Tuesday, April 15, 2014

-- The Royal Scotsman --

Several back and forth e-mails between my busy inbox at work and Visit Scotland, once again I find myself heading towards Dublin Airport for a short hop across the cold Irish Sea to the Scottish capital, the legendary Edinburgh.

A late night arrival means I only get to glance a few lights and silhouettes of what looks like a place coming out of a tale, statement reassured in the morning when I am driven around the city in between grey-stoned buildings strongly decorated with Victorian style lines and massive windows.

Edinburgh Castle dominates the view from the top of a dry and steep hill whilst trains rush through the narrow valley and the Royal Botanic Gardens into the busy Waverley Station, right in the City Centre.

The landscape changes when driving through the Forth of Firth and the massive suspension bridge dominating the landscape of this windy and broad estuary.
We have now entered the legendary Kingdom of Fife: a landscape of soft green hills and farms, splattered with little villages, estates and castles.

The rest of the day happens as we briefly visit Balbirnie House for a few morning drinks and a delicious Aberdeen Angus burger in their restaurant/cellar and continuing uphill through windy country roads to Kingarrock Estate to test our golf abilities (or inability in my case) with old-fashioned hickory golf clubs.

Saint Andrews is next. Auto denominated 'The Home of Golf'  and the place where I get to spend a few minutes wandering around the narrow streets trying to quickly gasp the air of an ancient University mixed ( a la Harvard) with unspoiled architecture, a preserved cathedral site, golf equipment shops and strong onshore winds. A word comes to my mind: Poshness. In the end, it is the place where the Prince and now Duchess of Cambridge met!

In the spirit of 'poshness', we are driven to the Fairmont St. Andrews Hotel to spend a night of fine dining, and copious amount of drinks which help breaking the ice and pull out a few laughs between the fellow colleagues/competitors taking part of this trip.
The full moon shines over the cruise liner-like hotel atrium, timidly reflecting in the golf course and the roaring ocean beneath the cliffs, it is an evening to remember.

Extra energies are necessary for an early adventure in St. Andrews main beach, West Sand Beach, which also happens to be the main setting for the movie Chariots of Fire.
Big blue sails can be seen from the distance: It is blow-karting time!

After a short explanation, I place my legs around a worn out rope, wearing a yellow helmet and securing myself tightly. The winds of the North Sea seem to rapidly pick up on my mischievous activity and in a second, my kart gains massive speed, defying my recently-learned skills and adding extra adrenaline to my body.
An amazing experience that lasted over an hour speeding up and sharply turning several times in a deserted beach, filling my lungs with the morning sea breeze and my pockets with sand, completed by a visit to the famous Old Course (every golfer's dream apparently) and a fancy pub-lunch, perfect for recharging batteries after a morning of adrenaline.

The estuary of the River Tay marks our entry to the Highlands and after crossing a long bridge, Dundee is our next stop.
We are checked into the Malmaison Hotel, and the darkest room I have ever stayed in, giving us enough time to put on our fancy clothes and be driven around green hills and farms to Kinnettles Castle near the town of Forfar, famous for its witch hunting in medieval times.

We all have childhood fantasies about certain places. Scotland always represented neat and dark castles discreetly embedded in between soft hills with snowy hills as a backdrop, covered in tall pine trees, secluded from big towns and only reachable through small private roads. Now, add a spotless presentation of a five-course dinner featuring typical Scottish cuisine and post-dinner drinks with the best Scotch in the area and suddenly, I realise a fantasy has just materialised and a trip once again has become memorable forever.

In the end, I have just had a five-course dinner in a Castle in the Scottish Highlands.

We leave Dundee behind early in the morning and following the River Tay valley we enter Perth and head to the famous Gleneagles Hotel & Spa for another heavy session of Scottish food, a delightful time shared with the estate's perfectly-groomed hunting dogs and their impeccable behaviour and some falconry. There is something unsettling about having a massive trained falcon landing on your hand. Its defined features, strong peak, claws and strong stare defy my comfort zone, until I am told that hunting falcons would not attack humans, scavengers would.

My last day in Scotland ends as we bid farewell to the friendly staff at the resort and drive through Stirling , reaching the busy Edinburgh Airport for checkin formalities, group good-byes and for my flight back to Dublin in Aer Arann's own version of the 'vomit comet'.
The flight departs early and the small turboprop lifts above the Forth of Firth and reaches the windy lands of Collinstown (Dublin Airport) an hour later.

Five-star hotels, dinners, cocktails, scotch, resorts, golf and castles. Another fantasy completed and entitled "The Royal Scotsman" (any resemblance with the famous train running in Scotland during the summer is a mere coincidence). Another tick on my bucket list and the promise of returning to Edinburgh in the near future.

Sao Paulo is next.