Scotland

My favorite and only brother loves scotch and overcast weather. Myself, I enjoy a good whiskey but hadn’t really waded too far into the scotch pool, mostly because of its typically-higher price tag, and because I had no idea where to start. As for the weather, I like a good storm but can’t complain about Colorado’s sunshine.

All of this is to say that Josh decided he’d go on a trip to Scotland, home of scotch and clouds and even the occasional viking. Vikings are never a bad thing. When he announced that he would embark on this voyage, I basically invited myself along, since any excuse to travel is a good one, and at the time I was working a very strange new job that ended up just lasting 8 months. Planning an international trip meant I could pretend my weird job wasn’t as weird as it was (but it was).

Anyway, we ended up going in May and spent 10 days in Scotland. Things got off to a
rocky start in Philadelphia, an airport I’ve learned is either cursed or just really inept. After we met up in Philly from our separate locales, we were going to take a plane together across the Atlantic. Things were going well until the captain came on and said our plane had some issues.

He didn’t elaborate and we sat there for a long time until finally we deplaned, sat around some more, were given a sad dinner by the airline, and then we finally left about midnight – a good six hours later than originally planned.

The only upside to our very delayed flight is that we slept a majority of the seven hours it took to get to Glasgow. We landed in the morning, got a rental car, and Josh tried to deal with the oddity of driving on the wrong side of the road.

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We immediately went to Edinburgh and walked to the city center. Feeling discombobulated as we went, we saw a really cool school that probably trains Kingsmen or secret agents or maybe assassins, and then walked into the first random pub we thought would have wi-fi. They did indeed have wi-fi, but they were also very much a “local” pub and we stood out like sore thumbs. Very American sore thumbs.

I tried to order a beer called “Hopopotomus” and the bartender asked me three times to repeat myself. At one point an inebriated man came in and had several conversations with people in something that sounded not a thing like English. Everyone else seemed to understand him just fine.

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So then we wandered a bit. We saw a leprechaun blowing giant bubbles for kids and a band playing bagpipe rock. We ate haggis at Whiski Rooms and had some incredibly-overpriced-yet-delicious scotch. Then we walked an area of Edinburgh that housed several Harry Potter-themed shops, since Edinburgh is, after all, where Harry was born.

We wandered into an old church and walked uneven streets, generally just amazed at the age of everything. Being American, it’s easy to forget how recent our country was founded. Edinburgh had graves filled with the victims of the bubonic plague, and even those were considered late arrivals.

We got fancy drinks at a Frankenstein-themed bar, and then went on an amazing ghost tour led by a charming Scottish woman named Esther. The tour started in a torture museum, then went into the depths of an ancient bridge that’s been so built up around that it doesn’t even look like a bridge anymore. It was dark and probably (definitely) haunted.

The next morning we went to The Scran and Scallie in Comely Bank, which may have been my favorite meal of the whole trip. The UK gets a lot of flack for their cuisine, but I enjoyed almost everything I ate there. There was a lot of seafood, and I think I had a Scottish breakfast every morning, most of which were lovely. I declare UK food perfectly tasty.

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Afterwards, we visited the National Museum of Scotland, which is free and incredible. We walked almost every inch of that place, took some great pics on the roof, and then saw Elephant House, which is where JK Rowling wrote some of Harry Potter. It was easy to see her inspiration since out the window was the ever-looming Edinburgh Castle, a magnificent and ancient lookout perched atop an ancient volcano.

It was our next stop, and we wandered around amazed by the history (one building dates back to the 12th century). After thoroughly exploring the castle, we marched down the hill a bit to the Scotch Whisky Experience, which is an extensive bar and museum of all things scotch.

Our super knowledgeable bartender led us through a three-round tasting that had Josh and I trying a ton of new scotches. Each time we ordered one, our bartender would open the bottle and take a sniff before he poured, as if he just loved the smell that much and needed another whiff.

Afterwards, we took a tour on a two-story ghost bus that was somewhat ruined by another group on our tour who were pretty sure they were the funniest people in the UK. They weren’t.

We then went to Sandy Bell’s, a tiny pub famous for live music. We pretended it wasn’t uncomfortably packed as we made our way to a spot by the bar where we could hear the band, but after a bit we elected to try somewhere else. The day ended at the White Hart Inn, which is the oldest place in which we drank on the trip. Said to be both haunted and the oldest pub in Edinburgh, it’s been continuously run since 1516. As in, that pub is over two hundred years older than our entire country.

There’s a lot of history on the walls, including references to murderers Burke and Hare, who allegedly used to hang out there to scope out their next victims. We had a few rounds and left, choosing to attempt a shortcut.

This time, though, the park was closed but only by a short fence, so we tried to climb it. Josh went first and managed to poke himself in the butt with the pointy fencetop, and later we realized it actually ripped his jeans and gave him a nasty bruise that would plague him for the remainder of our journey.

The next morning we had a breakfast at Roseleaf in Leith, then hit the road going north. DJI_0028We stopped occasionally for pictures and drone flying, and to check out a few distilleries, Dalwhinnie and Tomatin, both of which were impressively large and old (notice a trend?). We went through Cairngorms National Park and ended the day in Inverness, where we walked the streets as the sun went down after downing some fish and chips and Irn-Bru, which I was told is Scotland’s national soft drink but basically just tastes like every orange soda you’ve ever had.

The next day we explored Inverness’s charming roads a bit before heading for Loch Ness, where we took a cruise to Urquhart Castle. Loch Ness has inky black water and made for a striking landscape, and all the Loch Ness Monster stories suddenly made a lot more sense. Foreboding landscapes tend to make monsters seem much more plausible.

Our boat had a lovely voice-guided tour (featuring Karen Gillan!) that gave us bits of Loch Ness’s long history, and then we unloaded at Urquhart Castle for about an hour. In that time, we walked amongst the ancient stone ruins and got an intense history lesson from a guy that obviously lived for Scottish history. LIVED for it.

4V8A1445Afterwards, we headed north, stopped for tea and food at a roadside cafe, and eventually stopped at Eilean Donan Castle. They charged an outrageous amount of money for entry, so we snapped some pics and left.

Then we made it to the Isle of Skye, which mostly has roads too narrow for two cars. The single lane will occasionally widen enough for a “passing place” so that a car going the opposite way can slip by. It made for some pretty awkward encounters if someone came up on us outside of a passing place, but Josh was driving so I let him enjoy that frustration for himself.

In the tiny town of Portree, we checked in to our claustrophobic B&B (four rooms and one bathroom with bad water pressure, plus a very talkative Brazilian woman manning the place), then got some overpriced but scrumptious seafood at the Portree docks. Portree was the only place we managed to have good beer on the whole trip. It seems like most of Scotland just has light lagers not unlike Budweiser.

We ended the night drinking scotch and planning the next day, which is where we got really ambitious. We started with a breakfast from our Brazilian host, then drove to the Old Man of Storr in a cold drizzly rain. Each wearing several layers, we took our weatherproofed cameras with us as we hiked up, and it of course took way longer than expected. The weather was such that we couldn’t even see how close/far we were, and finally we were able to experience that famous Scottish dreariness. At one point I stopped, thinking it was ridiculous we weren’t yet at the stone known as the Old Man, but then the clouds parted and I realized that I was in fact standing right in front of it.

4V8A1508We snapped some pics and headed back down. A little ways up the road, we stopped to check out Kilt Rock and that’s when I realized my DSLR wasn’t working properly. Probably from all the rain and cold, something had malfunctioned with the shutter release and it was a real bummer. The camera was dead the rest of the trip, and cost me $300 to fix when I got back home.

Armed only with my GoPro and drone, I did my best to capture the rest of the trip. That day took us up and around the forlorn Isle of Skye. We saw a lot of dramatic vistas, a few ruins, toured Dunvegan Castle and its amazing grounds, and watched the sunset at Neist Point.

At that point we were starving. I had a restaurant in mind, but it turns out they were totally booked. So was another. And another. So we drove clear across the island to get back to Portree, where we sat in some random restaurant attached to a hotel. We ordered beers, which came fast, and some bread as an appetizer, which came slow. Our food never showed up at all, and after an hour they brought the bread (a whopping three slices). We were so annoyed and hungry that we plopped down some cash and went to an Indian place across the street. That hotel restaurant now has a 1-star review on Google from me, and I hope it hurts them a lot to read it.

Our last day on Skye took us to the Fairy Pools for a short hike to some beautiful waterfalls. We then toured Talisker Distillery, where we bought some scotch that I only just reluctantly finished. Afterwards, we drove to Talisker Beach, where we took about a million photos and videos because that black beach was gorgeous.

DJI_0098The next day we rose early and headed south. We tried to see the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was used as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films, but we could only get so close and they wouldn’t let me fly my drone despite how many times I threateningly slammed one fist into the other. We watched a train from afar, and it was pretty much like we were wizards.

On a whim we headed even more south to check out Oban, and I’m glad we did. Turns out Oban has a history of being a much-loved coastal retreat for Europeans, and it was packed. We visited Oban Distillery, then walked the streets of Oban before heading to the Ballachulish Hotel, which was definitely more charming outside than in.

The next day we drove through Loch Lomond National Park, meaning we managed to pass through both Scottish national parks. We made our way into Glasgow, had a hell of a time finding a place to park, and checked in to our hotel, which gave us a great view of western Glasgow. After a fruitless attempt to repair my broken camera, we walked downtown and wandered around the city without any real objective.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR4642.At some point that day we realized the next day was the Royal Wedding. We were in the UK during the Royal Wedding! Neither of us actually cared about it at all, but suddenly we HAD to go to a Royal Wedding party, because when else would we have that opportunity?

After briefly visiting a big art museum, we managed to get into a royal tea party at an upscale club the next day. We were the only Americans there, and almost the only males, but it was super enjoyable as we watched the deliberately slow event and read Royal Wedding tweets in real time. Afterwards, we went through a bizarre modern art museum, bought some souvenirs, discovered a gin bar and then a scotch bar (surprise!), and rode the train.

And then we departed.

Until next time, Scotland!

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