The perks that come with this study programme overwhelms me to this day. For one, I have always just dreamed of setting foot in Europe… I knew I had to work my ass off and practically live the hermit life to afford a roundtrip ticket, not to mention that taking even two weeks off from work was unthinkable. Out of the generosity of the European Commission and its belief in the power of travel in changing lives, I find myself just a few hours and tens of pounds away from what good this side of the world can offer.
But somehow, Scotland puts off people. While the fact that it is outrageously pretty is uncontested (Bond movies and that chick flick starring Patrick Dempsey bring solid evidence to this claim, I should say), it also has a reputation for being hostile to the pocket. Nevertheless it seduced me well enough, making the idea of spending a couple hundred pounds seem trivial. Being a Tolkien fan myself – geeking over the Elven language and middle-earth once upon a time – I find a Scottish adventure almost like living a page in The Hobbit. I could swear, notwithstanding sufficient Google evidence, that Tolkien’s works were inspired by the Celtic and Gaelic culture. I JUST HAD TO GO THERE. Having realised we could actually travel together for days without bloodshed, Johan and I decided to follow up our Wales trip by embarking on yet another adventure going further up north aboard the best thing that ever happened to cheapskates. If Megabus can reach it, there’s no excuse not to go. By this time, I also got the hang of 8-hour bus rides. Anyway, nobody ever died of a sore butt.
14-16 March 2014
We booked beds in the Princes Street Backpackers Hostel right smack in the city centre. Apart from five flights of stairs that one has to tackle to get to the rooms, For 11 quid a night no one’s complaining. We settled in nicely and went out to grab some breakfast at Snax Cafe. Places like this just highlight how friggin expensive London is. For just 3.95, one can have a hearty meal of buttered bread, beans, bacon, sausages, hash brown, black pudding, and a happy sunny side up. We were more than happy to load on carbs, knowing that in a few days we’ll burn them up on our little trek up the Highlands.
Princes Street Backpackers
We were just trying to get over how great that breakfast was but no one barely has a chance with Edinburgh’s charm. Right around the curb from Snax Cafe to Princes Street, we were greeted by pointy spirals in the horizon lending their gothic charm, some solid architecture that perfectly adorn the hilly landscape, and a soft Scottish sunlight that made everything sparkle gold. I have seen quite a handful of pretty places but the grandeur of an understated and unassuming city stunned me. Up until that moment, Edinburgh was nothing but a city. If only people could see it the way I did when I laid eyes on it that very moment, they can claim to have fallen in love at least once in their lifetime. Looking back, I didn’t take as much pictures. That’s how you live in the moment, they say. Just breathe it aaaall in.
For the love of Edinburgh, we stayed for three days exploring the city. A highlight of that leg of the trip was a climb up the Salisbury Crags, a hill that offers an astounding view of Edinburgh. We figured we could also use some practice for our upcoming trek along the longest walk in Scotland: The West Highland Way. But more about that later. Thirty minutes of enduring burning quadriceps, we reached the top to watch the sunset.
Sunset atop the Salisbury Crags
The bird’s eye view of the city also allowed us to plan our next destinations, with the National Monument of Scotland and the Edinburgh Castle dominating the cityscape. At that time, we didn’t know the monument was called that and we got around calling it “The Parthenon.” If there is one sure thing about Edinburgh, it is that you will never run out of uphill climbs. Even going up the posts to take an obligatory jumpshot was a challenge. That was one of the times I wished I had longer legs.
Neither Johan was spared. The picture below very well illustrates the struggle.
The next day, we went on to explore the regal interiors of the Edinburgh Castle. Crown jewels, prisons, ornate royal rooms, and a cold later, we caught a street performer driving a sword through his throat. To cap off the day, we went inside the St. Giles Cathedral to admire its stained glass windows and intricate architectural design. It’s a breath of fresh air to be able to go inside a church free of charge. Ehem, London.
Edinburgh Castle Grounds
16-18 March 2014
We took it easy on our third and final day in Edinburgh. After getting a quick brunch from (you guessed it) Snax Cafe, we strolled around for a bit before boarding our bus to Glasgow. There, we were supposed to meet my fellow couch surfer Emma to host us for a couple of nights. Again, the bus ride from Edinburgh to Glasgow was fast, made all the more interesting by the stunning views from the window and Johan’s amazing Spotify soundtrack that I stole later on (with permission! :D).
Our stay in Glasgow started out calm and harmless with an eat-all-you-can buffet at a nearby restaurant. Emma and her friends ate their hearts out while we watched, our heavy Edinburgh meal stopping us from getting anything but a glass of Coke. As it turns out, that night will prove to be one of the craziest in my 27 relatively uneventful years of existence. I shall come clean with a tiny fact nugget: I’ve never partied in the real sense of the word. Until that night, of course. In my little corner of the world, what we have are kiddie parties with cone hats, slumber parties with pyjamas and chips, or after-work parties with a few bottles of booze in a colleague’s sofa while the videoke player is on. Until then, the “European party” was a myth. I didn’t know there existed pre-parties to get you drunk enough to not splurge on alcohol in the bars. Several vodka toasts later on at least three different languages, I felt woozy and remembered being a tad bit more talkative. Aha! Tell-tale signs. 😀 Let’s just say that the night ended with one guy going from puking on the roadside to hugging the toilet. And him I shall thank for letting me tick off yet another thing off my bucket list: nurse a drunk person. There is something special about relaying the previous night’s events to people who barely remember what they did. (Evil smile).
Our second day in Glasgow started at around 2pm with a trip to the Necropolis. In between the mass graves, we buried last night’s memories (but not without a befitting eulogy 😉 ). As we were also feeling quite refreshed from the long sleeping hours (although partially owed to a hangover), we danced salsa on the way up the hill and learned songs in our own native languages. Johan aced Bahay Kubo while I happily hummed the Swedish Rövarnas Visa. On both nights, we went to the cinema and watched action-packed 300 and Need for Speed. On our second night, we also went to the local arcade to play bowling, air hockey, and basketball. I am not saying who beat the crap out of who, we are not here to taint anyone’s good reputation (snicker snicker).
On our third day, we boarded a train in the morning to Milngavie. This is the jump off point for the West Highland Way, a challenge we were ready to take on. Or so we thought. 😄
Gloom spells impending doom.