It was 65 degrees F and the Scots were on fire. Summer’s here, the locals kept blissfully declaring, as they peeled off jackets and dabbed beading brows and dipped into pubs for emergency pints, as if they were dangerously parched from the sizzling rays of a vengeful sun.
This was comical to me, who was strolling about in long sleeves and a quilted black jacket and feeling just right in the rare Scottish weather event called “sunshine.” A cool breeze mussed your hair and creeping cloud cover furnished a periodic chill.
Not so for the delightful natives I encountered in Edinburgh and Glasgow last week, where miles of pale flesh — as pasty and pink as a baby’s — almost required Ray-Bans.
Part of why I went to Scotland for my biannual travels was for the cooler late-spring weather (it’s going to be 90 in my parts this week — disgusting). And so watching the denizens get in a happy lather when temps broke the 60s amused me a bit (a “wee bit,” to borrow the local vocabulary).
Scotland was a lovely surprise (“lovely” being another highly trafficked descriptive). Why Scotland?, even the locals asked me. Dunno. Been around the world a couple times, looking for someplace new — and climatically cool — and my research convinced me it holds sights and treasures and, yes, food, worth checking out.
Food? That’s the big punchline with Scotland. I’ve written about it here before, and when I texted a friend I was there, she wrote back sarcastically, “Enjoy the great food” with a dubious emoji.
But first, the big national rivalry: Edinburgh vs. Glasgow. Who wins? No brainer. Glasgow can use the excuse that Edinburgh is too touristy. But there’s a reason for that: It kills Glasgow, a big, homely city with a few historical sights and other feeble points of interest (hey, here’s a university and over there’s a giant mural).
Meanwhile, Edinburgh is encrusted in history, flush with medieval flavor, cobblestone, and an attractive village vibe, especially as the country’s capital. The ancient Castle is there, sure, but the city’s overriding character stomps the generic urban tang of Glasgow. Yeah, I said it.
Scottish pub culture is familiar to all of the UK, and much of its food is delicious. But dig deeper, beyond the burgers, fish and chips, Eggs Benedict and bangers and mash, and a quality bounty awaits. Like Cullen skink, a thick, fantastically savory soup of cream, smoked haddock, onions and hearty potato chunks that I had at a pub before (one of many) whisky tastings.
Here’s some of the rest:
And for dessert:
And, of course, a fragrant flight of whisky at one of several mandatory tastings:
To that last one I say, Slàinte Mhath!, or Slanj-a-va, meaning ‘cheers’ in Scottish.