Tag Archives: tourism

Sir Walter Scott, Whiskey, Haunted Vaults & Hefeweizen

I’d like to extend my apologies to my readers for my short holiday from the blogging world. I am finally back to writing after almost a two week break with many stories to tell. You may remember that in my last post, To Be a Tourist or Not to Be a Tourist, I was questioning the notion of whether or not to follow the tourism route versus being content with and getting to know the place I am in now. In slight contradiction to my previous conclusions, I recently had a friend visit from the US and we experienced a full day of sightseer activities in Edinburgh.

The one hour and fifteen minute train ride from Uddingston to Edinburgh lulled me into a sleepy stupor. Occasionally I opened my eyes to glance at a field full of sheep or a passing station where shivering passengers waited patiently for the next train. We finally arrived to Waverly Station and into the bustling city center alive with Christmas chaos.

Our first touristy stop was the Scott Monument, a Victorian Gothic monument in honor of Scottish author and poet Sir Walter Scott. The monument sits on Princes Street and resembles an old gothic cathedral. The giant structure offers several viewing decks at varying heights with fantastic panoramic views of the city of Edinburgh. We climbed 287 steps up a series of narrow spiral stone staircases to the top. Dizzy and slightly claustrophobic from the climb, I stumbled onto the top deck and gasped when I peered down to the street 200 feet below me. I’m not sure if it was the bitter chill in the wind or my slight fear of heights that took my breath away, but I decided this wasn’t a place I could stay for long. I quickly snapped my photos of the impressive panoramic view and made my way back to the claustrophobic, winding staircase. Two fears conquered in an hour: heights and small spaces.

The Scott Monument

The Scott Monument (with the Edinburgh Christmas ferris wheel in the way)

Looking up at the Scott Monument

Looking up at the Scott Monument

Looking up from the first platform of the Scott Monument

Looking up from the first platform of the Scott Monument

Spiral stare case to the top of the Scott Monument

Spiral stare case to the top of the Scott Monument

View from the top of the monument

View from the top of the monument

View from the top of the monument

View from the top of the monument

View of Edinburgh Castle from the top of Scott Monument

View of Edinburgh Castle from the top of Scott Monument

Beautiful stained glass window in the monument

Beautiful stained glass window in the monument

Charles Dickens' amusing opinion of the monument

Charles Dickens’ amusing opinion of the monument

The next stop on our touristic journey was a place called The Scottish Whiskey Experience on the Royal Mile. It is here that whiskey enthusiasts (or curious individuals like myself) go to learn the Scottish distillery process and to have a taste of the stuff that is famous worldwide. We got a brief overview of the process and learned about the four whiskey regions: The Highlands, Lowlands, Islay, and Speyside. Each region’s whiskey has its own distinct flavors and aromas. It is said the secret ingredient which gives Scottish whiskey a superior taste is Scottish water, considered the purest and most delicious water in the world. After picking up some whiskey knowledge, we of course had a taste.

One of the most interesting parts of the tour was a display of the world’s largest whiskey collection that once belonged to a Brazilian whiskey enthusiast, Claive Vidiz. Over his lifetime, Claive amassed over 3,000 bottles of whiskey from around the world in his private collection which now belongs to the Scottish Whiskey Experience.

Interesting fact about the maturation of whiskey

Interesting fact about the maturation of whiskey

One of multiple walls full of whiskey in the famous Claive collection

One of multiple walls full of whiskey in the famous Claive collection

Whiskey Tasting

Whiskey Tasting

Me with my whiskey glass in hand

Me with my whiskey glass in hand

About the Claive Collection

About the Claive Collection

The third stop on our journey was an Underground City tour by Mercat Tours. The South Bridge in Edinburgh has a series of underground vaults built into the nineteen arches of the bridge. The South Bridge Vaults were completed in the late 1700s and once served as taverns and shops full of craftsmen and cobblers. Due to the wet conditions of the vaults that were never properly sealed to keep water out, the legitimate businesses left.

The vaults soon became home to criminal activity and illicit trade including serving as a storage area for dead bodies that had been dug up by body snatchers.  Body snatching was a lucrative business at the time when cadavers were in high demand and short supply at local medical colleges. Murder and robbery plagued the vaults. Famous serial killers Burke and Hare are rumoured to have hunted and murdered their victims here and sold the corpses to the medical schools.

After the criminals had moved out, Edinburgh’s poorest moved in. The vaults were cramped, unhygienic living conditions with no sanitation or running water. But for these poor citizens, the vaults provided shelter from the harsh elements above ground. The vaults have a tough history and are said to be extremely haunted. There have been countless reports of paranormal activity and ghost sightings… if you believe in that sort of thing.

View of the Royal Mile

View of the Royal Mile

Another view of the Royal Mile

Another view of the Royal Mile

Underground Vaults

Underground Vaults

Underground Vaults

Underground Vaults

Underground Vaults

Underground Vaults

Compartments that are believed to have once been used for wine storage in the vaults

Compartments that are believed to have once been used for wine storage in the vaults

Our final stop was at the German Christmas Market where we grazed the stalls for delicious snacks and treats and finished off the evening with a tall, delicious Hefeweizen. The ice rink was bustling with Christmas cheer and Christmas lights were aglow.

Edinburgh Christmas

Edinburgh German Christmas Market

German biergarten

German biergarten

Ice Rink

Ice Rink

Delicious Hefeweissen

Delicious Hefeweizen

Although I hate to fall into the tourism trap, sometimes it really is interesting and entertaining to let your tourist flag fly… as long as it’s in moderation.

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To Be a Tourist or Not to Be a Tourist (that is the question)

Prior to coming to Scotland, I had big ideas of the different places I’d travel to during my stay in the UK. Every person I talked to gave a different recommendation for where I should visit or what I should see.

London would be beautiful at Christmas time. You have to go to London!

Belfast is a beautiful city and less than an hour flight from Glasgow. You have to make it to Belfast.

Nessie! Go visit Loch Ness and look for the monster!

You have to see the castles of Scotland. Do a castle tour!

Yes, I thought, I do want to see all of those things and I really do (although I’d imagine a sighting of Nessie is probably outside the realm of possibilities). In fact, if I was here purely as a tourist, I would have been to and seen those places already, but I’m not and I haven’t. I’ve not been to a single city other than Glasgow and Edinburgh and the only touristy thing I’ve done in the whole six weeks is visit the Edinburgh Castle. Is that a bad thing?

Every weekend I wrestle with this dilemma: to be a tourist or not to be a tourist. That really is the question. Should I be booking a flight to a different part of the UK every weekend? Going to visit famous monuments, buildings, museums? For some reason, the very thought of being a tourist has left me feeling completely exhausted. There is so much pressure to see and do it all, to make an itinerary and plan out the days.

In Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, he writes about an invitation to a conference in Madrid and his decision to stay a few extra days so he could visit the many attractions he had been told about on several occasions. Upon waking for his exciting Madrid weekend, he feels anything but excitement. He feels only lethargy and lack of enthusiasm for seeing all these things a ‘normal’ visitor would be enthralled to see.

“On the desk lay several magazines provided by the hotel, offering information about the city, and two guidebooks that I had brought from home. In their different ways, they conspired to suggest that an exciting and multifarious phenomenon called Madrid was waiting to be discovered outside, promising an embarrassment of monuments, churches, museums, fountains, plazas and shopping streets. And yet the prospect of those enticements, about which I had heard so much and which I knew I was privileged to be able to see, merely provoked in me a combination of listlessness and self-disgust at the contrast between my own indolence and what I imagined would have been the eagerness of more normal visitors.”

Every weekend I find myself riddled with guilt that I’ve been given this great privilege to be here and see things and I’m not taking advantage of it. But is it wrong to simply enjoy being where I am right now instead of jet-setting or train hopping to a list of possible destinations and attractions?

Every other adventure abroad I’ve had, I’ve been a complete tourist and I’ve never really had the experience of living abroad. Technically I lived in Cyprus during my study abroad experience a few years back, but I never actually lived the Cypriot life. I stayed in a flat with American students and travelled around Europe doing just about every touristy thing I could possibly do. You see a lot as a tourist and have a lot of different experiences, but you only merely scratch the surface of a place without ever truly getting to know a city, a culture, or country.

My time in Scotland over the past few weeks has been completely opposite of every other abroad experience I’ve had. I’m not hanging out with fellow Americans, visiting tourist attractions, and doing pub crawls with backpackers. I’m living in a Scottish residential community, eating Scottish food, making Scottish friends, and working at a Scottish company (not to mention learning the Scottish ‘language’). I’ve become completely immersed in the culture here and for the first time, I’m truly getting to know a place.

So I’m doing it… liberating myself from the shackles of tourism. If the question is to be or not to be, I’ve chosen to be an American, living and working in Scotland… and not to be a tourist. And I think I’m happy with that.

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