O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie,
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.
Tis Scotland, a land of green rolling hills, sassy proverbs, rugged coastlines and surprisingly cosmopolitan cities. There is something for everyone in this dynamic country and I for one am a now-avid fan. It’s everything I hoped it would be and more, and even now sitting in my warm bed in Florence, a little bit of me wishes I was sipping a cuppa tea in Edinburgh, though you can keep the haggis to yourself.
Even upon arriving , I knew I was going to like this place. After being hassled several times in and out of England ( it happens when you change countries long-term) , the Scottish customs officials were friendly and serious, a combination I truly respect. I could indulge in a huge coffee without a second glance ( Italians can be a bit snobby about the art of caffe ) and upon leaving the airport my eyes likely resembled a raccoon as I tried to take all of the landscape in.
I was lucky to be hosted by a very generous friend Hollie ( see above ) who drove me around her hometown of Aberdeen for a few days as well as Glasgow and Edinburgh. Tip number one from the onset is that Edinburgh Doesn’t Rhyme With Pittsburgh, I learned this the hard way but luckily people were pretty nice about my attempts at butchering the name of one of their most famous cities. Try picturing it spelled as Edinburrah and you may come out saying it the proper way. Same goes for Glasgow, Glasgow does not rhyme with ‘how’ but with ‘go’, try Glasgo. A great list of how to pronounce Scottish towns is here http://www.rampantscotland.com/features/pronounce.htm, very helpful for this Texana-Italiana!
Back to the trip, some of the best moments were spent in the car gazing at the stunning countryside and stopping for snacks and a little too much chocolate at gas stations.
We started our adventure driving to Aberdeen , the third largest city in Scotland also known as the Granite City, and home to around 215,000 people.
Some fun facts about Aberdeen include : Aberdeenshire hosts the greatest number of Highland Games in Scotland and is also known for being part of the forefront of the oil industry in Europe. Ironically I met many Scots whose parents worked in Texas or had a fond view of the place which to be honest, ( besides those who think everyone wields guns and eats beans out of a can wild west style ) doesn’t happen too often.
We went to Aberdeen beach which was really nice if not windy and cold ( which certainly didn’t stop people from donning short shorts and basking in the sun? jersey shore style ). The historical center was really quaint while the countryside where my friend’s house is located was absolutely incredible, I wanted to take off my shoes and just run on the fields singing.
What would a trip to Scotland be worth without castles? I don’t wanna know! Luckily I had a chance to visit a few really nice ones that I will never forget. Completely different to the ones I have visited in Germany and Italy, the Scottish castles held a mysterious air about them that is unique to each location.
The first we got to visit was the famous Craigievar Castle located in Aberdeenshire. The area surrounding the castle was majestic in itself and we had a great time getting lost around the various paths. I honestly have never seen a castle like this before, I visually couldn’t get enough of the finely sculpted multiple turrets, gargoyles and high corbelling work which combined with the larger lower half create a classic fairytale appearance.
An excellent example of the original Scottish Baronial architecture, the great seven-storey castle was completed in 1626 by the Aberdonian merchant William Forbes, ancestor to the “Forbes-Sempill family” and brother of the Bishop of Aberdeen.
Our second castle visit was to the famous Stirling, which is one of largest and most famous castles in Scotland.
The castle dates from at least early 12th century and sits atop Castle Hill, an intrusive crag, which forms part of the Stirling Sill geological formation. It is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, giving it a strong defensive position. Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1543. There have been at least eight sieges of Stirling Castle, including several during the Wars of Scottish Independence, with the last being in 1746, when Bonnie Prince Charlie unsuccessfully tried to take the castle
To think I was visiting the same castle where Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned was an incredible feeling. The place swirls with history and I could see the monument honoring the famous William Wallace from the castle.
When we had enough of visiting amazing castles , I knew I had to see one thing in my life in person. A man in a kilt throwing a log, and yes I didn’t stutter but I am actually referring to the caber toss in the famous highland games.
Highland games are events held throughout the year in Scotland and other countries as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage, especially that of the Scottish Highlands. Certain aspects of the games are so well known as to have become emblematic of Scotland, such as the bagpipes, the kilt, and the heavy events, especially the caber toss. While centred on competitions in piping and drumming, dancing, and Scottish heavy athletics, the games also include entertainment and exhibits related to other aspects of Scottish and Gaelic culture.
There was a lot going on and a lot of happy people, besides caber tossing we were able to watch some Scottish traditional dancing, bag-pipers and men heaving large boulders.
Of course I had to snack on some chips and cheese and butter fudge. It was one of my favorite days during the trip and we even got to participate in a woman’s event ( no large boulder but merely tossed a rock as far as we could ) where the winner got a nice big bottle of whiskey, my kind of country! The surrounding area was of course, like the rest of Scotland, beautiful, picturesque and droolworthy.
We also got to visit the famous Loch Lomond, featured often in song and the largest lake in Great Britain. The lake contains many islands, including Inchmurrin, the largest fresh-water island in the British Isles.
Oh, ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye;
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.
Our boat ride was only further enhanced by the fish and chips we grabbed close-by and ate quickly using tiny wooden forks before getting on the boat. I definitely would love to take my dad back here one day.
After Loch Lomond we headed over to Glasgow or GlasGO, home to around 600,000 people. Before going , people described the city as industrial and sometimes a bit rough but with a great nightlife. I didn’t really know what to expect but what I got was a fun city with great shopping and outstanding Indian food.
Besides the impressive food, we checked out a contemporary art exhibit, the Opera school that my friend attended and went to a great bar with fishbowl drinks and chairs hanging from the ceiling. We may or may not have visited a nightclub where fake eye-lashes were in abundance and I had to fend off a boozy guy telling me his life ambitions to become a firefighter in America because they made more money.
Our last but certainly not least stop was in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland and seat of the Scottish parliament.
The city is one of the historical major centres of the Enlightenment, led by the University of Edinburgh, helping to earn it the nickname Athens of the North. The Old Town and New Town districts of Edinburgh were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 in recognition of the unique character of the Medieval Old Town and the planned Georgian New Town.
Besides hosting the famous fringe festival, the worlds largest arts festival : a showcase for the performing arts, particularly theatre and comedy, Edinburgh has a strong literary background, going back to the Scottish enlightenment.
I really enjoyed hiking up Arthur’s seat to get a great view of the city and checking out the Mother Earth center. Of course we had to be touristy and take the hop on-hop off bus to get oriented with our surroundings ( excuse) . It came to no surprise that it started to rain as soon as we left for our tour, but I had just as much fun balancing an umbrella and just taking stupid photos while checking out the gorgeous sites such as Edinburgh castle and the historical town center.
There are a lot of tourist shops with tartans for each member of the family , bag-piped stuffed bears and of course the famous kilt ( to be worn by Scottish men only at special occasions and highland games). We also visited to the famous Greyfriars Kirkyard, the graveyard surrounding Greyfriar’s Kirk. This famous cemetery home to Greyfriar’s bobby and the Covenanters’ Prison, is supposedly haunted and I would be absolutely shocked if it wasn’t. This is the cemetery of all cemeteries and you can’t help but feel something standing amongst the large tombstones.
They offer haunted tours and of course Greyfriars is included, but we opted for a day visit since I really can’t imagine being in this cemetery at night, and I am not usually an easily frightened person.
Another must-do when in Scotland is to try some haggis, the traditional dish of the land and it is something you don’t really want to know what is until after you’ve tried it. Try it I did and guess what, it was fantastic. Full of spices and flavor atop some mash, I would probably eat this again.
Besides touring and eating, we did get a chance to go out while in Edinburgh and we were not disappointed. I had this impression that being a town full of tourists, the nightlife was going to be expensive and underwhelming but we actually ended up having one of the best nights of the trip. We bar-hopped and eventually met this great couple from London darting under doorways to escape the rain just as we were and we all headed to a local club to dance ourselves dry.
The night didn’t end in the club, after parting ways with our new friends, we took a rickshaw ( yes I said rickshaw ) back to our hostel and got every snack our pound coins would allow to curb our hunger after being out for so many hours. Since we had a shared room full of snoring Irish people, we decided to eat our snacks sitting on the floor of our hallway which ended up becoming like a low-budget version of the Spanish Apartment movie, in that people kept appearing and joining us as we snacked. This includes those on stag or hen nights gone wrong and regular travelers and we were all cracking up every time the elevator opened to reveal a new “hallway roomate”. At one point the doors opened to reveal the mother of a “hen” ( aka future bride ) frantically looking for her daughter who “ahem” appeared to have been room hopping? To our makeshift group of Scots, my nickname became “Texas” and for once, I didn’t mind.
I had to include a banknote so those can remember that when you get money from an ATM in Scotland , you will get Scottish notes, not English ones. I ended up using my visa card most everywhere anyway so it wasn’t a problem but its good to know.
My advice, is to plan for a week and visit this amazing country. You won’t be sorry and of course there are tours that you can take to the lakes and highlands from Edinburgh and Glasgow so that you can get a full picture of the country and enjoy it as much as I did. I can’t wait to go back someday, there is so much left to see ( and whiskey to drink).