Thursday, October 4, 2012

Scotch Whiskey and Elephants

I love trains. If I've learned anything from this trip to Scotland it's that. For starters, they're so easy. As long as you have a ticket already, you just show up and hop right onto the train--no baggage check, no TSA, not even a ticket desk. They handle all of the time consuming administrative stuff--ticket checking, emergency information and announcements--after the train has left the station and your journey has begun. So much better than going through security and getting to the airport eons in advance. Also, my friends and I have a BritRail pass that allow us 8 days of unlimited travel within Great Britain (Scotland, Wales and England) so we don't even have to buy tickets.

But anyways, our six hour train trip to Edinburgh, Scotland was very calming and I found myself journaling for much of it. I will admit that everytime the man came by with the cart of food, I wanted him to say "Anything from the trolley dears?" but alas, I'm not Harry Potter and our train was not bound for Hogwarts. A girl can dream though, right? (And actually, JK Rowling based Hogwarts on a school in Edinburgh, so close enough, really. But more on JK Rowling later.)

We got to Edinburgh on Saturday in one piece, which we were all pretty pleased with as this was our first out of country trip. We arrived around 2PM and checked into our hostel, which was called the Caledonian Backpackers. Libby had actually stayed there in June when she visited Scotland, and it was really nice--much nicer than I was expecting, so I was pleasantly surprised. The bed was comfortable, there was WiFi everywhere and there was a bar/lounge area to hang out in. And free breakfast, which was awesome as well.

But back to Saturday. We had a list of things we wanted to do in Edinburgh, and one of those things was the Royal Botanical Gardens. Saturday was a really beautiful day, and it was supposed to rain the next day, so we decided to go the gardens on Saturday because let's be real, gardens in the rain would not be any fun at all. The Botanical Gardens were breathtaking--much cooler than I was expecting. To start, they are massive! There are so many parts and different types of plants and shrubbery. My favorite part was definitely the Queen Mother Garden, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth's mother. She was actually Scottish and there was a very interesting structure lined on the inside with sea shells at the back of the garden. The picture to the right is of me, Caitlin and Austin in that structure.

The walk to the Royal Botanic Gardens was pretty long, tiring and hard on our feet, so we were starving by the time we got back to our hostel. We ended up eating at Wannaburger, an extremely Americanized burger joint next to our hostel. They actually listed fries as fries on the menu (as opposed to chips), had as a drink option "American Style Lemonade" and even had on the menu "American Pancakes" complete with maple syrup. I was beginning to wonder if they even knew what maple syrup was here, so it was reassuring to know that they've at least heard of it. The meal was delicious, but that might have been because we were famished.

The next day we got an early start because we had so much we wanted to do. We started the day with a Choral Matins service at St John's Episcopal Church which, very conveniently, was practically across the street from our hostel. It was a very beautiful Morning Prayer service filled with music. It's amazing how the local neighborhood church in the UK can be so beautiful. The architecture looked a lot like the cathedrals of Salisbury and Chartres that we study in art classes. I unfortunately couldn't get more than this one picture before I had to put my camera away. But it really was a beautiful church.

Then it was off to the National Museum of Scotland, which had literally so much to see you could spend days in there. We learned a little about Scottish history, saw a T-rex and visited an exhibition about changing technological fads. Truly, this museum covers anything and everything.

After that we had lunch at the Elephant House. I don't know how they were able to collect so much elephant related decorations, books nicknacks! This is also where JK Rowling famously wrote the first Harry Potter book on a napkin. It's become almost a pilgrimage for Harry Potter fans to go the Elephant House and write on the wall of the bathroom. Literally the entire wall of the bathroom is covered in messages like the one below. I even added my own message, but that's for me to know, and you to only find out if you visit the Elephant House and investigate for yourself.
I actually learned that JK Rowling based Hogwarts on a local school in Edinburgh (so, that makes Edinburgh Hogsmeade and the train I took the Hogwarts Express, right?) She would look out the window of the Elephant House at George Heriot School and write all about the majesty and beauty of Hogwarts. It's impossible to go to the Elephant House without feeling awestruck and a little bit inspired. 

After lunch we went to the Scotch Whiskey Experience. Why we decided to do this, I'm not entirely sure, but it actually was really interesting. And I learned that Whiskey is pretty terrible, even if it costs $200 a bottle. I also learned all about how whiskey is made, the different types of whiskey based on in what part of Scotland they are made (apparently some taste slightly fruity and some taste like vanilla but I don't think these supposed tastes actually exist) and then we got to try some whiskey. I tried the Speyside variety (the one that was supposed to be fruit-esq) and it was actually terrible. Like seriously, so bad. Throat burning, face twisting, cough inducing bad. Don't let the smile on my face in the picture to the left fool you, trying the actual whiskey was not enjoyable. After trying it, I just really wanted some water, which they had pitchers of. But I didn't have a glass to use, because there was still whiskey in my glass. So I downed my glass of whiskey (just as bad the second time) and got myself some water. Only after I killed the glass did Libby inform me that there was a bucket you could pour it in if you didn't want any more. Good looking out Libby (not). 

Another really interesting thing was the room we tried our whiskey in which was covered floor to ceiling with bottles of whiskey. None of them have ever been opened, but a number are less than full because the whiskey evaporates with time, which I thought was really interesting. The picture to the right is of the oldest bottles in the collection (c. 1897 and 1904) and as you can see, a lot of whiskey has evaporated. That just blows my mind. Basically, if this collection exists for another 500 years, it will be just a collection of empty bottles. Crazy. 

After the Scotch Whiskey Experience we went to Camera Obscura, a museum of optical illusions. What has really interesting about Camera Obscura was the actual camera obscura--a dark room at the top of the building that, using lenses and mirrors, allows the operator to reflect onto a screen what is going on outside. This particular camera obscura showed the Edinburgh skyline and it was really beautiful. The rest of the museum was really fun too, including holographs, visual illusions, shadow pictures and more. It was a silly follow up to the more grown up whiskey tour.

By the time we were done at the Camera Obscura, it was nearly 5 so we headed back to the hostel via a park running parallel to Princes Street which was really pretty because it was extremely nice out at that moment. We rested at the hostel for a while before going to lunch at a pub called the Amber Rose. I had a delicious pepper and lemon chicken from the Pub Favorites menu. Although this doesn't seem that adventurous, for me it was and I was glad I tried it.

The next day was devoted to traveling back to Oxford and we actually traveled along the coast for a while which was cool and extremely beautiful. Sometimes I forget we're on a massive island!

So, Edinburgh was an immense success--I nice blend of adventure, beauty, fun and history. Below is a slideshow of some of my favorite pictures. Enjoy!

No comments:

Post a Comment