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Published: June 20th 2007
I awoke to the sound of steady rain. I wondered if perhaps it was just the sound of Lucy taking a shower, but a look out my window into the alley confirmed that it was raining quite heavily. My plan for an early morning hike up Arthur’s Seat no longer seemed so appealing. But once I’m awake, I’m up for the day, so I put on my fleece and a raincoat and decided to go out for some breakfast. I thought I’d check out the Elephant Café, a recommended stop for coffee or a meal, and now quite famous because J.K.Rowling used to spend her days there, with her infant daughter napping (so the story goes) while writing the first of the Harry Potter books. Although it seemed quite a touristy thing to do, I did want a photo of the place.
I got a bit lost and a great deal wet before finding the Elephant Café. I walked up a long avenue and back, and got to observe morning drop-off time at a posh private school. Children from about 7 - 17 were arriving for the day, being released from very expensive cars and ushered through the
impressive front gates by uniformed security guards. The boys looked sharp in blue blazers, slacks, sweater vests and ties. The girls had navy tartan skirts and tights. Most all the girls had umbrellas; none of the boys did. Adolescent boys must have a universal aversion to protecting themselves from the rain. I heard one mum look out the car at the other students and say, not very hopefully, “I’m sure the others will all be wearing raincoats.”
The Elephant Café was very roomy and comfortable, and I was early enough to have beaten the mobs of Rowling fans. I had a large coffee and a pain du chocolat (chocolate croissant) and enjoyed my newspaper and the view of the Castle. My raincoat had not been much protection from the rain, and I was quite thoroughly soaked, so I headed back to the flat to change and reconsider my plans for the day.
By 10:00 am when I headed out again, the day was looking much more promising. The sky had large patches of blue, the sun was peeping out, and there was a light cool breeze. I headed over to the National Gallery, which I remembered as a
highlight of both my previous trips to Edinburgh. It did not disappoint. The building itself is very impressive, with large rooms separated by elegant arched doorways. Sculptures are displayed on elegant pedestals throughout, and the deep red or green walls are covered high and low with the most amazing paintings. I wandered through in a bit of a daze, with no real purpose or goal. I stopped by works that I liked and studied them. Some I remembered, most likely from postcards purchased on my visits in the 1980’s.
Then I strolled around the New Town, which is quite different in feel from the Old Town, where we are staying. In the Old Town the pubs and shops feel really, really old, and the tall and slightly rickety looking buildings loom like steep cliffs on either sides of the narrow, dark, and poky cobblestoned streets and alleyways. The New Town is decidedly grand and Georgian, with wide boulevards and upscale shopping and banks. More Scottish gift shops abound. I bought a sandwich and some fruit in a Sainsbury’s Local and went to eat in Princes Street Gardens. This is a beautiful green and hilly park tucked in between the
two sides of town. I was one of many having lunch here, everyone very well-behaved and civilized, just enjoying the beautiful day and blue sky. Edinburgh is a city of such amazing vistas; it positively cries out for a panorama lens on your camera (which I don’t have, unfortunately.) The Castle looms at one end of the city and the back of the Royal Mile rises like a sheer rock mountain face of tall buildings along the edge of the park. I took many photos, but I don’t know how well they do justice to the impressiveness of this city.
Then, to top it all off, I walked down the Royal Mile, past the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and followed one of several trails leading up to Arthur’s Seat. It was a glorious day at this point, perhaps as good as it gets in Scotland: about 65 degrees, blue skies, with a refreshing breeze, especially at the top. The trails were not as crowded as I expected. I met a mix of tourists and regular Edinburgh folks, many out with their dogs. Arthur’s Seat is in Holyrood Park, which is a very large open space just past the Palace, and
there were many different trails and climbs to explore. For a city park, this feels rather like wilderness. From the top you have amazing views of the city itself and also the surrounding suburbs out to the Firth of Forth and beyond.
That evening, Lucy and I went out in search of dinner, but it took us a while to make up our minds. The pubs in the Grassmarket all had very standard Scottish fare: various kinds of fish (we plan to wait for Whitby to get good fish), steak pies, burgers, sandwiches…but nothing that really grabbed our interest. After wandering a bit, we came to the street where David Bann’s vegetarian restaurant was located. This had been highly recommended in several guide books I had read, and I had walked by earlier and was impressed by the menu. We chose this for dinner, and were not disappointed. The interior was upscale but simple and comfortable. I managed to procure a copy of the menu. It was a hard choice, but here is what I ordered:
Mushroom, smoked cheese and ale strudel: Wild and cultivated mushrooms baked with heather ale and sage, blended with free range eggs and
Ardrahan smoked cheese then rolled in filo pastry. Served on creamed butter bean puree with baby potatoes, beetroot and mushroom sauce.
This was incredibly good. The beets on the side were the most flavorful beets I have ever eaten. The portions were not large, so we ate slowly and savored every bite. I had a bottle of heather ale to go with it - I think it’s called Freuch, and it was perfect. Lucy ordered the crepe provencal : roasted aubergine (eggplant), courgette (zucchini), red onion, peppers, tomatoes, garlic and basil, with parmesan. Wrapped in a freshly made crepe and served with baby potato, olive, caper and sorel salad. The prices seemed comparable to other restaurants we’ve visited, for meals that were far less interesting and well-done.
I know I will return to Edinburgh, although it can be a little hard to describe the appeal of this ancient Scottish city. One of our students described his process of getting to know and fall in love with Edinburgh in this way: “It’s like falling in love with a Goth girl.”
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