goodness, manfolk

Edinburgh to Oban

Full disclosure: Once Boyfriend left with his laptop, I didn’t have anything to upload my blog from every night, so I kept notes on what happened each day on my iPhone to ensure that my memory didn’t fail me or start making stuff up.  Thus, the following posts are written at the end of each day in Oban.  After that I stopped taking notes, and must pull from my still-fresh memories.

I woke up when Boyfriend did, a little earlier than my alarm for the bus so he could make it to the airport on time to head back home while I made my way west across the country to Oban on the opposite shore.  I didn’t cry when he left (I cried a little after), but we were sad to part.  I didn’t have an appetite for the croissants and honey we bought for breakfast.  The tea we had previously enjoyed so much tasted bland and dirty; I poured it out.  I brushed my teeth, dressed, packed up my things and left without a backwards glance.

The 29 bus took me to the city center, as usual, and I walked to the train Waverly station.  A very nice woman helped me buy a train ticket to Glasgow, and a return ticket from there to Oban.  the Dublin airport and Glasgow train station both have a little restaurant called The Upper Crust that features delicious sandwiches on baguettes.  I got one with bacon, spinach, cranberry and brie.  I wish we had these in the U.S.  I made plans to eat there when I flew out of Ireland at the end of my trip.

i want to go to there

On the train, I sat at a table with an older woman who read a newspaper with an enormous photo of a topless woman with startling nonchalance.  I was duly impressed.  The train to Glasgow was a quiet, steady, and quick.  I couldn’t believe how much countryside we passed on our way.  The woman at my table glanced up whenever I whipped out my phone to take a photo of yet another unremarkable field.

The trip to Oban was three hours plus, and full of beauty.  I was astonished at the greenery, the seemingly endless lakes with houses peppered around the shores (or not), the fly fisher, the two men on a row boat that I saw in both directions, the sheep (!), the eternal hills capped with mist and mystery.  This was my first taste of the Scottish highlands.

I arrived at the end of the line at a very small (and totally unmanned) train station in Oban, and was directed by a woman working her a newsstand in the station to the tourist office across the bay.  As I walked the gentle arc around the pebbled shore below, I couldn’t stop staring at the water, the islands off shore that looked so close I lifted my hand to gauge the distance, just in case I really could touch them.   Happy people, families and (mostly German with a few French) tourists, chatted as they passed; a few benches looking out toward the islands were quietly occupied by silent, gazing groups of two or three people.  I looked to my right, saw a blue and white sign for fish and chips, and made a note to settle into my bed and breakfast, then head straight back to town, get some fish, and find one of those lovely benches to stare into the distance, relax my bones, and taunt the seagulls with my catch.

The Tourist Information (TI) shop was surprisingly busy.  Apparently Oban is known by local tourists (that is, those visiting from Ireland or the UK) as a good vacation spot for the older generation.  Let me say that again: the older generation.  Everywhere I went, every tour I participated in, every shop I visited, I was the youngest person there by a couple of decades (at least, usually more).  This surprising age gap made me feel especially lonely and out of place, especially without Boyfriend.  Everything was so beautiful, I wanted so badly to share it with him.

bright, soft, and welcoming

A rather handsome boy at the TI (he couldn’t have been more than 18, I’m just terrible) said that he lived right in the neighborhood of my B&B, which shouldn’t have surprised me at all since the town is so small.  I took a cab for just a few pounds with captivating views of the bay to my right on the way up the hill, and was shown to my room by the mother of the woman with whom I had corresponded via email to book the room.  A large window on one wall let in plenty of light, and gave me a view of the backyard (clotheslines mostly).  There was a stack of mail-order DVDs on the sill, out of which I pulled an episode of Hercule Poirot (Four and Twenty Blackbirds), and the second half of the Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth (the first half was nowhere to be found).  My evening entertainment was shaping right up.  The tea caddy had a set of real china: one cup, one pot, and a different little package of cookies each day.  I dumped my stuff unceremoniously on the bed, changed into the stylish and very comfortable blue sneakers I had bought just for the trip, and headed back to town via the one and only road down the hill (featuring more gorgeous views of the town on the water).

on my appropriately decorated iphone case

I got my fish and chips, and sat down next to a solitary woman on a bench facing the water, just like I’d planned, and fought to keep a particularly brave seagull away from my dinner.  I signed up for a ferry to the Isle of Mull, a bus ride across the island narrated in both directions by a very friendly and funny driver, ferry to Iona, self-guided tour of the ruined abbey and still-standing monastery on Iona, and then all in reverse.  I decided I should wear myself out after sitting all day, and had a long walk around town, exploring a couple of blocks inland from the water to find some cafes and churches (all closed), except for the church at the end of the bay, which was plain inside and out, and had a lesson for children going on when I stepped in.  I took a few steps down from the sidewalk onto the rocky shore for a short way, and picked up some shells (where did I put those?).

I walked back up the hill to the B&B around 8, took of my shoes, read my Kindle, showered, popped Pride & Prejudice into the DVD player and crawled into bed to relax and hate Mr. Wickam.  Boyfriend called via Skype about midway through; it was nice to see his face.

The bed was the softest, warmest I had slept in during the whole trip, and I slept soundly in the quiet B&B near the top of the hill overlooking the bay in Oban.

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Edinburgh: Day 3

some nice lady was giving these candies away to the people waiting in line to buy tickets

We had such high hopes for today, but we couldn’t make it to the Palace at Holyrood.  We spent the majority of the day at the Britannia, a yacht for the royals that’s actually considered a palace on the water.

We wandered through just a few portions of each level of the ship, but it felt enormous.  The engine room was pretty amazing (a visiting German engineer, while on a tour of the engine room, is said to have declared, “These museum pieces are very nice, but I would like to see the engine room, please.”), lots of shiny copper pipes and glass covered pressure gauges.  The whole thing is lovely, if a bit cramped, but then I’m not used to maritime accommodations.

We took a break to have lunch at the only restaurant on the ship, The Royal Tea Room.  The wait was about 20 minutes and well worth it.  We had Famous Edinburgh and Assam teas, salmon sandwiches and Mull cheddar sandwiches, mushroom and truffle oil soup with giant french fries with seasoned salt on the side, and a scone with jam and clotted cream.  Too much food but super delicious!  We jumped back on the tour bus that brought us out, and listened to an informative, occasionally silly dialog between two fantastic accents (man and a woman) regarding the points of interest we passed on the way back to Edinburgh city center.

tea time at the palace on the water

We booked it to Edinburgh Castle, which is almost a thousand years old, and has never been taken in battle.  Recently, archaeologists found evidence of settlements on that very site as far back as 900 BC.  The castle itself has been rebuilt in various places, and purposefully changed by the Victorians in the late 1800s to look more “appealing,” and fulfill their romanticized idea of what the middle ages would have looked like (not super accurate, FYI, but kinda pretty if you’re not a stickler for accuracy, which I am, so fuck you very much, Victorians).  Needless to say, I loved the castle.  It also has the best view in the city, even on a rainy day like today.  You can see the clouds rolling across distant green hills, cold and wet, lush and fertile, secret and inviting.

impregnable door!

I’ve been craving fish and chips since that delicious bunch I got in Dublin, so we poked around until we found some (we checked out The Last Drop, a pub named in reference to the drop of a body on a noose rather than a drink, but they didn’t serve fish and chips).  But the fish was so boring!  I was so disappointed.  My last real meal in Edinburgh, and it was dull.  At least I had some really excellent fish last night at The Witchery.

The bus ride home was drama-free after yesterday’s slight panic about how we’d find our stop (which is not named on the list of stops in town).  Luckily, I’m awesome, and recognized our neighborhood by a shop name that was similar to a pub we went to on the first night, and the small clock tower that houses the pizza place of all things.

We’ve been home at the B&B for a couple hours, packing and getting ready to leave tomorrow.  Boyfriend has extra room in his bag (which has wheels, unlike mine), so he’s offered to take some of my stuff home with him: gifts for friends and family, and some of my dirty clothes.  What a sweetie.

I’m really gonna miss Boyfriend, but it’ll be nice to be on my own.  I’m so used to having someone to point things out to, share experiences with, hold hands with when it’s cold.  That part is going to be hard.  But I’ll enjoy having no one to double check with when I have an impulse.  That’s always fun.  I still have to make some solid plans for Oban.  I’m thinking of doing a day trip to Iona and Mull, and going horseback riding.  We’ll see.  If I can find a beautiful spot to sit, I’ll be happy.

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Edinburgh: Day 2

an armrest at St. Giles Cathedral

Our first visit to Edinburgh’s city center today, and my suspicions have been confirmed: Edinburgh is gorgeous.  Because it’s a historically recognized city, there are loads of regulations that force new buildings to closely resemble old ones (which are meticulously maintained), for extra police cameras to be placed all over to keep people safe, the cobblestone streets are immaculately kept (even in the residential area I’m staying in), and so on.  The historical sites are well organized and never crowded. Navigating the city was a bit challenging at first, but it’s so small that we became familiar with it very quickly. The little alleys that shoot off from the Royal Mile (the main drag) every ten yards or so are adorable and mysterious.  There are rivers running under the occasional bridge, he areas around which are a vibrant green and have an untamed look to them.

The day went something like this: Wake up and eat store-bought croissants and honey with tea, walk to bus stop and get worried that we’ll miss our stop when the driver fails to call out each stop.  Arrive at city center, and immediately get lost. Walk a full circle before finally getting to our destination.
Our first stop was Gladstone’s Land, a 17th century house with beautiful painted ceiling beams in the bedroom.  Old houses were built up to 13 stories high!  Of course they also fell down a lot, too.

Greyfriar’s Bobby. what a sweetheart.

Next it was off to find some lunch.  We found The Hub in a guide book which we forgot back at the B&B, but found it again in our wanderings.  It’s a cafe (among other things) built within a large old church.  We got a cheese plate which did nothing to fill me up (although Boyfriend was oddly satisfied), and went off to meet up with our tour group.  A nice older lady gave us a general history of Edinburgh during our walking tour under a constant drizzle.  The rest of the group was very stern and didn’t laugh at any of her funny (and true) stories of old Edinburgh, so I made a point to keep a smile on my face and listen intently.  It was all very interesting, to tell the truth, and she did a very nice job.  At the end of the tour, she took us down under the North Bridge, a dank, moist place that would’ve been pitch black and reeking of burned fish (they burned fish oil in their portable lamps).  We got the overall impression that life back then was not something to be envied.  Gardy-loo!

We stopped in a little cafe to dry off and satisfy my growling stomach (I’ve been eating more than usual with all the walking around).  After some scrambled eggs and toast, we set off for St. Giles Cathedral, which was more ornate than I had imagined.  I didn’t know anything about it beforehand, but I didn’t expect there to be shrines and gravestones to various important and wealthy people inside.  I had forgotten how old Edinburgh really is; St. Giles Cathedral was founded in the 12th century, and has plenty of beautiful carvings and windows to show for it.  I paid three pounds to be allowed to take photos in the cathedral, and it was well worth it.

white chocolate, strawberry ice cream with a very thick whipped cream and chocolate on top

We made it to The Witchery for dinner in plenty of time, and were among the first seated of the night.  We had three course meals of butternut squash soup, salmon, beef, and ice cream and cheese for dessert.  I ordered the Atlantic blackened bream for the second course, but was told afterwards that the chef had a look at it and wasn’t satisfied, so they substituted with salmon, which might have been the best salmon I’ve ever had.

I ran into one totally impenetrable accent today (although Boyfriend professed to be able to understand every word, what a liar).  The man with the accent took our photo with a statue of the Greyfriar’s Bobby, a dog that guarded his master’s grave for fourteen years.  If possible, it was more adorable that I expected.  Anyway, it turns out this guy was telling us about the graveyard just around the corner that we should check out, and we did.  Super cool.

there were loads of these skull and crossbones all over the graveyard on very old tombstones

All the shops seem to sell the same thirty patterns of cashmere scarf/stole/blanket/skirt/kilt.  Not sure if I’ll end up getting anything at all here by the way of a souvenir, even though this part of the trip has been just fantastic.  What I really wanted was an Irish kilt pin.  They’re so lovely and simple, just a circle or a C shape with a pin going through.  But they’re all so expensive.  Maybe some other time.
After the bus and a short walk home, I realized we didn’t have enough for breakfast, so after a quick rest we were back outside to walk to the market: croissants for our tummies, batteries for my camera.
That’s all for today!  Tomorrow is Edinburgh Castle (for real this time), the Britannia yacht, and the Palace at Hollyrood.
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Scotland, I am in love

Boyfriend and I arrived in Edinburgh today, and fell in love instantly.  Everything looks old, the accents are hilarious and fun, and we haven’t even been to the city center yet.  It’s been a drizzly evening, the cobblestones are jet black and shining under the streetlights.  The buildings are a grayish brown brick or stone, and everything else is green.  It’s just gorgeous.

kitty dreams of the outside world

But I’m ahead of myself.  Breakfast this morning at the Harrington Hotel in Dublin ended with the waitress calling over her shoulder to us, “Be happy!”  So that was adorable.

We booked it out of there, and made the bus and the plane to Edinburgh in plenty of time.  I looked out the window while we took off, and nudged Boyfriend to wave and say with me, “Goodbye, Ireland!  Bye, Dublin!”  I asked him if he ever did that when his planes took off.  He said, “Yeah, in my head,” and managed to leave out “like a normal person, you hilarious weirdo.”  What a sweetheart.

We took a bus and walked about a mile to our bed and breakfast, St. Bernard’s Guesthouse.  We decided against paying for a cold breakfast and bought some croissants, honey, tea, and cranberry juice.

We wandered a couple of blocks over to find some pre-dinner food (we hadn’t had anything since breakfast except for Worcestershire sauce flavored chips, and some bacon flavored… crispy things.  We couldn’t decide if they were tasty or gross).

Quick side note on airports in Ireland and Scotland:
I’ve never seen so few people, nor so many easy to understand signs and well-organized layouts in airports, at home or abroad.  Kids go running around, playing while the parents read and chat.  The people were so friendly, unlike the TSA people at LAX who are in a constant state of fuck-off.  When I commented on this to a teller, he said, “Well no one’s after us.  They’re just passin’ through to get to someone else!”  Well said, sir.

Anyway, pre-dinner food.  We wandered around and couldn’t find any place that served dinner before 6 except a place called Pizza Express, that sounds like shit but turned out to be a pretty upscale place, and served delicious pizza.  Mine had a fried egg on it, and we split a cider.  Amazing.

We headed back to the B&B to plan out our day tomorrow, and work up an appetite for second-dinner, which we decided had to have meat pie.  We found a delicious steak pie with blue cheese in it at The Stockbrige Tap just down the block from us, coupled with a Black Isle Stout (dark but brighter than Guinness).  We got to listen to the locals chatting in surprisingly comprehensible local accents, and had a nice walk home in the chill air.

There’s a small park just outside the B&B where someone was hosting a large party today until late into the evening.  It says light so late here (the lights come on around 10) that it’s easy to stay out later than you ordinarily would.

I’m super excited about tomorrow!  We’re taking a bus to the city center to save time and energy to visit the Undergound, a statue of a dog, a famous pub, and a museum.  I’ve been too excited to sleep for a few nights because of the cool stuff we’ve had planned for this trip.

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Ireland: Day 4

cold wind, warm sun

The weather today was just perfect.  The air was crisp, but the sun was shining all day with hardly a cloud in the sky.  Boyfriend and I walked to a park that was recommended to us, and sat on a bench for a while and watched a couple little girls (sisters) play and race.  One of them declared suddenly, “We must kill the dog!”  The dog was pretty cute, not sure what he did to deserve a death sentence.

We walked across the street to the National Museum of Ireland where we saw, among other things, The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio.  I could’ve sworn it was stolen, but there it was.  It was a nice little collection for a museum that charges no fee at the door.

everything was green

Just north of that was Lincoln’s Inn, where we had sandwiches and soup, and discussed how awesome we are.  Boyfriend did a little dance in his chair and when I was done laughing, I mentioned, as I have before, that I’m pretty sure I’d like to marry him some time in the future, if he keeps doing stuff like that.

Then we walkedforever to the Guinness brewery (two miles, but it felt like longer) and went through the tour of the place, which was highly informative and actually pretty interesting.  Tickets are 13 Euros, and allow for a tour, a lesson on how to pour a pint of Guinness (which takes 119 seconds and two separate pourings to complete, in addition to putting your thumb on the harp, filling to the top of the next harp, etc.), which you can then drink, plus a free pint upstairs at the Gravity Bar way at the top of the building with 360 degree views of the city and green hills beyond.

we poured this one together (Boyfriend did the first part, I topped it off)

We took a rail train four stops east, then walked to the “Oriental” area, where we got some boring noodle soup.  Then we headed back to Gogarty’s pub to get more oysters (a dozen this time!) and a cup of Guinness with some live music.  At 11pm a male and female dancer who used to work on Riverdance showed up to dance for us.  I couldn’t believe how lightning fast the woman was.  Obviously the man was impressive too, but the woman was crazy good.

It’s well past my bedtime now, and I’m looking forward to flying to Scotland tomorrow.  Dublin has been fantastic.  Next time I’ll have to rent a car and spend some time in the countryside.

 

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The good kind of pressure

I haven’t had time to write recently.  Planning this trip to Ireland (and Scotland) has been eating up all my spare time.  I’m leaving May 31st, and returning June 13th.  I have to be ready for school (which starts on the 18th) by the time I get back, but I’m not sure if I’m eligible for the tuition breaks I thought I’d get when I applied for the graduate program.  I still need the reading materials, and I need to finish the online orientation.

I’ve been reading Rick Steve’s guidebooks about Ireland and Scotland, and I’m totally wiped out on research mode.  I’ll be spending five days in Dublin, three days in Edinburgh, three days on Oban, and one day in Ayr near Irvine with a friend I made during my time in Romania.  Then it’s one night near the Dublin airport somewhere so I can leave around 11am the next day.

Boyfriend will be in that part of the world on work, so he’ll be with me in Dublin and Edinburgh, then I’m on my own.  I’m excited to spend time in the Highlands.  I’m staying in a bed and breakfast in the little coastal town of Oban.  Apparently they make great whisky (one B&B I found offered a shot of whiskey every evening upon returning to retire).  I’ll day-trip out to the Isle of Mull, then to Iona.  I can’t wait to relax among some beautiful scenery.  Also, horseback riding!  I’m excited about doing this stuff on my own; taking it slow after spending the majority of the trip in cities (with Boyfriend).  I’m really looking forward to spending time abroad with Boyfriend.  We’re going to have so much fun.

Meanwhile, my room is a disaster area, I’m nervous about starting school again (plus the online aspect of it), I haven’t traveled in a long time so I’m worried about keeping my itinerary straight… frankly I’m a little overwhelmed.  I just keep reminding myself that everything loading me down is stuff I’m also excited about.  I guess that’s a sign that I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone.  I wonder if this is what progress feels like.

It kinda sucks.  hahaha

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