If you watched Saturday Night Live in the early 1990s, during the Mike Meyers years, you’ll know how that sentence ends.
We’re a week back from Edinburgh already but a family situation presented some unexpected travel (more on that in my next post) and I’m just now getting around to sharing some thoughts about our first trip to Scotland.
For starters, Mike Meyers is right: if it’s not Scottish, it’s crap. Scotland, at least what we saw of it, is beautiful. Friendly, accessible, easy to get around. And the people we encountered had one significant thing in common: they were really, really excited about being Scottish.
We didn’t have too much time in Edinburgh, especially since I had scheduled us on a day-long “Discover Malt Whisky*” tour. I’m not usually one for group tours, but this seemed to be the best way to get out of the city and drink whisky without having to deal with driving. We were a group of 13, and we had a wonderful, wee Scottish woman serving as our driver and guide. (If you want to know anything about how historically inaccurate “Braveheart” is, just ask me.)
Our first stop was Glengoyne, and our first taste was served at the not-so-respectable hour of 11:30 AM. Then it was off to tour the distillery and learn about the process of making whisky. There are a number of things in the world about which I often ask, “Who the hell figured that out?”. That you can eat a lobster. Industrial manufacturing. Aircraft carriers. Well, put the distillation of alcohol on that list, too. That someone looked at a field or a handful of barley and could see – or taste – the results sort of blows my mind.
After a wee lunch at a wee cafe near Loch Lomond, we toured a second distillery. Deanston is housed in a former cotton mill, and is also completely self-sufficient in its energy production. At each distillery we had two tastings. Happily, I think one could easily spend a lifetime learning about whisky and looking for the one you like the best.
August is Festival Season in Edinburgh, so we were able to take advantage of that and see a few free performances, including a brass band at the Botanic Garden. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a 20+ piece brass band play Bohemian Rhapsody. We ate and drank well, walked a lot (Edinburgh is much hillier than Amsterdam!), toured the Castle, walked the Royal Mile, stopped in to St. Giles, and climbed the 287 steps of the Scott Monument.
(Ok, only I did that last thing. My dear husband stayed on the ground. But yes, it was totally worth it. I mean, just the fact that the city even HAS a monument to a writer is incredible. It is the largest monument to a writer in the world. Go Scotland.)
One thing I hadn’t anticipated was the relief I felt being surrounded by English again. As soon as we arrived at the airport it hit me: I can read all the signs! Ads, posters, bus maps – I could understand it all! Of course, I knew everything would be in English. What surprised me was the difference it made in my ability to relax, which has made me think more about my experience in the Netherlands. It’s not as if being in Amsterdam is that hard, from a language perspective. But even though everyone here speaks English, there’s always that awkward dance of Dutch attempts and English follow-up that I do with cashiers, waiters, and too many other people to count. Without that complication in Scotland, I could just approach everyone, unthinking, in English. Of course, there’s still the Scots accent…
As with its whisky – the “water of life – you could spend a lifetime exploring Scotland itself: its history, which is proud and complex; its land, which is both beautiful and fierce; and its people, which are all of the above. You could spend a lifetime, and it would be time well spent.
*My spell-checker doesn’t like the way I’m spelling whisky, but there’s a method to my madness. If you’re interested, check out this whiskey vs. whisky article.