In Edinburgh, I saw Harry Potter’s birthplace.
When two friends, Bekah and Aubrey, and I decided to visit Edinburgh last Sunday, we put The Elephant House, the café where Rowling wrote the early Harry Potter books, on the list.
Of course, we got lost.
Our map was not forthcoming about when streets turned into bridges. Also, some streets were simply unnamed, forcing us to puzzle out when and where to turn.
After several minutes of wandering around, occasionally stopping to furrow our brows at the map, we stopped near the National Museum of Scotland, to consult it yet again. Casually, I glanced at the business next to us and caught a few telltale words: “Harry Potter. . .Rowling. . .Elephant.”
“Guys!” I exclaimed. “I think this is it.”
We looked up, and lo and behold, it was The Elephant House.
I was afraid to see a tourist trap, like the Royal Mile turned out to be — some kind of overpriced Harry Potter shrine with ridiculously long lines and gimmicky house-elf-shaped cookies and other gaudy memorabilia.
Instead, we walked into a brightly lit and bustling café festooned with elephants of all shapes and sizes: elephant figurines, elephant prints, an elephant chair, elephant-ear-shaped shortbread, a poster asking for donations to elephant care and rescue organizations,
The line was somewhat lengthy but took us no more than ten minutes to get through. There was a special of a small pot of tea plus a blueberry muffin for 3.25 pounds. No more than usual for a drink and pastry at your typical cute, indie café.
Of course, it was still packed; and when I attempted to go to the back room overlooking Edinburgh Castle, where Rowling had sat and written her first manuscripts, all the seats were taken or reserved; and a staff-member kindly but firmly informed me I had to order first before sitting down.
Still, we had no trouble finding three seats at the bar and settled in nicely, I with my rooibos tea, Bekah with her peppermint, and Aubrey with her chai.
Rowling’s preference was very understandable. The tea service was wonderful: there were loose leaves instead of bags and a nifty strainer that sat over the cup. All the niceties, milk, sugar, butter and jam, were duly offered. As for the muffin, it was perfectly moist and just-sweet-enough with a surprisingly juicy center that burst like a real blueberry when I bit into it.
Not to say that The Elephant House doesn’t puff itself up with Rowling and Harry Potter with its pamphlets and very noticeable sign. But, it clearly hasn’t let itself become too bigheaded and ignore the most important parts of a café experience: delicious food and a convivial atmosphere.