Traveling the world, learning languages, and immersing myself in new cultures.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Edinburgh, Scotland: Lochs, Glens, and Fried Mars Bars

Synopsis: I was planning to go to Scotland last year, but since I signed with a basketball team, I was not able to travel during the season. Now, I've bought my ticket, and Staša and I are going. Hmmm, didn't realize they were voting for independence on the 18th... (spoiler alert: they voted against it.)

Trip Overview:
Day 1: Early morning bus to Charleroi and then RyanAir flight to Edinburgh. Of course, it's misty and drizzling. AirLink bus with free wifi into town. I see quite a bit of uniformity in the housing, like there were only 3 options to pick from, on the way to city center. Stop for lunch and then walk around a bit until our 2pm free walking tour, starting at the Royal Mile.

The free tour, with Jen from Norfolk, is not "naff" at all. She is an excellent and lively tour guide. I wrote a very nice review for her on TripAdvisor. After the tour, head to hotel to check in, and then back out for dinner. Eating some haggis with my meal makes me feel like a real Scotsman. 

We walk around the city a bit until our 9pm "Dark Side" tour, also starting at the Royal Mile. The weather is better than this morning. Sabela, from Spain, is our "Dark Side" tour guide, giving us the gruesome/not so nice history of Edinburgh. The tour is pretty good, and I learn about the inspiration of "A Christmas Story" and Ebeneezer Scrooge - Dickens was inspired by misreading a tombstone in a graveyard in Edinburgh. Great way to end the night. 

Thoughts: It's usually the signs and language that make me feel like I'm in a foreign country, but not in the UK - it's driving on the left. A few interesting observations:

  • There are a lot of Asians in Scotland. 
  • A "close" (pronounced like dose) are small walkways between buildings, that lead to interesting courtyards and streets. 
  • Whisky with no "e" is Scottish. 
  • Cashmere and sheep wool sold everywhere. 
  • Friendly and good customer service - I can't be in Europe anymore! 
  • Smokers everywhere - ok I'm back in Europe.
  • Many Spanish speaking tours around the city. 
  • Free cash machines are ATMs, not free money.
  • "$h!t-faced drunk" etymology - In olden days, bars closed at 10pm, the same time as the nightly waste bucket thrown from the windows, but they had to signal they were throwing out the waste and when they yelled, drunk people leaving bars would look up and...
  • "Graveyard shift" etymology - Body snatching was lucrative and to prevent loved ones from being stolen, they would sit on graves for two weeks, after which the body is too decomposed to sell. 

Front row seats on RyanAir

Turned my $500 into £13. Darn exchange rate

Arriving in Edinburgh

Blending in with the locals

Our fearless guide, Jen

Receiving corporal punishment at the Mercat Tours

Rubbing David Hume's foot for luck

Narnia lamp post outside the Writer's Museum (aka Lady Stairs House)

Neighbors with different opinions

Reenacting the Battle of Flodden
I'm no Harry Potter fan, but I couldn't pass up a pic with the original Thomas Riddle


Gazing up at Edinburgh Castle

Lookin' at Scotland from a different view

Showing her disdain for public executions by spitting on the Heart of Midlothian

Honest Abe in the Old Calton Burial Grounds

View of the city from Calton Hill

Our night tour finished at The World's End

Day 2: Wake up too early for breakfast at the hotel, in order to walk to the bus tour. Nothing open along the way so stop in the train station to get breakfast. Andy is the bus driver and tour guide of our Highlands Tour. Andy has witty banter and clever sarcasm while he gives us history and information about what we are seeing (like teaching us to hunt haggis). After the first stop at a whisky distillery, the sun comes out and shines brightly on the beautiful highland lochs and glens (lakes and valleys). We tour around in the minibus until Spean Bridge Mill, where we eat. It is a bit rushed, so we miss the whisky tasting. 

Then, we head to the famous Loch Ness. We opt not to do the boat tour so we can walk around Fort Augustus and the Caledonian Canal, just as a boat passes through. We meet a french girl, who tags along with us, and we speak a wee bit of french with her. We never see Nessie...

The bus takes us to a spot in the Cairngorms National Park, for a quick nature walk, 15 minutes, to see a waterfall. Then, to our last stop in the city of Pitlochry. We walk around the town briefly and use the bathroom. I grab a cappuccino there, which keeps me up the rest of the bus ride home and I get to enjoy the scenery. On the way back, we see the impressive Forth Rail Bridge, 8 times stronger than its need to be, since its predecessor collapsed. Thomas Botch, who built the original bridge, is now the reason we say "botch a job" for doing a poor job. Once back in Edinburgh, we go for dinner on the Royal Mile and then head back to the hotel. 

Thoughts: I know I've been in Europe a long time because the large coffee is usually 6oz (which is now plenty for me) and I'm surprised that Scotland serves a 12oz cup. Sheep are all over the highland countryside, to supply cashmere and haggis, possibly? I've noticed there is no one selling trinkets and other useless items and following you around or hassling you, like in many other european cities. Hotel is not very good - can hear people on the street, wifi doesn't work in the room, bed is uncomfortable, and just small. Good thing I didn't spend much time in there!

Mode of transport for the day

Deanston Distellery is our first stop

Bagpiper...bagpipist? Bagpipe player in the highlands

Someone's taking a selfie in the highlands

So, I have to follow suit and do one too

We did the red bus route

Partaking in real Scottish culture, by drinking an IRN BRU

Scottish highlands on a beautiful day

This is how you position yourself when calling for Nessie to come out and play

Finally found Nessie!

On our nature walk in the middle of a national park

The quaint town of Pitlochry

Crossing the Forth Road Bridge (nice photo Staša)

Scott Monument and Tim monumentally standing next to it 

Day 3: Full Scottish breakfast at the hotel, and I can eat the haggis (sheep heart, liver, and lungs) no problem, but I can't eat the mushrooms because they are fungus. Walking down the street to train and markets are being set up on the Royal Mile. Get on the train station at Waverly to Glasgow. Traverse the Scottish countryside and arrive at Queen's Street in Glasgow. Go out to George Square and hop on the city sightseeing tour bus. Not a bad tour tour.

After the bus tour, we met up with Dougie (a buddy I met in Riga) and he gives us a great tour of Glasgow. We walk up and down Buchanan Street and stop at the Willow Tea Rooms for gunpowder tea and a whisky sultana loaf. Walk through Merchant City to the East End, and the Barras, pretty much a ghetto flea market. Then, we go to get fish (haddock, not cod like in England) and chips and a fried mars bar, washing it all down with an IRN BRU, or "fizzy juice", as Dougie calls it. 

After my cholesterol jumps 5 points, and making me feel like I'm back in America, we go to oldest building in Glasgow, Provand's Lordship, only for a wee bit, since it closes in 15 minutes. Head up to the Necropolis and hang out with the dead people and get an excellent view of the city. 

Walk forever to the West End, then through Kelvingrove Park, and through the university, to Ashton Lane. Stop for food and drink at The Grosvenor. From there we catch a cab back to the train station and then hopped on a train to Edinburgh.

Thoughts: "Getting away Scott free" - Scotland court system has three verdicts: guilty, not guilty, and not proven, and the last one means they know you did it, but don't have proof, so you get to go. All Glasgow city council sponsored museums are free. Dougie is a great tour guide and filled in the stuff the bus tour left out, like that the Cineworld in Glasgow is the tallest movie theatre in the world. He was way more knowledgeable than I expected, and of course, he filled us in on the background of the referendum business. Lots of walking. 

Full Scottish breakfast

Arriving in Queen Street station in Glasgow

Not just any bus tour, but one narrated by Neil Oliver from BBC

Driving under Central Station

Is that a suggestion or the law?

The grass was so soft on my head

Ready for the tour with Dougie

He taught me so much, I should teach him how to Dougie (it's a dance)

Busy Buchanan Street

Indoor restaurants and merchants, with an outdoor feel
Welcome to the East End

Inside the Barras

Oh, those Scots being silly with the Duke of Wellington

Dougie and I, fish and chips, fried mars bar and a shot of insulin

Glasgow Cathedral from the Necropolis

Popular club/music venue, as you can see from the line

Mitchell Library, Dougie's favorite building, "except that bit in the middle"

Sunset in Kelvingrove Park

It's party time, or at least dinnertime

Cab ride home

Day 4: Grab breakfast at the hotel before checking out. Go up to Edinburgh castle and walk around all the free parts, then stop at St. Gile's Church, but can't find angel playing the bagpipes. Then head back down the Royal Mile and stop for a hot chocolate before catching the bus to the airport. 

Thoughts: It's nice to wake up and eat breakfast and take your time to get to the airport, but still arrive home with enough time to go to the store and get food. That's what I did today.

View from Edinburgh Castle

Selfie with the castle

I think my name just might be Scottish, no wonder I love the accent

Someone with my last name did some important stuff

We had drinks at Coffee House on the Royal Mile 3 times, because it was so good

Final thoughts
I know my Scottish accent is terrible, but I had so much fun trying to do it. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? I noticed lots of people spit on the streets. Some of it was on the heart, but most of it was just walking around. The movie, Braveheart, is not well liked here, as it improperly depicts history. However, William Wallace is very important in their history.
 Also, I was really surprised I only saw two golf courses. But, there is so much more of the country I have to see, including the isles and the northeast part of the country. So, I'll work on my accent in the meantime, and then head back for more Scawtlind!

Location: Scotland, UK


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