We’ve skipped an entire country to fastforward to the more recent present because I’m absolutely in love with the mysterious land of Scots. I promise we will return to Italy but here’s a preview to hold you, dear reader, over: gorgeous, passionate, old, pizza.
Throughout our trip, we’ve known about this week gap in our schedule. We had planned up to Italy, and had flights home from London, but what should we do in between? Then in Rome, in a stroke of confidence brought on by too many happy hour Aperol Spritzes, we suddenly had already booked flights to Scotland.
Over the next week, we used the Internet suggestions of friends and family to toss together an itinerary, only to discover that we were to visit at Scotland’s busiest tourist time. We were very lucky to land a car rental and a mix of AirBnBs, traditional BnBs, and hotels. And suddenly, we were on a a dirt cheap flight to Edinburgh.
The primary advice we received from our crowdsourcing travel agents could be summed up by “get thee to the highlands!” So, while we would have a brief stop in Edinburgh, our Scottish adventure would largely consist of a road trip to the far, strange reaches of the country.
Our fight was delayed (discount airline and all), so we arrived in Edinburgh late on July 7 and hustled over to check in at our lovely castle-side DoubleTree hotel (courtesy of Michael’s work travel points). After the exhausting heat and humidity of Milan, the burst of chilly Scottish air, combined with the brightly lit evening skies (sunset was strangely around 10 pm), invigorated us. We scrambled to eat an incredible fish and chips in time to join the last ghost tour of the night, courtesy of Mercat Tours.
Our tour guide was an excellent story teller (theater student), cloaked and dark-lipped, who led us around narrow side streets (called closes), wide gathering places, and underground tunnels of Edinburgh, spinning tales of rampant disease, murder, scandal, and violent punishments that mark the beautiful city’s history.
Without Netflix to fill the dull moments, the public really came out for a good old fashioned drowning, beheading, or dropping-from-a-high-place-to-break-all-their-bonesing. As the plague spread, whole closes would come down with the disease at once. In order to contain the illness, city officials would build a wall at the end of the close – effectively trapping in the sick and healthy – and wait a month or so before knocking down the wall and removing the bodies. So Trump & Coulter weren’t the first to think of it!
We headed underground to Edinburgh’s tunnels, where the city’s poorest people rubbed noses with the worst criminals in the damp underground – the perfect location for murderers, prostitutes, grave robbers (self dubbed “resurrection men”) and their ilk to keep their illicit activities from the coppers. Apparently, many of the tunnels were covered up by the progress above and forgotten about over time, only to be discovered centuries later by new store or home owners. At the end of our tunnel tour, we got to blow out all the candles and hang out in the dark. SPPPOOOOKY.
The next day, we climbed the hill and the social ladder all the way to Edinburgh’s castle, perched at the center of old town. The castle, built in the 1100s and rebuilt / remodeled hundreds of times, was both beautiful and fascinating. Home to many Scottish kings, temporary home for many English ones, and the location for inter-clan or inter-country battles – all of which shaped and reshaped the architecture. A highlight of the tour was the opportunity to see Scotland’s Crown Jewels (no pictures allowed! IP rights and all.). As strange as it is for modern Americans to consider, the Crown Jewels were a symbol of Scottish independence so important as to lose lives over. Whenever Scotland was “conquered” or invaded by English rule, they would have to hide or lock away the sword, crown, and stone on which the newly crowned king would sit. A couple times, they were completely lost to history until another epic version of finding money in your old jeans came along.
After two hours exploring the castle, we took in some whiskey and visited the new town of Edinburgh – a well planned shopping, living, and commercial area at the base of the hill that once was a bog filled with the filth of the city. Now, in place of feces, it’s home to Clarks, H&M, and some great fish and chips spots.
We wandered down the kitchsy stores and tiny closes of the Royal Mile (the street between Edinburgh and Hollyrood castles, frequented by royalty), and checked out the many cashmere, tweed, and whiskey shops so inviting to tourists.
I loved it, largely because it reminded me so much of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling wrote the first few Harry Potter books in Edinburgh, and you can see the inspiration for Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, the Wheasley’s joke shop, etc. around every turn.
After pub drinks and a quick bite, we walked to the outskirts of town, grabbing a drink at the Glasgow based Brewdog Brewery Bar on the way, which prides themselves on their “American style” hoppy IPA, and their bitter beers. America has gone hop-mad, filling our beers with so much hops that it seems more like a coming-of-age test to pretend you like them, rather than an enjoyable drinking experience. AS a contrast, regular Scottish beers are so malty, so lacking in hops that their hoppy IPAs and bitter beers are some of the most delightfully balanced ones I’ve tasted!
Finally we ended up in Hollyrood park – green space on the outskirts of Edinburgh – where we planned to hike to the summit of the highest point, called Arthur’s Seat. After some sweating and climbing in a skirt and Birkenstocks, we came to our intended destination – only to discover that we had hiked the hill next to Arthur’s Seat. No matter! We’re being Scottish, right? Full of humor and toughness! So, we watched the lovely sunset over Edinburgh, and found our way to another lovely pub to end the evening with the locals.