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Ayr to Dublin (to home)

Who in their right mind wants to get on a plane piloted by someone just as tired as you are at 5am?  I don’t understand the logic of early morning flights.  My body feels weird, and the pilots probably take turns taking naps.

zobo apocalypse practice grounds

The Preswick airport was completely empty.  I wandered around for a good half hour before I encountered anyone who didn’t work there.  The flight on Ryan Air was pretty bare-bones, but also cheap.  I landed in Dublin and wandered around trying to find where the free shuttle to my hotel was.  As I waited for my ride, a couple of  American tourists asked if I knew where the “paddy wagon” was picking up/dropping off.  I shot them a confused look.  “We were told to take the paddy wagon,” they explained with alarming detail.  “Isn’t that something that carts off criminals?” I asked.  Their sober exteriors melted instantly; “That’s what we thought!” the other one blurted out, laughing.

My shuttle came soon after.  I got the the hotel and paid ten Euros for an early check-in.  I rode up the elevator and saw horses in a neighboring field.  I dropped my stuff, sat on the couch in my very nice room, and began to mope.  I couldn’t find a bus into Dublin from the hotel.  I missed Scottish Friend.  I missed boyfriend.  I was ready to go home.  But it was 10am, and I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t take full advantage of being abroad.  “What makes me happy?” I thought.  “What will put me in a good mood?”  The answer was, of course, animals.

I have a child-like love of animals, especially otters.  It’s a common source of jokes for Boyfriend.  I have to pet every dog I see.   My voice raises a full octave when I talk about any baby animal.  Luckily he finds it cute.  When I have trouble waking up, he has taken to asking me what an otter does, at which point I smile sleepily, grab an imaginary clam, and pat it against the (also imaginary) stone on my tummy with reckless abandon, at which point I am more or less awake.  That’s what I love about Boyfriend: he takes the weird parts of me, and makes them useful.

two beds, a couch, table, desk, chairs… i was ready to host a conference on napping

But where to find animals in Dublin?  Why, the Dublin Zoo, of course.  So I took the free shuttle back to the airport, caught a bus to the city center, then wandered around and got some bad directions from a couple of people, got on another bus, got off at the last stop, and wandered around Phoenix Park until I came up on some men tending to the grass.  I asked them where the zoo was.  “Here I’ll show ya,” one of them seemed to say, and got up and walked me back the way I’d come, across a street to another park, and pointed me in the right direction.  Despite his unintelligible accent, I managed to catch that he used to go to to the zoo as a kid, and has been living in the area more or less his whole life.  What a nice guy.

The zoo was expensive (€15!), but I had it almost all to myself.  The lionesses were dozing by a back wall, a tiger was hypnotizing to watch as it paced back and forth along a side wall, then perched itself up on its hind legs to get a better sniff of the food truck.  The snow lion was grooming its tail and taking refuge from the light rain in a small cave, the ring tailed lemurs were awesome and very agile, and there was a baby monkey with a red butt that was just bounding all over the enclosure (falling often and adorably).

no photo i took does it justice

The were oryxes (super long horns), elephants (very dexterous trunks can pick up bits of carrot from the ground), ostriches (fluffy and haughty), hippos (their fat bellies jiggle when they walk!), rhinos (one of them chased a smaller one away from the food), tapirs (they squeak!), penguins (so small!), sea lions (they played underwater), giraffes (so tall!), and they all improved my mood markedly.  I was sad to be there alone, though.  Zoos are perfect for sharing.

I grabbed a bus back to the city center, walked to a good fish and chip place, sat down and had a huge piece of fish, some fries, and tea.  Another bus took me to the airport, and the free shuttle took me to the hotel.  I took a bath, showered, played Draw Something, set out tea for the next morning, arranged for a wake up call, Skyped with Boyfriend (bragged profusely about all the cool animals I saw that day), and hit the sack.

ironically, he was irish

There’s not much else to tell.  I woke up too early the next morning, took the shuttle to the airport, flew to JFK where I met some really nice guys, one of whom just started playing ukulele like me.  When I sang, “My dog has fleas,” he came right back with “Goats can eat anything” to help remember the tuning (thanks!).  So we sat around and chatted for a while, and played songs and learned how to play Leaving on a Jetplane (makes me cry every time).  When I finally got home, Boyfriend picked me up, we got pho, and went to bed.  I woke up too early and had plenty of energy for work the next day (surprisingly).

I loved Ireland.  I loved Scotland.  I miss it already.  I can’t live in LA my whole life.  I have to get out.  But more of that later.  For now, I’m having fun passing out souvenirs to friends, and looking through photos.

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Oban to Ayr

Breakfast was at 845 today: Canadian bacon, mushrooms and a poached egg with toast and tea, just like yesterday. I had about an hour to pull my things together and be out by 1015.

the man in the blue shirt and cap is the owner

My train to Glasgow wasn’t until 1, so I meandered down the hill and found a picnic table to sit and enjoy the view for the last time.  I pulled out my ukulele for he first time since JFK, tuned it up, and played just a couple of songs before some happa guy with glasses approached me and said he loved playing uke.  We started chatting and I invited him to sit down for a spell.  Turns out he has the same Lanikai ukulele back home in Atlanta (he was American), and an almost identical case (from this store on Etsy). We talked about what we liked about Oban, Edinburgh and Dublin (he loved Galway).  I asked where he’d eaten (food is an important topic while travelling), and he named a few fish and chips places, but he hadn’t been to the shack where I’d had oysters every day.  So we went and had half a dozen oysters each (his treat).  He was thoroughly impressed, of course.

We found a seat under the clock tower near the bus stop (his bus left at noon), and chatted some more until he left.  While we waited, an old man approached us with a smile and said, “I thought I should know your names since I took a photo of you!”  He had taken a photo of the clock tower, and since we occupied its base, we ended up in the shot.  I offered him a seat next to me, and he proceeded to monologue with pride about his Panasonic digital camera (similar to mine, but nicer), how he didn’t need to add extra lenses (so cumbersome) because of the excellent optical zoom on his camera.  And so on until he abruptly stood, blurted a friendly good-bye, and walked away.

fish stew and “crusty bread”

My American buddy and I exchanged emails; he lives in Atlanta and travels a good amount, so we’ll have to keep in touch.  After he left I went back to my picnic table and had some fish stew from a stand on the bay, so delicious.  I grabbed a good seat on the train, and started reading A Walk in the Woods, a hilarious and fascinating book by Bill Bryson about walking the Appalachian Trail.  I got bit by the hiking bug during my walk around Kerrera.  I’ll have to do some hiking when I get back.

After a transfer at Glasgow I was on my way to Irvine to see Scottish friend, whom I haven’t set eyes on since the 2004 trip to Romania where we met.  She met me at the train station with a hug, and laughed when I tried to get into the driver’s side of the car.  We picked up her cat from the vet, and chatted during the rather scenic drive to her house, where she lives with three very friendly and playful cats, and her boyfriend of several years.  He had food poisoning, and couldn’t come to dinner with us (which I was happy about, actually), poor guy.  Scottish Friend took me to a restaurant called Scott’s (I think?), where I immediately ordered the haggis as a starter, and an enormous seafood platter for the main dish.  The haggis was… amazing.  So delicious.  It was put together with some mashed potatoes on top and a cream sauce over the whole thing (which is typical, apparently) in a somewhat cylindrical fashion.  I was extremely impressed.  I asked Scottish Friend if people there really eat haggis all that often, and she said eats it about twice a week.  I’ll have to find a good place here in LA for it (although it’s such a volatile dish, that should be an adventure).

OHAI I DIDN’T SEE YOU THERE

We went home and looked through her photos of the Romania trip.  She remembered almost everyone’s names (I couldn’t remember hardly any).  She and her boyfriend and I stayed up and chatted about accents (apparently it’s commonly known that Scottish Friend is universally difficult to understand, since she has somehow managed to create an accent all her own), and their burning desire to visit America, bolstered by the boyfriend’s current obsession with Man v. Food, a show on the Travel Channel where some American man with inevitably high cholesterol eats ridiculous portions of enormous foods at diners and the like all over the country.  I told him I would be sure to show him all the best places too eat around Los Angeles: Korean food, sushi, pho (which they had never heard of!), burgers, pasta, sandwiches, etc.  This fanned the flames a good amount until it was time to go to bed.

I slept in their guest bed, which was the softest, warmest, fluffiest cloud-of-a-bed I had slept in during the whole trip.  I was devastated to get up at 5am to catch a flight in Prestwick to Dublin.  Scottish Friend was nice enough to wake up early and take me to the airport.  How do we get along so well after all these years?  Strange how a connection between two people can be so easy.  She is such a blast.  I can’t wait to see her again, soon I hope.

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Oban: Day 3

I realized this afternoon that this is one of those vacations that where I’m so interested in experiencing the area I’m visiting and seeing the sights that I haven’t slept in once. I reminded myself today that I was in a land of mystery and faeries, a land I’ve dreamed of visiting since I was little, and that I should worry less about when the ferry would be leaving, and whether I would miss the next bus (or catch it in time and be sick during the long ride), etc., and try to relax and enjoy myself a little.

My first day here, I booked a day trip out through the Isle of Mull to Iona, where I tried in vain to find a place to stay the night. In the end it was better this way; all the moving around every other night to sleep in a different bed would hardly allow me to relax.

miles and miles of this stuff

I woke up early around 730, got dressed and sat down for breakfast by 8: bacon, mushrooms and a poached egg with tea.  I packed up everything I might need into my ugly green bag (umbrella, mittens, Kindle, purse, camera), and headed down the hill toward the dock, enjoying the view of the bay and the moss and flower covered stone walls on either side of the road.  This day trip really solidified how out of place I feel here. Everyone else on the ferry was at least twenty years my senior with the exception of one Asian tourist. How did all of the info I read about this fail to mention that I would be surrounded by a bunch of what my dad used to teasingly call “blue-hairs?”  It was a little depressing.  I felt like there was someplace else I should be, where all the other young people were spending their vacation.

The ferry to Mull looked like a small yacht on the outside, but had a modest interior with large windows for watching misty islands glide until we arrived at our bus on the Isle of Mull.  About 80 minutes of funny and informative bus driving later, we arrived at the port where we boarded a ferry to Iona.

The only stuff to see on this very small, but enchanted island was the ruins of the nunnery, which are beautifully kept in a state between overgrown and manicured.  It gave the sense of something abandoned but still loved, like parents while their kids are at college.

The monk’s abbey, while obviously very old, was decidedly not in ruins, and something to behold. You can feel its age as you enter the too-small front door into its dark grey interior. A few of the stones in the floor had crosses carved into them to mark where restorers had discovered the graves of previous monks. There’s a strange little face on an arch that appears to be howling in pain, which people call the face of punishment, or something like that, and is said to possibly a self-portrait of the architect.  There are some of the earliest depictions of Adam and Eve (both before and after their expulsion)  at the top of some pilasters.  Quite unexpectedly, there are also two sarcophagi covered with supine burial sculptures of the Duke and Duchess of Argyle, who did a great deal to help restore the church, and paid people in food to build walls along the only road in Iona to help keep people from starving to death during the potato blight of 1846-7.  For their generosity they are, to this day, very well-loved across the country.  I was shocked to find that their sculptures are carved out of Carrara marble, the most sought-after sculpture marble in the world, both ancient and present. Both sculptures are expertly carved, with fine detail on the clothing; the Duke’s collar is so thin that it’s translucent. The art historian in me was desperate to get a closer look, but keeping people out of arms reach had perfectly preserved them thus far; I had to be satisfied with their pristine condition, and hope to find a book on the sarcophagi with lots of pictures.

The adjoining courtyard had secured to its inner walls the tombstone coverings of various old “Mc” families, all decorated with a relief carving of an intricate pattern in the Gaelic style.  My favorite ones had swords.

fluffy, friendly, filthy

The gift shop held nothing of interest except a few books and post cards with local wildlife on them.  I’m pretty bummed I didn’t get to see an otter today, but we did get to see a white tipped (tailed?) eagle circling way above us, and a red deer stopped in a field not far away, listening for something in the opposite direction, expertly ignoring us.  On the way back to the ferry from Iona to Mull, I saw a woman talking to a sheep and petting it through a fence while her husband chuckled and her son looked mortified.  I said, “Making friends?”  She told me about her love for sheep, while her teenage son chimed in here and there: “Yeah, she’s got a thing for sheep.  It’s weird.”  I asked if she wanted a photo with one, since it was so friendly, and instead she got her son to take a photo of me with the sheep. Score!

he looked like a sleepy little fox

On the ferry back home, I intentionally sat next to a couple with a very cute dog with a fondness for potato chips, who played with me by pretending to attack my hand, then made a real effort of jumping up onto the seat next to me and promptly fell asleep.

Finally back home, I forced myself to walk past the fish and chip place that I’d eaten at both days before, and went to a neighboring pub for dinner instead.  I nearly choked on the steak pie, mashed potatoes and peas; they were so tasty and I was starved (I’d only nibbled on half a scone on Iona for fear it would come right back up on the bus).  I washed it all down with an unremarkable half-pint of the local amber, and started a leisurely walk around the bay and up the hill towards home.

my favorite one-pound coin, and my favorite French detective

And here I sit, exhausted and full of meat and potatoes with a half-eaten cheese scone and a pair of sadly unused mittens in my bag.  I’ve put in another DVD, this time it’s Hercule Poirot, a favorite of Boyfriend’s and mine, and something I used to watch with my mom all the time. I can’t wait to finish writing this and start watching, then go to sleep in my soft, warm bed.

I can already feel myself starting to pointlessly stress about tomorrow’s travel arrangements.  But I have my train ticket to Glasgow, and it doesn’t leave until 1215, which gives me plenty of time to grab some oysters at that little green shack, enjoy the view for the last time, and grab a good seat next to a window.  I can’t believe I’m going to see Scottish Friend tomorrow!  So exciting!  And then I’m back to Dublin for a day (maybe I’ll go visit that castle in Swords), sleep at the hotel near the airport, and then home.  I’m getting excited to go home, to see my roommates, to sleep in on the weekend, to stop worrying about how I’ll get from here to there.  Traveling is fun but mentally and physically exhausting.  And then grad school starts Monday!  Gah!

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Oban: Day 2

This morning I ordered way too much breakfast. The B&B where I was staying had a menu with lots of delicious sounding breakfast options: sausage, fried/poached egg, bacon, tomato, mushroom, porridge, toast, tea, cereal, etc. The rule of serving size in the US is thus: the nicer the establishment, the smaller the portion. Since the B&B was so nice, I figured I should just check the box next to just about everything to ensure that I got enough to eat. Not my best idea ever.

While I ate, I heard a loud “mow!” emanate from the kitchen, with a quick “How did you get in here?” in reply.  That conversation went back and forth as I smiled to myself, quietly enjoying the universal ridiculousness of cats, alone in the small dining room in the Highlands of Scotland.

the clouds fled

Back in my room, I grabbed my coat, purse, and camera, and started out down the hill toward the town.  The day was glorious.  No one could have asked for a more perfect balance of sunshine, offshore breeze and drifting, puffy clouds.  I passed an older man with a small dog, who said (with a fabulous accent), “Lovely mornin’ isn’t it?”  I agreed heartily, and he continued up the hill, singing softly to himself.

I walked to the dock, and wandered around until I got up the nerve to ask a local where I could find the ferry to Kerrera.  The man said, “That’s the one,” and pointed out a very small boat that was just pulling away.  I would have to wait another hour until the next one.  I meandered around town, did some window shopping for souvenirs for friends and family, bought a ticket for the Oban whiskey distillery tour, and sat in the sun until the 11am ferry arrived.

As we neared the island, the man sitting next to me on the boat pointed out a house with grass on the roof.  “Women’s work, ” he said.  His rather overweight friend looked down at him and said, “Such cheuvanism!”  The seated man joked, “The man trims the lawn, the woman trims the roof.”  I said, “That’s because the men are so fat, they’d break the roof.”  He indicated toward his friend as an example and laughed.  His largish friend gave his body a glance, and said with a straight face, “Specimen. Perfect specimen.”

next time i’ll have to walk to the castle

At Kerrera we were left to ourselves. I hiked for about an hour and a half, first to the monument (a small obelisk on a high spot on the northeastern end of the island), along a low cliff, down and then up a short steep rise to the top of the hill.  There I rested on the roof of a run down brick and mortar shack until I got my breath back, and cooled off a bit.  I couldn’t find where the seals are said to be, so I went down the other side of the hill, along a path peppered on both sides by little yellow wild flowers. I stepped off the path to step over a barbed wire fence to get back to the dock.  I waited about a half hour for the Nessie Hunter to arrive. There were only two of us on the ride back. I bet everyone else was hiking or at the cafe.

I arrived Back in town just in time to catch the beginning of a very small parade of bag pipers in traditional regalia playing the tune we all think of when we hear bag pipes in our heads. That was quite a treat.  Their outfits (costumes? uniforms?) included a kilt with a pin designating their clan, and a small knife tucked into their right socks.  My favorite member of the parade was a very old man, hunched over but still marching in time, and playing his pipes.

I went back to the seafood shack for more oysters (delicious), and a rather bland prawn sandwich.  I had spotted a striking tartan pin in the window of a jewelry shop, and headed back to see how much it was.  Blah, 88 Pounds!  I told the lady I’d have to think about it, and went to find some ice cream.  It was a beautiful summer day in Oban, and there was a little street fair of some kind at the round-about in front of the train station.  All the kids had painted faces and very tempting ice cream; I couldn’t resist.

Cappuccino gelato cooled me off some more (a boy with a Spiderman painted face stood behind me in line and was very proud when I complimented him), and I realized that a tartan pin was something I had been looking for the whole trip.  So I decided to get it (it’s the only souvenir I’ve bought for myself) and wear it on my coat when I got home.

The whiskey distillery had some of the best smelling hand soap I’ve ever used in a semi-public bathroom, but their whiskey tastes like rust and sand. And it’s pretty expensive, so I’ll just count myself lucky that I’ve dodged a costly indulgence. At least it came with a free glass, which I plan on giving to Scottish Friend when I visit her after I leave Oban.

whitefish bait is apparently small, and highly judgmental. it watched me.

Dinner was more fish and chips at the same place, seated indoors at the restaurant this time, then it was back home to relax for a couple of hours until around 830, at which point I forced myself to get my shoes and coat on, and head back out to a bar that hosts live traditional Scottish music and dancing for the whole group (I wasn’t in the mood to go out dancing without a partner, and I’m still missing Boyfriend a lot, but when am I going to be in Scotland again?). I got there a little before halfway through the show, and volunteered for the first group dance I heard mention of. It was fun; the women run around the line of men and vice versa, then the first couple facing each other joins hands and prances down the middle of the isle (picture a traditional Scottish version of Soul Train) to rest at the end, at which point the woman go running hand in hand round the men again and it all starts over with everyone clapping and smiling.  A good time to be had by all (except that I was the only American- everyone else was German or French, so I couldn’t follow conversations, it I felt surprisingly isolated in a room full of people).  I drank a Strongbow while the music and dancing continued, and immediately came to the conclusion that the Irish Uilleann pipes are better than bagpipes; sweeter to listen to, and not so ear piercingly loud.

I passed a bar on my way back home that was loud a packed, and seemingly the only place open past 10 in the whole town.  I was a little hungry (for food and human interaction), but walked by without going in (the ladies were very stylish, and I was in day-old clothes, jeans and sneakers), and headed up the road toward the B&B, admiring the first view I’ve had of he bay in the darkening twilight.

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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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goodness, manfolk

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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