If you’re like most people, when you think of Scotland, you probably think of Braveheart, Scotch, golfing, “What’s under the kilt???” jokes, Outlander, and the janitor from The Simpsons. Scotland has this air of mystique and bad ass (well, this guy doesn’t have a bad ass) surrounding it, and that makes it so appealing to me. A few months ago, in a big “Fuck it!” to the crappy run of luck we’d been having, Elliot booked us train tickets from London to Glasgow. Virgin was running a big promotion (side note: What DOESN’T Virgin have a hand in? They’ve got music, airlines, trains, and even banks in Europe! What’s next? Virgins?) where their usual £250 roundtrip ticket was reduced to £25. Nothing like a 90% off promotion to get you doing jigs in grassy fields and mooning people with your kilt. Anyway, there was a ton of personal shit we were going through, and we needed something to look forward to (besides, you know, seeing each other after months apart). Scotland seemed to be the answer.
Glasgow: Whisky and Bein’ “Fookin’ Smelly”
Even though I had just started at my job, I took a Friday and the following Monday off for this trip. We had an early train to catch, so we both spent a good majority of the ride nodding in and out of a snooze. When we were awake, we were treated to the bright yellow fields of flowers in the English countryside that gradually changed to the rolling green hills of Scotland. Glasgow was about a four hour train ride, so we pulled into Glasgow Central Station around 11:30am. The station was the definition of a European train station; I half expected Harry Potter to whiz by and whack me with a Quidditch stick or something. After all, he was conjured up in Scotland. When we emerged from the station, the city that greeted us felt very much like New York with its grid system, impressive turn of the 20th century architecture, and people bustling all about. One of Elliot’s coworkers claimed that New York’s grid system was inspired by Glasgow, but I don’t know how accurate that information is. That whole New Amsterdam name kinda discredits that theory. In addition to the people on their lunch break, there was also another European staple present: protesters. What made this bunch entertaining was the fact that you couldn’t understand what the hell they were saying. I was able to catch “What do we want??!!” and then a whole bunch of awesome sounding gibberish. What do I want? For you to keep talking.
Our hotel was just a few blocks away, and only one block from the gem of Glasgow: George’s Square. At the Z Hotel, the girl at the front desk was super enthusiastic and kept telling us about all the complimentary shit they were giving us: WiFi! An upgrade to a room with a window! Wine and cheese reception! Sky TV! A rub down from The Hound! Okay, so the last one was obviously a stretch, but it was imperssive what we got for only £49/night, especially since it was a boutique hotel and had a great location.
After dropping off our things, we decided to walk around Glasgow to take in the sights. We walked through George’s Square, which was beautiful with its impressive statues and War memorial continually refreshed with bouquets of poppies. We walked to the main stretch, Buchanan Street, which was kind of set up like Las Rambles in Barcelona: a long walkway of big company stores and horrible street performers. An acoustic rendition of Wrecking Ball and a juggler who dropped his pins were amongst the best Glasgow had to offer. We popped into an “American candy store” that had small bags of Combos for £5 a pop. I contemplated buying a bag for a second.
Prior to leaving, we researched some good places for food, and Drouthy’s Pub was right by our hotel. The cute pub had a fair amount of diners, and we we barely squeezed in a corner table in the back. The two gals who manned the bar had such thick brogues that I almost agreed to order an appetizer with our lunch because I couldn’t understand what they were saying. It was so awesome, and I was pretty tickled when I kept hearing “Aye” and “wee” being casually used in conversation. There was a review that said Drouthy’s had the best steak and ale pie the reviewer’s ever had, so that’s what I went with. Elliot got a chicken sandwich with chips (French fries) which he said was also really tasty. My steak and ale pie was very tender, and the gravy was good, so I was happy with it. But then again, what the hell do I know about what a great steak and ale pie is supposed to taste like?
After lunch, we walked around the city some more, picked up a token bagpiper Glasgow magnet, and stopped into the Celtic football (soccer) store. Glasgow is like the Mecca for soccer hooligans, and it’s the got a “tough guy” reputation because they take their soccer so seriously. I told Elliot that if he bought something then he couldn’t wear it until we were safe and sound in London. Nothing struck his interest, fortunately, so we continued our meandering towards the river. There was this pub on the corner, the Tolbooth Pub, that looked like such a shithole that we had to go in. The kind of place that looked like you’d need a stab-proof vest. Fortunately, the inside wasn’t as danky as the outside, and it looked like a typical Irish pub. The only thing missing was women. There was one hiding in the corner when we first walked in, but she left quickly after. It was one of those “record scratching and everyone stops to look” moments because there was a lot of “hard workin’ SOB” testosterone that was being invaded. And that setting wasn’t the only thing reminding me of my ladyhood. It was coincidentally at that really opportune moment that I realized that I had failed to put a sanitary lady product in my purse. So I, the classiest Courtney of all, had to buy a tampon from a machine in the single stall ladies’ room of a pub filled with old, half in the bag, men. It was not one of my finer moments, and I was half-thinking that the thing would turn to dust in my hand.
Now that we had a reminder that we didn’t have a wee babe on the way, we sat at a booth and enjoyed a Guinness (which is so, so much better in Europe) while people watching. There was horse racing on, which people were really paying attention to, and each table had Mockingjay Part 2 coasters. Because why wouldn’t this place have Hunger Games coasters? One drink was enough for us, so we paid our bill (if you say check, Europeans have no clue what you’re talking about) and made our way back to the city center. Everywhere you looked there were huge banners with the city’s slogan “People make Glasgow”, which I found to be pretty clever. Glasgow is pronounced “Glaz-go”, so if you read my blog title as “owww” then you probably didn’t get the joke.
After looking at some golf pants in a local shop, we made it to The Pot Still, a whisky (Scots call Scotch ‘whisky’, so I’m going to keep it consistent this post) legend that was recommended by every book and site I researched. The Pot Still’s been open since 1835 and has over 300 types of whisky. I asked for a local recommendation, and the bartender gave me a dram of Auchentoshan, a local Lowland whisky. We toasted my brother, Jordan, who the day before got his first hole-in-one, and enjoyed our whisky. The first few sips were fine, but the finish was a bit too sweet for me, and I’m sure my face said it all. We did some more walking and on this side street walked past this bizarre mural that had both giant skunks and a bellowing elk. We couldn’t stop laughing b/c why was this elk screaming? I actually can’t believe I FOUND IT online, but now you can enjoy also. We were also “treated” to a shirtless guy in jeans singing and vogueing to Friend like Me from Aladdin. Either this guy was on drugs, or we were witness to one of the boldest performance pieces of all time…. He was totally on drugs.
We popped into a clearly for college kids bar next to our hotel to check it out and enjoyed the people watching and advertisements for “4 jagerbombs for £10!!!” Everywhere you looked on the two level bar you’d find huge groups of 19 year olds sitting in a circle, mostly looking at their phones while “talking” to each other. AKA Instagramming the person across from them. After hanging out for a bit, it was about time for our COMPLIMENTARY wine and cheese reception at the hotel. The cheese was pretty good, but the wine was understandably meh. What can you expect from complimentary wine? We finished up our cheddar and got an Uber to go to the other side of Glasgow for dinner. The Ubiquitous Chip was recommended by every website I referenced before our trip, so I figured all of those references couldn’t be wrong. It was down this very cool, very college side street on the other end of town, close to the university. The restaurant itself is split into the upstairs brasserie and downstairs restaurant/pub. The brasserie had a more appealing menu, and, as it turns out, a really cool space. It was like being in a greenhouse that could double as a great wedding venue. It was still relatively early (could only get a 6:30 reservation), so our food came out rocket fast. I’ve gotta say, the reviewers definitely weren’t wrong. We both had delicious tarragon, tomato and leek soup with this dense bread and beef brisket with potato/spinach puree, roasted shallots, carrots, and seasonal veggies. The veggies were minimally seasoned, but they still had a unique (and tasty) flavor to them. I tried a Scottish IPA with dinner (Deuchart’s), and it had a buttery taste to it. Very strange.
We paid our bill and walked across the street to Jinty McGuinty‘s Irish pub. If you think that name’s great, right next to it was Vodka Wodka, which sounds like something a drunk would say to a bottle of vodka. Jinty’s was already packed with people, but we were somehow able to find a small alcove with an empty table and chairs facing the crowd. We people watched some more (this is what we do on vacay; if you’re in the same city as us, we’re probably watching you). There was this couple across from us who looked like they were in the early throes of their relationship. The boyfriend was either allergic to the place or monogamy, because he started sneezing EVERY FEW MINUTES. Not just one sneeze, too; I’m talking ten sneezes each blast. Every time he sneezed, Elliot and I got all (secretly) pumped up like, “Is this guy allergic to Sad Dog or something????” (It was a cute girl, but her eye make up made her look like a sad dog). In the hour that we were in Jinty’s, he must’ve sneezed 40 times. It was thrilling to watch. We know how to party.
We left Sad Dog and Sneezy and kept our mini bar crawl going at the Belgian pub down the street, Brel. I actually had Brel on my Glasgow spreadsheet as a pub at which to stop (yes, I make spreadsheets for each city we visit; don’t judge me), so it was cool to stumble upon it. Although it was crowded, we again found a table at which to sit; I attribute our luck to the fact that a lot of the clientele was college aged and probably on a mission to hook up with someone. On our table was a drinks menu that had a picture of a cartoon octopus shouting, “Drinks!” That sparked a discussion about what sound WOULD an octopus make? Elliot and I both have masters degrees, and I’d say are pretty accomplished, and these are the types of things we talk about. We never came to a consensus on what sound an octopus would make, but we both agreed that he was shouting “DRINKS!” in a short, fog-horn sounding, “DRANKS!” way. #YELLINGOCTOPUS
It was only 9:00, so we consulted my spreadsheet (yes, I bring the spreadsheets with me in my purse; don’t judge me) and saw that there was a “traditional Highlander Scottish pub” back towards our hotel. We caught a cab for only 4 pounds to the Doublet and nestled in at the bar with pints of Hollyrood and Joker IPA. The pub was exactly as I had imagined with brown wooden beams contrasting with the white painted walls. There were lots of plates, a copper pot, and what looked like a dagger on the ledges and walls. There were mostly small groups of young guys there, just hanging out on a Friday night. I was spacing out a bit and looking around me, when Elliot starts furiously trying to subtly get my attention. I leaned in, and through gritted teeth he says, “These guys behind us are lifting their shirts and smelling each other’s armpits.” That immediately caught my attention. One guy yells at the other, “If I’m fookin’ smelly, tell me so I don’t go around being fookin’ smelly!” before launching into a diatribe about how friends have the obligation to tell their mates if they’re “fookin’ smelly”. Hearing two grown ass men having a heated conversation about being “smelly” (even the fact that they used the word smelly) made our trip. The rest of our time in Scotland, and even back in London, Elliot and I would occasionally bust out “fookin’ smelly!” in regular conversation. That’s probably, despite all the incredible things we saw in Scotland, going to be the one memory we carry with us for the rest of our lives. (No more than five minutes after typing this, Elliot made an unprompted “fookin’ smelly!” reference).
Realizing that NOTHING could top that moment, we went back and crashed at our hotel. The next morning, we were, to quote the locals, “a wee bit” like someone was doing the Highland Fling on our heads, so we showered and grabbed McDonald’s breakfast by the train station. That always does the trick. We settled in to our uncomfortable as hell train seats for the hour ride from Glasgow to Edinburgh. I even wore a plaid shirt for the occasion.
Edinburgh: You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road…
If the train into Glasgow’s cool “turn of the 20th century” station was an appetizer, then pulling Edinburgh Central Station and have Edinburgh Castle suddenly appear on a cliff right next to you was like a shirtless Jon Snow serving you a free steak dinner. Talk about an awe-inspiring introduction to the city. The station is right by a bridge over what seemed to be a river (that fed into the North Seat), and you could tell right away that Edinburgh had more of a historic feel to Glasgow’s more modern blue collar one.
We got our bearings and walked past the famous Royal Mile uphill to our “hotel”, the Kenneth Mackenzie. It was right on the University of Edinburgh campus, and it was definitely a dorm room converted to a hotel. As we walked up to reception, we thought it was another Snuffle Hostel situation because outside the reception was some creepy guy smoking a pipe and another random guy walking around eating food. Either that or we were on our way to Beerfest. We found the place on Booking, where it got good reviews, it was in a good location, and was a reasonable price ($131/night). It was a little too early to check in, so we stored our bags in the hotel’s “locker” aka outside shed and made our way back to the Royal Mile. Edinburgh was more historic than Glasgow, but with history comes kitschy. The Royal Mile was filled with “Authentic Scottish” kilts, cashmere shops, souvenir stores, and whisky tastings. The street performers were a slightly higher quality than my “Friend Like Me” back in Glasgow, and the sounds of a bagpiper, instead of a dude singing Miley Cyrus, filled the crowded street. The city was beautiful, and despite the chill in the air, it was sunny outside. We walked past a few soot-darkened churches and buildings on our way to Edinburgh Castle.
The cobblestone street widens as you approach the castle, and you have incredible views of the water below on one side and the city and Arthur’s Seat from the other. There were a few memorials along the edges, including a giant Celtic cross dedicated to Kenneth Mackenzie. I hear it’s because he opened a five star hotel at the University… After paying to get in, we decided to start with the War Museum. I have to say that at the Castle, for all the people milling around, it never felt crowded. We went through the museum somewhat quickly because we weren’t as familiar with the history, but we did see a lot of fascinating kilted uniforms, weapons, a video from the 1910’s of Highlander soldiers dancing, and some French prints from about that time that showed the French women’s clear fascination with the kilt. It was a pretty interesting museum, but I wish I had more background knowledge to truly appreciate it.
Our next stop was the castle prisons, which were surprisingly well ventilated and un-terrible. There were hammocks hung up, plastic food set out, and recordings of prisoners/actors conversing boomed throughout the prison. After leaving the prisons, we passed Mons Meg, the 15th century 175 kg cannon that was presented to King James II. I thought it was called Mons because that means mountain in Latin, but it turns out it was made in a Belgian town called Mons. It’s stuff like that that disappoints me. We stood around a bit, waiting for the 1pm cannon blast, only to realize we didn’t care that much. We got in a long line to see the Scottish Crown Jewels at the Royal Apartments, and went through numerous rooms telling the story of the “The Honours”: the Crown Jewels, the famous Stone of Destiny (where the first Scottish king was crowned in the 13th century), and the coronation sword and scepter. The story behind the Honours is really fascinating: they were first used to crown Mary Queen of Scots when she was an infant, only to be hidden in a church to keep from falling into English hands. They resurfaced only to go back into hiding in a huge chest for another century. The presentation was a bit cheesy with dressed mannequins and murals, but it was a fascinating story nonetheless. It took about forty minutes before we were able to see the displayed crown, scepter, scabbard, sword (which was even cooler in real life), and Stone of Destiny. Everything was very impressive, but we were a little beat after walking in line for forty minutes.
Our next stop was the (slightly meh) Royal Apartments where King James I was born and the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle. It was pretty cool, and what you’d expect for the Great Hall of a Scottish Castle: regal and impressive without being over-the-top. Mary Queen of Scots used to entertain in this space, now filled with kids from a field trip, so it was pretty other-worldly to be standing in the same place she was almost 600 years ago. Across the Great Hall was the War Memorial, which was just spectacular. There were so many memorials etched into the stone and, in front of each, open books that listed the names of the deceased. Words don’t do it justice, so trust me and take a second to look at the website.
We were pretty famished after finishing up with Edinburgh Castle, so we decided to check out Deacon Brodie’s Tavern for lunch. Part of the Nicholson Pub chain, the story behind the pub’s name is probably the most fascinating thing about the space. Located conveniently on the Royal Mile, and recommended by Rick Steves, this turn of the 19th century pub is named after Robert Louis Stevenson‘s real-life Jekyll and Hyde inspiration. By day, William Brodie was a cabinet-maker and deacon, generous and respected by his fellow townspeople; by night, he robbed those very same townspeople. He was eventually caught and hanged for his crimes, but his name lives on through the pub and his story through The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The story of Brodie, and Stevenson’s connection to it, is written throughout the tavern on its walls.
We grabbed a table upstairs and some waters, and took a look on the menu. Every place we had been in Scotland thus far had some variation of haggis, neeps (turnips), and tatties (mashed potatoes) on the menu, but we’d yet had the guts (no pun intended if you already know what haggis is) to try it. Part of the reason was that every restaurant before had it listed as an entree, and neither of us wanted to risk ordering a 15 pound entree that we hated. Deacon Brodie’s, however, had an appetizer version of haggis, so we had no excuse to NOT do as the Scots do when in Scotland. We buckled up our kilts, let out a war cry, and decided to give haggis the ol’ Scottish try.
So what is haggis, and why were we so reluctant to try it? Restaurants and pubs usually add their own flair to haggis (some places even have haggis nachos), but it’s an ancient dish that’s associated with Scotland thanks to Robert Burns’ Address to a Haggis. It’s a sheep’s ‘pluck’, or HEART, LIVER, AND LUNGS, mixed with its suet, or FAT, oats, herbs, and onion, all boiled up in the animal’s stomach. Now, most restaurants now use an artificial casing, because you’d probably lose some interest if you had this on your plate. When it came out, I was the first one to take a bite while Elliot documented. At first taste, it really wasn’t that bad; I could taste the oats, and it had a distinctive lamb flavor. After a few seconds of chewing, I suddenly remembered what I had in my mouth, and Elliot happened to capture the moment that thought went through my brain. Regardless, he and I both finished our haggis, neeps (pretty bland), and tatties with whisky gravy before our sandwiches came. Mine was a ham sandwich with “fiery” English mustard, which was really tasty besides the flames shooting out of my nose from the horseradish.
After lunch, we stopped at the National Museum of Scotland because it was described, in my research, as “The Scottish Smithsonian”. That’s a pretty good endorsement, so I was intrigued. It was a massive space with several levels, but we found to our disappointment that it focused more on the everyday life of Scots throughout the ages rather than specific historic events. Now, that’s cool and all, but I really wanted to see some William Wallace stuff. There was a display with some interesting artifacts related to Robert the Bruce, and a few mentions of Wallace, but nothing major. Despite it not being anything like the Smithsonian, there were some interesting displays, including pieces of Bonnie Prince Charles‘ kilt, the Maiden guillotine, and a lot of impressive weapons.
We rested a bit back at our “dorm” before walking to Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop, an awesome independent whisky bottler open since 1842. The space is incredible: whisky bottles placed all throughout the one room (the backroom is full of bottles and is staff only), a giant chalk board on one wall that is color coded for the whisky region, and on the opposite wall are shelves that have barrels of whisky by region. One of the young workers asked if we needed help, and we asked him how the process works. They offer unique bottlings of their own blends, done by region, and they change daily. So we’ll never again be able to get the whisky we purchased that day. He grabbed some glasses for us, and we tried a bit of Lowland, Highland, Cambletown, and Islay whisky. The worker (it’s a family business, and you could tell he was one of the family members) explained how Lowland is the sweetest type of whisky, and they increasingly get stronger and peatier. All of them burned as they went down the gullet, but the Islay (pronounced aisle-a) was like swallowing dragon fire. I loved it. I’ve never been a huge whisky fan, but something about this Islay whisky converted me. I like smokier whiskies, and Islay is the definition of smoky. As the kid said, “This isn’t for the faint of heart”. We got a customized bottle of Highland whisky for Elliot, and a customized bottle of Islay whisky for me. Elliot and I both agreed that visiting this shop was one of our favorite Scottish experiences, so I highly recommend any visitors to Edinburgh check it out.
After Cadenhead’s, we popped into a few other whisky shops to compare prices but didn’t end up buying anything. We also stopped in a cashmere shop where the Scottish kid working “warned” us not to be fooled by the “authentic” Scottish stores on the Royal Mile (despite the fact that his own store said it was authentic…and it was on the Royal Mile) because there are “two Indian guys who own about 80% of the shops”, and the stuff really isn’t made in Scotland, just designed in it. The kid was friendly, and the stuff he had was really nice, so we bought one wool scarf and a plaid wool coin purse for me, and a cashmere scarf for Elliot. We stopped in another shop after leaving that one, and Elliot bought “Elliot clan” cufflinks. Heavens! I hope they were made in Scotland!
Before dropping off our purchases at our hotel, we stopped in another “looks like we need our stab proof vest” pub, Captain’s Bar. The pub had a cherry red exterior and looked to be a legit spot. When we walked in, an older Scottish guy was finishing up his folk song set with his guitar. We grabbed some seats on a blanket-lined bench against the wall and listened to the fellow Scots sing along to his farewell tune, “It’s closing time, you’re gonna leave us; I can see that faraway look in your eye”. The singer bantered back and forth with the bartender, putting on a mini comedy show for the patrons, before leaving the pub. We hung out a little bit longer, spotting a guy who looked just like Einstein, before dropping off our stuff at our hotel and heading back out to explore Edinburgh. Our first stop was this travel-themed bar, Pilgrim, that was located on an alley that had “Not all those who wander are lost” painted on it. I had a Caesar Augustus beer because I had to, and Elliot tried an oak aged Innis & Gunn beer that tasted terrible. The bar was pretty cool though with its bar made out of suitcases and world flags displayed throughout.
We walked up the Royal Mile a little further and stopped to get dinner at this trendy hotel, the Inn on the Mile. The restaurant was dark with these bright purple lights and had a funky vibe to it. I was surprised that we found a table because there were already a lot of diners there. Elliot went through a 20-minute odyssey to order a whisky flight (after which he ended up with 3 he didn’t actually want), but the food was pretty decent. I had a super healthy meal of some onion rings and mac ‘n cheese with smoky bacon, and they hit the spot. After dinner, we wandered down a side alley into a pub where we heard music playing. The World’s End was packed with people, and there was a guitar playing guy singing Springsteen, so you know, legit Scottish space (?). The pub was more of a tourist trap, complete with world currencies decorating the bar and young study abroad kids trying to pick up Scottish girls. The vibe was fun though, and we got to people watch this Jared Fogle looking American (man, what an unfortunate doppleganger considering his recent fall from grace) getting a Scottish girl’s phone number. His two buddies walked in, saw him flirting, and looked at each other and mouthed “What the fuck????” What the fuck, indeed. If that chick goes for this guy, then it truly is the World’s End.
We called it a night right after that and woke up at 8 to get our included hotel breakfast. It was a sit down breakfast, with a continental cold buffet and a waitress who took hot breakfast orders. We had some really good toasted brown bread with our eggs, and it was good fuel for what lay ahead of us: the hike up Arthur’s Seat. The extinct volcano is only 279 meters high, so not a super difficult hike, but still one we didn’t want to do on an empty stomach. The trail starts right behind our hotel, and goes up a gentle hill at first before turning into stony steps and loose gravel at some points. The view was already incredible: just lush green hills and bright yellow flowers. It was exactly what came to mind when I pictured Scotland. The gorgeous sunny day just enhanced the already picturesque experience. The hike wasn’t too bad, despite the fact that I was wearing skinny jeans, and it didn’t take too long to reach the peak. As we were hiking up, Elliot just yells, “Highlanders are coming down! Hundreds of them! Thousands!” before breaking into song with “You take the high road, and I”ll take the low road…” Getting winded from laughing makes hiking a little more difficult, but the reference more than made up for me getting gassed.
Once we reach the summit of Arthur’s Seat, we got to see all of Edinburgh for miles around us. The views were just beyond description. We walked around the top, taking in the scenery from every angle and referencing a marker that had been placed there to show what you could see in every direction. We could see Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle across the water, and several golf courses below us. We spent some more time walking around before beginning our descent on the opposite side of Arthur’s Seat. The path down was much smoother and easier than the one we chose. You might say we took the road less traveled 😉 On our way down, we encountered the 15th century ruins of the Chapel of St. Anthony. The majority of it was gone, but one “window” facing the water still remained.
Once on flat ground, we walked along the road to Holyrood Palace, the Scottish residence of the Queen and named as such because it stands where an abbey that was said to contain a piece of the cross, or Holy Rood. It was also where Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate the throne, married both of her Scottish husbands, and saw her trusted advisor, David Rizzio, murdered before her eyes. The palace itself isn’t very opulent, but there were tapestries all around that featured Greek gods/goddesses and myths. We decided to forgo the audio guides and do our own exploring, walking through the dining room, an even bigger dining room with hundreds of portraits on the walls, the King and Queen’s bedrooms and antechamber, the morning and evening drawing rooms, and the throne room with GR and MR stitchings on the chairs. We ascended some stairs into Mary Queen of Scot’s preserved bedroom where we saw the box that held her personal hygienic items. In the adjacent room, there were several displays that had tons of relics, including locks of Mary and Bonnie Prince Charles’ hair. Original portraits of Mary, her husband Lord Darnley, Mary Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, and Edward VI were hanging on the walls, and a plaque marked where Rizzio was murdered. It was the coolest room in the entire palace and definitely appealed to my historical sensibilities.
We exited the palace into the courtyard and walked through the remarkably well-preserved 12th century ruins of the Abbey. We did a quick walk through the underwhelming gardens but were treated to an incredible view of Arthur’s Seat. We left the Palace of Holyrood and walked to an art print shop to get a map of the distilleries of Scotland. We got lunch at the nearby Whiski Rooms, and I had a really good chicken Caesar focaccia sandwich with potato and leek soup. After lunch, we walked to St. Giles Cathedral, “Scotland’s Westminster Abbey”. Despite Elliot having to buy a photo permit to take pictures, it was a pretty extraordinary cathedral. There were hundreds of coats of arms hanging from the ceiling, marble slabs dedicated to Scottish national heroes like Robert Lewis Stevenson and the guy who invented anesthesia (yeah…I already forgot his name), and one imposing statue of John Knox, the zealous Protestant preacher who led to the downfall of Mary Queen of Scots.
After a few pictures, we walked down the even more crowded Royal Mile, where Elliot was accosted by a street magician surrounded by a massive crowd, “Hello, sir! Your girl is very pretty. Prettier than the one who was with you yesterday…Oh wait, that was a man.” Haha of all the people to choose…Once we got back to the hotel, we checked out and were able to catch an earlier train back to Glasgow. Our route back took us past Falkirk High, site of one of William Wallace’s battles, which was pretty fitting. Once back at the Z Hotel, we got another spiel about all our complimentary offers, only this girl really focused on the cheese, telling us, “There’s seriously so much cheese! Like all the cheese you can eat!” I wouldn’t be so sure about that, lady; I can eat a lot of cheese.
Glasgow Part 2: The world’s strongest beer and midnight fire alarms
We relaxed in our hotel room once Elliot discovered the Sky TV Star Wars channel before heading back into the city center. We once again found ourselves at the Pot Still. This time, I knew exactly what kind of whisky to ask for, and the bartender (whose family owns and runs the Pot Still) set out about six bottles of Islay region whisky for me to sniff. I decided on one that his family distilled (57% ABV), and it didn’t disappoint. We chatted with him and the American woman next to us about whisky distribution in the US and his desire to possess a bottle of the first Pakistani whisky. The American woman was half in the bag from a distillery tour she did earlier at Glenkoyne, and she shared her tips for visiting Scotland. She was on sabbatical and spent several weeks touring all of Scotland. She told us that we had to go to Harris & Lewis, Skye, and other places for hiking. It was really entertaining talking to both her and the bartender, and we were glad that we had made the return trip to Pot Still.
We had some time to kill before our dinner reservation at West, so we took a cab to the Glasgow flagship of Brew Dog. If you have ever watched their show on Esquire, you know that these Scottish guys are serious about their craft beer. They brew some great beer themselves, including the delicious Punk IPA. The bar is across from Glasgow’s iconic Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and has a great atmosphere. We noticed they had a bottle of Sink the Bismark, the world’s strongest beer at 51% ABV, on the menu. They only give out a shot’s worth of beer, and even though it tasted like an IPA it was still strong as hell. While there, we saw the bartender from the Doublet two days back (you know, the place with the fookin’ smelly guys). We commented that we kept seeing the same people in Scotland, like this family in line for Edinburgh Castle that we later saw in the Museum of Scotland. The only reason they stood out to us so much was because both the little boys and mom were sucking on their index finger. Like using it to clean their teeth or something. It was so gross that it immediately imprinted in my memory.
We took a cab to our dinner reservation at West Brewery and German restaurant, located in the middle of nowhere. The food was really good, and we had potato pancakes, this “meat bruschetta”, some jager schnitzel with oniony potato salad, and sticky toffee pudding. Elliot got a beer glass because they were pretty sleek, and because that’s what he does. After dinner, we were pretty beat so we just watched The Empire Strikes Back on the Star Wars Channel before falling asleep….only to be rudely awoken at 12:30am by the fire alarm going off. I was in such a stupor, but we made it outside with the rest of the hotel guests. The fire department took about ten minutes to arrive and were only there for two minutes before leaving. The hell, guys?
We checked out in the morning and walked around Glasgow to kill time before our 4pm train. We went to the “Lighthouse” in some art gallery, where there were supposed to be great views of the city. It turned out to be views of city buildings, but what can you do. We walked along the river for a bit as well before grabbing lunch at Smoak BBQ. The portions of Carolina BBQ were massive, and everything was really tasty and as close as we had gotten to American BBQ. We didn’t have much else to do that day, so we went to the train station to catch an earlier train back to London. It’s a good thing we did because a freight train had derailed on the exact track that our train was supposed to travel. Our train got cancelled, but fortunately the Eastern train line was accepting our tickets. We had to walk to the Queen Street train station, take a train to Edinburgh, and then take a train to London King’s Cross. Despite the Odyssey, it was a surprisingly easy solution, and we made it back to London even before our originally scheduled arrival time.
Spending a long weekend in Scotland was just scratching the wee surface of an incredible country, and we still have a lot to explore in the Highlands. We need to go golfing, get some more Islay whisky, and maybe travel back in time after visiting Inverness. Will we back soon? Aye…