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Archive for the ‘Scotland’ Category

Hairy Coos

Scottish Highland Cattle pose before their bloodthirsty attack

When in the Scottish Highlands, be sure to look for these fluffy, cute little horned devils. Then stay the hell away from them.

This adorable couple are full-time inhabitants and guardians of the ruins of an old soldier’s garrison.  As cutely as they posed for a picture, it was only a trap to lure us in closer–when the male (in front) charged us and sent the entire group of us scampering down the steep hill to safety.  Luckily, he didn’t catch anyone, but those horns look sharp.

Later on, funnily enough, I saw a baby Highland cattle (hairy coo) in Paris at a Christmas market.  It was in a petting zoo display for small children.

Conclusion? French people want their children to be gored by hairy Scottish cows.

Merry Christmas.

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The Highlands were nothing like I expected.  They were about ten thousand times better.  I haven’t had the opportunity to upload any more pictures, but when I can I will.  Although photographs can’t do them justice. 

The tour consisted of four South Africans, four Chinese people, two Indians, two Americans–me and a boy from Kansas City–two Polish ladies, a Londoner, and a buttload of Aussies. 

We saw Loch Ness, visited innumerable impressive old castles and wee villages nestled in the glens of the craggy mountains, saw Glen Coe and visited a whisky distillery.  We saw the Isle of Skye, which was gorgeous.  We went to a place called Fairy Glen.  The legend goes that the natural rock formation on the top of this hill was a fairy castle (it looks like it.)  A man built a house in the glen, and the fairies, angered that he built so close to their castle, cursed him.  First his livestock died, then his children, and finally his wife.  Then his house collapsed and the man killed himself. 

Talk about a happy legend, eh?  The ruins of the house are there still.  Oddly enough, all of the trees in this fantastic area are wee stunted little things, except for three or four great big things that have rooted themselves right in the stone walls, as though to continue tearing it down and conceal it from the fairy castle.

We weren’t supposed to climb up to the top of the fairy hill to the castle, so we immediately did so.  The small expanse of ground at the top feels hollow when stomped on and you can see how a big slice of the hill will occasionally shear off into the valley below.  Definitely not safe.

We were told not to whistle either, or sing, as apparently it calls the fairies. 

The Aussies amused themselves by whistling and chasing sheep.  That must be the fun thing to do in Australia. 

Loch Ness was disappointing as Nessie didn’t actually appear and it really isn’t that remarkable of a spot otherwise.

The Isle of Skye was the most gorgeous thing I think I’ve ever seen.  We spent two nights there.  During the day we climbed a mountain.  It’s all bogs and mud and treacherous wind and quicksand all the way up.  We were told very firmly to stay on the path.  This climb was about five million times worse than climbing the wee little mountains on the Dingle Peninsula.  At the top we got the treat of seeing a giant natural stone formation that looks exactly like a huge erect penis.  This thing must have been thirty feet high, what we could see of it through the mist. 

Of course there is a legend for that, as well.  Apparently it is the penis of a giant.  There’s another rock formation on the island that is supposed to be his head, and the island itself is the body I believe. 

After that exciting adventure we spent our last night in Oban, a truly nice town.  We went to our second caile.  A caile is a tradiational dance session with a live band.  They’re a lot of fun, because no one knows how to dance but do it anyways, and as the evening progresses and the weather gets more drunk out, the dancing gets progressively worse instead of better. 

After the tour was over I felt kind of weird–just as I was used to having people around all the time and not having to plan anything, I was on my own again.  But Thursday night I had booked a flight for Amsterdam, and so Saturday morning at about four o’clock I headed for the airport. 

There’s this great feeling that you get after successfully navigating something strange or new in a foreign country on your own.  I have yet to actually use my guidebook.  So far I’ve managed everything on my own.  Besides, that guidebook is really really heavy to carry around all the time.

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That tour was pretty intense. I just got back to Edinburgh a few hours ago and I’m about half dead from exhaustion, but I can’t sleep yet.  I still have a few things to do–namely delve into the frighteningly unwashed depths of my backpack and repack everything–somehow–because I’m leaving at about 4 o clock tomorrow morning for my  flight to Amsterdam.

I decided to skip London and England altogether, for the moment.  I just wasn’t super excited about it and I’ve never been really interested in the English countryside.  The Netherlands and Germany I am excited to explore the tiny wee villages and all that so it’s straight to Amsterdam tomorrow.

This is just brief.  I’ll tell everything that I did on the tour later.  Right now I must jsut say that the Highlands are nothing like I expected but they are spectacular beyond all description.  The most gorgeous, rugged, barren, fairytale landscapes can be found in the Highlands.  I never would have imagined the millions of lochs or the mountains or the groves of somber Scotch pines–but most of all the mountains.  These are the oldest mountains in the world.  They are ridiculously startling.  I wasn’t aware that geography could do that, but apparently it can.

Anyways, I’ll be back tomorrow or so with more.  Right now I have a lot of stuff to and about 30 hours of sleep to catch up on in 7 hours.  Hmm.

Cheers, kids.

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Sunday in Edinburgh is pretty slow, and it’s freezing outside so I’m inside for a bit, waiting for my room to get ready.

I’ve stayed at a different hostel every night.  Edinburgh is great for hostels–I’ve paid about £12 a night at each hostel I’ve stayed at, and they’ve all been clean.

Friday night’s hostel was great.  It lacked character, but the building was brand-new, and the rooms were super clean, modern and quiet.  I stayed in a mixed 12-bed dorm and it was quieter than six bed dorms I’ve been in.  And there were two sinks in the room, as well as two separate bathrooms and two separate showers, which was about the best arrangement I’ve ever seen.

Saturday night I stayed right on the Royal Mile.  This place was alright.  It was clean and other than the reception guy being a jerk to everyone, it wasn’t bad.  But it was full of long-termers and long-termers are always weird.  No exceptions.  The dorm did have reading lights at every bed, which was phenomenal.

Tonight I’m staying at Castle Rock Hostel, which is at the end of the Royal Mile right–almost across the street from Edinburgh Castle.  Talk about a great view.  This place is huge.  I haven’t seen my room yet, but the reception is super friendly, there are computers and wifi, a huge common room and at least two smaller ones, perhaps multiple kitchens, and at least one dining room.  I haven’t even seen it all yet.  And it’s in this ancient building.  This is a winner for sure.

A lot of people only know about hostels through um, the movie Hostel.  I’ve never seen it but I’m fairly sure it didn’t do a great job of providing an accurate picture of a hostel. You meet so many people at hostels, even if you’re trying not to.  For instance, on Friday night as soon as I walked into my room I met Soo Young from Korea, and Phil from Chicago.  We ended up going out for a pub crawl where we met a few Canadians and Australians.  Somewhere along the line we lost Soo Young, because she decided to go back to the hostel, but Phil and I people-watched as the drunk pub crawlers continued to get drunker, which is always entertaining.

The next night I stayed at the hostel and met a person from London and two more Americans (this place is crawling with them) who live in Oregon.  The two girls decided to take a backpacking trip around Europe and Turkey and this is the end of the road for them.  They left this morning for Ireland, and they’re flying home from Dublin in a few more days.  People are coming and going everywhere, and everyone likes to talk about where they’ve been and where they#re going.  Phil is almost done with a three-month around the world trip.  One of the Canadians was flying by the seat of her pants, going wherever she felt like it and not planning ahead at all.  I mean, at all at all.  She didn’t even know what continent she was going to end up in next.

That’s why hostels are great places.  Staying in a hotel, you don’t get to meet people and that’s where the real fun comes in.

Agh, my time is up.  It might be a few days before I’m back as I’m leaving on my tour tomorrow.

Later!

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I finally made it to Edinburgh yesterday afternoon after some interesting setbacks.

My bus/ferry to Edinburgh was supposed to leave at 6.30 in the morning because the other time was 11.15 and of course that was already full by the time I bought my ticket.

That night I could not sleep.  I have insomnia and apparently it was acting up.  Plus, I was a little worried about walking the streets of Belfast by myself before daylight–not that I was going anywhere other than the main road, but it is kind of a dodgy town and I’d just spent about an hour talking to a Polish guy who was living there and he couldn’t hate the place more.  So with that encouraging conversation, I proceeded to fall asleep at about 3 am.  You can see where this is going.

I woke up at 8.30 and as soon as I realized it was light out I’m thinking…oh shit….there are only two buses a day to Edinburgh.  I just missed the first one, the second one is full, and I’ve already booked my hostel for the night in Edinburgh so I’m paying for that whether I’m there or not.

At the bus station the lady looks at me like I’m an idiot.  Maybe I am but there’s no reason to be so sassy.  I’m still jetlagged, you Irish wench.

She was pretty insistent that there was no room on the 11.15, even made a big show of looking it up on the computer.  As I was about to give up in despair and try to find Plan C, a guy in the back of the office pipes up, “Is it just for one?”

Yes, yes, yes.  Turns out there was indeed a space available.  I had to pay a £10 late fee but by that time  I didn’t care.  It was cheaper than paying for a hostel I wasn’t going to be at or trying to buy a completely new ticket altogether.

The buses weren’t full, by the way, and neither was the ferry.  I’m convinced that woman just didn’t like me.

While I’m waiting in the Europa Bus Station this old Irish couple sits down next to me and the woman starts talking of course.  They’re Irish.  She pegs me as an American right away and then proceeds to tell me about how much they enjoy John Wayne and want to go visit America.  She wants to see Hollywood and Los Angeles and New York, but they’re afraid to travel to the US because they’ve heard it’s so dangerous.

They think I’m very brave for traveling on my own.  “Don’t trust anybody! Not even your own mother,” admonishes the old man. They made sure I got on the right bus and wished me luck.  They were adorable.

Finally finally after almost a full day of traveling I got into Edinburgh at about six thirty at night.

This is the most utterly medieval, pretty town I’ve ever seen.  The streets are cobbled, the buildings are fantastic, all ancient and stone.  There are churches everywhere, a lot of them now housing cafes, reception halls and the like.

And of course there’s Edinburgh castle looming on an extinct volcano right at the end of the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s main street and the place to go if you have a sudden urge to buy a kilt or listen to bagpipes.

Earlier today I paid the extortionate £12 fee to enter Edinburgh Castle.  I wasn’t exactly disappointed, because there’s a lot to see and a few small museums and a lot of information, but the tiny bits of the actual castle that you get to see are not very authentic, and you can’t wander through the place.  They let you see Mary, Queen of Scots’ bedchambers, an old room where important political finaglings went on, the great feasting hall, and a small area underground that shows the remains of a tower that was built there before the present castle. I also got to see Scotland’s Coronation Regalia–the real stuff.  It looked old and not as impressive as I thought.  Any third-rate noble could have afforded that.  With the Regalia was the Stone of Destiny which sounds like something out of a trashy sci-fi novel and in actuality is a giant white, chalky square boulder with an iron loop in either end for carrying.  They didn’t, of course, explain the story behind it so I guess it’s up to me to solve this mystery.

There was also a National War Museum, which was interesting because of the information on the Jacobite uprising and the pictures and artifacts from the Scottish and English past.  The poor Scots have had a hard time of it with the English.  It seems like most people have, actually.  India, Ireland, Scotland, etc etc.

There is a profusion of walking tours in this city and I’ll probably go do one later today.  Last night I did a pub crawl with some people from my hostel dorm.  It was supposed to take us to local places, but instead we went to two hostel bars, a tourist pub on the Royal Mile, and  a not-very-happening student bar in the basement of some place.  Oh well, at least I got a few “free” drinks out of it and a shot of terrible whisky.  Yum.

Edinburgh is seriously awesome.  I wish I had more time here, but I’m leaving on Monday morning for my Highlands tour.  Scotland, what I have seen of it so far, is rugged and gorgeous.  There are a lot of trees, mostly melancholy pine forests and wild, bushy stands of trees which are jsut now starting to turn yellow.  The place feels a lot wilder than Ireland.  There are coos everywhere as well as sheep.  And food, even in downtown Edinburgh, is almost affordable.  There are these great kebab-falafel-fish n chips shops called Yum Yum, and they have these huge long tubes of lamb and chicken spinning on a vertical spit.  When you order, they cut thin slices off of it.  It’s cheap and tasty.

My time in the internet cafe is almost up so…later kids!

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