Whisky Stramashing Through Edinburgh

The end of May and beginning of June of 2015 found me in Scotland’s most charming (and most touristy) city. Edinburgh is made up of the Old Town and the New Town, and I can tell you right now the Old Town is where the magic happens. I had a week to make the city my own, but here are the highlights you can do in just a couple of days.

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First of all, the Edinburgh Castle is a force of a medieval structure that has presided over the city since 850 BC. Paying for the castle tour is well worth it, especially for the VIEWS. As someone who’s grown up in a 200-year old country, anything that was built before the AD years really gets my goat. To top that off, the castle was built on a 700 MILLION year old extinct volcano. The earth is a crazy place.

 

And speaking of views, the only point in Edinburgh perhaps more popular than the castle is St. Arthur’s Seat. The hike to the summit is beautiful and green (wear proper shoes though, it’s no joke) and the top delivers sweeping views of both the city and the North Sea. My companions and I did the hike just before sunset, which meant that our descent was just in time for a proper whisky stramash.

 

Stramash is my favorite word thanks to the Scots, which can mean either a racous uproar, or a whisky tasting. I imagine stramashes often lead to stramashes. We tasted (and straight up drank) plenty of Scotch whisky over that week, and my favorites were the Highland varieties (“women’s Scotch,” one bartender told me. Yeah yeah yeah, I reject your stereotypes but at the same am accept that I fall into them).

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Next up on the Scottish alcohol tour: The Jolly Botanist gin bar. Ignorant American that I am, I associated gin with England and not at all with Scotland, but Scottish gin was delicious (and cheap!) I especially loved elderflower gin, and should have brought a whole bottle back but unfortunately they didn’t make carry-on sizes of the flavored varieties. Sometimes, sometimes only bringing carryons can come back to bite you. Never fear, though, plenty of mini bottles of Highland Scotch and un-elderflower gin did make it back.IMG_1889An important thing to note about Edinburgh: restaurants close at around nine pm or so, make sure you eat accordingly. (Bars and pubs will stay open later, but late night food is not readily available outside of Tesco.) This can be especially confusing in the summer, since the sun goes down so late. My internal clock always wanted fish and chips at 10:30 pm, alas.

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Thankfully, there are always the funky UK candy options when you’ve missed kitchen final calls.

Edinburgh old town makes for some incredible walking. Streets curve, they’ve got banners, their tops are multicolored. And for Harry Potter fans (ahem, moi), the city is full of fandom gold mines. There’s the Elephant House, where JK Rowling allegedly wrote the first book (it turns out this is one of the cafes where she wrote; the real original doesn’t exist anymore so Elephant House gets to claim the title. It was definitely exciting enough for me to feel the magic when I wrote there.

Around the corner from Elephant House is Greyfriar’s Bobby and the adjoining cemetery where JK filched (see what I did there) a lot of the names of her characters. You’ll find McGonigal and Tom Riddle himself buried in these grounds.

Although I missed this, I’ve heard that haunted tours are Edinburgh are also pretty cool. I’d love to hear if any of you have checked those out! I spent most of my free time exploring whatever I could about the city, inlcuding accidentally making it out to the suburbs. UK suburbs are forever more charming than US ones, though, so it was all groovy.

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Segovia: The Must-Do Madrid Day Trip

Roman aqueducts, a Gothic Catholic cathedral, and suckling pig for days (if you’re into that sort of thing).

When deciding between Toledo and Segovia for our Madrid-based day trip, Segovia won largely because of the aqueduct. I’d never seen a Roman ruin before, and the opportunity to do so was not something I could pass up, especially when they’re only a 30 minutes away via local Renfe train.

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I mean, LOOK at this beaut! It was built around AD 50 and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. It still stands in nearly peak condition and is flanked by many a restaurant and tapas bar where you can have a bite to eat and bask in its glory.

Speaking of bites to eat, Segovia is known for its cochinillo asado, or suckling pig. It was usually rather expensive and I’m generally wary of eating baby animals, so we skipped it. If you’re a meat connoisseur, though, it’s supposed to be delicious. (We noticed that a lot of restaurants in Spain advertised serving literal “baby” animals. Like the word “baby” was printed on the menu. In America we try to mask that sh* with words like veal; even serving “lamb” isn’t saying “baby sheep.” Way to go for the transparency, España. I see you with that branding.)

If, like me, the baby pig option isn’t for you, fret not. You can still try a traditional Castilian soup, also famous in Segovia, called  judiones de la granja. It features large white beans in a tomato broth and was an excellent appetizer to my local fish lunch.

After eating, we wandered past the aqueduct (bye bb, be back so soon) to the Roman Catholic cathedral. This guy was impressive. It looms over the main square with its intricate Gothic spires and stained glass windows. It was built between 1525-1577 and is entirely worth just staring at for a while.

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We wandered through the beautiful, quaint old town to the top of the hill where the Segovia Castle presides over the surrounding area. DEFINITELY buy the entrance ticket for the castle, and it’s worth tacking on the 8 Euros to climb to the top of the highest tower as well. The VIEWS.

 

After feeling like proper Medieval royalty for a few hours, we wandered down to have a cerveza and quick bite below the aqueduct (See! Promised I’d come back!) before catching the return train to Madrid. Almost as amazing as our proximity to the aqueduct was the fact that this collasal remainder of the Roman Empire was so not a big deal to the locals around us.

We bought our train tickets online the night before after experiencing the horror that was Lisbon train station ticket lines. Madrid’s station didn’t appear to be nearly as bad, but having tickets in advance certainly made for some breezy travel. We gave ourselves seven hours in Segovia, which might have been a bit too long, but we were definitely able to relax and just exist in the town for a few hours, which is never a bad thing. When we arrived back in Madrid we were perfectly full of adventure, culture and papas bravas.