A week in Scotland’s West Highlands

We’d been to Edinburgh once for a long weekend of exploring, but were itching for a change of scenery. (Turns out the itching would be literal at times.) When my parents came to visit from Michigan, they told us to pick a place we’d like to explore together. We chose a bed-and-breakfast in Scotland’s West Highlands to use as a daily jumping-off point, and we sure don’t regret any of it. Continue reading A week in Scotland’s West Highlands


The Joint

217 High Street, Royal Mile
Edinburgh, EH1 1PE
Tel: 0131 2258770
Email: info@wannaburger.com


We’d been craving some burgers (ideally not from beef which had also had beef for dinner, but who knows?). We tromped up and down the Royal Mile a couple times over the course of our stay in Edinburgh and the Wannaburger seemed outwardly exactly the kind of place at which I’d be ashamed to tell anyone we dined (sorry, Mom). “Chainy” in appearance (you’d think there’d be many other franchises elsewhere, but according to Wikipedia, there aren’t), cheaply decorated, with glossy, infomercially menus.

But my stomach was growling louder and louder and a few of the other places we’d been wanting to try (among them Chocolate Soup) were jam-packed or pretty pricey, and when Sarah said she thought she’d heard they actually served a pretty good burger. Whomever she heard it from was right. That was the best hamburger I’ve had since making Germany my home.

I had the “Cheese” and an Irn Bru (that’s pronounced “iron brew,” I learned as I asked the waitress what an “urn brew” was). Turns out, Irn Bru is essentially a slightly less sweet version of Faygo brand Rock’n’Rye — kind of cream soda flavored, with a color similar to Orange Crush. The burger itself was quite large. Not the biggest I’ve ever had, but it sure tasted like the best. Thoroughly cooked but not overdone, still juicy and dressed in tomato relish (I saw “relish” in the description on the menu and assumed cucumber pickle relish). It was great, and reasonably priced. Swallow your pride the next time you want a burger and happen to be near Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Wannaburger didn’t disappoint.


So we were at Edinburgh Castle, debating whether or not to pay the exorbitant (14GBP per person) entrance fee. We came down on the side of ‘cheapskate’ (mostly me) and, tired of nearly getting blown off of the hilltop, took off down the Royal Mile to find some lunch. After bypassing a couple of grody looking chip shops and not wanting to wait for a free seat at a friend’s recommended spot, we cried uncle and decided to get a cheeseburger. And I am so glad we did!

The initial appearance is pretty “chainy,” but the location we were at has a full bar and surprisingly nice seating in the back. We were in the front which is more fast-foody in appearance. I had the bacon bbq burger and fries. The burger was pretty much ideal – juicy, but not bloody, substantial (1/4 lb or more), but not obnoxious. And the fries were a guiltly pleasure: deep fried thick crinkle cuts! After the fact, we found out that that Wannaburger is a local chain and that they use Scottish beef in the burgers. Tourist-sellout guilt thus alleviated, I heartily recommend Wannaburger!

Henderson’s Bistro

The Joint

Henderson’s Bistro
94 Hanover Street


We kind of stumbled onto this place as it was not far from the apartment we rented in the New Town and the only restaurant we managed to try for dinner in that part of town. Obviously, there’s still lots to explore. And that’s a good thing. There were a few things we liked about the place, not the least of which was the friendly service, but on the whole, I am sure I’d avoid it in the future, knowing what I know now. First and foremost, we didn’t realize until we’d sat down that the whole place was vegetarian. Maybe we should have; I don’t know — I’m a sucker for falafel and my eyes are always drawn to that word and I tend to ignore everything else.

First, the positives: We each tried a Westons Premium Organic Cider and were quite happy with it. It washed the “Spicy Nachos” we ordered as an appetizer to share down very nicely. And the nachos really were quite tasty. It was great to have the right kind of jalapeños again for once (they always seem wrong somehow in Germany). And our waitress had some good ideas on how to spend our last full day in Edinburgh, which proved relaxing and interesting.

“Opportunities for improvement” (as we like to say in the corporate world): it seemed, for my Spinach & Lentil Falafel main course at least, that all of the flavor had been used up on the spicy nachos appetizer. It was beyond bland and a pretty severe let-down. It didn’t even seem to be fried (kind of my minimum requirement for falafel) — if I had to guess, I’d say they’d been baked or maybe even frozen and then thawed.


It looked like this place is kind of a complex. There seems to be a lunch counter/deli/bakery/market in the front and then this sit-down restaurant iteration in the back. If we hadn’t had our minds boggled by the public transit system in Edinburgh, we might have tried one of the other sections, but alas. I also didn’t notice the vegetarianness of the place as we looked on the menu outside – Cliff saw falafel and it was all over.

The service was great! Our waitress was really nice and took the time to help out a couple of hapless tourists. Cliff didn’t want to get drawn into the banter, but I still remember how to do that, so I went ahead and accepted the chat-up. We came out of it with a neat field trip, so yay me. Anyhoodle, the pear cider was a lovely experience and the nachos were very nice – the flavors were pretty accurate and in the right proportions. Any chance for fairly correct Tex-Mex that I don’t have to make myself is welcome.

My main course was the curry of the day, eggplant and tomato on basmati rice. It was pretty good, but it lacked a certain depth. I have the same problem when I make all-vegetable curries myself, but I expect a little more from a restaurant. The pricing at Henderson’s was actually pretty affordable – one of the more economical meals (outside of Marks & Spencer) we had in Edinburgh.

Urban Angel

The Joint

Urban Angelhttp://www.urban-angel.co.uk/
121 Hanover Street
0131 225 6215


This was a cute little restaurant on the outside restaurant half a flight of stairs down from the street level in the New Town section of Edinburgh, along our daily path downtown. The white paint job on the outside in contrast to the mostly gray buildings surrounding it made it seem extra “cloudy” — because that’s where the angels hang out (presumably). The inside had a much more rustic flair to it, with exposed beams and big, old, heavy looking cast iron hardware. The menu seemed focused on organics, a theme we saw repeatedly in Edinburgh. They even had free-range bacon! I’d not heard of that before. (Tasted good, too.) It seemed kind of expensive though, at £7.90 for just french toast and bacon. Lots of seafood items offered in the non-breakfast specials.


I love how vertical space is used in Edinburgh. This place was a few steps below street level, but it didn’t feel subterranean. The decor used the old elements (exposed stone walls, beams, old-fashioned stove/fireplace), but kept it light and airy. As Cliff said, there was a serious organic bent to the place and that was reflected in the prices. But my french toast and bacon was really well prepared and the quality was very high. Maybe not high enough to warrant that kind of pricing, but I’m not much a breakfast person. The service was super-friendly , but the coffee was nothing to write home about.

Final thoughts from Edinburgh

Actually, these are from the air after having departed Edinburg on our way to our connecting flight in Amsterdam. I’m posting them from a hotspot at B24, waiting for our flight to Munich.

(Parenthetical paragraph: Thanks Adam, for the Schengen-non-Schengen explanation of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport and the concourse / security queue layouts. I told a ticket agent at Edinburgh what a pain Amsterdam can be for that very reason. Fortunately, it was pretty painless today, too.)

Edinburgh has an impressive bus system – at least based on outward appearances. 3GBP for an adult day pass is a pretty good deal, if you need it. Turns out we didn’t, based on where we were staying and what/how much we wanted to accomplish each day. We only used the bus twice – one trip out to Cramond and one back. You see busses, hundreds of them even, out on the street at all times of day. But if you don’t know exactly which bus you need or where it stops, good luck. The signage is awful — self-defeating actually, since often we couldn’t read the bus numbers at the stops until having reached the bus shelter, as OTHER bus signs were obscuring the ones we needed to see. Why bother with signs at all then? And it didn’t do us much good to try to figure out on the bus system’s website where the stops are on a real map (not just a schematic). I’ve seen that Google Maps has started marking U-Bahn stops and routes for Munich (and presumably other metropoles) on the maps for that area. That’s “brill” and a long time coming. Now every city needs that, for all their lines.

How about that Starbucks Gingerbread Latte? Pretty freakin’ tasty. Finally a reason other than Frappucinos to head into a Starbucks. I think I had three of them this trip. Seems like there was a Starbucks on every other corner around the bigger streets in New Town.

Shepherd’s Pie eluded me on this trip, but not for lack of trying. We did manage to snag some fantastic Indian (“curry”) take-out on our last evening. An original West Cornwall pasty at the airport on the way home and the fish-and-chips towards the beginning of the trip meant that we got enough native British stuff to eat. Especially considering the amount we brought home from Marks & Spencer to prepare/consume at the apartment.

When boarding planes, why don’t they get a PROPER boarding order down to a science? Sure, Extra-Special Lesser Deity Gold, Silver and Silver Plus can get on the plane first, for all I care. But why not implement a Window, Middle, Aisle seating order? We’ve all got boarding passes denoting the seat. Wouldn’t that make more sense? Over and over and over again passengers seated in the middle or aisle have to get up and let the window-seat passengers get to their window, just because they boarded out of this order. Seems like a simple solution to getting the sheeple onto the plane and seadted more quickly doesn’t it?

I don’t banter well (anymore). I think I used to; I must have lost this skill somewhere over the last five years. I wonder if the UK, or maybe English-speaking countries in general have banter-prone cultures. It’s not that I mind making small talk about practically nothing among those I know or want to know better — but the cashier selling me a hat and a shirt at Marks & Spencer doesn’t seem worthy of getting my life story, or even the circumstances which brought my American accent to his cash register. When forced, my answers are usually clipped and humorless. Clearly this also presents its own distinct disadvantage: potentially missed opportunity. We dined at a restaurant with a perfectly lovely and chatty waitress here in Edinburgh. She inquired as to our accents, wanted to know where in the U.S. we’re from, how long we’d be staying in Scotland, and even divulged that she too is a native North American (from P.E.I. to be exact). Sarah played along much better than I. Good thing too, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have gotten her tip to visit Cramond Island or at least the shore at Cramond, a town on the coast of the Firth of Forth (love saying that). We had a nice walk from the #41 bus route down into the village at out to the shore, where lots of people and their furry fetching friends were also out for a stroll along the seashore.

I wondered if this was evidence of the supposed superficiality Germans sometimes claim Americans exhibit. I mean, if that’s originally a British cultural artifact, then it makes sense that we as Americans have absorbed it. But the Germans don’t claim that the Scots/Welsh/Irish/English are superficial, do they? That’s an honest question, since I don’t know enough people from the British Isles to ask whether Germans accuse them of being superficial in their interpersonal activities.

I think Sarah nailed it when she said it’s simply a more frequent readiness to smile, shoot the breeze, etc. When we asked for extra help around here (with catching a bus, directions inside the airport, etc.), we got more smiles and chuckles than we bargained for every time. Even passers-by on our stroll along the shore at Cramond made pleasant, cheerful comments of encouragement. It was actually quite…warm. I think I can see how others might classify Germans as culturally cold if they were coming from a place where random pleasantries* are frequent and above suspicion.

Here are the best shots from our last full day, Sunday, in the Edinburgh area. It was a great trip for the city and it did well to convince us that we’d like to see more of rural Scotland, perhaps by flying into a big city and renting a car for a BnB-hopping adventure next year.

*And I can see that the term in itself is subjective. What is an objective term for those things?

Edinburgh Day 3

I was dumb today and forgot to pack my camera as we left the rental apartment. Or was I? These shots from our little Samsung ES55 and they seem pretty good to me at first glimpse. But I’m looking at them on our netbook too, so maybe my opinion will change when we get home.

Today was our shopping day. Not sure why, but we like to acquire kitchen implements when traveling. A cheese grater in Erfurt, a glove for slicing only our food and not yourself in Kansas City — this tradition is growing. Our garlic press will now forever remind of of our trip to Edinburgh.

We explored the Princes Street Gardens and strolled up around the west side of hill upon which Edinburgh Castle sits and had a look. We decided not cough up the £11 (£14 if you want the audio guide) as we were beginning to get cold and tired. So we headed back down the Royal Mile and into some good shopping.

The weather was not as cooperative today. It was really windy all day, inverting all kinds of umbrellas (but not ours, ha!) and when the rain came down the hardest after we made our way back to Princes Street, we ducked into some department stores. I snagged some new duds; maybe some pictures of them will appear here soon.

Ready for the slideshow? Here you are:

Edinburgh — Day Two

Another lucky day, weatherwise. Even better than yesterday, actually, because there was a lot of sun.

We got up much later than expected, probably because the shutters in the bedroom block out all the light. When we got rolling, I was pretty hungry (like I am, in the morning, especially on vacation), so we stopped in at the Urban Angel because it was on the way and looked cute. Good choice. We each had the French Toast and bacon. I was surprised to see the bacon had also been dusted with powdered sugar. I thought that was a little weird, but it tasted OK.

From there we decided we needed to take advantage of the weather to stroll the Royal Mile. Looks like that was well-played, too — tomorrow’s forecast is very rainy. When we got to the end of it, we noticed we’d happened upon Holyrood House, and since its owners weren’t home, we decided to take a tour. I scoffed at the £10 admission but I have to admit it was well worth it. For an extra £4 a piece we also got admission to the Queen’s Gallery, currently showing chilling photographs from two disastrous British expeditions to the South pole. Also well worth it.

After that, we were I was beginning to get hungry again, so we stopped in at the World’s End for a chippy. Needless to say, that left us feeling pretty full, which was the best time to go grocery shopping. Apparently, clementine season is already in full swing here. Are they on sale already in Germany, too? Hope so.

After that, we were tired from pounding the pavement and hauling the groceries around, and it was already well and truly dark (we’re pretty far North), so we just decided to stay and watch local TV to soak up some more of that accent. Here are the rest of the pictures from today, in slideshow format for your viewing pleasure:

Edinburgh Day One

We got up at an ungodly hour today and finalized the packing and personal hygiene measures n order to greet our AirportLiner driver outside the door of our apartment building promptly at 3:40. We got to Munich airport pretty smoothly despite dense fog and Autobahn closures due to accidents. Boarded, and then slept our way to Amsterdam.

How many of you go through Asterdam fairly regularly? That place seems to be a disaster whenever you have to transfer from B terminal to D, E, F, G, or H — incurring a passport check by Dutch immigration — which is like every dang time. In reality, the lines weren’t that terribly long to wait through. We didn’t shuffle toward the desk for more than 10 minutes. But it sure was chaotic and stress-inducing to have all those lines open and be so far back from their points of orign as to not be sure whether you were in the EU Passports or All Passports line.

Getting to downtown Edinburgh via the public airport shuttle bus was very easy — even fun. We rode a double-decker with friendly and welcoming periodic announcements from the bus driver.

We checked in at our rental apartment and set out to explore on foot. First stop: Waterstone’s book store, to snag a travel guide.

Then, to Marks & Spencer Simply Food for lunch fixins. They have a lot of neat stuff there! Parsnip chips and blueberry/pomegranate water, but what really caught my eye were these:

Scotch Eggs

Scotch Eggs. I had been curious about them for over a year, ever since watching Keith indulge in one for snack The Office. Verdict: not bad, but cetainly not good for you. Had to try them just once.

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While out stretching our legs after all the travel today, I snapped these:

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