Archive for May 8th, 2009

Edinburgh, Jewel of the North

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Morning dawned cloudy after our unexpected nocturnal adventures (ie losing ourselves in the wonders of Edinburgh during construction season). It has been raining off and on for almost a week now and to tell the truth we’re all getting a bit tired of it. Another thing we’re getting a bit tired of is having Harvest Morn bars for breakfast each morning. Although these are delicious and highly nutritious, a full week of them begins grate on the senses. That’s why we decided to enjoy a full breakfast of free-range eggs, thick-cut toast, and real scottish bacon. It was spectacular. A breakfast which will stand out in legend for ages to come.

After fully enjoying the cooking and eating of our spectacular morning meal, we set off for a full day of exploration in the capital of the Scottish world, Edinburgh. A sprawling city built between several hills near the end of the Firth of Forth, Edinburgh has become a mecca for anyone seeking the “Scottish Experience.” Lining the steeply downhill Golden Mile from the ancient and stately Edinburgh Castle to the impressive and glamorous Holyrood Palace is a plethora of shops and tourist traps. The Scottish Whiskey Experience, Thistle Do Nicely, and The Edinburgh Woolen Mill share the road with two magnificent cathedrals and dozens of 18th and 19th century buildings.

Throughout the entire city, history meshes with kitsch in an amalgam of historic beauty and garish modernity. The finest example of this dichotomy was seen near the bottom end of the Golden Mile where ancient Holyrood Palace shares an intersection with the new Scottish parliament building. Built within the past decade to house the Scottish Parliament–a body devolved from the UK Parliament in 1997–the parliament building on the outside is made of shaped steel, wood and glass in a way which calls to mind an image of a bamboo forest. In any modern city (eg Chicago, Columbus, even Belfast) it would have been quite an interesting and beautiful building, but as the seat of power for the leadership of the rugged, rocky and natural nation of Scotland and when contrasted with the ancient stone cathedrals, palaces and castles surrounding it, it ends up looking simply tacky. But enough about architecture and back to exploration.

I’m not sure exactly what David, Dan and Matt did during the afternoon, but I made my way out of town in the car with our clothes only about half of which had dried overnight and used one of the first dry days since our arrival in Scotland to hang our clothes out to finish drying. I drove about 20 minutes out of Edinburgh and pulled off the highway doing a bit of exploring until I found a driveway leading to the entryway of a field. There tied up a line from the car to a fencepost and strung our laundry up to dry. It took about 2 hours even in the bright sun and constant wind, but I managed to get some reading done–I’ve been reading Frank Herbert’s Dune after finishing Starship Titanic earlier in the trip–and took a nap. It was a very nice day and no one bothered me until just as I was taking the laundry down a fellow drove up and asked if I needed any help and when I said no he asked if I had been dumping trash there–apparently a problem in the area–I told him I had just been drying my laundry and he said “Right. No problem. Cheers!” and drove off. We’ve been quite amazed by the friendliness of pretty much every single person we’ve encountered here (except for one rather curt waitress in Galway).

After my leisurely afternoon, I rejoined the guys at our appointed meeting spot in Edinburgh (the Burger King with free WiFi). Soon we were on our way (after a dash to get back to the parking lot before our time expired and we got charged €4.50). We drove steadily northwest toward Loch Ness and the Lake District of Scotland–not to be confused with the Lake District of England–and one of my ancestral homelands.

We spent the night by a stream just a few miles outside of Inverness at the tip of Loch Ness and were not attacked by monsters of any sort.

Daniel Z


Friday, May 8th, 2009

I don’t remember specific meals as much more significant than any others in my (Matt) life. I like to think I eat to live rather than vice-versa. For the last several days, however, a single meal stands out in my memory. This is new for me. Perhaps it has something to do with our intentions of spending no more than 10 Euros for food. For four young men. A day. That’s about $13.50. In other words, we’ve been adjusting to a diet meager in comparison to most enjoyed by Americans, including ourselves two weeks ago. The guys tease me about how I don’t have much weight to lose.
Anyway, Thursday morning in Edinburg, David and I left the Dans in comfortable hostel beds to sleep off their late night explorations. We followed the cute hostel employee’s directions to a nearby discount grocery store, Lidl, to replenish our supply. While David stayed with the car in our pseudo parking spot, I headed for the store with our money. Before you question David’s sanity in entrusting a hungry me in a grocery store with our limited finances, remember we’re all pretty frugal. I spent 76 pence on two loaves of white bread, £1.26 on six free range chickens’ eggs, and a pound on unsmoked bacon strips. That’s the best three pounds, five pence I’ve ever spent on food. Admittedly, it was the first three pounds, five pence I’ve ever spent on food. Back at the hostel, the shopping spree provided a meal we continue to discuss in hushed, reverent tones. I borrowed some butter out of the hostel fridge and we ate our first hearty brunch. It was delicious. On a related note, Scottish bacon is absolutely magical. Imagine lightly-browned, well-buttered toast complimenting light, scrambled eggs with a hint of salt. The bacon, which we lovingly fried until just crisp enough to retain its tenderness, created a savory celebration of sweetness in our mouths. This was no American, wanna-be bacon; this was Scottish bacon.
We have agreed to splurge on area foods and this was our second such dish. Our first occurred in Gallway of delicious Irish Shepherds’ Pie and traditional Irish Stew. The future looks bright with possible dishes like whiskey in Scotland, fish and chips in England, etc. We’re wondering if you have any suggestions for local dishes to try along our route. We’d appreciate any ideas! Until then, however, the Edinburgh brunch will remain most significant in our taste buds’ memories.