For weeks I counted down the days until my sister’s arrival in the UK. We had planned to hop around Great Britain, spending a few days each in Salisbury, Edinburgh and London. After picking her up at Heathrow, David and I whisked her away to our favorite pub for her first proper pint and then had dinner at Anokaa, one of our favorite Indian restaurants. It meant a lot to have my sister see a glimpse of what life in the English countryside was like. It’s no surprise that Steph immediately fell in love with our cottage. I knew that of all people, my sister would get excited about every little nook, cranny and landscape that I have been admiring for months.
It’s a good thing I had already bought train tickets to Edinburgh since that seemed to be the only thing from stopping Steph from staying in the cottage. We woke up early (1am in Steph’s case) to catch the train to King’s Cross in London and continue our journey to Edinburgh. Even though the train ride was 4.5 hours, it seemed to go by quickly as we continued along the coast of the North Sea towards Scotland, which was lined with pastures of sheep, beautiful estates and quaint farmhouses.
Bagpipes played as we got off the train and went to the Balmoral Hotel for cocktails and a snack before checking into our hotel on the campus of the University of Edinburgh’s. Steph’s co-worker’s father-law and mother-in-law (did you follow that?) live just outside Edinburgh and were nice enough to take us on a tour to better acquaint ourselves with the city. Graeme and Angela were such a delight, so we made plans to go out for dinner the next evening. Edinburgh Castle overlooks Edinburgh on one end of the city, while The Palace of Holyroodhouse is on the other end. The Royal Mile is the road connecting the two iconic attractions, which is filled with large stone buildings, dark gothic churches, colorful tatty shops (tourist shops as Graeme called them), whiskey shops with Scotty dogs in the windows and kilt shops galore.
Despite Steph nearly falling asleep at dinner from jetlag, I bribed her with a pint and dragged her along the City of the Dead Haunted Graveyard Tour. The tour was more disturbing than scary (ok, maybe eery) and we learned about the scarred Scottish history that they don’t teach you in school. We wondered around Greyfriar’s Graveyard and acquainted ourselves with the MacKenzie poltergeist and Covenanter’s Prison. The pleasantly unexpected part of the tour was when our guide pointed out that J.K. Rowling spent many days in the graveyard while writing the Harry Potter books and many of the names in the books (i.e. Moody, Riddle, McGonagall etc) were taken off the gravestones. The Greyfriars Kirkyard (as they call it in Scotland) also happens to be next to George Heriot’s Boarding school where the children are divided into four schools, with each school having the same colors as Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Slytherin, and Gryffindor. It almost seems like the Scots speak more highly of J.K. Rowling than Her Majesty. They fancy themselves the birthplace of Harry Potter and are proud of it. This unforeseen part of the tour was very much appreciated for a Harry Potter buff such as myself.
During the graveyard tour, we ran into some bloakes from the train and joined them later for drinks at Greyfriars Bobby’s Pub. Fortunately, Steph got her second wind and we danced and drank the night away with our new friends. I don’t think my younger sister originally had high hopes of her older, married sister (who’s usually in bed early) keeping up with her, but I think I exceeded her expectations since we got back to the hotel at 4am. We were a bit slower the next morning, but managed to visit The Palace, walk (and shop) the Royal Mile, and go to the Whiskey Experience. That weekend, there was a big rugby game against France, which created a very lively atmosphere in the city. We ate lunch at Angels & Bagpipes, a modern Scottish restaurant which showcased local and seasonal ingredients. The food was incredibly good and I continued to stuff my face with local seafood, along with traditional neeps and tatties (mashed potatoes and turnips). Graeme and Angela picked us up and we enjoyed a glass of whiskey at their house before heading to dinner. On our way to the restaurant, we drove past their neighbor’s city estate, whose named happened to be J.K. Rowling. We had a lovely dinner on the water and I tried haggis for the first time. I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t scared, but sure enough I liked it…a lot. You are probably just as surprised as I was, believe me.
Steph had the brilliant idea to enjoy breakfast at the Balmoral Hotel before getting on the train the next morning. We didn’t have the budget to stay there, but we could dine as though we did. The breakfast buffet was exceptional, as was the service. The breakfast room was crowded with French rugby fans getting ready to enjoy’s the days game, while we geared up to enjoy our train back to London (or catch-up on sleep).
It was so much fun being in London with my sister and it was odd arriving to a foreign city that felt so familiar to me. I loved introducing Steph to the city so we started by jumping on the hop-on, hop-off bus to experience all of its incredible attractions. In Covent Garden, we ran into one of my idols, Chef Marco Pierre White who was filiming a new tv series. In between seeing the other sites, we shopped until we dropped and then got dolled up for the theater. We dined at Hix, which is in the heart of theatre-land in SOHO. It was the perfect spot for a pre-theatre meal before we went to see Les Miserables. This was my first time seeing the 32 year old iconic musical after hearing so much praise about it. Les Mis was Steph’s first musical and unfortunately for her, seeing Les Miserable in London for your first play sets the bar quite high. We spent a lot of time walking through the streets and parks, and we popped into sweet shops here and there so that I could show my sister as many of my favorite places to snack at as possible.
The six days with my sister went by way too fast. We laughed, teased and joked as only sisters could do. We would exchange thoughts with just a glance, and were always feeding off of each other’s energy. We parted at the Gloucester Road tube stop where she would head back to Heathrow, and I would go to Waterloo Station to catch the train. I’m so thankful of my time spent traveling with my sister in the UK, but I was sad to see it end and now I miss her even more. Whether it be England, Scotland, Seattle or Boston, no time is enough time spent with my sister. It’s very fitting that this is my 100th post because having my sister in Europe was momentous for me.