Monday, April 2, 2012

UK Road Trip: Edinburgh Castle, Scotch Whiskey and Walter Scott.

My brother and I left for Edinburgh (pronounced more like Edinbra or Edinborough) around 6 PM from Oxford. Our road trip started. Its a 6 hour drive from Oxford to Edinburgh.

I am not sure how England started with the right hand side driving unlike US and rest of Europe. Other than that orientation problem driving around England would be easy with a GPS. I travel frequently between New Jersey and Virginia (Fairfax, VA) on I-95 which is very well punctuated by 'rest areas', most of them are open 24 hours including the restaurants inside not just the toilets. Many of those rest areas are well constructed and even pleasant to spend some time. I was eager to see what UK had to offer motorists. No such luck. The rest areas, called service areas, were innovatively built overlooking the highway like a bridge other than that nothing remarkable. Most service areas were dirty, the Burger King or KFC outlets close at 9PM, only the toilets are open. If one took an exit and went into the town that too would not help. The only thing that always irritated me about Europe was that they shutdown by 9 PM. Having been used to TGI friday's open until 1 AM, 24 Hour McDonalds (especially near highways), a city that never sleeps Europe irks me on this.

We reached Edinburgh around 1 AM and checked into a very nice Marriott. Breakfast was just wonderful and, I was told, typical of Scottish breakfast. The silverware was nice. Off we went to Edinburgh castle.

This trip was mostly to spend time with my brother and have a taste of what a 'road trip' be like for 5 days going around UK. Thanks to my brother I did not have to bother about driving. Also he had lived in Scotland for 2 years and knows it pretty well so we went only to the best spots. The castle if 400-500 years old depending on how you look at its history. Its an architectural marvel in that it is constructed atop a hill (atop a volcano). A view of Edinburgh from the castle is stunningly picturesque. A nice cafe with an overlook is added bonus. Cafes in Europe are very tasteful compared to anything, except the pricey ones, in USA. The way they serve coffee in a nice cup with a good clean strong but smooth spoon alongside a toffee is charming. Then add the sing song lilt of British English accent from a waitress. Whether it is Zurich, or Paris, or London or Edinburgh even the ordinary cafes have a certain charm. Having been used to paper cups and plastic stirrers (or wooden) in Starbucks this is welcome change.

The most striking place of the castle was the prison. The progress of civilization is marked by how prisoners are treated. Across the ages we have progressed from treating prisoners as worse than animals to conferring certain human rights to them. Prisoners from America's war of independence were lodged here and one such prisoner had carved the US flag on a door which is showcased for exhibition. As always the castle has its share of blood as it is with any European historical place.

After the castle visit we went to a Scotch whiskey distillery. A very entertaining tour of how whiskey is made followed by a short lecture on the various flavors of whiskey from parts of Scotland were very interesting. I was reminded of the movie "Sideways" where two friends go on a wine tasting tour in California. Whiskey burnt my throat that was salved only by a grand lunch in an adjoining restaurant. A nice "Aberdeen Angus Beef" with some wine to wash it down and a tasty chocolate cake to round off was good.

Our next stop was the Scottish Parliament. To me it appeared like a grotesque monstrosity of bamboo madness, check the picture below:

The interior was very modern and contemporary, in fact spartan one could say.

We bypassed the Holyrood castle wanting to have a taste of Edinburgh's famous shopping strip. We went to Princes Street for some shopping. I stopped by "House of Frasers". Food, clothing and perfumes are what Europeans excel at. Most brands I saw at Frasers are available in Nordstrom or other upscale department stores in USA. However the kinds of clothes I saw there were very different and trendy. Brand like Polo and Tommy though were priced higher for similar clothing seen in USA. I bought a nice Valentino ladies perfume. I later learned that Nordstrom in New Jersey just got that perfume for sale while it had been selling for several months in UK. A Chanel men's perfume I saw at a Harrod's outlet in Heathrow is yet to arrive in USA. My stop in a Birmingham mall emphasized this further.

As we walked along Princes Street a monument caught my attention, it was the Walter Scott monument.

I remembered Scott's famous poem "breathes there a man with soul so dead" from my school days. Seeing a fantastic monument for a literary persona made me envious of that culture. As an Indian one can only sigh how men of arts and letters are celebrated in the west. Tamils might hurry to point out the gargantuan Thiruvalluvar statue. That is a monstrosity because it was erected purely out of chauvinism and is a monument of jingoism run amuck. We do not know for certain who was the genius who wrote those immortal verses, we know too little or nothing of Valluvar's life, even his name is open for speculation let alone his appearance. That statue, if one wants to be charitable, is a monument to a literature and not a man.

I did not have much time to visit other places or memorials associated with Scottish Enlightenment. Most notable of others are Adam Smith, author of capitalism's bible 'Wealth of Nations, famous classical biographer James Boswell etc. Britain has honored Adam Smith by placing his picture on the 20  pound note. Thankfully they did not desecrate their currency with a picture of England's most famous political philosopher, Karl Marx. One could say that England put Adam Smith on the currency to pay for its almost Marxian welfare state.

Later in the evening we left for York.

1 comment:

இலவசக்கொத்தனார் said...

dont the scots call it whisky rather than whiskey? :)