Spring Break in the UK Day 7 – Roslin & Glasgow

29 May

We stuffed ourselves extra full with the complimentary hotel buffet breakfast to prepare for our excursion on Friday.  The hotel breakfast was composed of both traditional English and Scottish breakfast items, all of mediocre quality (as expected from a buffet set up).  I actually tasted black pudding without realizing it at this meal.  I wasn’t a big fan of the crusty, semi-burnt texture (perhaps the hotel didn’t prepare it well, but I didn’t like it enough to give it another try in the near future).

We put our luggage in storage and headed out to look for a bus that went to Roslin.  Boy was this a challenge.  The public transit system in Edinburgh isn’t quite as sophisticated as the one in London.  The bus schedules were confusing and bus route maps were only available at select bus shelters.  We walked all over town before finding the right bus stop on the north side of new town, only to discover that the bus to Roslin only comes once an hour.  I knew there was a reason why I usually plan out every nit-picky detail of a trip.  

After a long wait and an equally long bus ride, we finally arrived in the small town of Roslin.

Rosslyn Chapel Exterior:

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This little chapel has gained more notoriety and visitors with the wild popularity of The Da Vinci Code (both book and movie) and now has sufficient funds for some restoration projects (as you can see by the large structural awning over the whole chapel).  Though many of Dan Brown’s assertions in the novel about the chapel are purely fictional (or theoretical depending on your beliefs), the chapel still has an interesting history of its own with fascinating architectural elements to match.  For example, the famous “apprentice pillar” gets its name from a legend involving a master mason who didn’t believe his apprentice could carve such intricate stonework without going to see the original column for inspiration.  Upon the master mason’s return and discovery that his apprentice had already completed the column in his absence, he struck the apprentice with a mallet in a fit of jealous rage, killing him.

Apprentice Column:

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The myths and theories about the chapel and the Knights of Templar are endless and I really don’t know much about it except for some casual reading.  So I won’t go on.  Knowing that the bus back to Edinburgh only comes once an hour, we made a quick dash to catch a glimpse of the Roslin Castle ruins before hopping on the bus back to Edinburgh.

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Once back in Edinburgh, we picked up our luggage and were in transit again.  This time via train to Glasgow to catch the Magner’s International Comedy Festival festivities.

It was a long day with the majority of it spent in transit (or finding the appropriate transit).  When we finally arrived in Glasgow and checked into our west end bed and breakfast, it was time for dinner.

The receptionist at the B&B recommended Stravaigin (28 Gibson St), also a Chowhound favorite.  Located in a hip neighborhood with an artsy slant near the University of Glasgow, Stravaigin’s theme is “Think global, eat local.”

Exterior:

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Perhaps the outdoor dining would be pleasant during a mild summer day, but it certainly wasn’t an option on this drizzly cold night.

The restaurant is actually two entities, a cafe/bar upstairs with a casual scene and more affordable nibbles and bites and a full service, more upscale restaurant downstairs.  We were advised by the receptionist at the B&B that the portion sizes of the cafe/bar nibbles and bites are actually quite large and the food is an excellent value.  So after some wandering, we found a small table in the upstairs portion of the cafe/bar area, surrounded by local Glasgow yuppies, chattering away on a Friday night, drinking wines and dining on mouthwatering small plates.  One plate that was on almost every table was the steamed mussels.  We knew we’d have to order them, and they were certainly the highlight of the meal.

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Steamed west coast mussels with sweet chili, coriander, and oyster sauce (£5.75) served with crusty French loaf so you can sop up the delicious broth.  These mussels, though smaller than the ones I’m used to seeing in the US, were tender and delicious.  The flavor of the broth is addictively delightful.  We didn’t waste a drop, using the bread as a soaker to absorb all that wonderful, hint of Thai, flavor. 

Along the Asian-fusion theme, we also had a cold tossed cellophane noodle dish which the menu described as having duck and cashew.  The nutty, sweet, and slightly spicy flavor was great, but I never saw any duck in the dish.

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And a small bowl of woked greens (£2.95):

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Baby bok choy, snow peas, zucchini, and red onion lightly stir fried in a tangy sauce with sweet red chilis.  After almost a week of eating meals without a leafy greens component, this was like detox for my body, even in this small portion.

Lastly, we also ordered Stravaigin’s champit haggis (sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs with spices boiled in a sheep’s lung) with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), a Scottish signature plate that we just had to try.  Luckily, Straivaigin lets you order the starter size (£5.65) so you’re not committed to a large order of the dish that is almost more disgusting to think about than the making of a hot dog.  I’ll admit, even with the heavy spices in haggis, I could never get past that heavy sheepish flavor.  No sir, haggis is not for me.  But if you are going to try haggis in Scotland, Stravaigin is certainly not a bad spot to be adventurous because they offer the smaller plate option and also a vegetarian version (that seems less disgusting, maybe I should have ordered that version).

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With two Magners and tip, our dinner ran us £29, a really excellent value for the UK, particularly for the quality and creativity of food at Straivaigin.

We still had an hour or so before the comedy show started at The Stand, so we headed to Uisge Beatha (236 Woodlands Road) for drinks. 

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Uisge Beatha means “water of life” in gaelic, referring to whisky, of which the bar has a selection of over 200.  The bar is styled in an old fashioned manner, with lots of dark wood benches, tables, a fireplace, and bar staff who wear kilts.  The crowd, however, is anything but old fashioned.  Social university students gather around the tables enjoying ales, chatting the night away.  In fact, even as someone in her mid-20’s, I felt a bit old at the bar.  Not too much of a whisky fan, I ordered a pint of Kronenberg Blanc, an fruity refreshing ale that was perhaps my favorite beer out of the whole trip.

We ended our night with a show at The Stand that featured quick routines from various comedians that had performed at the festival the week prior.  We must have gotten pretty brave with our pre-show drinks at Straivaigin and Uisge Beatha and sat in the front row, perfect targets for ridicule as soon as the host found out that we were from the US (Texas, nonetheless).  The George W. Bush jokes started flying our way immediately.  Half the time I couldn’t really understand the jokes because the comedians had strong Scottish accents.  Oh boy.  Hey, the drunken bravery made it a more memorable experience, and I’m certainly not one to take teasing without dishing some back.

Onto Days 8 & 9 

Back to Day 6

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