. But I did a bit of research, so hopefully, somehow I can give justice to our Harry Potter experience.
We started our Harry Potter journey in Victoria Street, the inspiration for Diagon Alley.
Then we carried on towards the top of George IV Bridge to Greyfriars Kirkyard.
I have been to at least three cemeteries in the past to look for tombs of famous people ( Edgar Degas and Oscar Wilde in Paris, Franz Kafka in Prague and Karl Marx in London), and I can't say that I enjoyed the experience. The quietness of the cemeteries was disconcerting. I could almost feel the spirits around me.
But Greyfriars Kirkyard was different. It was like walking in a garden. I didn't find it creepy at all despite the fact that it is apparently the most haunted cemetery in the world. Perhaps because I was imagining JK Rowling exploring the area one winter day in her black trench coat and knee-high boots, hands in her pockets and just gazing at each and every grave.
I am going to say this as a wanna-be Potterhead, but it is in Greyfriar's Kirkyrad that JK Rowling found the inspiration for Lord Voldemort's real name - Tom Riddle.
Of course I didn't know that until my niece told me about it. I am one of those people who watches films and will never remember the name of the characters.
Anyway, Tom or Thomas Riddle's grave was seemingly difficult to find. We started right from the back of the cemetery. We probably would have spent another 30 minutes looking for it if someone didn't scream, "it's here!". Eureka!
Basically, in order to find Tom Riddle's grave easily, you have to walk towards the back of the church and go straight past the Flooding Wall. Take immediate right and then slightly right then turn left. The view should be the one in the photo below. Tom Riddle's grave is the second to the last one on the right.
At the back of the graveyard is the private school George Heriot's School- the inspiration for Hogwarts.
Then it was time to have lunch. J's Mum sent us a magazine that featured the top 100 best restaurants in Britain a few days before our Edinburgh trip, so I looked into it and found Ondine Restaurant. It was our best choice because we (my niece and I) both love seafood. It's a bit expensive but it's worth every penny.
The food was so delicious that even if my niece has an allergy to seafood, she indulged herself like she didn't have a care in the world. I only found out about her allergy when I noticed that her nose was suddenly blocked. Of course I panicked, but she reassured me that this has happened a lot of times before so I didn't have to worry. Phew! But I still gave her an anti-histamine just in case.
2 George IV Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1AD
And then came the highlight of our Harry Potter tour- coffee at The Elephant House. This is apparently where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, and my niece being a proper Potterhead, had to re-enact the moment.
The Elephant House provides a magnificent view of the Edinburgh Castle and the Greyfriars Kirkyard. No wonder JK Rowling chose to write her book here. It is such an inspiring little place.
The Elephant House
21 George IV Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1EN
Our Harry Potter adventure didn't end there. We headed to Edinburgh's New Town to check on The Balmoral Hotel, where JK Rowling finished the last Harry Potter book. The route via North Bridge provided us with some stunning views.
The last thing on our itinerary was the Holyrood Palace. It was a good 15-minute walk from The Balmoral Hotel. It appeared that my niece is more knowledgeable about the British Monarchy than I am. Her fascination is quite admirable.
So, she was telling me all about Mary, Queen of Scots as we strolled down Carlton Road on our way to the Palace. I was being educated amidst magnificent views and beautiful historic buildings.
When we arrived at the official residence of The Queen in Scotland (Holyrood Palace),it was almost time to go back to the airport.
This trip to Edinburgh is special to me as it was my first time to actually hang out with my smart and inspiring niece. I saw her in California a few years ago but we only spent time in the car on our way to meet another friend for dinner. This trip was our proper bonding moment. It's amazing how much we've learned from and about each other. I am so glad that we had this opportunity to spend time together.
Edinburgh on the other hand, is a wonderful, wonderful place. This is all I can say about Edinburgh, if all else fails in London, I would move there. Sorry Cambridge.
This trip is indeed one of the best five hours of my life.