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Whenever anyone asks, I say that my favorite place is Edinburgh. The truth is Edinburgh is my favorite city, but the world “place” is really general. I have a lot of favorite places. I’ll try to break it down here into specifics.
First, I should clarify why Edinburgh is my favorite city. It’s easy to simply say Edinburgh is a perfect city. But why? For me, it’s the whole package – the food, the size, the weather, the people, the nature, the location, etc. Other places might have better food (Italy), or friendlier people (Albania), but Edinburgh has it all.
When you hear Scotland, what kind of food do you think of? Fish and chips? Haggis? Deep-fried Mars Bar? I’m not to big on that last one, but everything else Edinburgh has to offer in the culinary world is second only to Italy. As a note, don’t ask what haggis is. Just eat it when you get to Scotland. I’m willing to bet you’ll love it as much as I do. You can find nearly every other kind of restaurant in town as well, from a delicious sushi place to the Pakistani Mosque Kitchen serving healthy, cheap, cafeteria-style meals.
I’m definitely not a fan of big cities. Edinburgh is just right with a population of under half a million. I also like cold weather, and the average temperature ranges from 6-12°C. In fact, the record temperatures are only -15.5°C (cold) and 31.4°C (hot). As to location, it couldn’t be better. You can get an overnight Megabus ride from Edinburgh to London, and then fly to anywhere in the world for incredible prices (anywhere in Europe for under $100).
The people are friendly, fun and fascinating. Albania might be the friendliest country I visited, but Scotland isn’t far behind. Hitchhiking in Scotland was shockingly easy. I would be picked up within a couple seconds of sticking out my thumb. Locals were always willing to meet up and hang out, go for a hike, buy me a shot or (my personal favorite) take me to see the sunrise over Forth Bridge. Then there’s the “fascinating” aspect. The Scottish might drink as much alcohol as Australians, but they can’t hold it the same. Going out to the Grassmarket after midnight and watching the denizens stumbling, crawling and flopping out of the bars is better than any comedy show!
Next are the festivals. I arrived on April 30th, 2015 just in time for the Beltane Fire Festival. August is the legendary Fringe Festival and Edinburgh has the best NYE fireworks display in the world. There are also dozens of other festivals throughout the year, either in Edinburgh or other places in Scotland. If you can find your way up to the Shetland Islands in the north, you could always attend Up Helly Aa, which is definitely where I plan to be in January, 2017.
Capping the list for Edinburgh is the scenery. Between the castle on the extinct volcano, another extinct volcano (Arthur’s Seat) to hike close by, the Meadows in the center of town, Calton Hill, old-fashioned streets, beautiful churches, the Forth Bridge, Water of Leith, Princes Gardens, spooky graveyards and everything else, Edinburgh just couldn’t be any more beautiful. I spent days just wandering around and taking it all in.
Oh, and need I mention that Edinburgh is the birthplace of Harry Potter?
Of course, there are other cities which I loved. They are favorites, while not being the top favorite. Some include Ghent, Brighton, Verona, Florence, Vernazza, Bristol, Kotor, Belgrade, Timisoara, Vienna, Stockholm, Helsinki and Chiang Mai. You can click on each to read my stories. But just to make it clear, with probably the only exception of tourist-inundated Rome, there really wasn’t a place I didn’t like this year. Even London grew on me each time I went, and I made it to Venice before the crowds and stink got too bad. Even the crazy time I had in Prague didn’t stop it from being one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen.
This one is harder. It’s also unfair to compare countries I entered but only saw one city or only spent two days in. However, I still have to name Scotland. Partially because of everything I said about Edinburgh, and otherwise because of Glasgow, the Isle of Skye, the trains and cheap buses and castles and lakes and simply because it’s where I want to live more than anywhere else.
Glasgow may be the 4th largest city in the UK (Edinburgh is 8th) but it still only has a little over 600,000 people, although around a million in the metropolitan area. It’s a little more bustling, artistic and wild than Edinburgh is, but unique in its own right. Though it’s an industrial town, there are still some green places, like the Kelvin Walk. I ran up the Kelvin Walk myself to Milngavie, 6 km north from the center of town. Milngavie, (pronounced Miln-guy) is the beginning of the West Highland Way, a 100-mile trail through the highlands to Fort William. Yet another reason I love Scotland. I haven’t walked it yet myself, but plan to do so in 2016.
But my absolute favorite part of Scotland, and possibly my favorite place in the world is the Isle of Skye. Hopefully that’s not ironic or biased just because my name really is Skye. I think there’s a reason my parents chose the spelling of my name after such a beautiful place. It’s magical, and not just because half the locations on the island have “fairy” in their name. When I went in 2015, although it was cold and rainy everyday I was there, it was stunningly gorgeous. This whole story could be about the Isle of Skye, but I already wrote that tale here. Oh, and the cover photo of me at the Fairy Glen might be my favorite place, as far as an exact point on the earth goes.
Other countries I really liked include…all of them! Of the 36 countries I’ve been to so far, I’ve yet to visit one I didn’t like. As a country, that is. Definitely too many bugs in Cambodia, but Angkor Wat was great. There were a few rude people in Istanbul (and the worst hostel I’ve stayed at), but otherwise I liked it. After all, nobody’s perfect (except Scotland).
Favorite Culinary Place
There really can’t be any question about this. Meals prepared in Italy are simply perfect. And I mean exactly that. It’s actually something I noticed while I was there. When a dish arrives in front of you, it’s just perfect. You don’t have to add salt or pepper or Parmesan cheese or sauce or spice or anything. It’s the right temperature, texture, flavor, etc. It’s also the right portion size, unlike the ultra-mega-gargantuan sizes offered in America. Except when it’s a pasta dish you don’t want to stop eating, so they keep serving it.
I spent five weeks in Italy in 2015, traveling to nearly a dozen cities and gorging myself on as much food as I could. I made it a habit to have pizza, pasta, espresso and gelato as often as possible, as in daily. Yet somehow I lost weight. In my post on ice cream I mentioned I ate an ice cream roughly once a day in 2015. In Italy it was more like three gelati a day. Some of my best meals of the year were the pesto lasagna I ate in Cinque Terre, and the uncured meat platter, sauces, gnocco fritto and tigella in Verona. The best pizza I ever had was at Jupiter Pizza in Pula, Croatia, but in a region formerly part of Italy.
There are a few other key meals which deserve mention. Two occurred in Ghent. The first was the Mac Marrakech – an enormous lamb burger with a thick slice of tomato, several other vegetables and a delicious, spicy garlic sauce on a whole wheat bun, with couscous and salad on the side. The second was an all-you-can-eat ribs buffet at Amadeus in Ghent, Belgium.
Favorite National Park
This one goes to Plitvice Lakes, Croatia. I went a week before the peak season began in 2015, so I was able to experience it without big crowds. I also took the advice of my hostel manager and hiked the 9 km trail around the park with a few friends from the hostel. The hike was wonderful, but the waterfalls stole the show. Plitvice Lakes are a UNESCO World Heritage site and the special conditions are preserved for all. What conditions? Blue-green, nearly transparent water and falls running right over the bushes. Paths crisscross everywhere so you can get the best views. Just don’t take the path I went on. It had the best view, but when I got back to the hostel and showed the manager, he recognized the vantage point and mentioned that that path was out of bounds.
Alright, so here’s the truth of the matter. My favorite place is always right where I am. Only to be replaced by where I’m heading next. There’s no better place and no better way to exist than in the moment. I make the most of my life living each day to its fullest. I always look forward to where I’m headed next. I have no regrets about the past. I simply plan for the future. And maybe someday, I’ll be able to say my favorite place isn’t on Earth, but out in the stars.
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