It’s hard to know whether the ad execs circa the early 90s actually meant to allude that the Scots favour chocolate milk bars – typically deep fried Mars – or whether they were trying to unite our nation by drawing on an idea that we all share a collective history, as implied by the young mac’s reply, ‘I am a Makhatini from Maritz-barraghhh’.
While that point is neither here nor there, what was achieved, besides phenomenal chocolate bar sales figures, was an idea of Scottish influence around the world, and in South Africa. Not particularly any culinary delights, but rather some of our ancestors, who migrated from Scotland in the 1820s and thirties and of course, also the famous Scots who continue to extend influence in today’s world – Gordon Brown (ex-British PM), John Logie Baird (television and 3D), Alexander Graham Bell (telephone), Elizabeth Arden (cosmetics), JM Barrie (author of Peter Pan), Robert Burns (poet, Auld Lang Syne), JK Rowling (Harry Potter), Elizabeth Taylor (actress), Sean Connery (James Bond) and Jackie Stewart (Formula 1) to name only a few.
And if like me, you have forgotten your school history lessons, then a trip to Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, will provide you with plenty ‘oh, of course’ moments. This compact city provides its visitors easy access to its rich history, the most inspiring views, a vibrant ambience and a taste of modern Scottish food. With the Edinburgh Festival taking place in August, summer is also a great time to venture north. (also make into a pull-out quote if space)
Armed with a Lonely Travel pocket-sized guide, I did feel some anxiety at whether I would fit in all the things to do. After ditching the luggage at the hotel, we made our way to the Grassmarket and Victoria Street, just south of the Old Town where we encountered some colourful night life and were spoilt for easy dining choice. We settled on Howie’s and ate old favourites like salmon, mash and banoffie pie – the produce, all home grown, was delicious.
Saturday morning we set out past the impressive George Heriot’s School and over the George IV Bridge. Here we discovered the ‘home of Harry Potter’ in the shape of the Elephant House cafe – and as its name suggests, elephants dwell here in – as ornaments cases, in the shape of chairs, on the walls and the fabric. JK Rowling had her breakfast here and so did we – haggis is delicious with scrambled egg!
After this we popped over the road to visit the National Museum of Scotland where we soaked up Scottish antiquity and the views of Edinburgh from the fifth floor roof terrace. We waved to Greyfriar’s Bobby, still keeping his vigil, and wandered further into the Old Town onto Parliament Square, the magnificent 17th century building is where the Scottish Parliament met before its dissolution. Turn around and you look straight at the imposing St. Giles Cathedral. Inside you can feel early Protestant vibrations and take in a quiet moment in one of the pretty chapels.
The walk along the Royal Mile is colourful, consumerism and tourists aplenty, and then at the top of the hill you see it – the imposing Edinburgh Castle. In the late afternoon the visitors queue was incredibly long and we hatched a plan to fall on its gates early the next morning. The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre next door welcomed us with a wee taste of the real thing. Though even after imbibing the colours, smells and taste of the golden malt I could not be convinced to ride the whisky barrel. We sauntered on towards the North Bridge where we had dinner at the stylish eatery, the North Bridge Brasserie. From our balcony table we took in mouth-watering fare and a lit up view of the city.
We stormed the castle at 9:30am on Sunday morning and spent nearly four hours exploring the war museum, prisons, Royal Hall and the Crown Jewels. Feeling close to royalty, we stopped for a cosy tea at the Balmoral Hotel and moved into the New Town, famed for its impressive Georgian architecture. We walked through Charlotte Square to find Bute House, the official residence of Scotland’s first minister.
After some more footwork, we hailed a cab to take us to the Waterfront. The plan was to get onboard the Royal Yacht Britannia but when we go there the entrance was shut. So onto Leith, exploring the Shore where we had a drink at the slick Granary Bar. That night we relaxed at Ghillie Dhu, a traditional restaurant serving Scottish fare and promoting local bands. A hearty end to a very busy day!
We decided to take it easy on our last day and hang around the Old Town to do some shopping. The visit to the Scottish Parliament Buildings and the Palace of Holyrood House, the Queen’s official Scottish residence, was more than interesting, as was a visit to the Museum of Edinburgh which is little more than a classroom. After a quick shop at the Fudge House, lunch was ‘Scottish’ breakfast tea and a triangle of shortbread (yum!) at Always Sunday cafe – a vibey spot where one usually struggles to find a seat.
A friend who lives there said, ‘Edinburgh is the greatest little city in the world – and it is! I was right to anticipate not taking in all its sights though. For all its compactness, it offers so much to see and do. It’s a very welcoming city and it accepts you completely, it leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling, and thinking, “What kind of a mac am I?”