UK and Ireland 2014: Reach for the Skye

Day 5

Sausage, bacon, and a smiley-face potato thing this morning at Tangusdale B&B were the perfect way to start our journey from Fort William to the Isle of Skye. We were fortunate enough to get a few minutes with the proprietor, Miss J.C. MacPhee, who was an incredibly gracious and delightful host. Something about her tells me she was once a traveler, and I regret not getting to find out if this were so. There’s a different air about those who’ve seen more of the world than most people: they’re more inquisitive, more knowledgeable, and for whatever reason, make excellent cooks. Is it because they’ve tried everything out there, or are bent on doing so? I wonder.

Situated near Fort William and the village of Corpach, Tangusdale is a great gateway to the “Road to the Isles” (namely, Skye) and Ben Nevis. I tastefully regret not allotting enough time to climb Ben Nevis, which happens to be the highest peak in Britain. It was, however, still stunning to look at from afar. Fort William itself is second only to Inverness in terms of size of Highland cities, but it’s still extremely small and activity is centered along High Street, which vaguely reminds me of a Seaside, Oregon more catered to outdoorsy types (no clue why). Fort William, after all, is the outdoor capital of the UK.

Now, in order to make it from Fort William to Skye, June and I had the understanding that we would need to rent a car. This would not only allow us to get there more easily, but would allow us flexibility when exploring the island. While I would normally not think twice about this, we knew when we started we were dealing with a different animal. I mean we’re talking about the wrong side of the (manual transmission) car on the wrong side of the road with no GPS in a foreign county. Rather than expound upon any worry or fear we initially started with, I think I need to take a moment to praise June for her patience and tactful skill in handling the vehicle. We made it all the way from Ft. William to Auchtertyre (70 miles away) and to and from dinner in Plockton (10 miles each way) flawlessly. As I am incapable of driving a stick, she had no choice but to drive us and I couldn’t be more thankful. June, this is your paragraph; you ROCK!

Other adventures we had included our lovely lunch at Invergarry Hotel, an originally-avoided-but-accidentally-awesome trip to Loch Ness that involved a private tour by a resort owner and hitting my head on a Hobbit (so many questions you must have…), hitting up Eilean Donan on an Australian man’s recommendation, finally making it to our incredibly cozy B&B in Auchtertyre, and enjoying a multi-course, award-winning meal at The Plockton Hotel with incredibly addicting cheesecake. (*Note: I’ve not yet written reviews for these places, so if you are interested in going to Scotland and are planning a trip, check back in a few days for them.) My words are of no use to you right now; iPhonegraphy, take it away!:

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June in front of the Invergarry Hotel, about half-way to our Skye B&B. They whip up a meeeeeeeean tomato basil soup.
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My gingery self in front of Loch Ness. Originally avoided due to over-tourism concerns, we figured we HAD to stop here being so close to it and after visiting, will happily accept the badge of “Mega-Tourist” with pride.
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“Hobbit” campers on Loch Ness. These infrastructure-only campers pretty much made my day, especially when I hit my head in the entryway. I guess I’m not a true Hobbit afterall.
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June and I with the scenery in front of Eilean Donan castle.
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Instagrammed to the nines, this picture of Eilean Donan isn’t actually that far off.
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Rolling, fairytale hills on the way to dinner in Plockton.
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Plockton Harbor a little before dusk. We will likely try a boat tour here tomorrow.


That said, let me take a moment to talk about this cheesecake. It warrants its own paragraph, and I don’t just give any old food that. There are times that dessert is simply an amalgamation of sugar and temporary pleasure; I know this. I especially know this having given up 99.9% of any dessert-type matter for my way of eating. Tonight, however, I chose an alternative decision. I chose to actually order dessert, real dessert, non-paleo dessert, and I chose to do it big. I agreed to split a White Chocolate Cheesecake with June as a token of celebration for our amazing and accomplished day. What came over my senses upon taking my first bite was unearthly. How can a cheesecake begin with a taste so sweet, fluffy, and creamy at once, followed by a buttery, textured crust that practically melts in your mouth? Paired with a toasty espresso ice cream that perfectly continued on the trend of refreshment started by the cake, we felt we were tasting the dessert of the angels. Needless to say, another was promptly ordered before the first was even finished. “Was it a bad idea to order just one?, ” June innocently inquired.

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My mouth is melting.

“Terrible”, I responded. Let’s clink our spoons to that, ragazze. Until tomorrow!

– H

Thought of the day: You’re stronger than you think.

UK and Ireland 2014: Edinburgh, Part Dos – Running on our Own Time

Days 3 and 4

Heh. The title of this entry makes me laugh. Primarily because of the time we stayed up till (5:00 am on Tuesday) and woke up at (3:00 pm that same day), secondarily because of the running we were doing a mere two hours ago. More on why that’s funny later. So, you’d think that waking up at 3:00 and leaving the house at 5:45 would impede our options and potentially our fun, but we wholeheartedly disagree.

Following is the recap; you know the drill by now:

Stayed: Same place. Shower and I got into an argument this morning yet again, so I’m still pretty sore at it. Also, “stayed” is more accurate then sleep, as we haven’t slept since the above described timeframe and thus did not sleep Tuesday night.

Indulged: Another stumble-upon dream, The Devil’s Advocate. I can’t say enough good things about this place, so read up on my TripAdvisor review and see for yourself.

Adventured: We hastened to the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions (click here for TripAdvisor review) around 7:00 pm, which sits in an old, white building just before and to the right of Edinburgh Castle. To recap, the views from up top are breathtaking and my stomach is still hurting from laughing so hard at some of the pictures we took in there of us playing with the illusion displays. Following our side-trip to this entertaining little gem of E-Town, we walked around the city a bit longer before stumbling upon Devil’s Advocate and savoring our proper Scottish meal. I did fail to mention in my TA review that the DA (yes, I love acronyms) not only has excellent food and service but truly evokes the feeling of an Italian enoteca, thus giving it that posh, dark, cavey look. Just in case you’re a decor dork like me and were wondering.

Dinner was followed by completely unpremeditated bar hopping. We started by stumbling upon Revolution, a vodka bar filled with people who actually made us feel old. In no way did this stop us from tearing up the (empty) dance floor, so we stayed for about two hours and effectively inspired a good 3-5 additional people to break it down with us. I’m proud!

We next opted for a change of scenery at the Grassmarket hideaway, Bongo, which played hardcore underground hip-hop and was loaded with hipsters. It sits of a fabulously seedy and dingy alley, making it all the better. I think we just got a bit turned off when a female stranger came up and asked us if we liked Spanish men. Like, yes, hello, it’s nice to meet you as well? (“June, I’m totally down to leave.”)

Stop 3 was a short escape route down from Bongo known as Dropkick Murphys. Whether or not it was named after the band, this classic Irish pub was just as awesome and filled with interesting characters to boot. We met a couple of Australians, another American, and a Swiss guy, but the most memorable human being in that bar was, far and away, Creeper Chris. Let me tell you, dear Readership, about Creeper Chris. CC is your typical Estonian male in his mid-twenties just looking to travel and have a good time. Except his idea of courtship is that handsy hellos, far-prolonged stares, and introducing himself as an expletive is appropriate. Per his accompaniment at the bar, he apparently does this on the reg. Power to him if this has honestly worked for him.

I found him enormously entertaining until he was effectively stalking my partner-in-crime, at which point I knew we had to ninja our way out of the situation. Our first plan was running downstairs to the bathroom, where we posted for about 15 minutes. Finally, with the aid of our new Aussie pal, J, we managed to escape his wrath and run home for a few hours before our 4:00 am hike. Yes, you heard me correctly. We went out to three different bars, went home to change, and went straight back out to vigorously exercise. But would you turn this down if you had the chance to see it?

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While we were originally aiming to hike all the way up to Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park, we were still able to see some stunning scenery set to June’s personal rendition of “Misty Mountains Cold” from The Hobbit. And seriously, if you were there, you’d know that there could not have been a better song to describe it. Cold and wet as we were at the end of it, we were proud of ourselves for pulling through, especially when it got unusually warm and windy towards the end. Speaking of the humor of the title I spoke of earlier, I hate running with a fervor and found myself running just to prevent frostbite at that point (melodramatic, but felt accurate in the moment).

The rest of our day was largely set aside for traveling and logistics planning, as we took the train from Edinburgh to Fort William today. While not much has happened here, we’ve enjoyed the scenery and smaller-town feel of Fort William, even in-spite of the somewhat spotty Internet situation. Ah, the trials of the Y Generation, am I right?

On the train from Edinburgh to Fort William, approximately one hour outside of FW.
On the train from Edinburgh to Fort William, approximately one hour outside of FW.
June chillin'!
June chillin’!
A park dear the heart of Fort William overlooking the sea.
A park dear the heart of Fort William overlooking the sea.
Fort William's ferry pier: the Gateway to Skye.
Fort William’s ferry pier: the Gateway to Skye.

That reminds me – before traveling less-urban Scotland, do bear the following in mind:

  • Bruno Mars was right: everyday it will rain. Not hard, but it will. Be prepared for this and bring some water proof clothing.
  • Cash is accepted everywhere, but many credit card machines only take cards with chips built into them. If you can, bring a good amount of cash and bring a card with a chip in it before you arrive.
  • Finally, as mentioned, Wi-Fi is not extraordinarily prevalent everywhere, so bear that in mind. Plan accordingly and make sure you have all of your information on hand prior to going places, rather than relying on your phone to be able to look it up for you. I suppose this can apply anywhere you travel that’s less urban or even just in any foreign country.

As we’ve now corralled ourselves in a local pub to gather our bearings, I’ll probably have to step off in favor of wrapping up our planning necessities. I don’t see it as a chore, I see it as a “catalyst of fun”, so even though I’m somewhat in the fetal position in this bar stool, I’m cool. I could use some food, though.

Until tomorrow, kiddos!

– H

Thought of the day: Learn to sleep anywhere for short bursts of time in case you need to make up for a poor night’s sleep. You’ll pretty much become invincible.

UK and Ireland 2014: Edinburgh – The Medieval Playground

Day 2 

Edinburgh greeted us with open arms the minute we stepped into Waverley station. As if the lusciously green scenery build-up on the train was not enough, our first meal upon arrival was the best baked potato we ever had and the flat we had rented for the time here has a freaking garden in the back! Did I mention peoples’ accents here are awesome? Clearly, I’m setting you up for a story of an incredible couple of days.

And yes, I do mean stories, so bear with me. So here’s the rundown of where we…

Slept: A shared flat in a quiet area of the city about a mile away from Old Town. It was comfortable, warm, and easy-to-navigate for foreigners unaccustomed to things like shower switches, radiators, and funky key boxes. Speaking of showers, the only downside was the temperamental shower that seemed to love challenging me. Overall, though, it was a HUGE upgrade from our London place, which felt both literally and figuratively colder. Given the proximity to the city center, we would gladly stay there again.

Indulged: After settling in, we served our starving stomachs at Tailend, a great “chippy” near our flat along Leith Walk. What’s nice about this place is that you can make it as casual or fancy as you desire, as it offers both takeaway and sit-down options.

Adventured: Now we’re talkin’. Pubs, pubs, and more pubs. But seriously, what else does one do in Scotland? After practically inhaling a mound of chips (yes, paleo met the window and went out of it that night – nightshade inflammation, come at me bro!) and a barrel of cullen skink, we headed out and landed at The Royal Mile Tavern in Old Town. As it was our first night in the city, we chose to take a taxi and rely on our driver’s bar-smarts to direct us somewhere fun. The Tavern delivered, and even had live music to boot, with a pair of Scotsmen belting out everything from the Eagles to Bob Marley. We ended up meeting locals who escorted us to our next venue, Whistle Binkie’s. While The Tavern ran a bit more traditional, WB’s was a slightly younger crowd with punkier music and a more underground vibe. Much fun was had and, naturally for June and myself, dancing happened.

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The Royal Mile Tavern: Where good old fashioned whiskeys are so good, they light up the room.
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Jammin’ at Whistle Binkie’s.

We ended our evening/early morning with a private, free walking tour of Old and New Towns generously given by one of our new local friends. These are the moments that can neither be planned, nor would you even see coming anyway. Somehow, these moments are the most brilliant. The perspective of the city is so surreal at night, particularly given the multi-level structure of it. Edinburgh is essentially a town built on a series of other towns, which makes for some awesome alleyways and walking hills. It’s an old, medieval establishment through and through. There are cobblestone streets, castle-like buildings, and unspoiled spots of greenery. During the day, the city is so overwhelmed by the bustle of people that it distracts from the pure, historical beauty of the city. If you don’t mind the fact that I’m merely an amateur iPhoneographer, see below…

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The Scotsman Hotel. Crossing from Old Town to New.
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The Royal Mile by late night. Usually touristy but has a few great gems of restaurants nestled in the alleyways.
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Demonstrative of the ways of the alley…the alleyways.
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This was cool. Apparently you’re supposed to spit on the “heart” of the city for good luck. Do you think we passed by this and didn’t do it?!
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Admittedly-Instagrammed photo of June and I performing ninja stunts in front of the National Gallery of Scotland. Yes, we’re awesome.
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The Victorian-Gothic marvel that is the Scott Monument. Absolutely breathtaking at night, filtered or not. Speaking of, is “Leaning Tower of Pisa” already a border option, or can I patent that?!

 

We got home around 4:00, this time by walking like any sensible individual traveling in Europe. Edinburgh in late May is surprisingly tolerable weather-wise, even at night, so it was an extremely pleasant walk even though we were tired. Random observation: the sun doesn’t set until like 10:00 pm each night during this time of year and it rises around 4:30ish. Between the activities we do at night and the little we sleep thereafter, we really haven’t seen full-on darkness while here. Anyways, fatigued as we were, this didn’t stop us from giggling at ourselves for how often we seem to find ourselves in lucky, unprecedented situations. We slept from 5:00 am to 3:00 pm the next day, thus indicating the level of sleep we needed.

I assure you that the next day was not wasted, but I will have to recount it in the next entry. Dang it, Readership. I told myself that I wouldn’t ramble in my future entries and I totally have been. Can I just brand it as my personal style? I seem to have a penchant for excessive, grandiose words and stories that make you wish you were there.

Ah, I don’t hate it.

Oh, and…day 3’s comin’ up shortly.

Thought of the day: The best moments in life are often the results of original plans taking a different path than expected.

 

 

 

UK and Ireland 2014: Here in swinging London…

I would liken the past week to a whirlwind, but that wouldn’t do it justice. We’re definitely going to need to apply the plural here and say “whirlwinds”. The moving whirlwind swept away any plans I aspired to of having an empty apartment by Friday. The trip-planning whirlwind danced in and kept me up into the wee hours (appropriate language given my locale) as I hastily attempted to map out our adventure. Most prominently, the work whirlwind straight-up decided to have a gladiator battle with me. While I emerged victorious, it was in no way an easy win.

The above is just life.

“Whirlwinds” happen and no one is immune to them. If everyone were a dorkus like me and allocated time to writing down their “problems”, we’d all have a novel with many of us garnering a Pulitzer prize or two. I bring up my tribulations of the week not to complain and certainly not with the mind that you are interested. However, I do want you to take away from this the following: regardless of your current circumstances, you will eventually be doing something great. “Great” is ambiguous on purpose; you are to never limit yourself to your own possibilities.

Enter our UK trip.

As I may have, hopefully have mentioned in a previous post, my friend and I are embarking on a trip to London, Scotland, and Ireland from May 24th to June 8th. Many of you know I’m a solo traveler, in part due to flexibility, in part due to my inexplicable “extro-introvertedness”, and in part due to my individual time-off situation. This time, I’ve hand-picked some of the cream-of-the-crop in terms of travel partnership in my dear friend, June. Say “hi”!

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Speaking on that further, knowing a little about us will likely make the recount of our journey more interesting. We indeed have a lot of similarities. You see:

We’re both amiable, friendly, and kind.

We both have no problem meeting new people and engaging in deep, extensive conversation with them shortly after our introduction.

We both love to exercise and find ourselves attempting to turn any movement into exercise. Our favorite choice? Dancing.

We both can be extremely spontaneous and love to do things off the beaten path.

We’re both flexible and accommodating to what other people want or need (sometimes to our own detriment).

We have similar jobs and can therefore relate enormously well on that level.

Most importantly, June and I both have an ongoing infatuation with food and use any excuse to be around it more often.

Our differences are not negatives, but in fact make our time together all the more interesting and mutually beneficial.

While I love to plan, book in advance, and Yelp/Urbanspoon/Trip Advisor the life out of everything I do, June likes to find things on the go.

While I wear my emotions on my sleeve and send subconscious signals of my feelings that probably reach Pluto, June is contained and expresses emotions when appropriate.

While I’m still amidst the dating world, June has been married for some time and has learned wisdom on the subject of romance. I turn to her for a lot of advice in this area; she’s my roadmap in that way.

Oh, and – June is definitely a better dancer than me. I can admit it.

Day 1 

The flights from LAX-BOS and BOS-LHR were essentially half-sleeping, half-slap-happy-exhausted conversation. We hung out at LHR airport for a few hours before making our way to our flat in Southwark right near Borough Station and London Bridge (pronounced : SUTHerk, kind of like how Greenwich is pronounced GRENitch). As London was more of a stopover, we didn’t plan on doing much, but we ended up making a good time with our short journey.

Where we…

Slept: A shared flat in Tabard Street in Southwerk. Recommended as a safe, quiet, and convenient location as long as you don’t mind taking the Tube/buses/taxis a couple miles away to SoHo/Camden/Brixton for a more bustling feel. The restaurants within walking distance are largely pubs, but we were lucky enough to be directly next to a great Indian restaurant, Simply Indian.

Indulged: The Wetherspoon bar in LHR for breakfast, The Roebuck for lunch, and Simply Indian for dinner. See here and here for reviews of our lunch and dinner, respectively.

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Adventured: The London Bridge and near the Westminster Tube station. Near here we have a few notable attractions including the London Eye, the aquarium, and Westminster Abbey to name a few. We ended up walking around and taking pictures in front of monuments to feel like normal people for 5 minutes.

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After dinner, we ended up taking at taxi at around 12:15 am (in true European-style fashion) to Bar Rumba in SoHo. While it was not necessarily the least sketchy place I’ve been to, their combination of hip-hop, reggaeton, and dancehall jams made our dancing agenda on-point. What “some guy attempted to give us a suspect drink” experience? We owned it.

Learned our lessons: 

  • Buying “attraction packages”. I cannot accentuate the need to be careful and cognizant of limitations on these enough. We purchased a ticket to the Aquarium, London Dungeon, and London Eye for about 57 pounds. We only ended up using the aquarium one, as the London Dungeon stopped showing at 6:00 pm (we bought the tickets at 7:00) and the London Eye had an insanely long line at Sunset. Always be cognizant of the time you truly have to do things prior to buying tickets, as these are nonrefundable.
  • The Tube schedule. The Tube closes around 11:00 pm for most stations and doesn’t open back up again until 5:00, which means that relying on it for your quick and easy midnight club fix isn’t really going to work. Best to go out to dinner around 9 or 10 and go straight out from there, followed by a taxi home unless you can TRULY hang. The busses do run 24 hours a day, but using them will almost double your transit time.
  • Using Yelp for nightlife. Uh, not the best option, as hours are often misrepresented and events are usually not showing. I was in charge of finding a club to go dancing at last night and caused at least a 1-2 hour delay in out departure time. We were fortunate enough to have had an amazing night anyway, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Overall, our short rendezvous with London turned out to be exactly what we wanted: a brand new bite of a dish we had both already tasted. While we had both already visited London, we got to see another light of this bright, eclectic, international city. And rest assured, we will be back for more.

– H

Thought of the day: Be determined to have a good day, every day.