Today was a sightseeing bonanza as we visited a few sites.
After a quick morning bite and coffee we were excited for The Scottish Whiskey Experience. It included a somewhat cheesy, however, very educational ride (like in a car with bars that come down over your lap like you’d find at Disneyland in Fantasyland) explaining how whiskey is produced along with the intriguing craftsmanship involved with cask making. I think I was more enamored with that process than the distilling of the fine Scotch whiskey. We were then educated on the five main regions of Scotland that create whiskey and what an important part the environment plays as the whiskey ages. It is a major factor in the final flavor. Learning a little bit about each area using scratch and sniff cards targeted a sense of each area’s unique flavors due to the fragrances in the air. The casks breathe soaking up not only the essence of the wood of the virgin cask but the air around it as well.
We were tasked to choose one. Then you guessed it, we proceeded with “the tasting”. I am no connoisseur by any means but I have done a couple of wine tastings (which I do not care for). The process is much the same. Swirl it, look at the color, sniff it, taste it. Yadda yadda yadda. I had to resist my American instinct to just “shoot it”, but instead to savor the flavor. For God’s sake, it was only 10am. Mine was from Speyfield(?) and was quite good although I enjoyed it more after adding a bit of water. I think ice cubes would’ve been the best. Our guide told us there is no wrong way to drink fine Scotch, even with Coke. I told her, nicely, she was full of shit. I would get murdered if I asked for it with Coke in these parts and she said I was probably right.
It was a great experience and I believe I now understand the difference between single malt, blended whiskey, and always my favorite, good ole Kentucky bourbon. Yeehaw!. Very fun start to our day!
Our next jaunt took us just off the Royal Mile, which is the road, roughly a mile long stretching from Edinburgh Castle, high over the center of town all the way down to Holyrood Palace. It sounds cool, but it really is just a mix of tourist traps and pubs that the locals don’t go anywhere near. Not our scene on this intended “backdoor” trip.
However, we had heard of a place called Mary King’s Close. Back in the 16th and 17th centuries they had these long, very narrow streets sloping downwards perpendicular to the Royal Mile (or High Street as it’s named). Streets so narrow you couldn’t drive a modern car down them. Maybe ten feet wide at the most. On either side of the street were tenement buildings rising 8 to 14 stories high so you can imagine light barely reaching the street (or “close” as it was called, because I suppose it was completely closed in) during the middle of the day. A tour of this sounded quite intriguing as what eventually happened was the city built above these tenements using them as foundations for a large government building overhead. And people were essentially tired of living underground and just moved out. Or the plague, which arrived in the mid 17th century, killed about half the populations of these closes. Mary Kings’s was merely one. Sadly, the tour was a bit disappointing peeking through what were old homes and businesses with staged hokey mannequins posed this way or that and an equally hokey guide talking about “his” time and “our” time. It was all a bit….gay. The best part was when we actually got out on the close and were able to get a sense of what it was like living there. I’ll spare you the details, but it was literally very shitty. Google it to find out more. It is quite interesting and sounds downright awful.
Our final destination for the day was a lovely drive out to Stirling Castle in the town of, duh, Stirling. This was the highlight of today touring the 900 year old fortress which focused on the history of King James IV and V and his daughter who would become Mary, Queen of Scots. Thanks to my pre-study I did before this journey, I did know the very basics to these tales and to walk in the footsteps was a real treat. As well as knowing Robert the Bruce and William Wallace also trod upon these grounds made it thoroughly awesome bringing back memories of the movie, Braveheart . It was most excellent bringing it all to life and imagining what it may have been like. The castle is fantastic and you can go just about anywhere you like. It is not nearly massive as the Tower of London and I enjoyed it more with the captivating story line and fantastic audio guide what led us through.
Stirling is about an hour northwest of Edinburgh along the usual breathtaking country side. So pretty here but very green, just like home. More sheep. Less needly trees. Very few pines or firs.
It’s getting near dusk now and we’re pub hoping as I write this on pad and paper. We’re toasting the wonderful times and memories we’ve made in Edinburgh. Seeing old friends and making new.
Cheers! Off to Iceland tomorrow.