If you're into castles and old architecture, then Edinburgh definitely is a place to go. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, and for good reason. It's home of the famous castle- Edinburgh Castle- which stands on top of a hill in the heart of the city, overlooking its land. Its landscape was formed from a glacier thousands of years ago after it shifted on Earth, giving us the formation we see today.
Probably the most famous locations in Edinburgh is the Elephant House, most likely named after the only Elephant to live in the Edinburgh castle. In this cafe, is where world renowned author, J.K. Rowling began writing Harry Potter on napkins! Being the birthplace of Harry Potter, I had to take a visit to soak in the atmosphere and magic in the air. I was hoping for some pixie dust or fairy godmother to come down and give me the power to become a success as Rowling. To my sadness, I didn't see any pixie dust rain on me, but the decade is still young.
The cafe itself is cute, warm, and nothing like your basic Starbucks. But if you think they don't take pride in being the birthplace of Harry Potter, obviously marketing is not your thing. Along the walls they have children's drawings, which is adorable, and they showcase and promote a lot of Harry Potter memorabilia. What's even more amazing, well kind of, is they don't have wifi. I find this so important in this day and age. Their sign literally says, "We do not have wifi. Talk to each other. Pretend it's 1995." Coincidence they chose the 1990's when Harry enters Hogwarts? Doubt it. Very clever, Elephant House. It's also a great birth year. Besides the awesome history of the place, they also sell coffee. Crazy, right? While I didn't have the chance to experience their food, of which I bet is wonderful, I did get a cup of mocha coffee. It wasn't Starbucks, which is fine, because it was better. The decor on the top was even delicate and smooth like the taste. Places to sit vary on time, but I imagine they are busy all day. However, I was able to sneak a seat looking out the front windows. Overlooking the old buildings and day walkers was relaxing and for a moment, I may have felt the pixie dust. For places to visit in Edinburgh, this was definitely one of my favorites.
Elephant House wasn't the first place we visited, but actually the last. The best for last right? The first thing we did after leaving the airport was hop on a train to go into the city. From there, we caught a bus that took us 'closer' to our hostel. In all reality, Tyler said it was close, but I felt like I was on an involuntary hike.
I'm not sure what I expected, but walking up steep hills with a heavy backpack was not one of them. Bless Tyler, because he got tired of me complaining and grabbed my bag. I don't know how he managed. Once the hike was over, and we reached the all mighty top, we were met with news that we were unable to go to our room yet. I was bamboozled. The amount of exhaustion I felt was almost unbearable and all I wanted to do was sleep. We had woken up at four in the morning from Iceland after our twenty hour layover (yes we did that on purpose), and hadn't gotten much sleep on the plane. Mixed with running around the city, uncomfortable shoes, growing blisters, and a heavy backpack, and no food for fuel in eight hours, I thought I was going to die. Some advice for those who desire to travel as we did, since it was cheap: wear sensible shoes, pack lighter than I did (don't bring three coats and two hoodies for fashion), and be sure when doing cardio, you add some inclines, because flat land cardio doesn't prepare you for monster hills.
I trudged along until we reached the last hill; the prize at the top was our hostel. It was called the Castle Rock Hostel. Out of all of the places we have gone, both internationally and in the United States, this hostel was my favorite. From the outside, it looked so much smaller. On the inside, it was like it never ended. Truly castle like, it's decorated with vintage art, sculptures, and each room have different themes. they even went as far as to name their beds, which helps with knowing what bed the guests are to sleep on.
This hostel is smoke-free, so for all lung blazing smokers, you'll have to go outside. To feed our anti-social and internet dependent needs, it offers free WiFi in public areas. Safety is important, so a 24-hour front desk with a real person is mandated, and for all of us who have no idea where to go or what to do, they offer tour/ticket assistance. Additionally, you'll find laundry facilities for the two wardrobes we're able to fit into a backpack because luggage is too expensive, a fireplace in the lobby for all pyro desires, and luggage storage for when guests arrive just a bit too early. Save a bit of cash and grab breakfast in the kitchen between 7 AM and 10:30 AM. They have many options, but for those wanting to experience a real Scottish breakfast, I suggest going to the Hub. The food was amazing and some of the best I have ever had. Honestly, Scotland and Ireland really know how to make some food.
Guests are from all over the place. We had made friends from Australia, New Zealand, New York, Finland, and Colorado. Every night they would have different group activities, including beer pong tournaments, ghost tours, trivia night at a local pub, and other engagements. These group activities alone are why I fell in love with the hostel. Tyler and I always loved talking to locals or other people from around the world. I solely want to plan another trip to Castle Rock Hostel for the rest of the week's activities. Tyler and I were only able to participate in the trivia night.
Trivia night took place in a local pub, not far from the hostel, and even though we didn't win, we got to learn so much about Australia, Finland, New York, and compare governments and experiences. That night we stayed up until four in the morning just talking amongst each other. Thank god for Facebook, because we all stay in contact.
Alcohol in Scotland is much cheaper than the United States. The bartenders gave me a pitcher of a mix drink and just a straw. "You don't need a cup, just drink it from the pitcher," they said. It was wonderful. Oh, and the name of the pub is called the Globe Bar.
When Tyler said we were going to stay in a hostel, I was worried. I'd heard many bad things about them, but god forbid hollywood tell the truth in their horror movies. I'm sure location is the most important thing when it comes to safety and if a hostel is good or not, and Scotland seems to be a safe place. The mischievous leprechauns seemed to stay in Ireland. It was beneficial to have a friend living in Scotland, so he told us where to go and when. Edinburgh seemed safe at night, but the only time we were out past dark was with our trivia group. You know what they say: travel in numbers.
Because Tyler and I are basic white people, we went to the National Museum of Scotland. And because we are poor college kids, there is no doubt it is free. It's a large museum and we spent a good few hours exploring and reading about the history of Scotland. It was a walk through time. Interesting enough, the museum began construction in 1861, but was titled National Museum of Scotland in 2006 when it merged with the new Museum of Scotland. We didn't explore the entire museum; that may have taken a few days. I focused on the history of the Celtics. No, not the basketball team. More so it is the vikings that came over from Scandinavia or something. I don't know, I took pictures, though. I'm kidding, this is viable research and knowledge. Go to a museum, it's not the same from the phone screen.
Museums are a wonderful way to learn the history of a certain place, and most places, unlike the United States, don't keep anything hidden or falsify its history, so you're bound to get an accurate education. Tyler and I wandered the streets, finding parks, gardens, and old fashioned alleys. Certainly, like its sister country, we didn't find trash. Scotland keeps its streets and land clean. Such a refresher.
A friend of mine whom is from Scotland, told me I had to have two things: a meat pie and a drink called Iron Brew. Every American says Iron Brew tastes like something, but I won't share my thoughts. You'll have to experience it for yourself! Just remember, it's a huge deal over there. Now meat pies... meat pies are one of the most delicious things Tyler and I have ever tasted.
Day two of our Scottish adventures included hiking up a steep "hill" called Arthur's Seat. The views at the top are beautiful, I imagine. I was unaware of what we were doing that day, so I wore sandals. It's not much of a surprise I couldn't make it to the top; between my anxiety of heights and the feeling gravity was going to fail and I was going to slide right out of my shoes, I only made it three quarters of the way up. Fear, mixed with annoyance, mixed with my temper, did not make for a happy Stephanie. Don't be an unhappy Stephanie- wear the right kind of shoes and know what you're doing for the day before you plan an outfit.
Arthur's Seat is very steep when climbing the make-shift stairs. The way up is rather narrow, so you're sharing a tight space with people going in both directions: up and down. Not much is available to hold on to if you lose your footing; my shoes were nearly sliding out from under me, but luckily they were at least strapped sandals. Perhaps this is why I felt like gravity would fail at anytime, or worse, completely take over and I would find myself tumbling backwards down this rocky, narrow, and steep mountain side. When my nerves didn't completely take over, and I pretended I wasn't so high up, it was relaxing and a great vanity point for some basic white girl poses for pictures. With as many photos I made tyler take of me, you would think I was narcissistic, but in reality, I just hated all of the previous photos of myself he'd taken. Why can't double chins just disappear when we need them to?
Next to Arthur's Seat was another hill- Arthur's Ottoman, maybe? Tyler, of course, wanted to climb that. As if he didn't hear my crying terrors of climbing this one. "It's not as steep!" he claimed. So I believed his lying ass. A few curse words, muddy asses, and tumbles later, we finally left.
The mountain and climbing experience wouldn't have been so awful if I'd warn the correct shoes. At minimum, at least my black vans. However, since that didn't happen, it was miserable minus the views. If you plan to explore this steep ass hill, wear shoes and workout gear. Also, go in May and when the weather is warm. It was warm for us, but I imagine any other time of the year, the wind would be freezing given the higher altitude. Just a couple weeks after the trip, the temperatures plummeted to the fifties (farenheit), and it was only June.
Amongst our touristy sites, was Scott Monument. The Scott Monument is dedicated to the Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott. It's the second largest monument dedicated to a writer and is designed as Victorian Gothic; a wondrous and detailed work of art that sends you back in time to elegant and large dresses, queens and kings, dark attire, and overall revival of the victorian era. Much of the Medieval churches were rebuilt or renovated.
One of our last places we went to was Calton Hill. Fun fact about the hill, in 1725 the western side of the hill was disjoined and sold to the royal burgh of Edinburgh. While there, we sat at the top, taking in the city scape that it overlooked. It was quite a walk to get to, after we set foot to grab a quick bite of fish and chips. I understand that in Scotland, vinegar is a huge deal, especially on fish and chips, but I hate vinegar. Turns out, I also hated fried fish and soggy fries. So I overlooked the city, starving. I was really craving one of those meat pies at that time, but settled for the sugar drenched Iron Brew. Its carbonation gave a fill of sorts, kind of like when we drink coffee and tell ourselves it counts as breakfast when in reality there is no actual nutrition, but our brains think, happy juice make me go fast. Calton Hill is home to the Collective Contemporary Art Gallery, which was closed when we went, and is occupied to an unfinished monument. the unfinished monument is similar to the columns of Lincoln Memorial, but unfinished like half of our dreams and goals. There was also another monument of sorts, but neither Tyler or I could figure out what it was. The unfinished memorial was a fun playground, though. Tyler and I, and many others, got to practice our cheerleading skills trying to get ourselves on the first step. The first step was probably five feet high, so I took it back to 2000 when my sister would cup her hands to raise me up over a high barrier. Cheer moves for the win. Tyler did this, allowing me to climb up. I was quite impressed with my upper arm strength, since before training, I had noodles for muscles. As i waddled my way up, I tried to not think about the height I was in and my irrational fear of falling down stairs. Nonetheless it increased the view points for my short self, and was fun to climb up and down the large steps. When it came to climbing down, that was another story. While the step was as tall as I or taller, figuring out how to climb down didn't work in my favor. I slid slowly, then kind of jumped the rest, and inevitably fell flat on my arse. Don't be embarrassed if this ever happens, sit there, and laugh like it's not a big deal and just brush off the very nutrient rich soil that is now clinging to your clothes and skin until you get to a tub to wash it off. Just let it all happen. It's part of the experience. I lifted Tyler up, but his graceful and six foot self had no other problems getting up or down. Men.
Overall, if you've been to Ireland or read my post on Ireland, you could spot the similarities between the people, the beauty, and the castle. Certainly, we visited more castles in Ireland, but there is definitely a goal for Tyler and I to return to Scotland. We have much more to explore.
12/10 for Edinburgh. Would definitely go back.
When I told my friend who lives in Scotland that we were going to Glasgow, the first thing out of his mouth was, "why?" and I didn't understand why he asked until I went there. Glasgow wasn't awful, but it wasn't the best. It wasn't Edinburgh.
Originally, Tyler and I were going to spend two or three days in Glasgow, but I was so badly bored and unimpressed, I begged Tyler for us to go to the Scottish Highlands for one of the three days. I begged like an outdated form of a female who needed permission from her husband or father to read a book. If I had known how to drive stick (I can, just not well enough to chance it in another country), I wouldn't have needed Tyler, but I didn't (well enough), so here I was, annoyingly persistent and throwing a fit to get what I wanted. In all reason, I know Tyler, and I knew he would thank me later (he did).
But, before we ditched Glasgow, Tyler insisted on exploring the city that was supposed to be a "Ghent on steroids" when in fact, it was a "Portsmouth on steroids."
I tried remembering most of Glasgow and what we did, but I was so tepid towards the city, I blocked most of it out like we do to background noise. However, there were a few places that are worth mentioning if not for the beauty, then the learning experience.
Tip one I learned from my friend, Jack. Don't wander Glasgow at night. Much like Norfolk or Portsmouth, or basically any city nowadays, you'll get stabbed. Yes, stabbed. Guns are illegal in Scotland, so everyone just shanks each other. This increases more along the city outskirts, not so much anywhere else. Also, if you see a fight, mind your business, otherwise you'll get shanked. With that being said, Tyler and I kept to ourselves, and we did everything in the day time.
For all you car nerds out there, you'll love the Riverside Museum. It's a super modern- a little extra modern in my opinion- museum of antique vehicles and state-of-the-art interactive displays. For a non-car person, this museum and Tyler's vast random knowledge of archaic vehicles was fascinating. Each display was in chronological order and included motorcycles. They showcased what people would wear (honestly I don't know how these ladies had such tiny hands!), and gave brief descriptions of the model, year, process, and the likes. There was even a display of the evolution of bicycles on the wall near the ceiling. A few cars you were able to climb into- I wish I could be an instagram model because hello retro shot. Then, as if the evolution of motor vehicles wasn't enough, they had an entire model of what the city was like back in the day. It was like a life size model of a street antiqued with fo-shops, cobblestone roads, antenna tvs, and a train that were all accessible.
Of course, being the white people we are, we also visited the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. I didn't take many photos of the displays in the museum, I was too busy trying the fullfill my experience and not live on my phone, but it gives anyone more of a reason to explore. Also a quick google image search will give you an idea of what the inside looks like. It's like any other museum, but like any other museum, there are different things to see that aren't anywhere else. I highly suggest going. Its free to go, but they do ask for a small three pound donation. Their exhibits do change, as does the aesthetic of the main entrance, which keeps the interest high. We also happened to be there when an Organ pianist was playing, so that was a nice added bonus.
Another nice, outdoor, place to visit are the Glasgow Botanical Gardens. different climate, different flowers and plants. During our entire time in Glasgow the weather was beautiful. So much, that at the botanical gardens there is a large mall (the yard kind) where the locals all lay out and soak up the sun (it's not out much, and that's why we are so ghostly). After exploring the grounds, we entered into a controlled glass building that resembled a greenhouse, but had different climates for different plants. There was a room for tropical rainforest, desert, temperate, and some one or two more. It was amazing, because we could experience the plant life of different places around the world. After soaking up the ambience of the plants, we settled on the mall and relaxed. The weather was so nice, and I was so exhausted, Tyler and I ended up falling a sleep for a bit. If you've ever just felt so relaxed. listening to birds chirping, the coolness of the earth underneath, grass as a plump barrier, and the sun blanketing your skin, then you've felt some form of heaven and peace. That is what I imagined complete peace to feel like. The vibrations of the botanical gardens alone are a reason to go.
If you're a shopaholic and love small, local boutiques, then definitely visit the ones in Glasgow on Byres road. It's a long strip of cute shops and local food places and pubs. Great locals and atmosphere to wind down and spend some money.
Glasgow wasn't a complete waste, but a good one or two days is sufficient in my opinion. Save the others for Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland.
The Scottish Highlands are what I could only imagine where fairytales are created from. If you've been out west in the United States, while I have but I was too little to remember, I bet it would come fairly close to the beauty of the Scottish Highlands.
Tyler and I embarked on our three hour car ride journey up north instead of spending another day in Glasgow. We'd grown bored of what it had to offer, and in all honesty, I through a fit when he told me no to going to see Hogwarts Express. He thanked me later for convincing him, though. This wouldn't be the first time I through a little fit the trip, but it was the only successful one. And by fit, I mean begging and pleading, until I convinced him. We aren't in Scotland everyday and money comes and goes, experiences to live don't.
It was a real curse not being able to rent a car without the under age fees. I was 23, he was 24, and the near closeness of being 25 sat in our wallets, mocking us. But none the less, it was about $60 each for renting the car for 24hours and I knew it would be worth it. Tyler needed to see and experience the amazingness before he agreed the worth of money.
I tend to sleep for the most part when I am in the car, no matter the distance. I do this mostly because I get anxiety when other people are driving. Especially when it came to the roads in Scotland. Like in Ireland, the roads were narrow, and you shared with giant buses. On top of the narrow roads, we were on literal clift and mountain edges. Most didn't have guards either, so we would come up on sharp turns, with a giant red bus going the other way, on a mountain, with no guards, on narrow roads. We screamed a few times. It's like Scotland didn't think that hey, someone could die here.
Certainly the natives behind us thought, fuckin yankees.
Once we cleared the mountainous roads, we hit straight ways similar to those in Tennessee and Western Virginia. They had guards and stops along the way where tourists and yankees a like came to photograph themselves in front of the valleys and greenery. Of course, we did the same. I'd never actually seen anything like it, not even in Ireland, where most of northern Ireland is run over with industries, gray cities, and earth similar to New York City or Detroit. For this, I will have to give Scotland a one up for the North. However, every city I came across in Ireland was amazing, so they meet with equality in overall amazingness.
Green had a whole new definition when driving through the highlands. Blues were bluer, greens greener, the sky was clearer. Imagine how beautiful America would be in some places if trash people didn't litter, destroy ecosystems, and whine about how expensive renewable energy was. Fun fact, it's not as expensive as you may think.
So here we were, praying for our lives as we drove on the narrow roads. Luckily, the amount of traffic decreased significantly the further north we went. There were occasional cute little cottages in the valleys. Miles and miles from civilization, but comfortable and peaceful, no doubt. It reminded me of Nora Robert's book series Dark Witch. A brother and sister and their cousin, descended from the Dark Witch, lived in a cottage together, in ireland, but joined forces to fight an evil guy. Great story, highly suggest it. It's a bit more exciting than I just gave, and it's all about the woman power and equality too. Shove a little romance int here, too. It's juicy.
Anyway, we were literally in the crevice of the valley, green mountain side on either side of us and I had never felt so at home. I was in awe, taking photos every moment we were driving. If you looked up out the window, the green slope would steadily increase to reach the peak. I imagined running up the side, then rolling down. To the right were pools of water, blue and reflecting of the sky. Little sheep and goats roamed occasionally along the way.
We finally arrived at the place of Hogwarts Express. In reality, it's the steam train they used in the first Harry Potter, but people were gathered all for the same reason. You had some families trek far out into the fields, and down the mountains (this is like a mile away), and then you have those, like Tyler and I, who hiked up a small mountain for a clearer shot of the train and to eb on higher altitude. I was dressed for this occasion, so it wasn't much of a bother. I was up high, and some anxiety pealed through, but over all, it was mild. The hiking part actually made me feel more one with nature, as cheesy and lame as it sounds.
The train came by four (think) times a day. It came, then left, twice a day. You also had the opportunity to ride it, but it was some $100 or some amount per person. And we were balling on a budget.
Before hiking to the mountain to await the train, we had an hour or so to wait. We spend that time exploring the surrounding area. Of course, they had a souvenir shop and of course I got a couple things from there. Otherwise, would I really be a tourist if I didn't?
To the left of the mountain was a large stone statue tower thing. For the life of me, I couldn't tell you what it was for, but I could surely come up with the best bullshit answer you'd ever heard. This sat on the edge of a beach, cluttered with shells and an occasional sea glass. We played near the water like school children; I threatened to splash water all over Tyler, asking what he would do if I did. They were empty threats, though, as I knew his flipper hands would create larger waves.
Once the time grew closer, we hiked our way up the mountain to the clear shot of railroad tracks. We could hear the train chug along before we could see it, so it gave ample time to pull out my phone to record it. It's amazing how a simple train, used only once in a world popular movie, meant so much to so many people. Perhaps a symbol for a means to escape the real world and enter the world of Hogwarts, or a simple symbol for our childhood and the innocence of it.
For others, it's just a stupid train. But they are just jealous muggles.
So we waited for the magic of the train to pass by. It blew it's choo choo a few times. I had never been so pleased and happy about a train. Next time, I will have to be sure to ride it.
We got our photos, and made our way down the mountain as the train left our vision. Coming down was a bit harder than going up, as it wasn't the easiest slope to slide down. We wandered around the gift shop. I wanted to get so much, but my wallet and bank account screamed no. With more than enough time to spare, we left the area and explored a bit more on our way back to our hostel in Galway.
Near the closing to the drive, we stopped along the National Park. There, we came upon a few locals, who were anything short than goofy and great company. As we walked along the beach and stood to take in the views of the cool blues and purples and warm yellows and pinks of the sunset, a sailboat touching the horizon, they laughed about tales and places popular in Scotland.
We watched a swan sail through the water, then waddle on land. It was my first time ever seeing a real swan. We were like in swan lake, haha. I awaited the swan to turn into a princess, or looked for a few unicorns, but I wasn't so lucky.
Long story short, the Scottish Highlands are as magical as the place it created; Hogwarts.