Hello all! I’m currently winding up and preparing for my second evening in Leeds. Here’s a quick update.
Day 5 Cont. – Luckily the weather was a bit more welcoming for the third and final leg of our trip. We left our hostel at about 9:30 and began the trip back towards Edinburgh, however, while it was the final leg it was far from the last part of the trip. The night before upon our return, cold, drenched, and energized from a magical day we cooked a communal stir-fry and then headed down to the two local pubs in the little town we were staying in where we met a few of the locals, celebrated one of the guys on the trip’s birthday, and relaxed.
From our hostel we wound our way to Loch Ness, where we stopped briefly – long enough to see it and for Scott and Ariel to jump into it’s icy waters. Given the temperature outside, how cold the water was, and the fact that i wasn’t very impressed with Loch Ness I contented myself instead with eating fresh blackberries I’d found growing next to the lake. I was really impressed again with wild in Scotland, because unlike other tours we didn’t waste time or money with the castle, a boat ride, etc. – rather we just went down a rural dirt road to the loch…jumped in…saw it…moved on. It was perfect.
From there we wound through the highlands – the farms, towns, etc. were all gorgeous. As we drove the rain come and went but was never super heavy. The wind also had died down considerably from the day before. While the entirety of the drive was beautiful, the only other major stop during day 3 was at an incredible glen. The glen had served as some baron/duke/lord or whomever’s private garden where he’d planted trees from all over the world. The whole thing was built along a beautiful stream about the size of the river that flows through oak creak canyon. There was a beautiful stone bridge built right before one of the more major water falls, as well as a stone watching room built above and across from the main falls which offered and incredible view. In addition to ferns, moss covered rocks and green grass everywhere some of the smaller bushes had started to turn a rich yellow/gold. When we reached the overlook/waterfall we stumbled upon another total surprise. There were salmon running! We stood up at the overlook for a good 15 minutes watching as the salmon made a mad leap toward the waterfall and worked their way up it. It was incredible. One tried I’d say every 30 seconds or so and they ranged in size from a good foot and a half to about a foot long.
From there we headed back to town and passed by the Forth? Fourth? Rail bridge. An incredible creation made out of steel that apparently may have been the motivation for the Eiffel tower. Looking at it, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination that it was.
We got back into Edinburgh about 6:30 that evening. I said my goodbyes and made my way back to the hostel where I checked in for 2 nights and then set out again. After scrounging up some food I spent most of the night around the hostel relaxing and recovering. Met some interesting people, posted my last update and called it an evening.
Day 6 – I started the day by walking down hill and around the eastern face of the castle (previously I’d always gone up and over the royal mile). My path took my in a lazy loop around the front and eventually dumped me into the princess st. gardens. While beautiful, the garden’s were fairly sparse. The most interesting part however, was a floral clock. The clock operates and is created completely out of flowers (arms, digits, everything) the only exception is an underlying mechanical framework.
From the Gardens I headed over to the train station where I made an important discovery – tickets the day before are 1/3 the price. I booked my ticket for Leeds for the following day and then continued my exploration. I wandered up and down princess street and all of the streets beyond eventually making my way to the Botanical Garden, which while beautiful was fairly plain. The real interesting part would have been the greenhouses – a large indoor area full of exotic plants and flowers – BUT they charged and I didn’t want to mess with it. So, contented I began my long trip by foot back toward the castel. Eventually I stumbled upon a large Tesco (think Frys/Safeway) and picked up some food for dinner before continuing back to the castle/hostel.
After cooking, relaxing in the common area and socializing, and reading a bit. I bumped into Jonathan – a Canadian I’d gone out with the first night and we caught up a bit. I’d heard about a local salsa club – and despite it being Monday – a holiday for them I decided to check it out. I strapped on my shoes once again and made the trip back off the mile to a little basement bar a bit past princess street. When I arrived the place was mostly empty – as the night unfolded it turned out that because of the holiday the crowd was weird. Mostly late shows and more interested in drinking and dancing club style than dancing Latin. I did meet a friendly bar tender who after a neat conversation offered a few travel tricks she had picked up during her adventures. After a few hours I got tired of the scene and headed back to the hostel. There I bumped into Jonathan, a friend/co-worker of his, and an American girl over for a night. After talking a bit the 4 of us struck out for some late night food – it was about 1:30AM so we made a quick job of it at the local fried goods joint and then went back to relax a bit longer before turning in. People say McDonalds is bad, but the British fried goods places are 10 times worse. Everything is battered and fried. From mars bars to hot dogs. You name it. While I can’t say that it’s delicious…there are definitely times when it hits the spot.
Day 7 – Leeds. I woke up around 10:00 packed everything up and headed to the train station. After a little confusion I found the right train, found my place and was off. The countryside was beautiful, green rolling hills, ocean, sheep and the occasional city. The ride itself was about 2 and a half hours long. Not bad at all! Upon arriving in Leeds I hit up the tourist information center looking for a map and a place to stay. Much to my surprise and frustration it turns out that Leeds doesn’t have a hostel. The next best thing was a row of reasonably priced B & B’s located up by Leeds University, which luckily is just outside the old city and turned out to be where my friend I came to visit is attending. Unable to contact her until I got web access, I was able to find a B&B that wasn’t too outrageously priced and then set off into the city proper to find food, an internet cafe, and explore a little. The food and exploration was easy, an internet cafe took a bit longer. Apparently – as is the case with hostels-Internet cafe’s aren’t overly popular in Leeds. Eventually I did find one and was able to get Meagan on the phone. We coordinated and I headed toward her dorm…after a fashion. Getting lost, backtracking, asking for directions and wandering. About 20 minutes later, I actually ended up bumping into her on the street having made better time than she expected-she was still on her way back. We headed back to her dorm where we caught up, relaxed, and I met a bunch of her flat mates. We all took a break to tidy up, then went out to explore the local pub. Then we headed to the student union which had several other pubs and a welcome/first week dance. We found a nice area to the side and the 4 of us discussed, debated, and mused. Around 12:30 things closed down and I called it a night.
Day 8 (Today) – Woke up early, left the B&B and headed over to the dorms. Dropped my stuff off at Meagan’s room (I’ll be crashing on her floor tonight) and caught up for a bit before heading into the city. The city itself has a great feeling. It’s fresh, booming, vibrant, and modern. It’s a neat mix between modern architecture and old Victorian. The people are also a lot different. It’s a very attractive populace here – in many ways it reminds me of Scottsdale. I headed straight away to the rail station where I picked my next destination – York! Why? Who knows – it’s a major historical local town, has a castle (I think), and everyone says it is a great destination. I’m currently planning on doing York, then London, then leaving England. I may go to Wales though briefly depending on how things pan out. After booking my ticket I made my way across the old quarter to the old corn market and city market.
The Corn Market was a neat circular building, but fairly boring as it was under renovation. The city market however was fantastic. In an old Victorian building the market was full of booths that sold everything…there were butchers to fish mongers to shoe merchants to locksmiths. After wandering around a bit, and eating a great Gyro I left the market and walked to the Royal Armory. The RA was fantastic, full of arms and armor it has well laid out exhibits, an incredible mix of arms and armor and included a fun show. The show was a 30 minute event, that was a lot like the jousting events at the Renaissance Festival. Only instead of armor and fake lances there were dressed in padded garb that looked the part of a renaissance hunt or court. They performed various tricks to show skill with the sword, spear, javelin and lance. The event was fun and also even a bit informative.
From the Armory I wandered back across the city and made my way back to the dorms where I am now. What tonight has in store? Only time will tell!
Miss you all! BTW – I’ve put a VERY limited number of photos on Facebook – currently I can only upload them 2 at a time due to what I think is a university network bandwidth limit. Doh!