When you first step into a new city, there are certain smells that rush up to greet you – smells that are entirely unique to that city and entirely different from any other cities’. Edinburgh smells of old. Not in a bad way, but a bit like your granny’s trunk filled with all the family’s heirlooms – you know – the kinda stuff that’s a bit worn and musty, but man, does it hold some good memories. Edinburgh also smells of the ocean. There are sea gulls everywhere and Andrew was “blessed” by a massive sea gull turd on his white shorts the very first day we arrived! Serves him right for wearing shorts. Which brings me to another thing about Edinburgh – it’s cold. We were there mid-summer in July and whilst the sun was shining, any slight breeze turned the temperature arctic and I have to admit that I wore closed shoes, jeans and a jumper the entire time we were there. Those commando-going kilt-wearers have, for want of a better word, balls. By the end of our stay, I understood why everyone in Edinburgh carries backpacks – to store the various items of clothing required to meet the day’s temperamental weather changes.
But enough about the smells and feels, I want to tell you about the sights. I honestly didn’t expect to fall in love with the place as much as I did. Apart from Edinburgh being just plain old beautiful, with ancient higgeldy-piggedly skinny buildings and bridges, if you’re ever contemplating a trip there you need to ask yourself these questions: do you love Game of Thrones? Did you read every Harry Potter book (and watch all the movies)? Do you love history and stories of war and literature in general? Are you fascinated by mythology? Are you intrigued by witches, ghosts, blood and gore? Do you like laughing and downing whiskey shots? If you have found yourself nodding yes to most of these questions (I see you, Rhodes kids), then I can confidently say that you will love Edinburgh and you should probably just go ahead and book yourself a trip there right now.
We really only had one whole day in Edinburgh as we arrived at lunchtime on our first day and got wildly distracted by all the massive sales in the shopping district (across the river from the Old Town) and the next thing I knew, a wander around for some desperately-needed secret socks had turned into a full-on sneaker-buying fest. (I do not regret a thing). That evening my friend Chelsea recommended that since we had only one full day in Edinburgh we should try out the famous Edinburgh walking tours. I promptly booked us a free walking tour of the Old Town for the following day with Sandemans Tours and then we headed off to dinner at David Bann, a great vegetarian restaurant that caters for vegans too (Edinburgh is hugely veg-friendly – Andy even bought me vegan haggis from the corner store and it was surprisingly good!). It was so refreshing to not see a single hunk of animal flesh offered on a menu and my omnivore husband felt in no way deprived. In fact, we left rather stuffed! I wish we had had more time to explore the many other vegan-friendly places, but because we had booked a beautiful self-catering apartment with North Bridge Lofts, we decided to eat in a lot and appreciate our amazing view (and save some pounds).
The next day, we donned our new sneakers and headed to the Starbucks around the corner to meet up with the tour. I just want to say outright, that Andy and I are not fans of tours – largely because they’re usually always the massive annoying groups with selfie sticks ruining the view of any sight you’re trying to take in. But, and I cannot say this enough, or reiterate it any more, the Sandeman Tours are AWESOME. Started by a backpacker who found the tours in Europe to be lacking in fun and finesse, he then had the idea to start his own tour company where the guides are unpaid students. The guides therefore rely only on your tips and are very hungry (or thirsty) to entertain you. Our first tour was with the lovely Sabela, who, quite simply, had us at hello. We learnt that Edinburgh was the first city in the world to have “skyscrapers”, why the expression “getting shit-faced” originated in Edinburgh (not telling), that Scotland is the only country in the world to have a mythological creature as their national animal (yep, their national animal is a unicorn. I mean… *takes a bow*) and that basically the Scots are the best people ever. Do you know that Scotland University has a degree in ghost-hunting? You just can’t get cooler than that. Sabela took us to where JK Rowling lived whilst writing Harry Potter, to the most haunted spot in Edinburgh (Greyfriars Kirkyard if you wanna google that now and see why the events that happened there between 1998 and 2006 are enough to make you get immediate goosebumps) and to see the monument of the famous Greyfriar’s Bobby. I cried when she told us the story about Bobby – not to give it away but it’s about a dog’s complete devotion and dedication to it’s owner. Sabela had us head over heels for Edinburgh in two hours flat and afterwards, we immediately booked the walking tour of The Castle and that evening’s Dark Side tour (I know, such groupies). Both were equally as good and informative and so much fun. The guides also give you great tips on other places to visit, the best museums to see (and which times to go to them) and good places to eat and party – if that’s your vibe. I found myself wishing more than once that we were staying longer to explore the city more and to head out to the Highlands for a day or two.
Edinburgh made me fall in love with history all over again and also reminded me of why I love storytelling and why I decided to get my degree in literature and history. There’s nothing quite like stepping back in your imagination to another time and place and in Edinburgh, it’s like you’re really already there. No imagination required. It’s no wonder so many great writers and poets and artists have been inspired by the city and that so many great stories have been written there. Perhaps I should check in for six months to get that long lost novel on paper and under the belt. I’ll hang out with fabulous bearded ginger Vikings, live on veggie haggis and learn how to fling back shots of whiskey like it’s apple sours. Who’s with me?