Day Tripper

This is shaping up to, quite possibly, be the best week of my life. Sorry for not having time to post over the last two days; things have been busy, and I'm hoping that I can remember most of it now. So, I'll start where most things should start - at the beginning.

Monday, I was picked up from the hostel around 9:30 a.m. with 28 other complete strangers. Our tour guide, Graham, is everything I would expect in a Scotsman: devilishly attractive and beer-bellied, with a dirty mind and dirtier mouth. He's a lot of fun, but not quite as fun as my fellow backpackers. To put it concisely, I'm the only American. Of 29, approximately half are from Taiwan. Several are from Australia, and there are also Turkish, Japanese, and Chinese representatives among us. It's bizarre and hysterical. I've started buddying up with most of the Australian kids, and the guy from India, and - my fave - Yoshi from Japan. He's the man.

The first day highlights included visiting a 4,000 year old gravesite, which was haunting and beautiful. I forget what it's called, but when I post pictures on Friday, I'll update with the precise location names. To think that it existed before Christ really blew my mind. We also visited the old Dunkeld Cathedral, which was great. The ruins reminded me of something Elizabeth Bennett would go exploring in.

Still, the big thing Monday was - dundundun - I went swimming in Loch Ness! Graham had been trying to convince us the entire drive there, and I hesitated. Hesitated. Hesitated. As soon as we pulled down the gravel path, however, I instantly knew I had to do it. By several minutes of time, I was the first one in. Wearing all of my clothes. It didn't take long for others to follow suit, and before I knew it, we were having a grand ole time with Nessie. We learned nobody does much true research there; it's all speculation and photoshop, and it frustrates many Scots. Our final stop for the night was in Iverness - what a beautiful city! - where we hung out at Hootenanny (local music pub). I ran into two guys from UNC-Chapel Hill (they were wearing Tarheel gear) and we chatted up for a while. It's such a small world. All in all, it was a fun day, but we spent most of it on the bus. We had to get a long distance in a short amount of time, and I got nervous that the tour was going to be more riding than walking.

Then today happened. After a breakfast of scones and pineapple juice (only 50p!) we drove out to Clootie Well. If you've never heard of the Clootie Wells, it's an area in Scotland where individuals who have "wishes" for loved ones go to lift up prayers to the land. You dip a clothing item or fabric piece associated with your loved one in the well, then tie it to a tree by the well. Baby clothes, t-shirts, socks, teddy bears, you name it...they hung all over the trees in this eerie roadside location. It was surreal, and you'll have to see my pictures to truly understand how moving it was. All I could think about was how many of this wishes went unanswered...

Our next stop was a hike through a lovely forest, ending at a waterfall. It wasn't nearly as impressive as the waterfalls we have in the Southeast, but the greenery surrounding it was beautiful. There were also salmon jumping through it, which was new! The weather has been perfect and very unusual - sunny and 90 degrees - so Graham has been keeping us outdoors as much as possible. In fact, we spent 3 hours today on the beach today.

Yes, the beach.

In Scotland.

We swam, played frisbee, and had a quick game of football. Now, if you know me, you know I'm not a big athlete. In fact, I'm a poor and pathetic athlete. But guess who scored the winning goal?! Yes, yes, yes. Yours truly. In a game versus Australians and a Scotsman, Adrienne Rankin from Boondocks, SC scored the winning goal. I credit it towards my tough American football upbringing.

Finally, we ended our day at the Isle of Skye. The drive was amazing, and as such, I'm not even sure I'll post pictures. They don't do the mountains justice. It's so green and lush, and huge, and rocky, and almost like another planet. I'm living a movie every day. At the Isle, the mountains converge into the ocean at a quaint fishing village. Sunset lasts from 9:00-12:00...over the water, with a lighthouse (Kelly!!) and boats casting shadows against the sky. Mmmm.

I just got back from another pub where we listened to some traditional Scottish music (soooo good), did some traditional dancing, and drank some traditional whisky. It's going to be a long day of hiking the cliffs tomorrow, but I'll try to keep writing daily instead of scatterbrained. There's too much to say for me to wait, and I want to make these things more eloquent. Forgive me this once. :)


I'll Follow the Sun

I've been awake for a very long time. A very, very long time. Just to get to Europe. Was it worth it? Was the 24-hours of travel worth it, America?

Ten-thousand-times yes. Edinburgh is the most beautiful city in the world. Of course, I have only been to a limited number of cities, but one of those is Amsterdam. And, officially, I believe that Edinburgh is at least more beautiful than Amsterdam. My hostel is located directly next to the Edinburgh Castle (the view almost makes me cry), and smack between High & Victoria Streets, two of the most bustling areas of the city. (**Side note: if you’re ever here, A Taste of Italy on Victoria has delicious cheap pizza & coffee. And, if you’re nice to them, they’ll give you extra slices!) It took a while for me to find (the cobblestone streets are windy and subtly marked), but let me tell you, I could have walked forever. Every brick oozes history and culture and just…wonderfulness.

Before I get carried away in poetics, you probably want to know what I’ve been up to since Dublin. Well, first, I heartily enjoyed my flight with Aer Lingus. Cute Irish flight attendants – need I say more? I also got to watch Revolutionary Road and finish Vol. 1 of Sense and Sensibility, so there was some productivity going on. Once in Dublin, I asked approximately seven different employees what to do with myself now that I was there; they directed me to a bus, which took me directly to Waverly Bridge, from which Castle Rock Hostel is a 9 minute walk.

I was greeted into the hostel by a shaggy-haired Scotsman, who finds great amusement in my naivety. Despite having traveled to the Bahamas, Ghana, and various places in the US, I still have trouble figuring out one thing: calling cards. I just want to make a phone call! Why, oh why oh why, does it have to be so difficult? After asking my hairy landlord about the mechanics of three different phones, I returned to the store where I bought the card, and had a heart-to-heart with the man in charge. He let me use their store phone – and even dialed the numbers for me – so I could call my Mom. What a sweetheart! He, too, laughed at my frustrations.

Despite the hostel’s beauty, I can’t help but feel a little awkward. The rooms are cozy, the lounges are large, the Wi-Fi is free – but who do I have to share it with? A tour group just returned from their week, so they’re all bonding and hanging out, and I’m sitting at a table to the side with 3-4 other people on their computers. I did the stereotypical southern “nod and smile,” but to no avail. I definitely believe myself to be more like Marianne than Elinor in this respect, wanting everyone to be as excited as I am about everything. I’m anxious for my tour to begin at 9AM tomorrow, so I can start meeting people and being crazy and rambunctious. Still, after such a long flight, rest is probably what I need most. I haven’t slept in many many many hours, so once I’m done with this blog, I’m going back to bed.

My bed, on a final note, is located in the hostel’s “Brain Suite.” Appropriate. J

I've Just Seen a Face

In fact, I've seen lots of faces. I'm only in Dublin, but my 1) unnparalleled people-watching and 2)inability to travel into the city due to a 1-hour bus/40 EURO TAXI to Malahide have called for the authoring of a new blog post. While I was waiting to board the plane in Chicago, an old man sat next to me who was the twin of UP's main character. Short, stout, a cane, and quite the grumpy countenance. I kept sneaking glances at him - hope he didn't mind too much.

Another elderly gentleman caught my eye on the plane. He sat next to me, and was the sweetest Irishman I could have imagined. I had to help him figure out his remote control - he doesn't fly much. He snored almost the whole time, but when he was awake, he was absolutely charming. Just in the last few hours I have been able to see what fun, kind people many of the Irish are. I wish I could stay here longer, but alas, I am confined to the airport until 2:50. After my new friend from California and I finish forcing our baggage into RyanAir limits (what fun), I'm FINALLY done flying. Scotland.


She's Leaving Home

This is it! Today's the big day! Wahoooo! After spending the last month immersing myself in such Clemson staples as Rockhopper's Trivia Night, movie nights, and dinner at Granny's Grill (breakfast 24/7), it's time for me to jump over the pond. Despite my months of planning, I'm still a little nervous that a plan will fall through. That my luggage will get lost, or my computer will break, or my plane will crash and burn into the ocean (Thanks for the paranoia, Air France). Regardless, it's time to go.

My boyfriend (who woke up early to surprise me with Starbucks!) is taking me to the Charlotte airport, where I have a 2:00 flight to Chicago. Then, from Chicago I fly to Dublin, where I'll be enjoying a 6-hour layover exploring the city. Finally, I have a RyanAir flight to Edinburgh - my first major stop. I'll be spending all next week with MacBackpackers doing a tour of Scotland. Not sure how the internet will be at our hostels, but I'll try to stay updated. We're essentially travelling around the whole country's perimeter, so there should be lots of fun stories to come of it! Until then, wish me luck as I spend the next 24-hours of travel time finishing Sense & Sensibility (and, by finishing the book, I mean playing with a virtual lightsaber on my iPod touch).

Thanks again to Marty for making this happen, and to my Mom for being a packing goddess when I moved out of my apartment yesterday. Seriously, you guys should have seen her. It was a miracle. Talk to you again soon!


carry that weight

I took my own advice too well. In trying to engross myself more in Clemson, I have put aside packing, put aside train tickets, put aside reading Northanger Abbey, put aside questions on how I actually get the UK to let me in...until today.

Yesterday, my Dad and my Nancy (a stepmother who I refuse to call a stepmother, because of the negative connotation) left for Sequim, Washington. Washington State. The Northwest. As in, the opposite of the Southeast. For the last week I have been in such a frantic, packing mood, that I couldn't stop once they drove down the street. If I was to stop moving, their absence would sink in, and I would gorge myself on ice cream in front of the Gosselins. Hence, 10 days before my departure date, I have my bags packed. It is a horrible testament to the masses of clothes I own that I can pack for 6 weeks in Europe and still have more than enough to wear in Clemson.

Without a scale, I'm not sure how much it weighs, but I've narrowed everything to one bag. I even bought a pair of Columbia convertible pants (zip off to shorts) for my backpacking trip, to wear every day I'm there. 5 days in the same pants. You know I'm excited about that. I also managed to sneak in my (in)famous SpiderMan boxer shorts...my all-time favorite sleepwear. Those may have to come out again before I leave.

In addition to clothes, I've packed some of the books I'll need over the summer. Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma...all those difficult and tedious reads. :) I'm already halfway into Northanger Abbey. Jane Austen is one sassy lady.

" . . . our pleasures in this world are always to be paid for . . . "


it won't be long

Starting today, I can officially say that I leave for Oxford THIS MONTH.  Twenty-six days until my plane departs from Charlotte...and twenty-seven days until my plane arrives in Edinburgh.  I am so tempted to pack my bags tonight, to go wait at the airport until the hour arrives.  Sort of like Tom Hanks in The Terminal (don't worry, no ketchup on saltines for me).  

However, I have to remember that this summer won't start when I go to Europe.  My summer is happening now, and I need to enjoy my time in Clemson while I'm still here!  After all, in August, I'll only have one year until graduation...and I'll be wishing I could stretch out every moment.  Starting tomorrow morning, I hereby vow to stop spending my days 1) Scouring the internet for cheap train tickets, 2) Researching concerts in Oxford, 3) Counting the hours, seconds, etc. until go-time.  It will be here soon enough. :)