Whereas our trip to Ireland saw us staying in a single city (Dublin) for the most part, we were able to get a broader view of Scotland during our week there. We flew into Glasgow (the largest city), stayed several nights in Edinburgh (the capital), took a train up north to Inverness and stayed there a few days, did a day trip to the Isle of Skye, and finally came back. Overall, a better mix of city, town, and country.
The Scottish Highlands have a distinctive beauty, mixing high hills and rocky terrain with grasslands and shallow waters. The pictures show it better than I can describe. And, like Ireland, sheep are everywhere in the countryside:
As I mentioned last week, our time in Edinburgh was the highlight of the trip. We spent much of our three days there exploring the Royal Mile, a street that stretches from the high and massive Edinburgh Castle down to the modern, metallic Scottish Parliament. The path takes you right through the heart of Old Town, where cathedrals and other centuries-old buildings dwarf you on all sides.
And, since it was Festival season (August of every year), people were everywhere. Street performers, encircled by their own little crowds, would do their thing – magic, juggling, escape art, whatever – and then make their plea for money at the end. You’d see human statues sharing the street with bagpipers and dudes on stilts. Others had scheduled shows in indoor venues (usually comedy, sometimes drama) and when they weren’t actively performing, they were on the street handing out flyers for their show. To get your attention they’d walk around in costume, shout rehearsed lines, or even put on miniature shows right there. We took tons of flyers and sorted through them later.
I said yesterday that everywhere we went in Ireland felt touristy. Oddly enough, Edinburgh in full-on party mode was the only part of our two weeks where we didn’t feel that way. Maybe it’s because everybody was from out of town, not just us. But whatever the reason, we loved Edinburgh. The streets were clean, the people were friendly, and even aside from the Festival stuff, there’s just so much to see. We checked out the National Gallery, and for no particular reason I fell in love with this Cezanne painting, “The Big Trees”:
I didn’t get to see as much of Inverness as I would’ve liked, since I ended up staying one whole day in our room recovering from the flu. But what I did see was nice. Inverness is a very pretty, thoroughly domesticated little town. The lovely River Ness, which flows through downtown and lends the town its name, is so shallow that seagulls hang out on rockbeds in the middle of the water. Inverness Castle (it seems every village in Europe has its own castle) stands beside it like a little brother to the one in Edinburgh.
Scotland has a curious relationship to the rest of the UK. On the one hand, there’s a lot of pride in the Kingdom, as evidenced by all the local enthusiasm we saw for “Team GB” in the London Olympics. But the pride in Scotland as a nation of its own is obvious, and we heard lots of talk on the news and on the street about the Scottish independence movement. Our taxi driver brought up the subject on his own, and said “my heart says yes but my head says no” to the idea. That conflictedness seemed to be a common theme.
Speaking of conflictedness: my watch says it’s time to wrap this up and leave for work. Obviously there’s a lot I didn’t cover, but if you have any questions about what it’s like in Scotland, leave ’em in the comments!