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Monday, October 22, 2007

Bagpipes, brogues and a wee bit of Nessie

Edinburgh smells like haggis. It's a gorgeous city, surrounded by water and tall, rocky cliffs, but overwhelmingly, the air is permeated by the spicy, meaty scent of this uniquely Scottish food. It's actually kind of disconcerting to walk around and think, "Hmm...what is this delicious odor I smell?" which, upon a deeper sniff, reveals itself to be maybe not quite as aromatic as at first.

First time in Scotland, first time seeing the lochs, first time seeing actual bagpipers standing on the street corner squeaking out Celtic tunes--after just a weekend, it's painfully easy to differentiate the incredibly talented bagpipers from the, well, musically-challenged musicians.

Getting out of London is always nice so a quick trip to our northern neighbor was a perfect way to spend a sunny October weekend. We spent two days in Edinburgh just walking around, taking tea at every turn, and enjoying wandering the streets with no set destination in mind. There are some cities (Paris, London) that you visit having a set game-plan, knowing a few key sights that can't be missed. Edinburgh isn't like that. With the exception of Edinburgh Castle, there was nothing we were dying to see and as a result, were able to go with the flow and do what appealed to us at the moment. (This is something I'm getting better at, possessing a strong Type-A personality, but I'm learning...)

Edinburgh Castle is, without a doubt, the most impressive and imposing castle I've seen throughout Europe for one reason: it's built atop a cliff that overlooks the entire city and the sea beyond.

Any invaders would have been instantly wary upon seeing this massive compound that allows inhabitants to see for miles from their perch above the city. Interestingly, the Queen doesn't actually stay at Edinburgh Castle but chooses instead to make Holyrood Palace, just down the Royal Mile, her official residence in Scotland.

While cities are nice and Edinburgh has fantastic food, shopping and sights, nothing can compare to what we saw in the Highlands. A Saturday trip into the northern and western Highlands took my breath away and is just hard to describe. It's just unbelievable to see such a range in locations, from sheer-rock cliffs, to barren moors, to the inky black waters of Loch Ness. No sign of Nessie, unfortunately, besides the ubiquitous stuffed animals sold at every Edinburgh store.

It was like nothing I have ever seen before and one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Neither words nor photos can capture the utter simplicity and beauty of the Highlands, the calmness of these virtually empty areas and how for miles, all you can see is trees, mountains and those ever-present sheep.

Traveling around the United Kingdom, I've been so impressed by the ability to maintain pristine areas of countryside and keep the country clean and protected. America has her national parks and they are incredible, but compared to what I've seen in the UK, where every little town has retained its charm and old-world feel, I can't help but be awed. There is just more and more breathtaking scenery around every turn and it serves as a reminder that there is so much beauty in the world--sometimes, you just need to know where to look.

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