Edinburgh: Encounters with The Great Gatsby & Dumbledore

We’ve finally arrived at part 4 of my 4-part springbreak recap. Missed my posts on Dublin, Galway, or Cork? Be sure to check ’em out (and comment)! In a way, I guess you could say I saved the best for last. Although I’m not lyin’ when I tell you I enjoyed every minute of my “holiday,” (ok, besides the minutes spent lugging my duffel, backpack, and purse around) the last 2 days of our trip spent in Edinburgh, Scotland were unreal.

We were ambitious…and crazy. Only two days in a completely different, undiscovered, architectually-stunning, fantastically wonderfully country? Call us loco! In all honesty, had we been able to fly out of Edinburgh on a Sunday, we probably would have left then and had an extra day to explore the city, but can you believe there were no Sunday flights returning to Rome on that day of the week? Thus, we did the best we could with what we were given — and a return home to Saturday was a must.

Scotland — and Edinburgh in particular — was unlike any place I’ve ever been. What’s so cool about this specific city is that it has an Old Town and a New Town. The Old Town boasts the city’s notoriously famous Edinburgh Castle, built in the 12th century and inspiration for Hogwarts in J.K. Rowling’s bestselling Harry Potter novels! (More on that later…) Meandering down the Old Town’s Royal Mile was also so much fun — where else can you find shops offering this…

Kilt anyone?

or this?…

It’s breathtaking to see the variation in the architecture between the Old and New towns. You literally cross a bridge and, poof! Goodbye old, ornate stone…hello modern design. Two H&M’s mere steps from each other? A Starbucks? A sure sign we were not in medieval Edinburgh anymore! I completely bypassed both H&M’s…

…bahahaha. Did you really believe me? 🙂

Friday was spent thoroughly freezing our butts off in 30-degree weather exploring what Edinburgh had to offer, including joining in on the beginning 1/2 of a free walking tour with our brilliant guide, Gatsby. He was great. (Please tell me you all get this literary joke. If not, call your high school English teacher and ask them to so kindly explain.) I highly recommend these — they’re publicized all over town, including at your hostel/hotel if you choose to visit, and provide you with a ton of information you wouldn’t know should you just decide to roam the city on your own. The only reason we ducked out midway through was because we were literally freezing. My toes…let’s just say I had to look down to make sure they were still there. Call us spoiled, but we were not used to snow-cold weather! The rest of the day was spent strolling along the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, going as far into the Edinburgh Castle as we could (without paying), peeking into every tourist shop looking for knee-high Tartan plaid socks (we never found them), and dining at a pretty special place… 🙂

The day before we actually took a tour of St. Andrew’s (a golf admirer’s Mecca…literally the most famous golf course in the world) and surrounding fishing villages. I don’t like to brag, but I’ve gotta give credit where credit is due. We were super troopers! It was so incredibly windy…while we were standing on a lighthouse in one of the villages, I had to pull myself towards the lighthouse because I was being dragged away. (The first thing that came out of my mouth that day was, “Wow. This is definitely track weather.” Any of you past or present  track & fielders know what I’m talking about?!) Regardless of Mother Nature’s wrath, we had an unbelievable time. Really, how could we not?

  1. The Chow.

 a.) A ciabatta sandwich with grilled chicken breast marinated in a light lemon drizzle, plump tomatoes, crisp lettuce, and slivers of red onion. Accompanied by a simple (but oh so refreshing) side salad.

All folded up!

It got the job done (i.e. filling my tummy!), but it’s nothing to write home about. (Though I am writing about it, hehe….) I made sure to leave a little bit of room for our split dessert, though. We hadn’t really indulged in too many sweets over the trip, so when a delicious looking carrot cake beckoned us from the glass fridge across the dining room…well, to ignore that would just be cruel! 🙂

4 forks, please.

My favorite “bites” of the carrot cake? The nutty ends, and the bites that have a bit of cake and a little ribbon of cream cheese frosting in the middle.

b.) A deliciously sinful mocha (& a super sneaky pb sandwich)

Funny story. On our day trip to St. Andrew’s, my three friends and I stopped in for a bite to eat at a sit-down restaurant. Two of us had packed lunch, while the other two decided to treat themselves to a nice, hot lunch. I thought if I ordered a warm drink (to warm me up because of the brutal temps!), it’d be more acceptable for me to eat my brought-from-home hostel peanut butter sandwich. I ordered my mocha, and when the waiter asked me what I’d be having to eat, I told him that I had actually packed my lunch. He looked at me strangely and said in a stern voice, “Well, you’re really not supposed to eat in here. Don’t let the owner see.” Humph. Did I mention it was 1:00 and we were the only ones in this restaurant? We were giving him business — I think he should have left the ‘tude in the kitchen!

Within minutes, out came my mocha, steaming in all its chocolatey lusciousness…

(It’s much more fun to drink out of glasses like these, no?)

Dusted with chocolate? Pure perfection. (For the record, the temperature of this drink was spot-on.)

While the waiter was moving between the dining room and the kitchen (and while the owner wasn’t looking), I nabbed bites of my simple but insanely delicious peanut butter sandwich (on Irish brown soda bread)…

I never actually took it out of my purse — living on the edge!

c.) Here’s the special meal on our last night in Scotland…and not because of the food. Intrigued?

We chose to dine at The Elephant House, the small cafe where J.K. Rowling sat down to pen the first Harry Potter novel (on a napkin, rumor has it!).

Man, they capitalized on that! I was actually surprised by how quiet it was at 7 pm on a Friday night. The food wouldn’t warrant a second visit here, but the interior decor and views definitely make this a must-see-at-least-once spot.

Think elephant paintings sporadically placed on the walls…

An adorable & enticing glass bakery case with delicious looking m&m cookies and elephant-shaped shortbread (Random side note: Layne & Andrew, remember when we would beg Mom to treat us to those amazingly soft m&m cookies at the “mall” when we were younger?!)…

The bathrooms may have been the best part:

A Harry Potter collage lined one of the toilet seats!

Quick notes of thanks to J.K. Rowling were all over the bathroom walls…

And of course we had to add our name to Dumbledore’s Army:

Did I mention the view from our table was breathtaking? This could’ve been the exact spot she sat while looking out the window at the Edinburgh Castle, dreaming up Harry, Ron, Hermoine, Malfoy (Natalie), and Hogwarts…

The food? Ehh…well, everything in Scotland can’t be a 12.5 on a 10-point scale, can it? I ordered the soup of the day, Butternut Squash, which came with fresh bread. Mehh…it was lukewarm, too 😦  (I also snagged one of Ali’s bruschettas. Definitely not up to Italy standards, but decent flavor nonetheless…)

The soup was much too “broth-y” for my taste. It had maybe one or two chunks of squash. That’s it. Felt like I was just slurpin’ a veggie-based broth.

Regardless, it was such a memorable dining experience. While the other girls were engaging in conversation, I just kept repeating, I can’t believe we’re really here. Is this real? Oh my gosh, guys…this is incredible. While I wouldn’t call myself a Harry Potter fanatic (cough cough Natalie cough cough), I read all of the books and fell in love with the characters — and the stories. Her books truly had lasting impact — and encouraged and inspired a generation to fall in love with reading.

And for that, I thank you Ms. Rowling.

2. Edinburgh…through the photos.

From the greens of St. Andrew’s to the docks of Anstruther; the majestic, red Queensferry bridge to an ice cold glass of home, Scotland didn’t disappoint!

The Old Course Hotel's swanky library!

Magners...in a Miller glass no less.

The Great Gatsby!

A view from the plane

3. Random tidbits of information 🙂

  • On our tour of St. Andrew’s, we walked past the stunning University of St. Andrews, which is the oldest university in Scotland. Word is 2 royal lovebirds met on those grounds. Which reminds me…isn’t there some small, insignificant wedding coming up?
  • Hearing and seeing signs in English is completely underrated. I generally enjoy the challenge of overcoming the communication barrier in Italy, but it was a solid ten days of speaking the native language. And I loved it — no lie.
  • Scotland is cold. And windy. A native Edinburgh-er was telling Ali and me on the plane that the city doesn’t pride itself on its weather. Good thing we’re tough, cold-means-nothin’-to-us Midwesterners. Hah! As if.
  • Immediately following my friend Crissy’s proclamation: “I love Scotland,” the strains of a bagpipe could be heard in all its glory. Welcome to Scotland.
  • Even though there is tape closing off the famous Swilken Bridge on the Old Course at St. Andrew’s (where the winner stands), it’s totally worth it to duck under and snap a pic 5 0r 6 pics. (You didn’t hear it from me!)
  • Random golf one-liner: “Tiger Woods ain’t a tiger…he’s a cheet-ah!” Commence laughing. bahaha.
  • Scotland’s cuisine isn’t alllll that amazing. Nowhere near the level of their bagpipe music. While out to eat at Deacon Brodies Tavern (where I ordered my ciabatta chicken sandwich), my friend Alyssa so bravely ordered haggis, the national dish of Scotland. Though the natives love their haggis, it often times is quite unsettling to visitors (I had a bite — wasn’t as terrible as I imagined it’d be, but I’d never eat it again!). Hmm…maybe because it incorporates a sheep’s lungs, heart, and liver and looks like this? Oh, how could I forget to mention that these sheep insides are then sewn into the sheep’s stomach casing and boiled. Eat up, folks!
  • While on holiday, sometimes you simply have to create your home away from home. Thirsty but too freezing to wander the streets of Edinburgh at night, we frequented the restaurant bar next to our hostel two nights in a row. Hey, if it works, it works!

And I ask you: Frosting or cake? In honor of my lovin’ the nut-infused outside of the carrot cake (and the bites that have some cake and a ribbon of inside frosting), what’s your favorite part of a slice of cake? Are you an icing lover? Hate the sugary icing but don’t mind digging your fork into a big hunk of moist cake? Tell me….


About ciaotochow

ciao to chow: initially created as a little spot on the web devoted to the "chow" I find while studying abroad in Rome. But really, ciao to chow is about my life: the day-to-day experiences, funny stories, moments of laughter, and the food...that continue to inspire me and make me grateful for each new day.
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8 Responses to Edinburgh: Encounters with The Great Gatsby & Dumbledore

  1. I remember visiting Scotland! It was so much fun! 😀

    I say Cake. 🙂 I usually take off the frosting on my slices of Cake; unless it’s Peanut Butter. 😉


    • ciaotochow says:

      Where were you in Scotland? What was your favorite part? Tell me all about it! Oh, and I’m such a cake girl, too. I’m not a huge fan of those super sugary frostings (though I’ve been known to eat my ENTIRE slice of funfetti cake, pink frosting and multi-colored jimmie sprinkles included…hehe).

  2. MareMare says:

    Cake — I’m w/you, exactly! You are making me so hungry for carrot cake. Sounds/looks like an absolutely dynamite spring break. Chimie will love your pics of St. Andrew’s. xxoooxx

  3. Your NJ Godmother says:

    Hey Anna,
    During your stay in Scotland, did you ever wonder whether the locals around you were speaking English or some foreign language? I have a friend from Glasglow (the other side of Scotland) and the more he has to drink, the more I need an interpreter. Several years ago, I did a “haunted” tour of Edinburgh castle (at night, of course) and, yes, it is bloody cold in Scotland. To the Scots, anything above 70 is sweltering. As for cake, dpends on the frosting, but I generally prefer the cake. In my opinion, most frosting is just for looks and to keep the cake moist.

    • ciaotochow says:

      Why didn’t I know you’ve been to Scotland before? I agree — the Scots’ accent was definitely more pronounced than the Irishs’. If they were talking quickly, at times it was a little difficult to understand. But muchhhhh easier to understand than those crazy Italians 🙂 How was that haunted tour? We would’ve loved to do that had we had more time…what month did you go during…and it was still cold? Yikes! (P.S. Heard it reached some high temps in NJ the other day — jealous!)

      • Your NJ Godmother says:

        It’s been a long time and my memory is going but I believe it was also March when I was in Scotland. The haunted tour was kind of cheesy (i.e. not very scary) but they had some good stories. And, yes, it was 80 in NJ on Friday. Skipped out of work early to enjoy it. Now it’s back to 40s for the next several days.

  4. What an awesome trip! Cannot believe you went to the place where JK supposedly wrote Harry Potter!!! And carrot cake is my faaavorite dessert 🙂

  5. Julie says:

    Great photos! Looks like you guys had a lot of fun and I am TOTALLY jealous that 1.) you ate where J.K. dreamed up HP and the crew, and 2.) you ate scrumptious carrot cake! Keep up the bloggin’, I love reading!!

    The #1 C2C fan in Italy (your mom might be a bigger fan…so I said in Italy)

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