I didn’t find Scotland so much as it found me, but only after I left it.
We were on the morning train from London and I was steeped in the afterglow of that city, a city as formidable and grand and historic and proper as the empire it founded, when I saw the North Sea come up on the right-hand side, out of nowhere, and I gasped, inwardly. Only later, looking back at this photo, I realized that this is what Scotland is.
Soon after, we passed Berwick-upon-Tweed, which I took a picture of the sign because it’s the most English place name I’ve ever seen in my life.
Later, I would find out that it’s one of the bloodiest towns in English-Scottish history. Now it just stands at the border, silent and mundane like the rest of the 21st century.
Before we left, I had no idea that England and Scotland were so different. In fact, I often confused the two, because I am a product of the American educational system and we never learned anything about the Scottish struggle for independence, mainly because we were busy covering the Civil War for most of fourth through seventh grade. Because Mr. B was embarrassed for me, he made me watch Braveheart. Most of the movie did nothing for me, especially after I Wikipedia’ed it and found out it was grossly historically inaccurate. Also Mel Gibson is an asshole. But the one scene where he runs up the mountain (maybe Ben Nevis?) and you can see the Highlands of Scotland, that touched me, and that stayed with me throughout our trip.
When we got to Edinburgh, it was raining, or as the Scottish say, dreich. It really tells you something about a country there is a specific word for this kind of weather. On first glance, Edinburgh is amazingly beautiful and historic.
On second glance, it is dreich, and was dreich every day of our time in Scotland.
But that castle, that castle. It captured my imagination. Because I believe that every city should have a great castle, and every city should have thousands of years of history around the castle. Unfortunately, I live in America where the oldest thing we have is my crusty retainer from sixth grade that I’ve kept for nostalgia’s sake. But in Europe, I get my fix.
After wandering around the city trying to find the place where we were staying and almost getting run over by at least three cars, as well as almost breaking our suitcase over cobblestones and looking like American Idiots, we made it out of the dreich and into the warmth of our awesome apartment. (by the way, if you haven’t tried AirBnB yet, you should. Better than staying at a hotel, and you get local flavor. Or flavouuuuur. Depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on.)
We settled in for about 5 minutes and then, like Russian tourists, we were out again, because when you’re in Europe, you have to Do All The Things and See All The Things. No downtime, no mercy. This is known in Russian as “Gallopi po Evrope,” or “Gallops around Europe,” only much catchier. There is the sense that if you are not seeing something or touring something or learning something, you are wasting precious time. I’ve known people to do 14 countries in 2 days as a result of adherence to this principle.
We headed over to The Dogs, because we wanted to try Real Scottish Food, damnit. Except for haggis. No one was going to try haggis, because we wanted to return alive. So I had a fish pie and Mr. B had ox liver. Also, scotch. Obvs.
Why does Mr. B look glum? Because, as we discovered, scotch tastes like gasoline, and, actually, so does Scottish food. No. I take that back. Scottish food tastes exactly like Russian food: very heavy, meant to chase away the cold and put meat on the bones, a sustaining life force. But sustaining life force food means that it usually is very bland and reminds you of your aunt screaming at you to EAT SOME MORE HOLODETS SO YOU GROW BIG AND STRONG. So, after our Scottish food adventure, we were done and back to real British food: curry. But, if you are ever in the market for Scottish food, I highly recommend The Dogs. Very cool establishment, good location, good mood, good service. Unfortunately, Scottish food.
After that, we were off again on our gallops. Since the sky was getting as dark as our digestive tracts, we didn’t have much time for anything.
Except for view the view of Edinburgh from the castle at night.
Also, time to visit Mr. Adam Smith, who I never knew was Scottish. All the chicks love him. He was such a baller. Mr. Smith is conveniently located next to St. Giles, which is beautiful and brooding and historic in the pre-Christmas dark. What I love about the statue is that it was privately paid for, as in capitalistically.
Oh, right. And Occupy Edinburgh. Apparently the Occupy movement is everywhere. We saw it in London and Glasgow as well. Fortunately, though, we didn’t see it in the Highlands.
But also, Edinburgh is really pretty for Christmastime:
There are tonds of Christmas markets and a ferris wheel and all of the museums in the middle of the park that separates the New and Old Town are open and there are people walking around with hot chocolate and roasted nuts. Peanuts. Walking around really puts you into the Christmas spirit, even if you understand that Scottish people probably murdered tons of your ancestors right and left.
We were completely wiped after that and stopped by the pharmacy, or chemist, for some Tylenol, only to find that Europe has no Tylenol, only paracemtamamatol. I have to admit, I was really scared to buy it at first because I thought it could tranquilize a horse. With a name like paracetamol, I was bracing for the worst.
However, all was well and we were ready for our tour of the various Lochs in Scotland, as well as the first night of Hanukah in Goyland.
When you’re in Edinburgh and Glasgow, you can kind of get an idea of what Scotland is, but I think you can’t really understand unless you go into the Highlands, so that was our goal for the next couple days: deeper into Scotland, deeper into history.
One more thing before we set off for the Highlands in the next post, there are special Scottish cows
. They make special Scottish milk: