The American Douchebag’s Guide to Europe- Scotland

Overview

Scotland has a long history of fighting with people.  They fought the Romans (Hence the construction of Hadrian’s wall by the Romans), the Vikings, The British, and of course each other. The Highland clans were like the street gangs of their time, and the Clan Campbell and the Clan MacDonald were the Crips and Bloods.

In 1703, Scotland was officially taken over by England, and was incorporated into the U.K., which it remains to this day since their damn referendum to secede fell through.

A fun side fact: The flag that everyone thinks of as the British Flag, the Union Jack:

Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom

Isn’t actually the Flag of Engand. This is:

england_flag_pic

If that doesn’t make sense to you, look at the name of the first flag. It’s called UNION Jack. It’s named that for a reason. That reason is if you take the British flag and combine it with the flag of Scotland:

Flag of Scotland

And the flag of Northern Ireland:

Flag_of_Northern_Ireland

You get the Union Jack.

And if you are wondering why the Welsh flag isn’t also a part of this, it’s because Wales was only a principality when the U.K. was formed. They never added an element of the Welsh Flag when it was declared a country because to Hell with Wales.

Although that dragon would be pretty bitchin’ on the Union Jack.

Although that dragon would be pretty bitchin’ on the Union Jack.

Initial Thoughts

“You know, I always expected Scotland to have a lot more kilt and bagpipe shops than there is in reality. It’s pretty disappointing, actually- Oh wait, there’s one. Never mind. And wow, we only left the airport 5 minutes ago.”

Let it be known that Scotland would look exactly like England if it wasn’t for all the Kilt and wool shops and their flag flying everywhere like the ghost of William Wallace. Which, by the way, if you do ever go to Scotland and you decide to stay out after 2:00 AM, you will see Wallace’s ghost. Be warned.

Accommodations

We, by which I mean my boyfriend Dave and I, stayed at the Motel 1 on the hilariously named Cockburn street. I assume Motel 1 was named that ironically, since not only is it not the only motel in Edinburgh, but it isn’t even the only Motel 1 in Edinburgh. The other Motel one was less than a mile away from the one we stayed. You could see it from the main entrance to ours.  Way to try to monopolize Motel 1 corp.

I'm glad we didn't stay here.

At least we didn’t stay here. This place sounds painful.

This motel was styled in a very modern, yet also somewhat rustic fashion. The lobby and dining areas had tables made from repurposed whisky casks, and the bench seating along the windows had blue plaid cushions and sheep skin blankets.  Yet, everything had clean lines and stainless steel accents. The room was no different. Have a look:

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You cannot tell from the picture, but the design that is on the brown pillows is also on the carpet and the drapes, which could lead into a multitude of pube jokes that I’m just going to pass on for now. Instead, here’s the bathroom:

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Infinite selfies!

Infinite selfies!

I will, however, say this about the bathroom: It was too small to be equipped with such a shitty fan. The bathroom would turn into a steam room within 5 minutes of me getting into the shower. I learned to leave the bathroom door and the window to outside open for ventilation, but ugh, that’s a pain in the ass when I could just do nothing instead. Thanks for nothing, Motel 1.

Sites

In Edinburgh, The majority of the more famous sites can be found on or near the Royal mile. The Royal mile is a road that goes up the hill from Hollyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle. The castle is the older of the two structures and is situated on the highest point in Edinburgh. Hollyrood is the more modern palace (The Current Queen stays there in the summer), but it is also where Mary Queen of Scots lived until the murder of her first son. After that she moved up to the Castle to protect herself and her unborn child. While Holyrood palace still maintains the elegance of being a working palace, the castle has gone full tourism mode.  Most of the buildings are used as museums or displays of what life (palace life, the dungeons) was like back in the day. The castle has around 5 separate gift shops inside it, which makes me think that they ran out of ideas of what to do with all the extra space.

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Along the Royal mile itself  are a series of shops and restaurants. Most of the shops pretty much all sell what you would expect from Scotland: Kilts, miniature bagpipes, canned haggis, anything with a clan name printed on it, and vaguely Celtic items. The more touristy place sold shot glasses and other forgettable souvenirs. However, there were still quite a few shops along the Royal mile that are unique and contain items that I didn’t see anywhere else. Old Town Context is one such store. Old Town Context is actually part of a small chain of stores in Scotland that sell old fashioned curiosities. Miniature stair cases, hot air balloon mobiles, and old tin signs are just some of the many interesting things you can find in this store of curiosities. Here’s their website if you want to see what it’s like. Other than Old town Context, there was a shop the sold various Celtic items, such as Celtic knot window hangs, and miniature recreations of Pictish runes. Then there are whisky shops, and shops that sold wool, and two different Christmas shops. The Royal Mile, has a shit load of stores, is basically what I’m trying to get at.

The Royal Mile, right before the zombies attacked.

The Royal Mile, right before the zombies attacked.

Other sites to see in Old Town Edinburgh are The People’s museum on the Royal Mile, The Scottish Parliament Building, the Scotch Whiskey Experience, and Edinburgh’s hiking spots: The Salsbury Crag and Arthur’s Seat. If you want to witness the best views of Edinburgh, The top of Arthur’s seat is your destination. However, if you’re the typical fat American, be warned that it’s a long hike and there isn’t a single escalator to the top. Get on that, Edinburgh.

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The Queen's gallery, Arthur's Seat,the Scottish Parliament building, and Scotland's famous vanishing cars.

The Queen’s gallery, Arthur’s Seat,the Scottish Parliament building, and Scotland’s famous vanishing cars. And on the far right, you can see the edge of existence.

In New Town, there is the Walter Scott Monument, The Edinburgh Monument, The National Gallery, The Modern Art Gallery,  and the tourist center. And all of it is within walking distance,  which is good unless you’re really against walking. And in that case, why did you decide to go to Europe in the first place, hypothetical lazy traveler? All of Europe is the walking capital of the world.

The Walter Scott Monument

The Walter Scott Monument

Outside of Edinburgh,  I also got to see Loch Ness, The highlands, and The Borders. Although, The Highlands of Scotland are less of a “tourist site” as it is “A natural geological formation that covers the majority of the country.” Loch Ness, despite it’s fame, Isn’t all that fascinating. It’s just a lake. Even the Loch Ness monster isn’t that mysterious. Here’s a picture of me about to punch it in it’s easy to find face. Way to suck at hunting things, Scotland.

I won the fight against Nessie, but only because I was wearing my Cracked.com shirt when I fought her.

I won the fight against Nessie, but only because I was wearing my Cracked.com shirt when I fought her.

She turned out to be super chill. We're friends now. I also credit this to my t-shirt.

She turned out to be super chill. We’re friends now. I also credit this to my t-shirt.

The Higlands, on the other hand, contain some of the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen, and I’ve  rock climbed up the Rockies, hiked up the Alps, and copped your mom’s titties.

Here's some aloe vera for that nasty burn.

Here’s some aloe vera for that nasty burn.

The Mountains in the highlands are so sudden, and I think that’s part of what makes them beautiful. There are no foothills to these mountains, unlike the Appalachian or Rocky foothills, Only steady, rolling plains and then mountains. But once you get to the first ones, Then you’ll be traveling between valleys for the rest of the trip. It is amazing.

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Pictured: Not Loch Ness

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This is Loch Ness- just a normal, everyday, poorly spelled lake.

Food

There really is only one meal that is regularly associated with Scotland, and that food is Haggis.  Haggis is so infamous, that one of the most common questions I was asked once I got back was “Did you try the haggis?” (The second most common one is “Did you buy a kilt?” because everyone thinks I would look hot in a skirt.) And the Scottish really do eat it, once in the morning with their traditional Scottish breakfast (2 sausages, 2 pieces of english bacon, grilled tomato, grilled mushrooms, baked beans, haggis, a fried egg, either hashbrowns or potato scone, and 2 pieces of toast) and for dinner in the form of haggis, neeps, and tatties.  Before I go into the “neeps and tatties,” portion, I need to explain what haggis is. Haggis is, and how do I put this for your delicate sensibilities, a boatload of organs meat. More specifically, it is sheep lungs, liver, and kidneys, chopped up and boiled with  beef fat for six hours. Spices and oats are then added to it, the mixture is stuffed into a sheep’s stomach, and then it is boiled some more. It looks exactly as appealing as it sounds:

Haggis is the greyish sludge at the top of the plate.

Haggis is the greyish sludge at the top of the plate.

For dinner, haggis is served with neeps and tatties, or mashed turnips and potatoes. Despite everything haggis has going against it, it’s actually pretty good. It’s flavorful and hearty, and while its savoriness might become overwhelming after a while, the neeps and tatties do an excellent job at balancing out the flavor with sweet and starchy. Really, the main hurdle to get past with haggis is the fact that it looks like what you’d expect it to look like when it comes back out of you. Try not to think about that when you eat it because it will ruin the whole experience for you.  Also, if you want to eat haggis and not be grossed out, then do not read about how it’s made… I probably should have mentioned that earlier. That one’s on me. Sorry.

Haggis 2

Despite what I said about how good haggis is, Bangers and Mash had to be my favorite meal in Scotland, and not just because it sounds like a buddy cop show on the USA network. Bangers and Mash is sausage, mashed potatoes, and gravy. That’s it. It’s so simple, but delicious, and I’m a little mad I never thought of trying that before. Although, I don’t know why they need two different words for mashed potatoes. It’s like mashed potatoes are to them what snow is to the eskimos.

Alcohol

Just as you don’t go to Japan and not try the wine made with fermented baby mice, you don’t visit Scotland and not drink their scotch whisky.  Scotch whiskey is whiskey made with single malt grain, usually barley, which is then cooked over an open fire of peatmoss, which gives the whiskey its unique flavor.

Dave and I tried 6 different Scotches during a scotch tasting event I participated in (The event was that the bar was open and serving drinks).

The first whiskey we tried was from the Highlands:

Whiskey 1

We thought this one was sweet and mild. A nice starter whiskey- whiskey training wheels if you will.

The second one was from Speyside:

Whiskey 2

This one was much stronger and had a much smokier and peatier taste to it. This one needed more water than the rest to make it drinkable.

The third was from the island of Islay:

Whiskey 3

This one had a little bit more of a smokey taste to it, as well as more peat.

The fourth was another Highland scotch:

Whiskey 4

This whiskey had less smoke than the previous one, but was still detectable. It was also smoother than the previous one. This was our favorite.

#5 was another whiskey from Speyside

Whiskey 5

It was sweet, and had a very light smoke flavor to it

And finally #6

Whiskey 6

Apparently, this one was crafted in the boiling waters of hell and heated with the burning corpses of murderers. My trip-mate would describe the taste as sweet and syrupy, but I totally disagree and think that it tasted more like a million people screaming in my head. I only managed to take one sip of this one. And since my gag reflex desperately fought with me on that one sip, I didn’t try it again. But on the bright side, I didn’t throw it back up in the middle of the crowded bar. I’m calling that a win.

People

The Scottish people are actually some of the friendliest I’ve met in my travels. But that’s not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is how passionate they are about political issues. As luck or the fates or whatever would have it, Dave and I  just so happened to be in Scotland the day they voted on a referendum on whether or not they would secede from the UK. This would have been incredibly historical, since they have not been an independent nation since 1707. So if they would have voted to secede, we would have been there on their first independence day in over 300 years. Guess which side we were rooting for.

Unfortunately for us (and probably Scotland too or whatever) 55% of the people voted against seceding, so instead of partying out of my mind with them, they went on with their normal lives. How boring.

But the people there, at least the ones we talked to were passionate. Everyone we had talked to absolutely wanted independence, and they were quite willing to explain why to us. And if anything immediately humanizes a person from a foreign country, it’s listening to them talk about their government. Because many of their arguments are the same that we here in America: Politicians suck, the government is fucking us over, taxes are too high… It’s actually a little reassuring to hear that we aren’t the only ones going through this bullshit.

Oh, but my favorite thing about the Scottish people is the frequency they use the word “Cheers.” They use it all the time. All. The. Time. When they serve you a drink: Cheers. When they server you your food: Cheers. When a conversation comes to an end: Cheers.  When you buy something at their store: Cheers. I have no clue what the rules are for using that word, but they say it more often than a fraternity uses the word “bro.”

I also met this dog. It was the highlight of my trip.

I also met this dog. It was the highlight of my trip.

Overall atmosphere

The atmosphere of Scotland pretty laid back. Everyone is friendly, everything is easy to find and get to, and with a native population that is outnumbered by sheep, you’ll never find a section of Edinburgh that is overcrowded and loud. And the city (like any city in Great Britian where Tourism is big business) is kept very clean.  But while Edingurgh has the cleanliness of London, it is more condensed, making all the sites easier to get to, as well as a distinct historical district. Simply put, Scotland was amazing.

Ok. Here’s more pics:

Scotland has these. What a great country.

Scotland has these. What a great country.

A random courtyard that I took a picture of because it looked European. Please note that people live in those houses, so me taking a picture of them is a little creepy.

A random courtyard that I took a picture of because it looked European. Please note that people live in those houses, so me taking a picture of them is a little creepy.

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A foggy night in Edinburgh. Also. that sign fucked up my picture.

Hollyrood Palace

Hollyrood Palace

The ruins of the Abbey at Hollyrood

The ruins of the Abbey at Hollyrood

The gardens looking towards the ruins of the Abbey at Hollyrood

The gardens looking towards the ruins of the Abbey at Hollyrood

The Edinburgh Castle lit up fabulously

The Edinburgh Castle lit up fabulously

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People celebrating Scotland’s attempted (and eventually failed) succession with candles

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The weapons in Edinburgh Castle’s great hall

Hero dog cemetery

Hero dog cemetery

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The (incomplete) Edinburgh Monument

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A beautiful day on Cockburn Street (I can't stop saying that name)

A beautiful day on Cockburn Street (I can’t stop saying that name)

The Salsbury Crag

The Salsbury Crag

The view from atop Arthur's Seat

The view from atop Arthur’s Seat

The valley (or Glen since this is Scotland) between Arthur's Seat and the Salsbury Crag

The valley (or Glen since this is Scotland) between Arthur’s Seat and the Salsbury Crag

DSC00742

England is much less welcoming.

England is much less welcoming.

WHERE HARRY POTTER HAD HIS FIRST FLYING LESSON!!!!!!!!

WHERE HARRY POTTER HAD HIS FIRST FLYING LESSON!!!!!!!!

Just an average Scottish person.

Just an average Scottish person.

Peace, you bastards.

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