As Scotland angles for independence from Westminster and The English Crown, I’ve just returned from the Highlands and Islands. Debate flourishes ahead of the September 18th vote. Scots say they want “a better deal” after their divorce from England. Well, I decided I would keep politics at arm’s length (er, mostly) and just enjoy Scotland for the week.
I buckled in for my 747 flight, direct to Glasgow – five time zones ahead – knowing I’d be knackered and cream-crackered my first day in-country. An elderly man next to me smelled of old baloney. In the row ahead, a guy in a striped Nautica shirt sat drinking red wine and eating a Pay Day bar from his carry-on. But enough about my delightful plane ride – here are a few need-to-knows about your own personal independence in Scotland:
Scotch Whisky: Know that “whiskey” is spelled without the “e” in Scotland. Know that Scots use “whisky” and “scotch” interchangeably, so pay no attention to the odd know-it-all who claims Scots never say “scotch.” That’s pure rubbish. Now, all manner of scotch lovers co-exist peacefully within our whisky community. We revel in our variety of shapes and sizes, and we enjoy smoky or peaty or toasty or musty notes without denigrating the opinions of fellow tasters. It behooves the scotchist to understand the personalities of whisky-producing regions. You may find the occasional scotch snob who looks down his nose at a blended scotch drinker, but that’s because he doesn’t yet realize his single-malt scotch has been cured in more than one barrel, effectively making it a blended scotch. Give him time – he’ll mature.
Isle of Skye: Know that Skye is one of the most beautiful islands on Earth, especially as the Sun breaks in the morning.
Coffee: Know that Scots enjoy their java. While a good cuppa can tingle the toes as readily as a wee dram, a decent filter-coffee is hard to find anywhere in the world. City coffee is a competitive business, so a better cup is easier to locate in metro areas than in the Scottish countryside. Know that Scots drink skim milk in their white coffee, so if you preferhalf & half – Scots call it “single cream” – in your Americano, request it apologetically from your barista. Be prepared to see him cock his head like a Highland “Koo” staring at a new gate, but you may be pleased to find single cream available. Edinburgh’s Maison Bleue still brews Scotland’s best coffee. Ask the owner (our friend Lyes Kechida) about his coffee-house days as punk rock burgeoned in London, and you’ll be in for more than a treat.
Castles & Cathedrals: Know that Scotland is rich with abandoned and fully restored castles and cathedrals. Visit Historic Scotland and Scotland’s National Trust. There you will find points of interest, and you can determine if a membership or pass would suit your needs. Short-term passes are well-worth the price, especially if you’re squeezing in many venues during your Scotland trip. My adventure took me from fabulous St. Mungo’s Cathedral in Glasgow to updated Stirling and popular Doune, to roofless Beauly Priory and spooky Knock Castle.
Food: Know that smoked salmon is Scotland’s national dish, but the flaky Scottish haddock is also tasty. As you might expect, fresh fish abounds almost anywhere in the country.
Currency: Know that the Great British Pound is fairly strong against foreign currencies. You don’t want to be stuck without cash, so be sure to purchase GBP at your home bank branch at least a week before you start your trip. Know that it will probably take a few days to get the GBP, so be patient. The exchange rates at the airport are too high, and you’re not likely to locate a favorable rate when you arrive in Scotland. Also, if you’re accustomed to US or Canadian Dollars, you can double the GBP number (while shopping for souvenirs) to get an idea of the price in your home currency. I say “double it” so that you’ll quickly get over the idea that GBP1,38 a litre for gas is cheap – that’s about USD9.00 a gallon. Touristy areas tend to be more expensive in all events, so let the buyer beware.
Duty-Free: Know that airport duty-free shops will bookend your trip. Duty-free “deals” are the biggest hoax perpetrated on the travel community since P.T. Barnum’s Cardiff Giant. I don’t believe I’ve overstated this.
So, look, you can sit here and read blog posts about Scotland, or you can go and see and do. So just follow the instructions on this sticky note I’ve tacked up for you: “Keep calm and escape to Scotland.”