Highlights from Edinburgh, Scotland

Much of my time traveling outside of the U.S. has been spent in Europe and I must say I that I absolutely love Europe and would move there in a heartbeat.

In 2014, I was invited to visit my Aunt yet again for another memorable trip across the pond.  In June, my mother, my dad’s father and I set off for a trip that would take us into London, up to Oxford, England, further north to Edinburgh, Scotland, into the Highlands and back south through York, England. Needless to say, it was a phenomenal trip.

The journey started off in a peculiar way, a story I will write about eventually.  I’ll let the suspense build for that one.

Fast forward a few days and almost 700 kilometers north, and we make it to Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland and the homeland of (a segment of) my ancestors.

Let’s first lay one ground rule out of respect – Edinburgh is not pronounced how it sounds.  Instead, act like the r and u are switched making it sound like Edinbrugh (even more like -bruh for us millennials).  Still unsure?  Listen to this.

As we drove into the ‘intellectual capital’ of Europe, on the left side of the road, which is always a trip in the UK, we knew we were extremely close to our flat but we just couldn’t seem to find the exact road we needed.

Queue attractive, young men working on the side of the road and, as always, I became the one nominated to go ask for directions with a giant smile.

Being the person I am, never scared and certainly not embarrassed to ask someone for directions, started to approach the men.  I made eye contact with one who said he could help me.  He took me to his truck where he had a local navi and told me to get in so we can look up the exact address.

From where my family sat (pointed in the opposite direction of the truck), all they could see was that I had jumped into a work truck with a stranger.  From what I heard after the event, they instantly thought twice of sending me alone.

However, as per the usual when travelling, there are good people everywhere in the world and the man wrote down the exact turns on a piece of paper and sent us on our way.

We found our flat about 2.5 blocks away and started to settle in.  I’m going to take this opportunity to tell you about Vacation Rentals By Owners (VRBO). It is essentially renting a flat, apartment, condo etc. for a period of time instead of staying in small, cramped hotels.  I love travelling this way due to access to full kitchens and living rooms.  We can easily go to the market to economically pick up groceries and gather in the living room to chat instead of being confined to a hotel room.

Back to the Trip – While we were in Scotland we did a number of things that I would recommend to fellow visitors:

  • St. Andrews Golf Course
  • Tours of Abbeys & Castles
  • Whiskey Tasting & Pub Tours
  • The Highlands

Starting from the top, my parents were avid golfers so St. Andrews Golf Course was a must see for us.  ICYMI, St. Andrews is the oldest golf course in the world.  The visit to St. Andrews was extremely special to me knowing that my father was with us (in spirit) as we soaked up the sprawling, historic course alongside the water.  When we stopped into one of the picturesque pubs lining the outside of the fairways, we cheered our drinks to the happy, memorable moment.

As we returned from St. Andrews we ended up blowing a tire on the side of the road in one of the smallest towns in Scotland.  Our rental car did not have a spare tire in the back, but instead only patching equipment.  After some solid attempts, we had to call a tow truck.  But don’t worry, we made the best of our time waiting (in a pub).

Honestly, it might have been a blessing in disguise as our tow truck driver was the nicest Scottish man.  During our four hour drive back, he gave us food for thought.  He even took a detour through one of the most famous fishing villages and talked about the old Scotland, the perception of the English, the current political topic of succeeding from the UK and more.  It’s always a great learning experience to chat with a local when travelling and learn about the country and culture through their eyes.

Speaking of fishing villages, I must confess my love for Fish and Chips.  It was a staple for us throughout this trip as you simply cannot find the dish in the same bracket here in America.  Anytime you go to the UK, you should order Fish and Chips at least every other day, as it’s simply that ‘bloody’ good.

During our time in Scotland we also visited a number of abbeys and castles dating back hundreds of years, some in ruins and some still operating.  Three of my favorite were the Campbell Castle, the Jedburgh Abbey and the Edinburgh Castle.

The Campbell Castle was once again a very remarkable moment in my life as my mother’s maiden name is Campbell and through genealogy research we knew our ancestors were from Scotland.

Arriving at the Campbell Castle was one for the books, imagine the narrowest roads that are barely wide enough for one car, steep hills and hidden corners.  However, we made it and I’m so happy we did.

The view from Campbell Castle looking down on the city of Dollar was breathtaking.  Not to mention the rich history we learned about the typical way of life during the 1400’s, 1500’s and 1600’s.

There were two levels of terraces and a beautiful arched walkway connecting the two that was lined with greenery and flowers.  While the castle itself was partway in ruins, I think this made it was even more beautiful due to its imperfection.

The Jedburgh Abbey had a similar impact on me due to its incompleteness and flaws, yet magnificent grace.  The foundation of this Abbey, built in 1100, had survived decades of war and weather but still stood tall and proud.  Its structure was simply astonishing, knowing that prior to modern machinery, something so ornate and large could be built by the human hand.

The Edinburgh Castle was also another stunning attraction of our trip. One of my favorite parts of this tour was seeing the Royal jewels on display in the castle museum.

The view from the castle, which sits on a hill, allowed you to soak in the aerial view of Edinburgh.  You could see the tall buildings stitched together in rows by stone marked with soot.  We could also hear bagpipes in the distance, a lovely sound that will forever remind me of Scotland.

At the foot of the Castle we decided to sit and grab a bite to eat as we sipped on our flight of Scotch.  At the time I had not developed a taste for Scotch but I hope one day I’ll be able to go back and enjoy it to the fullest.

As we walked down from the Castle, along Royal Mile, we popped into shops and to our delight found many items with the Campbell Clad on it.

There are many clothing resale shops here in the U.S. but one particular shop we stumbled upon in Edinburgh was very neat in that you don’t pay per unit but instead by the total weight of your purchase.  I thought this was a very interesting business concept.

When our family travels, regardless of the country, we always enjoy going into local pubs and ordering a pint.  What I find interesting about European pubs is the way the beer comes out of the keg and the temperature of the beer.

Instead of one continuous pour when the server pulls the lever here in the U.S., the bartender must ‘pump’ the beer out of the keg.  Long, repeated pulls of the lever fills the glass.  Additionally, the beer is typically near room temperature in Europe as compared to ice cold here in the states.  Just a few things to know prior to your first trip to Europe – if you are a beer drinker that is.

Last but not least was our venture up into the Highlands of Scotland.  On our last day in Scotland, we piled into the car to drive north towards the Highlands (the mountains).  It was a beautiful journey filled with vast lakes, green hillsides and more sheep than you can count.  WHEN I make it back to Scotland I would love to spend more time in this area, taking in the natural beauty and scenery.

All in all, Scotland was a perfect destination for vacation and I look forward to going back to see the men in kilts, sip some Scotch and listen to beautiful bagpipes in the years ahead.