Scotland Diaries: Glasgow Karaoke

Thursday, August 22

Soundtrack: “I Wish I was Sober” Frightened Rabbit

Itinerary:

  • surviving the night in a ghost-ridden castle
  • breakfast
  • horseback riding!
  • Clydeside Distillery tour
  • karaoke in Glasgow

Dalkeith
In the middle of the night, I had to pee. Not wanting to turn on a light and wake up my roommate Anita, I made my slow, careful way down the stairs of our suite towards the bathroom. At the bottom of the stairs, a mirror hung on the wall. GODDAMNIT. If I’m already in a scaredy-cat mood, as one might be when staying in an allegedly haunted castle, there’s nothing that scares me more than a freakin’ mirror in a dark room. I tried to not look directly into it, avoiding any chances of seeing the ghost of Mary behind me. I’m not sure what I would’ve done had I seen anything–maybe blurt out “So what do you think of Saoirse Ronan?” then dive back into the bed and cower beneath the covers. Thankfully, I made it to the bathroom and back unscathed, and was able to fall back asleep.

In the morning, the four of us met up for continental breakfast; no one reported any ghostly encounters though some had had a rough night of restless sleep. We’d been going hard nonstop this whole trip so far, and exhaustion was catching up.

BUT! It turned out that there was a stable nearby, and they had availability to take us out on an hour-long trail ride. So far on the trip, our only major disappointment had been missing out on riding in the Highlands, so this was our chance to make it up.  We checked out of the castle and drove a few short miles to nearby Lasswade Riding Centre.

besties

Amongst our group, we had a mix of experienced riders and beginners, and the folks at the stable matched us up with appropriate horses. I was put on a dappled gray named Oscar, and we got along swimmingly. Our guide took us on an ambling trail across a river, then through a scenic meadow and a wooded park. At one point, we rode on the road (on the left side!! I was all geeked out about that), and did some light trotting. I love going on trail rides in Europe because they use English saddles, so I get to brush up on my posting skills from junior high. Everyone did a good job, and nobody died!

Our horses: Hugo, Tom, Oscar, Lucy

After an hour on the trail, our inner thigh muscles/allergies were fully awakened. We stopped for some Benadryl and Doritos, then got on the road to Glasgow, our final home base.

Glasgow
We had booked an Airbnb in Finnieston (the Logan Square of Glasgow), and our first destination, the Clydeside Distillery, was an easy 5-minute walk away, which was fortuitous because our legs were fried. We had signed up for a tour and tasting. Our guide was informative and the facility was located in a scenic spot right on the river, but let’s be real, the reason anyone tours a distillery is for the tasting. The Clydeside is so new that they can’t serve their own brand yet–since they opened in 2018, their premier whisky is still aging. But, we got to sample some whiskys provided from distillery friends of the brand, and if you are knowledgable about your spirits, you can even try to guess what they are Blind Date-style (though our guide swore she’ll never confirm nor deny a guess). We grabbed some bites in their cafe, and I enjoyed a dram with my coffee.

After resting/napping/reading for the rest of the afternoon, we geared up for some Glasgow nightlife. We grabbed dinner from an excellent seafood place called Crabshakk within walking distance from our flat, then went in search of karaoke.

From that point on, the night became a blur. I sang “Party in the USA” at the first bar and was pleasantly surprised when a woman stood up and yelled “Yeah Miley!!” and everyone began dancing (Glasgow is Team Miley, y’all). After getting in a few songs, the host stopped taking new slips so we moved on to the second karaoke bar, where things got even more hazy. Rounds of St. Mungo lager were purchased. Shots were shot. A fog machine overtook the karaoke stage.

who knows, honestly

We let the night take us on a real journey. We danced, sang, went in search of late night pizza, then settled for McDonald’s. I challenged a Scottish man to a pushup contest in the street. We met a squad of Glaswegian college cheerleaders and one of them did a backflip for us. Sometime around 3 a.m., Adrienne flagged us down a taxi and we poured ourselves into the backseat. Everyone did a good job, and nobody died!

 

 

Scotland Diaries: Chillin’ with the Ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots

Wednesday, August 21

Soundtrack: “Mary Queen of Scots” Scottish BBC Symphony Orchestra

Itinerary:

  • breakfast at Spoon
  • explore Victoria Street
  • whisky tasting
  • dinner in Edinburgh
  • overnight stay at Melville Castle in Dalkeith

Edinburgh
For breakfast, we went to Spoon, a cafe noted as one of many places where J.K. Rowling spent hours writing the first few Harry Potter books. The book series would dictate many of our stops for the day, as I was now focused on the pop culture pilgrimage aspect of our time in Edinburgh. Rowling drew inspiration from spots all over the city, including Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh Castle, and Victoria Street.

On my way to the Leaky Cauldron for some firewhisky

After fueling up on toast and jam, we walked to Victoria Street, the muse for Diagon Alley. We wandered in and out of shops (many of them Harry Potter-themed), tried a hog roll from Oink (perfection), and took photos with an owl for 3 quid. A violinist performed in the street, playing the theme from Game of Thrones. Victoria and the surrounding streets capture that magical, storybook feeling, with turrets and maze-like alleyways, centuries-old churches, and towering castles. Listen, I live in a neighborhood where our most historic building is a mattress store, so this was awe-inspiring.

Scotch Whisky Experience
I know nothing about whisky. I typically drink beer or wine, and I have little to no developed palette for spirits. But I’m also game to try anything new, and Kurt asked me to bring him home a bottle of Scotch, so I gladly signed up for a tasting. Our server was incredibly helpful in creating a tasting flight that suited our requests (we wanted to try options that aren’t easily found in the States, along with some samples from the Highlands, Speyside, and Islay). Elizabeth helped guide me through the tasting. It was fun to learn something new and expand my taste horizon; for example, I learned that I like a smoky whisky with some peaty notes. Also, my favorite bottle turned out to be £179, so I also learned that I am an expensive bitch.

A great thing about traveling with a group of friends is that you get to branch out of your typical box by trying out things that they enjoy that you might not done before. In my case, I did my first ever Old Time Photo. We touched down in the studio like a human tornado of various requests for capes, crowns, and swords, while also letting the photographer know that we only had 15 minutes before we had to get to a Fringe show. The photographer was a true professional, guiding us with the expertise of someone used to dealing with tourists: “You want traditional, or the Outlander look?” We sped through the photo shoot, and at the end, he thanked us for being decisive and quick: “If only you had more time, we could have done a beheading scene.” Damn.

The final, amazing result:

The Fringe show we had planned to see ended up selling out before we could get to the box office, so instead, we stopped for a pint, then took a leisurely stroll towards dinner at Scran & Scallie. Contrary to stereotypes of Scottish food, we’d been delighted with nearly every single meal, and this dinner was among the absolute best. Oh and as general rule, when in Scotland, eat oysters whenever possible–the  country’s abundance of clear, cool water makes them incredible-tasting.

Melville Castle
One of the overnight stays we were most excited for were our suites at Melville Castle, just outside of Edinburgh in Dalkeith. For one night, we were rolling all fancy like royalty. YOU GUYS, Mary, Queen of Scots(!!!) vacationed at this very castle, and supposedly haunts the first floor to this very day, searching for her secret lover. Spending the night here is even better than my childhood dream of visiting the castle from the 1988 Steve Guttenberg movie High Spirits.

Melville Castle

Midlife Crisis board game in the Library Bar

Upon arrival, we checked in then settled into our suites. My room’s window faced the expansive grounds behind the castle, including a fountain, wooden sculptures, and horse paddock. After a full day of exploring, we were pretty exhausted, so it was a good evening for long baths, curling up with a book, or taking a leisurely stroll on the castle grounds. Sometime in the evening, I ran into Elizabeth and Anita in the library bar, and we found a board game called Midlife Crisis hidden among the typical selection of Monopoly and Life. Obviously, we had to play it. Sample card: “At 3 a.m. on Thursday morning, you discover that you have no moral values. No answers as to what is important or worthwhile in life. This is cause for concern–or is it? Add 200 stress points.” I was the only one who didn’t land in Divorce Gulch or Bankrupt City, so I won.

After the board game, we found a second wind, so we poured a few glasses of wine for the castle version of wine hiking. Quietly tiptoeing through the castle, we peeked into turret staircases and checked out the antique art in the staircases. Anita and I went for a walk in the garden to see the view of the castle lit up at night. (If you’ve seen Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, you will understand why the appearance of a ‘red room’ at night freaked me out.)

whut

Eventually, we tucked ourselves into bed in our fancy chambers. After we turned out the lights, we braced ourselves for any ghostly visitors.