Life is filled with spontaneous surprises.
I walked into The Old Bell Inn in utter panic.
“Is your kitchen still open?” I yelled so loud, the entire crowd sitting at the pub turned around. I didn’t care. I was famished, after being locked outside of my guest house for two hours immediately after arriving in Edinburgh.
“Our kitchen is closed, but let me ask the kitchen staff. Hold on.” Euan, The Bell’s manager said to me.
“My driver is outside waiting. Please let me know ASAP!” It was Sunday night, I was living in fear that every restaurant in the city was closed and I had to settle for a cliché fast food chain. A few minutes later, Euan returned to tell me the kitchen would reopen if I could place my order fast.
I turned around at my driver Ken – owner of the guest house I was staying at – who was sitting in the driver’s seat waiting for my response. After I gave him a two thumbs-up, I comfortably placed myself at the bar. May I say, the rest was history.
Within minutes, the bartending staff including: Jack (who I referred to as “Jacques” because I come from Paris,) Rob, along with Euan became my fast friends. From the menu, I ordered the famous Scottish dish: haggis, which they lied to me by explaining that it was filled with stuff I didn’t want to know.
“Thank goodness I’m Taiwanese and I eat everything!” I said jokingly, which ignited huge laughs. As I scarfed down haggis, a young American couple, Evan and Jarrod, left their table for the bar stools right next to mine. They were from Oklahoma, so naturally we talked about the NBA finals, Kevin Durant (their hatred, contrary to my adulation as a Golden State Warriors fan,) and a passion for Silicon Valley since Jarrod worked in tech.
These were the people who warmed my first few cold hours of Scotland with humor and common grounds. In addition to local regulars at The Bell, including Brian – an older gentleman who sang his heart out to me. The big flirt that he was, I felt love from this “southie” (meaning: Scots born and raised in the south side of Edinburgh.) Not just from him, but I had an inkling that this cozy neighborhood pub would eventually become my second home during the rest of the time in the city.
After many pints of various Scottish beers that Jacques allowed me to taste, Evan said, “they’re all heading to another bar after their shift, you’ve got to come with us.” So off to the Scotch Hop we went, just a few blocks away from The Bell, also in the south side.
On this Sunday night/Monday morning at a bar named after a new country I was discovering, I learned about the brotherhood that Scotland and Ireland shares. My curiosity was satiated by learning about their discrete disdain toward England, their accents that I had a really hard time understanding, each of their stories that I felt privileged to appreciate. My new friends Jenny and Lewis (they’re best friends from childhood) were there too. Jenny couldn’t stop gushing about her love for Honduras, and the desolate state its people are suffering from. “I’ll do anything to go back there again.” This gorgeous 21-year-old kept repeating. Being the travel enthusiast that I am, I encouraged her to “just do it, sweetheart. Follow your passion.”
After Scotch Hop, we went to Garibaldis on Hanover Street, where I had far too many whiskey and coke’s because, well, they uniformly tasted like candies. The boys had spun around the stripper pole in the back of the club, while we lost Evan and Jarrod sometime within the first hour. They had an early flight the next day, I would’ve gone home too. Although I was with a group of strangers, practically all men, but I felt well taken care of. By accident, I was getting a glimpse of nightlife in Edinburgh. How lucky was I?
The boys made sure I got back to my guest house just fine that night. With a hangover the next morning, I tried to answer some work emails as the wind outside blew harder than the bagpipes I was still yearning to hear. Euan had offered to take me on a tour around Edinburgh on his day off. By the afternoon, however, when I was ready to explore the city, pouring rain shouted that I needed a raincoat. So I spent most of the afternoon inside Marks and Spencer splurging on a bright red raincoat which cost an arm and a leg at £75.
It was impossible to sightsee in the rain, so Euan asked to meet me at The Bell where we, again, spent the rest of the night with the gang. By the bar, it was a repeat of the night before, except I discovered the delicious Scottish beer: Tennents. On this night, Lewis and Nathan were working alongside Jacques. We talked much about nothing, but I learned so much about the Scottish culture meanwhile. First, they don’t like to think they sound just like Sean Connery (but they do.) They also informed me on the landscape of the city, that Edinburgh is built on layers with numerous dungeons, ghost stories and a lake that used to exist beneath North Bridge where communities tested whether women were witches or not by requesting them to swim. As someone who never read Harry Potter, I had forgotten that I was visiting a land of vast history. One could very well compare it to the Chinese dynasties that reside close to my roots.
The boys knew I was heading to Glasgow the next day, so they gave me recommendations of where to visit. I still have the little notes, because those are the things you keep, better than any souvenir. After they closed the bar, we went to Scotch Hop, once again. Immense fatigue from the debacle of the night before, we went home after the bar closed. And off to Glasgow I went. Throughout two days, Lewis and I texted frequently to plan a cocktail bar-hopping night when I would return to Edinburgh. And that we did.
Only an hour of train ride away, Glasgow and Edinburgh couldn’t be more different. I spent most of my time in the industrial city of Glasgow alone, which was lovely as well. The gift of alone time is quite underrated, in my opinion. As soon as I arrived back to Edinburgh, we all geared up for our night out in the city which comprised of seven bars and one gay club where we danced to Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys.
Lewis went out and bought a brand new outfit for our night out and he looked SHARP! Along with Jacques and Jenny, this Fantastic Four on a Thursday night out in Edinburgh began at Devil’s Advocate – a chic, trendy cocktail bar off of one of many charming steps below the Royal Mile. My goal was to have solely whiskey-based cocktails that night. Mission accomplished! Of course, by bar #3, it was purely whiskey and coke for the rest of the bar-hop.
Even now, I couldn’t name all the bars we hit. Many of them were off of the Royal Mile, one of them had live music, and all of them had whiskey and coke’s that tasted like candies. As usual. When we finished dancing at gay club CC Blooms located next to my hotel. I invited everyone back to my suite where we couldn’t finish the bottle of wine that room service brought for us. No hookups, no complications…THIS was one of the best nights of my life.
Why? Because I had somehow met a group of Scots who solely wanted to show me a side of Edinburgh that I couldn’t have discovered on my own. Before my trip, my team had told me how nice the Scots were, but this was distant beyond my expectations. This was a trip accompanied by immense mishaps. Other Scots told me to be careful when hanging out with men who will buy me drinks. But I followed my instincts, and knew this group of new friends would enhance my trip with fun, excitement and infinite laughter. For a solo traveler in her mid-thirties, these memories became gifts of forever friendships.
Life is filled with spontaneous surprises. When you are whole, confident and staying true to your own grounds; life embraces you with new encounters to fill a journey full of stories to tell. Thanks to Euan, Lewis, Jacques (okay, it’s really “Jack”,) Rob and Nathan; I will eternally believe that Scots are the nicest people I’ll ever meet. Until next time…#EdinburghForever.
Photos: Wendy Hung
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