Tuesday, October 1, 2013

castles and cattle - scotland, week one.

oh, where to begin. time passes so strangely here; i feel like i’ve been gone for ages, but at the same time like the hours are just flying by… already, i’ve been in europe for a month. which means that i’m basically 1/9th through my wanderyear! ach! i’m doing my best to enjoy each moment and not think ahead too much, but that can be a challenge for me. but, i digress.

my silence in the blogosphere over the last while was due to the fact that i spent two magical weeks in scotland, traipsing around the country and just generally having a great time. after that, i had a whirlwind few days in dublin, a quick flight to bordeaux and a weekend with friends there, and theeeen i got to my village. but i’m here now! and i can blog again! so, without further ado… phase one of blog catch-up: scotland!

week one:

i spent the first week of my fortnight in scotland (relevant use of fortnight, win!) with two very dear friends from back home. cameron and carly have been in my life for years – we became friends back in middle school / high school respectively, and have been blessed to share quite a few fun times together. (probably the coolest of which, until scotland, was that one time i was a bridesmaid in their wedding.) cameron is in seminary at sewanee these days, and was lucky enough to get accepted into a semester-long exchange program in cambridge, england! so, we got to plan a little friend-adventure for their first week in the uk.
i flew into edinburgh from dublin late on the 11th , and had the hilarious experience of having an international flight be shorter than the bus ride from the airport to my host’s flat across the city (50 minute flight < 1h15m bus ride). the next morning, i met cam and carly in the city center and we did some errands before heading to explore edinburgh castle! it was my first major “sight” in scotland, and it did not disappoint. hundreds upon hundreds of years of history, overlooking a beautiful city from its perch high up on a hill. the sheer cliff drops on three sides made it even more dramatic. after a long walk around the area, we stopped for dinner at a pub called ‘the last drop’ (so named due to its proximity to the gallows which used to be nearby…). i tried haggis for the first (read: only) time and had my first (read: not last) scottish whiskey of the trip. for dessert, we treated ourselves to hot drinks at the elephant house, where j.k. rowling wrote the beginning of the harry potter series! the magic was palpable – the view from the window of the castle up on the cliff really gave away the inspiration for hogwarts! the bathroom walls were absolutely covered in hp-graffiti – i spent several minutes reading different quotes and smiling at the thought of how many people had come to pay homage to the site.

friday was pretty laid-back – we pretty much just wandered around and went inside any place that took our fancy. the national library was really beautiful, and we found several gorgeous churches! the highlight of the day was the choral evensong we attended at st. mary’s – a beautiful service, in an even more breathtaking location. the evening was spent chatting with new friends and listening to some traditional music!

our biggest day in edinburgh was saturday – i can conservatively say we walked a half-marathon over the course of the day! my sweet couchsurfing host, marlies from amsterdam, came with us for most of the day. we started at the holyrood house, which is the queen’s official residence in scotland,  where we learned about the history of the crown in relation to scotland. from there, we walked up, up, up to the very top of arthur’s seat, the legendary location of camelot. the hike was steep, but the view from the top was worth it!! once we descended and had a little lunch, marlies went off to work and the rest of us walked alllll the way across town to the royal botanical gardens. once we finally got to a pub for after-dinner drinks, i really felt like we’d earned our whiskeys!

sunday morning was a treat – i taught marlies how to make pancakes and scrambled eggs! we had a great last breakfast together before cameron, carly and i headed to stirling. the train ride was short and sweet, but due to weekend construction, we had to take a bus for the last leg of our journey. we finally arrived in stirling, dropped our bags off, and headed right over to the castle for a  tour.

my favourite part of stirling was definitely the castle. scotland is full of beautiful, historical places, but stirling castle is probably in the top 5 most historically significant. so many battles took place around the castle hill, and so many political figures resided there or at least visited. we had the coolest, most passionate tour guide ever, too, so that made our tour even more awesome.

even though we had three nights in stirling, sunday was really our only day in the city. on monday, we picked up our rental car (mad props to cameron for driving on the other side of the road!!!) and took a day trip out to the eastern coast, stopping for the afternoon in st. andrews before heading back along the coastal route. st. andrew’s was absolutely stunning, and i got to go see several of the places my best friend told me about from her semester abroad there! so fun. the next day, we took another day trip in the other direction out to loch lomond (you take the high road, i’ll take the low road… etc). we drove around the entire national park, stopping when a view compelled us. we even hiked up a smallish mountain (big hill?), where we were caught by one of scotland’s famous weather changes and had to slip and slide our way back down, through the tall grass. i almost got in a fight with a sheep at the bottom of the hill. on the way home from loch lomond, we stopped in doune – famous for the use of doune castle in ‘monty python and the holy grail’… needless to say, we trotted around with our fake coconut sounds and shouted insults to each other in atrocious french accents for about thirty minutes. 

wednesday morning, we went our separate ways – cam and carly went south to oxford for a c.s. lewis conference and i continued on my own for another week of scottish adventure! but that’s a story for another post… :)

pictures from this post are available in my facebook album! just start after the dublin ones. take a look! :)

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