After an easy flight over the Irish Sea for about a little over an hour, we arrived just before 8:00am. We made our way through immigration towards the airport exit with big smiles on our faces and eager eyes. After withdrawing British Pounds from an ATM, we both looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and headed directly for the tourist pamphlets on bus information. Given that we were in another country, neither of us had cell phone service which meant figuring out how to get to our hostel the old fashioned way. I remember a couple of years ago when my mom bought me a map to put in my car and said, "You never know when you'll need this; you can't always rely on your smartphone" and boy was she right. Luckily, I have a strong interest in maps and a good sense of direction so I looked forward to the idea of using maps to get around the capital city of Scotland. We took a coach bus downtown and got off at what seemed like a point near our hostel; really, I had no affirmative idea of where we were. I just knew our hostel was located behind the big ol' castle. We stepped off of the bus and this was our view; the castle is slightly visible just between the two buildings in the distance in the picture on the left.
We walked around the city a bit in hopes to find the best breakfast in Scotland....and I'm happy to say we got close... well at least the hospitality we received made it seem that way. We asked a local for a good breakfast joint and she directed us to a small café called The Coffee Mill. My friend Kelly and I both enjoyed a full British breakfast because I mean come on, we were in Scotland to enjoy gobs of good food from the area, not a McDonalds McMuffin. The café owner himself served us the breakfast and we had a great conversation with him about places around the city to check out. When we asked for the bill, he brought it out, placed it on the table with a pen in his hand and explains in his enthusiastic Scottish accent, "Although the cost of the breakfast for each of you was 7 Pounds, I'm going to give it to you for free and all you have to pay for is the water; it is the finest water available in Scotland!" Kelly and I look at each other with smirks and agreed that this was in fact a fantastic deal and we would take him up on it :). He was a great sport and we had a lot of fun at that café talking to the owner amidst being stuffed with food, the first of many times on this trip.
If there is one thing Kelly and I shared more than anything, its the love of food. Given that we are both athletic humans with good metabolism, any opportunity for food was a highlight in the trip. Not to say that there wasn't a lot of other things we did in Scotland, just that food is pure happiness. From the oven roasted pizza to salmon to fresh pulled pork BBQ and beyond, I think we got close to eating our weight.
Amidst all of these good restaurant experiences, we did have a rather interesting one. Kelly had heard that this place called The Witchery was one of the best restaurants in Edinburgh. We looked at the menu and upon seeing that the average meal cost about 30 Pounds ($45), we wanted to figure out another way to experience the restaurant. I walked up to the hostess and asked for a table for 2; the manager in charge gave us slightly odd looks as if we didn't know what we were about to get ourselves into...well at least we thought we knew. We were taken to our table and upon arrival, the hostess pulled out my chair, I sat down, and he unfolded each of our cloth napkins and placed them on our lap....as this is happening, Kelly and I look at each other both with wide eyes and shocked faces thinking the exact same thing...what in the world did we get ourselves into....all we wanted was some coffee and tea and maybe dessert; we had just eaten pulled pork sandwiches and were in no mood to eat another meal...oh boy how are we gonna get out of this situation without making a scene or being rude...we were doomed. The waiter brought the menu over, showed us all of the meal options, the cheapest one being 18 Pounds ($26), and left. Kelly and I, feeling very uncomfortable while trying to keep our pose, continued to awkwardly smirk in hopes of this situation working itself out. When the waiter came back, we asked if we could see a dessert menu instead of the lunch menu; to our dismay, he said we'd EACH have to buy at least a one course meal before we could order dessert. I politely asked if we could talk to the manager about it and he came over. After a slightly awkward and stressful conversation, the manager said he would make a one time exception and allow us to just get dessert. Long story short, we each got a dessert and headed out. For a fancy rice pudding, mango sorbet, and the fanciest water I will ever drink, the bill was 20 Pounds, a whopping $30...we were appalled but just happy to get out of that situation. Once we were well away from the restaurant, we had a good laugh about it and thought about all the food we could have gotten for $30. We definitely learned our lesson from the scenario but looking back, it's something we can have a good laugh about since we made it out of the dark realm of The Witchery alive (pun intended).
Although so far it seems like all we did is eat delicious food on this trip, we did actually visit some fancy places and take snazzy pictures. The Edinburgh Castle atop the hill was incredible to see; it looked absolutely massive from the street below. We purchased general admission tickets and saw a lot of the exhibits...yadda yadda yadda...felt like a middle school field trip to a history museum. In all seriousness though, we had a great time walking around the inside of the castle and reading our way through a variety of different rooms pertaining to different events in Scotland's history.
It was great to be able to walk around the town and truly explore a whole new city with a different culture than what we are used to. That's the glory of study abroad; making a ton of new experiences and taking trips like these where you don't know what you're going to do until 30 minutes before hand. Kelly and I were great travel buddies- we were up for whatever life was going throw at us, even a character from Braveheart! This was the first trip out of the great land of Ireland and it sure won't be the last.