A history to celebrate in Edinburgh

SUNSHINE ON LEITH: At festival time Edinburgh doesn’t sleep for a month.
SUNSHINE ON LEITH: At festival time Edinburgh doesn’t sleep for a month.

Edinburgh is a great alternative to London, says Nadine Lee. 

Why did you move to Edinburgh?

I had been thinking about leaving New Zealand for a while, but was totally dragging my feet about embarking on the exhausted antipodean trek to London. To be honest, I didn't know much about Edinburgh (apart from the festivals) before I came here. But everyone who I floated the idea with at home told me how much of an amazing city it is. And they're absolutely, positively right.

IT'S NOT LONDON: Edinburgh is a great, cheaper alternative to London, says expat Kiwi Nadine Lee.
IT'S NOT LONDON: Edinburgh is a great, cheaper alternative to London, says expat Kiwi Nadine Lee.

What do you do there?

I write for a website part-time about Scottish clans and history. I'm incredibly lucky that my job basically allows for me to be a "history-nerd", offering a fresh perspective on Scotland to a mostly American and Canadian readership. I've interviewed clan chiefs, attended Gaelic singing lessons, spent the day at the Scottish parliament and travelled to many castles, battle sites and other places of historical significance for my job. The rest of the time I work in a lovely little community pub in the village-like area of Marchmont.

What do you like or dislike about life in Edinburgh?

The best thing about Scotland is the people. They're incredibly friendly and generous, with a fantastic quick wit to boot. It's also a very interesting time to be living in Scotland with the Independence Referendum coming up in 2014, and I love how politically astute the Scots are - for example there's only one Tory MSP in the entire highlands.

How does the cost of living compare to New Zealand?

Living costs are more expensive than home. Thankfully, the cost of living in Edinburgh hasn't quite reached London prices yet. There's ways to scrimp and save but it takes a while to learn. I can't believe people pay £5 ($10) for a glass of house wine. But cigarettes are cheaper here. And I love that you can buy a concise daily version of the Independent newspaper for 20p (40c).

What do you do on weekends?

The best place to be on the weekends when the sun's out is down on the Meadows. It's a glorious public park in between The University of Edinburgh and Marchmont, and if the weather's right you can guarantee it will be chokka with folks enjoying barbecues, a touch of frisbee or sunbathing. I like going to Stockbridge on Sundays and wandering about the markets.

What do you think of the food?

Unfortunately, my taste for good Chinese gained in Auckland is yet to be fulfilled in Scotland. Earthy Market Garden on Causewayside has the best coffee in town and is guaranteed to be the most wholesome meal you'll ever eat in Scotland. Since being here I've discovered I'm quite a fan of game meats, my current favourite being freshly shot pheasant.

What's the best way to get around the city?

It's just the right size, roughly a bit smaller than Wellington which means most places are easily walkable or bikeable. The bus service is fantastic, but the late night buses annoyingly triple in price. Taxis are very expensive but usually the best way to get home after a night out.

What's the shopping like?

Edinburgh's shopping is quite limited, and most locals head an hour down the road to Glasgow for a day out shopping. I prefer to shop at charity shops, so I'm incredibly spoilt for choice as Edinburgh apparently has more per capita than any other city in the UK.

What's the nightlife like?

The Scots really, really know how to party. There's always something to do at night including house parties, an incredible array of folk music, theatre, poetry, clubs and, of course, a pub on almost every corner. The Fringe Festival begins soon in August - the population triples in size and the city doesn't sleep for a month.

What is your favourite part of the city?

My writing job is based in Leith, which is the port of Edinburgh. It's a little bit more edgy down that end of town and is home to some very colourful locals - which in turn has attracted a lot of artists, musicians and writers to the area. There's also some great record and book shops along Leith Walk.

What time of year is best to visit?

Even though the festivals happen towards the end of summer, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Christmas/Hogmanay (New Year) is the best time to visit. The city is absolutely gorgeous at Christmas, and you can spend hours at the imported German Christmas market on Princes Street. Hogmanay is the largest New Year's Eve celebration in the world, with the whole city joining in on festivities. And it's not as cold as you would think!

What's your must-do thing for visitors?

Check out the Trainspotting walking tour down in Leith. You'll see where Irvine Welsh wrote the book, as well as many locations featured in his quintessential Edinburgh tale. The pubs down that end of town - especially the Port O'Leith - are another breed altogether compared with the dainty establishments up the road in Edinburgh.

What are your top tips for tourists?

You'll need to have the exact fare (£1.50/$3 single fare) for any bus you catch as the drivers won't give you change.

How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?

Considering New Zealand is on the complete opposite side of the world, I'd be looking at doing at least two stop overs, and 30+ hours of travel.

If you know an expat who wants to share the inside knowledge on their home away from home, email escape@star-times.co.nz with Expat in the subject line.

Sunday Star Times