A Travellerspoint blog

One Leprechaun's Quest for Gold

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Ireland Gallery

I figured I was born about the right size for a Leprechaun, so I might as well see if that carries through to worldly riches. As it turned out, the only gold I saw was the sight of it regularly leaving my palm - Ireland is EXPENSIVE. More expensive even than London, if you can believe it!

Still, you don't travel to save money - it's all about the experience, and it was with that thought in mind that I attempted to find my hostel in Dublin at about 2am, wandering through the near-deserted streets. Despite (or perhaps because of) the occasional happy and helpful drunk, I found my hostel and collapsed into bed, not waking until about 11am the next morning.

Such a late rising didn't happen again for the rest of my stay, irrespective of when I went to bed. The reason? The hotel serve an *awesome* Full Irish Breakfast every morning until 10am, completely "free". Brilliant! So after a day of getting my bearings, I was up early the next morning for a hearty breakfast and some sightseeing - I had the day all mapped out. Or so I thought - idle conversation with a French guy at the coffee machine (naturally) was to segue into a fearsomely contested game of chess.

The battle was bloody, but I persisted with the patience of a masterful tactician, preparing for my ultimate victory with the misdirection of a stage magician and near-Napoleonic strategy...until I lost, that is. Check-mate! But we'd become mates in the process, so what better way to draw focus away from my heart-wrenching loss than to head to the Guinness Factory for a pint?

By that time the day had cleared, which seems immaterial for a largely indoor tour of a brewery, until you realise that the top floor enabled you to savour the best views in Dublin along with a complimentary pint. It made the rather breathless accounts of the brewing process on the preceding floors utterly worth it.

After a few days of checking out the city, it was time to venture into the countryside and see The Real Ireland. You know - the rolling hills, shamrocks everywhere, and pots of gold begging to be found. Naively, I chose the longest day-trip on offer - venturing through Northern Ireland to the very tip of the northern coast to visit the geographical enigma that is Giant's Causeway. Ok, well it may not have been such an enigma if I'd read the signs in the information centre instead of rushing down to the cliffs to take some photos. 

Because I have to be honest here, I primarily took the day trip to get some smashing photos of the amazing lines, shapes and shadows created by the rock formations of Giants Causeway in the morning sun. You know - show off as an amateur photographer. You can see the results in the photo gallery, but I have to admit they aren't great. I could blame myself, but I choose instead to redirect the blame to the (other) busloads of tourists and school excursions crawling around and ruining my photos. Perhaps next time I should blow the remainder of my holiday budget on a private tour - surely that's a good use of my money? Of course it is.

Next stop on the tour was the town of Derry, the site of some of the worst oppression of the Irish by British forces in history, the boiling point of which was the infamous "Battle of the Bogside" and Bloody Sunday, immortalised by U2 (I promise that's the last time I'll ever mention them!). We were shown around Derry by a guide was was actually present as an eleven year-old boy at The Battle, and he led us through the (still!) walled-off areas of Derry (to separate the Monarchists and Nationalists) and the hauntingly beautiful murals that commemorate the struggle of those in Northern Ireland and the many that unfairly lost their lives. A very moving place.

I probably should have paid more attention to the scenery outside the coach on the way back, especially as we passed through Belfast, another active area during The Troubles of the 60's and 70's. It's just that I was so damned tired after getting up at 4:30am! Up until taking this tour, I'd assumed the hour between four and five to be largely fictional, created by clockmakers so their timepieces to look pretty. Never again!

The rest of the week was spent checking out the various museums, galleries, bars and clubs of Dublin. I'd intended on getting to the south-west coast which is apparently absolutely stunning, but I just met so many new and interesting people at the hostel that I couldn't resist the opportunity to enjoy the company of others instead. I made some firm friends during my stay, and teed up a few far-flung couches as well! 

Next up, the daunting yet exciting prospect of exploring Spain! It'll be fun to meet up with my housemates Alan and Mick, but from then on, it's all about unintentionally murdering the Spanish language, and trying not to get mugged. Wish me luck!

Posted by scy 08:43 Archived in Ireland Comments (1)

Scottish Shennanigans

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Edinburgh Gallery

Scottish Highlands Gallery

Isle of Skye Gallery

Alrigh'!

That's pretty much the scottish equivalent of G'day. Yup, I've picked up quite a few words and perhaps even infinitesimally improved my scottish accent, which was really the whole purpose of my travelling here! I've had countless other essential cultural experiences too - I've ticked off the two essential (and most feared) menu items - Haggis and Black Pudding. For the record, I was treated to Haggis in a whisky sauce (it just tastes like a spicy mince pattie) and I braved the Black Pudding in "on a roll" form. It just tastes like an even more flavoursome mince pattie. For potential travellers, the secret is not to ask the burning question of "What's In it?" and just eat the damn dish. Who knows, you might just like it.

I arrived in Edinburgh for my first rag-tag experience of hostel accommodation. Or so I thought. What I got instead was an immaculately clean room with friendly, interesting roommates, a cosy common room, and most importantly - free freshly ground plunger coffee. So perhaps I still haven't had the genuine hostel experience - we'll see what happens in Dublin!

The plan was to stay in Edinburgh for a week, but after nary a day, I'd already explored Edinburgh central and been on a ghost tour - I had the nagging feeling that I'd overbooked my stay. The problem was soon solved though as I chanced upon a coach tour flyer while strolling The Royal Mile, and on a whim decided to book myself into a tour of the Scottish Highlands. I cancelled the rest of my accommodation and rose at 6am to board the coach the next day, albeit a little blurry-eyed after a night out in Grassmarket. It sure helps to have someone show you where to go - props to Lloyd Valentine (yes, Megan's son) for pointing me in the right direction - both for my hostel accommodation and the best pubs in town :)

In the preceding paragraph I said "coach". I'd be considerably more accurate if I said "van". It turns out that by making a snap decision to go on the tour I became the fifth member of our little traveling party and the saviour of the tour, as it would have been cancelled otherwise! Nice. It also meant I had a very small party with whom to explore The Highlands, and as it turned out, people with whom I became good friends. The best part about having such a small vehicle is that we were able to take detours down the small, winding roads that are plentiful in Scotland and get off the beaten track a little. Needless to say, it meant we arrived at each of our daily destinations much later than expected, but no-one was complaining about a little "added value".

We visited Sterling, site of the infamous Battle for Sterling Bridge and immortalised in the movie that defines Mel Gibson's career - Braveheart. Will, our tour guide, took great pleasure in dismissing various historically incorrect aspects of the film, and it made for interesting listening. For instance, did you know that "Braveheart" actually refers to Robert The Bruce, portrayed in the film as a somewhat evil character, but who is in fact the man responsible for defeating the English and regaining Scotland's independence! I just thought it was an interesting Hollywood inflection.

We continued north-west past Fort William and Eilean Donan Castle, and arrived at the Isle of Skye by nightfall, to stay in Kyleakin, a tiny village on the coast. That was one of the best parts of the tour, actually - the operators made a point of supporting local hotels, pubs and cafes - no Burger King on this tour.

With much trepidation, the next morning I peeked through the curtains to check out the weather for day two of the tour. Miraculously, the day was perfectly clear and the winds were still - even the locals couldn't believe it! Apparently the usual weather around here is blustery gales, lightning storms and snow - what can I say, I'm a good luck charm. You really need to look at the photos to get an appreciation for how beautiful the Isle of Skye really is, and even then the photos just don't do the landscape justice.

But when in Scotland - drink like the Scottish, eh? So I have embarked on a long, difficult journey to develop a taste for Whisky. To date, I'm still in the "I think I just burnt a hole in my throat" stage, but I'm told perseverance is the key. Not that I've set a noble goal to become an alcoholic, but more that you need to discover the right type of whisky for your palate and then use that as a starting point for choosing similar whiskeys, as each whisky is influenced by the water source, peat, fermentation process, climate, cask storage etc. All rather fascinating for me, but scary for my liver. Another interesting fact is that the by-products of distillation are a primary source of fertilisation for farming in Scotland - so if you think about, Scotland is only green because of all the Whisky! Classic.

This entry would hardly be complete without mention of "Tipsy the Sheep". While climbing the cliffs around Skye we chanced upon a sheep grazing near the cliff edge. All very picturesque, so of course, one of our party took a photo. Unfortunately, the noise of the camera shutter so startled the sheep that she fell off the cliff! Yup, thirty metres down to a rather solid and unforgiving end. Woolen coats just don't cushion that sort of drop! Our tour group were distraught, but apparently that sort of thing happens all the time. Sheep are quite dumb, you know - you should have learnt that from my New Zealand blog :)

Well, that's about it for Scotland, for tonight I move on to Ireland, living the luxurious life of a traveller - I'm typing this in the departures lounge waiting for a first class flight to find my pot o' gold. Well, actually I'm typing it at 10pm in a nearly empty tiny airport on the outskirts of Glasgow, to fly cattle-class between two rainy, cold locations to arrive after midnight and try and navigate an entirely unfamilar city to find my lodgings for the evening. Far more romantic!

In general travelling terms, I think my maternal genes have kicked in. Not in a nesting sense you understand, but more in a thrifty, make my own vegemite sandwiches for lunch kind of way. I find myself weighing up and tracking every purchase, looking for cheap deals, packing my suitcase neatly so I know where everything is, and letting my friends and family know where I am at all times. I suppose I had to become sensible eventually.

I've also developed a true appreciation for the generosity of strangers. So many times in my trip sofar I've been blown away by the unthinking, utterly selfless generosity I've been shown. Off the top of my head I can remember "pooling food" to share breakfast with an Irish couple, Lloyd Valentine (a Novacastrian) letting me stay in his room instead of the hostel, and buying rounds with strangers in many, many pubs in Scotland. There's something pure and old-fashioned about it that is at odds with the modern, detached, selfless attitude that one often thinks is on the rise in the world. I guess I started travelling suspecting everyone as a potential bag-thief, but to instead experience nothing but genuine companionship with your fellow man is a very powerful thing indeed.

Posted by scy 11:50 Archived in Scotland Comments (1)

London Still

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I've updated the London Gallery a little! Huzzah!

Trains in England are awesome. I sit here typing this in nerdly heaven - with laptop power, free WiFi, free cups of tea, a table and two seats to myself. The girl across from me and I have been playing cards for most of the trip. I've been losing.

The rest of my London stay has been a little lower on the level of tourist activity. I mean, I spent one afternoon just shopping at Sainsbury's, the English equivalent of Coles. You know you're a little bored when you notice that the varying beeps of the checkouts sound like a game of Pong. Necessary shopping though - I was whipping up my (now) world famous "two-jar" Spaghetti Bolognese to pay my rent!

That's not to say I'm bored of traveling, far from it! It's just that I've been spending my time booking the next few weeks of my holiday and meeting people. I didn't realise how bloody long it takes to book two weeks of accommodation and three flights! I'd hate to think of pre-internet days. I'm sure you're not interested in my fun-filled travel administration afternoons, though. Long story short, I'm currently on the way to Edinburgh (I've now learnt that it's not spelt "Edinbrough", as I have spelling it up to now), then after six nights I hop over to Dublin, and after another six Guinness-fueled evenings I jaunt over to Barcelona to meet up with Alan, a very good friend, to sleep slovenly on the floor of his hotel room. Looking forward to it :)

Like I said, the other half of my time in London has essentially been getting out and meeting people - in bars, walking around London, watching football. I've now got a "UK" group in my phone with seven numbers in it, so at least I'll have a bit of a social springboard for when I get back. Admittedly, all but two of those people are Aussies from Newcastle! I'm definitely NOT going to use the phrase "It's a small world".

Damn.

I've done a few touristy things too, though. I went to an exhibition at the Museum of Natural History, purely to see a work that portrayed an "invisible" Tardis. I wandered around "London's Larder" - the Borough Markets, sampling fine cheese, chocolates, meats and seafood in the culinary hotspot that Jamie Oliver shopped in for The Naked Chef. I attended the St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square, watching a free festival featuring all-Irish artists, including a band we thought were The Wombats, who turned out to be The Blizzards. Oh well :)

This week will be my first week of staying in a Hostel, too. So that'll be another notch in the traveling belt. We'll see if the laptop survives the ordeal! Lucky I have backups and travel insurance :)

This blog was brought to you by the number three - that is, the number of free cups of tea I've had sofar. I should probably keep a lid on it from here on in. No pun intended.

Posted by scy 06:29 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (2)

London and Brighton

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London Gallery

Brighton Gallery

So, after booking two trips to the UK, I finally managed to get myself to London. It helps to look at the dates on your ticket. I flew into the lesser-known Gatwick airport and then caught the train to Clapham Junction, a fairly major area in Greater London. Why? To meet up with mates for a beer at the pub, of course. Might as well immerse myself in the culture. I'm essentially sleeping in the lounge room of two good friends from high school, James and Richard - which is just as well because accommodation in London would have otherwise been either a) unavailable or b) bloody expensive.

Up early the next morning (10am) and seeming as it's bright and sunny outside (WTF?) I might as well figure out how the hell I get from Streatham to Central London. Wandered to the local bus stop, figured that "London Victoria" sounded pretty central, and hopped on. I became increasingly concerned that perhaps I should have checked out the bus stop map as the trip wore on, but in the end I was saved by the one sight I'd recognised in the whole trip - Big Ben! What the hell - I got off at the next stop and figured it was as good a place to start my tour of London as any.

From there, I started to tick off the typical tourist list. Westminster Abbey, London Bridge, The Eye, Buckingham Palace. Can I just say, by the way - why is London Bridge even regarded as interesting? It's the least interesting bridge I've ever seen in my life. I've built more interesting bridges. Anyway, the day was of course closed out with more after-work drinks with friends and locals. The pubs here are brilliant - not just for the range of beers, but also the beautiful, aged, solid wooden interior they all seem to have. Perfect for meeting people.

The weather continued to defy meteorological norms and again I was woken by shafts of sunlight. What better to do than spend the rest of the day inside? So on the bus again and straight to The Tate Modern, one of London's premier contemporary art galleries. You know you've struck gold when the foyer contains a three storey high tarantula, occupying a nuclear bunker filled with rows on rows of steel beds, each with a copy of a classic work of post-apocalyptic science fiction. After a few hours of wandering around and feeling suitably pessimistic about the world, I again set off for after-work drinks, only to nearly leave my backpack in the pub on the way home. I'm such a newbie.

I think I'm starting to get a real taste for the London experience - spending time waiting for busses, trains and The Tube, drinking in pubs, and apparently the third one is complaining about the weather, but it's yet to be anything but sunny. I had a defining moment on the way home the other day. I was sitting on the Tube, casually reading the football news in the London Paper and listening to my iPod like everyone else, when I casually looked up at the Tube map to see what stop I was at. Then I went back to reading the paper, and it hit me. I'm doing what normal Londoners do, and I'm not anxiously tracking the train's every stop in case I miss my station! It was a little thing, but I was really enjoying myself and to think that I could fit into a society like this was quite empowering.

Now, I am planning on coming back to London to work, so I didn't think it was a great idea to spend all my time here right now. So when I woke up on my fifth day in London and it was yet again sunny and clear, my natural Aussie instincts, sofar lying dormant, kicked in and my first thought was "bugger it, I'm doing to the beach". So I packed the swimmers and a towel and straight on a train to Brighton.

Ok, so I didn't pack the swimmers and towel. It was sunny, but it was also seven degrees.

Brighton is a beautiful, relaxing seaside city, and it reminds me a lot of coastal Newcastle, albeit with better nightclubs. I pretty much just spent my day walking along the beach, the piers, and through The Lanes - fully of trendy bars, interesting knick-knack shops and clothes shops and tiny, twisting alleysways that emerge onto views of the beach. The best part about walking through The Lanes was coming across a shop called Cyberdog, which sold dance/rave clothes and gear. No, not that kind of gear. I wouldn't normally have gone in, maybe just a casual glance - but I was drawn to it by the music they were playing - a drum and bass mix of the theme from Tetris. Awesome. It's from "Tech Dance Euphoria, mixed by Yoji", in case you were wondering, Mum and Dad.

I dawdled until sunset because I'd seen shots of the Old Pier in cafes, and it looked beautiful at that time in the afternoon, and I wanted to try my own hand at it. I took about thirty shots, but narrowed it down to two. I'm very picky.

I'm sure there'll be more updates on London - but for the moment I'm figuring out my next few weeks of travelling. Sigh - travelling is just so tiring - I'd give anything to be back at work.

  • Ducks*

Posted by scy 07:06 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Farewell to Germany! (Well, for now)

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Cologne Gallery

Siegen Gallery

Baumbeck Gallery

It's been a month of reuniting with friends, earning my travelling stripes, and murdering the German language. I have to admit, the first few days in Germany I had a bit of the "What the Hell am I doing Here?" jitters and perhaps even early twangs of what must be homesickness, but I think all of that was just a natural reaction to uprooting myself entirely and moving to the other side of the world.

But one month in, I wouldn't trade the experience sofar for anything, and I'm starting to get used to life as a soon-to-be-intrepid traveller. Here's a few signs that I'm getting used to Euro-Life:

[*] Salami, Pepperoni and other meats and cheese is now a perfectly palatable breakfast.
[*] My body temperature has now adjusted - ten degrees now qualifies as "balmy".
[*] I've finally accepted carbonated water into my life, like everyone else in Germany.
[*] I've gotten used to the idea that my backpack is my office and lounge room, and my luggage is my wardrobe, medicine cabinet and shelf. I'm even somewhat proud of how light I've packed, especially when someone exclaims "Is THAT all you've brought!?".
[*] Paying two dollars to go to the toilet now seems like a bargain!
[*] I've only had one sunny day in thirty, and I'm cool with that.

Thanks to all my good German friends for showing me around, translating my Ginglish and enabling me to experience not just the tourist attractions, but Real Germany. Like watching a Judo class in a small german town whilst listening to dance music. Thats how I roll. You see, when I'm traveling it's the minutiae that I find most interesting - the one artwork you saw in the gallery, the weird statue in the park, the twisted little cafe in Berlin. I can't see the forest for the trees, and that's the way I like it!

Which means you're just going to have to put up with my photos of trees, statues, walls, roads and paths :)

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I am indeed in London. I arrived three days ago, and the astute amoung you may note that I was a day late. Lets just say I missed the bus, but caught a plane, and my wallet is the lighter for it :)

Posted by scy 07:22 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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