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Chapter 48: Family-Friendly Fun in Edinburgh

Castles and whisky and the grimiest nightclub known to man.

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Edinburgh is such a goofy town. The street names don’t make sense. The accents don’t make sense. The food certainly doesn’t make any sense (shoutout haggis).

Edinburgh is also a college town. Imagine Athens, GA, but you replace the football stadium with a castle on a hill, throw everyone’s accent in a blender, and paint the sky in a near-permanent overcast. That’s pretty much what we’re dealing with here.

The city was a bit sleepier than it was during my last excursion here, largely because many of the students were still home for the holidays. However, Crox and I managed to have a fun, family-friendly trip to Scotland.

Monday, January 2nd

I woke up to Crox knocking on my door at 8:30. Yesterday, the hot water went out in the hotel. It was slowly coming back on, floor by floor, so they gave us an extra room with hot water to compensate for the issue, and Crox and I got our own rooms for the night. Great customer service.

HOWEVER, while the hot water worked in the room the night before, it was not working this morning. Great stuff.

So anyways, I didn’t shower, and we grabbed our bags and walked 15 minutes to King’s Cross Station. We had a four-hour train to Edinburgh ahead of us, and we arrived about an hour early. King’s Cross has really leaned into the Harry Potter fandom, and we saw a line out the door of their “Platform 9 & ¾ “ store.

We grabbed coffee and breakfast (which for Crox just consisted of coffee) and boarded the train at 10:45. Our seats were on separate cars, and karma must have decided to balance out the lack of hot water in my hotel room because the person sitting next to me never showed up.

Train seat to yourself is so clutch.

I napped/wrote basically the whole time I was on the train, and we reached Edinburgh Waverley station at 3. I had left my Mac charger in London, so we hit the Apple Store across the street from the station, then headed to the Airbnb.

And yes, it was already pretty much dark by 3:45 PM. Northern latitude gang is wild.

Our Airbnb was great. A 2BR, 2 Bath flat tucked away in the Grass Market neighborhood. We dropped our stuff off, showered, then bounced around town for a bit. Like most European cities, Edinburgh had a Christmas Market set up near the town center. The market itself was great, but the Ferriss Wheel and flashing lights kind of took away from the rustic “old-ness” of the cobblestone city. Still, Edinburgh is a beautiful city.

Edinburgh is also quite literally a tale of two cities. The south side is “Old Town” with its centuries-old stone buildings and winding alleyways. It houses The University of Edinburgh, the National Museum of Scotland, and dozens of pubs and bars.

The north side is “New Town” with its grid-shaped street plan, newer architecture, retail shopping districts, and a strip of bars/clubs with live music.

In the center lies the Royal Mile, a cobblestone street that marches uphill to the castle.

When we arrived, Edinburgh Castle was painted in midnight blue light, making an imposing background from all points of the city.

Also, castles are so sick. America needs more castles.

We grabbed some dinner at a nearby pub (haggis burgers and guinesses for 2, please) before hitting a bar with live music near our place called Finnigan’s Tavern. However, we called it a night quickly. Still in recovery mode from NYE in London.

Tuesday, January 3rd

As you may know, Scotland is known for its whisky (you drop the “e” here), and Johnnie Walker is the world’s largest brand of scotch. Jake booked us a tour of the Johnnie Walker distillery in town, and it was fantastic.

I previously did the Heineken tour in Amsterdam, and it was pretty mid. An overly theatrical event that told basically nothing about the beer itself, that ended with 2 (or in my case, 4, because I reappropriated 2 extra) beers.

The Johnnie Walker tour, however, was awesome. We learned about the history of the company as well as its distillation process. The guide broke down the different types of whiskies, how they are aged, and how Johnnie Walker expanded internationally over time. We also got to sample 3-4 different whiskies over the course of the tour, which is always a nice touch.

After the tour, we headed further north to explore different parts of the city. We tried to go to Kitty O’Shea’s pub, but it didn’t open til 5 (which is shocking considering that 1) the Scottish are renown drunkards and 2) the sun sets at 3:30), so we explored the Christmas market. We drank some warm wine, I ate a cheese-bratwurst that exploded all over my shirt when I bit into it, then we headed back to the apartment to chill for a bit.

I took a nap for a couple of hours before we set out for dinner. We hit Finnigan’s again for a beer before going back to Kitty O’Shea’s that night, and the entire pub was enthralled by the darts world championship.

At first glance, I thought it was lame. But man oh man was I wrong. Those dudes are tacticians. Artists of their craft. Have you ever watched a British guy hit 12 triple 20s in a row in a room full of Brits? Electric. It's like the Super Bowl of fat, bald 48-year-old men.

Wednesday, January 4th

Today we got up at 9:30, grabbed some coffee, and set off to hike Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is a massive hill located off to the southeast of the city. After a couple of muddy miles, we reached the summit. The wind was insane on top, and there were two stones up there, and I’m guessing that one of them used to be the home of Excalibur.

We got back after lunch, and grabbed some food before I spent of a good portion of the day writing while Jake was preparing for an interview. He was supposed to have a full interview with Amazon on Thursday, but they screwed up the scheduling and split it into two slots: one Thursday and one Friday.

I had a Spanish lesson that afternoon, and then I went to grab some dinner and bop around the town at night. I walked past Why Not nightclub at 11-something, briefly considering checking it out, then decided to bounce because It didn’t look that promising. I did pop in a piano bar near my old Airbnb from my last time here (Devin, remember Rat Pack?). The bar was dead, but the pianist was crushing it.

Thursday, January 5th

Today we toured the castle at 10:30. A lot of tours suck, but to Edinburgh’s credit they do tours well. The castle tour is cool because it includes several museums within the castle compound. We climbed the ramparts where the cannons protrude through the walls, we spent about an hour in the Scottish Museum of War (which was super fascinating to Jake, a former GI Joe himself), and explored the prison below the castle.

Medieval prisons are wild. A few Americans actually ended up in the Edinburgh Castle prison back in the day (1800s). Ironically, the French were the best-treated prisoners, even though I think the Scottish hate the French. They received better food and garments that were designed by their own countrymen. All Americans were treated as pirates.

Jake prepped for his interview while I worked on some stuff for most of the afternoon before hitting the gym, then I had a two-hour Spanish chat while Jake had his interview.

Except his interview didn’t happen. They actually moved the whole thing to Friday, but sent him a schedule that showed one call Thursday and one Friday. Pretty annoying stuff tbh. He texted me and said that Isaac, a guy from his cluster at Columbia, was in Edinburgh. Isaac was a Navy veteran (I guess veteran is the right term, but he’s actually working for the Navy after school. So maybe a seaman-in-transit? Idk.) They were at a pub around the corner, so I linked up with them.

Now I thought it was going to be a chill Thursday, much like the rest of the week. I thought wrong, and the night quickly escalated.

After the pub closed, we decided to hit another bar. While we were figuring out where to go, Isaac mentioned that Kitty O’Shea’s in Glasgow was his favorite bar. I said Edinburgh had one as well, and we headed back that way.

They had live music tonight, and the singer was crushing it. There was a decent crowd of young folks gathered there, and we posted up around a barrel, people-watching some of the locals. One particular drunk guy appeared to be dancing with/harassing a couple of girls in the bar, and a group of 4 dudes started dancing with/around him. He didn’t realize that he was on the receiving end of the joke.

One of the guys, who looked like a 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard, then tried to dap him up no less than 4 times, and the guy completely ignored him. The kid looked shocked, so walked over and completed the dap for him. He was a cool guy named Collin (I think), and he was a senior at University of Edinburgh out with three of his mates.

We exchanged rounds of drinks, and he said, “Mate, you have to come to Hive nightclub with us!”

I had actually been to Hive last year, and it is grimyyyy. Like, as you as you walk in a heavy scent of stale beer mixed with sweat and a hint of vomit hits your nose. The kind of place that makes you want to shower (and possibly go to church) as soon as you leave.

Hive was also next to my apartment. So of course I was in.

Isaac and Crox stayed at Kitty’s while I headed to the club with the Scottish lads.

On the way there, one of the guys, an English kid named Freddie, told me that he and his mates were participating in something called the Mongol Rally this summer. I thought he was making this whole thing up until I looked it up for myself the next day.

There’s this race, if you can call it that, that starts in England and goes to Mongolia. Obviously, the Russia route is now off-limits, but some of the other routes are still open. Here’s how it works: you buy the worst used car that you can find, like $1,000 max, in England, drive through the Chunnel and head to Amsterdam for a party (and anyone starting in continental Europe meets there as well), and then head east, through Germany, down to Greece, across Istanbul into Asia, through Iran, then Kazakhstan, and finally Mongolia.

The event takes 3-4 weeks, there’s a pretty good chance you never actually reach your destination, you could die, and you get to see 15-20 countries.

Tentatively, I would like to do the Mongol Rally with the homies in 2024. We’ll see.

Anyways, we got to Hive around 1:45, and it was just as, if not more, grimy than I remembered. At least the drinks were cheap.

Friday January 6th

I didn’t wake up until like noon lmao.

However, I had a productive day post-wake up! I grabbed sausage pie from a local restaurant, headed to a coffee shop to attempt to create words to eventually post on the internet, and then hit the gym again that afternoon. Jake finally had his interviews and I had another Spanish lesson at 7 (I’ll be fluent in 6 months, just wait). After Jake crushed the interview, we grabbed some grub.

We went back to Finnigan’s that night for a beer or two or three, I got curved by the most attractive Scottish chick I’d seen all week (she kissed me on the cheek and called me sweetie before she left though, pretty sure that’s first base around these parts), we got beer number four, before heading to 3 Sisters Pub down the road. Jake and I met a group of local girls who thought our accents were insane (or at least I think they thought our accents were insane, I have no idea what one of them was saying half the time), and then we headed home at like 1.

Flight to Geneva in the morning. Bout to go skiing with all of my business school friends! The next edition of this will probably say: Sunday: skied, Monday: skied, Tuesday: skied, etc. But maybe not. Idk.

Also, happy birthday to my sister Frances and Columbia Business School’s most eligible bachelor, Ben Levine. Technically I was the first to tell both of them happy birthday on their birthdays at like 1 AM in Scotland, because it was still the 6th in America. Shoutout time zones.

Catch you guys later.

- Jack

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