Three Months on the Road, Scotland and UK Wrap Up

So I hit the three month mark in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Kind of crazy, and somehow doesn’t seem real still.  I definitely don’t take it for granted that I’m able to do this kind of travel.  I remind myself of how fortunate I am everyday and do my best to live in the moment and soak up the whole experience.  That said, I still arrived in Edinburgh feeling kind of lost.  I didn’t even book my train or hostel there until I was in London.  I have so many places I want to see, but I can’t see them all unless I only spend a night or two in each place.  Traveling costs get really expensive if you just constantly move from city to city, and you don’t see anything that way anyway.  I eventually settled on a general route for the next month, so feeling better about my direction.

Edinburgh was one of my favorite cities.  It also helped that the hostel I stayed in was the best one so far, and the Couchsurfing community is excellent as well.  I’d step outside the hostel and see Edinburgh Castle sitting up on a hill…

Man, I never got tired of looking up at that place.  I hiked up the hills and steps a couple times to get a closer look.  There’s a £16 ($26) entrance fee to see inside the castle, but I couldn’t justify it.  Someone at the hostel agreed with me and wished he hadn’t paid for it, so I felt good about my decision.  I still took great pics of the place.

If you think after seeing the castle the best of the sight seeing is over, then all you have to do is turn around and walk down High Street in Old Edinburgh to realize you’re wrong.  The buildings and surrounding neighborhood have been preserved, and void of any modern structures.  Tourism is big business, so they need to keep the city looking old from what the locals told me. The Scots are fond of their literature, and I can imagine a writer getting ample inspiration from just spending hours walking those streets like I did.  So peaceful.

As can be seen from the photos, it was rainy and overcast for my first couple days, but the sun came out a little on my third day.  That’s when I got these photos in.  Nothing really more to comment on.  Just some gratuitous scenic shots.  For accommodations, I stayed at the Caledonian Backpacker’s Hostel.  It was almost a perfect hostel.  Inexpensive (for Europe), giant rooms, big lockers, generous breakfast included, nice kitchen and friendly staff.  The bar is only open to guests of the hostel which I thought was a nice touch, and kept the place from getting rowdy.

The trifecta for Edinburgh was that it had a great CS community.  I went to the weekly meetup and found a very active group.  Most people I met weren’t actually from Scotland or even the UK, but had moved to Edinburgh for school or work.  The highlight of my time with the Couchsurfing community there came on Friday night when I attended a Scottish ceilidh dance with some of the locals I met at the weekly meetup.  I learned that night that the dance is pronounced kay-lee, like the girl’s name.  I guess the closest type of dancing we have in the US to this would be square dancing.  Most of the guys at the ceilidh were in kilts too which completed the atmosphere.  I think if someone had offered me a kilt, I would have worn it to fit in. 

The dances varied from partner dances of 4 to giant dances where everyone seemed to be dancing with everyone else.  Great fun, and I even took some video.  They hold these dances all the time and are extremely popular.

On my last day, I met up with some other surfers for some sight seeing in the Botanical Gardens.  We ended up at a cafe and had a great conversation about travel and life in Edinburgh.  The common theme among everyone seem to be that they were in love with the city and were trying to figure out a way to get steady work in order to keep living there.  

I’ll wrap up Scotland with some random tidbits about the currency and some controversy around Scottish independence.  Scotland produces its own British Pound Sterling notes.  For example, there’s an English five pound note…

And then there’s the fiver from the Bank of Scotland which I didn’t even notice until I went to use it.I’ve heard some shops in England will refuse the Scottish notes thinking they’re not legal tender, but it is.  A pound is a pound in the UK, no matter which bank it comes from.  However, someone told me that you may also have trouble exchanging Scottish notes in other countries since it’s not the version they’re shown as an example of the currency.  Really silly, and probably adds to the growing sentiment many Scots have about gaining independence from the UK.  Prior to my arrival, there had been a huge demonstration in Edinburgh for Scottish independence.  I was dying to ask a local about it, but hesitated due to the obvious sensitivity.  A girl from Newcastle, England that I met at the ceilidh made a brief remark about the issue, and I jumped at the chance to ask further.  It’s definitely a big deal, and estimates are that one-third of Scots want independence.  She didn’t think they had the infrastructure to break away from the UK, but she’s from England, so there’s that.  Interesting stuff and would love to have heard more from a native Scot.  I look forward to keeping tabs on the matter and hearing updates.

My only regret with Scotland and the UK in general is that I didn’t get out to see more of the island.  I had planned on only staying three nights in Edinburgh, then heading to Liverpool, and Manchester for a couple nights.  The vibe in Edinburgh was so good, it just felt right to stay there and figure out where I was going in Europe.  I’ll have to miss out on some places on the continent I wanted to see, but I like my plan for the next month.

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