In my semester abroad I am lucky enough to have a ten day fall break. Many people in my class have decided to travel to exotic (but well traveled) lands like Italy, Amsterdam, Spain, and the like. Did I choose to flee from the ever-worsening weather of the United Kingdom? NO! I decided, rather, to finish my United Kingdom check list. Since I have already visited Ireland, I only had two other countries to check off of my list: Scotland and Wales. Here’s an overview of my itinerary: Edinburgh, Liverpool, Conwy, Port Eynon, and Bristol. Right now I’m in Conwy, Wales but since I’m about half way through my journey I thought I’d go ahead and write an update before I forgot some of the details.
I got into Edinburgh, Scotland, on Thursday night. I was fortunate enough to have a contact that I could stay with, so my introduction to hostels was briefly pushed back. My first morning I woke up bright and early at six a.m. in order to climb Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is a dead volcano and also the highest peak in the set of mountains in the center of Edinburgh. Even though it is an extremely popular tourist attraction, there are little to no signs directing hikers to the right paths. This meant that I climbed to the Salisbury Craggs, on the other side of the mountain, before realizing my fault. Luckily a nice local showed me the right path. There is a saying, “don’t take the shortcut,” that I probably should’ve taken more seriously. As I heard this phrase repeat in my head I was attempting a Bear Grylls-style climb up the side of the mountain. At first glance it seemed like an extremely easy climb, but about halfway up I realized to my extreme chagrin that I should’ve just stayed on the bloody path. The top, aka “Arthur’s Seat,” has a beautiful 360 degree view of Edinburgh, although beware of the wind. An extra warning- even though I have a very good pair of walking shoes, the wet sliminess of the stairs caused some very close calls to meet my maker of which I am glad I avoided. Below is an accurate visual description of how I felt at the end of my climb.
My activities may seem not much more than banal to you great adventurers, because my goal of this vacation isn’t to cram, cram, cram as much as possible. I’m trying to learn about these cities’s personalities rather than their histories. Edinburgh is a very nice city to visit, but for me it was more a discovery of a new home. Edinburgh’s hustle and bustle is much smaller than London’s, although there still is an element of city life. I recommend taking the time to simply walk around all the little streets, your calves may hurt, but your heart will be happy. I ate a wonderful lunch with some uni. students from Edinburgh at a lunch provided every Friday by a program called Roots. It was fun trying to describe the American political process and the labyrinth of liberal arts studies to these students. Likewise I learned about their educational process. Friday night I went contra dancing! Contra dancing is the American version of English line dancing. I actually met a woman who had done contra dancing in North Carolina a few years before I’d gone dancing in North Carolina! What a crazy small world it is. On Saturday I took a short train ride to Stirling Castle, which was a highly fought over piece of land switching from ruler to ruler. King James V built upon the castle and made it much more grandiose-a statement to his reign as king, supposedly. It’s a very family friendly visit and it includes some extremely gorgeous views of the Scottish countryside. At some points it seemed a little too child-friendly because of the lack of “boring” information about the castle. Overall a very fun trip. Stirling is a cute little tourist trap town filled with cafe’s and shops catered to the wandering eye of the traveler. I may seem like I’m skipping a lot of details (maybe not, maybe I’m talking too much), but just assume that I was walking around or drinking tea. On Saturday night my hosts’ took me to a wonderful restaurant called Mums. Mums specializes in Scottish comfort food with a side of sass! The staff was so nice and welcoming, I’m very glad my hosts took me there for a meal, it was my very first dish of haggis. Haggis, this haggis at least, reminded me of the Southern dish liver mush. I will not say which is better, because both are very…interesting dishes.
On Sunday morning I went to the 11:30 service at St. Giles cathedral. Although St. Giles is much smaller than your usual cathedral, it’s extremely beautiful. From the classic Gothic arched ceilings to the multitude of stained-glass windows, it’s possibly a top 10 church for me. Yes, I have been to enough churches to have a top ten list. After the service I walked to the Stockbridge Market. I would urge those visiting not to eat before you visit, because it is much more of a food market than a material market. I ate some delicious paella and continued walking through the hilly city. My last few hours in Edinburgh were spent…you guessed it, walking. Edinburgh is a great city to visit, and it’s a city filled with locals. Every time I got lost or had a question I would ask a stranger and they were always more than happy to help. One woman described Edinburgh as “a big town that’s spread out into a city, and everybody knows everybody.”
I got into Liverpool around 20:30, so I just decided to go to my hostel and crash for the night. As I walked through the city to get to the hostel I noticed how lively the streets were. On every corner I heard laughs, loud 80’s classics, or loud 80’s classics being blasted from a karaoke machine. If I hadn’t been travelling alone I might’ve hopped into a pub to see what the hullabaloo was about, but I decided against it and kept walking. Liverpool was the only city (so far) that I’ve felt disconnected to. I wanted to be shown around by someone who knew and loved the city. To me, it just felt like…a city. I am not the biggest Beatles fan (boo and hiss all you want), and in Liverpool you can’t shake a stick without hitting some memorabilia. From a marketing stand point I don’t blame them for capitalizing on the phenomenon, but for non-fans it’s a tad overbearing. It’s a lovely city no matter what I say, and it’s worth it to visit just to go and meet some Scousers (Liverpudlians). The Merseyside Maritime museum is definitely worth the visit (also, it’s free!), and the third floor is the International Slavery Museum, which is also very educational and I highly recommend it. Dawn and dusk are the best times to hang around Albert Docks, because your view of the river Mersey will have a beautiful backdrop.
Now, onto Wales!