Whisky / Whiskey / Whiski
Oh, sweet train travel. We walked off the platform in the wet soak of Scottish rain, up the Scottsman's steps and around the corner into the embrace of our wifi-ed hostel. If it weren't for that earlier sentiment about fearing the limitations set by such a small town, I knew immediately I would have loved to spend four months here.
Notifications checked and accomodation secured, we headed off into the relentless drizzle. Wool coat, suede shoes; we spent 48 hours in Edinburgh and 46 of those transpired whilst reeking of wet dog and swampfoot because I only waterproofed one of my boots. Who though it was a good idea to travel to northern Britain in thigh-high suede boots? This girl.
Virginia, Michal's southern belle foodie to the max sister joined us in Edinburgh. And when you're travelling with a student of architecture and a European History major, you hunt down the cathedrals first, en masse. The first was, to my untrained eye, rather disappointing and the second remained doorless. honestly, what if I needed to pray? Save my soul. When did church become such an economic endeavor? (Hello, this is my winking face.)
We took refuge in a Starbucks--wifi--to track down the Christmas market because at last count, I'd only seen seven. Needed to make it a nice even number, obviously. It was raining in earnest now and after the two of the same stalls hocking the English whisky cheese they sell all over London, my swampfoot was in full blown arctic ocean territory. Back across Waverly Bridge then, stopping in as many shops as possible to give off the illusion of dryness. And shame really that it was so desperately wet, because the view of the valley, with the xmas ferris wheel standing watch overtop, was breathtaking, same as the sloping cliffs cutting us off from the sea. But I can say that about every city. These four months have given me endless panorama photographs of 'the best view in town.' I could change my cover photo once a week to last out 'till 2016 and never run dry.
Edinburgh is the land of tartan scarves. And with 2 for £20 deals abound I was like Oprah in there with the Christmas gifts. You get a scarf. You get a scarf. You all get a scarf. Mom already put in her order: Black Watch. For the tartan uninitiated, that probably read like a peculiar autocorrect mistake. Black, navy and green, she clarified. Until there I was in store, stroking across every bit of lambswool and cashmere not shelved out of reach, searching like a blinded war vet with my swampfoot for black, navy and green. I flicked the label when I had one in hand. I wanted a real souvenir this time, not some made-in-china bullscat. And spelled after Made in Scotland: Black Watch and it dawned. Every tartan has a name and this is my mother, who knows her favorite by heart. We're not even Scottish.
For those of you travelling to Scotland and looking to pick up something for yours truly, I'm partial to the Hunter myself, maybe a little Navy Thompson if you're looking for something a little less traditional. And as you page through the tartan, the yet unanswered question will come to your mind. What came first? Camel Thompson or Burberry?
Our first choice restaurant--gastropub, how could we choose otherwise?--was full up for the night, so we made a reservation for Sunday and skipped across the street to Whiski Bar. (I cannot recommend it enough). We did three entrees conveyor belt style, eat a third and pass it down because we're foodies and we're girls (not worried about cooties). Every order we made had to have something traditionally Scottish--when in Rome--so we settled on the Whiski Burger, Fish & Chips, and Bangers & Mash. Not only is Scottish cider heads and shoulder above English cider, think more like spiked spiced apple cider rather than can't-decide-if-I'm-a-fruit-drink-or-a-beer-but-all-around-capital-F-fermented yuck they serve you in London, but the pub food is unfairly divine. And then there was the sticky toffee pudding. Frankly, by title alone, it sounds revolting. But it's a butterscotch-soaked brownie topped with vanilla ice cream milked from the finest Scottish cow. Is that a thing? Scottish cows? And it is heaven on porcelain.
Another round of cider for the table and a flight of whisky to share. And how convenient, Whiski Bar put together an Introductory Flight. You get a finger and a half in a shotglass of 4 samples for £15 and a cheery little printed handout to guide you through. Comment, the nose, the pallet and the finish. There are phrases like, 'that bear hug of peat', 'sea air comes through the end', and 'smoked almond, stemmy hey.' We learned quickly, sniffing and sipping, that whisky is complex, sometimes beautiful and always layered. The flavors filter across your tongue like Willie Wonka's dinner-in-a-chewing-gum. And that bear hug of peat? It hits you like a Mac Truck to the chest and it 'doesn't let you go.' I imagine it's how you'd feel after licking a barbeque.
It was a long day, but the clock had hardly past nine when we began the flight and the live music wasn't due until 10. Valiantly, we passed the time between tastes trying to stay out as long as possible. Could you feel the embarrassment we'd carry with us tucking in for bed before darkness even fell? Besides, it was a dreary rain pounding outside the twinkling bar. We made a game of it: setting a timer in between sips.
We had a roommate in the hostel who cocooned herself on my lower bunk and appeared to sleep solid through our entire stay. Nice girl, though. Didn't steal my stuff or complain when we puttered around early Sunday morning. Brekkie was across the street with the UK's most adorable waiter, then we trekked the 10 minute walk up to the castle in the day's only hour of sunlight. 10 minutes from city center to the castle. Seriously, this is the smallest city that ever citied.
When the rain came, we popped down the Royal Mile, pinballing from one tartan and cashmere shop to the next. Honestly, they are all the same but it isn't until you've thoroughly explored each that that reality begins to sink in. At nightfall, we dropped bursting shopping bags at home in the hostel, and umbrellas in tow, made our way up to the cathedral for a short concert of Christmas Carolers. With the soaring ceilings and the acoustics, and the warmth and families in attendance and the watchful eye of the tree, singing in the closest I will ever feel to a god.
That is, until a steaming bowl of truffle mac and cheese, a Devil's Advocate special, was set down in front of me at dinner that evening. The Devil be dammed, gastropub or not, that plate tasted like nirvana. We shared a bottle of red, Austrailian wine is ever so popular in the UK, apparently, and we paired the macaroni with a hearty stew and a pumpkin and leek tart. We returned to Whiski Bar for another flight--a tour of the highlands--and sweet, sweet dessert.
"Weren't you ladies here last night?" Our waiter asked when we sat down.
"Yes. Yes we were. now shut up and make with the sticky toffee pudding."