It Was a Bloody Pineapple!: 7 Days in Edinburgh
The first time I was in Edinburgh it was 2011. I was fresh out of college and still mostly clueless about the world. Doe-eyed, moving to Boston in less than a month, and uncertain about my future, I booked a trip with my sister and we hopped around the UK. The two days we had in Edinburgh were spent dodging crowds at the Fringe, eating chips and curry, and being perpetually soaked.
I loved it.
Flash forward nearly 6 years and I was going again, only this time I would be more prepared. I decided to do some research.
My views of Scotland prior to this adventure were advised by three different sources: Trainspotting, the stories of Loch Ness (especially the terrible book by Sara Gruen "At the Water's Edge"), and Brigadoon.
And oh yes, Braveheart.
So I expected everyone I met to be kilted, painted blue, singing, and completely off their face, or at least, I hoped for it.
And, except for the blue paint, this is exactly what I got. Plus a few delightful extras.
Day 1: 3:15 AM Over Greenland
We took a red eye out of Boston Logan and the sun never set. Instead, it lingered over the horizon shining its brilliant light in through our window, making sleep impossible. We were trapped in a fugue state in the land of the midnight sun. Our WOW flight landed in Reykjavik at 4:30 in the morning.
It was a brief layover, just enough time to grab the only pre-made vegan sandwich from the only food stall in the airport, before getting on the second flight to Edinburgh. It was swift and mostly uneventful (although, stay to the end if you would like to hear my rant about the indecency that is WOW air.)
We landed around 10:30 in the morning, collected our bags and got through customs in under 10 minutes. I shot a quick message to our Airbnb host, asking as politely, and perhaps a little pitifully, if she wouldn't mind us checking in early. To our relief she said yes, come along anytime after noon.
After a bit of aimless wandering in search of ticketing, we found an information booth, and each bought a return (American: roundtrip) ticket for £7.50, and hopped aboard the Airlink Express – the direct connection between Edinburgh airport and Waverley station, with a few stops in between. It takes all of half an hour.
From Waverley, arguably the busiest spot in all of Edinburgh, we maneuvered through the crowds and the hawkers, and the bagpipers towards our Airbnb in Broughton. It was madness and noise and construction until we got to the corner of Leith Walk and Regent Gardens, when city sprawl giving way to residential district and business pedestrians were replaced by dog walkers ignoring their pet's mess.
Our borrowed flat was a third floor walkup with a dusty spiraling staircase and echoing corridors. The place itself was tidy, if not a touch shabby - the floorboards were uneven and treacherous to bare feet. The ceilings, however, were pushing 12 feet, and the wide window faced the soot stained sandstone row houses opposite. It was lovely, and I felt I could be at home there.
After settling in a bit and changing clothes, we headed back out into the sunshine in search of food. Just off Leith walk we found a place called Word of Mouth that could do a vegan breakfast plate for me (vegan sausage, baked beans, dry toast, tomatoes, and potato cake) and a waffle for Kevin. As the waiter deposited our food she declared "steak and eggs for the both of you." We were just exhausted enough to find this terribly amusing.
That afternoon was sunny and warm, and I was filled with the need to get out and stretch my legs. I was exhausted, but restless. So I decided that we would head up Calton Hill to explore. Except, I was under the impression that the reasonably climbable Calton Hill was actually Arthur's Seat, which is what I put in my GPS.
We set off in the direction of Arthur's Seat, thinking that we were going to the "ruins" atop Calton Hill, passed the Palace of Holyrood and Saint Margaret's Well and worked our way across a glorious field snaking between Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags.
The light was folding in around us. I closed my eyes and pictured faeries hiding behind the thistles in the glen.
When we reached the base of the Crags, we realized quite quickly that we were no where near where we had originally intended to be, but it didn't matter. The view was perfect.
That evening we popped into a remarkably overcrowded pub on Leith Walk called The Joker and the Thief. The walls were covered in punk and grunge posters and news articles. One read:
"Kurt didn't want to sell records to cunts, so he didn't make a commercial record. Otherwise you end up selling records to people you didn't like in high school."
"I buy NME when Liam is on the cover, 'cos I know otherwise he'll be slagging me off."
By some miracle we found two stools at the end of the bar and ordered drinks, only to realize that those two had been empty because everybody used that space to order drinks. After being elbowed and jabbed in the ribs and spilled on several times, we left our mostly empty drinks and vacated the premises.
Day 2: Leith Fest and Calton Hill
Whenever I'm anywhere that's not Salem, I play this game where I try to find the most Salem thing happening in the area and I go to that. To accomplish this, I scour FB events for the region I'm staying in and look for buzzwords like "creative" and "fest."
The event that won this time was Leith Fest, and I knew that I was in for a local delight.
En route to Leith Links from Broughton we stopped at Tiramisu Café on Easter Road and ordered 2 cups of really terrible coffee. Kevin only had a ten pound note and the woman couldn't make change, so she ended up pulling out everything she had in the tip jar to make it work for us. My inner former barista just watched in horror.
Leith Links was covered in pop up stalls with various offerings including countless bake sales - one of which was selling Dalek-shaped shortbread, nonprofit organizations, jumble sales run by grandmothers, craftsmen (although there were painfully few), clothing, and chip stands. But more importantly, there were two stalls that were full of Owls. Real owls.
The little birds were chained by their feet to ornately carved stumps, and the wee children could pay £3 to have their photo taken with them. I was shocked. I'd never been this close to an owl. I was horrified. Shouldn't these loves be free to go hunt tiny rodents? I wanted to take pictures. I took one but felt guilty. I walked away shaking my head.
The highlight of Leith Fest is the Leith Parade, whereby every school child in the Leith schools marches across the Links carrying signs far too large for them singing chants and songs about their particular school. The children who attended one such school were covered in cardboard cutouts of suns and singing "Walking on Sunshine" in Scottish Gaelic, accompanied by bagpipes. Because, in Edinburgh, there must always be bagpipes.
I nibbled on a heaping plate of chips and curry and was delighted by everything.
Afterwards, we hiked up Calton Hill (the actual one this time) to spend some time with Lord Nelson and Edinburgh's disgrace. We also doodled and people watched until we got hungry and headed down to into Edinburgh proper.
We stopped at a pub called The Empress on Broughton Street to grab a pint and catch our breath. We found a table near the back, directly underneath a tv and across from 3 tables full of screaming football fans. Apparently, it was the England vs. Scotland game. The sound was deafening.
We didn't stay long.
From there we ventured to The Regent on Montrose Terrace where we instantly felt at home. There was an enormous rainbow flag hanging from the ceiling (always an immensely positive sign), a menu full of vegan choices, an array of cask ales, and cozy booths to duck into. I ordered vegan samosas and Kevin a toasted cheese and we drank and ate and giggled and dreamed of what it would be like to live in such a place as Edinburgh.
Day 3: Fruitmarket Gallery
We started the next morning at this delicious café called The Manna House on Easter Road before heading into town. We were going to the Fruitmarket Gallery for their local design market. I remember vaguely glancing at a map before we left, but in my eagerness to get out into the world – even though it was pouring down rain – led me to forgetting all of my sense of direction.
"This way!" I said, grabbing Kevin's arm and dragging him down this hill and into this hedgerow and across this street and through this tunnel. He was barely caffeinated or he would've put up more of a protest.
We stumbled onto Calton Hill burial ground, this beautiful old cemetery overlooking Arthur's seat. There was a mist lingering in the air over the hilltops, and the rain bothered me not at all.
After leaving the burial ground, we took a right and then a left and then a left and then Kevin woke up and told me that this is obviously not the right way and could he take over now please.
I took this under consideration, and eventually relented.
The Fruitmarket Gallery is a contemporary art gallery on Market Street close to Waverley Station. The design market was filled to the brim with high end pieces and contemporary fashion that was fun to look at, but absolutely out of my price range. However, there were a few vendors which were much more to my liking, namely, Claire Barclay Draws, Jenni Douglas Designs, and Julia Smith Ceramics.
From there we popped across the street to poke our noses into the City Art Center, but overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place, we decided to go back to our home base to draw and take a nap.
That evening we ventured back up to Leith to get dinner at Teuchter's Landing, because apparently it has "the best mac and cheese in all of Edinburgh." Its main gimmick is its mug menu, because it serves up comfort food in, well, mugs.
On the way, we had planned to check out the Royal Yacht Brittania, but it was pouring so hard and we were so miserable that we didn't stick with the plan. Also, we came across a gentleman that was so off his face that he was scouring through trash cans and screaming at them unintelligibly. He was well over 6 feet and wearing a bright purple track suit. Because there was no immediate crosswalk and 4 lanes of traffic, we had no choice but to navigate around him. I held my breath and walked faster, Kevin right at my heels.
As soon as we passed him we heard a bottle hit the pavement and shatter into dozens of pieces. We didn't look back. We kept walking calm and collectedly forward, but as fast as our feet would carry us.
When we made it to the restaurant, after several really wrong turns, we approached the bar and were pretty much ignored. Scotsmen elbowed past us to put their drinks in. This happened about five times until eventually I got the attention of a tall man, undoubtedly the bar manager, and told him that we would like drinks and to see the menu.
"Oh you're ordering food!" He said in a thick French accent, as if my presence and my need for sustenance was inconvenient.
That ordeal over, we found a table in the back, near the kitchen, because the middle of the room felt weirdly hostile. Apparently we had found where all the rich fogies of Edinburgh came for dinner and, being outsiders, we were looked upon with suspicion.
Kevin ate his mac and cheese (which he said was actually alright) and I my vegetarian "haggis" burger, which not only was the size of my head but had the oddest consistency, and we promptly departed in a bit of a huff.
We spent the rest of the evening watching Paul Hollywood's Continental Road Trip because OMG WE CAN WATCH THE BBC.
It's the little things.
Day 4: Into the Highlands with Arron
On Monday morning the dawn came like a whisper and we were headed into downtown to catch a day tour with Rabbie's into the Highlands. We stopped at a Tesco for some cash and some biscuits for the road before heading to our disembarkation point at Rabbie's Café on Waterloo Place.
The café was pandemonium. A hoard of tourists from everywhere you could imagine lined the pavement in front of the café, and inside was just as nuts. We checked in with the high visibility jacket check-in people outdoors and then ordered 2 espressos.
While we were waiting they announced that our tour was ready to leave and that we should get to the bus. I hoped that they would be able to give us 2 minutes to get our coffee before leaving us behind – a risk I didn't enjoy taking, but neither did I want to go off into the middle of the Highlands without any caffeine in my system.
After what felt like a small eternity, the barista handed us our coffee and we sprinted off towards the buses.
We were the second people to arrive, everyone else came after us. I had been freaking out for mostly nothing.
Our tour guide was a 6'4" gentleman named Arron. He was wearing a kilt and wool sweater and ungainly beard and sounded just like Billy Connolly. The combo was ridiculous.
Once everyone was in the car, he turned around and stared us down, "Helloooooo everybody." He said. "Put on your seatbelts because otherwise there's a £175 fine that I will not be paying on your behalf." Then he laughed maniacally. "Are you readyyyyyyy?"
On the way out of Edinburgh he told us a number of things: that we wouldn't be going the normal way around, but that we'd be going backwards, that he had just gotten back from a 3 day tour of the Isle of Skye and that his baby daughter had been so excited to see him when he got home that she burped up milk all over his shirt, and that the contemporary art in Edinburgh was a sham.
"There were these kids," he started, "they put on an exhibit of art in the national museum. Except that one of the pieces was just a bloody pineapple on a stand. They didn't carve it into anything, they didn't paint the damn thing. No, it was a bloody pineapple! A pineapple!"
And so forth.
As we rode along he asked each of the people on the tour, there were about 12 of us, where we were from, what we did, why we were taking the tour. It made the time pass. Our fellow tourists were a family from India, who were currently living in California, a family from India, still living in India, and two couples from Hong Kong. None of them wanted to talk much, and since I rarely stop talking, Arron singled Kevin and me out for all of his questions.
Our first stop was in Pitlochry along the River Tummel. Since both Kevin and I were nibbley, we ducked into a café called Hettie's Tea Shop for some tea and porridge and biscuits.
Back on the bus, Arron regaled us with tales of the great human migration from Sumeria to Edinburgh hundreds of thousands of years ago, informing us that the Scottish ancestors were able to cross the Sahara desert by filling ostrich eggs with water and carrying them out into the desert at intervals.
"They were feckin' brilliant." He said as he sped through the Cairngorms National Park.
Around noontime we pulled into Loch Ness where the weather was, as Arron explained, "gopping," which essentially meant wet and bloody disgusting. But I didn't mind. Pulling up to those historic shores and peering out across the loch, my heart skipped a beat. Of course the loch ness monster no longer dwells in these waters, she was a mighty plesiosaur who happened to outlive most of her fellow dino-sea-ladies, but the vista was otherworldly. I fought the urge to dive in and let the water swallow me whole.
Instead of giving in to prehistoric urges, we walked back inland, past a bagpiper with his case open for tourists to toss coins into, and into the Bothy House for lunch. We found a table and ordered our food and tried not to draw too much attention to ourselves.
An American man at the bar with a Boston Red Sox jacket on was interrogating the barkeep about whisky. The barkeep presented the man with a bottle and asked the man to read it, obviously toying with him. The bottle read "Auchentoshen."
"Ouch in tosken?" The man recited. "I don't know how to say that, that's like Scottish or something." The barkeep's eyes glazed over, he was holding in his laughter.
"Auchentoshen." He insisted. Ock-in-toe-shin.
"I'll never be able to say that!" Red Sox man said.
We paid and left as quietly as we entered, silently promising each other to claim that we were Canadian if anyone asked.
The early afternoon was spent navigating the Highlands as Arron shared more regionals tales of movement, war, and betrayal. And thusly, we entered Glencoe.
At the end of the Glorious Revolution, more specifically, the Jacobite Rebellion, 38 tribesman from the clan MacDonald, along with their wives and children, were murdered at the hands of their Campbell guests. The reason for this murder was that the MacDonalds had not been prompt enough in declaring fealty to the new British monarchs, William and Mary.
During the 17th century, the Highlands were a wild and brutal place to live in, let alone to visit. Therefore, at that time, the highlanders believed in a rule of hospitality that superseded any animosity. Therefore, when the Campbell's came to the doors of the MacDonald's in stormy February 1692, the MacDonalds did not refuse them a roof over their head or food for their bellies. The Campbell's took shelter with the MacDonald's for twelve nights, and on the thirteenth night, the Campbell's murdered the MacDonalds in their beds.
To this day, no hotel or inn in Glencoe will allow a Campbell to spend the night under their roof. And also, and you can blame either geography mysticism for this, the sun never shines here.
One of the things that I wanted to see more than anything on this grand tour was this creature known as the Highland Cow (Highland Cú or Coooooooooo). We had seen thousands of sheep lining the hillside on that day, but no highland coos as of yet. So when we stopped outside of Glencoe in Balachulish (I love this word, just say it and you'll thank me), I asked Arron if this were a possibility.
"Ohhh aye!" He said. "I even brought carrots!"
We paused at a little farm about an hour and a half out of Edinburgh to meet three perfect coos. Their shaggy fur covered their eyes and their noses pressed up against the fence and my heart was filled with glee. They are the most adorable creatures. And not only that, they are so beloved by the Scottish people that these coos are not food sources, but just rather large pets. Which, I believe, is as it should be.
Day 5: The Royal Mile
Completely exhausted by the previous day's excursions, we slept a bit late and returned to Word of Mouth for more delicious breakfast before walking into town. This was the Royal Mile day. The day where we would be surrounded by far too many people, doing touristy things we probably could skip completely. Like, for example, Edinburgh Castle.
Not only was it £17 a person to get in, but the masses of people left me cranky and disinterested. We took a tour with a lovely woman named Lara, who told us all about the real William Wallace and called Braveheart a sham and declared that "Mad Max is Mel Gibson's most historically accurate role."
She wasn't wrong.
Edinburgh Castle is impressive because it's a fortress that sits atop an extinct volcano. It's visible from every part of Edinburgh and is desirable for this reason. Unfortunately, nothing apart from sieges and trades of hands ever really happened here, which makes the whole experience of visiting the castle boring. That is, unless you are really into active garrisons or waiting in long lines to see jewels, which I'm really not.
From there we walked the length of the Royal Mile, popping into this store and that, including the Fudge Kitchen which had vegan fudge, before eventually settling into a booth at the Kilderkin, pint of beer in hand. They were playing Bowie over the speakers, it was perfect.
Since Kilderkin had no food, we journeyed to Civerino's in Hunter Square where Kevin ordered a pizza and I ordered the world's most disgusting Zucchini fries. I ate 5. Kevin ate his entire pizza.
That night we were meeting my friend Tara, a student studying the classics at the University of Edinburgh, at a little pub called Sandy Bell's, which is apparently known for its epic whisky offerings. I skipped the whisky and went in for a cider. Kevin ordered a beer.
A little while after the three of us sat down, a group of folk musicians pulled out their instruments and started to play. Yet, instead of playing traditional British folk, they started playing Americana, and badly. We didn't stay long.
We popped over to a falafel joint so Tara and I could feed our faces before walking to the Royal Oak, another pub with live music. Tara promised that it would be better.
It was packed to the brim with locals. There was hardly anything on the walls and all the tables and chairs were featureless wood. Both of the bartenders were completely drunk off their asses, but the musicians seemed promising so we stayed. Kevin and I shared a beer and we listened as the two gents played Johnny Cash, Neil Young, and most importantly, more Bowie. Everyone in the room was singing at the top of our lungs and I felt closer to these strangers that night than I do to my own family most days.
Day 6: Arthur's Seat
On Wednesday morning we took it upon ourselves to hike up the extinct volcano known as Arthur's Seat. This legendary spot one of the possible locations for Camelot and the Court of King Arthur, thus the name. It doesn't have much to do with the fact that the highest peak looks like a large rump has sat on it for sometime. In fact, it has nothing to do with this, um, at all.
The hillsides were covered in gorse, thistles, and foxglove – and the day was something out of a dream. The sun was breaking through the clouds and a light breeze was in the air, rustling the long grass surrounding the volcano.
On the way up, we stopped at the ruins of Saint Anthony's Chapel before hiking the 800 ft up to the crest of the hill. It's not a hard hike by any means, but it does take a minute and we were winded by the time we reached the top. It was teeming with highschoolers.
After sitting for a moment, we ventured down the other side to a clearing to catch our breath and get away from the young ones. That's when my boot broke.
Since I hadn't thought to bring duct tape, I just suffered all the way back down the mountain, trying to remind myself to step gingerly in case it fell completely to pieces. No way was a going to pull a Cheryl Strayed and do this barefoot. The boot would have to survive.
We grabbed lunch at the Auld Hoose, a predominately vegetarian/vegan bar near the University. I wanted the vegan nachos, but the barkeep informed me that those nachos easily feed 4 people and since their license didn't permit them to give out doggie bags, he strongly recommended I order something else.
Downtrodden, I decided to get the vegan chili cheese hot dog – but looking back now I should've just ordered the nachos and said YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE.
Since we were pretty worn out from the hike, we didn't do much that day but shop for souvenirs and new shoes for me (thank you Apple Jack!), stop at the Tabletop Café to finish our drawings, eat our weight in biscuits and vegan fudge, and watch quiz shows – including this excellent show called the Chase.
Because the BBC. The BBC is king.
And oh yeah, before I forget, I also adopted Glencú to be a friend for Kokopelli.
Day 7: Pictish Peoples and Modern Artists
On the last full day in Auld Reekie, we did something we should have done much sooner: visited the National Museum of Scotland. It was one of the best museums I have ever been to. You could easily spend several days in there and still not see everything. We ended up spending 3 hours on the first exhibit alone. Given, it was centered around pre-Roman conquest and early Pictish peoples, but holy wow.
The Museum has 5 stories and 12 or 13 exhibits, covering all of Scottish history and some world history, and the sheer volume of artifacts was staggering.
We took a break halfway through to grab a bite at one of the best shops in Edinburgh – The Piemaker. Kevin ordered a mac and cheese pie and I ordered a vegan potato pie and my world was changed forever.
After lunch, we headed back to the museum (which is 100% free, by the way) for a couple of more hours before my eyeballs were about to fall out of my head and we decided that was enough for one day.
So we went to a different museum: The Museum of Childhood.
Now, after looking at all the ads for the museum of childhood, I was under the impression that it would be remarkably creepy, but ultimately it was just a touch disappointing. One of the exhibits was under construction, only a couple of the coin operated automatons actually worked, and the active exhibits were designed poorly. It had the feel of a grandmother's basement. There were a few pieces that stood out, like the wallpaper - which looked like something out of Coraline - but mostly it just fell flat.
Even the gift shop was lame.
That night we decided to check out the Leith Late Art Crawl, which had roped in 25 different establishments along Leith walk to be part of an evening of art and music...which was pretty fabulous. I met this incredible artist name Rona Innes, checked out a contemporary art gallery which was in a bus, and stumbled across a series of fake elopements in a launderette.
Leith Late is run by geniuses, and the art of Edinburgh is going to great places in their capable hands.
Edinburgh was everything that I expected it to be, but better. And going home was harder than I expected. I spent most of the night looking up the cost of renting apartments in the city and looking for jobs for Kevin. We realized that living in Edinburgh would cost us the same as living in Salem and the thought left a tiny hole in my chest. Because it's never going to happen.
But, oh well, a girl can dream. Or at least I can try to convince the makers of Irn Bru to start selling their product in the states.
© 2017 Joey Phoenix
Day 8: The return
MY RANT ABOUT WOW AIR, READ AT YOUR OWN CAUTION
After grabbing a quick breakfast at The Manna House, we took the Airlink 100 bus back to the airport and boarded our flight to Reykjavik. They seated us in the bulkhead, which sucks because we don't get to have the comfort of our carry-ons.
We also didn't leave for an hour after we boarded because the airline had separated a dad from his wife and child and they had to bribe another passenger to take a later flight, the problem was that the passenger who volunteered had a checked bag which the flight staff had to go dig out of the cargo hold. Go figure.
We had a 2 hour layover in Reykjavik which turned into 3 because the airline couldn't get their sh*t together. Also, they thought it would be a GREAT idea to board 5 flights to the states at the exact same time at the smallest corner of the airport. We were crammed together like rolls of tape in a junk drawer, with each new arrival asking "Is this the flight to Philadelphia? Cincinatti? Boston?" Frustration ensued.
When we eventually boarded, we realized that they had seated us in the middle seat in different rows, which made no sense because every person around us was also a solo traveler. However, since neither of us had the spoons to ask someone to switch, we just dealt with it.
As we approached Boston, the captain came over the loudspeaker informing us that we had to wait 45 minutes to land because, as we were so late, there was no place for the Boston Airport to put us. All this while, my dear friend Lindsey is
When we finally got to the gate, and through the first part of customs, we all gathered around the luggage carousel. We waited, and waited, and waited. I really needed to go to the bathroom, but as there was literally no where to go, we had no choice but to wait.
An hour came and went, and not only did no representative come to talk to us, but the bags still weren't there. We were exhausted, miserable, I was feeling sick from holding it for so long.
A staff member from a different airline came over the loudspeaker. "WOW Air, please send an attendant to the baggage carousel. WOW Air, please send an attendant immediately." They were nowhere to be found.
Then, at the hour and twenty mark, the bags finally came. We got out. I ran to the bathroom. We found Lindsey in the pouring rain, and got to go home.
I'm never flying WOW again.