Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Must-Haves: Edinburgh Bucket List

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Postcard-worthy in a gothic, medieval kind of way, with sloping hills which bred achy calves and sore feet, weather more indecisive than England on her moods, and an accent so different it was like being in a movie; Edinburgh was a joy to visit and for the 30-odd pounds it cost for return tickets, was well worth it!

I headed there with – dare I say it – my boyfriend, who I’ve alluded to in a number of posts, but haven’t quite introduced. It still feels strange to type – my boyfriend, my boyfriend, my boyfriend – and although he’s made frequent appearances on Instagram, it’s a little different to have it said here on this space, a little like an introduction to an old friend, who may not be used to the gushing, giggling, swooning person I’ve become in this relationship because indeed, all I can ever do when speak about him is gush when it feels this exciting and new and wonderful! And the truth is, it is difficult to maintain a blog that’s meant to be a reflection of my life and hiding away such a big part of it!

So here it is! I’ve been in a relationship with Seth for a little under a year and it’s been better than anything I could’ve ever hoped for (Because what’s a lovey-dovey blog post without a cliche, ey?). Maybe I’ll share more in another post when this blush equivalent e-shyness subsides, so to cut to the chase, we went to Edinburgh equipped with 2 sleeping bags (courtesy of ever trusty Bryan Thor), and were kindly hosted by Seth’s high school friend (Thanks, Vhinoth!) so I won’t be able to say anything about the accommodation options.

But what I can tell you though are the Edinburgh Must-Haves in my opinion, the quick ‘Things To Do’ and ‘Places to Eat’ list for student-tourists like myself.

ONWARDS, WE GO!

General Tip: Heading to the city from the airport is so easy, there’s no need to book anything beforehand! They have a tram that brings you straight to the city and it’s incredibly affordable!

Must-Dos

1. Climb Arthur’s Seat - at sunset!

Climbing up to Arthur’s Seat is very much the obligatory thing to do when in Edinburgh, and it seems as though everyone who goes there, does! But, do not be deceived as I was – although it starts off easy with cut-in steps and clearly marked paths, there are many many ways up to the peak, and if you veer off course, you end up having to complete quite a hike, at some point even sliding on your bum and crouching on the ground.

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Smiling before it got difficult, when the sun was still high and bright and the road wasn’t as steep!

Definitely wear sensible shoes with good grip and I was so grateful for the gloves I brought because the rocks can be rather rough if you aren’t careful! They say that there’s a myth whereby the slopes of the hill facing Holyrood are where young girls in Edinburgh traditionally bathe their faces in the dew on May Day to make themselves more beautiful.

WELL, that certainly did not happen to me because as I was scared and red-faced and horrified at having to go higher and higher as it became steeper! There weren’t any handles and no legit steps, and it was so windy that I genuinely worried if I would be blown off. To those who want to make their way up, be reassured that even a training-less wimp like myself made it all the way there, but also be warned that it isn’t the stroll people make it out to be!

Maybe we were a little more unlucky than others because we ended up changing routes a number of times and were led down a particularly treacherous slope by two well-meaning Scottish boys (“Fancy a beer, mate?”) so you may find your experience less difficult than ours. There’s always people around too, so don’t be too concerned about being left on your own!

Either way, if you’re planning to make the climb, sunset is such a good time to do it. I was so so afraid and wanted to turn back repeatedly, but when I got to the top, the entire trek was worth it to watch the sun set over the city.

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2. The Museum-on-the-Mound – Go on the treasure hunt!

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This Museum is really not difficult to find because it is as it says it is.. right on the Mound! Free entry too. Open-mouthed smile 

Pretty much the Central Bank’s Official Museum, it would have been just another museum if not for the wonderful staff at the ready!

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They were so nice to us (especially Jackie! Ask for her if you can!), and it really seemed as though their work at the Museum was a huge labour of love from them. They were so passionate about money, not in the omg let’s be rich kind of way, but in a omg money is made of really cool things way.

Like the coin in the photo above is a 2 pound coin that was released in commemoration of Charles Dickens, and his face is made up of words, and if you look closely, those words are the title of every book he’s ever written! She even printed me a copy of that page for me to take home as a souvenir. There were so many folders that she and her colleagues put together from their own initiative, with explanations of coin designs which made us so enthusiastic about the museum!

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Fun!

And because we were so interested, she put us on the Money Trail which comes highly recommended! It was really fun to go around in the museum, answering the questions and colouring on the book. Open-mouthed smile 

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(For under-12s)

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At the end of it, she gave our book a look and rewarded us with gold chocolate coins for being such ‘great kids’! Open-mouthed smile 

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It was so fun! So, swallow that 20-year-old pride in you and ask for the Activity Book, because it just enhanced the entire experience! (And even if you didn’t like it, you get chocolate at the end!)

3. Scotch Whisky Experience – Children’s ticket!

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Head onto the Royal Mile for the Scotch Whisky Experience which was a very insightful way to find out more about one of Scotland’s pride and joy – their distilleries!

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They put you in a whisky barrel and send you through the distillery, and for 12 pounds, the adult ticket includes the tour as well as a glass of whisky!

But, if whisky isn’t quite your thing, or you don’t think you can drink that much, you could go with one adult ticket and one child ticket! I forgot to bring my ID with me (whoops!) and had the option of purchasing a child’s ticket instead for 7 pounds. Sneaky sips from the boyfriend’s glass was enough to satiate me so if you feel the same, then just ask for a child’s ticket at the counter and say you’d rather not drink instead!

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Or if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, you could always get children tickets then head to the whisky bar at the end of the tour and pay for a bigger glass. Winking smile 

DSC_5869I think I was given the child’s equivalent of whisky – Gatorade?

We had a guide named Gavin with Malaysian parents but identified himself as a ‘true English man’ which was pretty interesting to see. Only those with adult tickets get to keep the whisky glass in the bottom picture as souvenirs though but Gavin was kind enough to give me one when I asked so there’s no harm in trying! But, just bear that in mind if you do decide to go with the child ticket option.

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One of the more interesting things from the tour was the fact that it hosted the largest private whisky collection in the world from this Brazillan guy. I shan’t spoil it for you who are going on the tour, but it was really informative and I definitely developed a greater appreciation for whisky after it.

Although the burn doesn’t go away, no siree.

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DSC_5898Some of the special bottles in the collection! Golf clubs and doll bottles. Surprised smile 

DSC_5907One man’s poison is another man’s medicine.

4. Edinburgh Museum – Exhibitions!

It’s not the first time I’ve vocalised being a huge fan of museums on this space so already, the Edinburgh Museum was somewhere on my must-visit list! But, it definitely was more impressive than I expected to the point that we came back twice. It closed pretty early on the days we were there so we didn’t quite get our nerdy fill on the first day.

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DSC_6072*looks up in wonder*

Of course, London’s Natural History museum has a much more extensive collection, but the special thing about the Edinburgh Museum was due to its lack of specialization, it just had such a large breadth of things on show. I feel as though visiting museums is a little bit like window shopping with each room a shop from a different time which just makes everything so much more interesting!

When we were there, they had a Gaming Exhibition which was somewhere between 5 to 10 pounds for entry, but they had SO many games in there. From arcade machines to Dance Dance revolution, to PS3s and Xboxes – it felt like a 21st century pre-teen’s dream come true!

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We didn’t get much time in the room due to time constraints but got to play a little and press a number of buttons before we were ushered out, but considering we got in for free (by asking very nicely, hehe), we were so appreciative of the opportunity. I would have gladly paid to spend a whole day there though and we probably would’ve had we known about it earlier, so it’s worth taking a quick Google search before you head to Edinburgh so you won’t miss out!

5. Edinburgh Castle – Gift Shop and Views!

Confession time: I can’t actually tell you about what it’s like inside Edinburgh Castle because we never made it in.

The entrance fee was pretty expensive and no concession prices (sigh sigh), and having just visited Windsor Castle not too long ago, we decided they were interchangeable (sort of, but not really) and decided against entering!

BUT, this should in no way deter you from approaching the castle, because there are wonderful views from the entrance!

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You’d think I was taking a passport photo with that smile.

DSC_6067DSC_6094DSC_6072 (2)DSC_6114Because it’s important to show we’ve been to Edinburgh and what more iconic?

If you did go in, then do let me know how it was! But if you’re thinking of it, then be rest assured that we had a lot of fun in the area even without going in. Right opposite Edinburgh Castle is this huge gift shop where you can pick up those kilts and shortbread Scotland is so proud of.

But if you walk a little further in and head to the stairs, they’ll lead you to this hidden gem: A tartan weaving mill! Open-mouthed smile 

It wasn’t particularly elaborate or grand, but you do get the opportunity to see tartan being made through huge glass windows and get a small tour of the history of tartan. Like wouldn’t you know it – tartan originated in China! LOOK WHO’S THE COPYCAT NOW, WESTERN WORLD!?

I kid, I kid.

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No, this is a sheep.

There are quite a number of cute things to explore in the gift shop which is multi-floored but if you find yourself getting a little peckish, opposite the gift store is an unassuming looking bakery that is home to an underground ice-cream parlour, with an almost Lola-cupcake like feel in its decor.

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The best part? Only 3 pounds for 4 flavours! Open-mouthed smile 

And since we’re onto food, let’s talk about the Must-Eats because there are so many yummy places in Edinburgh!

Must-Eats

General Tip: What really surprised me about Edinburgh was that the service at restaurants was so amazing! I initially just thought that everyone here just led much happier lives, but later we realized that they have more of a tipping culture there. So rather than a ‘discretionary’ 10% service charge, you tip instead. Open-mouthed smile

1. Bento-Ya!

I’m not even going to ease you guys into it, because this restaurant was the best! Granted, it’s a little strange for Japanese food in Scotland to be so good, but it was incredible. It’s been very long since I’ve had so much satisfaction with every dish in a single restaurant and Bento-Ya delivered over and over again, taste-wise and price-wise!

Even if you aren’t a tourist, do yourself a favour and come here because I enjoyed it so much and it deserves a lot more credit than the meagre crowd implied. It’s not surprising though. Located pretty far away from the normal tourist-y areas, we walked for quite a while before finding it, and even then, from the outside, it seemed rather unassuming.

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But inside, they have a small dimly lit section with little lights in the sky, a little like stars indoors.

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*heart eyes*

As for the food?

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Sashimi was so good! It was fresh and delicious and very affordable!

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Their Bento set was good and I could see myself frequenting often if I were in Edinburgh.

But the sushi, oh wow, the sushi was incredible! The rolls were sized the way they should be, not the weird barely-held-together circles that a lot of restaurants try to pass off as sushi.

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I have unfortunately forgotten the names of these dishes, but just take a screenshot and show it to the staff if you want to get the same thing! It was really good.

But the star of the night for me was this:

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This was some amazing prawn-mango sushi mix that was a mix of savoury and sweet, and so perfectly balanced that we were so tempted to order it again! You should’ve seen us – the way our eyes grew wide at the first bite, the expression of bliss that came quickly after. Overdramatic, I know, but it was incredible and I have no qualms about sharing how incredible this was.

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We washed down our amazing meal with some amazing dessert, with banana in fried-tempura batter and a side of sesame icecream which may seem strange at first thought, but definitely grows on you if you’re a fan of the flavours.

It was the most satisfying meal of the entire trip and very affordable as well. Please do yourself a favour and head there when you can!

2. The Outsider

Outsider came highly recommended for lunch by a friend for its great views and I’d recommend it for the same reason and a little more. I’m not sure if its name is derived from the fact that you’d get a great outside view of Edinburgh Castle from the restaurant or if it’s because the food served veers a little towards the unconventional, but if it’s due to both, it’s highly fitting.

DSC_6015 (2)LOL before I realized I spent a significant part of the day wearing my dress back to front.

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Excellent company, heh.

The space was bright and the ambience was both fancy and relaxing all at once. You’d find all sorts in here and when you’re done peering outside the wide windows at the castle, people watching is entirely feasible as well. (Also, book ahead if you want a great seat!)

DSC_6030 (2)Surprisingly delicious bread!

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The only thing that tasted familiar. Every other dish tasted like an experiment, which was sometimes great, and other times a little surprising. (Not necessarily in a good way!) Because the flavours were so strong, if you didn’t like a particular ingredient and it showed up more than expected in a dish, because really, would you expect zucchini noodles (??) with crayfish, it wouldn’t go down too well.

I’m pretty certain the menu changes seasonally (at least, possibly even weekly! Daily?)  so I wouldn’t expect to be able to tell you what to get, but what I would recommend is that you read the ingredients pretty carefully before deciding, because the food is certainly very special. No home favourites to be found here, which would be amazing for those with adventurous tastebuds. 

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We’re both big eaters and order a lot so don’t be too worried about the portion sizes, they’re pretty decent. Most people should be satisfied with a main each!

The Outsider is an experience, with the different food and great view all part of it – definitely something different worth checking out. The lunch menu is much more affordable than the dinner menu as well, so take note.

3. Library Bar

If I ever owned a bar, it would look just like the Library Bar.

But I would never own a bar, so I’m so glad that this place actually exists outside of my imagination.

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It’s such a beautiful place, and is part of the Uni of Edinburgh Student Union, so you’d see students lounging (yes, not merely sitting, but lounging) in arm chairs and with books all around the table. It’s such a lovely environment to be in.

DSC_5728Typical pub food, except with some haggis on everything. (Haggis is Scottish food.. look it up. Sounds awful, but tastes pretty good!)

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Came here thanks to Vhinoth, who drew us in with the classic ‘It’s like Hogwarts’ line, which worked very well! Thanks for bringing us here. Open-mouthed smile

4. Elephant House

Speaking of Hogwarts, what trip to Edinburgh is complete without a visit to the ‘birthplace’  of Harry Potter, where JK Rowling sat for hours on end, just writing. And it’s easy to see why, because there’s great light that streams through its windows and it has a wonderful vibe. Not touristy at all (except the exterior) but once you’re inside, it’s very homey and it wasn’t surprising to see students sitting there and working, juxtaposed against a group of aunties gossiping.

DSC_5815DSC_5816DSC_5822Definitely some milking it for all its worth going on here.

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We developed quite an affinity for haggis by then..

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Everything was decent, the salted caramel brownie was incredibly sweet (which was great!) but it’s really the opportunity to sit and imagine the writing experience that was amazing.

And the toilet graffiti is hilarious.

5. Oink!

If you like pork, and have conventional tastebuds, you’d like Oink! A roll of porky goodness, accompanied by a piece of pork crackling (it’s a must, please ask for it if they don’t give it to you!) with some apple sauce and – yep, you guessed it! – haggis, was so delicious!

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Missing some of that crackling..

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Much better now. The crunch of the crackling is really what makes this roll stand out and elevates it tfrom mere market food to Must-Eat!

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We went around a few other places like Dogs Cafe, Mussel Inn on Rose Street, and had amazing cocktails at the Villager on George IV Bridge so if you have the time, pay those places a visit as well!

I enjoyed myself so much in Edinburgh and it’s different enough from England to make it worth a visit for UK students, but it comes with the perks of a short flight and no need for a currency change! Open-mouthed smile

My exams are over and summer looms ahead with the promise of opportunities and adventures. I’m off to Portugal this weekend, and Copenhagen soon after, and I’m very keen on writing more so expect to hear from me soon.

Till next time.

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