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A Tour of the Country (and some Whisky)

Loch Lomond, Glasgow, ScotlandI’ve been almost entirely eschewing organized tours on this trip — partially because I like wandering around on my own, and partially because that stuff isn’t cheap.  If you’re only travelling for a week or two, it makes complete sense to pay for stuff like that, because why not?  You may as well cram as much as you can into the days that you have, and then worry about the money when you get home.

But when you’re travelling for several months, your budget is drastically different.  Every cent counts, and if you’re taking pricey tours everywhere you go, that’ll add up fast.

Still, exceptions have to be made, and in Scotland — which is known just as much for its scenic countryside as anything else — I figured I’d be remiss if I stayed entirely in the city.  Since renting a car was out of the question, a tour was really the only option.

Stirling Castle, Glasgow, Scotland

It was a fun day.  We visited Stirling Castle, which is possibly the most famous one in Scotland.

There were some great views from up there.

Stirling Castle, Glasgow, Scotland

We also went to Doune Castle, which has been featured in several movies and TV shows, most notably (to me at least) Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Doune Castle, Glasgow, Scotland

We saw Loch Lomand.

Loch Lomond, Glasgow, Scotland

None of my photos were quite able to capture it, but this place was scenic AF.

Loch Lomond, Glasgow, Scotland

And finally, we visited the Glengoyne whisky distillery and got to see the whole scotch-making process, which was actually quite fascinating.

Glengoyne Whisky Distillery, Glasgow, Scotland

It’s kind of insane that a drink with so many complex flavours is made with just three ingredients: barley, water, and yeast.

Glengoyne Whisky Distillery, Glasgow, Scotland

Grilled Cheese with Haggis

Dean's in Glasgow, ScotlandI’m starting to think that you can add haggis to literally anything, and that thing will be improved.  Because so far I’ve had haggis with breakfast, haggis on a pork sandwich, haggis in puff pastry, and haggis in a burrito, and they’ve all been surprisingly delicious.

The latest haggis mashup?  Haggis with grilled cheese (or a toastie, as it’s known in the UK).

Grilled cheese from Dean's in Glasgow, Scotland

I had this at a place in Glasgow called Dean’s, and it comes with haggis, cheddar cheese, grainy mustard, and Branston Pickle (which is essentially a sweet British chutney).

This might have been my favourite of the various haggis dishes I’ve had so far.  The haggis adds a meaty substance to the delightfully gooey cheese, the mustard adds a nice zingy counterpoint, and the sweet Branston Pickle cuts through the richness.

Like the burrito, I sort of expected this to be a bit of a novelty, and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

A Couple of Interesting Museums in Glasgow

Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, ScotlandFree museums appears to be a UK thing, because all of the big museums in Scotland are free just like the ones in London.

So I’ve been to a ridiculous amount of of them over the last couple of weeks (I’m actually starting to get a bit museumed out).  Still, Glasgow has a couple of museums that are worth mentioning.

The Kelvingrove museum is enormous and impressive, with a really varied collection that includes paintings…

Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Sculptures…

Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Historical artifacts…

Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

And more.

Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

And it’s free!  I don’t know how they can afford to do that, but I’m certainly not complaining.

There was also the Riverside Museum, which has a much more single-minded focus (on transportation: mostly cars, trains, and boats), and a really interesting layout.

The Riverside Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

These look like model cars in this picture, but nope, they’re the real deal.

The Riverside Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Plus, there’s a small recreation of a historical street, including stores you can actually walk into, that’s pretty fascinating.

The Riverside Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Burger Disappointment in Glasgow

Bread Meats Bread in Glasgow, ScotlandHaving had surprisingly amazing burgers in Germany and England, I was ready for the burger at Bread Meats Bread to be similarly mind-blowing.  It’s one of those places that comes up regularly in “best of the city” lists, so I figured that I was in for a treat.

Yeah, not so much.

Bread Meats Bread in Glasgow, Scotland

Looks good, doesn’t it? If only it tasted even close to as good as it looked.

It was surprisingly lousy — the patties were rubbery and tough, with almost zero beefy flavour.  Aside from the fact that the grind was way too fine, I’m assuming they mixed salt directly into the ground beef, which transforms the texture of the meat into something closer to a sausage.

Bread Meats Bread in Glasgow, Scotland

I mean, look at the picture of the burger’s midsection.  Note how the patties are stiff as a board.  That’s just wrong.

If it weren’t for the other two burgers I’ve had on this trip, I’d write this off as “well, I guess Europeans just don’t understand hamburgers,” but clearly they do.  In particular, the cheeseburger I had in England would probably be in the top ten burgers I’ve had in my life.  So what’s the deal?

It’s Better than it Sounds

Los Cardos in Edinburgh, ScotlandThere’s a Mexican joint in Edinburgh called Los Cardos that sells a burrito filled with haggis.  It sounds like it should be a gimmicky abomination, but it’s actually surprisingly tasty.

It’s just a standard-issue burrito otherwise — it’s filled with typical burrito ingredients like rice, beans, salsa, and cheese… plus haggis.  It shouldn’t work.  It should probably be horrible.  But it isn’t.

Los Cardos in Edinburgh, Scotland

Texturally, the haggis is fairly similar to ground beef, which is obviously a fairly typical burrito filling.  And the distinctive haggis seasoning melds surprisingly well with the Mexican flavours.

Sometimes, when you eat a weird dish like this, the reaction is “well, that was pretty good, but I’d never eat it again.”  But if haggis were a standard burrito filling, I’d be eating it all the time.  It’s great.

You Know What I Like Best? The Price.

Piemaker in Edinburgh, ScotlandWhen you’re traveling on a budget, there’s nothing more satisfying than finding a cheap meal that’s actually good.  A great example of this?  A delightfully affordable pie shop in Edinburgh called Piemaker.

Piemaker in Edinburgh, Scotland

I got a Scotch Pie, which is filled with a peppery mixture of very finely ground beef (the texture kind of reminded me of the filling of Jamaican patties).

Piemaker in Edinburgh, Scotland

I also got a haggis roll, which features greasy puff pastry (seriously, look at how oily the bag got after about 15 seconds of contact with this thing) filled with a generous amount of haggis.

To be honest, neither was anything too memorable, but the price?  I paid £2.50 for both — around four bucks Canadian — for a meal that was tasty enough and surprisingly filling.  Somehow, when it’s that cheap, it just tastes better.

Learning about Scotch in Scotland

The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, ScotlandIt’s quite touristy, and you probably won’t get much out of it if you already have some scotch know-how, but the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh is still a decent enough way to spend an hour or so.

It starts with a slow-moving, low-rent-Disney type of ride in which a ghost gives you an overview of how scotch is made.   It’s cheesy, but it’s a fun way to go over the basics of scotch production.

The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, Scotland

After that, you walk through a few exhibits and watch a couple of videos on the five scotch-producing regions in Scotland, and then finally at the end of the tour you get to try some scotch.  The tour comes with one glass of scotch, and you can pay a bit extra to try a scotch from all five regions.  I did this, because if you’re in Scotland, you may as well drink a bunch of scotch.

It was interesting to try all the varieties in such close succession, though I’ll admit that other than the overt smokiness of the Islay scotch, they all tasted quite similar to me.

The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, Scotland

Also, drinking five scotches in a row is probably not something you want to do.  They weren’t quite regulation-sized amounts of scotch, which is good because that wouldn’t have ended well for anyone.  I enjoyed all of them, but I was still a bit scotched out by the end.

They also have a store with an impressive selection of bottles to buy.  That includes this bottle of 50-year-old Balvenie, which costs a mere £27,500.

The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, Scotland

The Best Shortbread Cookies Ever

Pinnies and Poppyseeds in Edinburgh, ScotlandShortbread was invented in Scotland, so you’d think there’d be a bunch of bakeries in Edinburgh specializing in the stuff; that’s sadly not the case.  But with a bakery called Pinnies and Poppyseeds weaving their magic, that’s really all you need.  I mean, you’ve read the title of this post.  You know what’s up.  They’re the best ever.

Pinnies and Poppyseeds in Edinburgh, Scotland

They’re just so buttery and amazing.  They have a few different flavours — I got a pack of four that came with traditional all butter (i.e. classic shortbread), cinnamon and sugar, earl gray, and fennel & dark chocolate. I figured I’d have one or two right away, and then save the rest for later.

Yeah, right.

Literally after one bite of the first one, I knew I was eating them all immediately.  Just picture the best shortbread you’ve ever had and then multiply it by a thousand, and you’ve got a good idea of what to expect here.  I was afraid that the funky flavours might just get in the way of the shortbready goodness, but nope — they all worked so well.  Perfection.

Scotland’s Big Breakfast

Full breakfast from the Royal McGregor in Edinburgh, ScotlandRemember the post about the English full breakfast I had in London?  Well, Scotland has their own version of the full breakfast (they add haggis, because of course).

I had it at the Royal McGregor, and it came with toast, a thick slice of tomato, baked beans, eggs, bacon, sauteed mushrooms, sausage, haggis, and buried beneath all of that, a tattie scone (which is a potato-based flatbread).

It was quite tasty — the haggis is a great addition (haggis, being made with various organ meats, is one of those things that sounds like it might be an acquired taste, but is actually just delicious).  Plus, the tattie scone is under there, soaking up all those flavours.  It’s not the best breakfast I’ve ever had, but I can certainly think of worse ways to start the day.

Porky Goodness at Oink

Oink in Edinburgh, ScotlandThere’s not a whole lot that you can absolutely, positively count on in this world, but here’s one thing:  when a restaurant has this on display in their front window, I’m gonna be going inside that restaurant.

Oink in Edinburgh, Scotland

If there’s a more glorious sight in the world, I’d like to see it.

Oink, as you might imagine, specializes in pork sandwiches.  One of the more interesting things about it are the add-ons to the sandwich; to go with the pork, you can either choose from a sage and onion topping, or haggis.  I went with haggis, because I’m in Scotland, so obviously.

You also get your choice of sauce; I had mine topped with mustard mayo.

Oink in Edinburgh, Scotland

It’s a pretty great sandwich — the pork is very simply spiced, allowing its natural flavours to shine through, and it’s nice and tender while still maintaining some texture (some sandwiches like this have a tendency to be one-note mushy).  The haggis and the mayo do a great job of complimenting the pork, but still allowing it to be the star of the show.   It’s quite good.

HOWEVER.  They get minus infinity points for having all that glorious crispy skin on display and then not including any in the sandwich. I guess you have to ask for it?  That’s ridiculous.  You’re ridiculous, Oink.  Where’s my crispy skin??