Scotland: Edinburg and the Highlands

Ancient weekend trip recap round 2!
The weekend of July 30th I ventured north via train to Scotland.  After 4 hours on the train I arrived in Scotland’s capital, Edinburg (pronounced Ed-in-burr-ah by the Scottish locals, Ed-in-burough by Londoners, Eden-burg by Americans, and a word that my coworkers at my internship like to tease me about).  Trading the train for a coach bus, we were greeted by a kilt-wearing bag-pipe playing guide named Robbie around 11am.  I was awake for the first part of the bus tour (when we were hopping off and climbing hills to look out over the city), but after a while I succumbed to the sleep-inducing effect that coach buses have on me.  Seriously.  If you want to put me to sleep, put me on a coach and I’ll be out within 30 minutes.  I’m a pretty light sleeper though, so I would catch random words and stories here and there…and then fall asleep again.  Even though I slept for most of the train ride.
On the bright side, I was wide-awake and ready to explore when I was dropped off at my guest house (B&B).  With the afternoon and evening at our disposal, my friends and I ate at a café, climbed some of the steepest streets I’ve ever seen (as a native San Francisco/Bay area girl, that’s saying something), took a guided tour of Edinburg Castle (costumed tour guides make my life), and wandered through the streets of Edinburg.  By the time we made it back to the hotel we were too tired to go out for dinner…so we ordered in pizza.  Who knew they had Papa Johns in Scotland?  After avoiding all things American for a month, one’s resistance to reminders of home can only go so far.

The next morning’s excursion to the highlands meant another coach bus…and another nap.  So much for the effectiveness of coffee.  The Scottish highlands are without a doubt the most stunning place I’ve ever visited.  The fog covered hills, cliffs, and forests take your breath away and then you go around a corner, a dramatic loch (lake) comes into view, and your heart stops for a few seconds.  Cut a path through 95 miles of this and you have a trail called the ‘West Highland Way.’  If there are any open seats on a Scotland-bound plane around March 11, I know what I’ll be hiking over spring break ‘11!
Castles are scattered all over Scotland because they were the way clans protected land.  Urquhart Castle, our afternoon destination, was the defender of Loch Ness against multiple invasions by the English, greedy clansmen, and now tourists.  After exploring the ruins and taking ridiculous pictures, my friend Chantal and I boarded a boat for a cruise across the Loch.  As there hasn’t been a documented Loch Ness monster sighting since 2005, we were hopeful that we’d get lucky…Nessie however decided to remain elusive.
Throughout the weekend that we were in Scotland, at least 15 people took pictures of Chantal and me because of her long blonde hair (a novelty particularly to Japanese and South Asian tourists).  Being the object of random pictures was both flattering and a little awkward—it’s strange to think about people that you don’t know having pictures of you on their computers.  I wonder if celebrities ever think about that.
Day 2 concluded with a late dinner at an Italian restaurant located in between our hotel and the Edinburg city centre.  After a long day of bus travel, unwinding with shared plates of char-grilled zucchini, eggplant (called aubergine here), and red peppers drizzled with balsamic; butternut squash ravioli, scallops, squid, and mussels lightly tossed with olive oil, and a glass of white wine was the perfect conclusion to the day (as well as the best meal I’ve eaten in Europe.  And possibly in general).

Sunday rolled around with another bus outing—this time to the southern part of Scotland.  The first stop was at a place called ‘Scott’s View,’ which is where the writer Sir Walter Scott would go for inspiration.  It’s said that he went there so frequently that his horse stopped there out of habit on the way to Scott’s funeral.
A few minutes up the road we also disembarked for a stroll through the woods to a William Wallace monument and again for a walk through some Roman ruins.  Seeing ancient places throughout Europe really puts things in perspective--'modern' to a lot of European areas is older than the entire history of the US.

Lunch was spent at Melrose Abbey (an old monastery) and then we continued on to Rosslyn Chapel (from the Da Vinci Code).
Melrose is on the left, Rosslyn on the right. Both places were interesting (Melrose surprisingly more so than Rosslyn), but it sucked having to pay admission to them since I had paid extra for the day trip.  Fee frustrations and annoying roommate experiences aside (I’m not even going to get into that story), Scotland was pretty amazing :)