Getting High in the Lowlands
This weekend, I took the short flight across the Celtic Sea to visit the Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Both are situated in the southern, relatively flatter region of Scotland (aptly dubbed the Lowlands), with the former representing the largest city in the nation and the latter serving as the capital. While I primarily explored the cities at ground level, I also took an opportunity in both to hike to the top of prominent hills that overlooked much of the metro area. For your information, these literal changes in elevation brought about my catchy title. So get your mind out of the gutter.
In Edinburgh, there is both an Old Town and a New Town, both of which are traversable by foot in the matter of a day. I started in the Old Town, made distinct by its many stone buildings and uneven streets, some of which act as bridges over others (making map use quite difficult). The most populous area therein is known as the Royal Mile, which is a long and continuous line of old streets. At one end stands the Royal Palace, home to the Queen whenever she visits, and at the other stands the iconic Edinburgh Castle, whose prominent position overlooks much of the city. Along the Mile are a mix of Scottish sites and sounds, from bagpipe buskers to touristy shops to any number of pubs and restaurants.
After a few hours there, I met up with a friend at the University of Edinburgh and we made our way through the outskirts of the city to an area known as Arthur’s Seat. The Seat is long-dormant volcano that marks the highest elevation in the Edinburgh area. It took about thirty minutes for us to make our way up the winding stone steps and dirt paths that lead to the summit, and the view was well worth the effort. We had a bird’s eye view of the Old Town, the New Town, a number of notable buildings and factories, as well as a good stretch of Scotland’s eastern coastline. Once we had had our fill of the thin air and taken a sufficient number of panoramic shots on our smartphones, we made our way back down and into the city once again. We rounded out the afternoon perusing the New Town, with its shopping centres and hip restaurants. For dinner, I scored the most infamous of Scottish meals: haggis. I’m not going to list the ingredients, because I know they won’t be savory for anyone (I’ll let you Google them yourself), but in short haggis is a traditional type of Scottish pudding. Now, I’ll admit that I didn’t eat real haggis. Authentic haggis is a bit pricey and only served well at a handful of traditional restaurants. What I ordered were called “haggis fritters,” which were conveniently balled and fried in a way that made the odd concoction both presentable and delicious. One day I may deign to try the real deal but, for the time being, this haggis shortcut suited me just fine. It was one for the Scottish bucket list. Then, with a good meal in our bellies, we hopped on a bus and headed west to Glasgow.
Though larger in size, I also found Glasgow to be traversable by foot in the matter of a day. We started in the West End, near the University of Glasgow, and worked our way both southward and eastward. There are a handful of cool architectural feats in Glasgow, such as the ultra-modern Hyrdo Arena and the distinctive Clyde Arc Bridge. Similar to Edinburgh, there are a number of hills around the city centre, the most famous of which is known as the Necropolis. This hill, unlike the green and unadulterated Arthur’s Seat in Glasgow, is actually a fully functioning cemetery. Littered with massive mausoleums and grandiose gravestones, the Necropolis not only provides a great view of downtown Glasgow, but is also filled the names and memorials for some of the most notable Glaswegians in history. From the top, we could see the brewery for Tennant’s Lager, one of Scotland’s most widely consumed beers, as well as some of the legendary Glasgow football stadiums.
This last bit is an area that I, as a massive fan of the sport we Americans so uniquely call “soccer,” took a great deal of interest in. In fact, the word “legendary” doesn’t quite do justice to the history of football in the city, which is historically divided between two teams: Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers. While recent years have not proved promising for the latter, both teams, known collectively as The Old Firm, are the most storied in the Scottish game and their supporters are said to be some of the most passionate and (at times) violent in the world. Traditionally divided along the ever-testy line of Catholics and Protestants, there is ever-present animosity between the two groups of fans, and games between the teams are considerable occasions for everyone in the city. Due to a violent past, though, many bars and pubs that we explored our nighttime festivities had large signs or posters banning “football colors” (anything relating to either Old Firm team), as to prevent any drunken scuffles or worse. Fortunately, these signs and the lack of a rivalry match saved us from having to witness any such violence, and I spent the rest of my time in the city wandering between the crowded and central Buchanan street, the banks of the River Clyde, and everywhere in between.
Despite the accent and the use of the British pound, I found both Scottish cities familiarly comparable to Dublin in a lot of ways. We met many friendly faces, cars drive on the left side of the road, there were Fish ‘n’ Chips as far as the eye can see, and much more. All in all, it was a great trip. Scotland, you certainly served me well. Until next time.