This post has been sitting in “draft” for a few weeks, so it’s time I set it free.
This isn’t a new flavour of marinade from President’s Choice, it’s more of a conclusion to my trip to Scotland. I haven’t taken vacation time to go anywhere outside of Ottawa (from wherever I was) to see the sights since I was fourteen, so the trip was something of a novelty for me. I wasn’t sure if I’d know how to vacation, as stupid as that sounds, but it turned out to be an amazing time all around.
I got to see a place that is defined by its history, beautiful coastlines, buildings three times as old as my country, and those narrow, winding roads you always see in movies. Karen took over a week from her MBA studies (and sacrificed a lot of personal time before and after to stay current in her program) to show me around and explore the countryside, and I’m lucky to have been able to spend that much time with her.
There are a number of things about Scotland that stuck in my mind. These are the things that really made a lasting impression:
Green: Everything was green. Bright, rich, lush, deep, green. It was so green, Walt was convinced I had mucked around with the colour saturation of my pics to make everything look greener than it was. Not so, and the green you see is the green I saw. Lawns are a combination of grass and lichens, and said lichens cover anything that has been there a while (there’s a lot of items that meet that criteria). Even when the sky was gray, the green made everything fresh.
Stone: Stone is an integral part of the architecture of Scotland, and of the land itself. Long stone walls define property borders everywhere. Castles, houses, courtyards, churches, and other buildings are made out of sandstone and granite, and it’s clear that they were built to last. Stone pushes up from the ground everywhere, but it’s been transformed from an impediment into things of great beauty. It’s an appropriate backbone to the country and its people.
History: Everywhere you go you get a feeling for how old the country is. Everything has a story, and that story manifests itself in both tangible and intangible ways. Rock walls have a huge buildup of moss that could only have built up over a few hundred years; castles that are still used were created in the 13th century (and earlier), traditions practiced eight centuries ago are still very much part of the cultural makeup. It’s something we don’t have back home, and maybe explains why we do everything so maniacally as we try and create that history in a very short time.
People: Everyone I came into contact with was awesome… well, except for the woman in front of the department store who had some choice words for me. They know their history, are incredibly friendly, and go out of their way to help you out. From Gavin at the Aberlour distillery, to the owner and her daughter of Cheers in Fraserburgh, Charlie at the St. Valery, Steve at Waxy’s, and the Oddbin’s clerk trying to get us to continue tasting at 10am, everyone I met was genuinely friendly, interesting, and fun to be around. They very clearly love and are proud of their country, and it’s pretty cool to see that kind of identity that sets them apart from anywhere else I’ve been. They don’t flag wave, they culture wave. It’s not all rosy, to be sure, as there are a few nasty bits about the culture, but we could take some lessons from the Scots in a number of areas.
Open sky: There are very few tall buildings anywhere. While there are tall hills, they tend to be wide and rolling, and are covered with grass and sheep. The landscape always lets the sky in, and it’s nice to walk down the main street of the larger cities and be able to see the horizon, the surrounding hills, and the blue (well, grey in my case) skies.
Wildlife: For some reason I had this impression that there was nothing other than sheep and crazed locals. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. I saw a couple types of deer, rabbits, ferrets, pheasants, and a multitude of other animals I couldn’t identify. My favourite bit of ignorance was being surprised at the variety of seafood, and then I remembered it’s an island in the ocean. I’m quick, I tells ya. My fave was the ferret – not very bright, but cute.
Cuisine: After hearing all the horror stories of Scottish and English cuisine, the food turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. While you can get a lot of deep-fried everything, you can get even more excellent food. The venison and Angus beef is first-rate, and the seafood-which includes a lot more than battered and fried cod or haddock-is both plentiful and tasty. I had several amazing meals, all of which were prepared with local game and produce and were exquisite. Add the local atmosphere and people, and it was an incredible culinary experience, no matter where we went.
Whisky: Certainly not the same as cuisine 🙂 Whisky is a huge part of what was experienced on the trip, so I may be a little biased in my perceptions of its effect on the country. Whisky is everywhere, and is a big part of the industrial, cultural, tourism, and social backbone. Whisky takes the culture of quality wines and mixes it with the accessibility of beer. The results are sometimes painful, but always entertaining. I still can’t get over the bottle I saw for Ã‚Â£10,000.00. I know some wines are more expensive, but still… It was a nice looking bottle, though.
Karen: An incredible host, and I can’t thank her enough for taking over a week to show me around the country and exploring Aberdeenshire, Speyside, and the Highlands with me. I had a great time enjoying all of the above with her, and I owe her bigtime for suggesting visiting the country, helping me figure out where to go, and making sure I didn’t kill myself crossing the street when I got there. She’s an amazing person, and I’m super-lucky to have been able to have such great company on the trip.
Scotland was very good to me, and I have a tonne of indelible memories. (I am thankful I have the pics to jog said memories from time-to-time, tho) The trip was the best thing I’ve done in a long time for a multitude of reasons, and I’m actually interested in seeing what the rest of Europe has to offer now. (I have never really had any interest in visiting, and that’s changed in a big way)
I hope to get back there soon.