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Welcome to Scotland

Having a connection with Scotland through Gibbo's Scottish-born parents and an older brother, visiting the country meant returning to the 'Home Country' in a strange sort of way. Although Gibbo had spent 3 months there before back in the 1990's and seen much of the country (it's not very big!), our recent trip was the first visit for Nicki. 

There was much to see and do in only the few days that we had, as we went for an extra-long weekend to attend Gary and Von's wedding (friends from The Hague and Aberdeen), with lots of local culture, haggis eating and whiskey drinking to be done (ok, maybe not the whiskey drinking as it's not something that agrees with either of us, but as you will know, Scotland is well known for its whiskey and its drinking). 

EDINBURGH

This city has a lovely, well-preserved historic town centre with a castle as its centrepiece. The Edinburgh Castle sits high atop a rock, right in the middle of town. It's more of a hill, but from one side it really does look like a volcanic rock planted in the middle of town, as the rest is reasonably flat. The forecourt of the castle hosts the Military Tattoo over a number of nights in August. If you are there during this month, the Tattoo is certainly worth getting tickets for as it's not all bagpipe-influenced marching bands. The Fringe Festival is also on during this time and has a magnificent line-up of comedy acts and shows, some well-known, others just starting out. Advice is to get some tickets to bigger shows, but try a few smaller stand-up venues as this is where you can discover some real comedy gems (or some real dogs too).

quaint alleyway in Edinburgh's old town
The quaint alleyways off Edinburgh main street in the old town


Known as the Royal Mile, High Street leads up through the Old Town to the castle from the Scottish Parliament, that is probably the most modern building in Scotland and, one senses, not a emblem of pride for the locals. Next door to the parliament is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth when she is in town (most likely in August catching a few comedy shows). High Street itself is crowded with Scottish souvenir shops, containing every sort of kilt, t-shirt and Loch Ness monster soft toys known to man, a few pubs and any number of tacky tourist attractions that have been created to keep visited interested past a day or two. There's Loch Ness in 3D, Edinburgh Dungeon tours and something about a colour experience! Nothing you would pay good money to go and see, although clearly people do as each remains in business. Here you'll find the Fringe Festival office that has a vast array of information and merchandise from festivals gone. We picked up four posters from previous years that we liked an will use to decorate a room at home. The street has been modernised with very little traffic now, but keeps areas of cobblestones in place to maintain the historic feel. Adding to the Scottish experience, there always seems to be a busker playing the bagpipes so this sound is constantly in the background.

Edinbrugh Castle
Edinburgh Castle


Walking down the hill from the castle and across one of the bridges takes you to the New Town and the High Street as most people would know it - packed with retail stores! Princes Street is a long stretch of road that has stores on one side, Waverly Station and Princes Street Gardens on the other. The gardens are a great place to sit and relax in the nice weather (very rare!) and has a number of statues that tell part of the city's history. In summer, the place is packed with buskers that range from the common to the bizzare. Parallel to Princess Street, but much narrower, is Rose Street. This is worth a stroll for a number of hidden away stores, pubs and a few cafes.

High Street, Edinburgh
High Street Ediburgh

If you have a car or bike, it's worth venturing up Arthur's Seat for a stunning view over town at a height of 250m, laying the city out much clearer for you. Gary and Von organised coaches after their wedding ceremony for all guests to get to the the reception, and the drivers took us for a drive over this area. 

boys in their skirts!
Gibbo and the boys in their skirts at Gary and Von's wedding


Accommodation
We stayed at the Hilton Grosvenor hotel, which was just on the edge of town, but ideally situated close to buses to and from the airport and Glasgow, the Haymarket train station, and easy walking distance into the centre of town. In addition, it was around the corner from the kilt hire store (www.thekiltstore.com) that was needed for the wedding, so it was easy to pick and return because kilts weigh a ton!

Hilton Hotels have a package called 'Mini Breaks' which means staying a long weekend for, normally, pretty good rates. We booked online directly (www.hilton.com) and got 4 nights accommodation, buffet breakfast each morning, dinner on the first and third nights, and late check out on departure for 105 EUR per night. The dinner menu was good and you can spend up to 20.50 GBP pp, not including drinks. Must have been the best value deal in Europe! Nicki had tried some Scottish fare, like square sausages, before but had never sampled haggis. Although absolutely certain it was not the best haggis in town, the Hilton did have it on their breakfast menu, so Nicki tried, and liked, both the haggis and potato scones. If it's well cooked, it can be pretty tasty.

As a bonus to the location, the airport express bus stops about 30m away (Haymarket), costs 5 GBP open return, and takes about 15mins. The coach to Glasgow also picks up and sets down at the same stop, with a return ticket being about 8 GBP. Alternatively, you can catch the train from Haymarket Station.

Eating & Drinking
As we got breakfast and dinner in the hotel, plus we were at a wedding for another night, we didn't really get to experience much of Edinburgh's numerous eating and drinking establishments. However, we did have an exceptional vindaloo and rogun josh at an Indian Restaurant called Omar Khayam, situated on the corner of the street from the hotel (another reason to stay in the area). We are big fans of Indian cuisine, but struggle to find really authentic, arse-burning curries. Omar didn't disappoint and they have a few beers on tap too so you can wash it all down with a few pints. Just not recommended as dinner the night before a 30kms training run the next morning as you just know you will pay for it at some stage, as Gibbo found out 2hrs into that run.

Just across the road from Omar's is a cafe that, although not remembering the name, has something to do with coffee and music. Instead of ordering coffee by the size, you order it by the number of shots ie. 1,2 or 4 shots. Two shots in plenty and pretty good coffee (although the service can be slow) but the barista was telling me that some people come in a few times a day and have the 4 shot coffees. That can't be good for you!

Edinburgh is like most UK cities in the fact that you can't walk 100m without coming across a Starbucks, Nero or Pret (or a pub for that matter). On Princes Street, there is a Marks & Spencer that has a great foodhall downstairs, so ideal for fuelling up on the move and eating across the street in the gardens. We found the prices in Edinburgh no different to those found in London, so unless you are on the Pound Sterling, it will be reasonably expensive to even sit for lunch or coffee in the city.

GLASGOW

Of course, Scotland does have another major city - Glasgow. Traditionally, it has be known to be much more working-class than Edinburgh and clearly not as stunning. This position has not changed much over the past 10+ years with the inner city area still very much at a lower socio-economical scale. However, the city has also been modernised and now features a rather large and trendy shopping mall, loads of good cafes and interesting pedestrian streets. The main bus station, Buchanan Street, is practivally right in the middle of town so very easy for a day trip from Edinburgh like we did (approx 1hr travel time) and all of the sites are within easy walking distance. 

George Square Glasgow

George Square, Glasgow

Unless venturing into the suburbs or due to really poor weather, on foot is the best way to see Glasgow. Gibbo's parents are originally from this part of the world (Hooray for 1960s High Blantyre!) and areas of interest, and relative beauty, are in the central city area. The City Chambers and George Square are interesting with two stone lions keeping a watch on proceedings, and like Edinburgh, it features many statues depicting some of the city's history. The area in and around the Museum of Contemporary Art is also worth a look, perhaps more so for the cafes than anything else. Sauchiehall St is another area for decent shopping.

We only ventured to Glasgow for a day trip and, due to a number of reasons, didn't stay for dinner as planned. So hard to comment too much on what there is to see and do, where to eat, and where to shop.  Overall, Glasgow is a ok city and would be worth spending some days, and even better, some nights exploring there. Our general impression is that it is similar to Dublin in a way. Not a great deal to see and do, or even with a history that is all that interesting, but it's a great place to experience at night. Loaded with restuarants, pubs and cafes, Glasgow would be, and from previous experience is, a good place to go out. Be careful though.

Museum of Contemporary Arts

Museum of Contemporary Arts, Glasgow


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