Day trip to Edinburgh.
Or Day trip to Hogwarts. The Real One, motherf&%ker.
Act 1: Train Ride to Scotland.
When J.K. Rowling was deciding how wizards would get from London to Hogwarts, she chose for them a train from Kings Cross station, naturally. The trains are part of the moment of being in Europe and are worth the price not just as sightseeing tours but are a look into the heart of a place you can’t see from cities or from the other side of a cloud on a silly little broomstick. Also, as a nice little bonus, there’s a place like Paris at the other end. Or in this case, Scotland. Or if we’re being historically accurate, Hogwarts. And speaking of, I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life searching for the magic in Europe, and nowhere is it more electrified than on the trains that depart from Kings Cross station. Where else, and with the faintest of shrugs, as in the butterfly flapping its wings, can you answer to disbelieving inquiries that you went to Scotland for the day, followed by some casual statement about the new towels you hope to be waiting for you in your hotel room because they weren’t changed yesterday and maybe you’re just going to have to say something. An equally ordinary activity, for you.
So get to Kings Cross station as early as you can to catch your Hogwarts express to Edinburgh because this train can apparate you there by noon and for an afternoon in Scotland you’ll never forget. But the schedule depends on the day and some trains leave later but are faster, etc., so the easiest thing to do is just to go to the UK National Rail website and find the best train for you. Or call. Or just show up to the ticket counters at Kings Cross station a day or two before. The folks of the National Rail are helpful and are some of my favorite people in Europe because they’ve been responsible for some of my most romantic days there. As for getting to the train station early, it’s really just waking up and going to the bathroom and then getting back into bed except the window on your train is your pillow and your bed is the English country side and it comes with a rocking function.
Now you have absolutely nothing to do for the next five hours except to watch the countryside go by or read Harry Potter but either way it doesn’t really matter because you’ll be looking at the same thing because you’re on the real life Hogwarts Express, motherf*&ker. A few hours into your train the landscape changes from English to Scottish. You can feel it outside your window, especially when you begin to chug alongside the sea, which you realize in terms of ancientness, has met its match with Scotland.
Act II: Edinburgh.
Sometimes you get off a train and you’re really not in the middle of the city as in you kind of have to take a cab to get anywhere, etc., but the good news is, since in the middle of such ancientness you are ironically pressed for time, the train drops you off smack in the middle of Edinburgh so hop off the train and go west on Market St and then aim for the giant old castle on the hill which is responsible for much of UK history.
Edinburgh Castle is the castle that J.K. Rowling sat in the shadow of (is shadow the right word? Sounds too young for Scotland) as she was writing from her café and is the inspiration for Hogwarts. Besides that, this is a very real, as in not kitsch and new and built to look old but really isn’t (achu Neuschwanstein). This bad boy is the most besieged castle in British history. Much blood has been spilt here. Treat it that way. Not only that but it’s got a chapel still standing from the 11f&%kin30’s and really the whole campus of it flows so well and it’s not crowded except by those you want to be sharing this with. Also the Scots who work there are, like so many of their countrymen, friendly and charming so talk to them.
From the castle, walk down Royal Mile and then get a cab to Calton Hill. You stand smack in the middle of Scottish outdoor scenery and monuments that are poetic and in front of you is Edinburgh and then the castle is up above it and to your left are Scottish hills and cliffs and the whole thing is so bloody poetic nobody will fault you for blurting out in an emotional outburst, “Aragog! King of the arachnids!” I mean the emotion has to go somewhere and the scenery is Harry Potter and it’s just almost too much.
The wind is usually the oldest thing wherever you are and the thing that chills you and reminds you not to take the world around you too seriously, but it isn’t the oldest thing here. This is the place where the wind originates. I swear it. There’s a clarity of mind that comes with this ancientness because not only do you realize everything silly will be forgotten but soon will be forgotten for a very long time.
Then, from Calton Hill, walk west on A1 which becomes Princes St and then after a few minutes take a right on Hanover St and then a quick left onto Rose St and the Mussel Inn will be on your right. We had mussels from the bay we had just looked out over (from the ramparts of the castle) and that was cold but in here with these mussels I’ve never been warmer. Ever.
Then there’s the Elephant House where our J.K. Rowling wrote at least some of Harry Potter. Plus the hike to get here (I tried to think of a better word than hike because it’s really a walk through a park but there are these epic and sweeping and mind-blowing views of Edinburg Castle up on a perch that knights have been trying to breach for centuries including the bad guy king from Braveheart so hike seemed more suitable) is stunning so from Mussel Inn take Rose St back to Hanover St which becomes The Mound and that takes you through Princess Street Gardens and then The Mound becomes N Bank St and then take a right on Bank St and that becomes George IV Bridge and at the Merchant St intersection is Elephant House. About fifteen minutes if you don’t stop. But you will. We had enough time for a slice of cake but if we had taken one train earlier on a weekday I would have spent another hour here at a table looking up at Edinburgh Castle. You can see it up on its hill through the same window J.K. looked through while she was gifting the world with what I would in any other circumstance call the novels of Harry Potter but I should say the history of Harry Potter because novels imply fiction.
Also, since she wrote at least some of Harry Potter from this place, on the bathroom walls folks have scrawled messages written to J.K. Rowling about what Harry Potter has meant to them and I wish I had read them all. I’ve also just realized that I lied to you. I said earlier that Mussel Inn was the warmest place in which I’ve ever been, but then I thought about the messages written in the bathroom of this place.
Act III: Train Ride Back to London.
I’ve decided to make this trip back to London it’s own act because what’s cooler in the world than finishing a Harry Potter novel that ends in leaving Hogwarts than leaving the castle that Hogwarts was based on and on the train that the Hogwarts express is based on. Plus. Harry Potter is, somehow, different once you’ve been to Scotland. Plus you’ll need time to practice saying, yes. Scotland. Yes. One day. Just make sure you ask somebody the absolute last train you need to catch from Edinburgh to make it home in time to London. Otherwise you’ll have to spend the night in some random beautiful British town. Damn.
Epilogue: The Trolley Stuck into Platform 9 ¾.
Now. Now once you are back at Kings Cross it’ll be late and the crowd will be thinned to non-existent so now take those pictures pretending to push the cart that’s stuck halfway through the platform at 9 3/4. Wait until you get back. After about 10:30 pm or so, the line to the trolley stuck in the wall evaporates and you’ve got it and multiple pictures of you pushing a cart through the wall to platform 9 3/4 all to yourself. It might be midnight, but you’re never too tired for giddiness. Welcome back to London from Scotland for the day. No big deal.