“It is one of the most hauntingly beautiful places in the world, the history is fascinating, the men are handsome and the whisky is delicious. But don’t eat the macaroni pies.”
– J.K. Rowling
In the late afternoon of a Thursday, M and I hopped into a cab headed for the Baden Baden airport in Germany. About 45 minutes later we arrived at what used to be a French, then Canadian airfield after WW2. The airport was tiny. There were no restaurants for dinner, nor bars to curb the anxiety I feel about flying. Just a souvenir store selling some trinkets, nuts, and local liquor. We bought a few bottles and boarded our hour and 50-minute flight to Edinburgh, Scotland.
Once we landed at the airport, we took a tram to our hotel which sat on the outskirts of the big city, in the suburban/business district. When it came to booking hotels for this particular weekend, everything was packed. Even after some extensive research, we could not understand why. So we entered our chain hotel, Ibis Budget, surrounded by corporate buildings.
The city center of Edinburgh was too far away to stop in for dinner. So we enjoyed some of the, honestly American, food they offered. Not how we imagined our first night, but we fully intended on making up for it in the morning.
An early wake-up call and we take the tram into the city center of Edinburgh. While the ride in gave us mediocre sites, the deep valley that ran through the city was the main attraction and first on our list, after coffee.
The city of Edinburgh basically sits within the crack of two very large hills. On one side is the modern part of the city, where you can find adorable pubs, McDonald’s, and a historic building or two. On the other side sits the medieval city that clings to the side of the hill. There are few ways to describe it and hard to find a picture that does it justice.
Then through the center of the city, the crack, sits a lovely park and train station. With coffee’s in hand, we headed to the royal mile. A street on the medieval side that runs parallel to the crack, starting with the Edinburgh castle. The royal castle sort of sits on the peak of this hill and is breath-taking at night when it is lit up. But for our early morning, we walked around the open courtyard and took pictures of the city of Edinburgh. We decided not to go in, we have seen plenty of castles and there was so much more on our list.
As we strolled the royal mile, we would stop in the little shops along the way. Even had the opportunity to listen to a bagpiper, with his snazzy kilt.
There is something we struggled with a bit throughout our trip to the UK & Ireland. They do not speak actual English. Often times we would run into people with accents so thick, M and I would have to tag team to decipher what it was they were saying. Sometimes M would pick up a word and respond, sometimes I would…but when both of us were utterly lost and could not make out a syllable…we would just smile and say, ‘Yea…what are you going to do?’ with a shrug. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
While stopping in a souvenir store, we encountered one of those times. We were looking at some cozy sweaters in the back when a man in tattered clothes came up to us and asked if we were going to the game versus England. The rest was a mystery. But! At least we discovered the reason for the hiked hotel prices.
Turns out there is this big rugby competition, the NatWest 6 Nations tournament. This weekend it was England vs Scotland and the game was in Edinburgh! We decided to research a bit more in hopes that we could catch the game, in a pub, surrounded by drunk cheering Scottish people.
Our stomachs were bugging us for some Scottish pub food so we stopped into the tourist center to see if they had any suggestions. Well, I tried. When I asked the woman working the center it came out as ‘Do you have any suggestions for Irish restaurants?’ Her response felt like pity, understanding, and ‘o you simple minded tourist’.
‘You mean Scottish?’
M could not stop laughing. I turned beet red. She gave us a map and I left with my tail between my legs. Following her advice, we walked to a street lined with SCOTTISH pubs. We landed on Milnes Bar. A cozy spot where M got Mac’n’Cheese with a beer, while I enjoyed a steak & ale pie with a cider, my favorite.
After a bit of research, we discovered we had a tour booked the same time as the big England vs. Scotland game. So we stopped by our tour office to see if we could change it to the following day. With some luck, our tour was changed and we were all set to cheer on Scotland!
M and I continued to explore the city, this time heading to old town, but not before stopping at another souvenir shop. We wandered towards the back and found they offered whiskey tastings! I am not a fan of whiskey, but it was a bit fun.
M and I continued on our way, heading towards old town eventually leading us up to the royal mile. The old town is just as charming as you would hope. The architecture makes you want to sit in one of the windows on a snowy Christmas afternoon. You half expect to see Harry Potter himself walking by you.
We picked up some postcards and stickers, then returned to our hotel for a bit to get out of the cold. By time dinner came around, we returned to the city center and enjoyed a few drinks and pub food at a place called the Ault Hundred. I munched on some fish and chips. M decided to go south of the border with some Cajun chicken. Then we ended our night with some Bailey’s cheesecake. Which tasted a lot like lemon, a bit strange.
As the seasons start to change M and I found ourselves packing for the weather we hoped for rather than the weather we got. We had another early morning, accompanied by coffee, and headed to the train station. We had an early train out to the nearby city of Glasgow.
Our first train was canceled due to technical issues, then we ended up boarding a second one where they suggested we take a different train because it would be 20 minutes faster. So we boarded that train and eventually got to Glasgow. Lovely.
Throughout both cities, we had noticed people going all out to show their Scotish pride. There was plenty of plaids, kilts, and crazy outfits. But first, Glasgow.
We got off the train to Glasgow and had a long list of things to do, but they were all on the outskirts of the city. Dang it. Not wanting to spend the entire day going from subway to subway, we decided to explore what we assume is the city center. It turned out to be just a very run down area, occupied by everyone except the Scotish.
There was not much to look at or even do. Even the popular streets that were occupied with afternoon shoppers appeared dull. We wondered why we had ever heard of this city in the first place.
Maybe we were just looking in all the wrong places and Glasgow is a magical city, but you must have to look for it because we suspect the magic is hiding from the horrible conditions in which they keep their city.
We decided to head back early and get a good spot for the game. We grabbed lunch at a Pret-A-Manger and waited at the train station to head back to Edinburgh. A quick 45-minute train ride and we headed to Starbucks, very exhausted from our poor sleep management.
A coffee and sweet shortbread treat gave us the pick-me-up we needed to head back to the Milnes Bar. We then enjoyed a few ciders and beer in our perfect spot to watch the rugby game.
The game was so much fun! Plenty of songs were sung from the beer-filled bellies of Scottish and English men. The Scots led and won the game! Which we were happy for but had no idea how big of a deal it was, until on our way to dinner we heard chatter that it was the first time Scotland had won against England in 18 or so years!
We grabbed some McDonalds for something quick and easy, exhaustion was taking over.
While sitting there we overheard an older Scottish couple.
Older Scottish Man in his Scotish Accent: “This is the first game Scottland has won in 18 years! The country should be going crazy!”
Older Scottish Woman in her Scottish Accent: “They are honey.”
Our last full day in Scotland we decided to make the most of it with a day-long tour of the Highlands, a few small towns, and Loch Ness. It was a very early morning for us, but we got ourselves there and boarded our small van headed north.
Our first stop was pretty quick into the drive. We stopped at a very cute town for a breakfast bite to eat, coffee, and bathroom break, then we were on our way.
I have to admit, our guide was fantastic telling us so many stories along the way. Unfortunately, due to all of our early mornings I was exhausted and slept quite a bit, but from what I did hear. Scotland has a lot of great tales.
Along the drive, through the highlands, we stopped many times for pictures, bathroom breaks, and snacks. The area was beautiful and we got super lucky with the very clear weather.
Around lunch, we arrived at Loch Ness and enjoyed a lot of pub food from the Richmond House, huge portions. Then we walked along the lake and took some photos, hoping to get a single shot of Nessie, but no luck!
This part was really fun. There were plenty of tourists in the area, doing the same thing and having fun with it. There were a group of Spanish tourists, that would act like they were the monster, jumping up and grabbing fries. I even got in there a bit.
On the way back we had a few more stops. Picking up some coffee or salted caramel fudge to hold us over.
Deeply exhausted and with an early flight to catch, we returned to our hotel to enjoy some dinner and sleep before our 8:00AM flight.