Leaving London behind, I shifted gears into cruising altitude and turned on the radio for the first time. Gazing into the rearview mirror, I saw the noise and the lights and the black cabs that have characterized metropolitan London for years fade into oblivion, echoing the superficiality of the capitalist charisma the city exudes. Having spent the last 96 hours in the city and visited every tourist spot, my caged soul soon became despairingly thirsty for an escape route.
Plugging in my iPod, I shuffled through the playlist to Frank Sinatra’s The Way You Look Tonight, and seamlessly merged onto the M40 highway as I made a beeline towards the northern part of United Kingdom. Six hours, two cappuccinos and three hot dogs later, the topography of the surrounding region started to mystically transform into the canvas God had originally crafted. Winding roads that disappeared in between mountains, stone houses with a fiery glow emitting from windows and the wild serenity trapped within the Loch Tay enticingly welcomed me. Gloomy highlands covered in dark clouds echoed on either side of the narrow path and temperatures started to drop almost as fast as the engine revved.
I was in the realms of Scotland – the land of Vikings!
Once known as the City of Literature, Edinburgh is not just another economic capital, but is also home to some of the most fascinating castles, historical figures and stories that make Scandinavian Scotland the land it is today. Residing in the city center, my first stop was Arthur’s Seat which, situated just outside the city is the perfect location for panoramic views of Edinburgh. But perhaps the main reason tourists flock to the Scottish capital was the iconic and imperious Edinburgh Castle that has dominated the city’s outline since the 12th century, with inhabitants residing on its base as early as 850 BC.
As I walked up towards the castle esplanade, the uneven, cobbled streets and whistling winds almost echoed the clashing of swords and gruesome tyranny of kings‘ centuries ago. Undoubtedly the highlight of the tour was the Crown, Scepter and the Sword of State which, collectively referred to as the Honors of Scotland, are also the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles. And what I absolutely did not expect were the real, gut-wrenching messages engraved on wooden doors by prisoners of war, most of who had abandoned all hope of ever seeing their families again.
Intricately and beautifully crafted kilts are indeed a true reflection of the Scotsman pride and to fully understand the culture, a visit to the local kilt market is an absolute must. With each color, tartan pattern and checkered design reflecting a different tribe, the ability of fully-grown beefy men to wear kilts (which look like skirts) and yet look masculine and royal was indeed remarkable. That and the cultural bagpipe music definitely make me want to settle down in Scotland.
My European friends had so reminiscently encouraged and yet warned me to try the signature Scottish pudding that was the national food of the country. Haggis, a savory pudding dish that is not particularly for the faint-hearted gastronomical fans, is far from the usual food items one can order at restaurants. Assumingly a creation of Scandinavian Scotland, haggis contains sheep’s’ pluck intensified with salts, spices and oatmeal and is served in perhaps the most bizarre of casings. Maybe an acquired taste, I thought to myself as I left the eatery, and promised myself to give my Indian taste buds another chance to taste Scottish ‘culture’.
But maybe I should acquire a taste for Haggis first.