Haggis, kilts, scotch and the largest student population in the United Kingdom – what’s not to like?
All of this and more is on hand in Edinburgh, a city that seems to exist in the past and the future at once. The architectural stylings remain much as they were when Adam Smith and Robert Louis Stevenson plodded through the drizzling rain between the National Library of Scotland and a bevy of cheery pubs standing at ready on virtually every corner.
The main attraction of Edinburgh, the castle which utterly dominates the city skyline, is in fact the one least recommended by locals. A man I met in pub informed me that my 14 pounds earmarked for the entry fee to the castle were better spent on haggis and a few drams of local scotch, not a tough point to reconcile given that almost every other worthwhile attraction in Edinburgh is free.
“Whistle Binkie,” said Bryan, as I confusedly turned around thinking he was having a stroke or had finally broken with reality from the never-ending walking we had been doing. Instead, he was reading the name of a pub, one of dozens of hilariously named, at least to us Americans, establishments in Edinburgh. For a good laugh, open up an Edinburgh phone book to “pub”, aside from the good old Whistle Binkie, you will also find the The Tron, The Advocate, which “Calls you to the bar”, and a pub named for the man who inspired Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Stevenson classic.
The National Museum of Scotland boasts the stuffed remains of Dolly, the first animal to be cloned, as well as enough kilts to outfit the entire country. Not bad variety, although I think it would have been a bit more patriotic to combine the two and throw a kilt on old Dolly who looked a little cold in her glass enclosure.
The cold in fact is as much a part of Scotland as the rolling green hills. The residents were quick to point out our luck at having come during such a tremendous heat wave, low 30s but sunny! It was then that I thought I was becoming delirious from hypothermia …
Having the good fortune to meet up with an ex-pat Berkeley grad, we were taken for a jaunt to a bit of a local secret, Arthur’s Seat. If you’ve never been to Scotland but have pictured it in your mind, then this is what you pictured. An enormous hill rising into the fog above the postcard-perfect city below. The thin trail winds up through mud, rocky crags and the ruins of a 15th century church. The only people you’ll pass are old men with walking sticks and a dog trotting behind them, Scottish terriers of course. The view from the top is a stunning panorama and beyond breath-taking, a 360 degree study in perfection, stretching out over the old rooftops to the sea and the isles beyond in all directions.
Right then I was about ready to cancel my return flight and start searching for a flat in Edinburgh. Then that infamous Scottish “breeze” picked up and I decided there was a lot to be said for California and sunshine as well.
Up next, myself, Bryan and Eric head for Brussels to see if chocolate, waffles and beer mix as well as they’re rumored to …