It’s April in the Northeast. It’s rainy and windy and basically the weather is garbage. So while everyone else is going to the beach and sitting in their pools and their oceans we take our asses to the moody continent of Europe. And not the sunny part. The gloomy island of the United Kingdom. Or Britain? I think the UK includes northern Ireland, maybe? And Britain is the actual island that consists of England, Scotland and Wales? But apparently saying you’re “English” is like saying you’re from “Murica.” This whole world is upside down. But my point is that we left the wind and rain to hang out in more wind and rain. In fact, the wind had its own name: Storm Kathleen. Awesome.

We didn’t get on a plane to fly across the ocean to sit around and complain, though. Despite the fact my hair was in my face pretty much the entire trip.


Travel: Edinburgh Airport
Every time we fly to the UK we do this stupid overnight thing from Newark. It seems like a good idea since you get the full day out of the trip when you land. But if you’re a normal human being, you don’t sleep on planes and end up staggering around like a drunken idiot by the afternoon of your first day. This was no exception. That said, landing at Edinburgh seems like you’re flying into the middle of nowhere. Mostly because you are. The airport itself is pretty tiny, which makes for a pretty quick getaway once you wheel your stuff to a taxi. Or the tram train thing, which you can take into the city.

Breakfast: Mary’s Bistro Cafe (Edinburgh – Old Town)
I had this Em’s Kitchen joint on our list of places to eat, but it turned out to be tiny and without anywhere for us to sit. Twenty minutes was too long to wait in our stupefied state, so we walked down the block and wandered into this Mary’s place. It looked hygienic and had a decent menu with a Turkish slant. But also Scottish because that’s what the people expect. And I don’t know if it’s because I was starving, but my eggs and lox on toast was damned tasty. The salmon was the right mix of fatty and tender. Unctuous. I think that’s a word. It’s a cute little joint and a decent intro to an ancient city in our tiredness. It’s also my first Americano of the trip. I take offense that this drink, which is like 90% water, is named after us. But it tastes good, so why not?

Activity: Edinburgh Castle Tour (Edinburgh – Old Town)
Welp, I would tell you about this, but they cancelled it. Because of the aforementioned wind storm. I suppose they were worried people would be blown off the parapets. Which, again, I think is a word. Or maybe The Decemberists just made it up? Whatever the case, we stood outside this massive castle that forms one end of Old Town Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. And quickly understood why the wind might worry them. It’s a shame we didn’t get to go in, but I’m sure it’s big and drafty.

Activity: Arthur’s Seat (Edinburgh – Old Town)
We had every intention of climbing Arthur’s Seat. An ancient volcano that is a popular place to hike up to get a good vantage point of Edinburgh. Turns out the spitting rain, high winds and muddy conditions just weren’t a great thing for three Americans in white tennis shoes who hadn’t slept in way more than a day. We started the climb and, faced with some shoe-ruining nonsense and physical and mental exhaustion, turned back and went on to the next location that basically sits at the bottom of the volcano.

A small chunk of Arthur’s Seat in the background with a corner of the Parliament building on the right

Activity: The Scottish Parliament (Edinburgh – Old Town)
At the other end of The Royal Mile (which is actually like 1.1 miles, I think) is The Scottish Parliament building. It looks like some modern artist with a Robinson Crusoe fetish designed it, but apparently it’s pretty cool inside. Or at least cool to see where stuffy white people grumble at each other as they try to fix potholes or outlaw cow grazing on public lands — or whatever passes for drama in Scotland. I actually didn’t go inside because I had a large backpack stuffed with electronics from our flight and didn’t feel like an aggressive pat-down or getting thrown into a small windowless room. Ms. Hipster and Hipster Jr. Jr. said everyone was actually incredibly nice and being in the chamber was cool. Also right there is Holyrood Palace, which is apparently where that codger King Charles hangs out when he’s in town. It’s big.

Midafternoon Coffee: The Elephant House Magical Cafe (Edinburgh – Old Town)
There’s a sign outside this place that explains something about a fire at the original location and something about Harry Potter and stuff. Apparently J.K. Rowling wrote some of one of the books at a desk at the original cafe or something and maybe modeled some alley in the book off the location. I don’t know much about Harry Potter, but you can definitely see some of the architectural inspirations in Old Town Edinburgh. This cafe apparently has the original writing desk (which didn’t burn in the fire), serves butter beer in a closet under the stairs (and also upstairs) and also serves non-disgusting drinks like coffee. It’s a cute, cluttered upstairs space whose stone construction we went back and forth on. I felt like it was fake; a Disneyfied version of what an old building might feel like. Ms. Hipster thought it was legit. She’s always right. Anyway, the young international staff of ladies were sweet with the tourists who would probably do anything to be closer to Harry Potter. A thing we didn’t care about, but just needed a coffee. Which they had. Well, an Americano, at least. Ms. Hipster got some sort of loose leaf tea. She said it was really good. Hipster Jr. was obsessed with this Irn Bru that she saw somewhere and decided to go with that. She was not a fan. But we were all fans of this odd little joint.

An Edinburgh two-level street thing with the Elephant Cafe’s red door surround

Dinner: The Piper’s Rest (Edinburgh – Old Town)
Ah, our first pub. I was a little concerned that this was going to be like a Hard Rock Cafe type pub. You know, a simulation of a Scottish pub. Having walked around Old Town all day long, amongst the tourists and the hundreds of tchotchke shops, it just seemed like a pub just off the main drag would be exactly that. And, honestly, it probably is that place, but they do a good job of not making it feel that way. Live music up front with a local-looking dude with a guitar singing and playing traditional enough tunes that there were literally people in the bar singing along. We were in the wood-laden back room next to an incredibly mellow bachelorette party. Not that our sleep-addled brains were in any condition to criticize them for not flinging dildos around and doing body shots off each other, or whatever usually happens at these things. It’s here where Hipster Jr. Jr. (whose palate is admittedly pretty limited) had her first experience with Scottish burgers. It wouldn’t be her last. But as a medium-rare girl, she couldn’t abide by the grayness (or greyness) of the final product. You would have thought she’d learn after our London trip that Brits absolutely cook the shit out of ground beef. I had their Oor Famous Steak Pie. The thing was served in a skillet and looked great and tasted decent. I would have loved more steak in my steak pie, however. This ain’t America, though, and I had to get used to the fact portions are just smaller. Especially when it comes to meat. The fries were really good.

Lodging: BrewDog DogHouse Edinburgh Hotel (Edinburgh – Old Town)
We went truly hipster with this one. My Brooklyn beard started growing the second I walked in. If I could actually grow one. What else would you expect from a hotel whose soul purpose is to market their line of beers. They’re in the bar/restaurant downstairs. They’re in your living room. Hell, they’re in the shower. And like the Ace hotels, you have a turntable with some vintage records in your room. And even a guitar hanging on the wall. Unfortunately it’s a right-handed acoustic, which is useless to this southpaw, but whatevs. The hotel itself was converted from an old Victorian school, I believe. So it’s pretty cool. Our room was double-level with a kind of large loft space for us and a pull-out couch for Hipster Jr. Jr. The hotel itself is pretty centrally located with an easy walk to the train and right off the main drag of The Royal Mile. But without the hustle and bustle of the tourists. They also have a really nice, large lounge area in the middle of the hotel just for guests where you can chill with beers or food from the bar. There aren’t many rooms, so it was never very crowded. Super chill. And dog friendly, if you’re into that kind of thing.

This must have been a pretty hip school back in the day.


Breakfast: Greggs (Edinburgh – Old Town)
Ms. Hipster likened this joint to a 7-Eleven. I’d say it’s more like a Tim Hortons. But in one of those neighborhoods where everything is behind bulletproof glass. It’s like a very small bakery-meets-convenience store. Of the customers, I was the only not young, not Asian person, which was a little weird. As that was pretty much the only place I saw non-white people anywhere in Scotland. There are hostels in the area, so perhaps they were all tourists staying in a nearby bedsit or something. Whatever the case, they seemed more psyched to be there than I was. The egg and cheese I ordered was oddly not that bad. It wasn’t a Jersey egg & cheese, but it was its own thing that was surprisingly edible considering it came out of some chaffing dish type machine the person scooped the eggs from. Ms. Hipster’s cinnamon muffin was less successful. But Hipster Jr. was intrigued by the McDonald’s-like hash brown and chocolate muffin.

Activity: Tram to Leith (Edinburgh – Leith)
We decided getting out of Old Town would be a nice break for the day, so we jumped on the tram to Leith. It’s only about a two mile trip, but the above-ground little trams make it super-easy to get around to the different neighborhoods of Edinburgh. Leith is at the north end of Edinburgh, a port area on the water with some cobblestone streets and all the stuff you’d expect in a port. I guess. Just a lot smaller. Because Edinburgh is just not a big place. Which is nice. We walked around, getting our hair ruffled by the high winds, looking at some boats, some restaurants and some monuments to dead sea captains. This would probably be a great neighborhood to chill outside with drinks on a warm summer night. It seems kind of ready-made for that activity. Being the neighborhood where the boys from Trainspotting hung out, it didn’t quite reek of heroin and desperation. We did take a turn down an ave at some point that I could see being a little rough at some juncture, but like most places, gentrification probably priced out most of the lower-class folks. And the junkies.

Lunch: The King’s Wark [Edinburgh – Leith]
I had this joint on my list before we left, but we didn’t book a reservation. We did get lucky just walking in at lunchtime, as we seemed to get the last table in the place. We watched the very nice host turn down group after group as they walked in to get some grub. This was honestly the perfect place for lunch. It was homey and inviting in its quintessential old-school neighborhood pub look and feel. It’s how I would draw things up. Also, we’re near the ocean, so I had to do the mussels. Which were in some sort of white garlicky broth, which wouldn’t typically be my preferred preparation, but the mussels themselves were way more robust and fresh-seeming than what I typically get. And then had my first experience with sticky toffee pudding. Turns out, not pudding at all! But like a spongey molasses cake covered in a warm caramel sauce. And, dude, the stuff is really good. I kid you not. I feel like more American restaurants will try their hand at this dessert, because why not? Anyhow, this was a great little place that had everything you could want in a chill Scottish lunch.

The King's Wark

Activity: The Real Marys King’s Close [Edinburgh – Old Town]
Edinburgh, like any old-ass city was built in stages. Or like built on top of itself. I don’t know. But apparently, because of the density of housing, the manner in which that housing was built in order to keep the city walled off against the stupid English and the slope of a city built on top of a goddamn sloped volcano, they created these very narrow alleyways between the buildings that the Scots call closes. Over time, fire burned off a bunch of the top floors of these buildings (the lower floor built from flame-retardant stone) and they kind of filled in the narrow alleyways and built on top of shit. Or something. Whatever the case, this one close, Mary King’s close, was covered when they plopped the Edinburgh City Chambers on top of it in 1760. The tour itself is a mixture of history lesson and cheeky performance art. Our tour guide, in “period” garb led us through the now underground alley and buildings, looking at sad little rooms where people died of diarrhea and the plague. Mostly. All in a Scottish brogue, which, it turns out, was put on. Not that our dumb American ears could tell. It was a fun little diversion. And really brought to life how people used to live. Mostly soaked in pee and poop, covered in infectious flees and living short and brutal lives in small, dark spaces. The place is supposedly haunted. I believe it.

Dinner: The Devil’s Advocate [Edinburgh – Old Town]
Down one of those steep alleyways (closes) off the main drag sits this restaurant housed in what used to be a pump house. I don’t know what a pump house is, but assume it has something to do with water. The location and the space itself is cool. It feels adult and of the city. I’d read decent things about the grub and that it was a bit more modern and gourmet than your typical pub. Great, we can do that. We did not, however, plan on the service. Which was sloooooow. Our young laddish waiter, who sported what Hipster Jr. Jr. pointed out was a burst-fade, vanished. I mean technically we saw him running up and down the stairs occasionally, but he seemed to forget about us. Despite there being very few tables. We ordered drinks and they eventually made it to our table, but we were on the verge of dying of thirst. Honestly we would have had time to go to a pub somewhere and casually have a couple beers in the time it took us to get our drinks. And when they came — me a Manhattan and she a margarita — they were fine, but hers seemingly had no booze in it. A long while later our food showed up — a different server realizing, perhaps, that we’d been sitting there for a very long time. The thing that we needed to adjust was our American expectations of portion sizes. I got pan fried cod, tomato & miso broth, roasted fennel, Thai basil, sugar snaps and kimchi. Sounds good, right? Well, it was fine. But the piece of cod was probably a little smaller than a deck of cards. If we hadn’t eaten a later lunch, I would have been super hungry. Ms. Hipster’s pork chop was similarly sized. And Hipster Jr. Jr.’s rib eye was 8 oz., which when you see it is pretty tiny. She said it was tasty, but it’s pretty puny and thin to the point that it’s tough to cook the thing medium rare. Ultimately, the food wasn’t bad, but we’d waited so long it lost some of its luster. I think maybe the trick here is to come to the bar downstairs for a drink, admire the coolness of the room and move on. Or chalk up the service snafu as a one-off.

The Devil's Advocate
The Devil’s Advocate bar area in the old pump house


Travel: Scotrail Train from Edinburgh to Glasgow
Like a lot of Europe, the public transportation is way better than the US. Granted, they have a lot less space to cover. We wheeled our bags from our hotel to the train station — which was like a five minute walk — got on the train and were deposited in Glasgow Central Station. Everything was clean, fast and efficient. And pretty darned cheap. Just as train travel should be.

Activity: Glasgow Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour [Glasgow]
Because we were only spending one day in Glasgow, we decided to go full tourist. It was… uninspired. It was rainy and Hipster Jr. Jr. was tired. We did accidentally get off at what amounted to a weird 1980s discount mall called St. Enoch Centre and an outdoor promenade that had a sad HMV and a pretty decent Superdry store. Frankly, the whole thing felt a little rough around the edges and not particularly interesting. We almost got off at the Kelvingrove Art Museum and Gallery, but Hiptser Jr. Jr. made a face and we skipped it. Overall the bus tour thing and the fact you have to kind of get on and off was a bust. Which I think is the whole point of it. Oh well. Honestly, Glasgow reminds me of a smaller version of Center City Philadelphia. Some old-ass, historical stuff of note surrounded by some really terrible 80s architecture and a slight pall of sadness.

Dinner: Lychee Oriental [Glasgow – City Centre]
Chinese food in Scotland? Sounds dicey. But Hipster Jr. Jr. and her limited palate was just not up for anything burger or meat related. We’d originally earmarked a pasta place called Sugo for dinner, but she wasn’t having it. So Chinese it was. Funny enough, Lychee turned out to be right across the street from Sugo (which looked packed and lively), and we ducked in out of the rain into a space that was more magical than you’d imagine it would be. The food was also remarkably decent. The servers were all incredibly sweet. We started off with some crispy duck rolls and Hipster Jr. Jr. did the crispy pork & prawn wontons, which she really liked because they were “juicy.” I got chicken curry, someone got sweet & sour chicken and someone got… something else. It was all fresh and actually really good. Hipster Jr. Jr. was also a big fan of the egg fried rice that came with her meal. The space was cool. We got lucky.

Lychee Oriental
Stylish and fun!

Lodging: voco Grand Central Hotel Glasgow [Glasgow – City Centre]
There could not be a more convenient location in Glasgow than this. The hotel essentially sits over the central train station. It’s a large, majestic looking thing from the 1800s that seems to take up a whole city block. Apparently the city of Glasgow decided it needed to dig up the entire area around the hotel to find one pipe and the folks working at the hotel apologized 100 times and insisted that it had nothing to do with the hotel itself. It turned out to be fine, but their exasperation with the public works people was appreciated. And then we got into our room — the John F. Kennedy Suite! And the things was massive. High ceilings, enough room to play that stupid paddle tennis game the olds play. And decorated in a tasteful, modern style, but still maintaining some of the cool, old-world charm. Hipster Jr. Jr. is impressed with very little. But even she couldn’t help marvel at our palatial estate. There were times where you could hear them calling trains and maybe things rumbling through tunnels from our room, but it was no bother. Definitely our coolest room by a Scotland mile.

voco Grand Central Hotel
The grand staircase up to our room — The John F. Kennedy Suite


Breakfast: Tantrum Doughnuts [Glasgow – City Centre]
Ms. Hipster had this secret up her sleeve. We walked out of our hotel into the usual misty rain seemingly with no particular destination only to “run across” this cute, little donut shop. Turns out, this wasn’t really a serindipitous stop. Ms. Hipster had this on her long list as a place to go. Unbeknownst to me. I was bleary-eyed and not really prepared with my order and accidentally ended up getting a vegan peanut butter glazed donut. It was absurd looking, as most donuts can be at fancy-pants donut shops. And even though I’m not really a donut guy, I was instantly despondent about fucking up my order and somehow getting a bread-like item that had no eggs, milk or whatever else makes something not-vegan. But, you know what? That thing was pretty awesome. I mean anything glazed in peanut butter is pretty much already at 78%, but the oddly chewy nature of it and something about the texture and not-too-sweet flavor mixed with the earthiness of the peanuts made for one of my more enjoyable donut experiences. This is also when I learned — because Hipster Jr. Jr. is a precocious know-it-all — that there is such a thing as a brioche donut. Which she insisted was the only real acceptable type of donut. Thumbs up all around.

Car Rental: Alamo Rent A Car [Glasgow – City Centre]
We got to know the faceless interior of this rent a car hub in Glasgow pretty well. It seems they ran out of cars. Or, more accurately, people said they were going to return cars at X time and didn’t actually return cars at X time. The young lads working the location could not have been any nicer, but they just didn’t have vehicles for our long journey. At one juncture we were approached and asked if maybe we could take a manual automobile. Well, I don’t drive stick. And I definitely don’t drive stick on the wrong side of the car. We ended up striking up a conversation with an adorable older Welsh couple who told us all about their London theater exploits. Apparently there’s a thing called Back to the Future The Musical. A fact that made me barf in a my mouth a little. Though I was intrigued by the fact the DeLorean drives off the stage and flies out over the audience. And, I shit you not, they also saw Mrs. Doubtfire The Musical and Mama Mia. My brain almost exploded with how much I hated all of this. But they were so sweet and looked exactly how you’d expect a tourist-y Welsh couple would look. The only Wales-related banter I could offer up was that I’d seen and enjoyed Welcome to Wrexham. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s where their daughter lives! Eventually we got a car and it was a Mercedes! Maybe a AMG GLA SUV diesel or something like that. We were going to travel in style. And now onto the wrong side of the road. Sorry, the other side of the road.

Lunch: Duck Bay [Alexandria – Loch Lamond]
We were finally out in nature! And, as the rain poured down, we turned into this hotel and restaurant — a combo that continued during our time in Scotland — to grab some grub. The whole thing has a country club vibe. But is oddly in the middle of nowhere. I don’t think you’ll be golfing anywhere around here. The dining room is large and ringed in large windows. The servers extraordinarily young — another trend we noticed — but very buttoned-up. It did remind me of a joint one might have a wedding luncheon in Cape Cod or something. The menu was very large compared to those we experienced for most of our trip. And the food — I got a three-cheese mac ‘n’ cheese — was hot, tasty and overly plentiful. I was definitely ruining my dinner. Dammit.

Duck Bay
A view of Loch Lamond from our lunch — rainbow was a bonus

Sightseeing: Falls of Falloch [The Trossachs National Park]
There are literally a million things to see in Scotland. You could drive of the road at any juncture and just take it all in. Any ditch or pull-off will reveal wonders! This one was on a list of joints to stop on the road to Kinochleven. A minuscule parking lot muddy with the constant rain with an indeterminant path into the woods. But, hey, a short walk in the mist and wind leads to what looks like a homemade metal structure and…

Sightseeing: The Road to Kinlochleven [Somewhere near the Bridge of Orchy and/or Loch Tula and/or Ballachulish]
Like I mentioned, the snaking, narrow roads have little cutouts in them to allow you to pull over and take photos — or avoid some of the wider trucks that might crest a hill and threaten to crush you. The topography is nuts and reminds you at every turn that you’re no longer in New Jersey.

Lakes and volcanic plateaus everywhere!
The scale is difficult to show in photos, but roads snaking into the ominous mountains

Dinner: The Bothy Bar [Kinlochleven]
We made a reservation, though I’m not sure we needed one. A small, casual bar/restaurant with folks passing through, hikers and the like. It was reasonably busy and the view of the lake outside is downright beautiful. It felt a little like eating in a Colorado lodge in the Alps or something. Though I’ve never been to the alps. But I know a hippy-ish ski joint when I see one. The photos of the burgers made the place look pretty gourmet, but as we saw all over Scotland, the Brits cannot not cook a burger but to cook it to within an inch of its life. It wasn’t bad, just not… moist. The bar pie wasn’t bad, even though Hipster Jr. wasn’t a huge fan. Not for a pizza in Scotland at least. There were two people working the place. One of whom was lovely and one of whom seemed super-annoyed that I agreed to ice in Ms. Hipster’s Diet Coke. Even though he asked me if I wanted some. And it was in a giant ice thing like seven feet behind him. You just never know what’s gonna set people off. Anyhow, it was a chill place with beers and your basic bar food. All-in-all a satisfying stop. If only we hadn’t stuffed ourselves at a late lunch.

Lodging: Tigh Na Cheo [Kinlochleven]
You kind of know what you’re getting in a guesthouse in the countryside. A B&B, I suppose. It’s like staying in your friend’s house, but they just leave you a key and never talk to you. The place itself had a little bit of an old-age home to it. Our room, while fine, was definitely a little tight for three people. Okay, a lot tight. Though, like a lot of places we stayed — including the larger hotels — we got the “family” room. Which in essence meant that we had a couple plus one. So we had the triple room, which included three twin beds and a bathroom that was clearly set up for someone who might be in a wheelchair. Thus the kind of old-age home thing. I believe Ms. Hipster spoke to the house’s owners and they’re in the process of gradually updating everything, so I imagine they’ll do away with some of the less aesthetically awesome stuff. And perhaps update some of the hundred-year-old sticky locks and doorknobs and maybe do some must mitigation. Overall, though, it was warm, has a television from this century and was generally comfortable.


Breakfast: Tigh Na Cheo [Kinochleven]
It’s a B&B, dummy! The second ‘B’ stands for breakfast. We got a card the night before so we could check off what we wanted for breakfast. I got my go-to eggs, toast and smoked salmon. AKA lox. That, along with some coffee is truly a marvelous idea. Again, it’s a little awkward having this rando couple cooking your breakfast for you. It feels like you’ve invaded their home and just sit in their dining room and demand they cook you some eggs. But the food was decent and the couple turned out to be super-friendly. Though Hipster Jr. Jr. was sleepy and the just made it out before they basically put the kibosh on sticking around to make her bacon. Kids, man.

Rest Stop: Chocolates of Glenshiel [Glenshiel]
Quite honestly, this was one of many stops we made to satisfy Ms. Hipster’s comfort. Unlike the US, though, stores and restaurants seem just fine with you stopping in for a, uh, rest without buying anything. In fact, I feel like Chocolates of Glenshiel had a sign that they were part of an effort to alleviate travelers’ bladders without the expectation that you’ll make a purchase. How generous! Regardless, Ms. Hipster insisted I buy something while she used the facilities, so I got an Americano for the road from what I take is the owner/proprietor of the joint. A cute coffee shop where you can buy fancy boxes of chocolate and watch a dude make the bon bons in a window. Or sit and chill in comfort while looking out at the moody clouds and rain. People seemed thrilled to be there and the folks working there seemed equally happy to serve them up.

Activity: Eilan Donan Castle [Dornie-ish]
This thing really gives you perspective of how things might have looked way back in 12th century when they first built a castle on this island where three lochs come together. There is nothing blocking your view from any of its vantage points, so you can just imagine some Viking raiders or the English or whatever coming in over the water to sack your village. Jacobites or Spaniards. Any number of weirdos coming for your castle over the marshes and waterways. Again, this ain’t New Jersey. The wet, miserable weather kind of added to the mood, though. Because who wants to see a castle in the warm sunshine? This is Scotland! They don’t let you take photos in these joints, but suffice it to say that it’s a castle. One that is apparently mostly reproduction to some extent, since the original version lay in ruins for almost two hundred years before the MacRae family started the reconstruction in 1911 (the same year as casa del Hipster). I mean castles are pretty cool. I do wish more of the thing was open to the public, but we’ll take what we can get. It sounds like the castle would kind of grow and shrink over the centuries depending on what they needed it for and how many men were stationed there. So I’m not certain how authentic its current state it, but it definitely felt like what you’d imagine a medieval castle might feel like. They’ve also used the castle in several films — mostly back in the day when they couldn’t just recreate this very cool atmosphere on a green screen in Atlanta or Long Beach. Including the nerd classic, Highlander!

Eilan Donan Catle
It’s magical head-choppin’ time!

Lunch: Eilan Donan Castle Cafe [Dornie-ish]
We got lazy here. It was raining and our timing was tricky. So we ate some soup and breads at their little cafeteria. I think Hipster Jr. Jr. had a scone. And a somewhat bready chocolate chip cookie that she didn’t love, but I kinda found interesting. There’s not much to say here other than it was a desperation move and turned out to be just fine.

Dinner: Antlers Bar & Grill [Portree]
Housed in the Portree Hotel where we were staying the night, this very active bar and grill seemed to be a hot spot for Swedes and Spaniards and maybe some other lads to hang out and drink with friends. It was fun sitting at our table listening to the different groups speak the Tower of Babel mix of world languages. Even more fun when we discerned after 20 minutes of eavesdropping that one tables full of hiker types were actually speaking English. The restaurant itself is casual and comfortable and not particularly large. The menu is pretty solid, made mainly of pub grub. I went with the potato leek soup for a starter and finally got fish & chips for my main. Both were plentiful, served warm and were really tasty. Two thumbs up. It was nice to be in a lively atmosphere, honestly, which kind of added to the fun. I had a Skye Brewing Co. beer and then washed it all down with Arran 12 year scotch.

Lodging: The Portree Hotel [Portree]
Another old-ass building, another day. This one not quite so old at 1875, but old just the same. Scotland is full of charm, though our room was… well, it was totally fine. Utilitarian in its efficiency and cleanliness. I have a feeling, as we walked down to the end of the upstairs hall that we were in the newer section of the construction. So there weren’t any quirks or squeaks. Just a comfortable, serviceable room that fit three people. Did I miss my king-sized bed? I did. Was this more comfortable than the last joint? Indeed. But everything was ruined by the place in Glasgow and its enormousness. Still, though, this was totally fine and the folks working in the hotel were very nice.

The Portree Hotel
The Portee Hotel and Antlers Bar & Grill just off the Portree center square

Day 6 – Explore THE ISLE OF SKYE

Breakfast: The Portree Hotel [Portree]
Breakfast comes with the hotel stay. Of course I got toast, eggs and salmon. Because that’s my new go to. It’s like a perfect thing. They were so nice and let us bring back a croissant or two to the room to a very sleepy Hipster Jr. Jr. It was great.

On the Road: The Isle of Skye [Struan]
Like I mentioned, the road was dotted with turn-outs where you could jump out and shoot photos all over the land.

Isle of Skye
Water, water everywhere. I think this is Loch Harport.
Also sheep, sheep everywhere. It was lambing season, but I think they were mostly sheltering from the rain.

Activity: Talisker Distillery Tour [Carbost, Isle of Skye]
Situated on the shores of the loch pictured above, the Talisker Distillery… that we never made it to. We made it as far as the twisty road that led down to the distillery, but apparently the potholes or something were so bad they needed to repave the road right then. Right when we needed to go drink whisky at 11:00 a.m. with a teenager in tow. The two dudes in the semi-official-looking van told us we couldn’t drive down the road. We asked if there was another way to the distillery. They shrugged. There is not another way to the distillery. So we drank no Scotch that morning. Our second tour canceled. This one sadder than castle tour. Because… it was on to a castle!

Activity: Dunvegan Castle & Gardens [Dunvegan, Isle of Skye]
Now that’s a house! I mean it’s probably changed a lot since it was built in 1200 — and has been occupied by the same family since – but it’s pretty sweet digs. Highlander apparently came to this joint as well. And it has like a hole where they dropped bad guys and stuff. And like nice furniture and paintings like you’d expect a rich family with a castle might have. It’s pretty cool. A mixture of fancy and old-as-hell. A real upstairs/downstairs situation. Which, I hear, is a thing people love to know and hear about. And there are gardens where you can look at lots of nice plants and flowers. Even a walled garden. Which feels very secret and fun. It would have been cool to grow up here as a kid.

Dunvegan Castle
It’s real nice, but the heating bills are a biatch.

Lunch: The Misty [Dunvegan, Isle Of Skye]
The wind was whipping. And some rogue sheep practically tried to get in our car as we pulled into the parking lot across from this diner-like joint in the tiny village of Dunvegan, but we made it in. And were greeted a little oddly, frankly. I was told I parked improperly, though I thought it was fine. But, whatever. And then we were told there were “no substitutions” when Hipster Jr. tried to get her burger without sauce on it. Which is not technically a substitution, but an elimination. The young help was maybe, probably part of a family and I feel like the whole substitution/elimination thing may have been a language barrier issue, despite the fact we were all speaking English. Anyway, we got over that — and the seemingly high prices for a family-run restaurant in a town with no stop lights and rando sheep walking around. And it was fine. They “specialize” in pizzas, and those seemed fine. And mine was actually reasonably tasty for what it was. After having to wipe the stupid sauce off the burger, it wasn’t bad, but I think Hipster Jr. would have said it was the worst thing she’d ever eaten even if it was the best, she was that annoyed. They had gelato for dessert. Again, a weird thing to order in Scotland, but apparently it was pretty good. I got over my initial irritation with their irritation with my parking and it was ultimately a fine lunch, all told.

Sightseeing: St. Mary’s Church / The Duirinish Stone [Dunvegan, Isle Of Skye]
Another stop in the road coincided with a real kick of wind and rain. We “hiked” up through the ruins of an old church, around a walled cemetery and up a hill to what we thought was an ancient Celtic thing. A really tall blade of stone sticking out of the earth. Maybe thrown down here by some ancient god or Vikings or some shit. But, no, it’s a memorial rock that the townsfolks put there in 2000 to mark the millennium. Fooled us! And Ms. Hipster and Hipster Jr. Jr. risked their lives to stand atop this hill to feel its power!

Sightseeing: Fairy Glen [Uig, Isle of Skye]
Another place to pull off in the wind and rain. Unlike the previous place, it was well-trodden. Which I think it means there were a bunch of people there. A bunch being a relative term, I suppose. The little hills and mounds are architectural in a really cool way. We thought about climbing the large rock thing that others were climbing, but it felt like perhaps the wind would blow us into the distant lake. And Hipster Jr. decided to stay in the car because she just isn’t into fairies. Anyhow, the view was very cool and the topography was unusual and ancient looking. Though Ms. Hipster insisted the rock circle thing that looked a little Stonehenge-y was just some modern wankers putting some rocks in a circle and refused to engage. Otherwise, a very neat sidetrack.

Fairy Glen
Rocks, lochs and gawks

Sightseeing: Old Man of Storr [Isle of Skye]
The day was growing late. The wind and rain was on and off, but seemed to swell whenever we exited the vehicle. Hipster Jr. was done. But Ms. Hipster and I started up toward the Old Man of Storr. A really awesome chunk of what I think was volcano stuff exposed by an ancient landslide. Or “land slip” as they call it in the UK. We ran into only one other person at the beginning of our hike and she — with her ski pole hiking stick things — gave us advice which way to get the best view of the Old Man. We realized, however, that the sun was going to betray us. And didn’t want to leave Hipster Jr. sitting in the car in the parking lot all alone for too long. I’m kind of bummed we didn’t get to complete this hike, but here’s the thing we would have eventually seen, shrouded in fog. You can see the actual Old Man — a vertical, finger-like rock — up and to the right.

Dinner: The Rosedale Hotel & Restaurant [Portree]
We had been pretty good with the accents, but the young lady working here definitely had the most challenging one yet. She was very good-natured about it, however. In fact, one of the families at a table in the small-ish dining room overlooking the harbor were not native English-speakers and were clearly having some serious bouts of WTFs with her. But I think I’d been desensitized to it over the course of our trip and I — who is usually terrible with accents — actually had less trouble with it than my usually more astute dinner mates. I was evolving. And Ms. Hipster is 4% Scottish! I am 0%. Anyhow, this was a pleasant little place — a little strangely laid out – but very comfortable and the young woman and her fellow young woman server were gracious and warm. I got a creamy seafood broth with salmon, cod, hake, new potatoes, leek and spring onion to start. I reminded myself to try the Cullen Skink somewhere, which is a similar-sounding thing, but this was different. And it was tasty. I did a gnocchi in a roasted red pepper, tomato, spinach and sweet potato sauce for my main, which sounds way weirder than it tasted. I just wanted something warm, homey and filling after a day trekking around in the rain. And it fit the bill. It was honestly one of the first meals in Scotland that felt American portioned. There were more little pillows in there than stars in the sky. Definite recommend.

Portree Harbor
Portree Harbor sits directly outside the Rosedale Hotel where we ate dinner. It’s quaint.


We ate breakfast at the hotel again and spent the morning puttering around Portree, poking our heads into the little scarf stores, pottery shops and places that sell magnets with Scottish family names on them. Ms. Hipster has an Irish last name — or so her family says. And I have a fake Welsh-ish last name that Grandpa Hipster made up in a deli in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1946. So neither of us got to buy any little license plates or family scrolls or whatever. But it’s a cute, little town that feels as though you could be meandering the streets of a Maine fishing village. After that we started on the road for the long trek back to Edinburgh. We had picked up some snacks at the market in Portree the night before — staples like Pringles, Nerds clusters, cashews, chocolate almonds, etc. — and actually ended up eating that stuff for lunch. Which is probably not the best idea. But it worked. And then we pulled over to visit some friends.

Highland cattle
Highland cattle inspired by second-wave emo bands of the late 90s

This was a long drive. I don’t recommend you make it in one day. Especially on windy roads that turn into Scotland’s version of highways where trucks kind of do whatever they feel like. Including jamming up a line of cars behind them, only to have some dude in a giant pickup try to pass said line of cars at 90 MPH around a blind turn or over a blind hill in the pouring rain. It’s… a little treacherous. And then to end up in Edinburgh trying to find the non-signed car return buried deep in a parking garage that my GPS had no idea how to get to. It was a little harrowing, honestly, but I made it. I’d already dropped the ladies at the hotel with the bags, so I took the fun walking route back to the hotel from the car rental place. Up Jacob’s Ladder. Which is basically just a set of stairs, but it looks like a place junkies and weirdos might pop out of the bushes at any second. Just my kind of place.

Jacob's Ladder Edinburgh
Going up the stabby stabby stairs of Jacob’s Ladder
Jacob's Ladder Edinburgh
A view of Edinburgh from the top of Jacob’s Ladder
Jacob's Ladder Edinburgh
And then you swing around the other way and there’s a fucking volcano!

Dinner: Howies Waterloo [Edinburgh – Old Town]
This is a nice high-ceilinged, lively restaurant right near our hotel. It’s bright and cheery and full of tourists drinking lots of wine and stuff. It doesn’t feel Scottish per se, but the menu is Scottish. So we got the most Scottish thing of all, some focaccia. Because who doesn’t love Italian bread in the UK? It was actually good. And we were hungry after a day of chips and candy. I had the slow braised casserole of the day. Which was beef. Because what else would it be? It was tasty. I had a beer or two. And some sort of nutso sundae for dessert. It was a quality joint, and also somehow the same or less expensive than some of the restaurants we hit up in the middle of nowhere whose food was not close to as good.

Lodging: Apex Waterloo Place Hotel [Edinburgh – Waterloo Place]
I imagine this joint is popular with the business class set. It just has those vibes. The hotel itself is a little confusing because it’s on a sloped street and you basically somehow enter on the fifth floor. It’s like an odd magic trick. That aside, it’s a modern, clean pro-style hotel. Our room — yet another “family” room — was very cool. Another high-ceilinged, corner jobber that is entirely windows floor to ceiling on two sides. A really great mix of old world and modern amenities. Definitely expensive, but that’s what you have to do when you need multiple beds in Scotland, I suppose. But definitely classy.

Waterloo Place
The rain finally gone, we walked the 600 feet between our hotel and dinner


And thus ended our trip to Scotland. We ordered a cab in the morning and were dropped at the orderly airport. We drank some overpriced coffee, ate some overpriced pastries and bought some overpriced bottled water. You know, typical airport stuff. It’s a moody country. A friendly country. An old-ass country. A very white country. And definitely does not look like the US.

The Scottish Maid
Come back any time — we’ll have the dungeon ready for you