Here are some of the highlights:
Edinburgh: Festival Central
The minute I stepped off the train in Edinburgh (by the way, taking trains and ferries all around the UK and Ireland is the way to travel – but more on that in an upcoming post), my jaw dropped.
“Edinburgh is kind of like York on crack,” was the demure explanation given to me by one fellow before I arrived. I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant – until I disembarked and found myself standing in a sea of large five-story stocky buildings of inexplicable grandeur and character. Where York’s architecture could be called quaint, Edinburgh’s is grand.
Add to it the festival vibe – each summer consisting of numerous music and arts festivals including the Edinburgh International Fringe – and I was in heaven.
Granted, if I lived in Edinburgh, I (like most residents) might come to dislike festival season, what with the hoards of people milling about aimlessly and generally getting in the way. But since I was happily one of the hoard, I simply gave in to the experience and loved every minute of it; the street buskers everywhere, casts promoting their show with various antics, and giant stage setups at every turn.
Aside from Edinburgh’s formidable festivals and constant activity, the city is absolutely gorgeous. Surrounded by giant green craggy hills (seven of them in fact), there are many opportunities to get up high and see a panorama of the city, replete with a castle in the centre, ocean at the side, and a solid collection of buildings and parks all around. My biggest regret was not bringing my camera to one such central hilltop at sunset; to see the well-placed lights illuminating the gothic features of this dense city as the sky darkened is a memory that will last a long time.
The parks are manicured to within an inch of their lives and are very useable. Although I hear the cost of living in Edinburgh is formidable, it also strikes me as a very “livable” city.
After a few days in Edinburgh, it was off to the highlands for me. Being an avid hiker (“hill-walker” as is one of the local terms), I was not disappointed. I rented a car with a friend, a loose plan of where to go, and a totally inappropriate map for the journey. Much fun was had by all.
We drove through national parks, aside innumerable lochs (including none other than Lock Ness), around countless ports, and across islands. We toured distilleries (as a Scotch fan I had to see at least one distillery), stopped wherever we wished, and hiked our little hearts out.
Yes. I had haggis. No. I didn’t think about what haggis is really made of while I ate it. And yes. I loved it.
Aside from Scotland’s iconic meaty haggis (which is a compliment to any meal of the day) I noticed another trend in Scottish cuisine; something I thought was attributable more to the English (what with their deep-fried bread instead of toast as part of a traditional English breakfast), but something which the Scottish seem to have a significant and creative handle on: fried foods.
You can get just about anything fried in Scotland. I remember hearing about deep fried Mars bars many years ago with an equal amount of horror and morbid interest. And although I didn’t sample any odd deep fried delicacies myself, I visited a small take-away in Edinburgh that is reputed to be one of the best. In addition to all the regular fried foods you can imagine, here are a few of the more bizarre fried foods they had on offer:
- Full rack of barbecue ribs
- Cheeseburgers – bun and all (I’m pretty sure they held the lettuce)
- Calzone (filled with haggis)
- Chocolate bars
Since arriving in the UK, I saw almost no rain. In my three weeks in England, only two days were rainy in any substantial way; the rest of the time there may have been small isolated showers here and there, but really nothing to speak of. In fact, sunshine was more the norm.
The same went for Scotland. In 10 days, I saw one day of rain. Sadly it put a damper (hardy har har) on a 16 mile hike I had planned for the day, but I chose to view the sheets of water falling from the sky as a challenge to return to Scotland and complete the hike at another time.
Ireland as well (which you’ll read about shortly) – was over two weeks of sunshine, with only two days seeing any rain at all.
This constant – and uncharacteristic – great weather that has pretty much followed me through all of Europe has gotten me to thinking: I have a very special talent here. Everywhere I go, the sun shines…even in England, Scotland, and Ireland. I think there could be money in this.
As such, my services are now up for hire: bring me to your home town, and I’ll bring the nice weather. Pretty good deal, huh?