Just like the movie The Last King of Scotland isn’t remotely about a Scottish king, unless I totally missed that part of the movie, this post isn’t necessarily about the first king of Scotland either. It is, however, about my first trip to Scotland.
I’d been to the United Kingdom several times, but never to Scotland. My travels to the UK had been limited to just England (even till today). However, when the opportunity came up to go to Scotland on business travel, alone, I wasn’t scared or nervous or anything because I figured it would just be like England but a slightly different accent and maybe significantly colder as well. I was traveling in early October.
I was very excited to see men in
skirts kilts! I was somewhat prepared for the event that I wouldn’t see much of that but I held on to hope. I resolved to keep my eyes peeled for these kilt clad men and men playing bagpipes :).
While preparing for my trip, I was talking to the customer and decided to use the opportunity to find out about the wifi situation. Not that I thought they didn’t have wifi (in the whole of Scotland), I was just wondering if I would be given access to the wifi network at the customer’s site so I could communicate with my colleagues back home if needed. But it came across as me asking if they were civilized enough to possess wifi and the customer said “yes of course, we even have running water!”. Then he laughed- he was just making fun. Phew! Thank goodness all this was over the phone because if it were face to face, it would have been exceedingly, abundantly, more embarrassing for me!
So anyway, I flew into Glasgow airport and then took a taxi to the city where the customer was (about an hour away). My hotel was also located there, literally across the street from the plant. I was excited to be in a country I’d never visited, use unfamiliar currency (they use British Pounds but the Scottish print their own versions- however, they are equivalent), see new sights, etc. The drive from the airport to the hotel was great- very very green grass and nice hills stood out to me the most.
So check this. I get to the hotel and find out their wifi isn’t even free! So I guess my pre-trip question wasn’t all that unfounded after all, yea?
I was there for about 2 weeks. Work was good. Weather was not as cold as the locals said it normally would have been. I don’t think it snowed significantly but it was cold. They also made sure to tell me I was lucky the equipment was indoors because not so long ago, we would have had to work outdoors. I was very thankful because even indoors felt cold to me!
I bonded well with the guys I was working with. I quickly learned that they like to say “no bother” a lot (when they mean something is not a problem or no big deal) and “just now” (even when the context isn’t really in the present or even in the very immediate past). Just one (two) of those things. I also figured out what it means to “go out on a lash” :). They were very interested to know what car I drove back home and thought my Toyota Corolla was quite boring. They thought I would be driving one of those cars that bounce up and down in all those music videos. Hilarious.
One of the weekends, I took the train to England to visit my sister and her family and was able to see my few week old niece for the first time. That was a precious gift. The next weekend, I was supposed to head back home- but on a Sunday. So on the Saturday, I decided to brave it all and head into Edinburgh. Alone. I knew that Edinburgh Castle was a big deal so I figured I’d go take a peek.
My friend had told me that if I got a chance to go to Edinburgh, it would be nice and I could participate in a free walking tour. I was excited about the free part but was hesitant to actually go to Edinburgh on my own and find my way to this meeting point. I figured out the trains to get to Edinburgh itself but since I didn’t have internet on my phone, I had to rely on the screenshot of a map I had found online and notes I had made on my phone. To be honest, I am utterly rubbish at map reading so it was quite challenging. Below are the notes I made to instruct me on how to get to Edinburgh Castle- fail!
“Edinburgh castle. From Waverly Station Princes Street, travel up Waverly bridge, the mound, mound place, Ramsay lane, to arrive at Castle Esplanade”
I had to make my way to the meeting point for the tour. It was supposed to be in front of a Starbucks but I was having trouble finding it. Finally I found a group of [mostly] young people crowded around a guy with an impressive beard who was speaking in a loud voice somewhat close to a Starbucks. I figured they were the ones I was looking for so I joined them. I still didn’t believe the tour was actually free and I was wondering if the others had paid at the start and they were going to find out I had ‘sneaked’ in. I joined anyway. I had cash, if it came to that.
Then it started to rain. I don’t like rain. It’s not even about my hair or anything; even when I am indoors, I don’t like rain. The tour guide promised it would be over in minutes and we were going to carry on with the tour anyway (the rain was light). He was right. It stopped not long after. But then it started again. Then stopped. It did this dance the whole day, but I had an umbrella so it was ok. At some point, I even stopped using the umbrella.
The guide was very good! He took us all around the important places, he was very animated, told cool stories, took us to a little pub- he said his buddies owned it and that they’d treat us well and give us a discount. But I wanted a hot chocolate instead- it was really cold and wet. He showed us Edinburgh Castle from a distance and told us how to get there if we wanted to visit- he highly recommended it, but it wasn’t part of the tour as the tour was free and entry to Edinburgh Castle wasn’t. However, from the location we were, it was still impressive!
We saw different churches/cathedrals- they were all over. I learned that Kirk meant Church. Then there was the statue of this famous guy- apparently when you rub his toe its good luck or wisdom or something so a lot of people do it. I didn’t. I had no hand sanitizer on me :P. Then most exciting of all, he showed us Harry Potter stuff! He showed us the pub where J.K. Rowling reportedly wrote (some of) the Harry Potter books – when she was an unknown author, and the castle/church/building where she probably got inspiration for Hogwarts and the 4 houses/towers of Hogwarts, etc and even the cemetery where she probably got inspiration for the names of many of the characters including He Who Must Not Be Named! Oh Emm Gee! That was probably the highlight of the tour for me.
Then the tour guide had to go on and explain, in excruciating detail, what Haggis is. If you’ve never had Haggis, you just may want to wait till you’ve had it to find out what it is exactly. Since I found out what it was first, I highly doubt that I will ever (knowingly) try it. But it is a delicacy and obviously lots of people like it, so don’t let that discourage you. He showed us where to buy kilts if we were interested- they were too expensive for me so I passed on that.
At the end of the tour, he asked us to donate a token if we felt we had a great time and the tour was worth it. I was more than happy to give a donation because I learned a lot about Scotland and it was a lot of fun!
If you are ever in a city that does free walking tours, take advantage of it. It is super casual, and fun. Just be prepared to walk a lot :).
After the tour, there was still some time left and I was hungry so I found a Nando’s (and dined alone- I was getting somewhat used to that idea now). After being rejuvenated, I decided to check out a museum I happened across and it was free- so hey, why not? As it usually happens, I got really overwhelmed quickly as it was huge and I knew I couldn’t see everything and it was hard for me to choose. Anyway, I left that after some time and decided to try to find Edinburgh Castle.
On my way, I finally saw a guy in a kilt playing the bagpipes! Two for the price of one. People were going up to him to get their pictures taken but I was shy so I didn’t. I won’t make that mistake next time- obviously! I just took a picture of the (brave) people who went to get their picture taken. I saw another guy in a kilt playing bagpipes on my way up to the castle, but he had no one trying to get a picture so I wasn’t even going to try. Maybe the only time it is ok to wear a kilt is if you are playing the bagpipes? Or at a wedding- definitely at a wedding.
Edinburgh Castle is at the top of a hill so it was a decent hike to get there. On the path up though, there are several ‘mobile’ attractions on the sidewalks as well as some indoor attractions actually. But I didn’t want to get distracted from my main goal. I got to the top, took some pictures and went to the entrance of the castle. Then at that point, I decided I didn’t want to go in. I was tired and I had a train to catch. Plus I was alone and it was getting quite dark.
So I took a few more pictures and started the journey back to my hotel. I was really proud of myself that day for going out of my comfort zone and doing so many adventurous things in one day. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot. I couldn’t wait to go back, so I did! But that’s a story for another day :).
Header Photo: View from Duck Bay Marina, Scotland, October 2013. Photo by O Thomas