Author’s Note: I have taken at least one solo trip to an entirely new destination every year since 2012. I find that when you travel on your own, you learn a lot of things about yourself, and your senses are on high alert, putting you in prime condition to really drink in everything around you. In 2012, I went to Kathmandu, Nepal (read about that in this travelogue). In 2013, I went to Bali (incredibly belated post in the works). And in 2014, I went to Edinburgh as a long weekend sojourn in the middle of Jay and my London vacation. Here is the long overdue digital transcription of my log of that trip. (Note: I did not have my SLR with me on this particular trip so these are all Samsung phone photos)
Platform 9 3/4
My journey to Edinburgh actually began in London. My fiance and I had made a 2 week trip of it in mid-July to see his old haunts, meet his best friends, and get him in the vicinity of Europe for his family’s annual reunion in Holland. He wanted me to come to that as well, but being a Filipina, getting a visa to both the UK and Europe requires your passport to be unavailable to you for at least 3 weeks. Between work and personal travel, that just would not do. As such, I had to prioritize getting the UK visa over the Schengen, and just raincheck a greater European trip for another day. That left me with a window mid-trip to go it alone for a long weekend in July (4 days), while Jay made off to the Netherlands. I had the choice to either stay in London and explore it more deeply (let’s face it, London doesn’t ever really get old), or go somewhere completely new. At the time, I figured might as well stick with my “tradition” and hit up somewhere I’d never been – besides, I wasn’t quite sure when I’d next be in the area. Thus, Scotland it was! I purchased train tickets early to take me from Kings Cross St Pancras to Edinburgh Waverley first thing my first morning alone.
The day Jay left for Holland, we split ways at the tube and I proceeded to explore the Trafalgar Square and St. James Park area with an old Church friend from Manila – Adi. We traded stories about school, graduation, work, life, faith, books, photography, travel; and ended the afternoon lounging in Green Park while I munched on fresh peaches before we split ways. I then made my way back to Stanmore, where Jay and I were staying with one of his closest friends – Abhishek. When I arrived, Abhi was just home from work, and suggested we do a market run to cook some dinner. We bought some chicken and vegetables, and when we got back home I made a classic Filipino dish of Chicken Adobo and mixed veg stirfry (using carrots, string beans, bean sprouts, and onions) – served with rice. We ate on the terrace in the backyard as the blue sky turned orange with sunset, and the trees rustled in the light breeze. We were lucky to have chosen the exact 14 days that the UK experiences an actual summer – where the clouds clear, the sun comes out, and the locals sunbathe on every patch of public grass to replenish their Vitamin D stores for the rest of the dreary year.
The next morning, I departed with my hiking pack bright and early for my train and made for Kings Cross. Admittedly, my little Harry Potter heart beat steadily, faster and faster the closer we got. Upon arrival, the Platform 9 3/4 area was completely devoid of tourists – it being too early for that, and it would’ve been the choicest moment to take a selfie, but lacking in such skills, I chose to simply admire it up close, give it a little fangirl stroke, and go on my way.
I boarded the train shortly thereafter and began my journey to Edinburgh.
Pig In A Poke
Upon arrival at Waverley Station, I knew I had a bit of time to kill before meeting my host – Silja. When I am on personal travel alone, I have had many a wonderful experience with Couchsurfing. It requires a keen eye, lots of prep beforehand, and ideally a good read on people, but I’ve not had a negative experience yet – whether hosting or surfing myself.
In this case, my host, whom I will call “S” (I always stay with other women when traveling alone) was still working for the next 2 hours, so I walked myself and my clunky 40-L North Face hiking pack into the city for lunch. As I wandered around the romantic cobblestone streets, I chanced upon a pedestrian alleyway lined with all kinds of cafes and restaurants. In the left corner of my eye, I spotted a little sign that said Pig In A Poke, and the scent of fresh roasted pork wafted through my nose like a siren’s call.
I walked into the overheating tiny shop, ordered myself a “cone” of roast pork (you could see the meat, tender as it rotated over the heat. The friendly young man handed the cone to me with a healthy ladle of applesauce on top and I took my pig, my pack, and my appetite with me back out into the sunny 16-degree weather.
Princes Street Gardens
Following the Map, lunch in hand, I wandered through the Sir Walter Scott Memorial and down into Princes Street Gardens. There I found a quiet patch of grass amongst the bustle, and pulled out my book to read as I ate.
After some time, I checked my watch, and realized I should make my way toward our meeting point: the easy, internationally recognizable Starbucks by George Square (right by the University of Edinburgh and the Meadows). Gathering my things, I took the leisurely walk that way, stopping only momentarily at a lovely juice bar/cafe (Hula) where I purchased myself the most delicious blondie I’ve ever eaten (made with sweet potato!).
S met me right on time – a lovely lady, slightly younger than me, but wise beyond her years. Originally from Finland, but a citizen of the world. She brought some delicious fresh bread with her for us to share, and we chatted for another hour or so, picnicking on the Meadows, before we walked home.
Home was a sweet (and surprisingly large) 1-bedroom flat with a sofa bed, which she set up for me kindly. There was a lovely kitchen with ample counter space and a breakfast nook that let the light in. It was in a neighborly side of town, quiet, and filled with other similar walk-ups. Down the street was the bakery S worked at, and a cheesemonger right next to it with all types of fresh, organic, naturally-aged cheeses. In short: Heaven.
I got showered and settled, and S generously prepared a healthy salad and some sliced cheeses for dinner. We dined, and drank wine, and chatted.
Later on, her ethnically Chinese boyfriend, whom I will call “M” and was actually French Polynesian, came home and we engaged in more banter. We talked of current affairs, books we were reading, futures we were imagining, lives we were planning. They gave me some maps, wrote lots of advice on them in pen, and turned in for bed before midnight.
I settled in shortly after and slept.
Day 2 was spent exploring Old Edinburgh. Both S and M had full, long days at work and so I had the time to myself (and a key, too).
On my way out, I chanced upon a neighborhood market, and purchased a bag of cherries and a peach to munch on for breakfast and snack on throughout the day.
My first stop in the morning was Holyrood Abbey and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. I paid the small premium to enter the palace with an audio guide and enjoyed the tour immensely before heading back out to the Abbey for more photo opportunities.
After that, I walked my way back into the city for a quick proper lunch. It didn’t take me long to find The White Hart (a pub behind Edinburgh Castle), and close to direct stairs access to the actual castle grounds. Score! I purchased myself some sparkling water and my first haggis, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved the questionable lump of offal and discombobulated meats.
Having finished my meal, I walked up the stairs to the castle, where I enjoyed a scenic walk around the grounds, the souvenir shop, and the Edinburgh Whisky Tasting Experience (which I did not pay to go on, but had fun picking a few mini bottles up for Jay at the shop nonetheless).
While I was scouring the souvenir shop for small gifts for my family, I discovered a sign for day tours to the Highlands and Loch Ness (yes home to the famous Nessy/monster). Doing some math, I discovered I would likely be able to see all I wanted to see in Edinburgh within the remains of the day, and would have one last full day coming up to see more. The Highlands seemed a most attractive proposition, and so I signed up for a tour (rather pricey at £60 but it would come with a lunch coupon, return trip on the bus, and a bus driver cum tour guide who they promised would be funny). I had never actually paid to go on a tour before while traveling (except in museums), so this would be a first for me, but seemed a good deal. So I took it. They printed my ticket for me at the shop, and I went on my merry way.
I spent the rest of the afternoon, exploring nooks and crannies of the city: a quick sojourn to the Portrait Gallery with S as she was luckily on break for an hour. And a visit to St. Giles Catherdral, as well as St. John’s Church where I found the quaintest, tiniest hidden bookshop, before I sat to have a light sandwich dinner at a neighborhood spot on the way home.
My last full day in Scotland was my favorite despite all the wonders of Edinburgh (and I did miss Arthur’s Seat, to be fair, so I must make a trip back someday). I walked to the bus meeting point (Edinburgh Castle) very early, with another peach and crackers and goat cheese for an on-the-go breakfast.
I was early enough to grab the front most seat by the driver and command one of the best views (with full windshield and side window views – excellent). The driver was, as promised, pretty hilarious – spewing Scottish puns and sarcasm every which way. He took us through many gorgeous spots, educating us on their history and letting us hop off the bus to take photos.
By the time I mad it back to S & M’s, it was 10.30pm, and I was exhausted but happy. We shared some red wine and cheese and olives, and all went to bed early.
The next morning, my train was leaving at 8, so I left a thank you note and the keys by the door as promised, but before I could go, S came out to give me one last big hug – sweet as she is.
Halfway along my walk to the station, I noticed some black Austin FX4’s driving by – the classic London taxi of yore. As such taxis (or really any kind of taxi) can be so expensive in London, and everything in Scotland was at least 30% cheaper, I decided, well what the hey, why not, and hailed one. He took me swiftly to the train station, and I paid him a hefty £6 for my 5 minute ride, but I was glad to have ticked yet another thing off the bucket list.
30 minutes later, I was on my train, and on the way back to London to reunite with Jay, and our friends, and another wonderful city. While I was excited, I was glad for the time spent in Edinburgh, and look forward to visiting again one day.