Scotland and York: It’s All About the Climb

Hello again!

In wrapping up these tales from my excursions abroad (late, of course), I would be remiss in not sharing one of my favorite days in the UK: our Scotland trip.

After we returned from Paris, we began a week packed with sight-seeing.  The plus side of this is being able to boast of seeing three countries and seven cities in under two weeks. The bad side: it makes being a culinary explorer a difficult role to maintain. In between chasing trains and buses and reading maps to figure out which way the Victoria line is going because you’re pretty sure you just went backwards, it’s tempting to go for the nearest food source- most often a close-by ice cream/sandwich stand.

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I discovered there’s nothing wrong with finding that ice cream stand. I made this lovely plain Jane choice an adventure here by adding a “flake.” It’s like the king of chocolate shavings that’s crumbly and delicious and packed into your ice cream swirl like an ice ax embedded in a creamy glacier from a lost exploration. I really enjoyed this ice cream, which I purchased outside Oxford Castle.

However, when you’re determined to try new things you have to remember that anything can be a learning experience, especially in food.

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This is a Middle Eastern Meze wrap with houmous, tzakziki, falafel, feta cheese, cucumber, roasted red and yellow peppers, rocket (British salad leaf), and a spinach tortilla. I also grabbed a Greek yogurt with pistachios, pomegranate, and chia seeds. This cute little meal is brought to you by the Euro Star’s food court: a pleasant way to kill an arduous two-hour wait for the train.

It was with this wisdom that I and my classmates embarked on a day-trip (for some an overnight trip) to Edinburgh, Scotland.  And so we began another day of seven-hours worth of travel-turned sight-seeing. It was so worth it.

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This is our view of Holyrood Park, home of Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in the United Kingdom.

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Our view of Edinburgh during our attempted climb to Arthur’s Seat.

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The inner courtyard of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s royal residence in Scotland. We got to see the rooms where Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley lived, including the place where David Rizzo, Mary’s Italian secretary, was murdered by Patrick Ruthven. I also got to see the Queen Elizabeth’s ceremonial robes and pin from the Order of the Thistle, the highest order of chivalry in Scotland.

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The ruins of the Holyroodhouse Abbey, built in 1128.

One of the best things about being abroad is seeing something you didn’t know was there, thinking “I’ll check that out” and being astounded to find something that leaves you awe-struck. The palace was fascinating and made up for not making it in time to see the inside of Buckingham in London.  My favorite experience though was the climb through Holyrood Park, which starts on the outskirts of the Palace and makes for an interesting workout.

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This park was more like a cluster of mountains that stretched up and up above the city. I couldn’t help but muse that in America there would be guard rails. Here, cliffs jut out providing an uninterrupted view of Edinburgh that’s simply breathtaking, both because of the beauty of it all and because the climb is exhausting.

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This was as close as I could get to a cliff shot. No feet dangling, no King of the World pose, and I may or may not have crawled on my stomach to get this close to the edge, but I felt the thrill of climb and the wind in my hair and that was enough.

This was not actually Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in the UK; it was one of the lower hills in the park.  However, the sense of accomplishment from reaching the highest point of the precipice was tremendous. It helped that I got to share it with my traveling companions.

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This is the only time I will ever own up to being involved in a picture that was taken with a selfie stick. It was great that we got to make this climb together, even if we are a little tired and wind-blown.

After we climbed back down, the real adventure began as three of us made our way back to the train station to try to get back to Oxford.  Getting the hang of traveling by Tube and train can often lead one to the false sense of security that they are really just ready for anything.  For us, this lasted until we realized we were either going to be waiting for an all-night train until 11:50 (we got to the station around 7:00), or we would be having to split up and make our way back to the Spencer House via different routes.  Electing to stumble home together, we chose a third option, that was available to us by sheer luck and proper planning from a third party: we went to York.

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York is home to some of the best-preserved Tudor-style buildings in England.

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Quaint little shops dot the city and make for a charming walk.

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This was a cute old church and the name of the street make me chuckle.

Getting to York was our quickest option and only involved a few train changes. We made it just before 11 and were able to stay at the Marriott thanks to our house-mom and house-grandmother’s kind efforts in negotiating a reasonable rate from the front desk on our behalf.  We got to take in a few of the city sights the next morning. By far, the best part of the unplanned trip though was the breakfast.

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English breakfasts involve some of the best comfort/travel recovery food I have ever had the good fortune of encountering. The bacon is very thick and more like salted ham, the beans are smoky and filling, and the sauteed mushrooms have a great flavor. In case you were wondering about the funny dark slice that looks like blackened cheese (I sure was before I ate it…), that’s haggis. This is sheep’s pluck (heart, liver, and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt. I’ve had haggis before at a Scottish festival in North Georgia and it was a harrowing experience. This little slice, though, was exceptionally good and had a nice spicy flavor. I highly recommend anyone who has (like me) tried haggis from a can and sworn off the stuff, to give the authentic breakfast version a try.

For all adventures abroad, it is vital to have a back-up plan.  In this case, our back-up plan led to a delicious breakfast and stroll through a darling little town. Sometimes it’s the things you never thought to see that stand out in your memories. And give you a chance to buy more chocolate.

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It was sheer luck that we got stranded in a town renowned for its chocolate. This is a giant hunk of fudge in the process of…doing whatever fudge does once it’s done becoming fudge and before it gets cut down to bite-size pieces. I would see this enormous blob as a personal challenge (which I would accept); hence, why I should veer away from chocolatier-related professions

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