Ask me about the most ‘stressful’ part of travelling and I would say understanding the local habits/culture to avoid a faux pas and buying souvenirs for those at home. Overtly concerned about the first before my Scotland trip since I was travelling alone, I spent a major chunk of my time at the Bristol Airport – while waiting for the flight to Edinburgh – doing some research about the dos and don’ts while in Scotland.
I was rather relieved since the Scottish seemed to be a friendly bunch of people and was I right!
As for the latter, well, on the last day of any trip I end up twisting myself into a bundle of anxiety because the souvenir shopping has been merrily left for the end. Until a year or two ago, I would end up buying souvenirs for absolutely everybody. The list has been ruthlessly cut short to tackle budget and excess luggage. But this time around, I kept my eyes and ears open for possibilities and got some quality stuff.
So here is a post dedicated to some ‘dos and don’ts’ that worked marvellously for me and a few suggestions for ‘Scotland’ gifts.
* Currency notes printed by the Scottish banks are colourful, valid across the United Kingdom and must be saved for your personal currency collection.
* The weather is like a diva so be prepared to experience all the seasons in a single day. The keyword to remember is layers, layers and more layers.
* Carry paper towels/towel to wipe yourself (if you are caught in a downpour) and wipe the seat of a bus you may have boarded after a shower. I didn’t have one and had to sit on a wet seat of a tour bus. Eeeyuccck.
* Check out free walking tours in Edinburgh and Glasgow before you decide to book yourself on a tour.
* Local transport is a good option in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. If travelling by train, then try book round trip tickets during the off-peak hours to save money.
* Mobile network coverage in the Scottish Highlands is spotty. Period.
* Save the maps and tour pamphlets that you use while in Scotland. They are good collectables.
It’s okay to…
* Ask local people for directions, they are always willing to help.
* Request people to repeat what they’ve said. The Scottish brogue can be a wee bit difficult to understand.
* Seek inputs about food and drinks, check for portion sizes before you travel.
Watch out for…
* Midges are a reality. They are tiny and viscous, swarm you, hide in your hair, find a way into your clothing and leave behind massive red rashes where they bite. They are the most annoying. Arm yourself with a repellent from the local pharmaceutical store. I carried an Ayurvedic insect repellent that worked just fine.
* There a set of rules that needs to be followed when driving through the narrow and windy roads of the Highlands, especially the one-lane roads. Do read up on the rules.
* Lambs and sheep sitting pretty on the roads as you drive through the Highlands are a common sight so beware.
What to buy (or not)
* Tartan mufflers, scarves, jackets, stoles, gloves and even wallets – synonymous with Scotland, the print is available in different combinations. I bought a wallet for my father which is a bit on the bulky side but is freaking classy!
* Gin or whisky from local distilleries – as mentioned in a previous post Culinary Delights of Scotland #1, there is a fine range available at local stores. I distinctly remember fellow travellers arranging for some Dalwhinnie distillery scotch to be sent home. Alcohol is also available at the Edinburgh Duty-Free.
* Quaich, a traditional drinking bowl – this is what I bought for my mother. She loves objects that have art, a strong history and carry a traditional reference. The Pewter Quaich that I bought fits all three parameters. A Quaich was traditionally used as a drinking bowl to be passed around after a meal. In earlier days, these were made of animal bone, silver and even wood.
* Heather gems jewellery – Made by drying and dying heather plant, a Scottish plant with purple blooms and the unique aspect of the gems is their different colours and that all pieces of jewellery are different. I bought a pair of earrings for myself.
* Edinburgh Rocks / Whisky Fudge – very different from the common idea of a rock, these confectionaries are sweet and come in different colours. With a soft crumbly texture and a citrusy flavour, these rocks come packed in beautiful tins as is the case with the whisky fudge, which is as the name clearly states, fudge with a healthy dose of whisky. You might want to buy these at the Edinburgh duty-free just for the tins! Eat up all the sweets and use the tins to store your personal items.
* The traditional kilts – are a good idea for children and even for the gentlemen who will not find it uncomfortable. My father bought one for us sisters when he visited Scotland in 1989; the kilt was worn well by both of us and has now been packed and stored for the next generation.
* Luxurious Edinburgh Crystal – If your budget permits it and you know a connoisseur of glassware, then drinking glasses or a decanter could be a perfect gift.
You can also buy small bagpipes, the mandatory magnets for your refrigerator, tweed or cashmere apparel and audio CDs of some traditional Scottish music.
Now off you go to book your tickets for Scotland for a wee vacation. Safe journey!
Photos: Vaibhav Tanna