3 days in Edinburgh | Highlights

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3 days in Edinburgh | Highlights

Has it been 7+ months since my last post, and 8+ months since the actual trip? Yep, but now that I’m ~5 months into a global pandemic, I figured I might as well get around to consolidating some photos and experiences to round out the Scotland leg of my last international trip for a very long while.

Thankfully I kept a physical journal with much better details than my foggy quarantine memory will allow.

Walking around Edinburgh

If you’re at all familiar with the way I travel, you’ll know I do a lot of walking.  Edinburgh was no different.  The main historic/touristy area is very walkable, and there are also a number of buses and trams that go around the city.  I participated in a Sandemans Red Umbrella walking tour, which is an organization that provides tours all over Europe and is completely tip based.  I enjoyed the walking tours I’d taken with them in Paris, Berlin, and Munich so I thought it’d be a nice way to get some history in, The walking tour was good for providing background knowledge, but I deeply enjoyed just walking around on my own.  Here’re some of my favorite photos I took while wandering around the city.

Gin Distillery Tasting at Edinburgh Gin

About a month before my trip, I made a reservation at Edinburgh Gin for a Distillery Tasting.  My trip from London was exhausting and I only woke up about 30 minutes before my reservation, but I managed to haul ass to downtown and grab a quick bite to eat before engaging in some serious day drinking.

I was the only solo person in a group of ~10 people and it garnered some looks, especially from some of the older men (I can only assume they didn’t approve of a young woman traveling/drinking “alone” with other people, but hey, that’s on them).  The first part of the experience was focused around the history of gin where we also got to see the distillery operation and smell all the different kinds of botanicals that go into a traditional gin.  We then moved into a cove-like room where we were introduced to 5 different gins and got a shot of each along with a classic gin and tonic.  I really enjoyed their standard gin, their lemon & jasmine gin, and their elderflower gin liqueur but didn’t really care for the spicy one or their navy strength concentration.  A couple from Cleveland snapped a cute picture of me, and I was off to wander around Edinburgh a little more drunk than I’d like to admit at 1pm on a Thursday.  Definitely made for an interesting visit to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and will make me seriously consider pregaming before any future art museum visits.

Scottish Highland Tour

On my first night in Edinburgh I got dinner with Alana, an Australian girl I met on a walking tour in Munich in 2017.  She was doing a semester abroad at University of Stirling (just a 20 minute train ride away) and was so excited to meet up after seeing my Instagram stories in the days prior.  I really enjoyed catching up with her—and I’m so glad she also had a great recommendation to spend a day doing a Scottish Highland Tour! 

I booked a day trip through Rabbies and spent nearly 8 hours on a bus going up to Loch Ness and stopping at several really picturesque locations along the way.  I stopped at a Tescos before heading on the tour and got a £3 meal deal (turkey sandwich, a pack of prawn cocktail crisps with Mariah Carey’s face on it, and a Fanta) and some dark chocolate digestive biscuits.  Snacks were definitely a good call, because even though the ride was very picturesque, it was very long.

Aaaand here’re some photos from Loch Ness… Is that Nessie?? Nope, just me, freezing my ass off on a boat in the middle of the lake.

bonus: a highland coo!

Food: Haggis & Dishoom

When I told my dad I was going to visit Scotland, the first question he asked me was: “Are you going to eat Haggis??”—and the answer for me of course, was “yes!!”.  I love trying new foods while traveling, especially the ones that the region is known for—escargot in France, no brainer.  Haggis in Scotland, of course!  It’s been banned in the USA since 1971 since it’s made in a sheep lung and often includes other unconventional organs.  Berkeley Wellness says eating haggis “is probably not worth the risk”, citing concerns about stomach fluid making its way into the lung during the slaughter process.  Eh, you only live once.

I did a bit of research once I got to Edinburgh and decided to try my very first haggis at Makars Gourmet Mash Bar.  I was second in line for the lunch queue and was seated as soon as they opened the doors.  I ordered a Scottish beer and haggis with black pudding mash topped with pureed carrots, all stacked nicely on top of each other floating in a peppercorn gravy.  The flavors were great and the textures were nice, the haggis kind of had the mouth feel of a well spiced, loosely stuffed sausage.  I liked the black pudding—kind of reminded me of the pork blood rice cakes I ate in Taiwan as a kid.  I’d definitely have haggis again.

I think the real culinary star of this trip was Dishoom, a chain of restaurants in the UK inspired by “old Irani cafés of Bombay”.  Over this ~10 day trip, I dined at Dishoom on 3 separate occasions in two different countries.  The first was in Covent Garden with Alex Nelms on his last night in London where we got fancy cocktails and split a bunch of different dishes (lamb samosas, spicy dry chicken tikka, a chicken curry, a paneer curry, chai, & pistachio kulfis). 

The second was by myself in Edinburgh and I had the Edinburgh special—spicy lamb curry with crispy chips (fries), buttered roti, and the Dishoom house IPA.  They weren’t kidding about the spice in the curry, but I managed.

The third was also in Edinburgh, but with Zeblene (Australian Oxford MBA lady from the Scottish Highland Tour) and we shared a lamb biryani, a curry, the Edinburgh special, and the black daal which came highly recommended by my AirBnb host.  I still have dreams about the black daal.

A Note on Transportation

I did a lot of research into traveling between London and Edinburgh, and decided to take a train to Edinburgh, and then a plane back to London since my flight home was out of Heathrow.  Potentially still on my high about ~treating myself~ with a fancy afternoon tea at Claridge’s, I decided to pay the extra $30 and upgrade to a first class seat on the LNER so I wouldn’t have to worry about packing my own food/beverages on a ~5 hour train ride.

On the day of, there was a medical emergency on the tracks and my original train was cancelled.  I scrambled to another train station to try to catch a different train, but was too late and had to wait a couple hours for the next direct train to Edinburgh.  I was able to use my original ticket to board the different train, but in my haste got settled in the wrong car which ended up being super crowded.  The train ended up breaking down a little under halfway from Edinburgh, so we all had to disembark and move onto a new train where I was able to get onto the proper car which was a significant improvement to the quality of my life.  I didn’t have to sit with my carry on backpack stuffed below my legs and my personal item on top of my lap–I was one of 3 people in the whole car and had plenty of room to spread out.  I got “free” booze, snacks, and a sandwich.  Kinda kicked myself for not completely getting my money’s worth (and then not realizing I could get the price of the original ticket refunded until after the due date had already passed).

I booked a cheap, ~$50 flight via FlyBe and worried a lot about being forced to put my carry on (a 40L Osprey Farpoint) in a luggage sizer (and risk having to pay twice the amount of the ticket to check the bag).  I stuffed a bunch of things into my personal item (a Fjallraven Kanken backpacks) to try and make it easier to shove my carryon into the notoriously small overhead bins.  I made it through the gate without a flight attendant asking me to put my bag into the sizer, only to get on the plane and STRUGGLE to put the bag in the overhead bin.  I legit panicked.  I was sweating profusely.  I was holding up a line of people from getting to their seats.  I regretted buying an outfit and a new pair of shoes in London.  I was so deeply embarrassed—and then I had the bright idea to remove my laptop from the outer compartment, and by some miracle, the bag fit. 

tl;dr: first class train seat was worth it, don’t sleep on train ticket refunds, and make absolutely certain your carryon will fit in in a budget overhead compartment before you get on the plane

a twenty-something photographer & solo traveler based in the San Francisco Bay Area

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