Trip on a jet tank: Scotland is wonderfulBy G. Michael Dobbs
Editor's Note: The Reminder Newsroom is excited to bring you a new series this summer Trip on a Jet Tank. Our reporters will feature a variety of locations they've visited, which will help you plan future getaways to locations such as Scotland our first destination in the series San Francisco, Calif., Cape Town, South Africa and Asia.
To paraphrase Billy Connolly, the great Scottish comedian, there is more to Scotland than just the images one sees on a tin of shortbread.
I certainly realized that on my three trips to the nation, the last one just being several weeks ago. If you're looking for a foreign vacation destination that will offer an amazing combination of history, activities and incredible landscapes and you don't have to worry about understanding the language well, perhaps a bit Scotland should be on your list.
My wife, who was born and raised there, and I returned for a wedding, but stayed long enough to explore more of the country than we had in previous trips. We packed a lot in our two weeks and the following are some suggestions and tips for your own trip.
Most of the nation's population lives in the area defined around and between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Those two cities are quite different and offer the visitor a dizzying array of things to do and see.
I see them like Chicago and New York, respectively. Edinburgh is the capital of the country and is definitely a tourist town. The Royal Mile, which begins at Edinburgh Castle (www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk), must be on your agenda. Wear comfortable shoes and tour the castle first, then work your way down the street. There are a plethora of shops and tourist joints that are fun.
Off the Royal Mile you'll find the superb National Museum of Scotland (www.nms.ac.uk), which features a combination of exhibits on art and history. Across from the museum is a monument to the legendary Greyfriars Bobby, the dog who would not leaves his master's grave in the nearby cemetery. The neighborhood cared for the grief stricken animal and there is an excellent pub there named in his honor.
If you're in Edinburgh, a side trip to Rosslyn Chapel (www.rosslynchapel.org.uk) is a great idea. Featured as the location in the book and film "The Da Vinci Code" as a probable location for the Holy Grail, the real story of this family chapel is even more interesting than any fictional story.
Seven miles outside the city, the chapel is easily and economically reached by city bus. Taking city buses and trains is the way to go in Scotland. Bus drivers can give advice, although there are maps and schedules at every bus stop and a phone line dedicated to fare and scheduling questions.
Rosslyn Chapel was built before Columbus came to the Americas and was essentially abandoned during the violence of the Reformation. It has been restored and protected for years and is still in the hands of the decedents of the family who built it.
The intricate and inexplicable stone carvings will provide hours of fascination and the guides are friendly and knowledgeable. Is the Grail there? The guides will tell you the crypt beneath the chapel has never been opened, so the mystery continues. By the way, the chapel is once again an active church.
If Edinburgh is the tourist town with bagpipers playing on the street corners for donations, Glasgow is the city of commerce and industry that has a group of wonderful and free museums, 91 city parks including the spectacular Botanical Gardens, a vibrant night life and arts scene. It's one of my favorite cities to visit.
Don't miss the new Riverside Museum, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum or The Burrell Collection (www.glasgowlife.org.uk/Pages/default.aspx).
Glasgow has a great sightseeing bus tour (www.citysightseeingglasgow.co.uk) that costs roughly $20 a person and brings you to sights around the city. The ticket is good for two days and you can hop on and off at any stop that interests you. It's a great value and two days is hardly enough to see everything offered on the tour.
The main place to catch this bus is at George's Square, the center of the city, which is a few steps away from the main shopping thoroughfares of Buchanan and Sauchiehall streets. There are few downtown areas in the United States that have the life and energy as this section of Glasgow.
But Scotland is certainly not all urban. It is a country if great scenic beauty. North of Glasgow is Loch Lomand, a beautiful and huge lake and The Trossachs National Forest (www.lochlomond-trossachs.org). We were fortunate to have one of my wife's cousins and her husband drive us through the region and then to the mountains on the way to Glen Coe.
If you're not so lucky to have hospitable relations, there are tour services that offer escorted day bus tours to locations such as this one.
The mountains are frozen in time. They look as if a wooly mammoth could be walking around and seem mostly untouched by the hand of man. There are plenty of trails for hikers that take you to the summits of some of the peaks.
That trip was simply breathtaking and our cousins gave me, the film historian, an extra treat: on the way back they showed us three locations that Alfred Hitchcock used in his classic 1935 film "The 39 Steps."
I can't pass up sharing a few words about eating in Scotland. You must try a traditional Scottish breakfast consisting of rashers of bacon (not like ours), egg, fried tomato and mushroom, haggis, black pudding and toast. I'm not a fan of black pudding, the Scottish blood sausage, but everything else is delicious.
When dining in Scotland, remember that "pies" are not just something necessarily for dessert and "pudding" means dessert. I'm a huge fan of the original Scotch pie, a round pastry filled with a ground beef mixture is usually served with chips (French fries), beans or peas. There are a huge variety of pies that are well worth trying.
Something you shouldn't pass up is fish and chips. Yes, you can easily get that in the United States, but I can assure you the best fish and chips on the planet are found in neighborhood "chippie." A "fish supper" has two large battered and fried filets and a small mountain of freshly made chips. My wife also adds a pickled onion to the meal.
Speaking of trying, when people think of Scottish food they always talk about haggis. It is the subject of much misinformation and is a tasty sausage that is traditionally served with mashed potato and turnip. Try it!
Despite a six to seven hour flight, Scotland is a place that is worthy of multiple trips.