From the Roman times when it was a strange land beyond the limes, Scotland is seen a mythical, romantic land, where reality is very much heightened: castles over lochs, soaring crags, feisty maidens, hardy gents in kilts. Even when parodied for its very worst: economic decline, heavy alcoholism, nationalistic delusions and platehora of artery-cloggig foods (not only are there deep fried Mars bars, there are also fried cheeseburgers), Scotland has a charm of hard personality: non-faddish, true to (and slightly absorbed with) itself and history, for better or worse; a bit like Southern Italy of the North.
And the stereotypes do hold true, in as much sterotypes can: a surprising number of people wear kilts and play bagpipes for pleasure, rowdy kids in tracksuits flip birds to cab-drivers, while pub patrons are quick to chat, laugh and help. All of this (plus amazing hiking options) make Edinburgh and Glasgow very unique places to visit. While many other British cities sadly have rows upon rows of Pizza Expresses and KFCs in desicated town centres populated by pensioners and a distinctly moribund feel, with little civic pride, Edinburgh and Glasgow not only wear their long histories proudly (almost every stone has a plaque) but are punching far above their weight culturally. Firstly there is music (Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Franz Ferdinand, to name a few), amazing art (Kelvingrpve and Scottish National Galleries have very good collections), exciting architecture (from Neogothic follies to Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Gaudi of Scotland) and finally vibrant cafe and restaurant culture, benefiting in equal measure from low rents and large student populations. Besides whiskys, there is also a range of decent craft brews, to help the long rainy winters to pass in in a haze.
I can only hope that Scottish cities will project their charms to an even wider audience and manage tonharness them for better. Although a bit far fetched, it would not be impossible to see Glasgow as Barcelona of the North, attracting creatives and start-ups with low rents and fun-loving culture, or to see Edinburgh as a genteel business hub.
So if you are tempted to visit her are a few places to check out:
Lovecrumbs – charming cafe with great cakes
Tailends – fish and chips as it should be- battered deep fried cod tasted so good that I even imagined it was healthy
Edinburgh books – great second hand bookshop
Westroom – elegant minimalsit restaurant
Cafe Piccante and Bede’s – chippies to go for to enjoy “gourmet” deepfired delights
Mother India – lovely mini chain of great indian restaurants
Munros – cozy sports pub, great range of brews
Artisan Roast – amazing coffee, v good food