Okay…let’s get the record straight. I love Italy and all, especially in that I’ve really had to learn to adjust to a new culture – but Ireland and Scotland? Wow. By far my favorite places that I have traveled to thus far. The perfect mix of city and country life exists in these places. You haven’t seen the color green until you’ve gone to Ireland. And Scotland? I felt like I stepped into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If I had to choose my favorite country between the two, I couldn’t give you an answer – I loved both places in different ways.
Since there was sooo many things that I did, and since you all might fall asleep if I recount everything I did in sequential order, I’ll once again list out the things that I enjoyed the most or interesting tidbits that I learned.
1. The Accents! The Irish and Scots have the accents that we all know and love – it was relieving to finally be able to communicate with people leisurely again. However, I had to sometimes really pay attention to what they were saying, otherwise I’d miss it completely. The Scots, in particular, have a tendency to run their words together – that coupled with the accent can make it a little bit difficult for us Americans to understand. There are also phrases that they use in place of a certain way we say it at home. For example, they say, “Cheers!” – which to us is the equivalent of “Have a good day!.” Also, instead of “to go” (as in food), they use the phrase, “take away.”
2. The Friendliness! Oh my goodness, the people in Ireland and Scotland are sooo friendly. When we first arrived in Scotland, we were unsure of which stop to get off at to reach our hostel from the bus. The bus driver told us that we were technically the last stop, but it would require us to walk up a big hill, so he let us off at ‘unofficial’ stop at the top of the hill instead. Whenever my travel buddy Hannah and I would ask a local for recommendations for places, they would not only point out places but talk about that place and what kind of atmosphere to expect as well. It was nice to have people take the time to help us out. However, it was definitely part of their culture to swear to you, but luckily it was in a joking manner, so we didn’t take it the wrong way.
3. The weather! Contrary to popular belief, it does not constantly rain in Ireland and Scotland. What does happen is that you can see all different types of weather patterns all in one day. It is very common for there to be rain, cloudiness, and sunshine (and snow in Scotland apparently) in the same day, each taking turns for the portion of the day. Sometimes, rain and sun occur at the same time, allowing for some beautiful rainbows. Hannah and I must have had the luck of the Irish on our side with the weather – it barely rained in either country during our time in each place.
4. The National Leprechaun Museum. Yes, you heard it. There is a Leprechaun Museum in Dublin – and what makes it even better is that the staff were amazing and hilarious and super Irish. Hannah and I not only got a chance to tour through the Museum (which was all about the history and specific Irish folklore stories), but we got to be a part of their “Dark Tale,” which was a story one of the staff members wrote incorporating Irish folktales and included the people in the tour. It was so much fun! We were all acting it out and everybody was into it! Here we met a Scottish couple, three girls from New Zealand, and an Irish couple. The Irish couple even bought all of us a drink after the Museum! This was definitely one of my favorite nights in Ireland.
5. The Cliffs of Moher! What more can I say other than the cliffs were absolutely incredible. So unreal. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. But I will say that the wind was so powerful that at times we thought we were going to be blown off the cliffs! And our tour guide was great – he would tell us about different historical facts relating to Western Ireland and would sing us some folk songs.
6. Guinness and Jameson. Simply put, the Guinness in Ireland is 10 times better than in the States. And my new favorite drink is Jameson and Ginger Ale… with lime.
7. The Scottish Highlands! Once again, nature took my breath away. The Highlands were much different than the Cliffs of Moher. We chose a great time of the year to visit the Highlands – the foliage was in the midst of changing colors for the fall season, which made for an incredible bus trip (we took a full 12 hour day trip through the Highlands by bus, with occasional stops for pictures). Our tour guide, James, also made the trip a great one. His Glaswegian accent was the epitome of the stereotypical Scottish accent – and he dressed the part too, donning a kilt and the complete ‘uniform’ of a true Scotsman. All throughout the drive, he played us some Scottish music on his iPod and told us about the clans of historical Scotland, or anything else that we wanted to know (someone asked about the real history behind William Wallace. Moral of the story? Robert the Bruce was the one that should have earned the name ‘Braveheart,’ if you want historical accuracy).
8. The Ghost Tour! In case you didn’t know, Edinburgh is one of the most haunted places in the United Kingdom – so of course we had to go on a ghost tour. Our British tour guide, Ella, was amazing! She dressed the part (wearing a black cloak and a long Victorian style dress) and recounted stories about the torture and punishments for crimes in 18th century Scotland, incorporating us tourists (since I’m left-handed, I, by default, demonstrated what would happen to the accused witches. Let me tell you, it’s not very pleasant). We were then taken to the Blair Street Underground Vaults, where we were told paranormal stories of things that happened to other tour groups (great thing to hear when you are there, right?). All in all, while it was pretty spooky, the tour was so much fun. I recommend it to anyone planning on going to Edinburgh.
9. Loch Ness! Beautiful loch, complete with a rainbow that day. No, we did not find Nessie, but we did learn that in order for there to be an official monster sighting, 2 people need to witness the monster at the same time, and both people have to be ‘sound of mind.’
10. The Elephant House! As a HUGE Harry Potter fan, enjoying a pot of Earl Grey tea in the same café that J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in itself was quite a treat! In the huge window in the back of the café was one of the castle-like buildings that was said to have inspired the concept of Hogwarts, as well as the graveyard where she was said to have gotten the names ‘Moody, McGonagall, and Tom Riddle.’ But perhaps the coolest part was the girls bathroom. Inside, the ENTIRE bathroom was covered in writing – ranging from Harry Potter quotes to just names of people that visited. There was so much writing that it overlapped with one another. My favorite was the toilet that had “This Way to the Ministry of Magic” pointing downward. I’m now tempted to read the series again for the umpteenth time.
11. Arthur’s Seat! So there is a huge hilltop in the middle of Edinburgh referred to as Arthur’s Seat (I tried researching why it is called this, but there is no conclusive reason). It sits within Holyrood Park, where the Queen’s vacation castle is located. On our last full day in Scotland, Hannah and I decided to hike up to the top – it wasn’t too strenuous of a hike, but definitely enough to get the blood pumping. The view from the top was absolutely beautiful – you could see all of Edinburgh and beyond. We even got to see a rainbow over the water.
So there you have it – the highlights of my time during Fall Break. But all of this literally scratches the surface of all I could say about these two wonderful places. I would go again in a heartbeat.
Until next time.