Thursday, July 28, 2016

Life in England: Takeaway in the UK

Deliveroo:  Fast food, Bath-style. via source 
(Note;  For those of you who are curious about the photo above, Deliveroo is a delivery service in the UK (and, I believe, other parts of Europe and Asia) which provides delivery service from a number of different restaurants, some of which normally don't even provide delivery service. Here in Bath, the delivery people are usually seen on bicycles, which is impressive, given that the hills around here are pretty brutal. Apparently they use motorized vehicles in other cities in the UK, but around here the sight of one of these ultra-fit young people toiling up a hill with a Deliveroo box strapped to their back (or the bike) is quite common.  MsC does not know for sure, but can only assume that there is something like this in North America as well.  Or not.)

Along with all of you, MsCaroline has been observing with abject horror great concern the political madness going on at home and abroad.

Here in Great Britain, people are still getting over the post-Brexit shock (whether you were for or against leaving, no one can deny it's rarely a good thing when all the people who led a campaign for something jump ship once they realise it's actually going to happen. But -I digress.) Over there in the USA, the ever-present spectre of gun violence, now mixed in with the whirling vortex of presidential nominations and the party conventions are providing escalating speculation as to the End Of Times and countless FaceBook feuds.  And of course, the situation in Europe is not exactly encouraging.

MsCaroline, who is an anxious worrier by nature, has done all she can to affect the outcome of world events within her small sphere of influence by volunteering, donating, voting, and sharing (within reason) her opinions and any information that seems unbiased and useful with anyone who seems inclined to listen with an open mind.  But ultimately, the final outcomes of these things are beyond her control, and this -if one thinks about them too much - can make a person insane with fear.

So this is why MsCaroline has decided that it is time for her to discuss a topic we can all get behind, feel good about, and appreciate - namely, food.  In this case, specifically, takeaway food (what we call 'carry out' in the US.  Unless that's changed and I don't know it.)

Let me start off by saying that we are not huge fast food/delivery/takeout fans. When we lived in the US, we would order the occasional pizza or Chinese food, but it was certainly not a regular thing.  Maybe once a month, or less frequently, say, if the boys had friends over or a bunch of us started drinking early on Friday afternoon and suddenly discovered it was 7pm and there was no dinner I was busy and needed a break from cooking.

When we moved to Korea, we initially didn't order much at all - mostly because we didn't speak any Korean, but also because we had dozens of restaurants within a very short walk of our apartment. Eventually, we learned how to order things online (or  we had a Korean friend with us to do the talking.)  Again - it was far from a regular occurrence.

Then, we moved to the UK, and MsCaroline found herself back in a land where she could (theoretically) speak the language (at least enough to order takeaway,) and it was glorious.  One could get anything from Ethiopian to Thai to the more mundane pizza or chicken.  In fact, your typical takeaway/delivery place in the UK offers a huge variety of foods, from pizza to burgers to fried chicken to fish and chips to kebabs. Really.

This is just one of two full pages of possibilities

While MsCaroline can take or leave the pizza, the burgers, and the fish and chips, it was soon evident that  she had met her downfall when she saw the kebab menu.  Why? Because the Doner Kebab is one of her all-time favourite foods.

The Doner Kebab (or just, "Doner" for aficionados) is of Turkish origin - it's sort of like a Greek gyro, although it tends to look and taste differently depending on where you find it.  Back when MsC lived in Germany, the Doner was a bit spicier and could feature shaved meat or more traditional kebab-type chunks.  But the basic recipe remained the same:  some sort of flatbread stuffed with delicious spicy meat (lamb is traditional, but chicken and beef are options), salad (usually lettuce, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, red cabbage and banana peppers) and a tzaztiki-type yoghurt sauce. It is spicy, crunchy, creamy, and delicious all at once. It is (mostly) healthy:  meat and veg and a yoghurt sauce (yoghurt's healthy, right?) And if you are worried about carbs, you can even ditch the bread and feel moderately virtuous.

The Doner Kebab:   beautiful.

It is, in short, a Beautiful Thing, but not a Thing that MsCaroline ran across very frequently when living in the US.  In Korea, there was a "Mr Kebab" not far from her home, but there was always a huge queue in the shop, and on top of that, they didn't deliver (in retrospect, probably a good thing.)

Imagine then, if you will, MsC's delight upon moving to the UK and discovering that practically every takeaway restaurant in the UK has, as a matter of course, Doner kebabs on their menu, along with Pizza, chips (that's fries to you and me) garlic bread, burgers, and pretty much anything else you can think of - and they'll even deliver if you can't be bothered to get yourself there to pick it up.

Of course, MsCaroline is no fool.  While she would love to eat Doner kebabs every single day, she knows better.  So she and MrL limit themselves to the occasional Doner.  Say, once every couple of weeks - not really that often, right?

Well, those calls add up, and, after 18 months in the UK, MsC has begun to realise she might have a bit of a problem.  Not just because her jeans were tight (although that's certainly an indicator.)

Maybe it was when she entered her favourite takeaway's number into her mobile's 'contacts' list, instead of looking it up every time.

Maybe it was when she no longer bothered to even look at the menu.

Maybe it was when she knew the total of her order without having to be told.

More likely, it was the last time she called, when the conversation went like this:

Takeaway Guy:  Hello, Megabite, how can I help?
MsCaroline:  Yes, I'd like to place an order for delivery.
Takeaway Guy:  Yes my love, is this Number 15 Wordsworth Ave? (*not our real address) 
MsCaroline:  It is.
Takeaway Guy:  And will that be the normal, my love?
MsCaroline:  The...normal?
Takeaway Guy:  Yes, my love.  2 medium Doners with salad and yoghurt sauce?
MsCaroline:  Oh, sure...of course...the normal...yes, please.
Takeaway Guy:  Very good, my love, they'll be there in about 40 minutes

MsCaroline is not saying she has a problem.  But she understands that admitting it is, after all, the first step.

(Note:  MsCaroline would like to point out that 'my love' in British English is roughly the equivalent of 'hon'  or 'darlin'' in the (southern) USA and in no way indicates anything but a strictly professional relationship between her and the Takeaway Guy.)

Monday, July 4, 2016

Life in England: The 4th July in England or Hot dogs and Fancy Dress

Old Glory
If you are in the US at the moment (as most of my readers are,) you are probably engaging in/getting ready to engage in/have already engaged in some typically American 4th of July behavior, which probably includes sunscreen, drinking beer, eating food cooked outdoors and accompanied by some sort of red-white-and-blue dessert that contrives to look vaguely like Old Glory and probably features Cool Whip and/or strawberries.  If you are lucky, a pool, a lake, or a beach is involved. If there are little kids around, there may be sparklers, and if you are really lucky, you will be somewhere that you can see the professional fireworks easily when it gets dark without having to sit in traffic forever on the way there or back.  Or, if you are in Texas somewhere large and rural, with benign fireworks regulations, you will shoot some off yourself.  There will be mosquito bites and sunburns, and someone will have a child that is so worn out after a day of sun and fun that he will fall asleep on his Daddy's shoulder and stay there for the rest of the evening, sleeping peacefully, a little sweaty and smelling of sunscreen, while Daddy deftly drinks beer with the other hand and continues his conversation.

However, we are not in the US, which means that MrL had to get up and go to work this morning just like everyone else in the UK, because (of course) it is not a holiday here.  And while it may be sunny and warm somewhere in England at the moment, here in the South West, where we live, it is overcast and 66 deg Fahrenheit and threatening rain.

In other words, it is just a regular day.

Last year on the 4th (a Sunday) MrL and I 'celebrated' by doing The Bath Skyline walk. While it wasn't a traditional picnic/party/cookout, it did include sunshine, beer, and being outdoors, which ticks the important boxes in our books.  As it happens, the Walk goes through woods and meadows and past a sham castle and gives you breathtaking views of Bath in addition to steering you right past the The American Museum in Britain, which we did not know in advance, but which we found suitable to the occasion.  It was gloriously hot and sunny, and we ended up walking about 9 miles all told (the Walk itself is about 6) with a lovely refreshment stop at a pub along the canal on our way home.
The Skyline is marked intermittently with these little signs, which are helpful - when you can find them.

MrL, carrying the Dog whilst crossing a stile (yes, that's what a stile looks like.)

Last year at this time, we hadn't even known there was an American Museum in Bath. The Skyline walk takes you right by it.
This should have been my first clue that the 4th of July is well-known in the UK. It's a good excuse for a party, if nothing else, right?
A brief rest and a photo op at the Sham Castle before heading to the pub.  
This year,  we ended up celebrating not once, but twice, which - if the truth is told - is more celebrating than we usually did when we lived in the US.  The truth is, the 4th always came as a bit of a shock to me, usually right about the time when I would get an invitation to someone else's  4th of July cookout/pool party/lake house and realize that it was once again upon us. (Honesty compels me to admit that is the way I approach most holidays, but I digress.)  So we always did something, but it wasn't usually a very big deal. (I could write a whole series of posts on why this is the fault of my expat upbringing or my Canadian mother, but the truth is that I am just poorly organized in the summer.)

This year we were invited to a gathering of some of the American expatriates in MrL's company; we'd done the same sort of thing in Korea, and even been able to watch fireworks at the American army post in Seoul. So there was no question that we'd be observing the holiday in at least a small way. But that wasn't our only 4th of July option.

As it turns out, the neighborhood we live in now is adjacent to a small local park which puts on a 'Picnic in the Park' every July, with live music, food, a bar, games, contests, and even a children's Fancy Dress Parade (that's 'Costume Parade' to the Yanks in the group.)

Notice the stars-n-stripes theme they have going in the font? Yep.  And (in case you can't expand the photo) the wording was very specific:  "As it's very close to 4th July this year's event will have an American theme. Children are invited to dress up in US-inspired fancy dress to take part in a parade."  Before I saw this flyer, I would have estimated that roughly the same number of my English neighbors were aware of the 4th of July as most Americans are of November 5th in England (Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night).

Clearly, I was mistaken, because it was obvious that every single British person reading that flyer was expected to know all about the 4th of July without even a little asterisk to clarify things.  (I'm assuming all of my US readers know about Guy Fawkes, but I don't know that I'd feel safe applying that assumption to the entire US population in general.) 

Needless to say, MrL and I were intrigued and had decided to stop in at this event before heading to our next social engagement (my, aren't we in demand?) if for no other reason than to see what the children were wearing for costumes.  After all, we Americans don't have any traditional costumes like so many other countries in the world. My mind ran through the various costumes that I, as an American, would think of as 'US-inspired:'  Pilgrims.  Cowboys. Southern Belles, maybe? Army guys?  NFL football players? Baseball players? Baseball's American, right? Like apple pie and Chevrolet? Wait, they play it everywhere now and it's really bigger in Japan than it is in the USA now, anyway.  Wait, maybe American football? Nah, they have a European League now. Hell, what do they wear?

I had a bad moment there, envisioning the angelic British children of my neighbors parading themselves round the Park dressed as Honey Boo Boo, the Kardashians, and Donald Trump, but logic prevailed, and I went back to my original guess of Cowboys and Pilgrims augmented with, possibly, a few Native Americans.

We wandered up to the park, listened to the band, bought some raffle tickets, enthusiastically supported the bar, and talked to our neighbors, keeping one eye out for Cowboys and Pilgrims in the crowd, since we had to leave for our next engagement before the Parade, but were intensely curious as to what this 'US-inspired' theme would produce.

So - what were they all dressed as?


Mostly Spiderman and a few Batmen.  We also saw a couple of nonspecific princesses and something that looked like Tron.  But mostly - superheroes.

We were a bit surprised.  Honestly, I'd not made the connection at all, but after some thought, I realized they do all have American accents in all of their movies, so the connection was reasonable - even if MrL and I wouldn't have made it ourselves.

For the rest of the day, I asked every Brit I ran across about this;  what did they think of if you said 'Fancy dress' and 'American.'? All of them responded with, "Superheroes."  None of the Americans I talked to came up with anything similar, though.

I'll never tire of new perspective and new ways of looking at my own culture.

And I'm glad none of them came dressed as Honey Boo Boo.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Asia Vu, Deja Vu: A Quick Trip to Seoul and Some Thoughts on Expat Life

Oh, restaurant signs in Korea.  How we have missed you.

For those of you who have assumed that Asia Vu is now defunct (does 2 months of silence count as 'defunct'? It seems like it should) and have stricken me from your blogrolls, please be aware that I have written many blog posts in my mind recently and will publish them eventually, maybe  at a date to be determined. Mostly I've been experiencing the Blogger's Dilemma, in which being busy enough to have interesting material to write about prevents one from having time to actually write. 

I happen to know I'm not alone in this, because I've been desperately stalking some of my own favorite blogs for weeks and finding nothing but dust and cobwebs - which has allowed me to do a certain amount of rationalizing:  Well, xxx is an outstanding blogger, and she hasn't posted for weeks.... This excuse, of course, came to a screeching halt last Friday morning when we here in the UK woke  to the stunning (and by 'stunning' I mean 'inconceivable') results of the recent vote to hasten the coming of the World Apocalypse Brexit referendum which, if nothing else, has clearly struck a nerve with many bloggers, myself included (of which more later.)

Among many, many other experiences, MrL and I had a bizarre (by 'bizarre', I mean 'wonderful but brief, considering we flew across the world and back') experience in mid-May, when we flew to Seoul for a friend's wedding.
MsC and MrL, as cleaned up as you will ever see them.

 We stayed for exactly 4 nights (2 days in transit:  it's an overnight flight), indulged ourselves shamelessly in nostalgic activities, and spent as much time as possible with friends. This is, in fact, an uncommon occurrence in the expat community:  typically, people come and go so often that it can be rare to go back and find people you know.  However, since we'd just left 16 months ago, about 70% of our former community was still around.  This led to a sort of strange time-travely feeling, where things seem so unchanged that it's just like you never left.
The National Museum of Korea Gardens - my old stomping grounds.
The iconic Namsan Tower remained unchanged.
The food - omg, the food - was just as incredible as we'd remembered.

Oh, mandu (dumplings), you are so delectable. 
Squid-on-a-stick.  A new favorite.

We strolled through our old neighborhoods, went to our old workplaces, ate in our favorite restaurants, visited our friends, and took all our favorite walks (although it was definitely strange to do the walks without the Dog, who was our constant companion on most of them.)

And of course, we went to the wedding, which was just as lovely and joyous as we had anticipated, although everyone seemed astounded that we'd flown from England for four days just for a wedding.

What can I say:  we're sentimentalists. It was absolutely worth it.

I do have to apologize for the poor-quality photos taken with my phone, but hopefully you'll get the general idea.

The couple bow to one another as the ceremony begins. Notice the wedding venue has a runway/catwalk arrangement and can project images on the domed roof of the auditorium. How cool is that? 
If you zoom in, you can see what a lovely photo this would have made if I'd had a better camera...

And just for a little insight into how Koreans - who are so traditional in many ways - have used technology to enhance just about everything, here's a short video of the glowing, happy, newlyweds walking down the aisle - check out the (virtual) fireworks exploding behind them!

I think everyone feels this way after getting married; we just don't all have access to fireworks. 

In any case, it was a very strange experience, and I still haven't quite processed how I feel about it. Good, obviously, but definitely a bit sad as well.  On the one hand, we've been in the UK for over a year now.  We're settled here, we have friends here, and we feel very much part of our little neighborhood community.  On the other hand, we lived for nearly 4 years in Seoul; more than enough time to really feel like a place is truly 'home.'

It was a strange feeling, as though we had just temporarily stepped out of our lives in Seoul for a short time and then stepped right back in. Some things hadn't changed at all:  buildings, neighborhoods, food (glorious food!), our friends.

But, of course, other things had most definitely changed since we stepped off the airplane at Incheon in June of 2011, 5 years ago.

5 years ago:

  • We'd just moved to Seoul, and we'd never even been to Korea.
  • MrL and I were back in Asia and returning to expat life for the first time since the late 1980s
  • we were planning to be in Korea on a limited 2-year contract before returning to the US
  • We were a more-or-less typical American family of 4 with two teenagers, one of whom was beginning secondary school.

Fast forward to May, 2016:

  • We'd lived in Korea for almost 4 years and headed on to the UK, becoming  not just expats, but 'serial' expats.
  • Living abroad was the new status quo and we didn't think of our assignment in limited terms any more.
  • We were 'empty nesters,' with 1 son  graduated from Uni and employed (*bows head, modestly accepts congratulations*) and the other  - now very much a global citizen - attending University in NYC
  • And, of course, MrL and I were a bit older, grayer, and, accordingly, in possession of more or less hair, weight, teeth, and eyesight (pride compels me to point out that we managed to stay out until 3am with all the young people after the wedding reception, regardless of our age-related infirmities.)
Shenanigans in the taxi.  

Ultimately, though, the most poignant changes are those that are in no way unique to expat life, living overseas, or foreign cultures.

They're universal, aren't they? 

I think I must have something in my eye.



Sons #1 and #2, Seoul, June 2011

Sons #1 and #2 (positions reversed) in Bristol at the Clifton Suspension Bridge, June 2016

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Things About Life In England Lately

The English are nothing if not encouraging. And yes, it's really that steep.

I'm aware that, according to my last post, this one is supposed to be about the last day of our Edinburgh weekend, but - as I've said before - it's my blog, and I'm the decider, so this one will be about Other Things, and Edinburgh will just have to wait, as will the recent Easter Holidays, spent in Belize (main point about Belize: It Is Warm There.)

No, today's post is about the stuff that has been floating through my consciousness for the past few weeks.  Most of it doesn't fit in any particular category, but it has become pervasive enough that I feel it might be worth posting.  Also, it actually has something to do with expat life, which (ok, very loosely) is, one might say, a theme of this blog.

So, without further ado, some Things About Life In England Lately:

Donald Trump:  In the first place, as an American expat, I've had to do a lot of Explaining lately.  It seems that, no matter where I go, no matter what the context of the discussion, or with whom I am speaking, the topic somehow invariably defaults to Donald Trump.  The English are truly fascinated  (or maybe 'bemused' or possibly 'gobsmacked' would be the better choice here) by The Donald's popularity in the USA, and always want an explanation for him.  Here's the thing:  I don't know either.  I've read a lot of analyses and op-eds, but it is still unclear to me What The Hell Is Going On In US Politics.  This, of course, has led to my starting to wonder if my inability to understand American political thinking is a result of having been living out of the country for nearly 5 years come June (do any of you remember when I started this blog to record our '2 year assignment in Korea'? Yeah.  Anyway.) In any case, I'm finding it difficult and tiresome to keep clarifying that I have no insights to share, and that I that I don't know what the American electorate are thinking either, except that it would seem that many of them are dissatisfied with the Status Quo. Which leads us to

People Who Swear They Are Moving to Canada/England/Australia if Trump (or another candidate) is Elected: I do get that most of these people do not really plan to move anywhere regardless of the election outcome.  However, this is what I would like to know:  How many of these people have gone through the visa application process? My guess would be:  Not very many.  And I know I cannot be the only expat who is thinking this.  I am saying this as a person who came close to shrieking despair during hours of waiting in the Korean immigration offices (not to mention the multiple trips I made because I didn't have the correct document, apostilled by the 3rd Undersecretary to the Foreign Something and needed to go find it - translated into Korean - before I could move forward.)  You try hunting down the right person in the right government office (via a bad international cell phone call with a 13-hour time difference, of course) who can overnight express mail you a certified copy (apostilled by an internationally authorized notary) of your marriage license. Then maybe you can understand why I start twitching when people chat blithely about 'moving to _____' in the same way they chat about a trip to the grocery store.  From my perspective, it would seem that relocating the family to an underground bunker somewhere Out West to live, subsistence-style, off the grid and wait out the apocalypse would be preferable to undergoing the immigration process.  But maybe that's just me.

On a less contentious note, let us leave politics behind and discuss one of my favorite topics:  language.  Specifically, the use of the word 'scheme' in British English.  Here in Britain, the word 'scheme' is used regularly, and in a straightforward and benign way, to mean, plan or program(me). The problem for me is, in American English, the word 'scheme' has distinctly negative connotations, typically in reference to an evil/underhanded plan: The villain's scheme to take over the world was foiled by the intrepid hero. In American English, you just don't use the word scheme in any sort of positive context, with the exception of the phrase used exclusively by English teachers "rhyme scheme."   In fact, in American English, you can just go right ahead and replace 'scheme' with 'plot' -it's that negative. It follows then, that scheming is a distinctly negative adjective, as in You scheming, underhanded such-and-so and calling someone a schemer implies that the person has been rubbing his/her hands together in a dark room, cackling with glee over a nefarious plan.  So my point is, the word 'scheme' in American English is pretty much bad. Not so here in the UK, where, in the last week, I have received not one, but three notices referring to some sort of scheme:  a residents' parking scheme, a neighborhood cycling scheme, and at my own university, a scheme that recognizes excellence in teaching, referred to as the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme.  All this just to say that I understand logically what is meant here is a 'plan' or 'program', but somehow I cannot filter the cobwebby wisps of negative connotation out of my mind.  Someone remind me about this in 2017 and I'll see if I feel differently after another year of constant exposure.

Old House Culture:  As most of you know, the house we are renting is an Edwardian-era terraced house, built ca 1910, and is, of course, one of the more modern structures in Bath, which is known for its Roman-Era baths and its Georgian crescents.  All this to say:  a lot of people here live in Very Old Houses, many of which are So Old As To Boggle The American Mind.  It is always amusing to me to run across 'The Old Vicarage" (built 1760 but updated in 1820) and then, around the corner, find 'The New Vicarage" (circa 1910) which, by American standards, would be considered Pretty Old on its own merits.  (Aside:  I was vastly entertained to note that the main dwelling at the Cardiff Castle was built in the 1400s, and 'modernised' in the 1500s and again in the 1700s.)  My regular walk to the shops takes me past a chapel built in the 1200s and previously attached to a hospital for those suffering from leprosy.  MrL and I refer to this fondly as 'The Leper Chapel' although it has a properly respectful name which fails me at the moment.

Along with the charmingness that is Old House Culture, you do, of course, have a few downsides, one of which, we have learned, is Visitation By The Occasional Mouse, which is only to be expected. Unfortunately for us, the most recent visitation must have occurred just as we packed up our diving gear and headed off for nearly a fortnight to Belize. (I don't have a clear concept of Mouse Years, but I'm pretty sure that a couple weeks for a mouse would be enough to produce and raise a family to adulthood.) As best as we can piece things together, a mouse (mice?) took up residence in my tea towel drawer, built a nest out of tea towels and plastic carrier bags, and then - inexplicably - set off on a pilgrimage into the recesses of our walls or under our floorboards, where he met with an untimely demise (no doubt hastened by his injudicious consumption of my tea towels and carrier bags), and began forthwith to rot decompose.  This apparently took place shortly before our return from Belize, so all we noticed upon arrival was a slight mustiness, which we chalked up to the house having been shut up for so long. We were, of course, wrong. Within a day or two, 'musty' had metamorphosed into 'putrid' and I began tearing open and ruthlessly purging every cabinet, drawer, cupboard shelf, and container in the kitchen with the singlemindedness of a woman gone mad.  After two days of fruitless searching, scrubbing, and deodorizing, we came to the sinking conclusion that the bastard malcontent had expired under a floorboard or in a wall, and that we would just have to Deal With It Until The Process of Decomposition Was Complete (MrL's offers to locate the source by tearing the cabinets out of the wall or ripping up the floor much appreciated, but unlikely to be embraced by landlord.)  Subsequent trips to Home Base (the Home Depot of England) allowed us to stock up on a number of powerful odor neutralizers and - you're going to love this - 'Rodent Sachets'.  Clearly, we are not the first (or the last) people to run across this problem. The neutralizers claimed to suck the bad smells out of the air (can this really be done? I doubt it) but the Rodent Sachets made no such grandiose claims.  Tear open the sachet, they said, and place as close as possible to the source of the odour.  Lasts up to 6 weeks.  In other words, Put this powerful-smelling thing as close as possible to where you think the mouse died and this stuff will mask the smell so you can tolerate it until decomposition is complete.  So, we did.  and - after a few days of initially smelling like a Port-a-Loo (think 'organic stench masked by powerful man-made chemicals') the kitchen is starting to become bearable again.

Anyone know how long it takes a mouse to decompose?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Life in England: A Weekend in Edinburgh: The Distillery Tour

MrL is Excited About Whisky
As I'm sure all of you know, Scotland is well-known for its whisky production. MrLogical being an Enjoyer of Whisky (I don't think he's quite at the 'connoisseur' level yet), it goes without saying that our trip to Edinburgh was the perfect opportunity for a closer look at the inner workings of a Real Live Scottish distillery (or two of them to be precise.)

It should be noted that, while I am not a particular Enjoyer of Whisky myself, I don't actually hate it or anything, and I am always up for a new experience, so I did a bit of research and booked us for a 1-day "Discover Malt Whisky" tour.  This was offered by Rabbie's Trail Burners, who specialize in small-group tours, and came highly recommended.

According to the description, we would be traveling in a small group out of Edinburgh to a distillery just north of Glasgow, stopping for a meal and some sightseeing at Loch Lomond, and then looping back to Edinburgh with a stop at a second distillery on the way and a return to Edinburgh around suppertime.  While MrL was looking forward to seeing the distilleries (not to mention sampling the whisky), I was looking forward to seeing the Loch, learning a bit more about Scotland and its history, and finally seeing the countryside which had figured prominently in so many books I'd read over the years.

The tour was set to begin at 9.15, but we arrived almost 40 minutes early at the centrally located pickup point, Rabbie's Cafe, which is owned and run by the tour company.  This was absolutely ideal, because you could grab a coffee or something to eat whilst waiting out of the weather for your tour to start. In addition, there were clean toilets and a large digital display board listing each tour, its guide and start time, and its status ('loading' departed' etc.) (MsC has participated in more than one of this sort of day tour where the meeting place was a chilly/rainy street corner in front of a hotel, and she can assure you that this arrangement was highly preferable.)

Our group consisted of 12 people ranging in age from 20s to mid-50s and covered about 8 nationalities, and our vehicle was a 'mini-coach,' a smallish bus with enormous windows that held about 15 passengers   While we drove through the chilly February rain, our guide, a young woman named Audrey, somehow managed to deftly drive the coach while also regaling us with a variety of facts about Scottish history, folklore, politics, legend, geography, and pretty much anything else you could think of. (Since I am the sort of person who insists on absolute silence when trying to drive somewhere even vaguely unfamiliar, I was in awe of Audrey's formidable multitasking abilities.) 

Our first stop was the Forth Bridge, a cantilever railway bridge built in the late 19th century over the Firth of Forth ('firth' = estuary), a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a symbol of Scotland.  This was not, strictly speaking, part of our tour, but upon learning that all of us wanted to stop and have a look at it (we were passing right by anyway), Audrey obligingly pulled into the parking lot and let us all disembark for  photo ops before continuing on our way.

An hour and a half or so later, right on time, we were pulling into the parking lot of the Glengoyne Distillery.

Sipping the 'wee dram' of whisky which we'd been handed on our way into the reception area, we watched a brief, informative video about the history of Glengoyne (complete with subtitles, in case you didn't quite understand some of the very strong Highland accents) before trooping out to the distillery for the tour of the facility.

 For those of you who are interested in the actual process of whisky making, let me just say that I am not an expert, even after touring 2 distilleries, so I am not going to even to attempt to describe the process for you in detail.  A very brief overview is that it involves water and malt being cooked together, with yeast being added at some point, the product of which is eventually distilled into an alcoholic beverage,

Stills at the Deanston distillery

which is then poured into oak casks and aged. It is the casks (most of which have been previously used to age anything from port to bourbon) that impart the flavor to the whisky.
Who knew that Scotch whisky was aged in  Kentucky bourbon casks? 
Since I am more or less a whisky philistine, it never occurred to me that whiskies could have complex flavors.  Mostly what I noticed is that, when you drink whisky without a mixer, it burns your mouth. Nonetheless, by the end of the afternoon (and the second distillery tour) I was able to appreciate the difference in quality between a 10-year-old and an 18-year-old whisky. Or it could possibly just have been that 5 shots of whisky in one day just made me think I was appreciating the difference in quality. In any case, both tours were very interesting.

Our charming, well-spoken young guide in the duty-free room at Glengoyne.  I was slightly disappointed that he wasn't wearing a kilt, but  I couldn't blame him, given the weather. I was somewhat mollified by the fact that he was wearing tartan trews.
After visiting Glengoyne (which was definitely our favorite of the two distilleries), we piled back into the coach and made the short drive to the cozy Oak Tree Inn, right by the banks of Loch Lomond. Since the day had been chilly, with sporadic rain, we were all happy to get into the warmly-lit dining room. The Inn is a popular stop along the route of the 151-km  West Highland Way walking trail, and, despite the cold and the rain, the restaurant was full of rosy-cheeked walkers in damp waterproofs who had obviously earned their lunches.  MrL and I, who had expended no more effort than it took to climb up a few ladders in the distillery, nonetheless managed to find room for more haggis, Cullen skink, and steak and mushroom pies, accompanied by locally brewed Balhama ales.

Cullen Skink, traditionally made with smoked haddock, is ideal on a chilly winter day.
MrL is waiting for his beer.  It may seem that he is not impressed by the cozy decor, but he really is.
The ever-thoughtful Audrey had given us a generous amount of time for lunch, with enough leeway for those of us who wanted to take a stroll along the banks of the loch to do a bit of sightseeing and take some photos, so after eating we headed out to find a trail that she had mentioned, which was 'down the road a bit, and up the hill."

We walked along a path on the banks of the Loch, crossed the road, found ourselves at the foot of a rough uphill path, and puffing our way to the top, were rewarded with a jaw-droppingly gorgeous view of the loch:

MsCaroline's sense of romance and mystery was fired up by all those distant snow-capped peaks; clearly, MrL did not feel quite the same way...

MrL knows how to appreciate a loch

We had enough time for a few photos before we turned around and headed back in the direction of the parking lot in time to board our coach and head toward distillery #2, Deanston.

After a morning of whisky tasting followed by a hot meal and scrambling up hills in fresh air, MrL and I took advantage of the cozy seats and the warm coach, and dozed a bit (one of the advantages of having someone else doing the driving on a distillery tour) but roused ourselves now and then to listen to one of Audrey's many entertaining and informative tales about various aspects of Scottish history, or listen to some Scottish music.  My favorite story involved the legend behind the folk song, The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, which most North Americans recognize only by its refrain, "You take the high road and I'll take the low road and I'll be in Scotland afore ye" and which turns out to actually be a pretty sad song about two brothers who are taken prisoner by the English and who do not expect to meet again in This World.  Which was a bit of a bummer -but only in a sad, distant, romantic long-ago way -and still added a nice flavor to our drive through the Highlands.

The Deanston distillery, while not as posh as Glengoyle, was warm and welcoming, and - bonus - allowed photos during the distillery tour, of which we took full advantage. As at Glengoyle, the tour ended up in the gift shop, where we all had the opportunity to taste - and buy - a couple different types of whisky.

Our guide, Franz, telling us about the 12-year-old whisky we were about to taste.
By the time we finished our whisky and made our purchases, we were ready to head back to the bus for our return to Edinburgh, with more stories - and more napping for MrL some of us.  As she drove, the ever-helpful Audrey also gave us a plethora of suggestions for ways to spend our evening in Edinburgh - from a bar that regularly featured ceilidhs (pronounced 'kay-lee' - a type of Scottish folk dancing, similar to American square dancing, complete with a caller) to another one that featured live music (including bagpipes) to restaurant recommendations that were off the beaten tourist path.

Arriving back at the cafe in Edinburgh, we headed out into the cold evening to find what every tourist in Edinburgh is yearning for:  good Mexican food. (After 5 years overseas, we had more or less given up trying to find real, authentic Mexican (or Tex-Mex, as most Mexican food is in the USA,) and it is the one thing we still really miss, so anytime we see a hopeful-looking establishment, we try it.)  Anyway, we had seen a small, unassuming-looking restaurant in our wanderings on Friday and, after reading some glowing reviews, thought it might be worth trying out in our never-ending quest for some good Mexican food in the UK.  We were well aware that our chances of getting a table without reservations on a Saturday evening were slim, but we were highly motivated, so we headed to Cockburn Street (one of our favorites, a really eclectic mix of independent shops, restaurants, and pubs) to see if they could fit us in at Viva Mexico.

We took this photo on a Sunday when it was closed, so you can't really get the full effect of the crowds queuing to get a table.

Naturally, it was packed, but (miracle of miracles!) the hostess told us if we came back in an hour, she could get us a table. So, we headed back out into the night to find a pub where we could while away the hour, ending up just a short trip down the street at The Malt Shovel, which was also packed with people, but that didn't matter since you can drink just as easily standing up as sitting down.  While we were standing there, we chatted with the 2 middle-aged gents standing next to us who turned out to be expert Scuba divers who had been diving pretty much everywhere in the world and regaled us with their tales of WWII wreck dives off the Scottish coast and the excitement that comes from diving in a loch. (Note:  MsCaroline is certain that diving in a loch - or any other cold water - has many untold charms, but she freely admits that she is more of the 'tropical blue water and coral and clownfish' sort of scuba diver, and she is happy to leave the wreck diving in the cold waters of Scotland to the professionals.)

Eventually, the hour came to and end, and we headed back to Viva Mexico with an air of anticipation, hoping that our wait had been worth it.  No need to fear: it had been.

What looks like a tiny storefront restaurant is actually much larger, with a good-sized dining room downstairs - authentically decorated with a mix of Mexican folk art and a dash of kitsch.

Starting with the authentic basket of hot tortilla chips and salsa down to the just-right pitcher of margaritas, we were pleased at every step.  The meal we ordered (enchiladas for MrL, beef and chicken fajitas for me) would not have been out of place in a restaurant in San Antonio - and from us, that is high praise.  We hardly even spoke, just ate and reveled.

The take-away from this experience? If you want authentic Mexican food in the UK, you won't go wrong in Edinburgh.

Replete with the sort of haze that can only come from drinking a pitcher of margaritas after touring 2 distilleries a day spent enjoying the Highlands, we headed off into the evening toward our cozy B&B to plan out our adventures for the next day, which would be our last.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Life in England: A Weekend in Edinburgh, Part II

We'll have to try these on our next visit.

Note:  This is the second in my series about our weekend in Edinburgh. In my last installment, we were wandering down the Royal Mile, looking for lunch.  You can find Part I here.

While we enjoyed the shops and the many lovely historic buildings, what we found really interesting along the Royal Mile were the closes.  close is sort of a 'lane' or even an 'alley' - a very narrow walkway between 2 buildings.

 These can be found all along the Royal Mile, tucked between the shops and restaurants -and were once themselves full of stands and stalls as well as people going about their daily business(how they all fit, I've no idea.)  Today (no doubt due to Health and Safety regulations) they are empty of everything but pedestrians, but still narrow and a bit dark (Edinburgh had some of the earliest 'skyscrapers' even in the Middle Ages, with some buildings as tall as 14 storeys, which effectively block out much of the sunlight.)  The old buildings and cobblestoned streets make it all seem very romantic and historical.  The closes were often named after the businesses  to be found within the close:

We ended up finding a bar/restaurant in the Advocate's Close (no idea what an Advocate was, unless it was some sort of medieval attorney) called The Devil's Advocate, which got extra points in my book from the very beginning for such an excellent play on words, and extra points in MrL's book for stocking a wide variety of local ales and beers. It featured a cozy interior, about a bazillion types of whisky, and a simple, but sophisticated lunch menu:

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That's my 'do not take a photograph of me I've been wearing a hat all morning' face, which is hardly attractive.  But isn't the place cozy?
After we'd thawed out with some stout and lamb burgers with goat cheese and beetroot tzatziki (I would never have thought of this combination, but it was excellent), we wrapped ourselves up and headed out to see some more of the city.  

At this point, as it was still bitterly cold, windy, and sporadically raining, we decided that seeing something indoors would be an excellent plan, which is how we ended up at the Surgeon's Hall Museums, a place that had been on my list for quite a while due to its historicity, obscurity, and creepiness - all things that MrL and I enjoy (in moderation, of course.) As we approached the building, we could see that, if the banners and courtyard art were anything to go by, we'd be experiencing quite an afternoon:

There's nothing like the Hand of Sauron wielding a bone saw to let you know you're in for a treat.
As Edinburgh is the home of one of the UK's oldest and respected schools of Medicine, it makes sense that it would also house a museum featuring a mind-numbing array of historic medical and scientific paraphernalia. Visitors can be deeply grateful they live in the modern era view the development of medicine from the earliest times through the modern day, starting with ancient Latin texts listing diseases, symptoms, remedies, and treatments, most of which seemed to involve removing the majority of the patient's blood, or administering medicines made of things that, today, would probably be classified as biohazards(urine was a popular ingredient.) As far as we could tell, the practice of medicine didn't seem to greatly enhance anyone's lifespan until sometime in the late 1800s, when physicians started to (grudgingly) wash their hands between patients and some decent anesthesia arrived on the scene. (It is true that early anesthesia did often kill the patients, but it was, apparently, greatly preferred to the 'here, bite on this rag while these burly lads hold you down' variety.) The history of anesthesia (or, rather, the lack of it), medical technology ancient and modern, dentistry, and surgery (in the days before anesthesia, 'quick'= 'good')  were all featured in a variety of exhibits and there were lots of evil-looking ancient medical instruments on display as well.

Photographs are not allowed in the museum.  This is the one MrL snapped of the display case in the reception area, which should give you some idea of what we were walking into.
The crowning disturbing glory was the Pathology Museum, which contained hundreds (thousands?) of glass and plastic tanks, containers, and jars holding every possible body part (or sometimes entire bodies,) affected by every imaginable disease, floating in peaceful, disembodied repose in row upon row of labeled shelves. These samples, we learned, are still studied by medical students today. (Note: While the various pickled organs, appendages, and extremities are undoubtedly immediately recognizable to your average medical students, civilians like us were often dependent on the labels to figure out what we were seeing.  If you don't know your spleen from your lung from your  fatty lipoma, it all, as MrL observed, 'looks like waterlogged chicken breast.')

We spent an morbid interesting couple of hours wandering through the halls until we both reached our saturation points, such that one more disembodied ear floating in a jar of formaldehyde would have sent us both over the edge.  We agreed that a scenic stroll, some souvenir shopping, and a few strong drinks were in order, so we headed through the streets of the Old Town toward the West End and Usquabae, a celebrated Edinburgh whisky bar and restaurant where we had made dinner reservations.

(Note:  In case you were wondering, "Usquabae" is the Irish  (Gaelic) word for whisky.)  We'd read great reviews of the bar, its whisky selection, the ambiance, and the food, and considered ourselves fortunate to have managed to book a table on Friday night.  We got there a bit early and had a drink in the bar to help us forget all the pathology specimens.   

Yes, we were drinking gin.  In the whisky bar.  So sue us.
By the time we'd finished our drinks, our table was ready in the restaurant, which is in a basement with an incredible 'wine cellar' vibe.  Not a dark, gloomy, cold dying-with-the-cask-of-amontillado wine cellar either, mind you; this one was warm, cozy, and softly lit.  The hostess led us through the main dining room and bar area into one of about 6 little curtained alcoves located all along the periphery.  Each alcove was lined with backlit glass display cases featuring a variety of whiskies (some of which probably cost more than our house.)  MrL and I settled in at our candlelit table for two and proceeded to drool over the menu.

Perusing my menu in the soft glow of the whisky bottles in our private dining alcove.

MrL switched to whisky. And yes, I stuck to gin.  Because I am nothing if not consistent. 

The next few hours passed in a sort of a food coma, during which we ate and drank far too much but we didn't care because vacation.  If you are interested in such things, we ate Cullen Skink (a type of milk-based fish chowder), venison, mussels, Balmoral chicken, haggis, turnip and potato mash, and sticky toffee pudding (whisky-infused, of course.)
Venison and mussels in the foreground.  Chicken, haggis, and turnip and potato('neeps and tatties') mash in the back.
And, yes, I ordered haggis, and it was really delicious.  In fact, as far as I can tell, haggis is more or less the meat loaf of Scotland (the gravy sort of meat loaf, not the ketchup sort) and is very much a yummy comfort food as long as you don't dwell overmuch on its ingredients.  If you question MsC's judgement on this, be aware that, after nearly 4 years in Korea, MsC's concept of 'edible' has broadened, and she will now eat pretty much anything as long as it is not still moving.  

We didn't linger too long over our coffee, since we had to be up early the next morning for our much-anticipated "Experience Malt Whisky" distillery tour.  We paid our bill, wrapped ourselves up, and reluctantly left the cozy warmth of the restaurant to head out through the dreich* evening back to our room.

*dreich:  driːx/ adjective(SCOTTISH)  (especially of weather) dreary; bleak.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Life in England: A Weekend in Edinburgh, Part I

A 'hairy coo' (a type of Highland Cattle) which (it turns out) is Not A Yak.

Note:  For those of you who may not yet have been to Edinburgh (or, if you have, were not aware of this,) let me provide you with this free tip:  Despite its appearance to the contrary, 'Edinburgh' is not pronounced 'Ed-in-burg' as you would expect, and not even 'Ed-in-burrow' (although that's closer) but 'Ed-in-burra.' You're welcome.

One of the things that MrL and I talked about when we found out we were moving to the UK was the fact that we would be so close to the rest of Europe.

With most of  it more or less on our doorstep, we imagined we'd be heading off every available weekend to some exotic locale, taking in the sights and living la Vida loca.

Needless to say, what with coordinating our 3 schedules (#2 was still at home until August) along with the Dog's needs and MrLogical's   puritanical very strong work ethic that made it very difficult for me to ever plan anything in advance - my vision of us as a globe-trotting, jet-setting couple off to points unknown every weekend has not exactly come to fruition, and most weekends find us squabbling over the Cabernet selection at Majestic Wines, schlepping the dog through miles of soggy English countryside, and running lackluster errands (last week it was Marks and Spencer for Men's Socks. Try to remain calm.) If we get really wild, you may find us at a pub with some friends for a few ciders on a Saturday night - before retiring to bed at a decent hour as is consistent with our advancing age.  Of course, it's equally likely you'll find us eating take-away doner kebabs in front of the telly, so rest assured we're not complete party animals.

The point is, while we have traveled a good amount, it's not quite what I'd envisioned.

Nonetheless, we have persevered, and - while we're still spending more weekends running errands than we are flying somewhere, we're starting to tick the boxes off (slowly.) (Since we moved here last year, we have been to any number of Stately Homes and landmarks in the UK, and traveled to 3 countries, so we're not complete couch potatoes.)

I promise to tell you all about it sometime, but I am not going to say when, because I hate deadlines.

The point is, last weekend, we (finally) headed for Edinburgh on one of those weekend jet-setting jaunts I have been envisioning since we moved here just over a year ago.

Neither of us had ever been to Scotland, and, since Edinburgh is only a 55-minute flight from Bristol, we decided that it would be an easy weekend trip with minimum travel time.  The fact that we wouldn't have to loiter at immigration (since we weren't leaving the UK) was an added bonus. Also, MrL had a strong interest in whisky, which the Scottish do rather well, so the matter was settled, and we headed out on a Thursday evening after work.

We got through security relatively quickly, and had just enough time to wolf down some dinner - we started off optimistically at the Brunel Bar and Kitchen (sort of a gastropub, and quite nice for an airport) - until they informed us it would be a minimum of 30 minutes before we could hope to get our food before boarding our flight. So...Burger King it was. (The glamour just never stops, does it?)

For those of you unfamiliar with EasyJet, it is a discount, no-frills airline that serves England and Europe, sort of like JetBlue in the USA, only even cheaper.  Some of the flights to Edinburgh (not ours, sadly) were as low as £19.99 each way (that's about $30) - although the really cheap flights tended to be at less convenient times.  And, of course, as is the case for all discount airlines, you pay for every.single.additional.thing.  (Oh.  You want to choose your seat? That'll be an extra £5.  Want to check in online instead of queuing at the airport? That'll be an extra £6. What? You want to sit in the first 5 rows? Extra £.  You get the picture.)  On the plus side, though, for a 55-minute flight, it really doesn't matter much, and - most importantly - It Is Relatively Inexpensive.

So, we arrived in Edinburgh around 10, and caught a taxi to our B&B. As we climbed in, I gave our driver the street address and then added uncertainly, "Do you want the postcode as well?" (postcodes are far more accurate than the American zip code - they target precisely where you live to the actual street, and they are worth their weight in gold when trying to drive somewhere unfamiliar in the UK using a SatNav(GPS).) The driver, a genial middle-aged Scotsman with a delicious accent, snorted indignantly and said, "Not at all.  This is a proper taxi." (In retrospect, I am somewhat surprised that he didn't add, "I don't need no stinkin' postcode," but I'm sure that's what he was thinking.)

He was, of course, correct, and -sans postcode - had us at the door of the The Victorian Town House just 15 minutes later.  The owner - sort of a magical Scottish combination of Mrs. Doubtfire and Paula Deene (and the level of welcome we got would not have been out of place at a family reunion somewhere in Georgia or the Carolinas, so warm and welcoming was she) was waiting to let us in and show us around despite the late hour.  After filling us in on breakfast time and details about keys and checkout, she left us to collapse in our cozy 'Africa'-themed room and to enjoy shots 'a wee dram' of complimentary (!) whisky before heading to bed.
Nothing says 'Welcome' like whisky. And chocolate.
We slept - as MrL so eloquently put it - 'like the dead' and were shocked to discover that it was already 8am when we finally roused ourselves - almost unheard of for 2 people who are typically up (even on Saturdays) before 6.

Mrs. Doubtfire/Paula Deene was already in the breakfast room with another couple when we arrived and proceeded to simultaneously take our breakfast orders, make introductions, and start the conversational ball rolling with the skill of a seasoned diplomat, and we ended up talking to the other couple (in Edinburgh for a wedding, 4 grown sons, 1 of them living in the US and another in Hong Kong) as we all worked our way through our enormous Full Scottish breakfasts:  eggs made to order, sausages, bacon, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, black pudding, toast, get the idea.  (Note:  as far as we could tell, this was more or less exactly like a Full English, but maybe we were missing some subtleties.)

As an aside; talking to the other B&B patrons at breakfast was actually one of the highlights of our weekend. I've been to plenty of B&Bs where guests - after a brief nod and smile at their neighbors - sit at their tables and communicate in hushed whispers and strained murmurs for the entirety of the meal, but this one had more of the air of Old Home Week.  Our hostess - a past master at the art of conversation - was delightful about introducing her guests to each other every morning and we ended up meeting some lovely and interesting people as a result.

An hour or so later, glutted stuffed full of breakfast and armed with muffins (also provided by our thoughtful hostess 'to have with your coffee later' -I suppose because she was concerned that 3,000 calories' worth of a cooked breakfast might not hold us past 10am)  we headed out the door in the direction of Edinburgh Castle, which was about a 20-minute walk away (probably less time for people who hadn't eaten Full Scottish Breakfasts.)

Edinburgh Castle is one of those 'must-do' items on the list when you are in Edinburgh.  In comparison to many others we've seen since living in the UK, it is in remarkably good repair -a number we've visited have been basically just ruins: splendid, amazing ruins, but ruins nonetheless.  Of course, this Castle has also been used more or less consistently for its entire history (and continues to be used for a variety of purposes today) so that probably has a lot to do with it.  It is less a single castle edifice and more of a small, interconnected town within the castle walls up on top of a huge outcrop of bedrock overlooking the city of Edinburgh and - in the distance - the Firth of Forth(that's an inlet or estuary, in case you're not up on your lochs, firths, and closes - of which more later.)
View of Edinburgh, the Firth, and some distant snow-capped peaks from one of many ramparts in the Castle.
You can easily google 'Edinburgh Castle' for all the historical details if they interest you, so I am not going to include any of them.  Suffice it to say that, when you are standing up on the castle ramparts (I love that I can include the word 'ramparts' legitimately in my blog post), the view of Edinburgh is absolutely magnificent.

The rest of the castle is pretty magnificent, too. It is so huge that there are several museums included within the various buildings, among them:  a museum featuring the Scottish Crown Jewels (smuggled away and buried for years during English rule); a museum that has been made out of the castle's prison (which at one time incarcerated Americans held during the War of American Independence); the Scottish National War Memorial, and the museum of the Royal Scottish Dragoons(a 'Dragoon' is a type of cavalryman.  You're welcome.)
At the entrance to the Royal Scottish Dragoons Museum.  No, I was not incognito.  Yes, it was cold.
As you may also imagine, I found this to be especially touching:

However, as charming and interesting as I found the castle to be, it was difficult to ignore the high-velocity wind, frequent rain showers, and chilly temperatures. There is a good reason that February is considered to be the 'off' season in Edinburgh, which means that we spent far more time inside the various museums within the castle (which, I would add, are waterproof and reasonably heated) than we did taking photos from the ramparts where all the other tourists were jostling cheek-to-jowl. Nonetheless, we spent a pleasant (if chilly) 3 or so hours wandering around before heading down the hill to the Royal Mile in search of food and warmth.

The Royal Mile is a charming, historical cobblestoned street that runs from the Castle directly to the Houses of Parliament, and which is lined with shops, pubs, restaurants, and various historic buildings. It is fairly touristy, but mixed into the aggressive tartan/ bagpipe/knitwear/ t-shirt souvenir tsunami are some lovely, quirky shops, pubs, and restaurants.
Little boy playing the pipes next to St. Giles' Cathedral

Best t-shirt I saw.

Presumably, there were some butchers located here.

 I'll be back tomorrow with Part II, in which we visit the Surgeon's Hall Museum (medieval medical instruments, vivid paintings, specimens in jars) and (daringly) drink gin at one of Edinburgh's most popular whisky bars.