This city was a wonder in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was famed for its skyscrapers -- they say the first anywhere -- but also for its filth. Four hundred years ago,
Today Auld Reekie's streets are dirty from being dug up. A new tram system is under construction, and skeptical residents seem to regret their huge investment -- up to
High above the construction sits the fortified birthplace of the city -- Edinburgh Castle. While the castle has been both a fort and a royal residence since the 11th century, most of the buildings today are from its more recent use as a military garrison. Come here to see
The castle is the beginning of
Take a short detour off the Royal Mile to visit the
At the top of the Royal Mile, there's a touristy whisky-tasting experience that even includes a ride in a big whisky cask. I think of it as "Malt Disney." Near the bottom of the Mile, there's a place that bottles whisky (the Scottish drop the "e," the Irish keep it) for connoisseurs -- Cadenhead's Whisky Shop.
When I visited, the shopkeeper pointed to a rack of famous-name whisky bottles. He told me the distillery owners who produce these -- with their names on the bottles -- dearly love their whisky. But they don't drink it from those bottles. ("It's all been purified, colorized, and standardized for the mass market.") Walking me across the room to a shelf of aged wooden casks, the Scotsman explained, "They drink it in the rough, out of casks like these. It's like getting your milk straight from the farmer."
He drew a wee dram for me, and I tasted it. Whoa! Then he poured a little spring water on it. Squinting into the glass, he coached me along: "Look at the impurities gathering in a happy little pool there on top ... the water is like a spring rain on a garden ... it brings out the character ... the personality."
While the city can be intoxicating any time of the year, if you are coming in August, enjoy one of
But the most authentic evening out might be settling down in a pub to sample the whisky while meeting the natives ... and attempting to understand them through their thick Scottish accents. It's what makes
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(c) 2010 Rick Steves Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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