Sunday, August 15, 2010

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties

There is definitely a shortlist of the favorite places we have stayed on our travels, Jenny's Place in Chiang Mai, The Champa Lao in VangVieng, The Golden Temple Villa in Siem Reap and of course the place it all began, the Lamphu Tree Hotel in Bangkok. Having a bungalow on the private Cat Ong Island in Ha Long Bay can't be forgotten nor can having our own pet cat for a night in the Skye Backpackers in Kyleakin.

We had beautiful sunsets and thunderstorms from our bungalow balcony overlooking the sea at Coasters in Sihanoukville and we had a traditional home cooked meal when we spent a night in the tiny village of Ta Van with a family of the Green Zai cultural group in Sapa. We had almost the entire resort to ourselves when we stayed at the Hoang Anh Resort in Quy Nhon and of course we can't forget the fun and revelry of our first home in London, the Astor Hyde Park (even with its evil stairs of death).

The Castle Rock Hostel in Edinburgh is one such place that makes this list. We may have mentioned earlier that our Hostel was a funky place. The atmosphere was very chilled out, each dorm room had its own theme along with the communal areas, from the Internet room, called the "posh room" with a giant dark wood table, grand piano and open fire. Then there was the chill out room, complete with a functional record player and an eclectic collection of records. The biggest room didn't have a funny name, or maybe it did but I don't remember. It was just the common room, a giant table, a lot of couches, a pool table, a jukebox and of course all the tea and coffee we could drink.

We had settled back in easily after our three days in the Highlands, our dorm room hadn't changed and after spending the last three days traveling with our fellow inhabitants we had all developed a camaraderie among us. No one even seemed to mind when Prue sat bolt upright in the middle of the night and shouted "Sausages" before falling back asleep. We also had the largest room, which is why about 20 of our fellow tour companions ended up in a circle drinking on our floor on New Years Eve. But we'll come back to that.

The night before we headed in to town for a few drinks and dinner, we had just returned from the three day Bus trip and so we were all a little bit tired, but at the same time eager to continue with our new friendships. Edinburgh is absolutely packed at Hogmanay, so we had trouble finding a place to eat. Luckily our first choice was full as the second choice presented us with a special treat which probably saved us all third degree burns. But we'll come back to that too.

A few of us (not me), really wanted to have a crack at Haggis. After finding a pub with enough spare tables to seat about fifteen of us, we ordered a couple plates of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. This came out presented as three piles of indiscernible goop. Mashed Potatoes, Mashed Parsnip and of course Haggis. After a few people had tried the Haggis and appeared to actually enjoy it I succumbed to Prue's coaxing and tried a small spoonful. To say Haggis is flavoursome would be an understatement, to say I didn't enjoy it would be a lie. I would like to categorise it into the special area with baked beans, bacon and eggs. That is to say, it is breakfast food.

Either way, it tasted quite good, mixed down with a Pint. Even better once one of the boys steered me away from Ale and into the direction of Tennents. I may have mentioned English beer is shit, thankfully I found Tennents, a beer that is at the very least drinkable.

We finished our meals and headed around to the bar for more drinks, that night in Edinburgh as part of the Hogmanay festival there was going to be a fire art installation in the street. we had seen the iron sculptures on our way down to the pub and it was our intention to wander back up there at 9pm for the lighting of the fires. The pub however had another plan for us.

The annoying thing about Scottish weather in winter is that for every five or six people, you will require one extra chair for every jacket. We had about four chairs for all of us, and it appeared that the girls had made a gentleman's agreement with a few locals that we would vacate the chairs as more of their party arrived. Looking over at the four locals on the table next to us, I noticed that they all seemed to be tuning up musical instruments. What happened next was truly amazing.

The four locals had finished tuning their instruments and one of them started playing a traditional folk tune, he was casually joined by the other three locals. Meanwhile one or two more locals shuffled through the doors carrying more instruments. The girls instinctively gave up their seats and we stood and watched as the new arrivals casually tuned their instruments and then just jumped straight into the tune adding extra layers of complexity.

Over the next hour or so, the entourage was joined by more locals who would each jump in and out of the songs as they felt fit. Some would even put down an instrument mid song just to take a sip of their pint, then pick it up and jump straight back into the tune. Eventually there were more than a dozen people playing all sorts of instruments (No Bad Pipes thankfully -Sorry Prue). The only coordination appeared to be that the person who initiated the song, would lead the tune. We were spellbound by the performance and cheered and danced for hours.

Fortunately our distraction in the pub caused us to forget about the fire installation. We ended up staying in the pub until it became apparent that we were going to have to move on to a bar that stayed open to the wee hours. I woke the next morning (read: early afternoon) somewhat hungover, but nether less ready to face an even bigger night ahead, New Years Eve 2009-10. We had come to Edinburgh for the Hogamany festival.

The impromptu band at the pub the night before had caused us to miss the lighting of the fire installation. When we remembered later we were disappointed. The next day when we found out what happened, we were relieved. Prue's Dad had said it even made the news in Australia. The severe winds that night wreaked havoc and mayhem in the streets as the wind threw embers all over the crowds, several people were treated for burns and the whole street was evacuated.