Tuesday, 5 June 2012

I did it...

... eventually tried Haggis! ... and it doesn't taste too bad at all! I felt like being thrown into a time warp back to when I was a student thriving on cheap liver sausage. The haggis at The Links Hotel Edinburgh was spicy and had a quite good consistency. Thus now I am not just on a Whisky quest but on a Haggis quest, too. I decided that I should try porridge as well - nope, even after 12 years in the country I never had porridge and now feel the urge to remedy that!

It appears that this trip is becoming a quest for all sorts of things. On our last day in Edinburgh we brought the Whisky challenge into full gear. A tour at The  Scotch Whisky Experience helped setting the scene for the entire trip. There was a very charming ghost accompanied by a cat describing the process of Whisky creation, and a very much alive guide explaining the specialties of each of the four main Scottish regions for single malt: Lowland, Highland, Islay and Speyside - 'single malt' meaning one distillery and one type of cereal, usually barley, in one bottle.  Of course we did some tasting and then, quite unexpectedly, found ourselves in the largest Whisky collection of the world. It was AMAZING!
only one shelf of the world's largest Whisky collection. There were about 4 of those.

... and very special bottle - limited edition only given to Royals and presidents

Of course it is very exhausting to go to school like this; one needs a break! Coffee and cake it is, and if the cake is an Ecclefechan Tart the day is a really good one. This is a very buttery rich fruit cake local to the Edinburgh area and it determined the ultimate purpose of this trip... not a holiday, No! I am now determined to not just find the best haggis and the best Whisky, but the best cake/sweet as well. Who would have thought that Scotland would be the one of all places wanting to do that?

Quest aside: We needed to comply to our sightseeing duties as well and hopped on the bus to see the Royal Yacht Britannia. We should have booked the tickets; the wait however was bearable, due to queuing in a mall while enjoying an ice-cream. Although big, it was not as impressive as I thought. One has to take into account that parts are still under restoration, the rest is very nicely displayed, though. It just appears to me as rather modest - well, or old fashioned, given that a queen was traveling on it. 

The bed of the Queen - I know I would feel like falling out!
The tiny bed impressed me most, how did she not fall out of it, it's a wonky environment after all! 

Communication Queen Style!
Altogether a nice experience. And off we whizzed off to the Balmoral hotel, where the booked Afternoon tea was waiting for us. Those never look a lot, but we were stuffed by the end of it and due to the late hour we were aiming for a break.

Sandwiches, scones, and cakes at Balmoral hotel

A very sparkly drink for hubby
and a yummy less sparkly version for me

The bus chauffeured us close to the hotel and after a rest we couldn't help but going for a little pub crawl. It turns out that we are much too inexperienced, we only managed two pubs and a cocktail bar; the first pub was very pretty and had good whiskys, the second one fell into the category interesting and was chosen as the only place still offering a grub, while the latter had an impressive cocktail list, a little bit confusing decor and was named The Dragonfly.  If you like cocktails, definitely a place to visit in Edinburgh.

So what did I take home from the Edinburgh leg of the trip?

Edinburgh is definitely worth a visit, most of the things can be done walking, for the rest of it, like the Britannia, take a bus or a taxi; having a car is not worth the money. And for the airport there is a bus anyway. Hotels, bars and pubs are plentiful and of all kinds; they can be found everywhere and in good density around the inner town (Princess street, Grassmarket), Tripadvisor gives rankings which are rather trustworthy, and I would use The Links Hotel again anytime, trying to get hold of room 110, or 120 as very calm twin rooms.

So off we go now to Islay to explore the Whisky situation.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

I still haven't ...

...had haggis, but I got my dose of bagpipes.

7:50, and it's a perfect Sunday morning. Again, I slept like a log at the Links Hotel and woke refreshed. 

I decided to take the first coffee of the day in the library. Yesterday's Spanish guitar music, which played in the breakfast room, I found a bit disturbing, and it is not entirely calm here either. The library is located close to the pub bar and the music there is some 80s style rock pop stuff, but at least it is not directly in the room. 

Life is good!

Yesterday was the day of abandoned plans. We intended to visit the Edinburgh Castle, but when we arrived we skipped it. We just couldn't get ourselves to pay 16 quid to then walk for a couple of hours between cold stone walls. Neither the crown jewels nor the National War Museum of Scotland could tickle our fancy. The castle is very impressive, though. It's a proper castle and we keep wondering what effort it must have been to build such a huge thing on top of that rock.
Edinburgh Castle seen from Princes Street Gardens
We strolled down Rose Street, starting at the side close to the castle and stumbled over The Dome, a super posh restaurant and bar. All mirrors and chandeliers, beautiful ceilings and floors... We had heard about it before; it was said that it is a glamorous place for dinner with cocktails at the bar after, and a glamorous place it is, indeed! We discovered it late morning, were peckish and cold - it was only 13 degrees C - and so we skipped plans to go there at night and used it to replenish our resources with coffee and danish in the club room. I really am glad that we did not abandon this plan entirely, and I could very well imagine a dressed-up night out, should I ever come back to Edinburgh. 

Scott Monument
Thus refueled and warmed we kept ambling along Rose Street, turned right at the end and found Jenners an old style department store, which actually is a House of Fraser, but one wouldn't know from the beautiful banisters and doors. It is a quirky building, which is addictive; it has corners and corridors, staircases up here and down there, leading the customer deeper and higher, until  the 3rd floor with the food section is reached. Not quite Harrods, but loads of Short breads, cakes and chocolates, wine and whisky. The view of the food bar goes to the castle on one side, the Scott Monument and the old part of the city to the other, and the park in-between. So we treated ourselves to a nice glass of Prosecco and just enjoyed life.

We crossed  the train tracks by the railway bridge, strolled into the old centre, and then made our way back towards the castle along the Royal Mile, investigated the Tartan weaving and Mill Exhibition, and then felt a strong pull... Whisky!

The old centre
The Scotch Whiskey Experience called our names out loud. So far we only have explored the shop, and are planning to do the tour today. Nobody ever said this trip is for fun; it's hard work to learn about Whisky! Hence we decided a decent meal was needed to survive the bedtime sampling. Lebanese was the mutual choice and Detlef's iPad recommended Beirut. An absolutely excellent choice! ... and not pricey at all...

The starters... absolutely delicious!
Although we felt well prepared for the Whisky, the cold had got the better of us. We needed to get to the hotel to warm up. So the plan to visit the 'Voodo Bar' was abandoned and we again found ourselves in our house pub. I am testing a theory: According to a Whisky sorter display, which we saw at the Scotch Whisky Experience it appears that most of the Whiskys starting on 'G' are non-smokey... I really do hate smoke flavours. At the bar however they were running out of 'G' Whiskys, so I had a Jura instead. It was quite an interesting choice. I always thought they are either smokey or not, but I now learned that in parts of the process peat can be used which makes it earthy. And this one tastes like a fresh spring morning, with the mossy grounds steaming when the sun comes out after a refreshing rain.

... and I still didn't dare the haggis...

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Will I or will I not... it's Scotland after all!

I must be a little bit mad! 7:51 on a Saturday morning in a wonderful hotel in Edinburgh and I am sitting in the breakfast room, wide awake and having my first coffee of the day.

The only thing that my brain finds slightly confusing is the Spanish guitar music dropping from the ceiling; well, better than bagpipes I guess!

But first things first! This is to be a posh 10 day trip through Scotland with a lot of Whiskey tasting, those things need time and diligence.

The trip started yesterday by car, leaving 8:05 from my doorstep in Ipswich to Stensted airport. Valet parking was booked and although it felt a bit odd to see my car being taken away by a stranger holiday started straight away. Check-in with Easy Jet was uneventful, security check was annoying as always - Stensted is the slowest of airports with huge queues - and breakfast at Frankies & Bennys has become a tradition now. 

Then off we went straight to the gate: Easy Jet does not allocate seats and it is a good idea to be there early for queuing. I quite like sitting at the gate to do a bit of writing, but not here. It wasn't a problem this time as I was in hubbies good company, but... 

However, boarding actually is fast, we wanted to have seats across the aisle anyway, so the hours flight was rather uneventful, too. And then...


I was told that it is nice, but it is nice in a very specific way: This city is cosy, grand, traditional and young all at the same time; in one word: Fantastic! It's my kinda town - the more that we had glorious weather.

My favourite start into the day!
Taxi got us to the Links Hotel and, boy, did we get lucky with that choice! We booked twin rooms, which for Germans is a sensible choice, so you get your own mattress, and duvet each and it is huge with ceilings about four meters high. It is at the far end of the building away from the kitchen and the bar, and it is the most silent room I have ever been in. You can hear your thoughts walk through you brain. After an afternoon of strolling through this beautiful city, enjoying the parks, having the best lemon cake and rum raising ice cream in ages and sampling the first of the whiskeys I lay down, closed my eyes and was gone in a jiffy. Hence me now sitting here at this early hour, wide awake and well rested. I slept like a log. 

I am now looking forward to two more days in a beautiful city in wonderful company. In the early evening our friends from Germany arrived. You might remember my story about our trip to Tuebingen in Germany, when we attended the wine fair of Weinmarkt Mattheis, which is owned by our friend. They are selling whiskey as well, want to meet potential suppliers and invited us to accompany them on that quest. We will strive to gather strength and momentum during those two days here and on Monday we will make our way across the country.

So let me finish my breakfast to get things rolling. Edinburgh castle is waiting for us. Still have to decided if I will try the the haggis, though.