Honestly, Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities to visit: it's steeped in history, it has that city thrill without the dreary cloyingness of London, and it's one of those places I instantly feel at home in (except when I have to drive in it; then it's a bloody nightmare). Making this her first trip as a vegan, my sister and I made the drive up for a client's book launch this week, which just so happened to coincide with my sister taking some holidays at work, and it was a great excuse to spend some time together and explore Edinburgh together.
The First Day
After a breakfast by the fire in our local Spoons we took an easy drive up, and even though we both visit Scotland at least once a year we'd never stopped at the border before -- so we pulled over and did selfies and did the tourist schtick. You have to snap the border crossing at least once, right?
Accommodation - Averon Guest House
We found our accommodation on Booking.com, and to be honest, we got a bargain. There wasn't a twin available so I paid a little extra for a triple, and my sister was kind enough to let me have the double and to take the single for herself. We got free secure parking from first thing in the morning on the day of arrival until 11pm after we checked out, which was a major bonus for us, and it was close to all kinds of shops as well as being only a twenty- to thirty-minute walk to wherever we wanted to go. The caretaker who saw us in was friendly and welcoming, and the room was decent. No bath, but a good shower (although it was just cramped enough to make shaving difficult without getting your hair wet), and the beds were comfy. Our only real drawback was the down pillows. First of all, down is cruel to ducks: just like we wouldn't want to sleep on a pillow filled with fur, neither do we want to find some comfort in feathers ripped from birds. And secondly, down makes really uncomfortable pillows. It's outdated, it's unsupportive, and you need about a stack of about three of them to make a half-decent pillow. Luckily there were spare pillows (and a blanket) in the wardrobe, so we were able to use those.
Dinner/Lunch - Bar Burrito
After unpacking our things we headed out for a wander. I try to avoid using chains while we're away, just so we can support more independent restaurants, but my sister really loves burritos. We don't have a Bar Burrito in Middlesbrough, so at least we were trying something that we couldn't get at home. We both got a mild burrito with sweet potato chilli and mushroom with some guacamole, and sat in (even though my sister said that the only way you can truly practice eating a burrito is to do so while walking) so we could watch the world go by and plan our trip. Also, I really the love the bowls they have there. They feel a bit flimsy, and I don't think they'd be suitable for hot food, but I'm hoping to find something similar in Asda or TK Maxx -- definitely drop me a message if you see them anywhere!
No trip to Edinburgh is complete without a trip to Princes St. I got some new heels for going out after the launch (from New Look, which very rarely do leather shoes), but after a long drive we wanted to chill out in the room for a bit before getting ready.
Once we were suited and booted we headed out to Blackwell's Bookshop for the launch. Tabby Stirling has written a thrilling contemporary fiction, Bitter Leaves, which follows four women in Singapore and their experiences with the maid culture there. It was wonderful to meet some of the Edinburgh literary set, and I'll be writing up a blog post for Stirling Publishing about it.
Tea/Dinner - Holy Cow
My sister and I went off down the dark Edinburgh streets after the launch to find Holy Cow, an exclusively vegan café with an impressive menu. In fact, it reminded us a little of The Green Room back home in Middlesbrough.
I ordered the BBQ jackfruit burger, which was really good -- the jackfruit pieces were larger than the usual "shredded pork" style, and were a pleasant texture somewhere between "meaty" and mushroom, a bit like artichoke -- and my sister got a cheezeburger. Of course, we tried each other's: we often ask restaurants to cut our burgers so we can have half each. The cheeze was a little too bland for my taste, and while it was nice I would recommend the jackfruit over the cheezeburger. They also came with one of the most generous portion of home-cooked chips I've ever seen; I almost struggled to finish!
We got cake for dessert, and these were also impressive portion sizes. I got peanut butter and chocolate, and I actually couldn't finish it, it was immense. My sister got an Oreo cheezecake that I couldn't have eaten more than a few bites of -- nice, but sickly -- but she managed to polish it off, even if she told me all night how full she felt.
Night - Cocktails
Since we were in Edinburgh we decided to visit a couple of bars and enjoy some nice cocktails before heading back to our room. The Voodoo Rooms has some impressive photos on its website, so we headed there. It was a great place, with a wonderfully ornate black and gold roof and an appropriately gothic aesthetic with its melted candles. I thought there'd be more rum-based cocktails, and to be honest half of those ingredients we didn't even know what they were. In the end, neither of us really fancied anything on the menu, so we got an Absolut Passion: a vodka, passion fruit and ginger beer (which we swapped for lemonade), over ice. It was really tasty, but we decided to move on and see what else we could find.
I had a rough idea of where we were going, but I used Google Maps as a back-up -- which directed us up a creepy-looking staircase. Well, I place a lot of trust in Google, so up we went. It looked like we were being led up to someone's office. We started to see signs for restaurants, which was reassuring, but there was still no one around and we were getting so high above the city that I was starting to wonder whether Google Maps was taking us up to someone's apartment.
And then we came to the top, turned a corner -- and it was like we'd stepped into another city. There were more streets right at the top of the staircase when all we'd expected was an upper-floor bar. We were just wandering, planning to pop into any bar we fancied as we headed home. Dragonfly was one that I'd really wanted to try, so when I spotted it we decided to drop in for a last drink.
We really liked it here: it had a nice relaxed atmosphere and a friendly, knowledgeable bartender. They didn't have mango or passionfruit, which are my favourite mixers for drinks, especially with rum, but he mixed me up a very nice rum cocktail - with a glitter-covered black cherry! My sister had a raspberry daiquiri, and considering most daiquiris are drowned with ice, this one was nice and flavourful.
We had a chat over our drinks and enjoyed sitting out in the bar, before heading back for the night.
The Last Day
We were awake before 7, and packed and out the door not long after ten (we move a bit sluggishly in the mornings). The place I'd planned for breakfast was closed, so we had another Spoons meal before heading back out into the city.
I'd wanted to see the museum, so we made our way in that direction, stopping to look at the quirky independent shops we found. Along the Royal Mile, however, we were slightly waylaid ...
Todd Various (website and Instagram) is a street entertainer, who managed to get a crowd of people around him by just ... talking? He's an American (but we don't hold that against him), funny, and an escape artist.
He involved the audience and passers-by, and ended up with two helpers (appropriately monikered 'Germany' and 'Iran') to ensure he was tightly secured within the chains. Then he twisted and contorted and, quite possibly, dislocated his shoulder to get himself out -- in fact, he made it look easy.
To be completely honest, I wish I'd been picked to join in. I used to be so shy when I was a teenager: I would have hidden behind other people to be sure I wasn't picked and avoided all eye contact. Even now I'm worried that I'll mess up -- Todd had the particpants throw a ball back and forth and I absolutely would have thrown it way off -- but I want to be up front with the show and have those memories of taking part. Maybe next time!
Obviously I can't recommend you see Todd Vicious when you're in Edinburgh -- I don't know how often he performs or if he travels -- but I do want to mention that there were a lot of people who stayed to watch the full show and walked away once the escape was complete so that they weren't under pressure to pay. Todd kept us entertained for an hour. Damn, I missed out on the museum to watch him. My sister and I put a tenner in each, because it was something unique and a lot of it he improvised on the spot; even a fiver is a nice way of showing appreciation. Todd even said that if we really couldn't afford anything to come up and shake his hand. He even allowed people with cameras to come to the front for a better view and gave them dramatic purposes -- but they still left without a word. Please support the people who entertain you: no one should be expected to work for free.
Tea - Naked Bakery
After a meeting and last bit of wandering we went to Naked Bakery, which I think my sister had been looking forward to the entire trip. It's a small cafe down pretty "vintage" streets, and the inside is fantastically chic: purple walls, gold cutlery, and even a flower wall for photos.
We both had burgers for tea -- my sister had macaroni cheese and I had the signature burger, which came with pink mayo, beetroot hummus, and avocado, and served in a charcoal bun. Yep, this place is the Instagram dream.
And while the savoury food is good, it's the sweet treats that are the real show-stoppers. We got a cake each with hot chocolate -- and my sister even had a white hot chocolate with marshmallows. She had the prettiest candyfloss-flavoured cake with a unicorn on top and a rainbow inner, which was almost too adorable to eat. I got chocolate and orange (with glitter) and it was so tasty. It reminded me a little of Charizard. While there may not be Pokemon cupcakes in the world just yet, my sister is making Pokemon ice cream pins (yep, if you've made it this far you're going to get a plug for my sister).
We took a couple of cakes to take home, and even our father (definitely not vegan) said they were the best cakes he'd ever tasted. As soon as he'd finished he was online trying to see if they deliver (sadly, they don't - it's an exclusively Edinburgh experience).
We loved visiting Edinburgh and even if I'm visiting for work I'll be putting time aside to visit some of these places again, especially Naked Bakery for gifts to bring home. Do you have any other recommendations for the Scottish capital? Drop a comment and let me know for next time I'm up there