Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You take the high road, and I'll take the low road... Edinburgh, Scotland

and I'll be in Scotland before you :)

I like to think of myself as fairly well-traveled. There will always be a million places on my bucket list and a million people who have seen more than I have, but I like to think that I'm doing pretty well for myself. I've been to Paris, London, Rome, Munich, and lots of other big name cities. I fell in love with Italy and will always been trying to find an excuse to go back to New Zealand. So, when I say that my past weekend trip to Edinburgh, Scotland was one of the best travel weekends I've had, that's saying a lot.

Edinburgh captured my heart in so many ways. I had such a great experience both with the capital city, as well as with the Scottish people. I've never met a more friendly, down-to-earth, sweet group of people. Everyone I met, from the tipsy old Scottish man sitting next to me on the plane who talked for 3 straight hours, to the guy who gave us a 75% discount off of dinner for no reason, made our trip that much better.

Our trip started off Thursday morning with an unexpected hitch. As Eli and I were on our way to the mall to buy last minute raincoats, I had such a severe allergic reaction to the granola bar I was eating that we immediately had to turn around so I could rush to the hospital.  The last time I'd eaten a brazil nut, 12 years ago, my throat and tongue swelled up so much that I couldn't even tell the doctors my name. Since that day I have faithfully checked the ingredient list whenever I eat something with nuts in it, but the nut was so far down on the list that I guess I just didn't see it. Thankfully, there were only trace amounts of brazil nuts in the bar that had claimed to have only "cranberries, dark chocolate, macadamia nuts...and nothing dodgy", (liars), and I quickly got it under control at the clinic.

After that little setback we crossed our fingers that the rest of the trip would go smoothly, and left for Edinburgh. Here's a recap of the weekend:
  • We sat next a sweet old Scottish man on the plane, who spent the entire 3 hours drinking and telling us stories of places he'd travelled with his wife. He had an intense Scottish brogue. Couple that with noise of the plane and his soft voice, and I spent most of the time enthusiastically nodding and smiling and hoping he wasn't expecting an actual answer.
  • We went on the Sandemann's NewEdinburgh walking tour of the old city, which if you ever get the chance to go on a Sandemann's tour, DO IT. You will not regret it. The guides don't get paid by the company, and so they work solely for tips. They have to be incredibly knowledgeable and excited about what they do to make any money. We had a terrific guide, who spent 3 hours showing us around and telling us stories about the interesting people who had called the city home over the centuries. 
    • We walked through the cemetery where J.K. Rowling stole inspiration for character names in Harry Potter, and also saw the school which she based Hogwarts off of. 
    • Our guide explained that Edinburgh has around 700 pubs and taverns, and anybody who was anybody in Edinburgh's history has a bar named after them. Even Greyfriar Bobby, a little terrier dog who visited his owners grave everyday for years after he died waiting for him to return, had not only a pub but also a statue in his honor.
    • A woman was convicted and executed for hiding a pregnancy, but as they were taking her coffin to the cemetery the pallbearers heard scratching and thumping. The woman was alive! They took her back to the gallows a second time to re-execute her, but the mayor decided that she couldn't be tried for the same offense twice (double jeopardy) and she was allowed to live. 
    • There was a locksmith who made his living by making keys for the rich people of Edinburgh, duplicating the keys, and using the stolen keys to break into their houses and steal all their money. Genius. 
    • There were 2 men who made a living hiding out in back alleys after dark, and smothering drunks to kill them and sell their bodies to the Royal Medical School. The Medical School had a severe shortage in bodies available for dissection in classes, and so they never asked questions about where the bodies came from. They had killed almost 30 people and gotten away with it, until they killed a well-known prostitute, and a medical student "recognized" her body a few weeks later in class.
    • Our guide talked about what a pretentious city Edinburgh is. Back in the 1800's the city wanted to revive its image, and so they started adding statues, carvings and buildings around the city with no other purpose than to make the city appear more important. For example, on top of Colton Hill is a half-finished replica of the Parthenon. It's half-finished because the city ran out of money. There are also various stone statues of sphinxes on top of buildings, as well as statues of various important people with no actual relation to the city's history.
  • Eli and I ate way too much shortbread. And spicy ginger fudge. And these things called mint cakes and butter tablets. Mint cakes are what you get when you take a peppermint patty and subtract the chocolate. And probably add a little more sugar. Butter tablets are more or less butter-flavored sugar cubes. Yikes. But oh so good!
  • We went on a day tour through the Western Highlands, Glen Coe and ended at Loch Ness. Although we didn't have any Nessie sightings, we did pass the castle where Mary Queen of Scots was born, and another castle where Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed. I was also especially excited that we drove through the landscapes used to film the Hogwarts Express scenes.
Linlithgow Castle, birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots [Source]
Doune castle, where 70% of Monty Python was filmed [Source]
Entering Glen Coe. Glen means a narrow, rocky valley.
Small town we stopped in for a break.
Loch Ness!
The highlands have so many pine trees. The government used to give incentives for planting evergreen trees, so the hills are covered with them.
  • That night, Eli and I made it through a 6 hour pub crawl spending only 15pounds. We made fast friends with a group of guys from Canada (so nice to hear a normal North American accent for once), and also met a bachelor party visiting from England that immediately gave me flashes of the Manchester United team from the movie Eurotrip. "We're speaking the same language but I have no idea what you're saying!"
  • We spent Sunday morning getting lost in the streets of the old town, eating real Scottish breakfasts, desperately trying to get rid of the hangover caused by 6 hours of free drinks, and hiking up Colton hill for incredible views of the city. 
Half-finished replica of the Parthenon. Strange.

Edinburgh is a city that I will forever be trying to return to. Because, honestly, any country that has bagpipers dressed in traditional Scottish garb on every street corner is obviously very special. And, if you're a Harry Potter geek like me, you'll really appreciate it as the "birthplace of Harry Potter".

University of Edinburgh's School of Theology
 Princess Street Gardens
 The most inviting park I've ever been to. Why yes, I think I would like to sit. 
 Irn Bru is more popular than Coca Cola in Scotland. I thought it tasted like drinking bubble gum at first, but it grew on me!
 The Scots have a great sense of humor!


  1. I AM SO INCREDIBLY JEALOUS!! OH my goodness, it looks like you had such a fabulous time. My mom and I have been looking for excuses to go to Scotland for YEARS. Have I told you a zillion times already that you need to read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon? You NEED to!!!

  2. Your pictures are wonderful! Mario went to Scotland last summer, and it remains the place with the most gorgeous scenery I've ever seen. (Weird sounding sentence. Ahem.)

    Also, the whole J.K. Rowling/Hogwarts thing makes me incredibly jealous!

  3. Brittany - my pictures can be your excuse, you're the biggest Harry Potter fan I know. You NEED to go to Scotland, no excuses! :)

    Kaley - the Hogwarts thing was incredible, it's actual a private school now so as I was sticking my camera obnoxiously through the front gates to take pictures, the students were just coming out for recess. I felt like a paparazzi. So worth it though. You need to go visit!!