Edinburgh – my first city visited in the U.K. The place where I discovered and developed a taste for Scotch. Where I learned a new meaning for the term “jimmy hat”, and where I never mustered up enough guts to eat Haggis.
To begin this journey, I have start at the very beginning with my flight on KLM. Until this trip, I had mainly flown on domestic airlines and always left disappointed in the service. To me, many airlines act as if they are not part of the hospitality industry. Service is very basic and they look at customers as strictly dollars and cents (strange coming from a revenue manager, I know, but hear me out lol)
However, my experience with KLM was so pleasant, I feel the need to take a few lines to review it. It started at the check in desk when the agent told us to be sure we get to the gate on time because they were looking to leave early. (excuse me!?) After reaching the gate and scanning our boarding passes, we were greeted by agents on the jetway smiling, waving, and thanking us for flying with them. I was beginning to wonder if this was real. After boarding, we were offered multiple complimentary drinks. I felt obliged to enjoy them all. After the nightmares I’ve experienced flying domestically, it was a refreshing and reassuring change of pace to actually be treated as a guest by an airline. Kudos to you KLM.
To date, I’ve been to Edinburgh twice and I’ll compile my visits into one post. We’ll tour the highlands and visit one of the oldest whiskey distilleries in the U.K. Take a trip on Her Royal Majesty’s yacht, the Royal Brittania, drink afternoon tea at the Balmoral Hotel, and visit the world’s largest bottle of Whiskey. We’ll visit the Christmas market and figure out what exactly is a Hogmanay. Take a look (get it?) at an optical illusion museum and of course, take a trip back in time at Edinburgh Castle. Let’s get started!!
When traveling, I like to enjoy a dish or drink that the locale is known for. In Scotland, that is of course whiskey. Or more appropriately, Scotch. During our first dinner after arriving in Edinburgh, I decided to give this scotch thing a go. I knew enough to know that you don’t order it on the rocks, so straight up for me. The waiter brings over my glass, and I take my first sip. I would compare it to tasting jet fuel for the first time. The alcohol hits the back of my throat and I instantly go into a coughing fit. Mrs. ‘Parblems says “good huh?”. “Incredible” was my response. Obviously, the next logical thing to do was take a tour of a whiskey distillery to see how this tasty beverage is made.
For this excursion we chose the “Castle, Lochs, and Whisky”* tour from Highland experience tours (www.highlandexperience.com). The tour takes the full day, 7am – 7pm, and conveniently leaves from the Royal Mile, just steps from Edinburgh Castle. Our first stop was Blair Atholl Distillery where we were given a tour, learned the history of the distillery and of course enjoyed multiple samples. I have a vague memory of playing a virtual reality game where the group moved together to control a bird flying over the Scottish Highlands. Whiskey is strong.
*This has been updated to “Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond and Whisky”. Which is even cooler because you get to see where ̶M̶̶e̶̶l̶̶ ̶̶G̶̶i̶̶b̶̶s̶̶o̶̶n̶ William Wallace defeated the English!
Next up was a stop in the Scottish Highlands. As you would imagine it was picturesque, beautiful, and not to mention COLD! I would NOT recommend the Scottish Highlands in February! How William Wallace survived these in a kilt I will never know. If you go during winter like I did, it is worth jumping off the tour bus for a few seconds to witness the rolling hills and snap a quick pic. But, I would suggest doing this part of the tour in the warmer months.
Onto Glenturret Distillery which is the oldest in Scotland. They have been making Scotch here (legally)since 1775. History claims that this distillery was under the control of illicit distillers since 1717 who sought to avoid paying taxes to England. Gotta love a little bootlegging. This distillery is most notable for producing The Famous Grouse blended scotch, and it is quite an interesting tour! You of course get a behind the scenes look at the barrels and receive an education on how the scotch is made. And you’ll learn the difference between a blended scotch and single malt.
Along the way, you will see a statue erected to the famous distillery cat, Towser. Towser made it into the Guiness Book of World records as the world’s best mouser, catching 28,899 mice in her lifetime! She would leave them in the middle of the floor for the humans to pick up. How thoughtful 😊
However, my favorite part of the tour is the world’s largest bottle of whiskey sitting in the corner! Standing at 5 feet 7 inches, this take home size bottle of Famous Grouse is recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records. The perfect gift for the holidays, birthday parties, or budget season.