Scotland is hands down one of my favorite countries I’ve ever been to. It has a proud, rich heritage; a wild, beautiful landscape; and passionate, independent people. Their ancient Gaelic language is ethereal and full of substance, unlike any sound I’ve ever heard before.
My adventures in Scotland let me check off two bucket list items, introduced me to some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and is home to memories tattooed on my heart. I fell in love with the Scottish highlands, and no place in the world has touched me quite like the wild landscape of the north. There are so many special moments that happened here, but I’ll write my first post on Scotland down south in the cities, starting in Glasglow.
While I spent only two days here, I was able to witness an event I didn’t know was going to be so entrancing. Glasgow is a city full of art, music, and culture. It has a university full of aspiring musicians, artists, and creative people. I happened to be there during the Celtic Connections music festival, which features artists from around the world with a wide range of performances. Wanting to experience the Scottish culture as much as I could, I opted for traditional Songs of Gaelic Scotland by the extremely talented Anne Lorne Gillies (or in her Gaelic name, Anna Latharna NicGillÌosa). Without going into too much detail, Anne and her band sang traditional Gaelic songs for the whole night. She was amazing, but I didn’t realize how amazing. Here’s what was so special about it: the Gaelic language is very old and seldom spoken anymore. It’s different from Irish Gaelic and can really only be heard spoken very far north or on the isles. When the concert was over, I started chatting with this older lady next to me who grew up speaking Gaelic and is a very traditional northern Scot. She said, “I’m nearly 70 years old and this is the best concert I have ever been to.” Her opinion verified mine and resonated so deeply the uniqueness of that concert.
From Glasglow, I had a housesitting job in Fife in this little suburb called Dunfermline. Most visitors into Scotland will have never heard of Dunfermline, which is a shame, as it has a gorgeous palace and abbey with a huge park where I felt just like Snow White. Once upon a time, peacocks roamed free in the Pittencrieff Park. It’s also the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie, so there’s something for everyone! It’s only an half hour train ride into Edinburgh, so I spent a lot of time going into the city. And let me tell you: Edinburgh is fantastic. It has a gruesome history, incredible architecture, lively inhabitants, and a beautiful castle on a hill.
Edinburgh is just SO COOL. There’s the Grassmarket Square, where many a public hangings have been performed; secret underground tunnels/vaults, most of which are haunted and some you cannot enter; The Royal Mile, where there’s always something exciting happening; The Elephant House (you MUST see the bathroom, specifically the women’s bathroom), where J.K. Rowling wrote a lot of the later Harry Potter books and the cemetery located right behind it provided inspiration for many names in her novels; St. Giles’ Cathedral, which is the only place in the world where you can find an angel playing bagpipes; The Writer’s Museum, which is a beautiful 17th century house with manuscripts and personal effects of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson; the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who managed to have voting rights before women; Maggie Dickson’s Pub, who was hanged in the public square and her body was taken away, only to shock the residents when Maggie showed up alive and well and was allowed to live because she technically served her punishment and was hung; Lots and lots of pub crawls; and, of course, Edinburgh Castle.
The Royal Mile, which is essentially the “main street” of the city, starts at the Edinburgh Castle and stretches for…a mile. At the end of the mile stands the Palace of Holyroodhouse where the Queen resides when visiting the city. Behind her residence is a hill you can climb, called Arthur’s Seat. And by hill, I mean a mountain and by climb, I mean hike, because it is not an easy feat and I highly recommend you wear some good shoes and proper clothing as it’s much more strenuous than it seems.
From the top of Arthur’s Seat, you have a 360 degree view of the ocean, the mountains, and the city. Snow still covered the mountains and many parts of the hill where tourists were having fun throwing snowballs at each other.
I also happened to celebrate my birthday in Edinburgh! We went to an Irish pub to watch the Scotland vs. England rugby match, and in case you’re not too familiar with Scottish culture, they have a very cold relationship with England, so there was definitely a lot of energy and pride for the Scottish team. After that, I headed to a pub crawl by myself, where the organizers and participants all found out it was my birthday and treated me extra special.
We were at one pub that was playing a mix of Irish and Scottish music, and I danced and stomped and clapped and had the time of my life. Picture that scene in Titanic where Jack and Rose are at the base of the ship at the “lower class” party, and that’s what the energy of this place was like. A friend I made on the crawl grabbed me and we did the ceilidh dance, which is the part where Jack and Rose crossed arms and spun around and danced and danced and danced.
By the end of the night, I was one of the few left on the pub crawl as people usually bounce out at various pubs, so the leader bought me a pitcher of vodka and a pitcher of Irn Bru with a “Happy Birthday!” Irn Bru is Scotland’s drink of choice, a neon orange carbonated soft drink that literally tastes like bubblegum. They sell more of this than Coca-Cola, and only in Scotland do they drink it. It’s disgusting, but hey, when in Scotland!
As for haggis, neeps, and tatties? It’s an acquired taste. To translate, haggis is a pudding type of dish made with a sheep’s pluck (heart, liver, and lungs), neeps are turnips, and tatties is the Scottish way of saying potatoes. It’s a very traditional Scottish dish, only complete with a dram (glass of Scottish whiskey).
While I immensely enjoyed my time in Edinburgh, it is nothing to my experience in the Scottish highlands, which is where I really fell in love with this country. That blog post will be coming up next, and it’s quite an experience.