travel

Second Time’s the Charm in Edinburgh

Hello! I am finally back to sharing more about my trip!

My second major stop on my tour this summer was the beautiful Edinburgh. I was thrilled to make Scotland the first place I traveled for the start of my solo tour because, as many of you probably know, Scotland holds a special place in my heart. I studied abroad at the University of Glasgow, and so Scotland feels like a second home to me. And it is also the country where I, one day, plan to live.

And I sort of needed to start in a place I was comfortable with because I needed that confidence booster to stop letting everyone’s comments from back home get to me. And this really ended up being the perfect way to handle things.

Edinburgh (pronounced Eden-bra) is such a handsome, historical, and hilly city. And unlike many other parts of Scotland, you will actually be able to understand the English spoken here!

Similar to Ireland, this area of Scotland is a great place for new travelers, because culturally, things are not so different from those back in America, and as a very tourist geared city, you will always be able to find many comforts from home.

Top tourist attractions include hiking up to Arthur’s seat, visiting Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny both in the castle, the monuments on Calton Hill, the famous Greyfriars Kirkyard, and more! There are such diverse attractions in this city to appeal to athletes, historians, the royal family fans, foodies, and those who love to shop––all within walking distance of one another!

Navigation around the city is a breeze with the city compact enough that I was able to walk everywhere I wanted to go, even to the hiking trails, but the hills and stairs can be quite exhausting. (Learn from my mistakes: pack plenty of food and water in your day pack before trying to conquer Arthur’s seat.) Public transportation is available to and from the airport and runs 24/7 with tickets available to purchase at the bus terminal at the airport. It was super convenient purchasing my ticket ahead of time, so I could just board the bus when I was ready to leave.

As a part of the UK, Scotland’s currency is the Pound sterling (£) which is generally, consistently, stronger than the USD. So the prices in the store are not the prices that it would actually cost to an American, when every £1 would cost about $1.31. (And it is not always fun doing that math on the fly. I managed with help from a conversion app.)

And this is sort of the basics of what travelers should know and what they will learn during their time here.

Sightseeing over the summer was an incredible experience, and one that I cannot wait to repeat in the future.

My last visit to Edinburgh was during all of the excitement of the Christmas markets during the height of the holiday shopping season (and the low point on the thermometer). But I was also exploring with my flatmates after living with them for a whole semester.

So my visit in June was very different. Still pretty cold, even relative to Ireland, but much quieter and at much more of a relaxed pace, thanks to not needing to rush to catch a train at the end of the day. I very much enjoyed getting to explore another city in Scotland at my own pace with an itinerary that I did not have to compromise with anyone. I got to wake up early and take a full day to tour the Edinburgh Castle spending hours wandering the halls, walk all the way down the royal mile to see the Queen’s Gallery and stop in for a cup of tea, wherever I pleased.

The most rewarding part of my trip was getting to finally explore the Edinburgh Castle, something that I put off for most of my study abroad, until I returned to America without ever seeing it, so this was something that was at the very top of my list of things I needed to do before returning home.

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The Entrance to the Edinburgh Castle on a gloomy Scottish day

And after doing much research, I made my way up to the castle early in the morning to make sure I could get a ticket, and I had my student ID handy, like I did for most of my trip, to make sure that I could get all of the student discounts on all of my museum visits. Especially since, at this point, I did not know how far I would need to make my money stretch. And solo visits to the museums, I feel, are so much more rewarding than going with someone, or with a group of people. I was able to take it all in, and at my own pace. Things like waiting on a line to see the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny (used at the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1953), would probably not be something that I would subject others to doing, but it was something that I felt was worth the wait. And what a breathtaking site (even if photos were not allowed).

And if anyone is interested in a brief history of these Honours of Scotland, the Visit Scotland website is a perfect help. 

Some other highlights from the castle were taste-testing Scottish Whiskey right on the grounds, which was incredible, btw, and even visiting St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, that remains from the 12th Century. It is such a small building with small windows (a late add on) which is probably the reason for lasting so long.

And a stay in Scotland in never complete without visiting a historical site while there is a wedding going on. I will never forget the feeling of awe (and jealousy) in seeing couples get married in the most beautiful places, which are during this trip to the Edinburgh Castle, to later on in my trip where I almost accidentally interrupted a wedding procession in Cinque Terre, to all of the weddings we passed in Glasgow at my university or at Oran Mor––the church/bar on the way to my university. They were the most incredible, and accidental events I have stumbled on and ones that inspire my own future wedding plans––hope my future husband is on board.

Another major highlight of my trip, was the day I spend hiking up to Arthur’s seat, an ancient volcano visible even from the city center. (Which actually just went up in a blaze two days ago, so I hope that everything will be okay there!) The hike lead to extraordinary views of the city, especially because I just happened to go on a clear day, and I was able to meet some of my fellow hikers at the top of the hills who helped me take some of my favorite pictures from my trip.

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Standing before the Great Arthur’s Seat

The very same day, before or after my hike (I forget the order), I also was able to visit and sit in on some Parliament discussions, as I just happened to be passing by while it was in session.

And another highlight, that I won’t go into too much detail about because I have written much about it in the past, was my visit to Greyfriars Kirkyard, most recently known to house the inspiration to JK Rowling’s character names, but it is also well known for Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier who guarded the grave of his owner for 14 years in the kirkyard, and who now can be seen in the statue in front of the entrance.

Aside from all of my sightseeing, perhaps the most memorable part of my visit to Edinburgh is all of the incredible friends that I made there.

I met up with an Australian lady from Girls Love Travel Facebook group at a cafe in town, and learned all about her life, and how she is on her year abroad, looking for work and to travel. Then in my hostel, I made so many friends from Canada, Columbia, and Germany who would all meet down at the hostel pub to share travel stories from like-minded travelers and drink together. And discuss Harry Potter, too! And my very last night in Scotland (for this trip) we all went on a pub crawl together and had a blast before I made my way to the airport, headed for Italy.

My next stop: Bologna.

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travel

Dublin, Ireland

My first stop on my summer of adventures.

This is a perfect city for those novice travelers. Everyone is super friendly. Navigation is a breeze, as the city is small enough that you can walk everywhere. And English is the primary language.

Although now the city appears to be overrun with tourists, and you will have to visit the touristy parts of town, you can experience traditional Irish culture throughout your visit.

Top tourist attraction are the Guinness and Jameson breweries, jail museum, cathedrals, and Irish history museums.

If you are visiting the city for any length of time, I highly recommend you pick up a leap card right at the airport and ride the bus into the city–making your navigation around the city a breeze. It was €40 for an unlimited 7 day pass as opposed to our only taxi ride that cost that much just to get us to our house the first day.

So that is the general what travelers need to know, but here is how our trip went…

We arrived after an overnight flight from New York (we being me and my family) running on very little sleep, because no one really took me seriously when I explained how important it is to sleep as much as you can on the plane. Everyone was so cranky. And uncoordinated with everything from wheeling the luggage to taking bathroom breaks to paying attention to what it is that we are actually trying to find. Then the icing on the cake was finding out ED SHEERAN had performances in Dublin and was staying in Dublin when we would have been able to attend his concerts, except they were all sold out. Apparently the Irish really love Ed as all of his performances in Dublin, Cork, Belfast, and Galway were all sold out! Devastating.

Not my ideal first day of my holiday…but thank god it all got better.

Aside from visiting many of the sights in Dublin including the Oscar Wilde statue, Trinity college, Temple bar nightlife, and many of the cathedral ruins, we were all completely captivated with the (oftentimes depressing) history and especially the remnants of the pagan belief system.

Like I probably mention in every post, I am obsessed with this book series called A Court of Thorns and Roses and the Throne of Glass series fantasy books about fae and fairies, that all come from CELTIC MYTHOLOGY. And we are literally in the birthplace of these mythologies and legends so me and my sisters were living in our glory. So any ACOTAR or fantasy fans, this is definitely a city or country you should check out.

We did a couple of bus tours to see other parts of Ireland. Our first was a mythology based tour to ancient burial grounds in the midlands such as the Hill of Tara, Boyne Valley, Newgrange, and ????. We got to see faerie trees up close and saw where the still practicing druids tie ribbons on the trees as offerings to the fae. Our tour guide was amazing sharing both legends and true history about each of the places we drove past. And at one point during the tour he handed us off to such a charismatic character, Marty, who shared stories about the fae, changelings, and origin stories of the ancient ones who were banished under the Earth. He was hilarious–inventing new plots to the Irish legends about legendary heroes Finn MacCool, Cu Chulainn, the Ulster Cycle, and more! (which are all totally interesting if you have the time and want to check them out!) Plus we got to go hiking & get up close and personal with the sheep! (Maybe my favorite part…I mean they are just so cute!)

The other big tour we did was a Game of Thrones/ Giant’s Causeway based tour to the Northern Ireland. Our first stop on this tour was to the Dark Hedges aka the King’s Road where Arya escapes with the night’s watch after losing her father in Season 1. Then we visited a couple of very small coastal villages where all of the scenes from the Iron Isles were filmed and some of Melisandre’s crazier schemes…like the cave she gave birth in. Those moments were the highlight of the trip for me because, like, we stood exactly where they did. Those places are actually real places. No green screens were necessary. Incredible. And I really hope I never forget the smell of the coastal city so I can get the full effect for when I re-watch the show again.

But the Giant’s Causeway was just as cool. And as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it means that it is a site of cultural value for the world, because it is a visual display of how incredible our earth is. The entire cliffside formed millions of hexagons all from a volcanic eruption and has inspired legends and cultures since it’s creation millions of years ago! But my description does it no justice–brush up on your Earth Science knowledge and visit it for yourself!

My next stop is Edinburgh, Scotland!!!

 

Environment

What will you do for the Earth?

So today is Earth Day! And in honor of the planet, everyone should take a hard look at their lifestyle and make some changes, or just do something, to better the Earth.

This year’s Earth Day campaign is to End Plastic Pollution. Plastic waste is a major environmental issue that only seems to be escalating, exponentially. Plastic does not break down, is not compostable, and most forms of plastic are not even recyclable. Plastic is made for our one-time use disposable society and they fill up landfills rapidly as people frequently turn to disposables for the convenience of it.

Many cities, towns, and counties have been taking action against plastic bags and charging a 5¢ bag fee to encourage people to reduce the plastic waste. We can do more on the individual scale. We need to fight back against this disposable culture in every way that we can. And one of the best places to start is with your own buying decisions. Companies pay attention to the consumer choices and YOU can decide to purchase the merchandise with less packaging, less plastic, no plastic, biodegradable packaging, and even products with less processing.

In addition to this year’s to working towards this year’s campaign, there are many other ways to appreciate our planet.

Saturday, my sister and I joined her high school Interact Club in a beach cleanup. We only spent an hour and a half walking along the beach picking up all of the litter, plastic straws, and broken bottles, but I would say that it was time well spent. I was so disgusted with how many broken bottles we picked up and it just felt like a never ending task.

But it felt really good to do something. And it was so rewarding when others started joining in. Visitors to the beach saw the garbage bags and gloves and got to work. It really was a nice community moment for such a small act of community service. Beach cleanups and volunteer work are things that can be done anywhere from an individual scale to an entire organization participating. And the rewarding feeling far surpasses any effort you expend into the small task. And hopefully other will see you cleaning up and it will inspire them next.

Plus the cleanup was really fun in trying to figure out what some of the items we discovered were. Here are some of the funky things we found.

My sister thinks the bottom one is a handcuff, but I think it looks like something that would be found on a boat,  to tie the boat to the dock. Does anyone really know what it is for?

And then the middle one looks like a bullet to me. Never really seen one before, but I feel like this is what it would look like back in the day.

Then there was what we think looks like bones. And we may have just contaminated a crime scene, or perhaps someone ate chicken wings and couldn’t be bothered to throw away the bones. What do you think?

I was thrilled to have such good weather this weekend, (even though mother nature sure does have a lot to be angry with us for) and got to spend Earth Day outside, hiking, at a New York state park. My friend and I took a peaceful 4ish mile hike among many other environmentalists also out to enjoy the beautiful weather and nature.

And during our hike, the conversation never really departed from the reason for this special holiday and my friend and I discussed ways to resolve our ever-growing plastic problem.

Besides the usual solutions (forgo straws, use a reusable water bottle, change your habits, etc.) her revolutionary idea was about canning water instead of bottling it––aluminum is one of the best materials out there. So what do you think about that?

Research some options in your community to see what you can get involved in. If we treat every day like it is Earth Day, then maybe we won’t have to be so concerned about the state of the environment anymore.

Take a look at the Earth Day website to get some inspiration for what you can do on Earth Day.