Jason Porath

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Europe trip pt. 1: Edinburgh

So I, being the whimsical lunatic that I am, decided that, before starting at Dreamworks Animation in February, to do a LOT of travel. After all, Dreamworks will be the first long-term job (3 year contract) where I have limited vacation time (as opposed to just up and leaving after a show is done). So I’m hitting up 8 cities in 6 countries, coming back to the states around Christmas, then leaving for Japan at the end of January. It’s exhausting me already!

Here’s the rundown on my first stop, Edinburgh.

My flight, truth be told, was fairly uneventful. I went from LA to Amsterdam to Edinburgh, totaling something like 13 hours (with layover). The only thing of note is that Amsterdam’s airport is stupidly secure. There are metal detectors at every gate, and to even get into the gate, you go through blast doors that have to be opened by someone on the other side. Pretty thorough.

First impression of Edinburgh is that it’s cold. Quite cold. Not as bad as I’d feared, but still, pretty uncomfortable.

The city itself is incredibly old, with most buildings seeming to predate the entirety of the US. The entire town sort of emanates outward from Edinburgh castle, a fine establishment on top of a giant mound of volcanic rock. I immediately thought of Castle Heterodyne.

On my first night there, I went on a Witchery Tour, where a strange bloke dressed like a vampire (a claim he will vigorously protest) leads you through Edinburgh, rattling off macabre trivia. Along the way, his cohort will run about, attempting to scare you every 10 minutes or so. It was not very scary, but it was quite funny, with the two clearly having done this for years and years and years. I found out later that the tour leader (who goes by the name “Adam Lyal (Deceased)”) actually runs for mayor every election, as the Witchery Tour Party candidate.

Although I thought that the Witchery Tour’s emphasis on violence and the strange history of Edinburgh was purely contained to its peculiar aims, I found out on a walking tour the next day that, nope, Edinburgh is just a weird, haunted town. I went into a cemetery that had a number of oddly distended hills — this is because the hills were, in fact, mass graves, where poor people were dumped. Most of the graves had iron bars or were encased in mausoleums, on account of Edinburgh’s nasty history with graverobbers (which I’d read about in the past… look up “Burke and Hare” for a good one).

After the walking tour, I and my new friend Kristi (from York by way of Sydney by way of Portland) wandered over to Arthur’s Seat, a large hill overlooking Edinburgh. Amazing view, bit of a rough hike. On the way, we stopped for lunch, and I had haggis, which was not nearly as disgusting as one might think. I also had Irn Bru, which is a Scottish soft drink. It’s a good drink — sweet, but not overly so. Bit difficult to describe, honestly.

We also passed the Scottish House of Parliament, which is one of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen. It looks like the architect lost a bet and had to make it based off of a 5-year-old’s finger painting. Holy hell, it’s ugly.

After Arthur’s Seat, we went to a nearby museum (which was free admittance, as with all national museums here), which housed the taxidermied remains of Dolly, the cloned sheep. This museum, however, was designed by sadists, and we spent a good 15 minutes just getting down to where we could see Dolly. We managed to do so literally a minute before closing. I have never hated a sheep more.

After that, we met up with other hostellers and went on a pub crawl, which was… extensive. Scottish beer is both well-made and cheap, making for a very dangerous combination. We went to an Australian-Scottish pub, an Irish pub, a goth pub (which was both loud and empty), and finally, a club (which was frustratingly overcrowded).

The day after, I just wandered about the city for a bit, and came to some interesting conclusions about Scotland (or maybe just Edinburgh).

  • As far as I can tell, they have this weird fascination with Mexico. Lots and lots of Mexican restaurants, all with somewhat dodgy mascots/logos, but I have yet to see any Mexican or South American people whatsoever. I did stop in to one and had a burrito — it was awful.
  • Same sort of thing with Germany, to a degree. While I was here, there was a big Christmas event that started up, where the trees got all lit up, fireworks went off, and they opened this seasonal German Night Market. It was MOBBED. Wall-to-wall people trying to get German food and ale. I suspect it’s more that Germany is closely linked with Christmas…?
  • The city is constructed in such a way that, while there are main streets, there’s tons of little stairway shortcuts everywhere, which are tons of fun to dart in and out of. Lots of great little shops everywhere.

Definitely a great city. Like it a lot.

Lastly, though, is a story.

Basically, before leaving, my brother, who is into Wicca and herbology, had asked me to pick up some plants that he didn’t have easy access to in America. He mentioned that maybe I’d have trouble getting them through customs, but really, customs is pretty picky about everything, so I didn’t pay it much heed. I kept an eye out for any place I could buy what he’d asked for, and happened upon a very nice New Age/Mysticism store, run by two very lovely, good-natured people.

Which is good, because it turns out that what he’d asked me to pick up, and what I’d directly requested to buy, with zero irony or awareness, was Belladona. Which is, as I found out, a Class 3 Poison — right up there with cyanide and arsenic.

After a very interesting conversation, during which I was thankfully not arrested, they urged me not to ever eat any food he ever made for me.

On to Newcastle, where I’m meeting my ex-JET friend Emma, and then London!


  1. Sounds like you had an interesting time! Belladonna? Haha. Did he want the actual plant? Because the main constituent is atropine and most opthalmologists use that to dilate the pupil. Also in belladonna is hyoscamine, which is used as an antispasmodic- he could go to the pharmacy and ask for Feminax… (unless he wanted it for the hallucinations, but you have so many horrible side effects that it’s just not worth it),
    I googled scottish houses of parliament, it IS hellishly ugly, but I remember when it was first built, it was nominated for the Best Building in Britain award. Can’t remember if it won- although by the looks of it, it’s detiorated since then, so probably didn’t win…..
    Where are you off to next?

  2. Holy shit that sounds like a lot of fun. And I laughed about the part with the Belladonna. I guess some of us are just not as well-versed in poisons as others. It seems like something one of your brothers would do. Lawl.

    That tour sounded mighty interesting too, I can’t wait to see pictures. I’m fiercely envious but happy for you all the same.

    And Christmas is reallly, really crazy in Germany. They go all hard core for it so it doesn’t surprise me that something German and Christmas related would be a mess to throw yourself into. Where are you going next I wonder?

  3. Great stuff, J. Keep up the posts.

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