In search of the rare, endangered Flying Haggis
Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
79Trip End Nov 21, 2006
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At the last second, I got a stroke of luck and Ari (as part of the Jamie and Ari couple I hung out with in Sarajevo) emailed to tell me that not only had she just moved to Glasgow to start uni and had no problem offering me the couch in her dorm's kitchen/common area. I was genuinely pumped. I had a friend to stay with -- for free -- and another friend, Gordy (from Balmer's Hostel in Interlaken -- you really have to be a devotee to keep up with this whole cast of characters) to show me the famed Glasgow nightlife with all his crazy RAF buddies.
I was genuinely excited for Glasgow. It's not the most typical tourist city, mainly an industrial place that sits on Scotland's 'iron belt.' It also has an alarmingly high crime rate. Apparently, if you're ever have the desire to get stabbed, there are any number of Glaswegians more than happy to fulfill your fantasy. Drugs are also rampant in the city (think Trainspotting). But Glasgow is also the cultural capital of Scotland. Basically any Scottish band to ever hit it big either is from Glasgow or made a name for itself in the city (i.e. Franz Ferdinand). It is also home to one of the most intense soccer (football...) rivalries in the world. Rangers and Celtic play in stadiums five minutes apart (from one bridge you can see both) but the rivalry goes beyond sports and injects itself into Catholic-Protestant allegiances
Sadly, my time in Glasgow didn't go off according to plan. After a delightful sleep-in upon my arrival (and all too eventful search for Ari's dorm), which was much needed after a week of carousing in Ireland I woke up to my first real sickness of the trip. It started as back pain and then spread around to overall crappiness. I'm not sure if that's a symptom you'd ever find in a medical book, but it curtailed my plans to explore the city, and later its nightlife. I did my best to make what I could of my one healthy day in Glasgow before I had to depart for Edinburgh, where I'd be joining my Haggis Tour of the Highlands (once it was obvious I wouldn't be going with Jen, I signed up for the tour if for another reason than to appease Adrian, who'd been singing Haggis' praises for well over a month). I met Gordy downtown for lunch and a quick tour of the city, getting shown places I never would've normally walked to and actually learning about the places he showed me
Bright and early the next morning I was stumbling through the cobblestone streets of Edinburgh to meet my Haggis Tour. As mentioned previously, doing the Haggis was kind of a last second audible, but I was willing to splurge on it based on Adrian's recommendation. And boy am I glad I did
We set out toward Stirling with the help of Ped's GPW (as in Global Positioning Wand -- a goofy wand, complete with odd sound effects that he would waive at his map to show us where we were going) as he told us the history of the term shit-faced and introduced the first of his many enjoyable shticks. Basically, in old Edinburgh, people would dispose of their, ummm, bodily waste by chucking it out the window. For good manners, people would shout 'Gardi loo!' allowing passersby sufficient chance to flee from flying feces. But the drunker types instead would hear the shouts and look up to be met by an unpleasant surprise, thus... Ped would finish these stories with, 'Can you imagine?' He would allow for a dramatic pause and then finish, 'I just did. And it wasn't pleasant. Smelly too.'
As I mentioned a tangent ago, Stirling was our first stop
As we pulled away from Stirling we passed by Doune Castle, a nondescript Scottish castle that only became non-nondescript when it became the filming location for the 'I fart in your general direction' scenes in Holy Grail. As you might imagine, it's now attracted a bit of a cult following, including renditions of sorts that I would think are somewhat of a cross between Star Trek conventions and Rocky Horror viewings. From there we moved to one of the absolute highlights of the trip -- a visit with Hamish, the famous Scottish hairy cow (pronounced cooo, or the official spelling according to Ped: c-o-o-double o-double o-o, the final 'o' being silent)
Invigorated by the visit with Hamish, we visited our first loch, complete with a newly uniformed Ped and the legend of Rob Roy, including the origins of 'blackmail.' Loch Linaig, as it turned out, would be our launching point into the landscape of what you'd expect from the Highlands. There were rolling hills of brown and green everywhere, with streams and rivers splitting the scenery. We crossed through our first few glens (Gallic for valley, not scotch distillery as some of you might be led to believe) and were introduced to more juicy Highland history, namely the massacre of the MacKenzie clan by the dastardly Campbells. Basically select members of the Campbells entered the MacKenzie camp, earned their trust and started sleeping in their homes...up until the time the attack signal was unleashed and the MacKenzies were slaughtered. We then stopped in Glen Finnan where we were treated to some dramatic sun spraying through the clouds onto the statue of Bonny Prince Charlie in front of the lake. Our final stop for the day was at Ben Nevis, the UK's highest 'mountain' where we learned the origins of 'going commando.'
And that was all the first day. We refueled for the night at our hostel in Fort Augustus, on the shores of Loch Ness. We had an excellent feed of all-you-can-eat pasta (or as the Scottish delicately put it, chew-till-you-spew) and then hit the hostel bar
Our second day was the day to go to the Isle of Skye and we couldn't have had better weather for it -- certainly as good as you could hope for in October, and maybe at any time of year in Scotland. As an added bonus, I was sitting next to Kaitlin, who was the brunt of every joke once word got around to Ped that, how to put this lightly?, she had an encounter with a one-eyed Loch Ness Monster the night before. The drive started in a heavy, gloomy fog that seemed foreboding for the day. But we climbed into unadulterated sunshine and stopped for a view of the lake shrouded by the mist. It looked as if the basin was a giant cup of hot chocolate and someone had spread a gray marshmallow across the top. It was absolutely incredible, as the mist totally engulfed the lake but was cut off basically at the level we were standing on.
From that point we drove along another loch which perfectly reflected the hills it sat along -- maybe even more visually stunning. I was starting to really like the Highlands. As we drove toward Eilean Donan, Ped gave us the legend of the Five Sisters mountain range that involved seven beautiful sisters (the most beautiful girl you've ever seen, times 1000, plus nine and you're still not close), Irish suitors and a witch
The tour we were given had such goofy, ridiculous guides that I was too busy laughing at to take seriously. The first was one of those guys who gets into character a little too much, getting really intense and raising his voice at random times to sound more serious and important (imagine Tim from the Holy Grail). The other was the complete opposite, boring and monotone even as his most excited. The rest was self-guided with hokie mannequins in the bedrooms and kitchens looking like they're doing real people stuff. But the scenery more than made up for the absurdity. Once we were done with the castle, it was on to the Isle of Skye, across the obscenely expensive bridge (thanks to Bank of America -- U-S-A! U-S-A!) and the legend of Saucy Mary (basically she was sort of like the Sirens, except instead of singing she would act as if she were auditioning for Girls Gone Wild). Our first stop on Skye was at a legendary bridge where two clans were set to unite but the beautiful princess Heather knocks her eye out crossing the river. Legend has it that if you your face in the river for five seconds you become beautiful
We pulled back in the hostel riding high on another rousing rendition of the Scottish national anthem (The Pretenders' '500 Miles') where I finally had my introduction to haggis
The next morning started with heavy fog again, but since we were going to be spending this day along Loch Ness we were never going to rise above it. And from the looks of it, the fog didn't look like it was going to be rising anywhere anyway. We braved the cold and the wind to go to the lakeshore and learn some fun facts about the lake (in summary, it's really fucking deep) and the legend of the monster. Sadly, Nessie never made an appearance, in spite of our Nessie Haka call. As we made our way slowly back toward Edinburgh we stopped at the battlefield that was basically the end of the Highlanders. So sad. Especially since they were surprisingly close to storming London and winning their freedom. But eventually the evil government forces (damn British) prevailed
And that for all intents and purposes was the end of my Haggis Tour (deep breath...). OK, now I can keep going. We arrived in Edinburgh in the late afternoon, when I was meant to get in touch with Jamie who would put me up for the next two nights. It was at this point that I learned a) text messages in Britain are completely unreliable and b) as I might've suspected my phone's mouthpiece was no longer working. So I was in the bad position of sending texts that may or may not be getting received and also being unable to talk into the phone so people could hear me. This is a bad combination. Long story short, I never touched base with Jamie and I was forced to re-book into Budget Backpackers, with it's creepy, awkwardly unsocial common room and showers devoid of hot water. Thanks to receiving the wrong key, at the very least, I learned that Holly, Alisha and Belinda, my crazy Aussie roommates from when I stayed at Budget before Haggis, were still there and I'd have three Australian woman to hang out with for my day and a half in Edinburgh
I got my orientation to the city via a free walking tour put on by Haggis. Basically the tour goes up and down the Royal Mile, the main thoroughfare of the city. Basically, we were told many of the same Scottish legends I had just learned with Ped, while checking out the Parliament (an important step in Scotland's move toward independence from the UK), the cemetery that hold Roberts Burns (and one of his mistress's) and Adam Smith and up toward the castle with an extra from-behind view that illustrates the extent to which it was built out of the rocks. We passed a few churches (this is Europe after all), including St. Giles and it's famous spitting stone (which now has to be partitioned off since everybody spits on it as they pass). With the rest of the day to myself, I planned on checking out the castle, but at 7-pound-50 I wasn't that curious. The weather was too crappy to make climbing Arthur's Seat (the hill that overlooks the city and is meant to give superb views) worthwhile, so instead decided to pass the time before my Mary King's Close tour with the greatest nap in the history of naps.
Before the tour I set out to find a pub where I could have a real haggis meal. The previous night's haggis was part of a potato bar, but this was a proper plate of haggis -- a heaping portion of sheep organs with neep and tateys (turnips and potatoes for the non-Scottish)
Our final act together, once the tour was complete, was to go over to Frankenstein for their quiz night. Nothing like a good quiz night. Considering we were a team of foreigners, we held our own. Up until the picture section anyway. How the hell are three Aussies and an American gonna know what random British politicians or Scottish rugby players gonna look like? We ended up second-to-last, but thanks to my insistence that we say that some random old lady in the picture section was Queen Elizabeth, we won 'most interesting answer' and a bag of candy. Sometimes it's good to be ignorant.