Edinburgh

My last few days have been awesome. I got to go on a bus tour of the surrounding countryside, try new food (including more haggis and some whiskey) and meet new friends (including the fabulous Adele from Aussieland).

Driving through the countryside, I am enchanted. The landscape on the way out of Edinburgh is hazy with mist and dotted with many wee lambs in amongst the damp greenery. Small villages and farmhouses straddle the edges of farming estates, and we occasionally pass by paddocks with horses grazing. The hills gently roll away under the surprisingly bright blue sky, and patches of wild flowers flash their colors at us. If this is my redemption for the loss of my phone, I gratefully accept it.

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Throughout the trip, our guide peppers in history lessons with songs by the proclaimers, Dougie McClain, and other Scottish songwriters. We pass by swaths of prickly gorse bushes (like natural border fences, yellow and ouch!), and learn about the union of the Scotts and the Picts.
We arrived at Blair Atholl and took in the castle and gorgeous grounds.

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Next we moved on to a lovely hiking spot and a few other scenic overlooks before finishing the day at Killecrankie Gorge.

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There’s an old tale I particularly like about Robert Bruce when he was fighting against the English (you know, the Scottish national pastime). He’s lost 6 battles and has gone into hiding in a cave in the highlands. It’s a stormy night out, the storm churning up the landscape outside. As he sits in sullen disappointment in his defeats, he looks to the entrance of the cave and sees a wee spider. This miniscule creature begins to lay down 1, 2, 3 strings of its webs before they get washed away by the rain. It tries again and the wind rips through the delicate strands. Again and again it tries, 6 times, to fix its web before it finally succeeds on the 7th try and settles in to wait for its prey. After watching this Bruce thinks to himself, “if this wee creature can persevere on behalf of its home and overcome a foe bigger than itself, so I must try for Scotland.” So he returns to fighting the English. If you know history, his story is not so poetic as this inspiring call to arms at all times, as he murdered one of his greatest rivals in a church (Greyfriars) where they were supposed to come to an agreement.

I have enjoyed my time here immensely and I will be sad to go. Like its people, Scotland’s history exhibits strength and grit and resolution of will. I can understand why Adele was traveling through here, and just ended up staying. With the mist burning off the basalt rock that thrusts Edinburgh castle into the sky, I find myself with a similar impulse not to leave.

A sleepy arrival in Glasgow

I’m at my hostel in Glasgow after my first experience traveling by overnight bus. First off, I have to say, that my initial thought upon boarding was that crazy bus in Harry Potter that you can hail with your wand and has a wacky assortment of characters. However, I must say that the trip was actually quite smooth  (no flying for us) and I slept nearly the entire time.

I’m going to grab a quick bite and then start my exploration of Glasgow.

Exploring Brussels

It’s so hot! The streets are filled with people eating ice cream cones and dodging into the shadows of buildings to escape the heat. I don’t know why – perhaps because of the recent attack – I was really expecting fewer people out of the streets. But the city is jam-packed with locals and tourists, alike, from all backgrounds and speaking many languages. There is much greater visible diversity here than anywhere I have been so far… aka fewer blonds 🙂

There are a lot of military personnel at the train station and definitely a police presence around the major areas. Walking through the streets I see gay pride flags everywhere, walk by a lot of graffiti that sometimes strives for peace and sometimes has anti-immigrant sentiments. There is a memorial with flowers still present with a lot of crosses and peace symbols for the recent bombing.

As we weave our way through the crowds we don’t really require an intentional approach to see most of the sights. The streets curve and stretch around – unlike the New York grid that I’m used to – but all of the major buildings are around the same area. It seems that at every corner we stumble upon another church more fantastic and intricately carved than the last.

We start at the closest church: St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral.


As we pass through the large Warandepark in the royal quarter, I see the US embassy through the trees. I was going to go snap a photo in front of it but was quickly reprimanded by several US military men in full uniform/rifles standing outside, so we moved on to the palace (Palais du Bruxelles).


We walk through the Grand Place, visit the Manneken Pis (along with a hoard of other tourists), pass by Bourse de Bruxelles, stop inside Les Halles Saint Gery, and visit inside the Église Sainte-Catherine (Saint Catherine’s Cathedral).
In the center of all of this is the central Train station and my hotel 🙂


After a lovely day adventuring, we enjoyed a restaurant popular with the locals recommended by the concierge at the hotel (so much French!). P and I shared insights with each other about our two countries, their education systems, health care, religion, politics, and daily life. It was very pleasant to have a friendly face around for a few days (in a row!!). I completed my day by returning to the hotel to kick my feet up and stretch out before sleeping for my early start the following day.
I am currently sitting on a Eurostar train from Brussels to London, where I will spend a very short visit (one very long day, just about 12 hours) enjoying the sights until I leave by overnight bus tonight at 11pm, for Scotland. 

Celebrations in Amsterdam

My time in Amsterdam was mostly spent on foot/tram, exploring the city neighborhoods, and have a coffee at the cafe (NOT a coffee house – which is where you go to smoke pot, if you want actual coffee go to a cafe) and watching the world pass by. It was nice to not rush and rest after several days of pushing through city sights. Shortly after I arrived in my room in the hostel, another traveler appeared staying in the bunk above me: Patrick from Germany.


I got lucky as he’s in town to look for an apartment rather than to party, so a pleasantly calmer travel companion than I was expecting from Amsterdam. We ended up having dinner together and then heading back early to sleep, so that we could get up early for a full next day.


The Flying Pig is definitely a fun party hostel in Amsterdam complete with a bar and smoke room, but the rooms are air-sealed so that it was quite quiet at night.
They also offer a free walking tour, which I enjoyed thoroughly as our tour guide was fantastic! We went by the palace, the red light district, through the parks, and over the canals.

 There’s always a long wait at the Anne Frank House, so I decided to go to the Resistance Museum (Verzetsmuseum) instead. They had a very good presentation of the events surrounding World War II and the the occupation of the Netherlands.
May 4th is Remembrance Day in the Netherlands, where they pay their respect for the victims and fallen soldiers of WWII. They hold a moment of silence for 2 minutes at 8pm, and the whole country stands still (trans and buses stop, people are quiet, and nothing moves). In the central square (Dam Square) royalty, government officials and military personnel gather to lay flowers at the monument and remember. The square was packed with thousands of people, all quiet. There were speeches (in Dutch) given by those alive at the time to share memories and to express the effects the war has had – urging us to remember and learn from the past.


May 5th is Liberation Day, and following the relative still of the previous day, this is a day of partying! I will, however, be on a train to Brussels. Also, Patrick is joining me! He’s waiting for a contract for his new flat and has never been to Brussels, so he’s joining me there for the day. It will be nice to have a buddy for Brussels, as I won’t meet anyone tonight (hotel instead of hostel).
I’m looking forward to tonight. I’m staying in a hotel (due to recent events things are a little cheaper here right now) and have the whole room to myself 🙂 So spoiled!!

STHLM

I’m running behind on posting but only because I’ve been having so much fun 🙂 I arrived at the City Backpacker’s Hostel in Stockholm, Sweden yesterday, grabbed a bunk, and went out exploring immediately.

Although most of the museums were closed (triple threat: Sunday, a holiday, and later afternoon time) there is so much to see in beautiful Stockholm by just walking around. I went walking in the “old town” sector called Gamla Stan, where I was able to walk around the royal palace (Stockholm Palace) and see the guards, and see the Stockholm Cathedral (Storkyrkan) which is the oldest church in Stockholm built in the 13th century. I walked through the central square, where Swedes enjoy taking fika- which is generally a coffee with a sweet (like a sweet bun) in the middle of the day and socialize. There’s plenty of outdoor seating with complimentary blankets so you can enjoy the sunshine, even in colder weather.

I then walked to the nearby island of Riddarholmen which is another older and traditionally structures island. There i saw another gorgeous church called Riddarholmskyrkan.


I was getting pretty hungry, so I hurried back to the hostel to see if I could recruit some comrades to go get some food with me. I picked up T, 20, who is from Paris (with a very thick accent) and S, 27, who is an Indian transplant now living in London. We wandered back through Gamla Stan to its southern brother of Södermalm, where we wandered and eventually ate. We chatted about French stereotypes (they view themselves to be too arrogant), American generalizations (the Parisian seemed to think we flew everywhere all the time, and he also seemed to think train hopping was common?) and much more. Then we headed down east along the waterline for a gorgeous view of the city, lighting up the dark sky in all its glory.


We headed back to the hostel a little after midnight and I crashed – hard. So sleepy! Luckily, S was heading back home the next night, so we made plans to meet for a drink when I pass through London.

The next morning I joined an Australian and Korean at breakfast. He (Aussie) ended up being to hungover and went back to bed (how am I not surprised) and Su and I went out exploring for my last few hours in Stockholm. It was nice to have a partner in crime. Hopefully we shall share some adventures together in the future… She’s been traveling for about a year and has made friends from all over the world on her way around, so she just keeps going!


Speaking of, time for a flight to Copenhagen. On to the next one!