Ah Scotland! Home of bagpipes, kilts, whisky, tartan, Shrek and other non-green men with Scottish accents… Scotland and its European cousin Ireland have long been on my bucket list to visit, and with a sudden urge to see Elton John live during my UK summer and no ocean to traverse, Scotland seemed the perfect one to begin with.
I set off from London with my Australian friend to the land where winter never ends and the hills are impossibly green. We spent two nights in Glasgow before taking a lengthy drive through the Scottish Highlands and spending a night in the capital of the Highlands, Inverness, which is also the hometown of my great-grandmother on my one surviving grand parent’s side. We managed to fit an impressive amount of exploring into a short trip.
We ended up forgoing the train in favour of the cheaper and faster flying option through EasyJet which did mean that I wound up trying to fit a winter wardrobe into a cabin bag in order to avoid paying extra. I’m not the sort of girl who is down with wearing slight variations of the same outfit for 3 days straight so I probably wouldn’t be that thrifty again.
Honestly, I’m not exaggerating about the whole winter thing. Average temp ranged from 13-16 degrees Celsius for the duration of our trip (not counting wind chill factor, which was significant) and apparently this is totally normal. Our Airbnb host in Glasgow gushed about how they’d just been enjoying some lovely hot days of 22 degrees when London was going through its heatwave. As we say in South Africa, ag shame man…
We stayed in the West End bit of Glasgow which is 10 minutes away from the city centre and a lovely, arty district. For our first meal we naturally turned to Spanish cuisine to fake a bit of summer and happily tucked into the most delicious tapas and terracotta jug of sangria at an authentically Spanish place called Tinto Tapas which had one of the cutest interiors I’ve ever seen. Highly recommend! Travel, the sangria plus the climate shock necessitated a nap before we headed out again in search of a bar with live music.
We were recommended a Southern USA-themed restaurant named Bar Gumbo. Unfortunately they don’t host gigs on the weekends but we did have a tasty, cheese-filled meal and some well-priced cocktails before walking to some bars in search of this elusive live music. We struck gold at the third bar, The Record Factory which was nothing short of ridiculously cool. Sadly I don’t have any photos, but think face-brick walls filled with rock ‘n roll memorabilia, plenty of tables, velvet couches, cheap drinks and a jam-packed sunken dance floor. A cover band called Bombskare was playing. They boasted a very random collection of humans but they rocked hard and so did we. A throaty rock rendition of Britney Spears’ Piece of Me was a quirky highlight. If you ever head to Glasgow you need to schedule yourself a visit there!
We fitted in some cultural exploring before heading to Sir Elton, namely paying a visit to the gothic grounds of Gerald Butler’s alma mater aka Glasgow University. One of the oldest universities in the UK and Europe it’s worth a tour simply for the amazing architecture, the ultra-instagrammable cloisters and a collection of on-site museums.
The concert was out in Airdrie which is an industrial town about an hour out of Glasgow by train. Everyone seemed hella confused as to why it was there, even the tweets about the concert were along the lines of “Can’t believe Elton John is doing a concert in Aidrie #WTF” and “Why can I hear Elton John from my apartment in Airdrie?” In spite of some disappointment regarding an early start and an abrupt end (we missed the 1st 4 songs due to the FB page for his tour dates not having updated from European time) I am happy to report that Sir Elton still has “IT” and played a crowd-pleasing mix of old hits and new tracks. There was a somewhat awkward moment where he gave a tribute to George Michael and then immediately launched into I’m Still Standing.
Another highlight was the public bus back to the station which was choc-full of merry Scots in high spirits (and a good dash of some other types of spirits, methinks) who began an impromptu and rousing singalong of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road aided by a lass at the front who’d looked up the lyrics on her iPhone.
This was honestly par for the course as during my brief time there, I found the Scots to be among the loveliest, friendliest, most helpful and accommodating people I’ve ever met.
Before we set out on our roadtrip the next morning we stopped by Paper Cup for a healthy breakfast. I had a breakfast twist on a poke bowl with smoked salmon and black rice on nori and avo with a miso dressing, topped with a fried egg. Perfection! They also serve great coffee which is actually very high praise from me as so far I’ve been severely bummed by the standard of coffee in the UK; most cups simply aren’t even close to being worth their high price tag. The friendly barista asked us where we were off to and happily offered up some Highlands travel tips before we headed off in our new rental car and into part 2 of my Scottish adventure…