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Holiday Markets, Walking, More Walking and a Dram or 2...

Last blog I talked about the wonderful holiday markets of Vienna and mentioned that I would take you on my next journey in search of holiday markets in Europe. This trip took me to London and Edinburgh. I've always loved London and have been there more times than I can count; Edinburgh I recently discovered on a trip I took last year (and will be a future blog subject) and have since fallen in love with this amazing city. First stop was London! London is one of the really great walking cities in the world. The city was all dressed up, glittering in holiday lights and various holiday markets. The largest was in Hyde Park and was a bit of a disappointment as I was expecting what I saw in Vienna, lots of cute crafts and food but instead found little crafts, large rides and lots of food. The Holiday Markets on the South Bank and in front of Trafalgar Square were more in line with what I had expected and wanted in a Holiday Market. I love to walk this city and during my 2 days this time I think I logged in over 25,000 steps each day which was a good thing considering how much I love to eat in London. Years ago you'd never have thought of London as a place to eat great food but this has changed dramatically over the years. Today London has many Michelin starred restaurants, celebrity chefs and with a large and varied immigrant culture, there are so many amazing ethnic restaurants.

But I was on a mission, and that mission was to find the Huffkins Tearoom in London, home to my favorite tea, Girlie Grey! Last year I had afternoon tea in this lovely tearoom, while on a day trip to the Cotswolds it was there that I first tasted Girlie Grey. I tried desperately to find this blend or a replica and had asked many friends who went to England to try to find this tea for me. While we found similar blends, none could match up in my opinion to this blend of Black Asam and fragrant rose petals and citrus. I was so excited when I heard they had opened up an outpost in London, inside John Lewis, that I made that my first stop and bought all the bags they had! I ordered my tea and it looked lonely so I had a proper club sandwich with chips and then a perfectly sweet and sticky Belgian Bun. Great way to start the trip! I kept on walking and taking in the holiday sites and ended in another of my favorite places, the Burlington Arcade where I stumbled upon a fantastic holiday pop-up for the English Sparkling Wine Nyetimber. This lovely pop-up, was elegant and just the place to rest my tired feet and have a glass of Nyetimber Rose. Made from a classic blend of grapes Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, this wine was lightly pink with an elegant perlage, creamy with notes of rasberries and roses. Yes folks, England is making some stunning sparkling wines. The terroir especially in Sussex is perfect for sparkling wine and with climate change and things getting a bit warmer, England is becoming truly a fantastic place for Sparkling Wine.

Day 2 took me on my favorite walk from Mayfair over the Golden Jubilee Bridge and onto the South Bank so that I could work up an appetite for my pilgrimage to Borough Market. To me Borough Market is the holy grail of food markets with Wright Brothers Seafood the light at the end of the tunnel! I arrive, and am starved, it's a bit too early and Wright Brothers is not yet open but Borough Market is! I just love taking in the sights and smells of this amazing food market that's been around since the 12th century. Beautifully displayed food from local vendors in stalls filled with cheeses, meats, fish, shellfish along with fruits and vegetables. Spice Mountain was my first stop, a spice purveyor with a fantastic array of spices and mixtures from around the world. I discovered it last time and bought a large array of Indian spice mixtures. Prepared foods abound, from hand pies to oysters, the largest mushroom risotto pan ever, enormous paellas, and ethnic foods galore. I started off with a holiday hand pie from the Pieminister; I felt I needed a base for the oysters I was about to consume at Wright Brothers. I love the Pieminister and actually bought their book which is filled with a huge assortment of recipies for pies! Now it was time for my annual lunch at Wright Brothers and I couldn't wait, early enough to get a seat at the bar and not have to wait at this mecca for oysters and seafood fresh from the English coast. I started with a half dozen oysters matched with a glass of Ridgeview Bloomsbury Brut. Another great example of what can be produced in England, rich and creamy in texture with a lasting perlage and bright green apple nose. Perfect for my oysters and next course the most lovely pink prawns served in a coupe and a side of mayo. I was almost in heaven and got there on my last stop which was to Bread Ahead Donuts and if you know me you know I'm obsessed with donuts! Now I was in heaven, a perfectly fried donut filled with rich chocolate bavarian cream and sprinkled on the outside with sugar!

Another city with a vibrant food scene, Edinburgh does not disappoint. A former colleague of mine's son is part owner of a lovely gastro pub called the King's Wark so I decided that I would venture out to Leith, the waterfront area of the city and have dinner -- and it did not disappoint! Situated in an inn that dates back to 1432, the King's Wark serves elevated pub fare. I settled on a yummy cocktail made with Edinburgh Seaside Gin -- a local gin infused with seaweed which went perfectly with my Shetland Island Mussels and fries. I polished off the pot and then chased it down with a plate of Sticky Toffee Pudding -- my meal was now complete as was I!

With my quick stop in London over it was time to go on to Edinburgh to see my favorite castle, drink whisky and eat great food, so off I went on the train which really is the best way to get there. It's a 4 hour direct journey that takes you through some beautiful countryside and along the coast. Edinburgh I discovered as I said on my last trip and couldn't wait to come back. It's another great walking city and I was intrigued by the thought of their Holiday Market, but really wanted to sample as many types of Scotch Whisky as possible! You could say that I "specialized" in wine and wine marketing but, I have grown to really love Whisky and I wanted to learn more about the "Water of Life." For my second day, I booked a tour to the Highlands to see a few distilleries and Loch Lomond, through a tour operator I used last time called Rabbies. With just 8 people on the van and an incredibly personable and knowledgeable driver at the wheel we were off on our journey to learn about Whisky. Our first stop was to the Glengoyne Distillery for really informative and professional visit. Glengoyne has a very interesting history as it actually sits in both the Highlands and Lowlands but is technically a Highland Whisky. It was a great way to start the day and reinforced why I love this style Scotch, balanced, smooth, rich, with notes of toffee and hints of citrus. After we had a lovely tasting we got back into the van and drove off to visit Loch Lomond. Our guide took us on the scenic route through the rolling countryside speckled with sheep everywhere. We lucked out, no rain and moderate temperatures for mid-December, which made the walk around the lake very pleasant. The incentive to finish the walk in a timely fashion was a picturesque pub with a roaring fire and typical pub fare to warm you up! I had enough time to order a steak and mushroom pie with a side of mash. Ok this really was one of the best steak pies I've ever had! Savory, rich and topped with perfectly flaky pastry oh my! Now with a belly full of pie it was time to pile back in the van to make it to our next distillery stop at Deanston. Another distillery with a great back story -- read about it, with another fantastic tasting of Whisky! What a great day and cemented my love for Scotch Whisky and the countryside of Scotland.

Dinner was at a fantastic gastro pub called the King's Wark, owned by the son of a former colleague of mine. The King's Wark was situated in Leith, the waterfront area of Edinburgh. Located in a building dating back to 1432, this pub serves up great food and drink in a cozy atmosphere. I settled on a cocktail made from my favorite gin, Edinburgh Seaside gin which with it's nicely briny taste from infused seaweed, went perfectly with my Shetland Island Mussels and fries. I finished things off with a warm plate of Sticky Toffee Pudding and I was now finished off! Ready for bed and my last day in this lovely town.

On my final day I got up early and walked from my hotel, down the Royal Mile for a spot of tea at the Palace of Holyrood. Belly now warmed by the tea, and full from the scone, I was ready to hike up Arthur's Seat. Now whatever possessed me to do this I do not know; I don't hike and this was the highest point in the city. I started out, not bad I thought, but then the mud, and the incline and well, I turned right around and decided that it would be better to drink some more Whisky, so off I went to the Whisky Experience! Glad I did. The Whisky Experience was a guided tour of Whisky with a tasting of 5 Whiskies at the end. A well done tour, with lots of information and a tour of the largest Whisky collection in the world. I sat down to my 5 different Whiskies, each from one of the 5 Whisky regions and then had a lovely lunch of locally cured salmon, fresh tiny prawns and herring. A lovely day finished by a stroll through the Edinburgh Holiday Market and I was officially done!

Happy New Year Everyone. Thank you for reading my stories, this is new for me and I really appreciate all the lovely comments. I wish you all a fantastic end of 2019 and a 2020 filled with great food, wine, whisky and travel. Slainte!

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