Confession. Scotland wasn’t ever on my list of places to visit. I figure, I sorta have my own travel-sized Scott-land anyway, so why bother? But, we had to leave the Schengen area because of our visa so we needed to go somewhere. His first choice was to go Edinburgh for the weekend and tried to sell me on it with the line “they say you can experience all four seasons in a single day in Scotland.” That couldn’t have made me any less interested, but I thought we should do something he wanted to do. Since of course, there’s the other 361 days…
Most of my knowledge of Scotland comes from Braveheart and Trainspotting. I don’t remember either of those very well, but I suspect neither would give an appropriate description of what to expect from this country. So, I arrived with almost no preconceptions. The nice thing about having few to no expectations was that the weekend was a string of surprises. And then, since it’s us, some completely unsurprising, totally predictable moments.
Surprise #1 hit me in about 20 minutes – and right in the quads. I’m convinced this city is entirely uphill. Some clever person on Tripadvisor said this about the city: “Edinburgh is like an Escher drawing. Everywhere seems to be up a flight of steps”. So true. But I read that only after arriving there.
We started our first day the right way – with a full, traditional Scottish breakfast. It had all the typical elements: fried egg, haggis, blood pudding, beans, grilled tomato, mushrooms, toast, and a tattie scone. Surprise #2: I didn’t realize how many traditional Scottish foods there are, how many of them are really good, and just how many of them have crazy names (that sound like euphemisms for other things).
- Haggis is made from sheep’s pluck (liver, lungs, and heart) and mixed with oatmeal, onion, spices, and cooked inside the lining of the sheep’s stomach. And in the offal-ly predictable column, S had this at every meal he could.
- Neeps and Tatties (turnips and potatoes), which are typically served with haggis. Ahh, the joy of ordering ridiculous sounding food. Moons over my hammy, anyone?
- Scottish tablet. The holy trinity of sugar, condensed milk, and butter cooked down into a fudge-like consistency. This is for people with a real sweet tooth. As in, you probably just have the one tooth since the rest of yours have decayed from your insatiable love of sugary foods. This thang is sweet.
- Other things we read about but didn’t try include cullen skink (thick Scottish soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions) and a battered, deep-fried Mars bar (which is exactly what it sounds like).
After breakfast, we walked through Princes Street Gardens, which brought me to surprise #3: SO much green. The park was full of flowers in bloom and big green spaces. I wasn’t expecting that much life and color.
Arthur’s Seat and Glamour Shots
Since the weather was so great, we used that day to head up to Arthur’s Seat – the peak of an ancient volcano within the hills of Holyrood Park. It is about 250 meters high. And let me tell you, my legs were feeling every bit of that climb. There are some fairly steep parts. From the summit (and once you’re done panting uncontrollably), you can take in the beautiful views of the city, other nearby hills, and the North Sea. Surprise #4 came unexpectedly on the descent. Neither of us have appropriate shoes for this sort of thing soo…right at the very top as we were coming down, we slipped numerous times. Totally scary. It happened to lots of people too, before you go thinking we’re just that uncoordinated. I mean we are, but still.
After planting our feet on solid ground, both still intact, I wasn’t totally ready to leave the sun and the park. I spotted this small hill covered with tall, grassy stalks and felt compelled to have a super cheesy photo shoot, à la glamour shots. Well, whaddya think? Did we embrace our inner sexy?? And FYI, I pulled that “embrace your inner sexy” phrase directly from the glamour shots website. I was curious if that was still a thing, and apparently it is. Strangely, writing this bit seems to have triggered a previously repressed memory, where I might have taken part of one of those sessions as a kid. It’s pretty fuzzy, so I’m going to go back to repressing it, because that would be truly disturbing.
Dinner and More Surprises
We had a lovely dinner at the Whiski Rooms. We tried more haggis, Scottish salmon, and fish and chips, accompanied by delicious whisky and whisky cocktails.
That evening, we were a little late to our dinner reservation because police had blocked off some of the streets so we had to find an alternate route. We didn’t think much of it at the time. By the time we left the restaurant there were crowds huddled against barricades staring at St. Giles cathedral. It was a movie set. After some quick research, we learned….it was the AVENGERS set! Can you believe that? Surprise #5. They just starting filming Infinity War and were setting up explosions that evening. How freakin’ cool? And once again, we predictably assumed our roles. One of us was giddy, joined the crowed, pushed toward the front, and eagerly awaited to see…just about anything. One of us was like…”I’ll tell you what, I’ll take you to see the movie.” I’ll let you guess who was who, so as not to typecast anyone. I am deeply sorry to say that there were no brushes with the likes of Robert Downey, Jr, ScarJo, or any of the others.
Strolling and Sipping through Edinburgh
The following morning, perhaps as a pick-me-up for our failed celebrity sighting, S took me to Cairngorm Coffee for coffee + grilled cheese!? What a delightful combination. Surprise #6: sometimes good + good really does equal better. We then headed to Edinburgh castle, but quickly learned that it was a £17 entry fee. That’s a lot of scotches. So, we skipped it and settled for photos of the outside. I’m sure this is a must-see for a lot of folks, but I wasn’t having it.
The rest of the day we wandered around the city. The architecture is beautiful. We walked a bit through New Town, but spent most of our time in Old Town. Old town is a maze of narrow alleyways (called closes) and cobbled streets. We walked along the Royal Mile – the famous and historic main thoroughfare in Edinburgh – numerous times.
We strolled down to Grassmarket, a lively and picturesque area full of shopping, artists, restaurants and bars. Victoria street is especially colorful and vibrant and allegedly the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Diagon Alley. While in Grassmarket, we stopped for super trendy lattés: Turmeric and Red velvet. Red velvet = Beet juice, rose water, and hazelnut milk. Turmeric lattés are a recent fad, and kind of the Americanized, hipster version of India’s haldi doodh. Why wasn’t Indian stuff cool when we were kids?
And of course, we had to maximize our scotch tasting time while here so we made a stop at the Amber bar for a few drinks. At home in MD, S had a serious problem of buying whisky. Not a problem drinking it (thankfully), but buying it, so we’ve always had plenty on hand: peaty stuff for him, bourbons for me, artisanal stuff we picked up from NYC, generous gifts, anything Japanese we could get our hands on, etc. Ever since we’ve been in Europe, he’s been living on (he’d say surviving on) wine. So over the course of the weekend, we ensured to sample scotch from most of the regions: Speyside, the Islands, Islay, and the Lowlands. Needless to say, the man was in heaven.