Monday, November 18, 2013

Scotland: Land of Kilts, Scotch,& Gingers

This past week has been quite a whirlwind! I am trying to catch up on my blog posts and work for my classes, let alone the ever important sleep! Last weekend (Nov. 7th to the 10th), Bremen, Alana, Molly, and I took our very first out-of-the-country trip to Edinburgh, Scotland (pronounced like Edin-borrow). It was my first ever trip to another country virtually on my own. Everything we did was decided amongst ourselves and we had to rely on each other for plans, meals, transportation, our daily itinerary, etc. Pretty thrilling actually. 
Especially how it started off.  The trip began with every traveler’s nightmare, especially when flying Ryanair. I was going into the City Centre (with my bag all packed for the trip) to meet our class for a tour of the Little Dublin Museum when I realized I had forgotten my boarding pass. So I had to run back to the house while practically having a heart attack. Thus, I was late for the tour but at least I could still actually board the plane when the time came. The museum turned out to be awesome too! A quick word about Ryanair for all you future travelers: It is the cheapest way to travel around Europe. As such, they tend to have a reputation for being very strict about things, such as printing off your boarding pass ahead of time (hence my minor freak-out previously) and you are allowed one small bag, no bag and personal item like normal flights. One bag. People tend to complain about this a lot, as well as their unfriendliness, however, our flight to and from Edinburgh proved no difficulty for us and the infamous airline. It was actually quite pleasant. The girl sitting next to me was friendly and studying in Galway and visiting a friend in Edinburgh.


The flight was super quick and before we knew it we were setting foot in yet another amazing country. This one much colder. After taking out some pounds (the exchange rate is killer), we boarded a bus into the city. How beautiful! Such a blend of old and new, historical and modern. The buildings and architecture, the streets, the shops, the pubs, etc. Everything. I had never been in a place quite like this. It was all so exciting. As was finding our way to the hostel. My first experience at a hostel was actually really awesome and pretty much what I expected it to be. The lobby was filled with a lot of the typical backpacking-type people (young, adventurous, in their 20s, pretty much all hipsters or hippies so naturally I fit in quite well). It had a full kitchen that served breakfast in the morning for £1.90 (way awesome for us budget-travelers) and staff were super helpful with directions and ideas for stuff to do in the city. We ended up going to a pub right across the road for a quick drink before heading off to bed. 



Friday was a day devoted to exploring the city of Edinburgh. However, being the adventurous, free-spirited people we are (some of us anyway…), we decided to just go explore the city without really a plan in mind! It proved out to be a great decision! We started walking around and came across a cemetery that had a beautiful view of the city (along with a statue of Lincoln and a mini Washington Monument, hello, America). We then wandered over to the Scott Monument and found our first kilted man playing the bag pipes so naturally we got a picture with him. We then ventured around a park and into the free Scottish National Art Gallery with some of the most beautiful (and biggest) paintings I’ve ever seen! 
It was a really beautiful day outside so we then continued to walk around and eventually found our way to the Edinburgh castle, which we did not actually take a tour of because we thought £16 was a bit pricey for that. Instead, we found our way to a Tartan Woollen Mill where we toured for free and learned all about the process of wool and cashmere making. Lunch came next at this really nice place called Maxie’s Bistro and Bar where I got everyone to try Haggis, Neeps, & Tatties! (Translation: Sheep heart, lung, and liver, Turnips, & Mashed potatoes) I thought it was really cool, not so much for some of the others. But hey, when in Edinburgh, do as the Edinburghers do. We then continued to wander around, eventually coming upon the famous Royal Mile with its old buildings and outdoor market. Edinburgh is such a neat city, especially the terrain which is pretty much all cobblestone streets and hills and bridges connecting the different parts of the city.



After checking into our hostel for the second night, we came across an international market with food and desserts from all around the world! Bremen and Alana, who tend to be obsessed with all things Italian, naturally could not pass up buying some cannoli’s and other Italian cookies. We got a pretty good deal on some paella from the Spanish tent for our dinner and again walked around the city streets. We even found and took our “Christmas pictures” by this beautifully decorated restaurant! What a way to begin to get into the holiday season! I always like to wait until after Thanksgiving to start celebrating Christmas, but seeing as Europe doesn’t celebrate that...I think it’s safe to give the Christmas celebrations a green light for now.
 

Tried Scotch for the first time. The four of us split one of the samplers and boy did we struggle finishing it all. Never has something burnt more going down. The bartender said it was an acquired taste and it would take many drinks to truly appreciate the taste. Guess it’s just not my thing. After a long day of exploring and walking (did I mention we walked a lot?), we picked up some pastries from a bakery and headed back to get ready for bed. Our dorm mates for the night were some college girls from the States who were studying in London and a girl from Slovakia who offered me lodging if I ever wanted to visit and hike their highest mountain (she said I seemed like the type of person who would enjoy that. Day was made by that comment!) 


 
Saturday was another long day, this one spent exploring the Highlands through a bus tour! Scotland is made up of the Highlands and Lowlands, appropriately named for the mountainous regions (Highlands) and those in the valley (Lowlands). Throughout these experiences I am made more and more aware of the beauty of God’s creation all around me! How blessed I am to experience all of this! It was absolutely breathtaking to be surrounded by such vastness and breathtaking beauty. At one point we drove through an area where it was snowing! It looked like straight-up Narnia. Loch Ness was even more magical. I stood at the pier and stared out at the water for a good 5 minutes just thinking about the beauty that was before me and thanking God for His awesome artwork! Even though we did not see the monster, it was still really awesome. How cool to be able to check that one off the bucket list, especially being a place that not many can say they have visited! Made it home safely after a long day and were ready for a much needed rest. 


 However, everything did not go exactly as planned, unfortunately. We got back a little late for the tour and after a quick dinner, didn’t realize that the next hostel we were staying in wasn’t a 24 hour one. It was one of the ones where you have to check in at a certain time. And we missed that certain time. Now before you gasp and think, “oh crap,” read on. We tried literally everything, calling the number they gave us, finding wifi at nearby restaurants, throwing a rock at the window to break in, everything! (okay, maybe not the last one…) but we did try like everything! Eventually we decided to make our way back to our other hostel in order to try and get wifi and figure out what to do. We stopped at a convenience store to buy more postcards (definitely important at a time like this….) and something (or someone, namely, God) told me that we should try calling one more time before leaving the area. Sure enough we did, and someone answered! We wasted no time in running back to the hostel to be let in by a slightly annoyed Australian. All was well in the end though and we made our way to our coed dorm for the night (yikes). We were praying it wouldn’t be too sketchy and uncomfortable but were really just tired and needed a good shower and sleep before getting up at 5am to head back to the airport. Thankfully, our bunkmate turned out to be a very kind and respectful and funny man from Spain who happened to be studying English in Dublin and was visiting Scotland for the weekend like we were! Crisis averted. (No, mom, I will not be risking it again in a coed dorm…). Needless to say we experienced the backpackers’ life this weekend and loved it! 

Such an amazing weekend! Hopefully more to come soon! Cheers!  







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