Edinburgh – Gateway to My Scottish Adventure…

I made the observation in earlier posts that San Remo encouraged its visitors to relax and leisurely take it all in and that Florence – by dearth of benches – urged her patrons to ‘just keep perambulating’. What struck me first in Edinburgh was the sheer number of benches. It’s not a very big city and at its core they were literally lining the streets and park walkways – side by side. Then I began exploring the city and realized why. The gentle rolling landscape from the air morphed into steep hills on the ground – lots of them. Edinburgh encourages you to rest – frequently. I’m sure I had no choice. And how did women in very high heels do it? Going downhill was just as arduous – it felt like an urban version of mountain climbing at times. In retrospect -all those hours and hours of walking in previous locations was just training for wandering up and down the many many hills in this absolutely beautiful city. And Scottish weather? Well – I’m from Seattle – enough said…

My next observation was just how friendly everyone was especially after London. When I had to ask for directions I not only got very detailed descriptions but many times it was just a precursor for a conversation about where I was from, tidbits about the best restaurants, the best whiskey, the best pubs, etc. And, a word about pubs here – I had no trouble meeting many folks who instantly included me in their little evening circle. Generally it seemed it was because an American provided fodder for disseminating all the sources of ill in the world (of course – the Americans!) But it was all in good fun and good natured plus they took as well as they gave. They were delightfully candid and had no compunction what so ever about asking very personal questions and sharing their lives with me. That whole Northern Latitude reticence just wasn’t at all the case here. Buying rounds for everyone was standard protocol and repeated often and at alarmingly frequent intervals. “No thank you – I’m ok for now” was always greeted with – well – another round. Since I am Scottish by heritage I could keep up – but just……. It was great fun.

Speaking of entertainment – as soon as I got off the bus from the airport – I was greeted with the wonderful sounds of bagpipes. Street corner musicians invariably play the bagpipes and to my untrained ear – they sounded really good. There was even a free concert by a young band who’s genre I can only call “bagpipe fusion”. While I can’t attach the video I took – imagine a guy jumping up and down to the beat of his drummer while simultaneously playing bagpipes – really well. No mean feat. I was fascinated….

Food…. Any visit to Scotland would not be complete without Haggis. Now, I have heard horror stories about this interesting delicacy. But I am always willing to try anything once and so – I tried Haggis. I found it wonderful and did not ask the contents being satisfied that there are times in life when ignorance is truly bliss. However, having shared this experience with family – my brother Chris just had to send me the recipe complete with his own interpretations. While I can applaud the Scots for being frugal as well as ecologically minded and making use of any and all of a sheep – I will be refraining from Haggis in the future. Tatties and Neeps are pretty wonderful – potatoes and turnips – but mayo on fries? I have to draw a line in the sand. This is not unique to Scotland – I was introduced to it in London and – well – it’s still faintly disgusting to me. To each his own.

Instant coffee abounds in the UK even with Starbucks on every street corner in London. I never saw one in Italy – no big surprise there – they are pretty proud of their coffee. I imagine that they may even have banned Starbucks (I really don’t know) Edinburg has a few Starbucks scattered about but I am determined not to step foot in one on my trip and so instant coffee it is. It’s not too bad once you get used to it. Really. I just can’t bring myself to drink tea instead. It is interesting that there just isn’t the variety of veggies you’d find in the states. Cost of distribution? They just aren’t that into them here? Too cold? Who knows but salads that contain anything other than lettuce and the occasional carrot or tomato are hard to come by. What I have come to appreciate on my journey is that Europeans don’t ‘supersize’ portions. Instead, presentation and quality are the focus – at least in the places I enjoyed. And the cheese here!!!! Better than Paris in my opinion.

Scottish Malt Whiskey is in its own special category. Marvelous stuff and many brands you can’t get in the states. And – its CHEAP here – even the good stuff – Yea!! Suffice to say – I have tried at least 11 different kinds and am nowhere near done yet. Thank god I am within walking distance of my digs. On a recycling note – I have seen houses made from old whiskey barrels and yes – they are round.

I have never seen this many men’s knees in the daylight in my life outside a football (soccer) game. Yes, kilts are in abundance -worn not just by older men either. Not having had a good wind twirl up any kilt in my vicinity – yet – I can neither confirm or deny that particular myth. What I find delightful is that Scottish men have felt so secure in their manhood down through the ages that they have been wearing the equivalent of a ‘Man Bag” for centuries. I asked a few men if they had anything in their Sporrans and they produced wallets, keys, cigs., etc. There you go Stateside Guys – be brave – start a trend…..

As nearly everywhere in Europe – history abounds and I found many establishments who were proud to laud their bit (is that redundant?) – here is a sample:

Having visited both the Edinburgh and Stirling castles – I will save those for another post. Suffice to say – after I seriously huffed and puffed my way to the top of Carlton Park Hill and took in the alternate views of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth it is easy to see why some in these parts still believe in magic and the fairy people……

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