Other trips I took during my semester in London had me going solo to Scotland and, later, with some classmates to the Republic of Ireland.
Sometime after the car trip in Southern England with classmates I hardly knew, I booked train tickets for a solo excursion to Scotland.
Most confusing name in the Isles (probably not actually, but close enough)
The entire time I was in Edinburgh, I had no idea how to pronounce its name. It wasn’t my fault, though. I blame the wonky spelling which came from the mixing of old school Celtic and English. For those of you who don’t know how to say Edinburgh, here’s a hint: it’s not “burg” as in burger; it’s more like “bur’ah” (the “gh” has a French quality to it).
Side note: the Scottish Gaelic name for the city, Dùn Èideann, sounds a lot cooler. Particularly because of its similarity to Dúnedain (the fictional race in The Lord of the Rings to which Aragorn belongs, and the reason the character looks to be in his 30’s when he’s actually 88).
The Castle Rock Hostel: a whole lot of awkward (not the hostel’s fault though)
The nights I spent in Edinburgh were at Castle Rock Hostel. From the entrance of the hostel, you could see Edinburgh Castle. Inside, there were a lot of common areas where you could sit, chat, drink and eat. Most of the employees were travelers who worked in exchange for lodging (not an uncommon situation for hostels). After my first day of exploring, eating, and drinking, I came back to the hostel and actually tried to work on my novel (I’m not sure if it had a title yet, but it definitely wasn’t called REMNANT OF US yet). Having a beer or two still in me, I didn’t get much work done.
While working, I was invited to join a group of folks from several different countries (France, Spain, and—I dunno, probably Australia ’cause I like to say Aussies are everywhere). The French guy was teaching them to play Settlers of Catan and no one seemed to care. So, unsurprisingly, the French guy won.
Later, I was trying to find a place to watch my stinkin’ Netflix and wound up in a room which was supposed to be a spot for people to sit around and listen to records. However, the Spanish girl from the Catan game showed up with her temporary American love interest. In a misguided attempt to seem sociable and interesting in front of the Spanish girl, the American kid kept talking to me about music and his unorthodox college (rather than ignoring me and letting me sneak away), and then a fourth person showed up and set up camp in the record room.
Don’t feel too bad for the kid, though. Eventually, the young couple found some alone time in the loft above the dining room. I know ’cause I walked in on them making out while finding another Netflix-friendly spot (spring for a hotel, kid!). That wasn’t even the most awkward thing that happened at the hostel.
On another night, some other couple in my co-ed dorm room decided to have sex in the corner while everyone was sleeping. Lucky for me (if you can call it lucky), I was so tired I didn’t care and just passed out.
Highlights of Edinburgh: Edinburgh Castle, the Potato Shop, and Calton Hill
Other than the awkwardness at the hostel, my time in Edinburgh wasn’t all that eventful. Didn’t meet any women; just went and did some touristy things.
Edinburgh Castle was nice looking, but the fact that most of the stuff in the castle never saw battle made the place feel less interesting (some of the castle is super old, but a lot of it was built/rebuilt in later centuries). However, I heard a pretty cool story about Sir Thomas Randolph. As it goes, the English had taken control of the castle and Randolph wanted it back for the Scottish. Under his command was a soldier by the name of William Francis who once lived in the castle. Against the wishes of his father, Francis used to sneak out at night to see his girlfriend by climbing up and down some secret path. Francis showed the path to Randolph, which allowed them to retake the castle from the English by surprise (kind of reminds me of a certain occurrence in A Song of Ice and Fire AKA Game of Thrones).
It’s kind of stupid, but my favorite thing in Edinburgh may have been the Potato Shop. Baked potatoes with cheese and stuff. Delicious.
On my second (or whichever) day in Edinburgh, I met up with the Bruneian college students I met in Italy the year before. We went up to Calton Hill, which provided a nice view of the city, and had dinner at some mussels place (not sure if this was before or after I went to Brussels, but altogether I had a lot of mussels in Europe that Fall). Good times.
Before moving onto the Highlands, here are some more photos of Edinburgh:
The Highlands: Inverness, Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle
On my trip to the Highlands, I spent one night at the Student Hotel in Inverness. This hostel was a lot smaller and quieter than Edinburgh’s Castle Rock Hostel. Unlike my time in Edinburgh, I didn’t bother going out to any of the bars in Inverness. Instead, I spent the entire night sitting in the hostel and talking to folks. Mostly folks whose ancestors came from the Isles: a Scottish guy trying to make a career in folksy Scottish music (and sang us a song about the Massacre of Glencoe), an Irish girl who didn’t realize she pronounced “th” different from the English and Scottish until that night, an Australian girl (not made up this time), and some Americans girls who went to bed early. It was nice just relaxing after the ridiculousness in Edinburgh.
Early the next day, I ventured out to the bus stop in the drizzling rain. I think it was Sunday or something, because there weren’t a lot of buses running that day. I killed some time at a market and bought my lunch for later before I caught my bus out to Urquhart Castle and its view of Loch Ness.
I much preferred Urquhart Castle over Edinburgh Castle. Urquhart is pretty much just a ruin, which is quite a contrast to the well-maintained Edinburgh Castle. I especially liked all the green around Urquhart and, to a lesser extent, the fact that it was right by the lake. After I had my fill of Urquhart, I went back out to the parking lot and the road and couldn’t find a single sign with the bus schedule. Inquiring with the Urquhart tourist information people, I was told that there wasn’t going to be a bus coming for the rest of the day. Awesome.
So, I walked two miles down the freeway (with my bag on me ’cause I wasn’t prudent enough to check it at the hostel) to get to the village of Drumnadrochit. I got on the last bus back to Inverness and barely made it in time to catch my train to London. Still made it back, though. Home sweet home (at the time, I wasn’t aware of the mold problem in my London flat).
If that happened to me again, I’d probably just try to hitch a ride on one of the private charter buses. There were other tourists there, after all, just no one else taking the public bus. I don’t think I’d ask anyone to take me in their private vehicle though. Despite all the other things I do, I guess I’m not big on hitchhiking.
And, here’s some more photos before I get to my trip to Ireland:
The Republic of Ireland
I went to Ireland with some of my classmates, including the redhead I had a thing for. So, like all my other trips involving her, I don’t have much to share. Our base of operations for the weekend was Dublin.
From Dublin, we took a bus tour that brought us out to the west end of the the isle to see the Cliffs of Moher where they filmed certain scenes for Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince.
It was a super windy day and my friend took off her glove for photo-taking purposes, and it flew from her hand and landed by one of the cliff edges. I freaked everyone out by jumping out toward the ledge (but not really that close to the ledge) to grab the glove before the wind could carry it into the sea.
After the cliffs, we stopped by a church that was supposed to be notable for some reason, and then had some beer at a random little town before going back to Dublin for—well, for more drinking. That night, there was some minor misunderstandings (in which certain people thought other people were upset when they weren’t), but overall it was a pretty good day in Ireland.
The next day, those of us who weren’t too tired from the other night’s festivities went to the Old Jameson Distillery. There, I finally learned the reason I didn’t like Scotch as much as other whiskeys: the peat they use to heat the barley makes it super-smoky, and I just don’t like the smoky flavor (overtime, my aversion to peaty whiskey has diminished, but it’s still not my favorite).
During the blind taste test of the Jameson tour, I picked the American whiskey as my favorite out of the three whiskeys offered. I think it was Jack Daniel’s (I actually prefer most bourbons over JD). The other two were Jameson and some sort of Johnnie Walker (probably red). What can I say? I like the woody flavor from the newer casks used for the American stuff (FYI, after the barrels are used up by the Americans, we give them to the Irish for their whiskey since they prefer their drink not to be “contaminated” by the flavor from new barrels).
After my classmates left Ireland, I stayed an extra night to do some random stuff on Halloween.
Coincidentally, while I was in Dublin, I watched a few episodes of Sons of Anarchy that were set in Ireland. Of course, Jax goes to Belfast in Northern Ireland, not the Republic of Ireland—so, it wasn’t quite the same.
And, now, some more photos of Ireland to wrap up the post: