Before leaving the United States, I made a list of countries that I had to see before coming back and right at the top of that list was the United Kingdom. Weird, right? And not just London, but Wales, Scotland and maybe even Belfast in Northern Ireland. I have always had a fascination with the culture of the U.K., from the multitude of books, television shows and the endless array of music that has come from that island. So when I had the opportunity to visit Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, I immediately bought my plane ticket and packed my bags.
Of course, traveling to such a far off destination has its fair share of challenges, from taking a 5 a.m. train to Rome, taking a perilous taxi ride through the crowded streets of that city and then waiting through an endless line at security only to arrive at the gate right before it closed. But two and a half hours later, as the plane descended from the clouds, the lush green hills of Scotland appeared in my window and my heart nearly sank. Stepping out onto the runway I rushed to the nearest bus. As I traveled toward the city center, my eyes took in the beautiful countryside and the quaint villages scattered throughout the patches of green. Soon I could see the grey city in the horizon and I could barely wait.
After checking into my hostel, I threw my bag onto the bed and rushed back outside to explore. With a map in hand, I quickly surveyed the locations of all the major streets. My first destination was the famous shopping street, fittingly titled Princes Street. Princes Street has the been the inspiration for many famous movies scenes, especially the memorable opening of the ‘90s film, “Trainspotting.”
Walking up the lavish main strip, I suddenly realized why Edinburgh is nicknamed “the Athens of the north.” Right across Princes Street, standing all the way at the top of the Royal Mile, was Edinburgh Castle, looming above the entire city. In all of its majesty, Edinburgh Castle was covered by a dense fog that gave an aura of mystery and magic to the site. Heading up the Royal Mile, I eventually arrived at the gates to the castle to tour the area. The castle formerly served as the royal seat for the Scottish monarchy in medieval times, but it has now become the residency for the Queen of England when she visits Scotland.
Edinburgh is known for many things: its beauty, its scotch and most importantly, the amount of famous writers the city has produced. From J.K. Rowling to Irvine Welsh, Edinburgh has managed to touch countless starry-eyed writers looking for inspiration. The casual beauty of the city really took me by surprise as with each street corner, there was another beautiful sight to behold. Walking along George Street, I found myself standing at the top of a hill that overlooked a beautiful loch just outside the city. The mixture of the Gothic architecture and the streaks of grey and dark brown buildings gave the city a magical quality that is almost impossible to describe in writing.
After an afternoon of shopping and sightseeing, I made my way to my next top destination — The Elephant House café. As I walked into the quaint café, there were signs everywhere advertising the main reason for my visit. I ordered a cappuccino and a panini and sat at the same counter that J.K. Rowling wrote “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” at. And even as I finished my coffee in disbelief, I realized that just outside, I was a few streets away from the colorful, winding alley that inspired Diagon Alley.
The next day I was to fly back to Italy, but I still had one more task to do before leaving. On the outskirt of the city lies a famous extinct volcano named Arthur’s Seat. According to Scottish legend, Arthur’s Seat may have been one of the possible locations for the legendary Camelot. Now I certainly do not consider myself to be a knight of the realm (cons of being an American), but I knew I had to hike to the top.
As I walked outside the city into Holyrood Park, I could see the mammoth hill sitting in the middle of another beautiful loch and a series of hills that closely resembled The Shire in “Lord of the Rings.” As I began my journey, the rain from the previous day made the trek far harder than I anticipated, with every step nearly drowning my sneakers in mud. The more I ascended, the more I was able to see on the horizon. Soon I could see the beaches of North Berwick looming miles away and on the other side was the entirety of Edinburgh enjoying the Scottish mist.
Eventually, after scaling a few scary rocks and nearly sliding off the edge from the mud, I made it to the top. I was standing on a grassy plain that allowed me to survey the Scottish Highlands and I still believe it to be one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Getting on the plane back home, I realized just how lucky I was to be able to experience the north of the United Kingdom and I can’t wait to go back.