Finding Scotland, Stateside

American Adventures, Edinburgh Expeditions

It’s been nearly three months since I left Scotland. Strangely, I fell back into the rhythm of living back home without too much difficulty. I expected to be pulling my out my hair, moaning, mourning. But I’m not.

There have been a few things that have made the transition back to America easy. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to get lots of foods I had grown accustomed to, the ale I grew to love, and miss the friends I had made.

The food isn’t too difficult. Mostly I ate things like risotto, which I can easily make in America. I miss the sweets quite a bit, but have been sent care packages from friends with delicious delicious chocolate. Walker’s shortbread is an easy fix, too. Tea isn’t an issue, as my mum and I are very picky tea drinkers and prefer the finest in Tesco supermarket tea (my rent is tea bags. I brought back 800. And McVities digestives. I’m good for a few months).

The real trouble? Haggis. Oh my goodness. It’s so good! Especially with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes).

The ale, that was a real concern. I developed a taste for Scottish ales. Innis & Gunn is a real favourite. Imagine my surprise when I found that a local sandwich bar had it on draught, a rare enough thing in Edinburgh, where it’s brewed. That was an amazing discovery. And I can get it bottled at some specialty grocery stores! Win!

Friends, well, thank goodness for Skype! Every day I’m speaking to someone I met in Scotland, some days more than one. And the Far Off Places crew has had conference skypes, which has been awesome to speak with everyone. I’ve even managed to have lunch with one of my Edinburgh friends (he was visiting Boston from LA, was awesome to see him).

And there is always the possibility for visits, both to Edinburgh, and around the world. I’ve friends on nearly every continent, it’s now just a case of traveling to see them!

A recipe for an unexpected meal

Edinburgh Expeditions

Following the success of The Recipe Given to Us by the Stoned Irishman back in May (onions, garlic, courgette, pasta and salmon in a cream sauce), we decided that we would have our entire meal planned by strangers. This included a toast, cocktail, and a three course meal.

Armed with a notebook, pen and bouquet of yellow roses, my friends and I hit the streets of Edinburgh to have locals and tourists alike plan our dinner party.

The cocktail was given to us first by a group of skateboarders in Bristo Square. The cocktail? A Jakeyboy, half Buckfast and half cider. We couldn’t find Buckfast, so this was nixed in favour of traditional cocktails.

An elderly gentleman gave us the starter–“You’ll want a soup,” he said. “A nice Scotch broth. Or perhaps borscht.” With the suggestion of borscht we also got a story about dining in restaurants in communist Russia. “And the ice cream. You never think of ice cream when you think of communist Russia, but they had the best ice cream.”

Our main was chicken/vegetarian curry (standard Scottish affair, but delicious nevertheless). The dessert a molten chocolate cake–I wasn’t around for either of these suggestions.

Our toasts came from a busker on the Royal Mile, a Portuguese saw-player who wears a top hat. “Salud” is the only one of the three I can remember. Other toasts came from ourselves, the British Navy of Nelson’s era (fittingly, the Sunday toast is ‘to absent friends’ and the occasion for the dinner was a going away party), and a favourite of one of my recently departed American friends which is not repeated in polite company.

We collected stories to tell through the night, including a very sweet one about what you see when you are falling asleep from one of the Royal Mile vendors. One of my friends is an accomplished harpist, so that night when I told the story, we had musical accompaniment.

We gave each person a yellow rose as a thank you for their contribution. The leftovers we used to make bouquets, and the roses are still going strong, sitting on one of the tables in my flat, fully blooming and only slightly touched by brown.

An eclectic evening, but a fantastic one, filled with friends, laughter and the happiest of memories touched with the sadness of our friend’s departure–but her adventures will be wonderful and I look forward to hearing about them.

Balkan is the new punk.

Edinburgh Expeditions

“You might want to change your shoes,” a friend said to me.
I looked down at my ballerina flat clad toes. “Combat boots then?”
She nodded. “Combat boots. Have you never been to Balkanarama before?” Seeing me shake my head, she continued, “The dancing is a bit like being in a mosh pit.”

Despite my (joking) claims that I was a punk in a former life (can’t help it, I have a soft spot for ’70s punk music) , pogoing and moshing have been two styles of dancing I’ve never been particularly keen to try. Needless to say, that’s exactly what I was going to attempt, I just didn’t know it at the time.

Balkanarama is a popular club night in Edinburgh. It features, surprise, Balkan music, both live and DJed. I hadn’t listened to Balkan music at all prior to Thursday night, when I ran into two-thirds of Bobok serenading my friends. When I got a text from another friend suggesting that we go on Saturday, I was completely on board.

What I found at Studio 24 (an independent club just off of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile) was not what I expected–in a good way. I had no idea what would be waiting for me, not only where the club was (we got ever so slightly lost, ending up on Calton Hill and looking down on the club rather than standing right by it), but what it would be like inside. Two floors, of which I only made to the first; reasonably priced beer (a can of Red Stripe for £3); some seats near the bar, and a pulsing pit of dancers in front of a live music stage.

I took a swig of my beer and looked to my friend. We both looked to the pit, to each other, and nodded. The loud, blistering sound of violin, accordion, trumpet and percussion greeted us, along with the undulating mass of bodies and reek of sweat. The pit was sweaty, smelly and alive.

Alive sums up Balkanarama. There’s something about bouncing up and down to energetic music, bumping into those around you, somehow ending up right by the stage, dancing like a madman and being knocked against the metal railing. Something wonderful, endorphin-inducing. I had a massive smile on my face even when we left, sometime after the band Smash Kafana left the stage.

As we wandered home, we said, ‘why on earth had we not gone there before?’

I’ll surely be at Balkanarama in coming months, still in my combat boots.

The Spontaneous City

Edinburgh Expeditions

One thing that I love about Edinburgh, and indeed my friends, is the spontaneity that exists like a heartbeat. The city is magical, alive with its own way throwing things at you, opportunities wonderful to behold, that must be grabbed and enjoyed.

I was returning home from an event in Leith and got off at the wrong bus stop–not a problem, as it was only slightly more out of my way. If I hadn’t departed the bus at the National Museum of Scotland, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon a group of my friends having an outdoor dinner (complete with table and chairs) being serenaded by two-thirds of the Balkan folk group Bobok.

Never being one to turn down the opportunity to hang out with friends (and listen to awesome live music), I pulled up a chair, sat down, and enjoyed a glass of wine. We laughed, danced, chatted as the sun continued to fall.

Being Edinburgh, the darkening sky brought some rain, and the musicians were anxious to keep their instruments dry. We scurried beneath the Potterrow underpass, bringing our table and chairs with us. The concert continued, with the Balkan music reverberating in the under-road pass. People passed us by, admiring our full dinner set up, and the musicians playing.

Needless to say, everyone who walked by wished they were with us.

Poetry in the Park

Edinburgh Expeditions

This weekend, a group of my friends and I celebrated May Day a little late. Being of a literary mindset, we decided to hold a late-night picnic complete with good company, decent-to-good wine, and good poetry.

It was a laid-back affair, a gathering of just under twenty crazy cats bundled up against the cold May night. We had stacks of poetry books and an iPad, letting us flip through and find just the right poem for our moods. The poems read were insanely varied, from Tim Burton’s “Match Boy and Stick Girl in Love” to Shakespeare’s “Sonnet No. 2” to Dante Alighieri’s “Tanto gentile e tanto nostre pare” to dirty limericks recited when the mood got too serious. We laughed, we chatted, we decided that “The Jabberwocky” was really written by Robert Burns.

The poetry reading was a success. We sat out in the cold for four hours, leaving just before midnight, carrying the tea lights that had lit our circle as lanterns as we wandered back into the Edinburgh night.

In which Beth eats unusual foods (for her)

Edinburgh Expeditions

Whenever I’m travelling, I try to eat a new thing every day. Living in a new country, this doesn’t happen daily, particularly as living somewhere entails me making my own food.

Today, however, I managed to eat a meal filled with foods I never had consumed before. I went with a few of my friends to Saigon Saigon, which is one of the tasiest Chinese restaurants in Edinburgh.

We looked over the menu and then ordered, my friends (two from China, one from Taiwan) suggesting and selecting some of their favourite dishes. I just had one request: whatever we ate, there had to be at least one dish that wasn’t too spicy.

We ended up with five dishes. One, my favourite, I can’t recall what it was called. But what else did I eat? Let me preface by saying yes, I knew what I was eating. And it was all delicious.

Shredded chicken–my choice. Not too spicy at all.

Roasted duck tongue–a favourite of one of my friends. A bit spicy for my taste, but I did eat three tongues. As well as the bones of two, I didn’t realize there were bones in it…the crunchiness should have tipped me off.

Cow stomach–I’ve had stomach before, when I was in Italy (lamprodotto). I wasn’t a fan then, I’m really not a fan now either.

Pig’s feet–Um, these were delicious. Succulent and tasty, with a lovely sauce.

Sadly, the duck gizzards were unavailable. My friends said that they’re delicious, and I wanted to try them!

For desert, I had coconut milk with soga and tapioca. Wonderful!


And no, I still haven’t tried haggis.