O the summer time has come ….
Aug 9, 2013
|And the trees are sweetly blooming
And wild mountain thyme
Grows around the purple heather.
Will you go, lassie, go?….
I had a week that I didn’t know what to do with. My friend Katrin (Africa/Hamburg) decided she wanted to travel with me. Now we just had to figure out where to go? We kicked around Iceland, Montenegro, and Scotland. We decided that a week in Iceland wasn’t long enough, Montenegro, though it looked fascinating, was expensive to fly to and looked like too much work once we were in country. So, Scotland it is then.
We booked flights to Edinburgh, Scotland, then started to look for a hotel. Hahahaha…. little did we know that August is THE BUSIEST time of year in Scotland and especially in Edinburgh. Turns out there is this Tattoo Festival going on? (I thought we were in for a bunch of bikers with ink all over their bodies…hahaha!) Also the Fringe Festival is going on. And every tourist in the world who ever wanted to go to Scotland is there in August. Okay so it was going to be crowded but WOW! what an incredible adventure it turned out to be.
After meeting up in the Edinburgh Airport we picked up our rent-a car and off we went into the city. We spent the first few nights in Edinburgh and what a treat. The first night found us wandering the streets and taking in the vibe. We wandered Old Town, strolled the Royal Mile, cautiously crept through a few closes (alleys), and walked and walked and walked. The night ended with fireworks exploding in the nights sky over the Castle. Awesome.
The next day we crammed a lot in. We started out with a visit to Edinburgh Castle, which is an incredible sight, sitting atop a giant rock base overlooking the entire city. The only problem with the timing of our visit was that about a million (okay, I’m exaggerating slightly, but only slightly) other tourists were there at exactly the same time. It was packed! Too packed to enjoy. We tried, we tried hard, but to no avail. It took something like 45 minutes to get through the line to see the Crown Jewels - what a huge waste of time. So we ran for the exit.
Back out on the streets was the place to be anyway. I mentioned the Fringe Festival, it runs for almost the entire month of August and is a huge art and entertainment extravaganza, and it was just getting going. The Royal Mile was packed with artists and street performers, freaks and fun. You can spend the entire day just enjoying the free shows that happen on the Royal Mile and in venues around the city. We marveled at a few of the Buskers and sipped beverages in an old church while an array of different musicians entertained us. The highlight of the day though was a payed performance by Abandoman performing Moonrock Boombox. Basically it was a rapper/comedian who used his banter with the audience to set up his rhymes that all had to do with a battle for the moon. Hilarious and extremely clever. He picked on me at one point, asking me what I would "miss most from earth while on the moon?" and in a fit of panic and anxiety I blurted out “CheeseSteaks!” well he had a ball with that, it turns out no one but me in the entire crowd had any idea what I was talking about. Poor me? Nah, poor people.
The next day we hit the road. We had a plan, sort of, to drive around and see some of Scotland. We hopped in the car, which isn’t as easy as it sounds - the drivers seat is on the right, the stick shift is on the left, they drive on the left side of the road - so there I am repeating to myself “stay left, stay left” and my poor friend Katrin is shouting at me “left but not TOO left” as I almost drive on the curb and the sidewalk!
First we went up to Stirling and had an amazing afternoon, we wandered the streets of Stirling, visited the Church of Rude, and made our way through the graveyard to Stirling Castle. Beautiful. That evening found us in the little town of Callander and after a delicious dinner of fresh fish & chips, fell asleep in a little Inn listening to the band playing Scottish folk tunes in the pub below.
The following day we drove, we drove all over the Trossachs National Park, we drove up to Loch Lomond, we drove down to the Wallace Monument and climbed the tower to marvel at the sword that is as much a symbol of Scottish pride as any. We drove to the 3 Lochs - which was closed but we got out and walked some, down to the waters edge where Katrin had a moment with a duck. (Picture the duck whisperer.) The day was incredible, the countryside green and fresh and wild and beautiful.
Back in Callander we stopped in a little Inn to have dinner at Poppies (Lonely Planet recommended it) and it was packed, so we had to wait. I am so glad we waited. I am writing this in retrospect but I am going to go out on a limb and say that this was the BEST MEAL I had all summer! (and that is a huge compliment - as you read on you’ll see where I dined in many Michelin Restaurants and even ate in the 2nd Best Restaurant in the World - but none of them was as good or as fresh or as simple and elegant as my meal at Poppies!) I had the fresh scallops appetizer - perfectly seared, and the wild salmon in a mint, pea sauce for a main course - cooked to perfection, and for dessert the Sticky Toffee Pudding. Wow!
Next up was a picturesque drive up to Glen Coe where we payed our respects at the Glen Coe Monument (which is a memorial to the Glen Coe Massacre victims) and then found a sweet little cafe for tea & scones. From there it was more of the Scottish Highlands all the way to Fort William. Our B&B was situated overlooking the Loch and the scenery was awesome - dark storm clouds, shooting rays of sunshine, blues, greens, greys, - just spectacular. That evening we dined in a Michelin restaurant - Lime Tree - which was good, very good, but not Poppies.
We were up before the birds and out the door while it was still dark, we had a lot of miles to cover and our first goal was to catch the early ferry to the Isle of Skye. As we drove the sun rose through the storm clouds and as the world came to light we were blown away by the shear beauty of it all. We made the Ferry and as we approached the Isle of Skye the last of the storm clouds dissipated and the sunshine lit up the Isle in all its glory. We drove all over the Isle and stopped to take in the scenery at every vantage point. By late morning we were pulling into Portree and to our delight found out that the Highland Games were taking place that very day. We were lucky enough to catch the Bagpipe Competition, the Scottish Dancing, the 8 Lap Race and the Hammer Throw. There is nothing like watching huge men in skirts throw a giant hammer great distances. Very cool.
We had to pull ourselves away from the games though and continue on our journey. Back on the mainland we stopped to marvel at Eilean Donan Castle and to take some photo’s. Then it was off to look for a monster, not just any monster, but The Monster, the Loch Ness Monster. We pulled in at Urquhart Castle and took a ton of pictures - I am pretty sure I caught Nessy dipping back under the surface of the lake in one of them!
We spent the night in Inverness and had dinner at Contrast, another Michelin Restaurant with okay food and horrible service. I felt like I slipped into the Twilight Zone when I wanted to pay the check - I think it took at least 40 minutes to pay and leave! Crazy. The whole Twilight Zone thing continued as we parked the car in the lot behind where we were staying and then tried to get in - the owner had said earlier that we should park in the back and come in that way. Okay so the parking part we accomplished now how the heck do we get into the place? We were literally lost in the backyard for something like 20 minutes! We tried every door - locked, we tried to find a way around the building to the front - no go, we started knocking on doors - no answer, finally I banged on what turned out to be the Owners Private Apartment door and eventually a little kid opened it and stared at us blankly, I wasn’t about to hesitate or try to explain, so I smiled and pushed past into the hallway, and then the kitchen, and then, well at that point, there we were wandering around the private home of the owner, by ourselves and with no idea how to get out and into the guest section of the hotel? I tried every door I could find until finally one opened onto the lobby - whew! What a crazy night.
Unfortunately our time was running short and we had to bid goodbye to the Scottish Highlands and get back to Edinburgh. It was a pleasant, easy and picturesque drive back to the city. Well, with the occasional “not that left” shrieked into my ear. We arrived in time to check into our hotel, freshen up and head out for a last incredible night in Edinburgh. It was perfect. We had a wonderful dinner in the Tower Restaurant with the sun setting over the Castle in the distance. Then we were off to The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. WOW! So it turns out it has nothing to do with ink and skin and tough looking characters, who knew? The Tattoo is a long standing tradition that started many years ago and originally had to do with getting the military men out of the bars and back to their respective lodging. It has turned into a marching band type event with guest countries from all over the world participating. It takes place in the courtyard of the Edinburgh Castle and what a show it is. It was definitely the highlight of my visit to Scotland and quite possible the highlight of the summer. There were performances by Scotland, Canada, New Zealand (who stole the show by the way), Mongolia, and Korea. The whole thing uses the Castle as a backdrop and the special effects are fantastic. The Lone Piper sent chills up my spine and the firework finale was the perfect ending to our Scottish adventure.
We managed to drop the rent-a-car off in one piece. I bid farewell to my friend Katrin - until we meet again - and hopped on my next flight to….
And we'll all go together,
To pull wild mountain thyme,
All around the purple heather.
Will you go, lassie, go?….