Haggis and More: Flying Jayhawks soak in Scotland’s charm

Posted on Sep 27, 2017 in Alumni News and News

Flying Jayhawks | Scotland | www.kualumni.org photo courtesy of Chris Lazzarino

Don’t eat haggis for breakfast. Ever.

That was the stern warning from Alice, the Flying Jayhawks’ Edinburgh-based tour guide for a weeklong glide through the understated wonders of sunny (!) Scotland.

Alice had haggis on her mind because it had recently come to her attention that our hotel—a charming, 19th-century school just a few blocks downhill from the magnificently restored Stirling Castle—had recently begun offering haggis at its breakfast buffet. She never explained exactly why this was such a bad thing—“It’s just not done,” she said, utterly exasperated—yet Alice was clear: She was none too pleased about the cultural faux pas.

Alice did not have much to worry about. We did not eat the haggis at breakfast. Most of us sampled the native dish at our welcome dinner, which featured a “Haggis Ceremony,” complete with a bagpiper, a big knife, and an energetic narrator who told us much about … well, we’re not quite sure of the details, because his Scottish brogue was a bit thick, but he was friendly and fun and a good time was had by all before finally falling into our beds for badly needed sleep.

Scotland’s beloved delicacy

Enough with the haggis. But as long as we’re on the topic of beloved national delicacies, did we mention the Scotch? That’s whisky without the “e,” and we sampled the good stuff after a tour of Scotland’s oldest working distillery, Glenturret, just outside the town of Crieff. It’s a single-batch distillery that offers its lovely golden elixirs as its own (expensive) label, but also sells much of its production run to The Famous Grouse, a blender that has become the biggest-selling brand of Scotch in the world.

Back to the beginning

But that was a highlight of Day Seven. Back to the beginning. Our travelers commenced their Alumni Holidays International journey by gathering at Edinburgh International Airport. The 19 Jayhawks were joined by smaller groups from Johns Hopkins, McGill, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State universities, and we all made our acquaintances during an hour-long bus ride from Edinburgh—which was awash in festivalgoers attending a slew of international events in the Scottish capital city—to Stirling, an old, hillside town awash in history and our home for the next nine days.

Led in grand fashion by travel director Carole Petipher, a high-energy Brit who specializes in all things French yet delights in her occasional assignments to Scotland, our merry band spent the morning of our first full day touring Stirling Castle, childhood home of Mary, Queen of Scots. The “stirring vistas from the ramparts” promised in our brochure delivered splendidly, despite a cold rain that dampened no moods.

If we feared that first morning’s weather might have been an omen, we were wrong. Except for one or two brief, fast-moving storms, our nine days in Scotland were so sunny and delightful that the locals seemed a bit out of sorts. Scots are so used to complaining about their weather, we were told, that they refuse to cease their grumbling just because a little bit of sunshine.

After starting our days with history lectures from a retired local professor straight out of central casting—John was upset not about breakfast haggis, but rather the U.K.’s shocking vote to leave the European Union—we continued our journeys through the towns and countryside surrounding Stirling: the magnificent Loch Lomond in The Trossachs National Park, the golf mecca of St. Andrews, battlefields and monuments, castles and palaces.

Flying Jayhawks travel group in Scotland | Flying Jayhawks | www.kualumni.org courtesy of Chris Lazzarino

Highlights of the trip

Aside from the friendships forged among fellow travelers, the trip’s highlight was attending the legendary Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, aptly described as a “compendium of precision marching bands, drill teams, pyrotechnics and Highland dancing performed on the floodlit esplanade of Edinburgh Castle.” Those AHI brochure writers, they’re good, and they’re right. Wow. Just … wow.

The “military tattoo” ceremony originates from 18th-century regimental bands that struck up their tunes to alert garrisoned troops to “quit the saloons and return to the barracks.” That part of the custom, however, seems to have been lost to the haze of history, because nobody in Edinburgh that night—absolutely nobody—was quitting anything or returning anywhere. We attended on the final night of the monthlong series of performances, an evening that also marked the end of the Edinburgh International Festival, featuring opera, music, theatre and dance performances throughout the heart of the gorgeous old town, as well as the cultural stalwart’s now-thriving cheeky cousin, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, described as the “largest arts festival in the world.”

On the day of our visit, literally millions of festivalgoers flooded Edinburgh’s cobblestone sidewalks, making navigation difficult yet filling the crisp air with an energy that cannot be replicated.

Such are the joys of travel, those special days and nights when you see, hear, taste and feel things that cannot be described, only experienced. Join us for your own adventure of a lifetime. Become a Flying Jayhawk and see your special corner of the world with your own eyes.

—Chris Lazzarino

The Flying Jayhawks trip to Scotland took place August 23-31, 2017, and was hosted by Chris Lazzarino, associate editor of Kansas Alumni magazine. Watch the slideshow below to see more pictures from the trip, or view the photos on Flickr. Pictures may be downloaded for personal use. For more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, visit our website.
 
Flying Jayhawks: Scotland
 

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