The Honeymoon: Scotland

We spent the months after our wedding getting the condo unpacked and in order and preparing for our two-week European honeymoon in October. My husband the planner had never been to Europe, but I lived there in college and have been back since on a trip with my sister, so I let him choose the cities he wanted to see, and I picked all the restaurants. Our itinerary: Edinburgh, Scotland; London, England; Paris, France; Venice and Rome, Italy.

We started the trip with Edinburgh, the only city and country I hadn’t seen yet. As soon as we arrived, we took a cab ride to our hotel and enjoyed the scenery – lots of greenery and stone, as opposed to Texas’ brittle brown scrub and cement. We checked into the Oakhill Apartments, and the woman from the front desk actually took us up to our room and walked us through it, pointing out all the features – that was a first for me! We were exhausted from the long plane ride and stayed in the room for a while, unpacking and settling in. Then we went in search of dinner and ended up at Persevere’s pub, where Barry got his first Scotch of the trip. A lesson in cultural differences – we asked for a chicken Caesar salad to split along with our entrees, and we got a plate of mostly chicken, cheese and croutons with a few green leaves under it. Not really what we were going for. The weather was in the 40’s and 50’s the whole three days we were there, with occasional light rain. We’d both bought new walking shoes before we left, and we were SO glad we did – they made all the difference, because we were on our feet a LOT.

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We walked around the neighborhood for a while. We walked down by the water and enjoyed the city condo and apartment architecture with old stone churches every couple of blocks. The cemeteries were ancient-looking. We went into a Scottish casino and gambled 1 pound – fun to see the different machines. We also found an old-fashioned candy store, and we sampled and bought some traditional Scottish candies – yummy! We also walked through a Tesco’s supermarket – fun to see the different brands and kinds of food! There was a whole case of savory pies, and I vowed to perfect my pie dough recipe so I could try some out.

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We went home and slept off the jet lag for a LONG time, about 14 hours, off and on. The windows didn’t open like ours – instead of moving up and down, they move inward on a hinge, and the heat was a little stifling, so we left them cracked a bit overnight for fresh air. We had two bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus a living room with cable TV and a kitchen and dining table. We devoted one bedroom to our luggage. There was even a pint of milk in the fridge, an electric kettle, and a supply of coffee, tea, and sugar. They even had decaf, which was perfect since I gave up most caffeine recently. It was probably my favorite of all the hotel rooms we stayed in, and I really didn’t want to leave it.

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The next morning, we rented a car and drove about an hour and a half north to Perthshire’s Edradour Distillery, the oldest and smallest traditional scotch distillery in Scotland. They’ve been making single-malt whiskey there since 1825, and we took a tour of the grounds. I’m not a scotch/whiskey drinker at all, but this was great fun for Barry, and it was neat to see (and smell) the old stills and equipment, including huge rooms full of whiskey barrels. They sat us down and did a tasting of two varieties they produce, we chatted with the tour guide a bit, and Barry picked up a variety they don’t export to the U.S. Before we left, Marius, the owner of the Dallas Irish pub we love called Trinity Hall (where Barry had first tasted Edradour whiskey), gave us a Trinity Hall CD of Irish folk music to give to the people at Edradour, and we passed that on to them. He also gave us 2 TH t-shirts to take a picture in front of the distillery for him, and we obliged.

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The countryside was absolutely gorgeous, and it made the stress of driving on the opposite side of the road with few street signs worth it. Almost. It was pretty stressful. We had lunch in the picturesque town of Pitlochry on the way back to Edinburgh – burgers made with famous Aberdeen Angus beef. It was an enchanting day until we drove back in – the dearth of street signs combined with the darkness made for a stressful time, but we returned our rental car at the train station and made our way home safely. I don’t understand why the city doesn’t put up street signs – the only markers were small street names sometimes etched into the sides of buildings (sometimes not), and some of them were even lit (but mostly not). Thank goodness I’d enabled my phone to receive calls from home, which let us see where we were on the map. We couldn’t actually map our way anywhere, but just being able to see street names in relation to our location was a lifesaver. We will absolutely get GPS next time we drive in a country like this. A note on the buses: they were clean, affordable, with wifi and helpful bus drivers, and we enjoyed using them to get around.

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I should mention that my brother went into the hospital with pneumonia the day we left on our trip, and his condition quickly and shockingly deteriorated into multiple organ failure. We hadn’t planned on using our phones for anything except wifi for e-mail, but I added a basic phone plan so I could be reached in the case of an emergency. It was really difficult to know my family was going through such a horrible time and be so far away, but I did my best not to worry, trust everything would be alright, and compartmentalize it in order to enjoy the honeymoon we saved and planned so long for. I feel bad to have missed his most critical days (he would end up being in the hospital for 2 full months before going home to recover, which is still going on), but it was what it was.

Dinner that night was at the Doric, the oldest gastropub in Edinburgh, continuously operating since the 1700’s. Despite how disgusting it is, I knew I needed to try haggis – when in Rome. This place had fried haggis bon-bons, much like a State Fair food, so I knew this would be my best chance. The haggis balls were rolled in pinhead oatmeal and fried, and the texture wasn’t squishy, like I imagined – more grainy than anything, akin to what I imagine fried pate would be. It was a rainy, cold night, and it was so nice to warm up in a place with such a long, Scottish culinary tradition. Barry had shepherd’s pie, and I had a camembert salad (yes, cheese salad) and a bowl of traditional cullen skink, a creamy haddock stew. And there was lots of red wine.

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The next morning, Barry’s plan was for us to walk the Royal Mile, which is a famous street stretching from Holyrood Palace, former home of Mary Queen of Scots, all the way up to Edinburgh Castle, which overlooks the city high on a hill. We started at the base, where the Scottish Parliament building sits at the base of a beautiful, green mountain. It’s a very modern design, and we toured the inside, including the debating chamber. The Royal Mile was full of ancient buildings, passageways, stairways and wells. We spent some time in the Prince Street Gardens, which was beautiful. We were constantly watching for updates on my brother’s condition, and as it happened, the Royal Mile is full of Starbucks with free wifi; so strange, the juxtaposition of the old and new. We were able to simultaneously view several-hundred-year-old buildings and check e-mail on my phone to keep up with my family thousands of miles away. At lunch at Stac Polly, I had my first colcannon, as well as my first dish using whole juniper berries as flavoring, and Barry got Scottish salmon. Dinner was at Amber, a scotch-themed restaurant. He got a flight of scotches and savored each of them.

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During our walk, we crossed an historic bridge defaced by the best graffiti ever:

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The castle was definitely the main event of our stay in Scotland. We saw the Crown Jewels/Honors (verdict: the exhibits leading up to it are just as interesting as the jewels, so take your time and read their story). We also went inside the oldest building in Edinburgh, a small chapel near the hill’s apex – we had to duck in because the doorways and windows were so low. There are a lot of canons and dungeons and other items that remind you of Scotland’s very bloody history. The view from the castle is expansive; you can see the entire city, nearby islands, and the Firth of Forth, which leads to the North Sea. Our stay in Scotland was such a learning experience, and we’d both love to get back to see more of it!

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One Response

  1. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE everything in this post! (And your hotel suite was AMAZING!) I loved seeing pictures of places in Scotland I had walked through too (the Edinburgh castle, etc), and the food pics are scrumptious. Can’t wait to hear more about your amazing trip, Soul Twin! 🙂

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