Where London is a place of urgency, time ticking faster than the mind can comprehend; Edinburgh is a quiet roar, aware of the demands of modern life and also a place where golden age tranquility can be found; in the streets, the stores, and the food.
Located on George IV Bridge, “The Elephant House” is a cafe and restaurant well worth the visit. A source of inspiration for the likes of JK Rowling, Ian Rankin, and Alexander McCall-Smith, it is no challenge to see how. Bold beams of sunlight pour in through the wide windows, basking the back room in an orange glow. The constant smell of baked goods and the comfortable chairs immediately sets you at ease. This is a place anyone could call home. Ordering a chocolate orange cake and an Elephant Treat – hot chocolate with brandy, Kahula and whipped cream – I was in heaven. The cake was a moist, savoury sweetness of chocolate filling balanced by the spongy texture and orange-flavoured undertones. The drink was definitely a treat, tasting the sugary tones of the hot chocolate and the warm, sudden flavour of the alcohol.
Leaving “the birthplace of Harry Potter”, I happily headed off to Calton Hill. A landmark of landmarks, Calton Hill has it all – a perfect view of the city, sea, and mountains. Out of all that the space had to offer, everyone flocked to the National Monument. Once intended to be a replica of the Parthenon in honour of the soldiers lost in the Napoleonic Wars, insufficient funds meant that it never met completion. But I think it was for the better. The steep nature of the construction makes it utterly unique. Strangers call out to each other, asking for help to take a photo, climb onto the construction, or fumble off of it. A lovely group of Asian students asked me to take their photograph on the Monument. After doing so, one of them held out his hand for me and patiently helped me up the steep side.
The next day I started by taking a step into France. “La Barantine”, a café restaurant – I admit to a mild obsession – was a step into artisanal paradise. Placed near the bottom of Victoria Street, the winding street is allegedly the inspiration for Rowling’s Diagon Alley. Inside La Barantine, indie music sounded through the speakers, beautifully sung by one of the staff. Skillfully created pastries displayed at the windows enticed you inside. At the counter, croissants, rolls, scones, and baguettes gave you a come-hither look. I ordered a bacon and cheese quiche, hot chocolate, and a raison roll. All of these I highly recommend. The quiche was a cloud, well seasoned with a welcome bite from the saltiness of its ingredients. Its side salad, topped with nuts and mature cheese, was complemented with acidic vinaigrette. If I had the money and time, I would’ve eaten there forever.
Near the top of Victoria Street lies John Kay’s. Mostly focused on selling vintage books, the store boasts a classic aesthetic. Its polished wooden shelves and collection of antiques – both real and imitation – quirks your lips into a nostalgic smile. Toy airplanes and a hot air balloon decorate the ceiling, calling to your imagination. Antique canes sit in concentration in the corner, one bearing the likeness of Churchill himself. The kind young woman that worked there happily shared in my enthusiasm for the store’s style and substance. I left the store happily, a tote bag bearing a design of the store’s façade tucked neatly in my bag.
The staircase leading up to Edinburgh Castle was less than a minute away. Once inside the castle, I joined a free tour around the castle grounds. This would be the most entertaining half hour of my time in the city. The guide, a greying man named Donal, had youthful eyes and a sharp wit. Gesturing to the land across the stretch of water, Donal noted all the places tourists mistook it for: Ireland. France. America. “First off, we’re not even on the right side of the world. We’re on the right.” When he introduced us to Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest in Scotland, he started off by saying, “it’s great for the father of the bride. Only holds twenty-five, very affordable wedding”. Thirty minutes flew by in his company, and I was sad when the tour was over.
After the castle, I had just enough time to take one last leisurely stroll through the city and towards Waverly station. My eyes poured over the buildings, my feet noted how the finely preserved cobblestone felt under them. And I promised myself to visit again.