The UK Trip: Day 7 in Edinburgh

We arrived in Edinburgh Thursday evening just as it was getting dark. We were fortunate to find our Airbnb apartment and unload our things before it got too late, but instead of exploring the rainy city right away, we grabbed an Uber to the closest theater to watch “A Star is Born”. 

The location of the apartment was perfectly situated across the street from a Starbucks and a grocery store, so on Friday morning, while I watched coverage of Princess Eugenie’s wedding, Chuck made a coffee and pastry run. 

View from the bedroom window: 

It was inevitable that our good luck with clear weather would end. The next two days in Scotland brought a constant mist and occasional shower, but we were prepared and had appropriate gear. 

My expectations of Edinburgh were few, but even then I wasn’t prepared for so little color and flat building faces. Perhaps I’d just been spoiled with blooming flower boxes and bright blue skies in England. Maybe it was the rain that cast a gray shadow on the southern city. Whatever the reason, any bit of color caught my eye, like this purple door: 

Or these flags: 

Our main goal for Edinburgh was the castle – naturally – so that’s the direction we headed on foot.

The wind was something fierce that day, so when we finally made it to the Royal Mile, we braced ourselves and held on for dear life.

Expansive views from atop the castle hill: 

Unlike many of the places we’d visited already, the tourists were swarming at Edinburgh Castle. In some places, it was a tight squeeze. Fortunately I caught a few photos without people obstructing the view.

After touring the grounds, it was easy to see why this castle was one of the inspirations for Hogwarts. 

St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh: 

My favorite spot on the grounds: 

My monarchy-loving self also thoroughly enjoyed all of the Mary, Queen of Scots and King James VI exhibits. (Photography was limited.) 

The war memorial on the castle grounds was also worth a stop. Here, a tribute to the Cameronians from the Highlands: 

On account of the rain, I didn’t have my camera out as often as I normally would, but I managed to snap a few good photos with my cell phone, including a selfie: 

One thing I didn’t realize about Edinburgh is that it’s layered – there are literally layers of streets, passageways, and hidden tunnels throughout the city. We’d approach a bridge and I’d expect an alleyway of some sort. But no, it was an entire other street with traffic and people three stories below.

In parts, Edinburgh absolutely feels like Hogsmeade.

Greyfriar’s Bobby

A post about Edinburgh wouldn’t be complete without a photo of The Elephant House, the little cafe where JK Rowling spent her earlier years writing the Harry Potter series. 

On our way back to the apartment we stopped at Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers to buy a tie for Chuck made with his family’s tartan, the Camerons. It was made to order and shipped to us back home. 

He opted for the hunting tartan below instead the standard clan tartan, which is red and green and looked too Christmasy.

Dinner that night was take-away from a little Thai place across the street from the apartment. Having been cold and wet from the rain all day, it was nice to cozy up on the couch and chill. 

Up next: Cairngorms National Park and exploring the old Cameron family stomping grounds

Hogsmeade Village

We had one full day at Universal, and that limitation required careful planning in regard to arrival time, meal time, and what part of the park to visit when. The crowd was unreal. Suffocating, in fact. Chuck remarked that navigating Iceland was less stressful than making our way through Universal, and I agreed. It took a bit of time for me to adjust expectations and ready my brain to endure the full day. Be it my innate introversion, a propensity for anxiety, or fatigue from travel, or a powerful combination of all three, I needed a moment to warm up to the amusement park.

Once I crossed over, I was better. No, I was better than better. I was buoyant. I couldn’t look away. Every detail of the buildings, signs, and overhead music deserved my acute attention. We began the day at Hogsmeade.

Captured in winter, Hogsmeade is the little wizarding village older students can visit on the weekends (with parents’ permission). It’s home to Honeydukes and Ollivander’s, The Three Broomsticks, and the Hog’s Head.

We’re introduced to Hogsmeade for the first time in the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

It was at the Owl Post, attached to Ollivander’s, where Owen and I purchased our wands – he chose Neville Longbottom’s, I selected Professor McGonagall’s. (Also in the store was the Monster Book of Monsters.)

On the far end of Hogsmeade is Hogwarts Castle and its ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The motion-based ride takes you on a simulated broomstick ride with Harry around the castle, by the Whomping Willow, and through a Quidditch game (and a mess of Dementors). By the end of the day I’d ridden it three times. I would’ve ridden it more had I the opportunity. Like a child, I gripped my “broomstick” and beamed with delight. I absolutely flippin’ loved it. 

Instead of boarding the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley, we decided to walk back through Universal towards a food court area to eat lunch. Knowing we’d return to Hogsmeade for the light show at night, we’d enjoy the train ride then.

Next: Diagon Alley

A second spring break

As homeschoolers, we do what we want. It’s glorious. It’s magnificent.

Our first spring break was spent at home, and truth be told, we still did math and reading while on hiatus from our homeschool cooperative. It wasn’t a full respite because we knew we had a second break coming – one that involved travel and excitement beyond compare.

Several years ago my sweet sister decided that she needed to take my children to Disney World since we weren’t going to. NO PROBLEM, I said, and threw some money her way. In 2015, Jeremy joined her family at Disney, and eventually, it would be Jackson’s turn.

This was his year.

On top of the Disney adventure, we decided it was also time to fork over the cash and visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, somewhere I’ve wanted to visit since it was built. Both Jeremy and Jackson are fans of the books and movies, so we’ve been counting the days until we could finally head to Orlando.

There is much to say about the experience, but in this particular post, I’ll be brief. I was overwhelmed to the point of tears, and not I’m not exaggerating. (Chuck has photographic proof, which I won’t be sharing publicly.) Since reading the first book in 2001 and seeing the final film in 2011, to watching both of my children fall in love with the series and love it as I do, going to Hogsmeade Village and Diagon Alley was an experience that spotlighted nearly two decades fandom. 

The impeccable detail of these two scenes left me fully satisfied, feeling like I’d actually walked into a magical world and lived there for one full day. YES, I bought a wand (Professor McGonagall’s). YES, I bought a Chocolate Frog. YES, we rode the Hogwarts Express. YES, we tried Butterbeer.

There is much to say about how it all felt, but I know what you really want is to see photos. They’re coming. I’ve got a few things to check off my to-do list before I tackle editing them.

Chuck, Jeremy, and I returned home late Wednesday night, leaving Jackson in Orlando with my sister and her family. He still had Disney World to experience, after all. From what I’ve seen in texts and Snaps, he’s living his best life. He’s loving every minute. Two magical experiences in one week is too good to be true for an 11-year-old. 

And yet, it’s all real.