Tuesday, February 18, 2014


My time in venice was very short, but it packed quite a punch! I flew in around 1:30pm and took a shuttle bus to the train station, which was a five minute walk from my hostel. I went to unload my things and set back out to the city centre as to not waste a half day. I got to the station and i didnt have enough euro to buy a round trip to the centre and back and they didnt accept cards. I was actually 0.01 euro short, and the man was pretty rude and turned me away, and i stomped off. (Looking back now, i could have bought from a machine, but i wasnt sure what to get, or i could have bought just a ticket to get there. I guess i wasnt thinking completely clearly at the time.) I also could not find an atm at the station. I became frustrated and went into the mcdonalds in the station to try and get wifi to assist me on my phone. I was also a little overwhelmed because i didnt have anything set up for venice... I have lists of things for each place but no accommodations etc, which is normal for a lot of people, but not yet for me.

So im at the station sitting a little teary eyed, and i look over and see a dude to my left who i believe will speak english. But i dont ask him anything. He starts to turn around and i see I KNOW HIM. It was ryan from my scotland highland tour! I say, Ryan? He doesnt respond. So i kinda yell Ryan?!!! And he looks at me and we are both dumbstruck for a few seconds. And this guy basically saved my sanity in Venice. I told him my story and ryan actually gave me a fiver so i could get my the train! Then we kept catching up on life since scotland, and we had a beer, then we just decided to keep hanging out for the rest of the day. We did make it to venice that via boat, and ate dinner, which was good cause id become pretty delerious by then. Carnivale just started that day i believe, so we picked up a couple masks seen here: 

After walking around for a while we headed back to his hostel, which is basically like lilac resort but a winter version-- no snow but a under-construction pool and hot tubs. We joined the rest of his tour group at the bar and danced like maniacs then went to bed in chilly little shacks.

The next day i took a too expensive cab ride to my hostel to get my shit in order and headed out to the city. It actually took me so long because i went for a bite to eat, then i went back to my hostel cause i thought i left my train tickets there (i didnt, but a chance to take off my too warm clothes), then i tried to get a sim card for my phone, which ive been waiting for all trip ( yay google maps!) but when i put it in, it said sim card locked. Im pretty choked cause i definitely unlocked my phone before i left, and the sim card i used didnt work. Goodbye 40 euros! I never knew ye.

Anyways, i finally got the train to venice, walked out of the station, and my eyes were in heaven. Its crazy to see something so iconic in person! Venice looks so different in the light of day. I didnt have many plans for the city but to look around and try to find the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which is located in her home and garden where she lived for the last 30 years of her life. She amassed so many amazing works! Peggy seemed like a really cool lady as well... They had some pictures of her throughout. Very spunky. A beautiful estate too!

This is the gravesite of all her deceased pets... I liked the inscription :)

Her custom-made headboard

After the gallery i headed to Piazza San Marco, a very popular area for tourists and an entertaining area. The basilica was half covered in scaffolding for construction so it wasnt the greatest view. Since its Carnivale there were a tonne of people wearing masks and some in full costume (whom im told are paid by the city to walk and take pictures with people) so i took a break there for a while. I was ready to head back to my hostel, but it was still an intense hike back to the train station. At one point someone showered confetti over me (this made me really happy actually, and some fell out of my shirt later that night:) and at another point i helped a family get a stroller over a bridge (probably not the best city for a stroller?) I stopped for a few groceries (bad idea?) and eventually made it back in one piece to my hostel.

I spent the rest of the night planning my next stop in florence, and decided i was going to take a load off and stay until at least saturday before heading to Rome. I shared the common room with four 18 year olds from Czech Republic who were making it their mission to drink a shit tonne. I went for dinner with a couple people from my hostel and these guys were drinking, and when we got back two of them had passed out on the couches, then one of them woke up and they continued chugging bottles of wine. Then the last one woke up after about an hour and kept going. A couple of them were actually kinda funny, but maybe i was just tired. Who knows!

Some were surprised to hear i only had a day and a half in venice, but i feel it was all the time i needed to get the general sense of the city. After walking across another bridge and past another leather shop or mask shop, i had the idea. Venice is a really beautiful city, and im so glad i got to see it! If i'd stayed longer it probably would have been to sit in a cafe for a few hours and luxuriate! I cant say i get uber excited seeing church after church and museum after museum, so i dont feel like im at a loss when i skip some. I like wandering and finding what i find :)

I took off via train at 8:30 am the next morning for Florence. Ciao Venice!

Oh Florence

Florence feels like a long time ago, so im trying my best to remember exactly what happened. Here it is, more or less:

I stayed at Emerald Hostel, clean and ikea-y and located off mercant san lorenzo, which is a popular market in the city where they sell leather goods, clothes, shoes and other touristy doo-dads. Its kind of annoying to walk down this street, hearing "ciao bella" every 2 seconds from dudes trying to make a sale. The woman at the hostel didnt speak english bit we somehow communicated that afternoon. I put down my bags and went to find some lunch. There was a small cafe near my place where i had delicious lasagne and some treats (the guy at the shop gave me some extra), then i took a walk around, partly to situate myself and partly to allow the woman to clean my room. 

Once i arrived back i got some of my belongings sorted out and plotted things i wanted to see on my map. I was feeling kinda lonely all my myself so i decided to drink a large Heineken I had brought from Venice, then go out to explore. Before i was finished, i had two new roommates: Stephan and Stephan, an australian and a swede, just off an erasmus school exchange program in milan. We got aquainted and i joined them for a very large dinner -- we shared a giant steak florentine, salad, potatoes and tomato with mozzerella, wine, after dinner coffee, then gelato. Looking back i dont know how we got it all down! After dinner we walked the streets, coming upon a highschool orchestra from NYC playing in a cathedral. The last some they played was Stand By Me which was quite nice indeed!

The next day we woke up with more of a plan. We hit up the Duomo, which is incredibly large. To be honest, i was more impressed with the exterior rather than the interior! It has a light facade and is decorated like a giant white gingerbread house. Next up one Stephan and i hit up the Galleria dell-Accademia to see Michaelangelo’s David. Who knew that sculpture was so freaking big... 17 feet tall to be exact! I really just kept thinking of that recent-ish sketch on SNL about David's, ahem 'size? Didnt have the same effect on Steph. It was pretty sweet. After we met up with the other Steph and grabbed a slice, then headed to the michaelangelo piazza, which has an amazing view of the city of florence. Ita quite a hike up, but it was worth it. The weather was great, too. Swedish Steph had to leave after this to get back to milan, so we walked him to the train station to say farewell. Aussie Steph and i went wandering again and i spotted a photography museum-- the Museo Nazionale Alinari della Fotografia, with an exhibit of work by Robert Capa in Italia:

On the 70th anniversary of the landing of the Allies in Italy, this exhibition presents a selection of images taken by the Hungarian photographer Robert Capa for LIFE magazine, between July 1943 and January 1944. Capa followed the Allied troops on their advance from Palermo to Monte Cassino, photographing significant events along the way such as the surrender of Palermo and the Four Days of Naples uprising against the German forces. (www.museodiroma.it.)

It was great. I fuckin love photography exhibits.

After that, dinner and some pubs.

The next day i set off on my own to find some vintage shops i had found online. To be honest, i only found a few, and the others didnt seem to exist. The ones found were cool, but were way too pricey for me. I hit up the Uffizzi Gallery which was very impressive...a huge collection. I was feeling quite homesick that day, or perhaps homesick for the UK, because i came across a pub suddenly and spent my last 3 euroa cash for a pint. I sat with a finniah couple who were v interested in the olympic hockey game, we had a nice chat. That night Steph and i hit the town and met up with some peolle from a walkihg tour he'd done earlier. One dude we were with had actually been on a tour in ireland with a guy from my scotland highland tour... I asked his name and when he said 'Troy', i flipped! I always ask for names now, because this world is so damn small. Twas a lazy hazy night.

I never ended up going to Pisa to see the leaning tower, but Steph and I took a day trip to Modena on our last day. It was a really pretty smallish town! We actually found a coulle vintage shops but they were closed, and Steph and i had some good chats. He was an interesting fellow. Those Aussies! We found a terrific restaurant with an all you can eat buffet, which we did. So many foods, so many desserts! Yum. 

Florence was really fun--its a beautiful, walkable city. I met some interesting people and was able to relax a bit in my hostel. This trip has been a long one for me! Ive never been away from home for more than a month, so i have bouts of homesickness from time to time. I think a lot of people go on trips like these in order separate from normal life, have new experiences, meet different people, have fun, and explore (themselves), etc...the same goes for me. But Im finding that it isnt always easy for me to relax and think introspectively because im thinking of so many other things relating to my trip, like booking things and my next moves. It always used to be so easy for me to think about myself!! (Hah.) i was hoping for time and concentration in order to dig a little deeper, i suppose. This trip is definitely not what i expected...but perhaps thats the point. Maybe i wont realize the point until i return home.

Next up, Rome!

xx love you

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Szia Budapest!

I flew into Budapest in the late afternoon, having no Hungarian Forint. I knew i had to take the 200 bus to the blue metro line , but i needed tickets. I tried 3 different atms and none of them worked, and in usual form i stayed pretty calm but just got a little sweaty. I said to myself, what if no atms accept my debit card? I didnt make a back up plan! So many places here only take cash! Am i totally fucked? Well, in usual form, i asked for help, and was directed to a counter to buy my bus and metro tickets. Thanks, tourist desk! They informed me none of the atms work, which is pretty convenient if you ask me!
Getting to the hostel was pretty simple, and i was greeting my jasmina and emily who offered me all the info i needed for budapest, plus a hot beverage. I really just wanted a shower! There were only two other girls staying there, and i immediately felt relaxed and comfortable. The buildings at least a hundred years old, with a tonne of ither inhabitants. I loved it! I went for groceries, more than enough for my stay, and made about three servings of pasta and sauce with mozzerella, mushrooms and sausage, and ate it all. Watched bridesmaids with the hostel workers and had a laugh over skype. 

The next morning i awoke to a foggy rainy day, which was definitely not the best day for walking a million steep steps up Gellert Hill to the Citadell, but i did it. I could tell it was usually an amazing view through the fogginess. My hostel is very close to szanadsag hid (bridge), which i walked to get to the hill. I then walked all the way to the castle and the castle ruins where the old one once stood. It is now mostly rubble that is currently being excavated. I was pretty damp and cold by this time, so i hit up the Hungarian National Gallery which was pretty swate. Of course, i mostly enjoyed the more contemporary pieces. Nearig the end though, i was mostly thinking about how i could sneak the sandwiches i packed for lunch. Still a good old time.

I then wandered slowly to the meeting place for the free walking tour, and stopped at h&m and zara and then for coffee and choccy, a new daily ritual... The walking tour took us to castle hill district, and it was really quite fun. There was a group of cute men from the states, two out of three of which are studying in rome to be priests...they were fun :)
We ended at mattias church and  fishermans bastion, that were so amazing, and after the tour ended i went inside the church, which was absolutely stunning.

Went to a few shops on the way home including a beautiful vintage and reworked clothing shop called Restock:

And then i got totally lost (dont ask me why i didnt just follow the Danube home) and hungarian baby helped me find my way. I guess he really didnt want to work on his power point presentation due the next day... I thanked him for not stealing me and went inside. And i stayed home for the rest of the night. I was done.

Elvira and Robert picked me up Wednesday morning and Robi immediately took us on a goose chase to find a vintage shop i had listed in a message i had sent them. It sure was a nice shop, especially the wedding gowns (kinda my few fave things?), but the stuff i wanted was too pricey and i left empty handed. After that, we took the train to Tatabanya where they had left their car, and we drove immediately to a park with an giant eagle monument (whose wingspan was 7 metres across!). Robi also led us into a cave that had a pretty view over the town... It was pretty cool, and cold and rainy, so we left. We then went to Elvira and Robi's house and gad some food and egg liqueur and wine. I asked to see some pictures of elvira and my mom and auntie, and she produced a  keepsake box filled with photos my aunt has sent over the last 45 years with descriptions on the back, including some of my sisters and i! 

For those of you who dont know: when Elvira was a child, her and her family left hungary as refugees and ended up renting space in my mother's family's house in winnipeg, in around 1958, i suppose. In the 60s her father was homesick for hungary so they moved back, via boat, which elvira said took 11 days! The move back was really hard for everyone, and my aunt and elvira vowed to stay in touch. And well, its been a over 50 years since then. 

Later that night we visited elviras brother at his auto part shop, and i met him and his son. Her brother was too young to remember much from winnipeg. After this we hit up the local mall and checked out a secondhand shop, then headed home to relax. The next day we checked out the Bend of the Danube river, a picturesque view with a castle included. It looked a bit touristy but since its winter we didnt have to pay for entry or to take pictures with any of the torture devices (pictures to follow), so that was pretty sweet. After that, it was a long drive to the train station to get back to budapest.

Once we got back we visited Great Market Hall which is a building filled with stalls of food and gifts... Im kinda bummed i never got around to trying langos, a deep fried bread with your choice of toppings. Next time, i suppose.

I was dropped off at my hostel after the market, with a tonne of food elvira packed for me (what an auntie!), and they left. I changed and got ready for the day then headed out to see the shoes on the danube and the parliment building, plus and vintage shops i happened upon. It was so nice outside for a walk, so i was in high spirits! It was quite a hike to the shoes, but well worth it. There were many more shoes than i expected! 

A really beautiful memorial.

The parliment building was nearby, but it was absolutely covered in contruction... I didnt even get close. Everyone at the shoes was forced to climb up a ladder and over a short fence and across a busy street to eacape, unless you wanted to walk a ways back, so obviously we all did it. I said to myself, is this a joke? Are they laughing at us? It was pretty funny.

I wandered around and checked out the exterior of st stephens basilica again, then looked at a couple of vintage shops until it got dark. I went for doner, but it was sadly not as great as i had in berlin. Its all in the bread, i think? There was a bar next door that was reccomended on the map from my hostel, Szimpla. I bad no idea how to get in, and i followed some dudes in what looked like those long plasticy strips in the doorway, like youd see at a grocery store. This bar was insanely large and quite industrial. It felt like i was underground, and the decor was pretty wacky. It was pretty boring at that point, so i had one pint then headed back to the hostel without much trouble. There were a few more guests at that point, and i announced that we should go on a pub crawl, to which everyone agreed. We hit up a few different places and had our share of bevvies and dancing and met some nice dudes from brazil. I also met some canadians which im always excited about. From toronto, though. Lol 

The next day i very much felt like i had gone on a pub crawl the night before. Wow. I somehow got up and got ready eventually and took the metro to city park with some funky young girls from Austria. We ended up meeting australian dave right away at Heroes square, which is actually a really impressive monument! They had a skating rink nearby which looked pretty busy, and we kept on to the castle and the park area, where we saw a few interesting monuments including the egg timer. 

After that i was feeling pretty rough so i took my leave to go to the Szechenyi baths, which is i believe the largest in at least hungary. I really wanted to get a massage but it was kinda pricey for me, so i just used the baths. The ones i ised werent as hot as hottubs, but still felt pretty good. My favourite part was going outside on such a sunny day and sitting in a warm pool. The view was so beautiful and i loved the breezy feeling. (If you love averting your eyes from scantily dressed old men and couples who are making out, baths are the perfect place to go! Especially on valentines day ;) it was cool, nonetheless.

I headed back to the hostel and decided i had to have at least an hour nap before i met Petra (Elviras niece who was my penpal when we were kids). I actually felt a bit better after and my head didnt feel like it was splitting open...a plus. I met her at her work--she is the store manager of a 4 floor Zara store (aka the boss!) and we walked to a popular restaurant district to have dinner and catch up. It was so awesome to meet Petra in person after so many years. She seems like a great gal, and we had a lot to talk about. Great night!

After that i headed home to get all my stuff in order for venice the next day. I booked an accomadation and didnt really have anything else planned. I almost got charged for having two large bags getting on the plane, but i just played dumb and said oh, is this (ridiculously overstuffed) tote bag big? She asked it it was filled with cots and i said yes, so she saud to take them out and it should be fine. And thats how i avoided paying 60 euros to check my backpack! (New rule: play dumb)

Then i was off to venice!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Goodbye Glasgow and Hallo Berlin!!!

Erin left Glasgow wednesday morning, which gave me an extra day alone in the city before i flew to Berlin. I mapped out some vintage and charity shops with the help of a scottish man who lives in the hostel, and visited them all and more. I probably hit up like, 25 shops on thursday! It was pretty chilly but i was in and out of shops, so it was alright. There were a couple stores that charged a flat rate for a kilo of clothing which ive never experienced before. I found a bunch of cute skirts and dresses. I picked up a few other single items that day as well. For some reason i then walked all the way back to my hostel from the west end which took at least an hour. My dogs (and errythan else) was a-barkin, let me tell you! I really need a backpack for during the day cause my shoulders are killing me. (Im really looking forward to getting a massage at a bath in budapest :) i barely fit my new haul in my pack, and stayed at my hostel for the rest of the day and night.

It felt pretty cool to be on my own for the first time, knowing i wouldnt be meeting up with erin later. A taste of what is to come!

I flew into Berlin on Thursday, a short little flight. Isa (my pal from germany who did a year at my highschool) picked me up from the airport and was a dear and carried my pack! She also covered an all-in-one ticket for the metro, bus and tram for my while stay! so naiiice :) i had a pretty dire laundry situation, since i'd thrifted so many smelly vintage clothes in glasgow and stuffed them (somehow...) into my pack, thereby transferring a musty stink to the surrounding clothes. And since isa's machine was broken, she asked her childhood friend if we could use her machine, to which she obliged. Two loads in that tiny thing! In between we went for sushi, where i pigged out, and surprisingly didnt feel like dying after. Cray.

Later on isa and i hit up a 'song slam' which is kinda like a poetry slam but with songs, which is basically an open mic night with a prize. In this case it was two bottles of vodka and a gift certificate. For some reason, all the men sang in german and all the women in english? They were wonderful. We downed quite a few that night, even on the way home, then made a bunch of sandwiches and went to bed. What. a. night.

The next day, my boo Isa acted as my personal tour guide and took me to see a bunch of things on my Berlin list! We walked around Mitte, one of the more hip districts of the city, and saw Alexander Platz (TV tower), Unter den Linden, Brandenburger Tor (Holocaust Memorial), Reichstag, Tiergarten, Siegessäule, and ate lunch at Café am neuen. I posted a few pictures of this place... It was kind of a winter club when it was cooler out, where you could skate and play a small version of curling. Isa said its a really cool place to spend time when its all lit up at night and you have something warm to sip. I wish i couldve seen it like that! The food at the cafe was good but the service was terrible. Everyone was left waiting around for so long. We walked by the zoo then headed to a large vintage shop called Garage, where you buy by weight. That night we headed out to the club district of Simon-Dach Kiez with Isa's friend Sabrina where we visited two places,Cassiopeia and Crack Bellmer. People can smoke in these clubs which is pretty gross, cause you just reek after, but all in all it was a super fun night! The first club had different rooms for 80s, soul and rock music so i had a ball, and the second club was all old soul tunes. The clubs were basically old warehouses converted into clubs, and covered on the outside with murals and graffiti. I took tonnes of pictures when we went back another day. Going there at night was kinda intimidating, cause berliners seem to party pretty hard with no cares... Maybe its just me! After the clubs we stopped for my new love Doner, which is lamb and veges and yummy spicy sauce in delicious bread. Def had it again the next day ;) it was about 4am and we were drunk, but before we headed home we went to grab some groceries like responsible ladieeeeez.

On saturday we headed to the East Side gallery and saw Oberbaumbrücke (a.k.a. ginger bread bridge ;)), Simon-Dach Kiez in the day time, then Hackescher Markt where i bought 4 handfuls of vintage broaches (who elses hands were being used? Isa's, of course!) and a few pieces of clothing. We also hit Made in Berlin vintage, then grabbed doner to eat by the water and afterwards caught The Wolf of Wall street at the Independent cinema. This theatre was so small, and so hot, we were melting. Everyone was! Halfway through i made a decision to go pee and fill up two bottles of water, and getting out of that room was quite the feat. I swear i stepped on 10 feet and accidentally touched my bum on everyones heads. No regrets! That water saved us. We got into the rain after the 3 hour film, thank allah.

Sunday was spent with Sabrina at the Flea market Mauerpark Bernauer Strasse in Prenzlauer Berg, Arkonaplatz, Prenzlauer Berg/Mitte,Schönhauser/ Eberswalder Kiez. We had lunch at a cute little place called Glory Whole (harhar), where we shared pesto pasta and pasta with cream sauce and pumpkin. Mm! Later on, just to end off on a high note (...) we went to the Jewish Museum. There was so much info to take in and i honestly wasnt able to read everything. The building itself was built with such an interesting concept in mind, designed to make you feel kind of lost and disoriented, and uneven, for a lack of better words. There are countless lost spaces where you peer into darkness. Theres one section called the tower i believe, where you walk through a heavy door into a cold dark cement room with a sliver of a window near the room. I couldnt stay in there for long, i was too creeped out. We were so tired by now, so we headed home. We made a nice dinner (our last), drank wine, ate chips and chocolate, and watched a cute german romantic comedy. Great night.

The next day we had a few hours before heading to the airport, so we had breakfast and coffee together and went to the post office to send a giant box full of vintage to heather back home (fingers crossed it doesnt go missing...)

And then i was off to Budapest.

I had such an amazing time with Isa in her city. She showed me such a beautiful few days and was so helpful and sweet. I cant help but say our friendship is so much stronger now, and i cant wait to pay her back next time she comes to winnipeg! Isa, i will miss our breakfasts and the delicious coffee(s) you made me everyday. 

And as always, you can "do whatcha want with my body" *raise the roof*


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Glasgow and goodbye

We took the train from edinburgh to glasgow on sunday, which didnt take more than an hour. We took our things to our hostel then wandered around the city centre until we met up with erins friend gibbs. He took us to the kelvingrove museum which was pretty massive, and had an organist and choir performing that day. After that we met up with another friend sean, then went to grab a bite and ended up in a game of musical bingo. Fun!

We headed back to the hostel after another pint at a different bar called Sloans, which was established in 1797! Crazy.

The next day we set off on a hop on hop off tour (not nearly as good as the one in Dublin... It seemed like they were trying to make a big deal of things that didnt really seem to be big deals... Sorry Glasgow!). We hopped off at the riverside museum, which won an award last year. Actually pretty sweet... It was all about transportation throughout the ages and had a bunch of interactive displays. We hopped back on the bus and headed to the botanical gardens in the west end. The gardens were beautiful, and im sure they would only be more intense in the spring and summer months. We kept mainly inside to escape the cold, and after a while, ill admit it, i got sorta creeped out! The foilage was stunning of course, but i lost erin for a few minutes and i imagined getting tangled up in all the vines trying to escape. I swear, i was completely sober, y'all.

Next up we checked out a few charity, vintage and antique shops on and around byres road, which were disappointingly full of a lot of secondhand clothes from topshop, river island and oasis. Pretty much the equivalent of our value villages being chock full of Joe fresh and forever 21. Blegh. Hoping for more luck in the future.

Afterwards we stopped in at a quirky restaurant that gibbs recommended to us, that looked like it housed an old library or something: 

It was delicious, and yes, thats a seahorse wearing a tophat. "The gentleman!"

Later that night we grabbed some italian food then headed (next door) to The Scotia bar which has been open since 1792. We had some local Tennants lager and headed back to the hostel.

On tuesday (otherwise known as erins last day) we made a plan. First up the museum of modern art, which was nice but didnt have anything on Edinburghs. Truth. After that it was on to the Necropolis, a giant cemetary on the east side of the city. Breathtaking and very very large. After that was the Glasgow cathedral, also substantial and currently under refurbishment. Also very dark and creepy but insanely beautiful. We checked out the St Mungos museum (patron saint of glasgow) which focused on religious history of the city. 

We then headed back to city centre where we climbed (and elevatored) up to the lighthouse for a pretty nice view of the city. We stopped for a bite, during which it began to rain, and after which we got into the warm and dry shopping centre. Im pretty sure my H & M count is up to 4? In three weeks. ;)

Erin and i are planning on seeing a film tonight, entitled Inside Ilewyn Davis (and eating choccy and chips). Cant wait. Tomorrow im on my own, so i think ill be hitting up some vintage shops ive missed so far. Then off to Berlin to stay with my beautiful friend Isa!

I think my posts are quite boring when im just listing things im doing, but its all i can do at the moment. I feel sorta rushed to get everything out, and the wifi is pretty shitty here. Hopefully continuing on i can explain things better, and in more interesting ways. Hope y'all are enjoying it anyways?

Love Rach

Edinburgh and The Highlands

Edinburgh, o my heart. What a whirlwind.

Erin and i had a couple days in Edinburgh  before leaving for our Scottish Highlands tour, and we were able to do a bit of sightseeing...in the rain. The walking tour was pretty miserable, as i was shivering-stage freezing. It was amazing to see all the inspirations behind harry potter, around town! Rowling took a bunch of names from a cemetary and we saw the castle school that Hogwarts was based on. Weird! 

That night we headed underground for a ghost tour, which was pretty scary, dark and damp, and ended up with us being startled by a masked man jumping out at us and me twisting my knee on the wet stone floor.

I was able to visit a great vintage shop called W Armstrongs where i found trousers, a dress and a few skirts for a decent price.

Early on the 27th we set off on our highlands tour. I really didnt know what to expect for this tour... Everyone was pretty sleepy at first, getting their bearings perhaps. All i can say is: this was not the case at the end! We found that the bus was entirely aussies except for erin, me and our tour guide, so obviously we laughed basically the entire tour. Bless em! :)

Heres a general itinerary of the tour, which got switched around and added to quite a bit:

Day 1: Edinburgh to Oban
Heading north from Edinburgh, we take in views of Stirling Castle the Wallace Monument and hear tales of the real Braveheart. We enter Rob Roy country where the landscape changes from the Lowlands to the Highlands before passing along Loch Awe and by Kilchurn Castle, set in some of Scotland's most iconic scenery. Oban for the night (the 'Gateway to the Isles') with spectacular views over to the Isle of Mull. Tonight is your chance of a proper Highland Fling with some traditional dancing at a ceilidh!

Day 2: Oban to Isle of Skye
First stop today is the beautiful but eerie Glencoe, setting of the infamous 1692 massacre. Then it's onto the Glenfinnan monument where Bonnie Prince Charlie began his claim for the throne of Scotland. There is also the spectacular viaduct that featured in the Harry Potter film. This afternoon we get the chance to visit a local whisky distillery in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain. After a drop of the 'water of life' we make our way west to the coast and a stop at the magnificent Eilean Donan Castle perched on the shoreline and overlooking the sea. Then it's over the bridge to the Isle of to the stunning Isle of Skye.

Day 3: Isle of Skye
Today we explore the 'winged isle' or 'Isle of Mist' with its ruined castles, awesome scenery and home to the legendary MacLeod and MacDonald Clans. Immersed in Celtic myths and Viking legends, hear tales abound with faeries and fights, we explore the windswept landscape and brooding Red and Black Cuillin Mountain ranges. There is also the chance for a hike through this stunning environment before we return to the mainland past the beautiful Eilean Donan Castle and on to Fort Augustus on the shore of Loch Ness.

Day 4: Loch Ness and the Highlands
Today is a stunning drive through the north west Highlands which is some of the most remote and most isolated mountain terrain in Europe. There will be the chance to take a walk through some of this amazing environment led the way by your fearless local guide who will ensure we make it back to civilisation... Through the remnants of ancient Caledonian Pine Forest, our journey takes us through Drumnadrochit and along Loch Ness. We see the ruins of Urquhart Castle before arriving back at Fort Augustus for a party night to remember.

Day 5: Loch Ness to Edinburgh
We hear tales about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the tragedy of his defeat on the eerie moor of lonely Culloden Battlefield, scene of the last major battle in Britain. Then past the mountains of the Cairngorms National Park and through Perthshire, surrounded by mountains, forests and salmon packed rivers. There's time to take in Dunkeld, heart of Macbeth country and its mighty cathedral and pass the famous Forth Bridge before arriving back in Edinburgh

Our tour was guided by a lovely man named alan, who is a hilarious, musical fellow and a passionate and dedicated Scotsman. We rode around to a soundtrack of "the greatest hits of the last 30 years" which made for awesome bus dance parties and sing alongs. Alan has also worked as a studio musicial, and his knowledge of music reminded me a lot of my pop, so i was in my zone. And probably annoyed at least half the people on the bus OH WELL.

Other fun things: an amazing dance party after a whiskey tasting at our hostel, put on by a cool dude named Stevie, traversing forests and cliffs, exploring castle ruins, and more generally, my barin failing to comprehens all the amazing sights we were seeing! Truly, it was an amazing ride. Bless you, alan!

Back in edinburgh on friday night, erin and i ditched our prebooked hostel for a more central location, then met up with the haggis crew again for drinks and dinner. Couldnt get enough, i suppose :)

On our last day in edinburgh erin and i checked out edinburgh castle and some spots on the royal mile , then separated so she could check out the national gallery and i could see the modern art museum with my pal sam. My fave part of the museum were the neon sign installations out front... Amazing. We gor some food at the museum then headed back to erin to wander over to the palace and arthurs seat. By this time things were closing up so erin took her leave, and the forboding rain only got us part way up to arthurs seat. We gave up and got pizza, and a bar man gave us free cake. Not a total bust, despite being soaked through with rain.

We were off the Glasgow by train the next day! Goodbye Edinburgh, you were swell :)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Derry and Belfast

The most prominent memory i have of Derry has to be learning about "the troubles. I had only a very vague idea of what went down (ie that the song sunday bloody sunday was based on true events), so visiting the museum in the bogside really changed things. When we first reached derry i immediately felt a heaviness. Perhaps it was the area of town or the weather--but things felt gloomy. Erin and i started walking, hitting a cathedral, the hands of the divide, and the bogside murals (and subsequently there, the free derry museum). There were many artifacts of the day, letters, photographs, clothing items, protest banners, audio, and much more. It was truly shocking to me to realize how recently the civil unrest occured--so many people, including a bunch of young people, were being murdered in derry and belfast left and right. How scary would that be? This museum definitely left a mark.

Erin and i grabbed lunch afterwards and while doing so, caught up on some cnn coverage of other social injustices going on around the globe. How topical our visit was...

Derry was cold and dark in early evening (including our hostel dorm room) so that night we went to a movie theatre to see american hustle, and having arrived 2 hours early, we befriended the theatre employee dan and asked him about the tracksuit epidemic in ireland. It was a pretty good night.

On our way to belfast we hit Giant’s Causeway, which is quite the developed tourist destination. There were a tonne of interactive displays (mostly aimed at kids) that we perused while waiting for our tour guide--the love of our li ves, john. I didnt really get as much out of the tour as i wished.. The winds were going at what felt like 70 clicks an hour, and it hailed a little during our tour. It was pretty magnificent.. Not only the hexagonal basalt columns, but the gigantic mountains all around the coast. Insane!

After that we were off to belfast. Navigating at rush hour was stressful for sure, so we were quite relieved to find lagan backpackers hostel. We checked in and unpacked and drove right down to the airport to drop off little baby. We just took a taxi back (which developed into a definite theme of our days there) and had a hoot of a driver who cracked us up the whole drive. Goodness gracious, belfast.

The other hostel guests and employees quickly got on with us, which felt so nice. The crew was so friendly and full of good cheer. We went to the grocery for some drinks of the alcoholic variety, and lets just say, the wine was flowin'. (Practicing for italy, spain and life.) we hit a pretty popular pub with a silly name possibly ending in McGees and had a rip roarin time.

The next morning, oh, the next morning, erin and i had our own walking tour, where we checked out the titanic quarter, including the titanic belfast museum. Go here only if you have about 5 hours, cause thats basically how long we were there. Hah. this museum is so in-depth, interactive and modern. Tonnes of cool multimedia exhibits to look through. Highly recommed it!

It was quite the rainy day, so erin and i made our way victoria square, which is a partially outdoor mall. It was kinda trippy cause it was weird feeling you may get rained on at any minute? Picked up a few things and headed back to the hostel to throw our bags down and shower. We were meeting erins friend catherine (friend made through a school exchange program) and her bud john for dinner at a nice place called The Apartment for dinner across from the city hall which lights up blue at night. Beautiful! We spent too much money, but it was SO GOOD. Afterwards we hit up a multi-level bar until late. My fave part was dancing to the smiths on the ground level. Fun timez!

On our last day erin and i hooked up with a hostelmate named eric to take a black taxi tour to see the west belfast murals. We got a tourguide named joe who was recommended to us, and he was amazing. A former political prisoner, he was so informative, friendly and passionate. That along with seeing tonnes of street art was really cool. Joe dropped us off at the ulstra museum which documented a lot of scottish history as well as general scientific, geological and industrial developments throughout the ages. Very well designed and laid out... Really enjoyed myself!

After that we were off to the airport for our flight to edinburgh, where we flew with about 20 rowdy drunk football fans off to a game. Funniest flight ever.

Stay tuned for edinburgh!