Dancing the Ceilidh

When in Scotland you have to try dancing the Ceilidh. It’s a traditional Scottish folk dance where you swing your partners around and dance up and down the hall. There’s hardly a moment you’re still.

Many of the guys dress in Scottish kilts with a baggy t-shirt or go all out with a fancy thick long sleeve. People will find all sorts of people at these dance halls. There’s always a band at the front. They are lively and play some of the more popular tunes of the early 2000’s and earlier with a twist.

Ceilidh Definition from dictionary.com: “a party, gathering, or the like, at which dancing, singing, and storytelling are the usual forms of entertainment.”

History

The Ceilidh has been around since at least 1917 when Donald Mackenzie wrote about the dance as a social gathering for people. There was music, dancing, story telling, and poetry. It was a great way for people in small villages to get together and socialize on a cold night or warm summer’s evening. Most of the time, this was where people met new people, friendships grew, and sometimes even relationships lead to marriages.

The dancing itself is performed either with partners or as a group. They are fast paced and take you all around the dance floor. Most of the music is traditional Scottish tunes, but today they take modern music and put a Scottish twist on it.

Each dance is full of excitement and energy vibrates through the room. New comers often need frequent breaks from the dances to cool down and get a good drink. This is the perfect time to spark up a conversation with new people who will most likely surprise you with the stories they have to tell.

Dance Halls

There are two great places in Edinburgh to check out some Ceilidh dancing: Summer Hall and Assembly Roxy. These places understand there are a lot of new comers and take the time to teach each new dance before swinging fully into the next tune.

I haven’t been to Assembly Roxy, but Summer Hall was great. The dance hall is like entering into a grand-Medieval dance hall. The band is situated on one side and the bar on the other. All the tables are pushed back behind the columns to allow for seating and open up the dance floor. Something to note is that since the building is so old there is no air conditioning, so make sure you wear something breathable and light.

Experience

Stepping into the dance hall was like going back in time. Music blared. Footsteps shook the floor. People laughed. The air was full of energy!

There were people of all ages from 18 to 70. Unlike America, people will ask you to dance left and right. They are very courteous and bold to say the least. Maybe that’s why so many women love Scottish men. One thing to keep in mind is when you are asked to dance say yes most of the time. It’s seen as rude if you say no.

When you get on the dance floor be ready to be tossed into the crowd. You might have a hand or an elbow to the face. Who knows? People are moving around so quickly and it’s hard to keep up sometimes. They don’t care if you get in the way. They’ll keep going no matter what.

If you’re a woman, you will feel like a light gazelle compared to the men. I always thought of myself as a bit bigger but that didn’t matter to them. They were able to lift me off the floor when we spun around. I honestly can’t tell you how long my feet were actually on the ground.

By the end of the night, you will be sweating like crazy. Make sure you wear something light and have a good fan! It’s one of the best workouts. The finale dance is one you can’t miss. It keeps you on your toes and there is continual spinning until you’re dizzy and can’t distinguish your left from right.

 

Dancing the Ceilidh is an experience every traveler should try at least once. It brings you into the Scottish culture. It’s old fashioned, gay (in the sense it’s happy), and will keep you on your toes. The best part is that you can either go with a group of friends or on your own. No matter what, you will be on that dance floor by the end of the night!

Check out this video!

 

 

 

Make the Leap: My First Solo Trip to Europe

I was stuck in a dead end job where I wasn’t going to get switched from temp to permanent employee. The company I was working for continually worked under the table, were lazy with FDA regulations, and many of the people were terrible. How can you honestly make us wear skimpy dresses with high heels to wash medical sets?

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When it seemed there was no end in sight, I decided to start looking for other jobs. I found a website where I could go intern in Scotland and create a travel guide with a group of people. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to get into travel writing.

I sent over my information and applied. I got in!

The trip would be 3 weeks in Edinburgh, Scotland. I would fly over, meet one of the employees, and live with people I didn’t know while working on the project.

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The idea of traveling alone didn’t scare me. The thought of living with people I didn’t know worried me. I was nervous about how we would all work together since I had terrible experiences living with others in college.

When it was time to get ready to head to Scotland, my work suddenly came to the epiphany to hire me on full time. I was fortunate to have a boss that loved me and I loved her. She’s been the most inspiring person I’ve met in ages. She worked out a deal with the owner which allowed me to leave for the 3 weeks in Scotland and come back to a job.

I was so relieved. Before, I was going to make my trip my going out tribute.

September came and I boarded the flight to Scotland. Yes, I over packed. I always do, because I like to be over prepared. I was ready for the cold weather and lots of sweaters!

Now a lot of people would be scared to go alone, but I was ready. It was an adrenaline rush for me. It’s one of the few times I felt truly like myself. I was happy.

Arrival in Edinburgh, Scotland

When I landed it took a bit to find the employee that was supposed to guide me to my apartments. I had no cellphone (I refused to pay the international fees), the payphone wasn’t working, and I couldn’t connect to the internet to send an email.

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Eventually, he found me and we boarded the bus and headed into Edinburgh. I still remember signs along the streets saying how wonderful Hillary Clinton was. It’s funny what kind of information they got, because she was anything but wonderful.

The apartment wasn’t ready, so I had to go over to a coffee shop and wait a few hours. I felt like a red dot in the middle of the city. I stood out with my large suitcase, backpack, and roaming around the streets.

I stopped in at a place called Cafe Noir. I got some mocha coffee and a blueberry scone! Oh my gosh, the scone was amazing! I got to working on some travel writing (which I still haven’t published from that time). People stared at me like I was weird. I tried not to pay attention, but it got a bit under my skin.

When I was finally able to get in to the apartment I remember being hit with the smell of Ramen noodles. There must have been some young people living in the place before us. The cleaning crew was supposed to have gone through the apartment, but the beds were still unmade, the floor hadn’t been swept, and it was in slight disarray.

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I set my bags up in the kitchen since I didn’t know the room assignments and got ready to head out. As I was leaving, one of my roommates showed up. She was a young woman from Mexico.

We decided to go out and hit up the town. There was no way we were staying in. I knew if I did I would fall asleep and not wake up. It would be harder to to overcome the jet lag.

 

Exploring New Places

Exploring Edinburgh was amazing. We went up to the castle, tasted whisky, and roamed the streets of the Old Town. It was a sight for sore eyes. I felt calm and adventurous.

Over the next three weeks, there was a lot of work, research, writing, and exploring. A lot of time was spent with the group, but we were also able to go out on our own for our individual projects.

Other people wanted to stay in groups the entire time, but I wanted to go out on my own. Fortunately, a lot of my other roommates were the same. I was thankful, because they understood! It wasn’t them I was staying away from; I just wanted to do my own thing.

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I got to go explore the closes, dark streets, and interesting parts of the city. There was so much to see! Not everyone goes off the beaten path, and they miss the beauty of the city for what it truly is. I wasn’t restricted to what other people wanted to do. I could take my time and do what I wanted. There was no waiting around and wasting time figuring out what to do next. I just went!

There were times I got stuck in the rain and times I sat on a bench in a quiet courtyard writing. It felt like the whole world was at my feet. I remember walking across the North Bridge on my way back from the Old Town. It started to mist and then the rain came pouring. The umbrella was useless. Rain came in sideways, and I was tired of having to lift my umbrella up so as not to hit everyone.

Finally, I just put up the umbrella and went without. I slowly got soaked, but I was happy. I looked out over Princes Street Gardens and Calton Hill and felt as if I could take my sweet time. Except my stomach was growling. I had to get some food.

New Foods

Crepe Stand 1I stopped at a crepe stand in Princes Street Gardens and completely devoured a chocolate banana crepe. I had missed them so much since my visit to Paris years before. It was freshly cooked and warm in my stomach. A cold was eminent in the weather, but I didn’t care. I felt cozy and comfortable.

The crepes weren’t the only thing I became addicted to. I devoured all sorts of good treats and new foods. There were cupcakes, macaroons, haggis, and baguettes.

 

Haggis isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. It’s like a bland version of boudin (great Louisiana dish). If you tie it with some mashed potatoes you’re golden. If you want to eat at home for the night and still try it just pick some up at the grocery store. I did that a couple of times.IMG_1855 (2)

Two things I always picked up from the store were baguettes and custard. In Texas, we have crappy “custard” and it’s nothing like what you get in Scotland. My roommates thought I was crazy for eating them all the time, but they didn’t care. That’s what was so wonderful about traveling on my own. They didn’t care about me trying new things, and I was able to be a fatty! I was walking everywhere so the calories were being burned at least somewhat.

Little Trips

One day, I decided to head out and go to Rolsin to see the famous Rosslyn Chapel. It was featured in the movie The Da Vinci Code. I had no idea it was in Scotland until I was looking for places to go check out.

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It was a bit daunting at first getting there. Coming from Texas, I wasn’t used to taking the bus. We all get around via cars. The bus was cheaper though.

I remember one of my stops being in the middle of the country. There was the lone highway and a little place to sit. People watched me as I waited for the next bus. Not gonna lie, it was awkward yet peacefully quiet. I was still a bit nervous that the bus which was supposed to come wouldn’t show up.

It took some time, but finally it did and I made my way to the next stop, Roslin.

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Roslin is something out of a picturesque retirement book. The town is situated out in the countryside with soft rolling hills and it’s quiet everywhere you go. There are flowers arranged here and there. The houses are quaint. I loved it.

I walked down the small roadway towards the chapel. I paid the fee, and went inside to see what it was really like. I wasn’t let down; though, I will admit it was significantly smaller than I imagined.

Since I didn’t have to take care of anyone else while seeing it I got to take my time. After looking around, I decided to check out the cemetery.

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Okay, call me weird, but cemeteries are extremely peaceful! This one had unique tombstones and the grass was luscious green. I wanted to touch it and roll all around…. I did. It was completely worth it!

I laid there and looked up at the bright blue sky with a few scattered clouds. I was alone with my thoughts. Everything inside my head slowed down and I was able to take a full breath. I wanted to stay there for the rest of the day.

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There was a trail beside the cemetery which I decided to investigate. It led me down to a small bridge and cottage. It was something out of a fairy tale. The cottage was on private property, so I made sure to stay off of it. But I later found out that people can rent the cottage for a small fee. Sign me up!

If I had other people with me, I wouldn’t be able to do all of that. I would have had to sit and wait for them to figure out what they wanted and didn’t want to do. Wait for them to catch up to me, and so much more that I didn’t want to deal with.

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I got away from technology. I was unreachable! There was no cellphone service, no internet access, and no one calling me.

More people need to get away from technology and take in what’s around them. I was finally able to ground myself again.

I can’t tell you the last time I felt more like myself. I knew who I was, what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to go.

Taking the break away from the hectic work life, technology, and people enables you to re-gather yourself. Everyone needs to do it once in awhile.

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Meeting New People

When roaming around a new country alone, people are more willing to come up and talk to you. They can spot you’re a foreigner from a mile away. These people can either be good or bad so use your intuition. But the good ones make your trip worthwhile.

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I met several people besides my roommates over in Scotland that I still remember to this day. There was an old man who stopped to talk to me as I was admiring a statue of the Polish bear. He told me the story behind it and why it was important to the people of Scotland.

There was also a lady I met at the bus stop. She was old and her skin was covered in blotches. I let her take my seat, and she started to tell me about her children and her life. She had been all over the world with her family. Now her kids are scattered as well. One is a lawyer and another a doctor. She told me about her time in South Africa and her times in other places. She was absolutely fascinating.

Oddly enough, there was a man I met who had visited Austin a couple times. If there’s one thing about traveling, it’s you never know who you’ll meet. There are other explorers out there, and they have a story to tell along with yours.

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Over the course of the three weeks, I learned more about different cultures, things to do and see in the area, made some great friends, and found myself again.

Traveling alone is not something to be afraid of, it’s something to embrace!

 

 

 

 

Scotland Travel Memoirs: The Scotch Whisky Experience

Early Sunday, I flew into Edinburgh for the beginning of my travel writing internship back in September. It took some time for the apartment to be ready, but when I got in there one of my three roommates showed up. M- and I decided to head out and explore the city. We both knew that if we didn’t keep moving we’d sleep the day away and the jet lag would win.

As a lover of American whisky, I immediately had to take on the Scotch Whisky Experience. Poor M-, she wasn’t a fan of it but found the history of the process fascinating. She decided to get the Silver Tour while I went with the Gold.

Tours

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Most tours provided by the company take you through the history of distilling whisky. Visitors sit inside a whisky barrel and are provided the intriguing history from a ghost of long ago. Processes from malting and mashing to fermentation and distillation are described in detail.

People have the choice of two major tour experiences:

The Silver Tour – Educational tour through the world of whisky distilling plus a sample tasting of your choice from one of the four major regions; Duration: 50 minutes

The Gold Tour – The Silver Tour + tasting of 4 extra malts in the McIntyre Gallery; Duration: 70 – 90 minutes

Other tours are also available such as Educational Tours for large groups or The Taste of Scotland which combines food tasting from the Amber restaurant. The Scotch Whisky Experience is so profound that it offers a special training course in its’ Scotch Whisky Training School. The training school immerses people into the world of whisky with activities for enthusiasts or professionals. At the end of the course individuals obtain the “Certificate of Expertise.”

Types of Scotch

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There are four main scotches available to taste from the four main regions in Scotland: Lowland, Highland, Speyside, and Islay. Should you want to venture and try the fifth option, be ready to have your taste buds shocked.

  • Lowland – the flavor is lighter and tends to have grassy and flowery tastes
  • Highland – there’s a wide range of flavors for this one and it depends on which area you’re tasting the whisky from
  • Islay – this has a potent smoky flavor (Note: if you’re tasting more later you might want to hold off on this one since the taste lingers awhile)
  • Speyside – whiskies from this region are lighter and have fruity flavors, such as banana

The Tour & Tasting Experience

M- and I were excited to start the tour. The barrel ride was a neat experience. We sat in the large seat and went around with a “ghost” taking us through the history and process. After we were done with the ride, we headed into another room where we got to see the process more in-depth. The smell of whisky floated through the air making our mouths water.

While the history portion was interesting, what I found fascinating were the floor to ceiling glass cases of whisky from all sorts of places and ages. A table was situated in the middle of the room with some whiskey, empty glasses, and a pitcher of water. The lady talked about the whiskey and invited us to all take a sample of it.

Holding the glass I could already smell its’ potency. The lady held her glass to her nose and said, “The trick is to breath it in through your nose and out your mouth. Taste all of the flavors.”

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Excuse the crazy hair. We were tired after long flights.

I got the glass up to my nose and started to breath the aroma. Not a second more and I was coughing, and my eyes started to water. Earlier I had told M- of my love for whisky, but never had I smelled anything this strong. She laughed as her eyes began to water. What I couldn’t understand was how everyone was taking it so well. This stuff was strong! The aroma alone burned my throat, and I could taste it without taking a sip.

The next step was to taste the whisky. The lady offered us the choice of diluting our drink with some water or taking it straight. I immediately went for the water and so did everyone else. The lady said there’s no wrong way to take your whisky, it’s all dependent on what you prefer. The whisky connoisseurs had other sentiments on the subject.

Once we finished our glasses we went into a slightly larger room where we took a seat at several tables shaped in a U. For each spot, there was a glass and five circles. Each color represented a different region in Scotland, and the fifth one was the extra whisky from the Campbell Islands which they had in stock.

Each of us moved our glass over the whisky we wanted to try. I decided to go with the fifth one since they said it had a cinnamon flavor. My first thought was Fireball from back home. I knew it wasn’t going to taste exactly like that, but the thought of cinnamon was appealing. Let’s just say it did not taste like cinnamon, but it was still quite good.

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The tour ended in the small bar overlooking the Royal Mile, McIntyre Gallery. I showed my card to the bartender, and he brought the line of whisky samples to taste. M- and I went to sit near the windows with a gorgeous view of the city. There was little in the glasses, but I already knew I wouldn’t be able to handle tasting all of them.

After experiencing the last couple of tastings, I watered down the glasses a bit. We shared the drinks and started from one end and worked to the other. We ended with the heavy smoky flavor which we knew would linger for hours ruining anything else we tasted.

The lighter whiskies were great, better with some water and would have been perfect with some ice. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep drinking the whisky. This was the first time I had called it quits and left alcohol on the table. It wasn’t from drinking so much, it’s from tasting to many different flavors at once.

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Overall, the experience was great. It kept us awake and got us relaxed from all the flying, searching for the apartment, and unloading our bags. After all the tasting you’ll most likely want something to eat the Old Town has some of the best places to eat! An added bonus is that you get to keep your sampling glass from the tour.

10 Helpful Streets to Know When Visiting Edinburgh, Scotland

Maneuvering Edinburgh, Scotland is fairly easy, especially when you think of it as the Old Town and the New Town. But there are times when you can get turned around and forget where you are. Here are the top 10 streets to keep in mind when you’re exploring the city. These will help you get an idea where you’re at and know where to go.

 

Princes Street

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This street divides Edinburgh into the Old Town and the New Town. The lanes are often congested with buses and people. Along the New Town side are name brand stores and great places to shop such as Primark and Great Scot. This is a good center point.

Princes Street essentially divides the city in half and marks the distinction between the architecture of the two sides. Buildings in the New Town are still quite old but have a more modern twist compared to the soot stained, Gothic architecture of the Old Town. The closes (alleys) are also more open and easier to move about. Closes within the old town are dark and narrow with the buildings towering high above.

 

Rose Street

Located one street over on the New Town side, Rose street is a hot spot for dining and bars. Walking along the street, visitors can see bricks shaped as hearts and other figures within the street. During the day it’s a quiet place to get a cup of coffee or use to avoid the crowd along Princes Street.

The night life on Rose Street creates an outdoor patio feel with good drinks and lively music. String lights are hung across the street lighting up the area which makes it easier to find the next bar. Good places to hit up while here are Dirty Dick’s Bar, The Amber Rose, and The Black Cat. The Amber Rose is a popular place. Each day there’s a new special and on certain nights there’s a pub quiz which is popular among many Scottish bars. Tuesdays are a big hit with the burgers and drinks. You can get a burger and a drink starting at £6.49, which is a phenomenal deal!

 

George Street

Another street located in the New Town, this can be found on the opposite side of Rose Street. George Street connects two famous squares: Charlotte Square and St Andrew Square.

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Charlotte Square was built in 1796 for the prestigious members of society. The architect Robert Adam designed the Georgian houses down to every detail. Iron boot-scrapers were installed on the front steps of most of the buildings. Visitors would scrape their boots of any mud before entering the elegant houses.

In the center of the square lies the Prince Albert statue. Many overlook the great piece, but it’s a commemoration to the husband of one of the most powerful queens of England, Queen Victoria. Looking toward the statue from the end of George Street, people can look to the left at the second floor of the building and notice something unusual. The second floor windows are painted black. Back in the old days, people were taxed for each window to their apartment or store. In order to not pay the heavy fee, many windows were painted black and not used. There’s also a rumor that the famous author Agatha Christie stayed in this building.

On the other end of the street lies St Andrew Square. Before entering the open lawn, people are met with the statue of James Clerk Maxwell. The famous physicist made significant advances in the electricity and magnetism fields and created the first colored photograph. In 1861, Maxwell photographed a tartan ribbon three times using a different color each time. You can thank him for helping your Instagram!

In the center of St Andrew Square lies the Melville Monument. The largest ‘ego’ show of the day. Erected in 1823, the 1500 ton statue was created by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather for the wealthy Henry Dundas. While Dundas was wealthy, he was extremely unpopular. The man was a prominent politician and stole at least £15 million pounds from the people to fund his luxurious life and large monument. In the end, the statue cost him £8000 pounds for a life time of ego boost.

 

North/South Bridge

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Parts of this street are bridge and then the rest a normal street. The North Bridge portion connects Princes street to the Old Town and eventually turns into South Bridge. Three helpful streets branch off from this road: Cowgate, High Street (this eventually leads in to the Royal Mile), and Market Street.

Taking Market Street will lead you up towards the Museum on the Mound and connect you to Cockburn Street. The area runs along Princes Street Gardens and provides a gorgeous view of the Scott Monument and the Scottish National Gallery.

 

Royal Mile

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The Royal Mile starts from the Edinburgh Castle and moves down the steep hill. This street is a bit odd. It’s split in the middle by two other streets: High Street and Lawnmarket. It goes back to Royal Mile again until it ends at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The top portion of the Royal Mile is famous for its tourist sights. People can visit the Edinburgh Castle, dine in The Witchery by the Castle, or learn about the history of whisky at The Scotch Whisky Experience. Several historical and haunting tours start from the Royal Mile which has been a part of the Old Town for decades.

The Royal Mile is home to tragic deaths, royal carriages, and religious upheavals. Witches were drowned on top of the building across from the Witchery while others were tossed from the ledges of the castle with a broom stick. Tax payers hated the constant rising of taxes and spit upon the Heart of Midlothian every time they went in to pay the fees. The famous heart can be found in front of St Giles’ Cathedral.

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Several important streets stretch from the Royal Mile, which makes it a good center point for the Old Town. People can reach Cockburn Street, South Bridge, George IV Bridge, and Ramsay Ln which changes to Mound Pl and then into Market Street. 

 

Cockburn Street

While this is a short street, it’s an easy way to get to the Royal Mile from Market Street and Waverly Station. Cockburn Street doesn’t have famous sites but it is known for it’s art gallery and The Baked Potato Shop.

The Stills Gallery is free to the public and focuses on the art of photography. People are welcome view the gallery or pursue their passions of photography in their high tech studio above and below the gallery. There is a fee for the use of the facilities but it’s worth it.

 

Victoria Street

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According to locals, Victoria Street was the basis for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. Houses along the streets are colorful and wind along the steep road. People can sift through old books in the shops or check out antiques. At the bottom there’s a store full of gifts for practical jokes and pranks called Aha Ha Ha. You’ll know you’re at the store once you see the giant nose above the door. For years, people hated the nose and there were several grievance write ups against the company. The nose would change shape from hooked, pig, to even extremely long. Seeing as the nose wasn’t going anywhere, they finally landed on the one they have today.

 

Grassmarket

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Located below the Edinburgh Castle, Grassmarket Street rightfully runs through the Grassmarket. The location has been a center for locals throughout the years. In early times, the area had corals, pins, and gates which helped maneuver cattle to various people and parts of the city. Besides cattle, the market place was home to a center of fresh food markets, deadly sentences, and pubs which housed visitors.

The Grassmarket was a place for public hangings. They were cheered upon and became a spectacle for everyone. There was nothing else to do during the time and this became their amusement. One lady unexpectedly escaped the strict laws. Maggie Dickson was sentenced to hang as punishment for concealing her pregnancy and discarding the baby. Maggie was sentenced to death by hanging.

On their way to bury the woman, the people carrying the coffin heard something banging against the top and they opened it to find Maggie alive. She was let go since she had served her sentence. To this day, she is known as ‘Half-Hangit’ Maggie and the Maggie Dickson pub is named after her.

People can easily reach Cowgate from the Grassmarket. If heading towards Cowgate, people can also walk up Candlemaker Row which takes people to the famous Greyfriars Kirkyard. A statue of Bobby, the dog, sits outside the graveyard. He was a good friend and protector who was admired by all people. Today, the Greyfriars Kirkyard is notable for the names in Harry Potter and the school behind the graveyard which inspired Hogwarts.

 

Cowgate

Originally used to move cattle through the streets of Edinburgh, this place soon became ensconced with the rich and famous. Over time, the street was left by the rich who moved to the New Town, and the street soon became run down and filled with the poor.

Today, people walk along Cowgate for its array of pubs, history, and hauntings. The most known haunting is of a cloaked man who follows people traveling beneath the South Bridge along Cowgate. People have a sense of being watched, see the cloaked figure, and fear that something terrible is about to happen.

Along the street, the famous Magdalene Chapel and Three Sisters pub is a hot spot for tourists. The Magdalene Chapel, originally built in 1544, survived the destruction of the Scottish Reformation. Situated close by, the Three Sister pub, originally called the Tailors hall was founded in 1621. It was an area for people to gather for discussions and meetings. Over the years, the hall has gone through drastic restoration and is home to the pub which offers an open courtyard and a wide screen for showing movies and football games.

 

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This is an extension of Princes Street which runs toward Calton Hill. A1 is an easy way to get to the massive hill where the famous National Monument and Nelson’s Monument. The hill provides a panoramic view of Edinburgh. Besides being peaceful and quiet, it’s a great location to see where you’re at within the city and where you want to go. Calton Hill is a great picnic spot and a must see.

Following A1 away from Princes Street, visitors can see the New Parliament House and Burns Monument. The New Parliament House designed with heavy Greek influence, was built as a high school for kids at the time. Imagine going to school in what reminds people of a Greek Parthenon. Over the years, the high school shut down and there has been highly discussed debates about the current owner transforming it into a hotel. People want to restore the building and use it as a high school again.

 

Teviot Row House: Silent Dances and Library Bars

Last September, I spent three weeks in Edinburgh, Scotland working on a travel guide with a group of people. One of the girls sister’s happened to be staying there as well and tipped us off to this neat house filled with bars. Teviot Row House is located on the Edinburgh University campus and everyone knew about it. There were lines out the door! It also didn’t help that it was welcoming week for the university. Every freshman lined up and was gearing for a good time.

History

Originally built in 1889, the Teviot Row House was created for the student union during the Victorian era. The Castle-like building included rooms for billiards, a library, tea rooms, and several courts beneath the building. Up until 1971, men were only admitted to the building. They enjoyed wonderful tea times with beautiful waitresses serving them in black uniforms. What man wouldn’t love that in college? At the time, they didn’t serve alcohol in the building, but that soon changed in 1970.

Over the years, the building started to welcome the public. The Gilded Balloon used the place as a venue for for stand-up comedies and cabaret performances. The group has continued to use this space since 2003 and drawn more attention to the venue.

Bars and Music

Today, students flock to this building for games of billiards, meetings, and bars. The first bar I entered within the establishment was The Library Bar. Needless to say, I loved it. Books lines the walls with tables and chairs spread out. There was a spiral staircase leading to the second floor with even more books and lounging chairs to enjoy the experience. Granted, it seemed to be the most popular among the students since it was the most crowded out of the three bars I visited.

After running into a robust Scotsman, I headed down with him to the Sports Bar. There weren’t a lot of people at the time and a football game kept the amusement of the few there. The space was open with a couch and several billiards tables. We grabbed a drink and talked as the bar slowly began to fill up.

Later that evening, I headed up a couple floors to The New Amphion. Before I saw the room, I could hear thumping and people singing from the stairs but no music. All my friends were already there and each one was holding a beer and wearing headphones. They were singing along to something.

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In order to keep the noise down, students rented out these radio headphones for 5 which you get back once you return the headphones. There were two stations and you could tune in to each one throughout the night. They were singing along and dancing like no one was watching. Even without a DJ playing, they had smoke and strobe lights in the room. There were times when a popular song would come on and the entire crowd would sing the lyrics. It’s actually a neat concept. Maybe more colleges in the U.S. could do this and it would cut down on some of the cops showing up to overly loud house parties.

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Teviot Row House is a must visit when in Edinburgh, Scotland. This is a hot spot for young adults and college students. The place is a great way to visit several bars without having to walk the streets in search of the next best one.

Check out a video of the silent dancing!

 

Teviot Row House
Telephone: 0131 650 4673
Website: www.eusa.ed.ac.uk
Email: reception@eusa.ed.ac.uk
Address: 13 Bristo Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9AJ

 

 

Leo’s Beanery

This place felt like a travelers paradise. Sunken into the ground on Leven St., Leo’s Beanery is a quiet coffee shop and great for catching up with friends or writing your next novel. The walls are covered in maps and travel photos which matches the eclectic people you’ll meet.

Locals love this beanery since it’s away from the crowds on Princes Street. There are the young, old, and the occasional restless traveler. I fell in love with this place for their sweet treats. The coffee was good too, especially the Macchiato.  Try one of their brownies with a coffee and you won’t go wrong. If tea is your favorite, then this place will serve your palate as well. They’ve got a choice of fresh loose leaf teas and eclectic herbal ones.

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Leo’s Beanery
Open 7 Days a Week
Mon – Fri: 8AM – 5PM
Sat: 9AM – 5PM
Sun: 10AM – 5PM
Telephone: 0131 556 8403
Website: www.leosbeanery.co.uk
Address: 23A Howe St, Edinburgh EH3 6TF, UK

The Banshee Labyrinth

 

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Enter a labyrinth filled with punk rock and heavy metal music. Upon entering, there are several paths to choose from which lead to various places. If you go in and to the left, you will find the bar which offers an array of drinks and specials for the night. Try the Ectoplasm, a sweet, green shot containing a mixture of Bailey’s, Midori, and Archers or grab a cold lager to satisfy your thirst.

There are several rooms in the establishment which can be reached through creepy halls and stairs. An old jukebox and pool table are enclosed in one of the tomb-like rooms. The jukebox is great for adding a bit of mixture to the music selection at the venue.

Make sure to check out the small cinema later in the evening for a good horror movie or even something light and fun. Normally, they have two to three showings each night. The ambiance here makes you feel as if you’re in haunted tunnels beneath Edinburgh’s Old Town. This pub is a must try for a unique experience of Edinburgh’s darker side!

Banshee Labyrinth
29-35 Niddry Street
Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 1LG
Telephone: 0131 558 8209
Website: www.thebansheelabyrinth.com

Sherlock Holmes Statue

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Hidden behind trees near Picardy Place stands the famous Sherlock Holmes Statue. It looks away from the building and downward at a paw print which cannot easily be seen. The size of the statue puts Sherlock’s character into perspective and brings him to life.

Erected in 1991, the statue commemorates the birthplace of author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and marks the 50th anniversary of the Federation of Master Builders. The popularity of Doyle’s consulting detective continues to grow, even today. From shows to movies and taverns to eateries, Conan Doyle’s creation is greatly admired and influential. People can even catch the BBC series Sherlock, a modern take on the character.

After admiring the statue, check out the pub, The Conan Doyle, across from the statue in York Place. Here, people can find flavorful drinks and food to tie off their experience.

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Road Trips: A Day in Scotland

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One of the weirdest things to get used to was the wheel on the right side! Driving on the left side got easier throughout the day. But boy were there times we all forgot.

This past September, I spent three weeks in Edinburgh, Scotland for a travel writing internship. There I met numerous people and some wonderful flat mates. Towards the end, we had spent so much time in the city that we wanted to go check out some more of Scotland. We heard about the highlands and other beaches, even a castle up on a hill! We decided to take a road trip for a day. It seemed a simple idea, but it turned out to be a bit more complicated in the beginning.

 

Booking the Car

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The night before the trip, we went online and booked a car through the Edinburgh Airport. It didn’t cost too much for a day, but we had to have a credit card. Since I was the only one with one, I put it on mine. Simple enough, right?

Early the next morning, we boarded the bus with all our snacks, cameras, and goodies for the trip. We were ready to take a good drive and get out. See something new! As we pulled into the rental car area at the airport, we were met with more than a few obstacles.

The guy didn’t seem too friendly. He was tired and irritable. Among our group were three Germans, a Mexican, and a Texan. We talked to the guy, showed him our paperwork, the credit card, and ID. Everything seemed to be running smoothly. Then came the hiccup…

He said he couldn’t rent us the car since I was under 25. They have this same law in the states, and sometimes you can get around it if you pay a bit more. I asked him how much it would be for a down payment for the insurance. The price he rattled off was a lot and that was in pounds too! It was almost double in U.S. dollars.

We asked him to switch the name for the car to be under one of the girls over 25. He said of course, but they needed a credit card under that name. That wasn’t going to work. He continued to give us the run around for the next hour and a half… at least.

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I was getting to the point of calling it quits. There was nothing we could do, and we kept answering the same questions without any progress. It wasn’t until the guy finally said that he could have us pay a small non-refundable fee of 60£ to rent the car and only the two old enough would be able to drive it. Why couldn’t he say something earlier? That’s what we wanted. The rest of us didn’t care whether we got to drive the car. We just wanted to hit the road.

We checked out the small car to ensure everything was good to go. Fortunately, the two girls driving knew standard. The states have ruined us all. We’re suckers for automatics now.

The man handed us the keys and we put our things in the trunk then got into the tiny car. And boy was it cramped. We became real close that day. I don’t see how they can drive in those cars all the time. It may say five seats, but it’s more like four.

 

Road Trip Map

Road+Trip+Stops

 

First Stop – St Andrews

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We wanted to start of the day right and hit up the beach. Some of the other girls in the project had mentioned it saying it was better than Portobello which was near Edinburgh.

On the way there, we crossed fields of wheat and corn and drove over lakes. Each town was gorgeous, with some buildings towering above others built centuries ago.

As we pulled into St Andrews, we found it to be a quaint town. It was quiet and hardly anyone was out. The square had unique shops from gardening and groceries to a tasty ice cream parlor. It took us a bit to find a spot, and figure out which way the cars were going. We still weren’t used to driving on the left side of the road.

The first place we checked out was the ice cream parlor. It was supposed to be a cold day, but the sun had other plans. We were shedding our layers minute by minute. The ice cream helped cool us down, and we grabbed a bottle of Irn Bru. This is one of the tastiest sodas I’ve ever had. It’s only found in Scotland. People either hate it or love it. There doesn’t seem to be an in-between. Some say it tastes like an energy drink or medicine, but I always thought it tasted like bubble gum with a slight hint of orange (a whole lot better than the Big Reds we have at home.)

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The original cathedral was built in the 8th century when Christianity was beginning to take its roots in northern Scotland. It was dedicated to St. Andrew; hence, the name. It was finished in 1160 and became one of the most sought out cathedrals in the area. Even Robert Bruce (who’s statue you can see in Stirling) and John Knox visited the church. Unfortunately, Knox’s visit was unpleasant. He went against the Catholics at the time and incited people to turn against their faith and desecrate the church. They left only the remains of this once glorious Gothic cathedral to sit idly along the shores.

Grabbing our things, we headed out to the beach. On our way there we came across the ruins of an old church. Soot stained the creases and crumbled pieces lay on the ground. Grave stones were scattered in the back. It was St Andrews Cathedral. We walked through only part of it, but the remnants of the entrance were magnificent. It was hard to imagine the beauty it must’ve possessed back at its pinnacle.

As we made our way to the beach, we saw fishermen cleaning out their cages and the smell of fish consumed the area. It was oddly nice. This was Scotland. The rough fishermen living in a quaint town.

The walkway we were following led to the beach which broke down and away from the grass. The sand was golden and the water lapped softly. There was a pier to the left which was made from stones of the ruined castle further back on the coastline. Barnacles covered the bottom portion of it and only a few birds flew around.

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Laying out our jackets for blankets, we set the food down. It wasn’t too much but a good variety. We had baguettes, hot dogs, chips, bananas, grapes, cheese, cookies, and all sorts of things. Honestly, it was one of the tastiest lunches I’ve ever had.

We played in the water and relaxed in the sun. One of the girls said a lot of people head out to the beach to get away and to relax. It was something they did all the time, like it was no brainer. If we had clean quiet beaches like these, people in Texas would jump on them in a heartbeat as well. It was calming and a good way to escape.

Sitting on the beach, I slowly began to remember why I got into writing in the first place. My mind began to settle and go back to simpler times. Times before I hit college, and my writing fervor was shot down.

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The castle was built around 1200 as a place for the ruling Bishop. Throughout the years, the castle was a home to reside in, a fortress, and a prison. It was sieged numerous times during the Scottish Wars of Independence, and once was almost completely ruined so the English wouldn’t retake the glorious place.
After years of rebuilding the castle, it became the infamous prison during the 15th and 16th centuries. Numerous murders were committed here, from burning a man at the stake to hanging the Archbishop Beaton from a tower, this sight has seen its horrors during the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. John Knox was once allowed into the castle during a siege which ended in favor of Protestants.

Before we left, I had to see the ruins of the castle. There was no way I was going to miss that. Luckily, one of the other girls was as fascinated with it. It was a short distance away, and sat on the edge of a small cliff.

There were some remnants of what used to be towers, but most of it’s rubble today. You can book a tour to see the site, but you can also get a good view from the outside when you’re on a time crunch.

 

Second Stop – Stirling

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Before we even arrived at the castle, I begged the girls to stop by this wide-open field. There were Scottish cows and one was next to the wooden fence. They thought I was crazy. Of course, the girl from Texas would want to stop to see the cattle. Why wouldn’t I? These guys were the friendliest and fluffiest creatures.

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We went over and pet the big guy. They were a bit hesitant at first, but loved him. Other people stopped as well to see the guy and take photos. It was the perfect picture. The cattle and the field in front and the castle rising high on the cliff. What more could you ask for?

There was supposedly a walk way up to the castle, but we decided to drive. The roads were small and steep. It seemed as if we were stepping back into the Medieval era. One with nights in shining armor and crusades.

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Centuries ago, Stirling Castle housed Mary Queen of Scots along with other royal members. Robert the Bruce’s mother spent most of her time ruling here while her son was abroad fighting in the Crusades. The placement of the castle enabled members to see all the corners of their land. Any invader daring to make an attempt to ride up with an army would surely be seen.

Winding our way up through the confining buildings, we eventually reached the top. We paid a small 5 pound fee and parked closer to the castle. This way we saved time and could get to the next place. Years ago, the parking area was created by firing explosives and leveling it to the ground. It was used as a practice area for Scottish soldiers.

Stirling Castle, like many others of its time, looks like well fortified fortress from the outside, but on the inside there is the softer, sensual side. The castle is barricaded and fortified on two sides by a sheer cliff.

IMG_1318We stepped into the inner court, but didn’t go inside the castle. There wasn’t enough time and it was a bit pricey. (I won’t lie. If I had gone in there I would’ve spent the rest of the day.) We were able to climb up and stand on the inside of the wall for a view of the land. It was a gorgeous sight. Miles of land continued to stretch far beyond the eye could see and hills gently jutted up here and there. It was a windy place, but peaceful.

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An ice cream truck was situated in outside of the castle. They were serving ice cream of all colors with chocolate sticks jutting out. Needless to say, I grabbed one of those. It was refreshing since the day continued to heat up. None of us were expecting it to be hot. We all wore sweaters, jeans, scarves, and boots. While I grabbed some ice cream, the others checked out a small store and grabbed some beers and soda before we headed on our way to the next stop.

 

Final Stop – Loch Lomond

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Loch Lomond has been a site for settlers for centuries. Early Christians used to settle here due to the solitude. There are about 38 islands in this lake which makes it necessary to have boats or canoes in the area. The loch is part of a national park which aims to provide a safe haven for animals such as deer, eagles, and even wallabies. Yes, the wallabies is a bit odd, but they were brought to the location around the 1970’s.
At the lake, you can go fishing, canoeing, sailing, hiking, biking, almost anything you can think of. There are a wide variety of activities. If you want to explore more of the park, there are other features such as golfing as well.

Finding the parking area was hard for Loch Lomond. We took a wrong turn and drove down a narrow rode. It continued for quite a long time, long enough we knew we needed to turn around. Heading back the same way, we decided to take the other road. The lake is located in the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park which is ginormous.

We came upon several small houses nestled in the nooks of pine trees and hills by the lake. It was something out of a book. There was a small restaurant on the left and a boat dock up ahead. They had canoes and paddle boards you could rent, but when it was as cold as it was I couldn’t see anyone jumping in. With that being said, there were a couple of girls who were going out paddle boarding. They didn’t go too far and were careful not to fall in often.

The road took us further into the woods. Moss covered stones and if I looked hard enough, I could imagine a troll popping out. The road seemed to narrow even more. The trees opened up to a small dock and a dead end. People were fishing off the dock or reading the historic plaque in the circle drive. We slowly drove in and it said no parking allowed. We felt terrible for driving down there. Maybe cars weren’t allowed, but why would they have a road? Quickly, we turned around and headed back to the restaurant and found some parking.

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We headed back to the place we were at as soon as possible. It wasn’t a long walk, and the trees provided enough shade we needed our jackets again. At the edge of the lake (loch) we could see off into the distance.

Mountains and small islands dotted the loch. There was a small house far off in the distance. It seemed quaint and a good place to farm. The waves lapped against the shore. Water glistened in the late afternoon sun. It was hard to see without sun glasses, but putting them on would only taint the beauty. When I say this, I’m serious. I’ve never seen something so bountiful in color. You get the chance to get away from the city and relax outdoors.

There were several trails, some full of rocks, which people could hike, but we didn’t have time. We sat on the rocks along the shore and relaxed. It had been a good day and unfortunately our time in Scotland was coming to an end.

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Before heading home, we stopped at the restaurant we saw. We weren’t too hungry so we got small meals. I tried some beef with Yorkshire pudding and had some water with it. The others got pizza, fish, or a kids platter (which looked amazing!) If you haven’t had Yorkshire pudding, it’s not what it sounds like. It’s a plain bread that goes great with almost any meat or soup.

We sat outside and relaxed a bit. The sun was beginning to set. Yellow, orange, and pink hues began to settle upon the emerald trees. The restaurant seemed to come alive and people were getting ready to head home. We were among those heading home since we had to get the car back in time.

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A road trip in Scotland is nothing like Texas. It takes four hours to get somewhere in Texas at times. Scotland, you can head over to the coast, up into the hills, over to the loch, and back to Edinburgh in no time. Everything is close yet diverse.

Discovering Scotland with my flat mates was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. We grew closer and saw numerous unique sites. We had fun playing at the beach and exploring the loch. We tried some new drinks and treats and figured out the new system of driving on the other side of the road. (The traffic circles didn’t help either.)

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All I can say is if you have the chance to go on a road trip in Scotland take it! You’ll get to explore the countryside and parts most people don’t venture off to. Yes, Edinburgh is wonderful and full of history, but it’s also the city. People fill the streets and there’s always a clambering noise. There are rare moments at night when a hush falls upon the city, but it’s nothing like being out at the lake. A road trip in Scotland can be done in a day!

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Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour

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Take a tour through pubs which writers like Roberts Burns and William Wordsworth frequented, and delve into stories of their inspiration, sexual intrigue, drinking, and debauchery. The tour starts off at the Beehive Inn, located in the Old Town, where people can check in or buy tickets and then head upstairs with a drink or two.

Throughout the journey, the guides act out a battle of wits: one provides the rough, dark, and drunken side of writers and their processes while the other lays out historical facts and poems.

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The two jest and banter with each other to give a lively tour; one which gives history from all angles and brings the audience into the dark, yet inspirational times of writers.

Make sure to bring a light jacket for it gets a bit chilly at night and be ready to listen to tales of history under the dim lamps and soot stained buildings from the Old Town to the New Town.

 

Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour
18-20 Grassmarket
Edinburgh, EH1 2JU, UK
+44 131 226 6665
May – Sept: Everyday 7:30pm
April – Oct: Thurs – Sun 7:30pm
Jan, Feb & March: Fri & Sun 7:30pm
Nov & Dec: Friday 7:30pm
http://www.edinburghliterarypubtour.co.uk/

The Writers’ Museum

The Writers’ Museum, housed in what used to be Lady Stair’s home, can be found off the Royal Mile in Makar’s Court; which means poet or author’s court. The area is not frequented as often as other places. Quotes from famous writers, such as Hugh MacDiarmid and Robert Burns, are etched into the cobblestones greeting all those who enter or pass.

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The museum features three Scottish writers: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Guests are immediately met with the choice of ascending or descending the small spiral staircase.

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Downstairs, people are lead into the intriguing life of Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island. People can view his personal books, old Tartan scarf, and even a portrait his wife supposedly was not quite fond of. It is said that the artist insisted on painting the infamous author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

On the upstairs floors, people can find strange and intriguing trinkets from Sir Walter Scott’s and Robert Burn’s personal items from a plaster of Burn’s skull to Scott’s published books. Make sure to check out the top floor to view a popular printing press.

A Lovely Lady with a Lifetime of Stories

The bus for Cramond was taking far longer than expected. All of the interns crowded around the bus stop waiting. There was a small family with a baby and a carriage. An old lady came by, but none of the interns made an offer to move. I wasn’t going to let her stand and wait, so I gave up my seat.

She was so grateful and began talking about her children. There were three of them, all born in different places. Her husband had been in the military so they traveled quite a bit.

There were scars on her body, and her skin was covered in dark blotches like overgrown freckles. The others looked at her as if she was disgusting. She must’ve been around 70, maybe a little older. Despite her age, she seemed lively and ready to take on anything.

She had a smile as she began telling me about about her kids. She had taken them to South Africa, North America, and all over Europe. While she loved being in Scotland now, she said there was no place like South Africa. It was peaceful, gorgeous, and a good place to raise the kids with all the English culture there.

I told her about my dad staying over there for a bit for work. She laughed when I told her he wanted to pick us up and move over there once he got back.

Her kids had done well over the years. Some became lawyers and others doctors. They got married and had their own kids. Not one is in the same spot they were before. They’re scattered across Europe and other places.

Despite her kids being so far away, she was happy they moved. They moved to a place they considered home. A place where they were truly happy. It’s something rare to find these days. Her and her husband still travel to see them, and they’ll occasionally come up for a visit. But it becomes few and far with how busy they have all become.

She said the one thing she was happy to grant her kids was the ambition to travel and pursue their dreams. Traveling so young made them aware of all the different cultures. It was hard on them, but it worked out in the end.

Her bus came and she had to leave. The others breathed a sigh of relief, but I was sad to see her go. I saw a lot of my grandma in her, and she was a joy to speak with.

It’s people like these who make trips worth the experience. You never know who you’ll meet or what stories you’ll hear. But each one has something you can learn from because there’s always another side to a story.

Deacon Brodie’s Tavern

Steeped with a sophisticated atmosphere and homely vibe, this tavern draws people in from all around. Named after the famous Deacon Brodie in 1806, this tavern captures the dualistic nature which Robert Louis Stevenson portrays in his famous book, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Brodie was a respectable businessman during the day and a burglar at night in the late 18th century. The tavern separates its quiet dining from the bar. If looking for a quiet evening and a nice dinner head upstairs to the restaurant area. Make sure to get there early or make a reservation.

If wanting a livelier atmosphere with some drinks and appetizers, downstairs is the place to be. Here, people can try cheese covered mushrooms for about £5.25. Add a pint of lager and you’ll have an enjoyable time with friends. They also serve small portions of onion rings and the traditional haggis. From about 4 pm on weekdays and most weekends the tavern is quite busy. For a good dining experience, try to arrive early in the day.

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