I almost lumped in Scotland with my London post, but that would have been a major disservice to a country that has a history of fiercely fought independence and a spirit to match. Scotland is absolutely breathtaking — the landscape, the architecture, the colors are some of the greenest and greyest I’ve ever seen. And as if that’s not enough to convince you about Scotland’s awesomeness, did you know their national animal is the UNICORN?! That strikes deep in this child of the ’80s whose favorite sweatshirt of all-time is the rainbow colored unicorn with glittery horn and still obsessed with the unicorns in that wacky film Legend with Tom Cruise. Scots have a great sense of humor blending warmth and sarcasm, their accents are probably my favorite to date, can sometimes be difficult to understand, but it is always a pleasure to listen. My time in Scotland was spent meeting up with old friends (my college roomie Asha and my friend Amy’s mom Irina), making new friends and feeling an incredibly deep satisfaction with my time alone.
I started in Edinburgh, the gorgeous capital city and stayed in New Town at an Airbnb hosted by my new pal Igor. Only in a city as old as Edinburgh could a part town that was built in the 18th century be called “New Town”. Climbing a shitload of stairs within the building and eventually to my room, I was rewarded with the most magnificent view of the city and beautiful church from my bedroom window. I’d spend every night that I was there staring outside of that window and each time stood in awe as I was mesmerized by the slow, luxurious sunset after 9pm. Igor is an artist who is mostly focused on documentaries, but has a natural curiosity about everything from history, carpentry, design, macrobiotic diets and much more. I have a natural soft spot for artists because of my sister Sylvia whose artist’s mind makes her equally passionate about 3D modeling to the differences in paper textures, as she is about breeding pet crawfish (this is a real example so if anyone has an interest in a pet crawfish, please don’t hesitate to ask me about this).
Two of my favorite days in Edinburgh involved starkly contrasting experiences. The first was going on a couple of “walks” in the city. These “walks” are really a misleading term because they involve some serious and treacherous climbs up these massively mountainous hills that formed after volcanic activity. I did two of the most famous walks in the same day, a miscalculation on my “no planning necessary and be spontaneous” part that had me climbing over 1100 feet that day. But I’m so happy that I not only climbed up Calton Hill, but followed it up by the much more challenging Arthur’s Seat climb because that kind of physical exertion when rewarded by astounding views makes you feel like a goddamn SUPERHERO. There were moments during the Arthur’s Seat climb when I would stare at the completely vertical, unstable and rocky trail and think, “I don’t think I can actually do this. I’m not strong enough. I’m in terrible shape. Why didn’t I work out more before I left NYC? OMG, my knees are going to collapse and some kind stranger is going to have to carry me down or Edinburgh rescue will have to send a mule up to get me off this MF mountain.” But then I decided to take the climb up with the way approach I think we should be moving forward in life: one strong step at a time and not too focused on how much longer it takes to get to the finish. And after I expended as much sweat and fear as possible, I made it to the top and I high-fived myself.
My other favorite day was spent on a spontaneous art tour with Igor and his friends in the city. I was lucky enough to get to Edinburgh right at the beginning of the famous Fringe Festival (for those unaware it’s one of the largest international arts and cultural festivals in the world). But Igor wanted us to go take the lesser known and free Art Festival tour so he, a lovely Lithuanian musician named Zurida and Pat his friend from St. Andrews University all followed along. While the art tour itself was fine
but the real fun was after when Igor who has a deep pride and enthusiasm for the city wanted to take us on what I would call the “Detour Tour”. The Detour Tour included pit stops for Thai food, beers, a visit to a bar where you can literally just lay down while having your drinks (formerly a brothel so yuck, I didn’t lay there), a visit to a tiny secret garden (possibly trespassing on private property), Igor’s attempt to get inside the city morgue (we were denied and I was relieved) and the best was a visit to Pat’s family in their beautiful home where we had dinner and drinks. We were originally just dropping Pat off as he was visiting his dad and stepmom and siblings from South Africa, but the Detour Tour lasted much longer withhis parents generously offering us wine, dinner and a hilarious and lively conversation about everything from Brexit to Trump (I’ve become an international anti-Trump apologist being asked in every country about how this could happen), travel, how Pat’s dad went to school with Tony Blair (whom pretty much every British person seems to dislike immensely), Pat’s teenage brother who looks like one of the leads in One Direction or whomever is the most popular Brit teen boy band talked to me about how he doesn’t want to visit the US even though he likes Americans because he can’t drink alcohol which is something he’s done responsibly with his family and friends since 14. There were really no topics off limit. This was a gorgeous, smart, connected, well traveled and hilarious family and by the time we left, a little buzzed on wine and excellent conversation, I wanted to be adopted.
While I was in Edinburgh, I got a Facebook message from one of my old college roommates Asha whom I haven’t seen or heard from in a decade and invited me to come and see her in Aberdeen just about 2 hours north of Edinburgh. That’s the thing about social media, I used to think of it mostly as a tool for work and for feeling annoyed about inane posts about the sandwich you’ve eaten that day, but it’s really become a lifeline for me. I’ve come to appreciate how it can be such an invaluable tool to feel connected to friends and the people who love you when you’re out there alone, they share tips, cheer me on, like my inane posts about food and it feels for the first time since I’ve used Facebook, a real way for me to catch up with people I care about. So when Asha invited me up to visit, I knew I had to do it.
Aberdeen is the 3rd largest city in Scotland and it became immediately apparent that the city and its inhabitants suffer from a bit of low self-esteem, I think because Edinburgh is so damn beautiful and cultured and Glasgow has become a hip and more happening city. Well, let me tell you that I found it charming and the darker grey granite buildings weren’t depressing but added to the mystery you sense in Scotland and candidly, it didn’t matter because I’d hang out with my girl Asha anywhere. Asha and I had an epic catch up over wine, beers, great Scottish whisky and lots of food so clearly not everything changes after college. We did a day trip to acharming town called Stonehaven set on the coast, home to some adorable cows and the famous Dunnottar Castle. A note on Dunnottar, it’s a 15th Century fortress where some films were shot, including Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet made in 1990 starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close. My taxi driver to the airport was Gibson’s body double for all of the horse riding scenes in that movie and had a 3 month brush with the Hollywood life and shared that “Mel Gibson’s a bit of an asshole (probably an understatement), Glenn Close was as nice and as professional as could be (TRIBE PRIDE!) and Zeffirelli was one of the nicest, kindest and most generous people. The driver also told me another incredible story that Zeffirelli was a POW during WWII and his cell mate was a man from Aberdeen whom he hadn’t seen since their release and the driver took him to see this man who still lived in Aberdeen and the two of them had the most emotional reunion! Zeffirelli, a legendary filmmaker claimed it was the highlight of his life. And while my reunion with Asha was certainly not as long awaited nor as emotionally charged as Zeffirelli’s, it was still pretty damn special and so worth a trip to the great city of Aberdeen (I’m leading a pro-Aberdeen campaign).
I really loved Scotland. The experience is bit like drinking their whisky, it feels warm, a little dizzying and you leave wanting a bit more.