Bonny Scotland: Edinburgh and the Highlands

I’m still parsing through all the photos I took with the camera, but in the meantime, here’s the photos I took in Scotland when I wasn’t eating my weight in scones.

 photo IMG_0522_zpsxqf0mitb.jpgI am done pretending that I’m sort of fancy person with discerning tastes.  I’m the type of person who gets excited over water, a cheese sandwich, and a cookie on a flight.  Thanks, KLM Airlines for making coach class feel snazzy.

 photo IMG_0540_zpsqtwvvycc.jpgA few people have asked:  how did you decide on Edinburgh?  Well, it certainly wasn’t the promise of sunny weather and tropical temperatures.  Honestly, there aren’t many places in the world that I don’t want to go to, and after pricing out flight and accommodation options, Edinburgh won over every other non-German city in Europe.  I stayed at the centrally-located and insanely-affordable Haggis Hostel, just off Princes Street by the North Bridge for just £14/night.

 photo IMG_0550_zpspgyxcosb.jpgLate on Sunday afternoon, I treated myself to a traditional (vegetarian-friendly) Scottish Breakfast at the Auld Hoose, where a heaping plate of eggs, fried tatties, veggie sausages, baked beans, fried mushrooms, and veggie haggis sets you back just £8.  And I wasn’t even hungry again until the next day.

 photo IMG_0578_zpsqzqswxzk.jpgPowered by all the calories I had consumed and encouraged by the brief respite from precipitation, I headed over to Calton Hill.  After catching my breath, I enjoyed the views of the city, but then ran back towards the hostel when the rain and hail reappeared.


Hello.  It’s sleet.


Next on my Vegetarian-But-Not-A-Vegetable Food Tour of the UK, I stopped at PieMaker (because how can you NOT stop at a place called PieMaker).  They sell a variety of meat pies, veggie pies, and vegan pies.  I settled on this Macaroni and Cheese pie for just £1,20, and honestly could’ve stopped the culinary experiment there and then, and only eaten here for the rest of the trip.  The crust was really hearty, and probably was some sort of Hot Water Crust pastry, filled with quite soft macaroni elbows and creamy cheddar cheese sauce.  Words don’t really explain how delightful it was.  I enjoyed it with a crisp Irn-Bru, an orange-coloured caffeinated soft drink that is citrusy almost like Fanta, with a tang of Quinine.

Choose ‘pipes. Choose a job. Choose a career.
The next morning, I came across the quintessential Shortbread Tin scene:  a piper piping in front of the Scott Monument.


The only site on the trip that somewhat disappointed me was Edinburgh Castle.  It was the most tourist-y stop, where a long,long line meant almost 2 hours of waiting for tickets.  (Once there, I learned that you could book tickets online ahead of time.  Lesson learned, don’t be a dummy like me!)  My legs felt frozen by the time I got into the castle.  The entrance fee is £16,50, which was quite expensive compared with other stops.  And many of the more interesting museum exhibits (such as the Scottish Crown Jewels) prohibited photography.  I had hoped to book a reservation for afternoon High Tea, but the tea room was closed for renovations.  I hopefully stopped by the smaller cafe in search of a snack, but was alarmed to find that individual slices of pizza cost £8!!!!!!  Maybe it’s a good thing that I couldn’t have High Tea at the castle…


I made a new friend.  He also has a fluffy cap and makes loud noises.  I wasn’t coordinated that day with my tartan scarf, though.


I had afternoon tea at the Sir Walter Scott Tea Room, located on the 3rd floor of Romanes & Patterson on Prince Street.  A pot of tea and two scones goes for just £6.  The tea room wasn’t too busy, the service was quite quick and friendly, the views across the park and back towards the city were charming, and even the carpet was tartan.  Also, it’s a fact* that you can eat as much clotted cream as you want after climbing 3 stories of stairs.

(*That’s not a fact, actually.)


On Tuesday, Edinburgh was stricken with seasonally-rare sunshine for the entire day, so I headed over to the massive Botanical Gardens.  Entry to the gardens is free, but a tour of the greenhouses costs £5,50.  I walked around the gardens for at least 3 hours, but could’ve easily spent the entire day perusing the plants.  The grounds were vast and quite interesting, even in winter, but obviously there is more to see during the spring and summer months.


Most formal High Teas are available by reservation only.  I had no problem making day-of reservations for my Party-Of-One (except for on Valentine’s Day, that day was absolutely impossible to have formal tea), but it’s probably best to make reservations for larger groups further ahead of time.  I was told that Christmas, Mother’s Day and Easter were also particularly busy.  The absolute fanciest tea I had during my vacation was in the Georgian Tea Room at the Dome.  The prix fixe tea menu is £16,50 (or £23,50 with a glass of champagne).  Neither the patrons nor the waiters glanced askew at my Doc Marten shoes, but I was very much underdressed at the venue.  Evidently the glut of designers offering ripped jeans has blurred the lines between what is and isn’t acceptable to wear to formal tea, but next time I’ll bring something a little fancier.  I have a set of white vintage gloves that need a purpose like formal tea.


Tea at the Dome comes with a piping hot pot of tea (silver, naturally), and three plates of food, each more sublime than the last.  I once read that serving chocolates with tea is gauche, because the flavour of the chocolate will overpower the flavour of the tea.  As I stated before, I’m not really a fancy person, and I found the pairing quite delightful.


Pointing your pinkie whilst drinking tea, super proper.  Taking selfies during High Tea, not so proper.


I had planned to stay in Edinburgh for the entire vacation, but after three days, I had seen all the museums and sites on my list.  Rather than hang around the city for another day and trying to book another High Tea, I decided to take a bus tour of the Highlands with Scotline Tours.  The off-season price was only £38 for a 600 kilometer bus tour that tours through Glencoe, Loch Ness and the Highlands (plus £18 for the Urquhart Castle and a boat cruise).  The weather in the Highlands was nicer than the overcast and rainy Edinburgh that we left promptly at 8 am.  Our bus driver was an entertaining and quick-tempered Scot who tolerated no lateness.


Just an hour out of Edinburgh, I noticed several stretches of highway with no power lines and no villages – just absolute wild land.  Also, I had no idea that the hills in the Highlands were so massive.  Somehow, I had come to believe that the United Kingdom had elevations easily measured with a ruler, and it’s really refreshing to be proven so wrong.  As a fan of Highlander and Outlander, I thought I had an idea of what scenery to expect as well, but being there just blew me away.  Literally.  That wind will knock you sideways.



One of our tour guide’s favourite topics was explaining which clan hates what clan, for how long, and why.  His second favourite topic was explaining the many ways that Braveheart was historically inaccurate.  I won’t spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen a 20-year old film about something that happened in the 13th century, but evidently the film is wildly inaccurate, even down to the use of kilts.


Mary, Queen of Scots, was also a popular topic.  But mostly just to say that she was a tragic queen, and not really explain why.  I had to wait until we had WiFi, and then Google it because I was curious.  If you’re curious like I was, you can also Google her.  No spoilers here.


In Scotland, you can reveal your status as a tourist by wearing every type of tartan.

When I packed a tiny carry-on suitcase for my trip, I remember thinking that I didn’t need a big suitcase for souveniers because I was going to collect *~memories~*.  In hindsight, that was terribly dumb, because 1) I could’ve packed nothing and worn the same thing every day because in all my photos, you can only see my winter jacket and 2) once I got to Scotland, I wanted to buy all the teas and biscuits and scone mixes and jams and jellies and brooches and plaid things, but there was absolutely no room in my suitcase.  Next time, I am going with an empty suitcase and bringing all of Scotland back with me.


I did not spot Nessie, but the winds at Loch Ness are quite the hair styling tool, and that is pretty mythical in and of itself.


When I was a vegan back in 2010, I purchased these cloth Sheena 20-eye boots from Doc Martens.  I’d link you to a pair, but they’ve been discontinued.  Anyhow, these shoes have basically waited their whole lives to hang out on the shores of Loch Ness.


The sun setting over Urquhart Castle at the Seasonal Affective Disorder-inducing time of 4:50 pm.


Ok, I lied.  I found Nessie.


I’ll have some more photos of Scotland from the camera shortly.  Or maybe longer than “shortly” – Manuel just finished editing photos from our October honeymoon.  There’s a few other adventures from February that I want to write about, so hopefully I’ll get around to posting again this week.

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