UK and Ireland 2014: Is álainn é an saol

No, we did not cross the Carrick-a-Rede, gaze upon the Cliffs of Moher, or frolic on the Dingle Peninsula. But rest assured, when we finally made it to Ireland, we did more in our 5 short gifts of days than I could have ever imagined, let alone added all of the aforementioned spectacles to our “Return to Ireland” wishlist.

Now, if you read my previous entry, you’d understand fully our desire for the day on Monday to just be…over. Experiencing life can be tiresome, so we were happy to spend our first night quietly in Dublin in the comfort of the apartment of our host, Liam.

The next day brought us to Killarney, the land of fulsome greenery. To give a brief background on the area, Killarney is situated in the southwest of Ireland in Country Kerry about 3 hours from Dublin via train. It is actually a fairly lively tourist town, with plenty of Americans abound. Its close proximity to the Ring of Kerry is a large attraction, but the entire area is stunning and perfect for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.

Once again, though, we came with an agenda differentiated from the rest: to rent bikes and see the petting zoo at Muckross Farms. Behold, my vast display of “AAAAWWW!”-inducing morsels:

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GRAWRARARARARA

ghlkglj hk; iyi j the puppies ty u wtw

We were hungry and stopped at Molly Darcy’s, which is attached to the Muckross Park Hotel and literally a quarter of a mile or so from our romp at the farm. While swarming with tourists, the food was great and the entertainment provided by Irish band Onóir made for quite the entertaining environment. Do I even need to mention that June and I served as catalysts for the dance party?

The rest of our time in Killarney was spent horseback riding with Killarney Riding Stables (to be updated with review) and visiting local landmarks Ross Castle and Torc Waterfall. The sore butts our four-legged gentlemen (named James and Paul) gave us were worth the stunning views of Killarney National park and Loch Leane, and we felt we had covered a generous portion of the area through our ride. It should be noted that we stuck to the nearby attractions as we regrettably did not book enough time in Killarney. Per unanimous inquiry, the region itself takes at least 4-5 days to experience properly. Did I mention we already have a return itinerary?

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Torc Waterfall and it’s token goddess.
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Ross Castle. The small but mighty.

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We were weary by the end of this short side-adventure in the South. By the time we returned to Dublin, we were ready to get a bit bougie at the Gresham Hotel. Which brings me to a helpful tangent for the reader.

If you’re trying to figure out whether to do AirBnB or hotels, consider the following a guide:

AirBnB is awesome for:

  • Saving money
  • Getting to know new people
  • Getting advice on where to go
  • Getting breakfast right when you wake up
  • Having a more “homey” environment

Hotels are awesome for:

  • Coming and going as you please (though, most AirBnB hosts are pretty flexible with this as well; it’s just checking in that might take some coordination).
  • Getting some privacy and/or spending quality time with your travel partner(s) alone (AirBnB’s hosts run the gamut from absent to becoming your new best friend/brother/sister/uncle/dad/mom/grandma, etc.; I’ve experienced all of these)
  • Having more “built-in” things generally, like restaurants, gym, pool, etc.

We upped the ante and made an impromptu visit to The Gate Theater to see Oscar Wilde’s comedy, An Ideal Husband. Forget any stereotypes you’re inundated with about British or Irish theater; the sharp wit and luscious Victorian drama of this piece was both perfectly audible and able to be enjoyed by anyone. Of particular splendor was the costume and set design. I respected the cast by not taking pictures during the show, but I instantly regretted it. The costumes were INCREDIBLE. I was, however, able to get a discreet snap of the stage right before we started.

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Those mirrors, those frames…why isn’t my house decorated like this?! Watching the set changes in between acts was a show in and of itself.

Our classiness was ephemeral, as we later went for our Last Dance at Copper Face Jack’s on Harcourt Street. Now, you probably have noticed that I’m not one to easily dole out negative reviews. That’s true, I’m not. I figure this is due to my general aptitude in picking solid places to go, thanks to my trusted friends Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Mama Google. I must, however, give the Reader a fair heads up about CFJ’s.

Ask a local about it, as I did, and you’ll probably make out the following words in relation to it: trashy, scuzzy, and, my personal favorite, “ratchet”. Indeed, our first impression upon walking in was no less than incredibly ratchet, as American dudes proceeded to sliver over and take, not ask, for our hand in a sloppy dance. Expertly we initiated our escape, an easy one given the inebriated state of our would-be captors. Throughout the night, it was definitely necessary to assert ourselves, as we had made the mistake of dancing conspicuously in a clearing near the ATM. I even had to put my hand in a guy’s face at one point, which should tell you how bad it was getting. No drinks or sweaty cadres of tourists for us, no. Those were luxuries to the stagnant people who hung by the bar like normal patrons. Us danceaholics got to deal with the creepy men who wouldn’t disappear. The music wasn’t initially terrible until they switched to American novelty dance songs like “Cotton Eyed Joe” and whatever that other chipmunk abomination is. Some of you probably know it and can help me out here, yeah?

This didn’t stop the 4 am pedi-cab journey back to the hotel from being splendid. I’m trying to remember how many drunk people we high-fived; so brilliant.

Friday was our last day. As I write this on a protracted Wednesday afternoon, it’s hard to believe that this was only five days ago. The main events on Friday were undoubtedly Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced “jail”; don’t be like me and tell the taxi driver you’re headed to Kilmainham GOWL) and our Gaelic Games experience, which I cannot say enough good things about. As we learned about and played handball, Gaelic football, and hurling, we were burning calories and bonding not just with our fellow teammates, but with the country of Ireland in its national sports. Our instructors were unbelievably helpful and patient. And I do mean patient, because they needed to be with me. The gaol also provided an incredibly interesting tidbit of Irish history, specifically regarding the Rebellion of 1918.

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Fortunately, June was not imprisoned in the gaol for long.
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Clear champions, here.

Dinner at The Lebanese Chef near Dublin’s food-mecca of South Great George’s Street was spectacular. I think my Yelp review does it some justice, so check it out when you’re there. However, per the advice of a local, it’s quite difficult to get bad food on South Great George’s Street, so you’ll probably good picking anywhere. Other recommendations we had were Yamamori Noodles, Rustic Stone, 777, and Whitefriar Grill. Are you taking notes?

Heavily debating on whether or not to go out, we ended our final evening in Dublin with a stroll through the (in)famous Temple Bar. Ahhhh, Temple Bar. So interesting a place it is. It’s like an Irish Cabo. I don’t even think any real Irish people hang out there. But if you’re looking for a party, it’s the place to be.

As much as we wanted to indulge in the unique culture of the ‘Bar, we were okay with getting some much needed rest before we set a course for return to LAX.

Having been through a few days of the “post-return stress syndrome” that accompanies any vacation, I can say that looking back on the adventures had in this corner of the world has been difficult at times. I remember the littlest things so vividly: The smile of the adorable stingrays at the aquarium. Taking a picture of the Scotsman Hotel for June’s father-in-law during our 2:00 am tour of Edinburgh. How cinnamony black pudding tasted for the first time. The look of the suggestive mountain beyond the fairy pools. The taste of the cheesecake at the Plockton Hotel. The rain in my hair during our horseback ride.

It takes a little while until I realize that adventuring and new experiences are never limited to vacations. Every day is an adventure lying dormant under our obligations or fears; it’s up to us to unearth them.

Until the next adventure.

– H

Thought of the day: Woops, I may have already written it just now.

UK and Ireland 2014: Glasgow wrapped up – An education in food and culture

I have a random thought and through reading this entry, you’re obligated to bear with me here. Verbosity, I’ve learned, is a bitter ex. It does not leave without resistance, and somehow it manages to reel you back in without you even noticing. While I’m sure my close family and friends enjoy my vivid play-by-plays of my travels, I recognize that it might not be as meaningful to the readership at large. So, I told myself that I would try to reform my travel writing to emphasize more about the places we go rather our individualized experiences. And generally speaking, that’s the practical way to go, especially when one considers my aspirations for the future of my writing.

Some stories, however, are just too good to pass up. Here, I use that word, “good”, in both the heartwarming, nostalgic, warm sense as well as the harrowing, Taken-finally-seems-like-a-legit-scenario sense. Let’s start light.

On Buying a Charger

The Apple Store on Buchanan Street in Glasgow sits discreetly in a regal display of Victorian brick and stone, with only the silent logo indicating its true identity. Buchanan Street in general happens to be the nerve center of the UK’s finest shopping next to London. Now, what’s inside the Apple Store induces no more splendor than any other store – until you meet the cheerful, glowing Amer and Calum. Indeed, these strapping gentlemen were a pleasant surprise in an environment normally designed to inundate us with sales banter; they did nothing of the sort. We left not only with our required computer charger, but also with excellent restaurant recommendations and new friendships. Should you find yourself in this establishment, I assure the same will happen to you.

Thus, lunch at the trendy and underground-vibing Stereo and coffee/sweet scrumptiousness at Riverhill Coffee Bar rounded out our last day in Glasgow with some of the most splendid consumptions the UK has to offer. We briefly stepped into the Lighthouse, the museum of design that happens to be but a skip away from both of the above places, but only managed to get to the 6th floor – which, admittedly, is the primary selling point of the place. Scratch that, it’s not really a selling point if the museum is free, right? The bummer of the day was not seeing the rest, as it looked to be a fantastic paradise for the design-nerdy. And since it is free, I will implore the reader to check it out on my behalf.

Another attraction I dearly wish we could have experienced is the (also free) Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Since we arrived at 5:05, we were 5 minutes too late for the action. Ouch. But hey, at least we got a picture of the exterior, which counts for something in my eyes.

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Pixelface and I goofing off near Stereo. Artwork by Peter Drew Arts (http://www.peterdrewarts.com)
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The world of Glaswegian architecture at our fingertips – Lighthouse, 6th floor.
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The Delicacies of Riverhill.
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View of the University of Glasgow over the River Clyde.
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The lovely Kelvingrove. Judging a book by its cover, it sure looks nice!

The Bitter End

We were more than happy to have gotten an extra day in Glasgow. But the taxi driver who came to pick us up later didn’t know that, nor did he care. He just seemed grumpy. That’s okay, grumpy people are as prevalent as pockets of clouds in the sky. Fine…right?

We arrived at Glasgow (yes, the RIGHT airport this time) only to discover we didn’t have enough cash between us. I stayed in the car while June got out, offering to go inside and get more money to cover the fare. This did not fly, it seemed. Before I knew it, I was being swerved away nearly watching my friend get hit. I was alone in the car with a man who was very, very angry and bent on believing that we were ripping him off. I was told I would be dropped in the middle of Glasgow with my bags. Safe? Hurt? Alive? I had no idea.

June did what any person would do and attempted to call me and reason with the driver. He did not reason, but continued to drive away and curse with even more fervor. Having never been in this type of situation, my blood burned me and my heart palpitations made it difficult for me to hear, nay, think. I was crying, screaming, begging him to stop, wailing about how much money we made to assure him that we were not broke tourists in for a swindle. We were gonna pay, he kept saying. Pay? Where am I going? What is he doing? Eventually, I couldn’t hear a thing.

In a brief eye of the storm, I posited:

“What happened to you in your life to make you want to do this?”

He eventually stopped, took what he was owed from June, who found us, and threw the extra pounds we had offered him on the ground in a violent display of pride. We walked away and the credits of the horror-suspence rolled.

I may not have gotten a response, but I’m guessing I got him to think.

(Lesson learned: Bolded and underlined for the readership to note, is never, ever, ever get into a cab without adequate cash in Scotland, because your driver could be that guy.)

– H

Thought of the day: Don’t take safety lightly, even in places that seem or are categorically “safe”. 

UK and Ireland 2014: Let’s go, Glasgow!

Days 7 and 8, I think.

Saturday morning, we set course for Fort William bent on seeing some good scenery and found such in Glen Nevis. True to form, we did stop by the  off the A887 prior to this, where we had an unexpected but adorable interaction with highland cows. They sold cow food there, which we got to feed to them, so naturally we savored that little piece of heaven for a bit. I mean, it’s us. Did you honestly expect us to not make animals a part of this journey?

You can check out some of our shots of GN below. Huge surprise #3 is that we made it into a bit of a photoshoot.

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The sheep didn’t think I was that cool, but interacting with them helped me learn how to cope with rejection.

Now, I’ll take another moment to commend June for her epic driving of Salvador (the Ford KA that got us from A to B for two days), which finally came to an end at the Fort William train station at 5:00 pm. After a quick bar meal surrounded by swarthy Welshman and an older Scottish guy who wanted to give us magical powers, we took the evening train out to Glasgow. If I didn’t have such a pet peeve for visible windows in pictures, I would post a plethora of pictures of the train ride over. The trip is gorgeous and varies from the classic highlands (hills, grasses, and some rock formations) to more forestry to a true city-scape. It’s beautiful.

The city of Glasgow, as versed by June, is slightly reminiscent of Brooklyn. I’ve never been to Brooklyn and I can’t adequately compare it to anything else, so I’ll go ahead and say that Glasgow is really a city with its own flavor. While the east end is a bit grittier than the design-focused city centre lined with Victorian buildings and pockets of art nouveau, it seems to be a happening place nonetheless, with many-a good hidden shopping places and some nice little parks. Glasgow is full of parks.

 Our host for the evening, Vassilis, met us at his flat in Dennistoun on Saturday night and could not have been more accommodating, both with freshly brewed rooibos tea and some comfortable conversation. HIs flat’s tall windows looked out at the (finally) dark sky we thought we’d spend only a night under, so we enlisted him for advice on where to head out for the evening at a cool 1:00 am in the morning. Did I mention we were walking this whole time?

 We landed at One Up, a club in Royal Exchange Square, City Centre, that was so reminiscent of Hollywood it nearly transported me there. Everyone in the place was too cool for anything, so we took that and ran with it, or shall we say, danced with it. Set against the embossed white walls highlighted by faint neon lights, the music became ours and in true form, we owned the night with our moves.

 I’ll only briefly recount the next morning as waking up with heavy eyelids and dehydrated integumentary systems was the least of our worries. We hastily consumed a decadent breakfast of homemade marmalades and perfectly cooked eggs (thanks again, V-dawg – you da bomb!) to catch our private hire car (note: these are generally cheaper than taxis in Scotland) to Glasgow Airport.

We get to Glasgow Airport, only to find out that it’s different from Glasgow Prestwick airport, where our flight to Dublin was heading out. With barely more than an hour left until our flight, we still had hopes – until we found out that Prestwick is actually an hour away from Glasgow airport itself. So, what did we learn?:

1) Glasgow Prestwick and Glasgow Airport are not the same thing. Noted.

2) Neither airport is actually located in Glasgow, as Glasgow is actually in Paisley and Prestwick is in Prestwick, about 45 minutes away from Glasgow’s city centre. Great naming conventions, guys. Who could possibly be confused by that?

3) I’m daft some times, which I already sort of knew.

This didn’t stop June and I from finding an amazing flat to crash at in the west end, hitting up the Gibson Street Gala for some incredible street burgers from The Left Bank and mouth-melter sweets from Queen of Hearts Cakes and Tarts, and, of course, dancing to the Glasgow Music Theatre’s inventive renditions of songs like 2Pac’s “California Love”. I guess you could call our extra day-and-a-half in Glasgow the greatest mistake we ever made.

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Anyone recognise this?

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I think our first activity for the evening warrants its own paragraph, so I’ll give it that. The Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre in the city centre is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s not designed to just be looked at, nor is it designed to engage you in a remotely conventional way. You enter a dimly-lit room and see a series of intricate sculptures that look like they are made of old wood, scrap metal, and other partially-intact remnants of the Industrial Revolution. There are skulls, rats, and clowns as characters in the sculptures, all of whom seem to be working on something or heading somewhere. Gears and pulleys and levers begin the move, rise, fall, clang, tick. Suddenly, lights will turn on and another wheel starts turning. It shuts off, you hear another noise in the distance and your eyes are drawn to another story, another song. Strange, jarring, and an utterly fantastic display of moving junk, you begin to realize that this is all about the human experience. Fancy that.

I won’t spoil it further, so the remainder of what I can say about Sharmanka is as follows: be open-minded, and see it for yourself.

“Let’s be good,” we both said after the show. “We should go get some sleep,” we both said.

Fifteen minutes later, we found ourselves enjoying a veritable feast at Sapporo Teppanyaki and later, danced at Bamboo. We walked out of there looking like we ended our evening with a swimming pool, so given that level of cardio performed I feel slightly better about stuffing myself with egg fried rice, tofu rolls, and key lime cheesecake after a long tenure of primal fare.

As much as I’d love to regale the next day here, I’ll break it up evenly so as the force you to return to my writing again. I’m just so good like that. Stay tuned!

– H

Thought of the day: If it makes you think, it’s art.

Special note: My entries have been and will be fairly delayed due to heavy adventuring and occasionally sparse Wi-fi. However, I promise to continue delivering entries, photos, and reviews as best I can, so likely there will be more to each entry if you check back in a few days.

UK and Ireland 2014: Highland Holiday

Day 6

The day began with black pudding. I understand this may sound like an odd, if not off-putting, opening, but hear me out. You may have deduced based upon my previous postings that I kind of like food. Perhaps you additionally gleaned the fact that I like some, er…different dishes. Black pudding was one such different dish that I hadn’t tried but knew I needed to. I had no expectations but was surprised ever-so-pleasantly by the slightly chewy, faintly meaty, and cinnamon-laced aftertaste of it. “Pudding” is an apt moniker, for sure. Most of the time people try “gross” foods, they’re either unphased or put off; not here. Black pudding, Readers, is DELICIOUS! For those unfamiliar, I won’t spoil you by telling you what’s in it, so here’s a picture for you to play the guessing game with:

scottish breakfast

Now, in spite of the numerous offerings of the Isle of Skye, we had had the Fairy Pools of Glenbrittle on our agenda since the day we started talking about this trip. A long and winding Highland road led us to the beginning of the hike, where we frolicked, climbed, skipped, rock-hopped, and yes, posed for a few hours. The pools themselves are more like sub-sections of a huge crevice in the middle of a valley, surrounded by a vast landscape of green hills. The water is crystal clear, still, and quite frigid, which almost highlights their beauty as a pristine place. That said, don’t pack your swimsuit to come chill with the Fairies, unless you literally want to chill.

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For those interested in visiting, these are fortunately not as difficult to find as certain other remote Scottish landmarks, but the flip-side of that is that they are a bit crowded for a remote Scottish landmark. We didn’t get terribly far on the hike through Croire na Creiche other side, but that’s a good day trip that we, sadly, didn’t prepare for. One more thing to add to the return trip!

Our day next brought us to Armadale Castle, which was more of a slice of history than anything. As the center for the Scottish clan Donald, which happens to be June’s mother-in-law’s ancestry, we had it down as our second must-do. There’s a museum, extensive garden grounds, and the ruins of a reconstructed castle (from the 19th century) here. And man, talk about a photo op:

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In the gift shop, I picked up a book. I opened it up and landed on a page with an otherworldly picture of the ocean.

“Where…is….this?”, I asked the clerk at the gift shop without realizing it. Before I knew it, off we were to hike to the Point of Sleat (say “Slate”).

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Beautiful as these pictures may be, there are some caveats to coming here. First, after you park, you have about a 2.5 mile hike to the beach. We made it 2 miles before we got a little too confused by signs to continue. As you can see, will still achieved fitting photography moments, but it would have been nice to actually experience the ocean breeze in our hair and sand in our toes (I almost typed “toes in our sand”…exhaustion or secret desire for a murder mystery?)

Lesson learned: research first, hike to random places in Scotland later.

Second, I gravely urge you to be careful around the wild animals that lurk on the path to Sleat. They do not mess around. I created a PSA for hikers on how to determine whether you are in imminent danger, but I’ll spare you it. Just remember: only YOU can prevent wild sheep attacks on unplanned hikes to beaches in Scotland.

After escaping near-death-by-livestock at the Point of Sleat, we were hungry. We were stop-roadside-and-eat—dirt-if-we-had-to hungry. The first establishment we found serving edible things at 8:00 pm at night was, lucky for us, Duisdale House Hotel.

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Michelin Guide-accoladed to the nines as it was, the dinner wasn’t quite robust enough to satisfy our adventuring appetites. It was nonetheless delectable food in quite a nice environment – a little too nice for our decoration. Looking a snow bunny and Kim Possible, we may have been a bit out of place, but boy, did we have fun watching videos from the day and trying not to burst out in hysterics as we recounted events from Edinburgh to each other. As we left the restaurant, our server thanked us graciously for coming, and called out for us to “stay out of trouble”.

Like clockwork, we responded in the negative to such a rhetorical question.

– H

Thought of the day: Take 15 seconds to look around at your surroundings once in a while. I guarantee you’ll feel more blessed just by doing it.

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.