Although the two of us were only in Hamburg for the day, we took an instant liking to it. Upon driving into the city, we were greeted by the sight of a large lake with picnickers, sun bathers, runners, etc. soaking up the late afternoon sunshine. Armed with a recommendation from a friend of a friend, we made our way to a hip district in the city center that would be difficult to find amidst the warehouses if you didn’t know what your were looking for. The cool vibe of Altes Madchen provided us with tasty beers and some live music from Nepalese singers who crooned original, percussive lyrics in English. Nearby food trucks in a parking lot were about as hipster as it gets. We stuffed our faces with surf n’ turf on a stick with homemade sauces and delicious cole slaw as young people in skinny jeans and ironic tee shirts lounged about the parking lot on outdoor bean bags. Alas, our time in Hamburg was short, but sweet.
Upon exiting the castle, almost everyone and their mother seems to meander down the winding cobblestone streets of the Royal Mile toward the highly modern Parliament Building (and more old school Queen’s Gallery) at the bottom of the hill. Lined with tourist traps (a house of mirrors!) and postcards galore, it is a nice walk nonetheless, particularly when you take a page from our group’s book and decide to stop for high tea and cakes along the way (the Edinburgh steamer with tea, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon was delicious). This would be a trend throughout our stay in Scotland as coffee/tea shops with cute little cakes were prevalent in almost all parts of the city.
While in Edinburgh, we met my in-laws (Hi Tyler and Annika!) and my cute one-year old nephew Noah at our well-appointed Air BnB. Converted it seemed from what used to be the stables behind the mansions, the place was spacious, modern, and clean, and our hosts were welcoming and helpful. They gave us a great list of restaurants and must-see sights, which is one of the reasons that staying at a local spot instead of a hotel is so amazing. One thing that we soon discovered though was that you had to be aware whether the restaurant you wanted to eat at was classified as a bar or a restaurant – if it did not have the proper license then you could not bring in the baby after 8! Regardless, we ate at several tasty spots including an Indian food joint, yummy salads and breakfasts at Treacle, and great salmon at Smoke Stack. The best food experience by far, however, was due to Annika’s eagle eye, when she spotted a farmer’s market food truck festival in a nearby park. While ordering some tasty, local food made by local chefs, we learned that we had just missed Prince Charles and Camilla who had ordered from this very food truck an hour earlier! We lounged on the lawn and listened to some Scottish music while tasting the very best that Edinburgh had to offer.
We walked EVERYWHERE in Edinburgh…from Greek-inspired ruins high upon hilltops to the winding inlets of the University of Edinburgh to huge parks with people recreating. We often woke up late because we were staying up to watch some soccer games on TV, and it rained quite often, but overall the Edinburgh experience was historical, tasty, and fun.
And with that, we were off to Drymen, a very, VERY small town near the famed Loch (Lake) Lomond. Our Air BnB was nestled in the Scottish countryside, the back part of a newly constructed home that was modern and large with many dogs and cats on the land to greet us. Our hosts were there to welcome us as well and make recommendations about drives and hiking in the area. And those were our two main excursions. In terms of hiking, we managed several picturesque climbs. One was up Duncryne Hill, a muddy ½ mile hike where we could see the hills and the valleys, the river and the lakes, and the many happy cows and sheep through the wildflowers and clouds. Another took us around the grounds of Balloch castle, where we soaked up some sun and enjoyed the lake, trees, and gardens. In terms of driving, we made our way on our last day to the town of Oban, known in the highlands as the gateway to the islands. Nestled into the side of a hill, the town was bustling and lively with tourists, locals, and fisherman. We ate some great seafood at a local spot, Cuan Mor, before making our way over to the local chocolate shop and having an AMAZING cup of hot chocolate. We stood over the highest part of the city, looking down on the sparkling bay before we began our drive home. Somewhere between the soft, rolling hills of Switzerland and the mighty, awesome scenery of Alaska, the highlands were a breath of fresh air from big city stagnation.
O ye'll take the high road, and I'll take the low road,
And I'll be in Scotland afore ye,
Where me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.
As the song concluded, I looked around, and I swear there was not a dry eye in the crowd – the unexpectedness of the song, the fullness of the harmonies, and the intimacies of the room were, as our whiskey tour guide whispered, “about as Scottish as it gets.”