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Scotland: End of the Road Trip

Back to Edinburgh: Canaletto, Highland Coos, & Guacamole

Edinburgh is a city I can return to again and again. Having begun my trip in the touristy old part of the city in Grassmarket, I decided to end it in the commercial, busier part. I stayed in the Ibis Styles just off St. Andrew Square close to Princes Street where all the main businesses are. Edinburgh is a compact city, so everything is within walking distance. If you are not a fan of hills or steps, you can easily reach old town and the Royal Mile by walking across the North Bridge. The hotel is also close to the train and public busses if you are going to travel out of town.

I was happy with my choice of the Ibis Styles and its quirky decor, free breakfast, and friendly staff. That was topped off by a free tea and coffee stand in the lobby as well as a cappuccino machine that was available all day, as were snacks and drinks at the cheery bar. An added bonus was the wallpaper in my room that featured my new best animal friend, the Highland Coo. I defy anyone to be in a bad mood who wakes up to this:


Edinburgh Castle overlooks the city. It is located at one end of The Royal Mile, high on a hill. Since I visited the castle on an earlier trip, I skipped it this time, but it is worth a visit to set the colorful guards outside, the views of the city, and the castle itself.


On the other end of the Royal Mile sits Holyrood Palace and the Queen's Gallery. The Queen's official residence in Edinburgh, Holyrood was also the home of Scottish royal history. The Queen has so many palaces it is easy to understand why many Brits think the monarchy is an unnecessary expense. When you learn the fraught history between England and Scotland, it is even easier to understand why there was a recent referendum to allow Scotland to become independent. The referendum failed, but there is talk about bringing back.

As luck would have it, one of my favorite artists was being featured at the Queen's Gallery which is across the street from the Palace. I have long loved the work of Canaletto. Years ago, it was his paintings of Venice that triggered my desire to see the magical city that floats. Venice is one of my favorite cities and the Canaletto show is a small gem. The exhibit is there until October. I recommend you buy tickets online and avoid a wait. By the way, the gift shop is FILLED with mementos of the royal wedding.




When you walk down the Royal Mile to the Queen's Gallery, you pass a myriad of touristy pubs, fish & chip stands, and souvenir shops, but you can also find some quirkier shops and some great, small cafes. There are more good eateries in Edinburgh than there is time to eat in them. Luscious on Canongate Road is one of those small, easy to miss places that has great, fresh food for reasonable prices.

If you love good food, which I do, the best part of staying on St. Andrew's Square was its proximity to Thistle Street which is restaurant row. There are restaurants and cafes at every price point and serving every ethnic food you can imagine. My favorite was El Cartel, a small taco-centric place with both a regular menu and a daily blackboard special. I had sweet potato tacos and the best guacamole I've ever tasted. I loved it so much, I recreated the recipe when I got home, which meant I needed to learn how to open a pomegranate. It was well the effort. Here are my pictures of El Cartel's guac and my recipe.



(Adapted from El Cartel)
2 ripe avocados
1/3 medium onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
4 teaspoons lime juice, fresh or unsweetened
1 plum tomato
1-2 ounces queso cheese
1 pomegranate

1. Halve and scoop the avocados. Pulse the avocados, onion, cumin and lime juice in a food processor or mash well with a mortar and pestle until fairly smooth.
2. Cut the tomato in half. Scoop out the flesh and seeds and discard. Dice the rest.
3. Dice or shred the queso.
4. Remove the seeds from the pomegranate by scoring the skin and leaving in a large bowl of cold water for a few minutes. Then, open the pomegranate under water and remove the seeds. You will only need 1/3 cup of seeds so store the rest in the refrigerator or freeze them.
5. Gently stir the tomatoes, queso, & seeds into the guac and serve with your favorite dipping chips. Enjoy! Let me know what you think!

Posted by teethetrav 05:47 Archived in Scotland Tagged edinburgh guacamole canaletto the_royal_mile luscious holyrood_palace the_queen's_gallery highland_coo ibis_style princes_street el_cartel guacamole_recipe Comments (0)

Scotland: Queensferry

Three Bridges Over Forth Firth

For anyone who doesn't like cities, Queensferry is the perfect place to stay. A tiny coastal village on the edge of Edinburgh, Queensferry boasts of three lovely bridges that pass over the Forth Firth. I have no idea why they need three bridges; there's not that much traffic. The oldest is a red suspension bridge that resembles the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The newest, also a suspension bridge, is a marvel of steel that sparkles over the water. Known as the Queensferry Crossing, this collection of pipes and strings opened in 2017 and runs 1.7 miles (2.7km). It is the longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world. Scotland, a country of around 5 million people, invested of over £1.3 billion in the new bridge that is not only functional, the structure looks like a sculpture.

Queensferry is also a place where walkers can pick up the John Muir trail that leads from coast to coast. It is only one of a number of lengthy walking trails in Scotland. I passed through this postcard-perfect town on the beginning of a five-day adventure to the Highlands. Although it wasn't raining, the moody skies foretold the dreadful weather that was yet to come.


Posted by teethetrav 06:44 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland edinburgh queensferry forth_firth queensferry_crossing three_bridges Comments (0)

Scotland: Outside Edinburgh

Rosslyn Chapel

Anyone who read or saw The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown remembers Rosslyn Chapel. Brown's fictionalized account of the quest for the Holy Grail comes to a dramatic end at Rosslyn--the Rose Line. In fact, William St. Clair's family began building the Chapel in the mid 1400s and its intricate mason carvings of Christian symbols, Jewish stars, pagan faces, animals, an uncracked symbolic code, plants, vegetables, roses, and more have intrigued people ever since. No wonder mystical stories about the Chapel abound. The carvings suggest, as Brown noted, that the masons left a shrine to all faiths as well as to nature. So much here is inexplicable. For example, there are carvings of corn and of elephants, neither of which had ever been seen in Scotland in the 1400s. How did they know what they looked like? But the most fascinating fact is that there is a subterranean chamber underneath the Chapel. This is where, supposedly, the Holy Grail is, or was. It would be impossible to excavate the chamber without the Chapel crumbling. I love a good mystery.

Less than ten miles outside of Edinburgh, William St. Clair set the Chapel high on a hill near his home. If you take the public bus #37 from Princes Street in Edinburgh, you can easily get there without a car. There are mystical stories about how the Chapel was used as an astrological observatory as well as a direct line to aliens. How can you resist a place that has aliens, the Holy Grail, and a relationship to the secretive Knights Templar? Even if you are a skeptic, there is still a murder that is well-documented. A master mason left an apprentice in charge of one of the columns while he went off to a workshop to improve his craft. The apprentice had a vision and carved an intricate, spiraling masterpiece. When the master returned, he was infuriated and killed the apprentice. Their heads are memorialized in carvings in the Chapel, as is the head of the grieving mother of the dead apprentice. The Apprentice's Pillar is amazing.

None of the masons names are known, but their work is stunning. It is possible to spend hours inside this small Chapel and you will never see all of the hundreds of carvings. Unfortunately, no indoor photography is permitted. It is only due to Dan Brown's book and the subsequent movie, that the Chapel is going to survive. Since the book was published in 2003, the publicity has brought hundreds of thousands of tourists and the money has been used for continual conservation of this tiny treasure that still belongs to the Sinclair family. Find more at www.rosslynchapel.com

Posted by teethetrav 07:39 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland edinburgh rosslyn_chapel masons knights_templar dan_brown the_da_vinci_code william_st._clair Comments (1)


Lochs, Castles, Mean Fairies, & Rain

In 2017, readers of The Rough Guides voted Scotland number one most beautiful country. It is. With its 38,000 lochs (otherwise known as lakes), its lowlands, highlands, islands, beaches--both sandy and rocky--, its green hills and barren mountains, Scotland is stunning. And that is just the scenery. There is so much else to do and see. There are beautiful cities, castles, great restaurants, and the funny, friendly people. There are also countless stories about mythical creatures, especially fairies. Not cute ones who want to be your wee friends. Scottish fairies are mean and exist to trick humans.

And, oh yes. There is rain. In some places, you know how they say if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes. In Scotland, if you wait five minutes, you'll just get another sort of rain. Or fog. Or both. I counted seven distinct kinds of rain, most of which I had never seen before. There's misty rain which doesn't actually fall to the ground, it just surrounds you in a delicate veil. There's a rain which falls in droplets that are spaced apart, float around you, and somehow defy gravity. There is soaking, freezing rain, and there's wind-driven rain that flies mostly sideways and hurts when it touches your skin. There's more, but you get the idea. Rain is sometimes briefly interrupted by sun, a temporary condition that lasts a few minutes and is widely celebrated with a wee dram of whiskey. Contrary to rumor, sunshine does exist in Scotland. I saw it twice, once in Edinburgh and once in the seaside town of Portree.

After doing some research, I chose to go in May which is supposed to have fairly good weather. In the winter months, Scotland is quite cold and has little daylight whereas May has very long days. The sun is up at around 5 a.m. and doesn't set until around 9:30 p.m. Another benefit is that in May the midges haven't appeared yet to torment you. The midges, also known as no-see-ums, are the price you pay for warm weather and no rain in Scotland, apparently. May is usually a good month, but this year, winter did not want to let go. It was rainy, windy, and cold. I thought I came prepared for bad weather, but I was not ready for the rugged weather up in the highlands or even for the wind and cold in Edinburgh.

I began my journey in Edinburgh. I had been there before so I did not do some of the things that you would want to do on your first visit, such as visit the Castle and some of the historic places along the Royal Mile. Before I set off on a five day journey to the Highlands and out to the Isle of Skye, I stayed in the old part of the city. A few good places to eat there are the White Hart Inn, the oldest known tavern. The food was good pub food. And there is the ever-popular Kick Ass Cafe. Another good place to eat is Prezzo's on the North Bridge, a reliably good chain with great flat bread pizza. It is reasonably priced and tempts you to come back by offering you a free bottle of prosecco. Who could say no to that? Edinburgh is a photogenic old city and a wee wander here and there is a great way to begin a visit to Scotland. Although the weather was chilly, the sun was out and everything was just beginning to bloom!

Posted by teethetrav 11:07 Archived in Scotland Tagged rain scotland edinburgh lochs highlands lowlands fairies scottish_isles Comments (0)

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