July 4th — July 12th
We landed in Scotland late on a Monday night and left the airport well past midnight. Our stomachs were empty due a foodless flight so despite being whipped from travel, we went hunting for a small pizza/kebab place that did the trick. That was our first acquaintance with Edinburgh.
We weren’t expecting how cold it would be in Iceland. We figured that with summer and perma daylight, we’d have endurable weather. That ended up not being the case so we hoped that Scotland, being a little bit further south, could provide us with the summer we so sorely missed a mere ten days after departing from the scorching US. We woke up the next morning to a gloomy sky and a drizzle. The wind blowing in the streets, coupled with the humidity made it feel colder than Iceland.
Although Edinburgh is extremely grey — and I mean the hue of its buildings, not just the skies — there is an indisputable charm to this city. Cobblestone streets and ashen stone buildings are the canvas upon which castles and cathedrals conspire to plunge travelers into a distant epoch. Details at every corner hint at Scotland’s loaded history and complicated relationship with the rest of the british isles. The people project strong character and the quirks that pop culture often portrays as quasi-comical artifact, such as the kilt, are alive and well. Men wear them proudly and they truly comes into their own when coupled with the traditional vest.
In our first few days, we covered the main tourist attractions: the castle, Arthur’s seat, the Scottish parliament (which featured a photo journalism contest with some sobering and powerful entries), and multiple churches and cathedrals. Holyrood palace was the only one we could not visit due to the fact that HRM the queen was staying there. Anaïs even caught a glimpse of her inside a motorcade as we we ordering in a store on the royal mile, the main street in Edinburgh’s historical center.
We sought out some good restaurant options but were mostly disappointed by what we tried in Edinburgh. We really gave things like haggis a try in multiple restaurants, but from what we experienced, it seemed to be a paltry version of hachi parmentier. Later on during our stay, especially in the highlands, we had a few fish based dishes that were worth their salt, similarly to Iceland. The cynic in me is tempted to say ‘Well, what did you expect? This is England after all’. Maybe I’m just not willing to dish out enough money to experience the very best places, but I don’t think spending inordinate sums of money should be necessary to experience the traditional dishes in a given place, and almost all of the countries we’ve visited until now have confirmed this rule.
After four nights spent in Edinburgh, we picked up a car and drove north to Inverness, Fort William, Dunvegan, and back to Edinburgh. The countryside of Scotland delivers on the great views of lochs and castles, much like you would imagine it. The cities and villages however felt a little soulless and unexceptional, save perhaps for a small area of Inverness and some hamlets tucked between two lochs. Naturally, the rain was relentless, which was a huge deterrent to getting out of the car and doing much in the way of hiking and experiencing the Scottish countryside more deeply. The only time we went off the beaten path was perhaps to explore a waterfall by the name of Plodda in the southern highlands.
The highlands were impressive in their isolation. Villages are connected by a small road that sparsely permits passing and features an exceptionally low speed limit. Most accommodations were extremely modest, rudimentary, in dire need of renovation, with sub-par amenities. Outside of tourism, it was hard to see what economic activity would sustain the people living so far out of the way.
Admittedly, we had a superficial experience of what the Scottish countryside had to offer, but I must confess that I left wondering what all the fuss was about. It may be due to the narrow roads, and small villages, but Scotland seemed quite well frequented by tourists, yet I found myself puzzled and wondering why it attracts so many people. Of course, there are plenty of activities to make your trip worthwhile, but so many other countries in Europe strike me as more appealing that it was a bit of a head-scratcher to see so many folks visiting Scotland.
After feeling tired from bouncing around and driving so much, we spent a couple more days in Edinburgh in a different neighborhood to simply rest up before flying to Oslo and tackling a new country.