Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Springtime for Britain and Italy: Part One

Like many college grads, I started my full-time career straight after graduation. No celebratory trips, no fanfare. Just a straight dive into a 9 to 5 grind (well more like 8 to 7, but you get the point). So when I recently took two WHOLE weeks off of work to travel in Europe, it was the longest legitimate vacation I’d had in quite some time. And I made the most of it.

The reason for the trip was to take a team to Paganello, the legendary ultimate Frisbee tournament in Rimini, Italy, but I made a few other stops along the way. Here’s the story.

I used all of my saved up United miles to book a round trip flight in and out of London – which is where my trip began. Briefly. I spent several hours on the morning of March 17th traveling on various trains between Heathrow airport, central London, and Gatwick airport, where I caught an EasyJet flight to Edinburgh, Scotland.

Edinburgh is a lovely, ancient city – and it has a special place in my heart because I lived there for a number of months during college, studying at the university, working, and yep, playing ultimate. My little sister is currently doing a semester abroad there, which gave me legitimate reason to visit.

When the airport bus finally put me out on a bridge overlooking the city’s central gardens, the massive castle hulking on a crag above, Susie was waiting for me. We quickly decided that it would be Indian for dinner – I wanted to take her to a place I had gone when I had lived there, if we could find it! Luckily we did.

Pataka is a little Indian treasure tucked away on the city’s north side, somewhat near the meadows. When most people think of traditional Great Britain cuisine, it’s usually pub food, bangers and mash, or haggis that come to mind. But because of the region’s significant Indian and Sri Lankan population, it is one of the best places in the world (outside the far east) to get an excellent curry. And the British LOVE their curries. I’m just fascinated by the way that the cuisine has become such an accepted and adored part of the British diet – in these countries, Indian take-out places are just as popular as pizza or Chinese food in America. Perhaps more so.

Anyway, back to our story. So Susie and I go creeping along the streets of the causewayside neighborhood in Edinburgh and find Pataka, at long last. Here’s a shot of our delicious curries:

I got Chicken Korma, and I believe Susie has the Chicken Bhuna. They were served with hot naan bread and basmati rice, and it was just as good as I remembered.

It was Susie’s 21st birthday at midnight, so to celebrate, we went out with Susie’s roommates to one of Edinburgh’s most infamous student-dominated clubs: Why Not? The club was also as I remembered it from my time in the city, although most of the people there were younger than me this time. Well I guess that’s to be expected. Either way, when I bought a round of drinks for everyone I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they were far cheaper there than in Chicago – ten pounds (about $20) bought me five “double” drinks. And thus, alcohol would stand as the only thing cheaper in Europe than in America for the length of my trip.

The morning after our big night out, Susie and I nursed our hangovers with a proper fry-up breakfast at the City Restaurant, nearby Susie’s flat. Here’s a shot:

Eggs, beans, toast, and bacon made up this meal, but “full” fry ups usually include a grilled tomato, grilled mushrooms, sausages, and sometimes black pudding (which I usually skip on account that it is gross. I forget why, but I know it is).

We spent much of the day tooling around Edinburgh, admiring the shops, and even checking out an excellent Ansel Adams exhibit. For lunch we grabbed sandwiches from Gregg's (my fave cheap sandwich & pastry shop) and chips (fries) with vinegar, salt & brown sauce. Yum.For Susie’s birthday dinner, we went to a restaurant called Garfunkel’s on the Royal Mile. Although admittedly a chain (which I generally try to avoid when traveling!), Garfunkel’s offers delicious, hearty fare and big, sweet, messy desserts. That was really what we were there for. Here’s Susie with her Profiterole birthday sundae.
We got to bed at a reasonable hour, and the next day it was up and out at dawn to begin our trek to Italy. To be continued...

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