With just 33 days left on European soil, I still had a lot ahead of me. I had reconfirmed my prediction that city-living is definitely for me. Public transport is second nature, walking is the best way to get around, and food is easily accessible and, for me, on the go. My life has been delightfully hectic – packing and unpacking between weekend trips, frantically throwing coins into the laundry machines down the street, taking sunset jogs through Kensington Gardens, while squeezing in time for studies Monday through Wednesday. I seem to have mastered the London rudeness and race to anywhere walking down the streets, where everyone is a participant whether willing or not.
The past week I had enjoyed a trip to the Sherlock Holmes museum and a day in Regent Park with my English professor – and a delicious meal of duck at an Asian restaurant downtown. Before I knew it Friday morning had arrived and I was awoken by my alarm clock. I headed to Paddington Station to greet my first visitor in three months…
Colleen, Erin, and I have been glued at the hip since we were
awkward pre-teens with matching school uniforms, so it is no wonder that four months proved too long a stint to stay away. Their ten-day visit to London would commence just in time for Thanksgiving, and pull me out of the homesickness funk I was trying to avoid. Colleen arrived first sans-cell phone, and ignored instructions to meet me at the gate to the tube. After about twenty grueling minutes searching for the lost Irish girl, I spotted her in a train station café sipping espresso with an old English man. I guess she just couldn’t wait to enjoy some English culture… Erin met us a few hours later at my blue door in Notting Hill, and the group was successfully reunited across the big pond they call the Atlantic.
For the next ten days I was determined to play the ultimate tour guide, taking my companions to favorite spots I had discovered in London. We started out day one with Big Ben, the London Eye, and some street performers before lazily entering a pub where we would spend the rest of the evening
imbibing on some scrumptious ginger cocktails. Shocker. We continued this pattern of sightseeing –drinking – sleeping, (rinse and repeat), for the next week. But not to disregard the food. Oh the food! (My diet and exercise regime would have to resume post-visit).
Erin, Colleen, and I enjoyed just about every corner of London I could muster the energy to explore. We shopped in SoHo, Oxford Street and the opulent Mayfair area, and dazzled ourselves in Harrod’s. While I was at class, they would explore what I had seen and got history lessons at the Tower of London. We consumed several days’ worth of calories in delicious restaurants as compensation for busy days on our feet. We caught the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, strolled the beautiful Hyde Park, Green Park, and Kensington Gardens, took photos at Trafalgar Square and pretended to be interested in art at the National Gallery. We crossed Millenium Bridge to explore the Tate Modern museum at night, tried to get into Hogwarts at Platform 9 and 3/4, and caught live shows in Piccadilly Circus, (they saw ‘Dirty Dancing’ while I went to ‘Oedipus’ for class). We haggled for trinkets in Portobello Market, and even enjoyed a movie getting us ready for Christmas time back home. Our nights out were some of my favorites spent in London; I think we managed to patronize 50% of the pubs in London.
Thanksgiving Day was particularly memorable to me. We dressed our best and attended mass at the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was holding a special ceremony for American visitors such as ourselves. That night we sought
out a traditional turkey dinner, which proved unexpectedly difficult to do. We ended up at a cheesy, overcrowded joint (fairly named ‘Big Easy’)which took two train rides and a long hike in the cold to find. Once we were finally seated, however, the food proved sufficient and reminiscent of that which our families would enjoy back home six hours later. We toasted red wine to our warm holiday spent with the family we choose ourselves… friends.
For pictures of our London trip as a threesome, check out Erin's albums by clicking the links below:
ALBUM 1 ALBUM 2 ALBUM 3 ALBUM 4
Upon arriving in Berlin from our 3-hour train from Prague, I was greeted with chaos – hundreds of singing rugby fans, the largest train station I have ever seen, and no map. After quite the detour and getting lost until dark, Xanthy and I finally checked in to our modern hostel in Berlin. We met up with our fellow travelers who did not have any trouble finding their accommodation…the battle of the sexes continues: boys – 2, girls – 2.
We all wandered the dark city for a few hours, spotting the Berlin TV Tower, rising above the city. We ate a chic dinner at a Japanese restaurant and called it a night.
The next morning we awoke to a sunny day and a city of possibilities. I convinced Xanthy, John, and Brock to join me on a free walking tour of Berlin which would occupy us most of the day. This was one of my favorite tours yet. The history of Berlin is not only incredibly fascinating, but is also quite young – making it even more appealing. Of course the deep history of the Nazis in World War II sparked everyone’s interest first. We began at Brandenburg Gate – a staple of Berlin, and walked block after block of the German territory. Some notable things we saw were the intersection Potsdamer Platz, the main square, and a building still standing which was once a
Nazi headquarters. It was built to invoke fear and, even though it is now a normal government building, it was chilling to picture what went on there just decades ago.
We also explored the hauntingly beautiful Holocaust War Memorial
– standing in the middle of the city for all to see. The Memorial is made up of
large concrete blocks of many sizes, representing those that lost their lives in
WWII. The hundreds of blocks change in height, which makes an interesting
geometrical design when standing far away, and a never-ending maze when walking
through it. The Memorial truly put into perspective the amount of damage done
during this uncivilized time in history.
Quite opposite to the grand War Memorial, our tour ventured to Adolf Hitler’s bunker. The underground space is where Hitler hid and selfishly killed himself upon learning that invaders were on the way. Germany has gone through great lengths to be sure the war is remembered, but not in a way that sensationalizes Hitler or the Nazis. There is little evidence that the Nazis existed in Berlin, a perfect example being that there is not even a sign above Hitler’s bunker – rather it is an empty parking lot at which no one would look twice.
The recent history of Berlin is what truly struck me, especially being there and seeing it before my eyes. It was surreal to look at what is left standing of the dilapidated Berlin Wall and picture that it once confidently divided East and West Berlin for almost three decades. After WWII, the wall was
erected (in 1961) by the East Germans to remain anti-Fascist, implying the West had not been completely “de-Nazified”. Guards armed with guns prevented unauthorized crossing over the entire span of the wall, which was also equipped with booby traps to kill potential crossers. The west side of the wall became a piece of art, with colorful graffiti covering every inch.
Then, on November 9th, 1989, the East German government somewhat accidentally and spontaneously announced that all citizens could visit the West side, effective immediately. Upon hearing this mix-up, the German citizens flocked to the wall at once, armed with sledgehammers, bats, and anything they could get their hands on to defeat the oppressive structure. The masses outnumbered the guards who reluctantly retreated, giving freedom back to the people. Over the next few months, almost every inch of the wall was torn down.
Upon completion of our walking tour which lasted the entire day, we met up with Tory and Julia who had spent the day in art museums. We swapped stories and feasted on traditional German cuisine and beers at a cozy local restaurant. Without much time left, we shopped for souvenirs, (I scored a piece of the colorful Berlin Wall), packed, and headed back to London on the long journey home. Our train – bus – flight – tube combination home turned out to be a blast… us girls did not stop chatting and laughing while the boys listened to their IPods and moped.
Was it a true battle of the sexes? Probably not. But after such an amazing weekend I felt like I had won.
(For the photogallery of this album, you can click here.)
It was set… another weekend trip was to come, and I decided this time to “buy one get one free”. Prague, in the heart of the Czech Republic, was conveniently close to Berlin, Germany – so some fellow travelers and I decided to kill two birds with one stone and tackle both cities in one jam-packed weekend. I had heard great reviews of Prague and knew nothing about
it, and had always found interest in Berlin – a German city rich with history both old and new. So me, Xanthy, Tory, and Julia joined Brock and John on this ambitious, six-person extravaganza. Early on in the trip, an unavoidable tension was recognized between some of the guys and gals amongst group, (no names will be divulged). So it was silently understood that this would turn in to a
competition: girls versus boys _ who will have more fun on this trip??
Round 1: Boxing gloves on, boys and girls briefly separated after arriving at the Praha (Czech for “Prague”) airport to settle in to their accommodations. Girls check in to an amazing modern apartment in the city center giving bragging rights to a kitchen, living room, and 2 bedrooms. Boys check in to equally chic apartment and meet up with friends studying in another city. Tie.
Our six-some met up soon after and began exploring. We found the city to be quite empty for a Friday night. Bewildered by the ghost town, we carried on and saw some modern shops, the government center, and some hoppin’ clubs… maybe all the locals were in there? Anyways, we found an
elegant sushi restaurant along the river where we settled in and enjoyed some spectacular cuisine. We all had a great time enjoying some Czech beers at a local pub, until finishing the night with Round 2 of competition. The girls broke off and found a retro martini bar where we sipped delicious cocktails; the boys ended up wandering aimlessly until giving up and settling in an over-the-top casino. Girls – 1; Boys – 0.
The next morning, the three girls and I joined a free five hour walking tour of the entire city. We met in the famous Old Town Square, and quickly grew to love our very-European guide and her vast knowledge of the city’s history. We walked for miles and enjoyed the sunny day, exploring the city by foot and tram. We started out at the Prague Astronomical Clock Tower in the Old Town Square, which has become a trademark of the city itself, built in 1410. The third oldest astronomical clock in the world and the only one still working, it is easy to see why tourists flock to see its figurine/musical performance once an hour. We went on to explore the commanding Prague Castle atop Petrin Hill, one of the most beautiful and largest cathedrals I have laid eyes on_ St. Vitus Cathedral, and the Jewish Quarter. We crossed the Vltava River on the famous Charles Bridge, taking in the amazing views on either side. The river dotted with sailboats is lined by quaint homes and shops with red rooftops and smoking chimneys. The city spans up and down the natural hills, with expressive steeples and castles standing out in between.
After our long walking tour, our feet and bellies found respite at a local restaurant where we met the boys and feasted on some comfort food. They seemed to have accomplished everything we had in our day
sans-tour. We’ll call it another tie.
That night we showered up and had a little pregame party in our apartment, taking turns downing shots of Absinthe – the green liquor which is said to make one hallucinate. It is only legal in Prague, but we couldn’t see why after experiencing no hallucinations much to our dismay.
The girls decided to brave the nightlife first – and I had heard good things. Apparently, almost all of the drinking establishments stay open until 5am, kicking out the party-goers when the sun begins to rise. We found a hidden hotspot underground in the city center, called “Double Trouble”. The unique place was built into the stone walls underground,
with no windows of any kind, and several rooms offering different types of music and scenes. One room was wild – virtually a club with everyone on their feet, dancing on tables to the booming music with a light show on the stone walls. We made another bar stop which I have to admit I barely recall, before meeting up with our male travel companions at an American-style bar, “Harley’s”. The clichéd motorcycle theme did not stop us, and we partied as the Czechs do, until
the break of dawn.
With only a few hours to sleep, the next morning we would board our 3 hour train ride into Berlin, Germany… and continue the battle of the sexes.
(For Prague photos page click here)
When the study abroad program offered a free trip to Bath, England, I jumped at the chance. Located in Somerset (in the south west of England), I boarded the comfy bus and
enjoyed an eventful Saturday outside of the city. I paired up with pals Megan, Kailee, Tory, and Kiersten for a day of exploration and shopping. The charming town of Bath is
complete with gorgeous architecture, a deep history from centuries past, and a bustling village to top it off.
The Roman Baths were our first stop, following a “tour” with embarrassingly aged telephones we dutifully pressed up to our ears trying to interpret the muffled facts. I gave up and braved the Baths sans-tour, making up my own history as I went. The Baths were built as a public spa complete with cold, hot, and bubbling pools for the Romans in 60-70AD. The dilapidated buildings were reconstructed in the 12th century, but the blue-green water from the bubbling hot pool remains. Tourists can walk the entire building and explore the history – though no one is allowed to swim. Too bad… the moldy bacteria-filled water was really calling my name.
Feeling a bit silly and immature, our foursome prematurely left the Baths themselves to explore what the city had to offer. We
discovered none other than: food. Handmade fudge, taffy apples, and scoops of gelato filled our eager bellies until we felt sick. We walked the cobblestone streets aligned with unique shops, and came across the gorgeous waterfront to
gaze at the Royal Crescent, a half-moon of houses at the edge of the lake which was built in 1767. Our day in Bath was one we made our own, turning away from the tourist track and enjoying the small pleasures of the memorable town.
The next day I joined friends Xanthy, Blake, Pierson, Will, and Brock in braving the phenomenon that is European football, (a.k.a. soccer). The rain and cold did not stop a single crazy fan – so nor it would not stop us. We joined right in at the Putney Stadium, playing the part by screaming obnoxiously at the rival teams below us, fighting for victory. The killer truth is beers are no longer allowed back to the bleachers, (which came as no shock after observing the fans’ fanatical behavior sober), so Xanthy and I chugged a few at half-time. The football match was certainly something to experience; the sport is something that defines European culture – and the fans’ passion for their teams proved just that. I could no longer tell you who won the game or what the scoreboard read, but seeing the professional battle first-hand was
something I won’t soon forget.
That Thursday night was notable as group of about twenty of us ventured to a new club called Ruby Blue in the city to celebrate my roomie Natalie’s birthday. We rented out some tables and danced the night away…turning the sleek British club into an American funhouse.
Another memorable night in London was a visit to the
hot club, ChinaWhite. Though these pricey venues are not a place I frequent, it is something to see – especially when an A-list (at the time) American celeb is a patron that night. A group of us dressed our best, (a friend got us on the snooty list), and made our way to the exclusive club. I sipped vodka rocks to stay in-budget, asking the bartender to fill the glass as much as he could…
Later came the main event: Lindsay Lohan. I know, who cares. But at the time she was much more reputable, and being a fan of the flick Mean Girls, I was pretty pumped. The most fun part was getting caught outside when she happened to be arriving. Oh, the paparazzi!! Literally 50 or more husky men toting massive cameras and running up and down the street with news of the celeb’s arrival was a play in itself. Naturally I joined them when Lindsays’ sleek black SUV dropped her off in front. So there we were: fifty paparazzi and me in heels. Obviously I was trampled a bit – and I mentally vetoed paparazzi as
a potential occupation. The rest of the night was spent in the VIP section (can’t remember how I snuck in) stalking Lohan and ultimately getting a spot-on photo, and scoring free bottle service. Good times…
The next weekend it was off to the Czech Republic and Germany!
Whether or not we like to admit it, the cliché is true… Paris has an unmatchable sense of romance and magic. From struggling opportunistic artists to age-old traditions, this city has the whole package. Home to the work of greats like Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Leonardo da Vinci, it is no wonder this place continues to inspire. People travel from around the globe seeking the mark these icons have left in the heart of Paris forever. Personally, I wasted no time jumping right into the clichés: Eating street-stall biscotti and croissants for breakfast? Check. Walking aimlessly admiring the flamboyant edifices? Check. Sipping wine atop MonteMarte and Moulin Rouge? Check. Gazing at the nighttime spectacle of lights on the Eiffel Tower? Check. My time spent was short, sweet, and most importantly, solo.
With the hope of staying on my own time, in my own way, spending a reflective weekend somewhere in a pensive state, I thought Paris was the perfect choice. Having been there once before, (at the shallow age of 16), I would return not just to be blown away by the landmarks, rather to indulge in the wonders of the city I had before been too preoccupied to notice. So I braved the journey solo, exposed myself to the challenge ahead, and sought out true adventure… just me and Paris!
I arrived from my bus-train-plane commute and stepped outside to see a street lined with adorable cafes boasting outdoor seating and potted flower arrangements. Famished, I sat at the first affordable one I saw and struggled to order amidst the French lingo. After re-fueling, I headed to the Metro confident I could spend the whole time in Paris without needing to fork over any extra Euros for a cab. Yes, I got a little lost, but eventually found my way over to my hotel’s neighborhood. Unknowingly, I seemed to have chosen the worst area of the city for my stay – at a shady establishment calling itself a hotel but looking more like a run-down piece of crap. Vowing to look at more photos and reviews next time before booking my accommodation online, I dressed the part as a French twenty-something and left for the Arc de Triomphe – a speedy introduction into Paris culture.
Feeling adventurous and free, I anxiously went straight to the famous Champs-Élysées, a street rich with high end fashion and unaffordable luxuries. I walked the fabulous strip until I approached a quaint pub calling my name. Yes, I ordered French fries – and a burger which turned out to be a hamburger lacking a bun but gaining an over-easy egg. I made friends with a Texan couple who had a daughter my age, and after a free shot from the friendly bartender, we journeyed across the street to the famed Arc de Triomphe. The Arc honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Lit up at night, it is a commanding sight to see. After snapping some photos and walking underneath the Arc, I bid adieu to my Texas pals and apprehensively made my way back to the dodgy part of town. Blocking my door with a chair, I watched some French shows on the tube and fell into a slumber.
The next morning I made my way to the St. Michel fountain which I grew to love, munching on freshly baked croissants from the cheap street stall and watching eclectic tourists admire its beauty. I met up with a free walking tour of the entire city which would occupy me the next 6 hours. Our worldly group of fifteen walked the city on foot, taking in the sites and learning the deep history of all the important stops. We also walked the beautiful Seine River, found the first outdoor café in Paris, and the most expensive street in all of Europe. I love these free tours, and scout them out at every European city I visit! I learned so much I would have otherwise never known, and noticed places that the general population of tourists tend to neglect.
At the end of the tour I decided to return to the Louvre at nighttime and wander the halls a bit. I went straight for the Michelangelo statues and the famed Mona Lisa. Seeing the Da Vinci piece a second time did not change my opinion… what is all the fuss about? The thing is so small and dark, and the tourists crowd like cattle trying to snap a picture without getting the unavoidable glare off the massive glass box it sits in. Personally, I am much more impressed with some of the other pieces in the packed museum. After my feet were screaming at me from all the walking, a got dinner at a fancy Parisian lounge, of course ordering the cheapest thing on the menu. Next I decided to take a nighttime stroll, and found myself following music into a tiny street packed with people. Bars, nightclubs, ice cream shops, street stalls, and clothes shops lined the alleyway which came alive at night. I feasted on a street-stall Nutella crepe and a cup of gelato as a nightcap before making my way to the metro.
I decided I wasn’t tired enough to return to my lonely hotel room, so I jumped on the metro headed to see the lightshow at the Eiffel Tower. I made it just in time, and stood under the insane monument taking it all in. When I walked to the other side, a glimpse of light caught my eye. The blue lights (on the Tower that month to represent the European Union) were suddenly joined by hundreds of huge white bulbs, glittering sporadically into a mesmerizing routine. The gorgeous lightshow lasted about 5 minutes, and I was able to successfully get some nice photos. Sad to leave the Tower, I got back to the train station around midnight, and it was not without a scary detour in a desolate station that I finally got safely back to my room.
The next day I woke up to some rain, but that didn’t stop me. I had so much left to do! I began my day with another 1 Euro croissant at the St. Michel fountain, and walked to the timeless cathedral, Notre Dame. As I walked through the tall wooden doors, I immediately felt humbled by its presence. The architecture is amazing, and the ceiling looks like it could touch the sky. I spent almost two hours inside, exploring every nook of the building in awe. I lit a candle for good faith, and stepped outside to a now-sunny afternoon, deciding it would be a good time to return to the Louvre. (Yes, I went there four times… but how often does one get to be in such a monumental place?) I conducted a self-made photo shoot outside and explored some more, before walking the Place de la Concorde and touring the military building Invalides. I ate some quick fast food to stay in budget, and made my way to the infamous Moulin Rouge for the night.
Home to can-can dancing and topless shows, Moulin Rouge is an iconic scene. The giant windmill and bright lights bring character to this part of town, and as I was too cheap to buy a show ticket, I sipped wine outside and did some serious people-watching. A little while later I joined a walking tour of MonteMarte, the mountain atop Paris full of history and art. The nighttime tour was so fun – we walked through the art fairs, saw Van Gogh’s original home, the gorgeous cathedral at the top of the mountain, and the Lapin Agile where Picasso was first recognized. It was hard to picture him here where he used to paint in the café and sell his art for food. The views at the top of MonteMarte are amazing – seeing all of Paris dressed in lights, the Eiffel Tower standing tall. I celebrated with another Nutella crepe, toured some risqué sex shops, and bought some authentic street art at one of the many stands.
My last day in Paris, I just HAD to climb the Eiffel Tower. Call it ugly or beautiful, this is one of the most recognizable and iconic monuments in the world. I waited in a long line and paid just 3 Euro to be allowed inside. Climbing the tower was magnificent! There are three levels to conquer, and the views get better and better as you make your way up. I saw several families and older people quit, but I was determined to get to the top. Over 650 stairs later, I made it! I loved taking in the city from all sides, and trying to conceptualize where I was in the world in that moment… I mean, come on, on top of the actual Eiffel Tower? WOW.
It was a beautiful way to end my trip. I had a few hours to kill so I window shopped and went back to the Arc de Triomphe before heading to the airport to catch my flight back to London. I absolutely loved this trip and did not feel lonely at all. I find travelling alone is a great way to get to know a place on your own terms, and reflect on how it makes you feel. Paris made me feel independent and free, with the whole world ahead of me. Bonjour, Paris… I hope to meet again.
It was Cat and I who dared to leave the rest and venture to the unknown, a place I knew almost nothing about… Scotland. We took advantage of neither of us having class on Thursday so left Wednesday night. Just a quick flight and a couple of buses later, we checked in to our dorm room at the Argyle Backpackers hostel in a dark street of Edinburgh. We scouted out an adorable Italian restaurant where the setting wasn’t much to see but the food spoke for itself. I immediately realized I loved the Scottish accent as we befriended the owners and friends. We sipped wine at a local bar and sang acapella in the streets.
Thursday we strapped on our walking boots for a long day of sightseeing ahead. The first stop was none other than Elephant Castle – the café where J.K. Rowling actually sat and wrote the Harry Potter series! Sipping coffee and munching on a cookie, we stared out the café’s floor-to-ceiling windows of the gloomy city and impressive castles and steeples dotting the sky. It was easy to imagine Rowling’s inspiration with such a view, and picture her writing the now-famous books on napkins at her squeaky wooden table. I should stop here by noting that Edinburgh is the birthplace of the Harry Potter series and J.K. Rowling herself. It is no wonder because the picture painted in Harry Potter mirrors Edinburgh exactly. The commanding dark castles, gloomy skies, winding cobblestone streets, tiny shops, dark clothing, graveyards, and overall feel of Edinburgh match what is depicted in Harry Potter perfectly. Being a huge fan of the books myself, this was truly exciting to see.
After Cat dragged me out of Elephant Castle, it was time to meet up with strangers from many countries on a free walking tour of the city which would occupy us the next 4 hours. That’s right, it’s FREE! Our quirky guide Kathy walked us through the streets, monuments, and graveyards with ease, reciting intricate details of the history of every aspect of the city each step of the way. It was the most interesting tour I have ever been on - the history of Edinburgh is rich with stories of ghosts, poltergeists, bloody torcher, death, and haunted places. Some notable sites were the Royal Mile (the main street dotted with shops and centuries-old castles), St. Giles Church (standing tall above the city with threatening Gothic black steeples) Grey Friar’s Graveyard (a cemetery which was further inspiration for Harry Potter.. there are actually gravestones there with the names McGonogall and Tom Riddle), Covenantor’s Prison (with a deep history of torcher and dictatorship), Gass Market, and William Scott’s monument. My favorite story was that of Bobby the dog who sat at his former owner’s grave for 14 years straight inside of Grey Friar’s Graveyard. He would sit, find food, and return for the night – passerbys watched this in awe as it went on for 14 years until the dog’s death, when they buried the loyal canine next to his owner. Now there is a bar dedicated to Bobby where Cat and I of course had to drink… Cheers! My favorite of all the stops was definitely Edinburgh Castle. It is a massive old castle which is built into the edge of a rocky cliff, overlooking the city like something out of an evil storybook. It is said to have been the inspiration for Hogwarts, and is definitely comparable – (though neater being it actually exists).
That night we tested out the cuisine of Scotland at a traditional restaurant in the city. I braved the menu and ordered the Scottish-born famous dish, Haggis. Haggis is basically a pig’s bladder stuffed with the heart, rib-meat, and guts – cooked to resemble a meatloaf. I had to try it being it is really only served in Scotland! It was surprisingly pretty good and I proudly ate over half of it until stopping for fear of a stomach-ache the next day. We also tasted several types of Scotch from the over-powering menu of dozens of options – sipping it with drops of water as they do, (and steering clear of the frowned-up American way of drinking it… by pounding shots). The taste is actually quite delicious when properly sipped. After finishing our scotch, we decided to explore the nightlife a bit. The second we stepped into the Gothic castle-turned bar complete with booming techno music and green strobe lights, we felt a bit out of place and under-dressed. The crowd seemed to be made up of highschoolers dressed in skimpy skirts and platform heels. We left after a drink and found a much more suitable wine bar at which to chat the night away.
Once we felt just buzzed enough, we met up with our guided Graveyard Tour we had planned earlier in the day. We would venture in complete darkness through the many graveyards and tombs of the city, re-visiting GreyFriar’s which looked completely different at night. I must say, I don’t know if it was our mindset freaking ourselves out, or the spirit of Edinburgh in general, but we were like 14-year old girls screaming and holding on to each other for dear life. At one point, we were forced into a closed cement tomb in the pitch black, basically waiting for some Poltergeist to kill us. It was quite the experience, and we were relieved when it was over.
Rise and shine! The alarm went off at 5am – and off we were! ...this time to leave the dark city and explore some nature in the Scottish Highlands. For the next 14 hours – (yes, 14) – we would drive farther and farther out into the gorgeous highlands Scotland has to offer. We boarded a mini-bus with comfy seats, (each scoring window seats), met some fellow travelers from around the globe, and strapped in for the journey with our charismatic guide leading the way. His deep accent and hilarious jokes made the ride that much more enjoyable – in between educating us on the areas we passed, we listened to traditional Scottish bagpipes song after song. As we drove on down empty roads, I marveled at the ever-changing landscape outside. I literally stared out the window the entire time, gasping at the new colors, streams, waterfalls, and mountains down the winding roads. Cat, on the other hand, (the one who was hell-bent on experiencing the Highlands), snoozed… pretty much the whole time. I wasn’t sure if she took some illegal Scottish sleeping pill, but every time I turned around in my seat to see if her jaw was dropping as much as mine because of the amazing scene we just passed, there she was – sleeping like a baby. Fail. The 14 hour ride made stops along the way for lunch, cappuccinos, and many lookout points. At one point we stopped to explore a bubbling creek and waterfall, only to be pushed back into the cozy mini-bus by a short rainstorm.
After about 8 hours of driving, we had made it to our destination – the famous town and lake of Lochness. That’s right, we were prepared to scout out “Nessie”, the underwater legend, and snap a photo to show off to friends back home. Well, after roaming the tiny town and enjoying the views of the serene lake, we failed to find the Lochness monster. Bummer.
The drive continued as we looped through new roads heading back to Edinburgh, and were rewarded with more beauty to look at. We drove on but not without a stop at a Whiskey Mill. We tasted about a dozen different kinds of whiskey, becoming quite the connoisseurs, and bought a couple of bottles. It was interesting to see a whiskey mill in comparison to a wine- tasting. I think we were both a bit drunk after our tastings.
After a final night in Edinburgh, we were sad to leave this unique place. I could not be happier with this trip. The freedom to explore, the knowledge gained, the culture-rich city, and the breath-taking highlands made this place one of my favorites. I will always remember a moment of complete serenity while driving through the fall-colored trees and snow-topped mountains of the countryside, listening to bagpipes on the speakers, feeling a tear of happiness stream down my cheek.