I had never been to Scotland, and neither had Joe, so we didn’t know what to expect when we hopped on the train and headed north from London. Our four-hour ride took us through verdant rolling hills and fields, past stereotypical, vine and rose-covered stone country cottages and along blustery sea coasts, the waves frothing upon pebbly beaches. Sunlight filtered in shafts through clouds that gave meaning to fifty different shades of grey, and as we pulled into the station in Edinburgh, towering, weathered sandstone buildings surrounded us. Turns out, Scotland’s capital is infinitely more monumental, dramatic, imposing and beautiful than I imagined.
Our Airbnb was located on a quiet, tree-lined side street about 15 minutes from downtown Edinburgh so we walked a lot – as we typically do if our destination is under about a half an hour away by foot. One day took us right through a well-maintained practice golf course, a massive park featuring majestic rows of plane trees lining every walkway, the University of Edinburgh’s scenic campus with juxtaposed old and new buildings everywhere, and finally to a tiny and post-it note bedecked ramen shop. Another found us braving the rain to hike up to the castle, down the Royal Mile (the street leading up to the Castle gates), into an awe-inspiring cathedral we stumbled upon, down the steep hill to a towering, gothic monument dedicated to an author, and through 30 minutes of drenching rain, nary a taxi to be hailed.
Amidst all these little, everyday adventures, we enjoyed some truly delicious food at a wide variety of restaurants – Edinburgh has no shortage of places to eat and drink, and the cask ales and craft cocktails flowed freely just about everywhere we went. One lunch showcased elevated local fare with Scottish salmon and beef stew (at comfortable-chic and crowded Howie’s), and another brought us back down to earth with juicy burgers and unusually named drinks (at the graffiti-covered and blood-red Boozy Cow). We enjoyed some of the most authentic, mom and pop Thai food we’d had in years (at Thai Lemongrass restaurant) and I ate venison for the second time in my life (at the ultra-trendy Montpeliers). We were also fortunate enough to experience some of the most attentive, thoughtful service we’ve ever received during a meal: Joe’s duck was a bit overcooked, and our server – the manager – came over without prompting, asked if he usually liked his duck a bit less well-done, and when he said he probably did, she gracefully whisked his plate way and brought him an entirely re-plated, new entrée.
Not only were the monuments, architecture, food, and drink noteworthy and often surprising, but the entire city was bursting with dozens of different kinds of flowering plants, the bright blooms shining on glossy green backgrounds. Every tree was newly leafed out, every rhododendron, lilac, tulip and peony strained to be the most colorful flower on the block. The city showcased the epitome of rain-drenched, sun-fed greenery and floral explosions resulting from lots of moisture, mild weather and occasional baths of sunshine. It was The Secret Garden meets Anne of Green Gables meets a wild and more natural Versailles, and I don’t know that I’ll ever see spring the same way again.