Taking a solo trip to commemorate a personal milestone this year, I realised I’m going someplace deeply connected to the very city I had ventured to years ago – the very first time I travelled on my own. It was up in the hills of bonnie Scotland.
POSTED BY PINKY
This does bring back memories. I was in my early 20s, pre-husband, pre-babies. Pre-internet, pre-smartphone. Pre-historic? Haha!
It was part of a three-week adventure before starting a new job. And one place I found an uncanny spiritual connection with was Edinburgh.
An elegant, walking city with buildings, monuments, and parks set against a landscape that all together somehow oozed with Celtic charm – and such warm, friendly people! – this visit has truly stayed with me all these years.
And to get a proper Scottish welcome to Edinburgh, the first thing I did was head to the top of the hill…
At Edinburgh Castle
This fortress upon Castle Rock (sounds like a line from Game of Thrones, doesn’t it?) provides a clear view of the city below, as a fortress should. But curiously enough, it’s also built right on top of the plug of a volcano. Extinct, yes, but the thought of a volcano right under your feet does give that extra dose of excitement.
And now even decades later, I find that the guide whose tour I joined at Edinburgh Castle still counts as one of the most interesting guides I’ve ever come across. Dressed in a kilt and speaking with that charming Scottish drawl (imagine Ewan McGregor or James McAvoy just letting go of their natural accent), that alone was unforgettable.
He spoke of his country and his heritage with such passion, yet all with great humour. Now if only I could remember his name. (Sorry, I didn’t know I was going to be writing about it sometime in the future!)
But I hear that the current guides of the Castle are still some of the best. So when planning a visit, do check here.
The Scotch Whisky Experience
When I mentioned having a spiritual connection with Edinburgh, I wasn’t actually referring to whisky.
Or was I?
As a young twenty-something, I wasn’t entirely a stranger to whisky. (My parents taught me well. Wink. wink.)
So after an interesting multi-sensory tour of how “Scotch” is made, here in this museum located just a few metres from the Castle, how could I pass up the complimentary shot (shots?) that they invite you to enjoy at the end?
Did I take a swig like a sailor or sip like a lady? Hmmm…who do you think has more fun?!
To plan your visit and discover more about Scotland’s favourite drink, check here.
Shopping for Tartan
Just a few steps away from the whisky museum in what was formerly the Castle Hill reservoir now lies the Tartan Weaving Mill and Experience, a shop with a museum-of-sorts at the back.
But I actually went further down the Royal Mile along High Street and off along Princes Street, where I found countless shops selling all things tartan. As they surely continue to do so today.
Now this might very well be a dangerous order of doing things, coming here after a few swigs (sips? I don’t remember!) of that warm, smooth whisky going down your throat (it was a cold day!).
But I didn’t realise I loved all things tartan until I got here!
You name it, these shops have it in all tartan patterns imaginable. From blankets to caps to umbrellas to socks.
Prior to this trip, I didn’t know that most Scottish clans each have a tartan pattern associated with their names. And there happens to be tens of thousands of them. Plus, anyone around the world can come up with his very own tartan pattern and register it.
The tartan or plaid is undeniably one of the most recognisable patterns in the world, specially one that’s attached primarily to a nation’s identity.
But one memory I cherish the most about Edinburgh might not sound very exciting to some, though I do urge visitors to give it a try.
The Scottish National Gallery
Here you’ll find a fantastic collection of works done not only by the best Scottish artists, but also by other world greats.
They’ve got works by the likes of Renaissance artists Boticelli, Bernini, and El Greco, Baroque artists Rembrandt and Diego Velasquez, impressionists Cezanne, Van Gogh and Monet, my favourite portrait artist John Singer Sargent, the great Picasso, all the way to printmaker Albrecht Dürer and Dadaist Max Ernst.
Inside a building on top of what’s called The Mound (an artificial hill connecting the old part of town with the new one) just off Princes Street, a visit to the National Gallery felt more manageable and certainly more intimate than going around say, the Louvre in Paris or the Prado in Madrid.
Or perhaps a more fair comparison would be the smaller Musée d’Orsay or the Thyssen-Bornemisza, also in Paris and Madrid, respectively.
Because it was less hectic, at least when I was there, the relaxing vibe inside the National Gallery simply allowed me to appreciate the masterpieces on exhibit so much more. A rare occurrence even then, I might add, where large crowds in popular sights were already the norm.
Still, things weren’t as frenetic then as it is today. Perhaps because no social media had yet existed for us to desperately upload material to? (Seriously, it was that long ago. But it seems like only yesterday to me.) Plus, travel has now become so much more accessible to many of us. And that’s a good thing.
But now, let’s get to the moment when I finally had me some haggis!
The Ceremony of the Haggis
Ah, the haggis. People kept telling me I had to try it. So I couldn’t possibly leave Edinburgh without partaking of one of Scotland’s revered specialities.
I then decided to join a dinner package that came complete with a Haggis Ceremony. A touristy thing, perhaps. But that’s exactly what I was anyway. So I went for it.
The ceremony began with several kilt-clad men playing their bagpipes inside the dining room. Then in came the master of the ceremony, who recited what sounded like an ode to this great Scottish dish. He cut it up and sliced it, we all raised a toast “To the haggis!“, then dinner commenced, where slices of this savoury pudding were served to us as part of our dinner.
Not knowing what was in it, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then I found out what went in it, and it was perfectly fine. Complete with neeps (swedes or rutabagas) and tatties (mashed potatoes), I ate it all down to the last morsel.
I come from a country famous for balut, after all. And really, we’ve got our own version of haggis. It’s called bopis, which I happen to like. And hey, their names even rhyme!
Robert Burns Country
Now back to the ode or “Address to the Haggis”. It’s actually a piece written by Scotland’s greatest son and national poet, Robert Burns. Though he lived only up to the age of 37, he led quite a colourful life, which may very well have contributed to the vibrancy in his writings.
His poems are both strong and lyrical at the same time. Whenever I read a poem by Robert Burns, there’s a natural rhythm to it that just makes me want to roll my Rs. Even just saying his name, I’ve got to roll those Rs. Rrrobert Behrrrns.
He was a lyricist as well. And everyone knows at least one Robert Burns song, whether he realises it or not. Practically the whole world sings it when the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve.
Yup, it’s “Auld Lang Syne”.
So for fans of Scotland’s bard, there are Robert Burns tours to be had. And, of course, the Robert Burns Supper (which involves the haggis, of course) traditionally done on his birthday, January 25th.
Surely, I’ve only scratched the surface on this visit. So a reunion with Edinburgh could very well be in the cards for me.
Meanwhile, I get to see its Celtic cousin from across the channel in a few months. I’m curious to see if the connections between these two lands now separated by water could be true.
We’ll just have to wait and see…
For more on Edinburgh, a great place to start would be here.
Edinburgh Castle: David Monniaux Wikimedia Commons
Scotch in a Glass: Scotch Whisky Experience
Scottish National Gallery
Tartans: Dreamyshade Wikimedia Commons
Haggis: Colin Wikimedia Commons
Castle Guard: Philip Allfrey Wikimedia Commons