Scotland was great. After landing in Edinburgh I waited around at the baggage carousal. There were dozens of sets of golf clubs coming through. Cool to be in the home of things like golf and economics. I was waiting around with my buddy from the plane, a Texas mathematician now working at Edinburgh University. We got to the subject of lost bags. I’ve lost so many suits, books, prescription meds, iPods on the road in the past I thought I had the advantage here. Particularly with the story about having to borrow a suit (in two pieces) in Shanghai that inadvertently made it look like I was going in Safari. Apparently such a thing is called a Safari Suit. I don’t think the Chinese were impressed.
Regardless, my airplane friend managed to lose a few mathematical proofs comprising his PhD thesis on a plane. Advantage him. Redoing that is tougher than wearing bad borrowed suit pieces for a few days.
After getting in to Edinburgh I connected with Matt D and his sister Katherine, who lives in Scotland permanently. We hit the road to drive north to Inverness.
Inverness had no sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. It’s an interesting place. Quite a small town at ~70,000 people with some great history. The Scots apparently first brought the bright yellow “broom” to Vancouver Island where it’s now ubiquitous. There was a lot of it in Scotland. Much like being home. Inverness also has the whisky (yep, minus the e here) distilleries. We managed to tour Glanfiddich where authenticity means about a 50% markup from prices in Canada. Funny how that works. Regardless, a great tour with samples and credit to them for it being free. I just distort its economics by refusing to buy anything.
We went out to the best known music pub, called the Hootanany. It’s a two-story place where we started off on the ground floor with traditional stuff — accordions, keyboards. No pipes — disappointing. Anyway, the second floor had a more rocking line up. Which became death metal. It was not bad at all.
Next up was the northernmost part of the island. This was John O Groats. It was a just a small wind-blown town that had quite a few motor and bicycle enthusiasts congregating to the place. The trip, from the southernmost place, Land’s End, is about 600 miles.
Next up was Edinburgh. This was via Sterling, which is a huge historic castle as well. Edinburgh is a very nice city. I stayed at the Castle Rock Hostel which had a some great views. Stepping out the front door was the Edinburgh Castle (immediately below) and looking out the one (much-need) hatch in the room (further below). The hatch kept the bunk-bed smell to a minimum. I’m not even part of it as I am lugging around a whole tub of shoe deodorizer for a worst-case-scenario. I thought about stashing it in a travel bottle. Why do they make the powder white? I have no desire to miss flights while being interrogated being a mule in a drug trafficking schemes. The extra weight is a small price to pay for minimized hassles at customs.
Edinburgh has some great sights. I did a free walking tour put on by an outfit called Sandeman Tours. They’re free. I balked. Nothing is free. Nothing. I’m a bad business school guy in that I’ve never read Adam Smith’s (below) seminal Wealth of Nations but I know enough quotable trivia to survive in capitalism. I’m in this guy’s home town. I smelled a rat.
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
Anyway, the tour was fantastic. And they have them all over Europe. Who knew a tips-only model could be so successful. A group of 25 or so presumably had at least 60% tip take-up and it looked like it ranged from ₤5 to ₤10. Not too bad! It was a great way to spend 3 hours — immersed in history. I’ll do more of these for sure. The downtown core (below) and Adam Smith’s stature (further below) are as follows.
The view from Edinburgh Castle is also great. The view (below) is from one of the cannon looking onto the city. The hill in the background in Arthur’s Seat, a cool 250 vertical meter lookout that I climbed one day. I was all over it as a mini Kilimanjaro (maybe 1/15th or so). Partway down was big, belligerent Swans (further bottom). Well, they never hissed at me… win. But they were unimpressed I didn’t feed them. I don’t pander to feathered beasts.
Speaking of hissing swans, let’s end on geese. Same family, different species. Since I did a Smith quote already I can justify one more:
“The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing”
Sure, the swans did not hiss at me. Maybe they should have — I shortchanged them by not giving them what they menaced moe for — bread crumbs.
My internal calculus on infrastructure growth is something like this: Mid East > Asia >North America > Europe. I see the awesome European historical sights. Not much has happened since (comparatively.) North American infrastructure is crumbling. The emerging economics are taking off. It’s a pretty bad legacy to leave — dreadful infrastructure induced by a a hissing goose that refused to be fairly taxed in the name of consumption. I’m politically neutral but I’d sure like to see more critical infrastructure projects go through in North America (and not all debt-financed). The final indication was a chart I saw the other day. We are not in it to win it in the West. Prudence demands being prepared for the future, not squandering it in the name of present consumption. Alberta, found at the end of the list, is unfortunate. Granted, it’s not a fair comparison — a wealthy province kicks up billions to the federal government; Alberta has royalty schemes designed to let firms recoup investment (less pay now, more later) but still — it would be nice to see more $$ for the future or for education. As the richest province in Canada, it ought to have either the biggest stockpile of cash or the best universities in the Western world. Anything else is running away from an angry (flat-taxin’!) goose.