Leaving Leeds, Exploring York and Arriving in London

It’s currently the 23rd, around 3 o’clock. I just arrived at my hostel in London and am taking a bit to update things before heading off in search of dinner.

Day 8 – Cont. (Evening) – After making my previous post I joined back up with Meagan and her flat mates at which time we headed to the local University pub to watch the soccer game that was on. When the game ended we wandered around and explored various destinations before eventually ending up at a fun little pub that consisted of a barge with the side cut out and a building built around it.

Day 9 – Leeds -> York. I woke up around 10, threw everything in my bag and began the trek across old town to get to the train station by 11:00 for my train to York. The weather was nice, with just a very slight drizzle and no wind. I made good time and arrived a good 30 minutes early which allowed me to catch an alternate direct route commuter train. By 1:00 I was in York. Once in York I found the local tourist office, got my hands on a map and made my way to one of the two hostels they suggested. Luckily it was centrally located in the old town and only a 5 minute walk from the rail station.

The hostel itself was definitely C grade. Instead of changing out the complete sheet set each night, they left the bottom sheet, then changed out a sleeping bag like sheet which laid on top of the bottom one. This barely kept the dirty old comforter off of you. The beds were squeaky old metal/wood bunk beds and instead of a common room they had the kitchen or a movie room. The staff was friendly however, and the people I met there were all fantastic. After arriving I dropped off my bag and set off into the city.

The city of York itself is a pretty awesome city. The architecture is great! Most of the interior streets are closed or limited to car traffic and everything is vibrant and fun. York cathedral is fantastic. Not only is it massive, but it is majestic, clean, and had a uniform flavor to it that really makes it special. In addition to the city’s main cathedral it’s dotted with small/medium-sized churches and cathedral’s. During my wanderings I would say I easily saw 8-12 of them. It’s also very easy to see why the city was so popular with the Romans and Vikings. With it’s fantastic location and a decent sized river that flows through the center of the old town it’s no wonder that it’s evolved as it has.

As I wandered I explored the old streets laced with modern retail and eventually found my way to the York Gardens. There I paused for a brief snack before continuing my meandering up past the old Cathedral and then back into the heart of the inner city. The architecture is definitely different from Leeds and Edinburgh, while they had a strong Victorian element. The city of York was dotted with inns and homes that had the classic plaster covered thatch with dark wood boards.

In the inner city I discovered an outdoor market, on – go figure – Market Street of all places. As far as I could tell the market ran every day (at least that I was there) and featured a few outdoor butcher shops, fish mongers, 4 or 5 fruit and veggie stands as well as a number of clothing and odds and ends kiosks. I picked up some fresh meat, a sweet potato and some baked beans.I made my way back to the hostel to cook dinner, converse with the other travelers and grab a quick nap.

After my nap – refreshed and roaring to go-I met up with a few of the others and continued what’s become a hostel ritual… socializing briefly before heading out in a small group to explore the city’s night life.

Day 10 – I awoke to a nasty, rainy day. Eager to explore the city further, I struck out – motivated to brave it. My first stop was the rail station – where I initially planned to book my ticket for the following day to London. As things turned out, all of Saturday’s advanced bookings were sold out, which meant I either had to stay until Sunday and get the discounted rate (more than half the same-day purchase price) or do the same day and pay the 2x rate. I elected to spend an extra day in York, and booked my ticket for Sunday. In the grand scheme of things – it’s a good thing I did.

After booking the ticket and exploring the city a bit more in the rain, I went to the Jorvik Viking center – what I hoped would be an in-depth museum dedicated to the early Viking city and artifacts. It ended up being a big disappointment. On the old excavations they had built a Disneyland type ride – where you sat in little cars that went through a 5-10 minute ride. The ride consisted of slightly animated dummies that had been reconstructed to show what the excavations had found. It was boring, simple minded, and smelled bad. At the end of the ride there was a museum component, but it was limited and consisted of maybe 5 minutes worth of content. Annoyed and wet I wandered around the city a bit longer before finding a cheap place for lunch. I headed back to the hostel to take a nap and watch a movie with some of the others. BTW – English beef/meat sucks.

After the movie and a nap the in-house pub opened up at 10:00, I headed down to see who I’d meet. I connected with another guy from the US, a girl from Finland, and a Canadian. After a drink, as we all got acquainted, we decided to head into the inner city and explore. All in all, it was a pretty standard evening at the pubs – apparently York has a pretty decent night life with something like 300+ pubs within the inner city…it’s a huge destination for Hen and Stag Parties (bachelor/ette). Met a few locals who were all incredibly friendly and fun. Eventually got back to the hostel, then sat around talking until 4:30 in the morning. Ouch.

Day 11 – Woke up and was on the streets by 10:30, meandered around old town a good bit. Explored some back streets, the market, and a huge food and drink festival that the city was having. The weather was significantly better and allowed me to explore a lot more. As I wandered I ended up stumbling into a small furniture/antique/random crap shop. The place was great, full of anything and everything deemed interesting…it was a mess.

York castle is actually just a small tower on the top of a dome, so in that respect I was a bit disappointed. However, the old roman walls which are almost all still intact were awesome. In many ways the day was similar to Day 9 – just checking out odd streets, weird architecture, random stores etc.

On a side note – I’m trying a new travel strategy. As I mentioned previously English meat sucks. They might even inject water into it. While I was in the inner city I passed the equiv. of one of our GNC’s having a sale. In the window they were advertising muscle supplements (protein, amino acids, minerals etc). They had mid-sized powder bottles (it’s for shakes – like creatine supplements but sans the creatine) for a really reasonable price so i picked one up. So far I think it’s been helping. Not only as a tool to offset any dietary failings I might be having as I travel, but also because it’s specifically catered for workout routines. Since I’m walking all over the place – the shoe seemed to fit & so far it seems to have had a positive effect.

After exploring for a good chunk of the morning, I picked up some carrots and stopped at the old merchants hall (think of a banquet hall with thatched/plastered walls etc) and ate them in the garden.

Running out of time – so the evening was spent much like the previous three, but with new people. The Finnish girl again, an extremely tall Aussie over doing security work, and then another American from Florida. Another fun evening, exploring new places and seeing a different side of the city.

Today I woke up – caught a train – and then ran into major delays. Apparently there was an issue with a bridge on the route which delayed our train 40 minutes. After that though it was smooth sailing. I got into London, figured out the metro, and got to my hostel.

Will update soon – ton more photos on facebook as of today!

Scotland

It’s about 11:00PM Sunday evening here – and I’m just winding down from an incredible 3 day tour of the Isle of Skye and Scottish highlands. After arriving and meeting a few of the guys in my sleeping area we hit up the town and explored a bit.

Day 1: The first night a group of 4 of us formed up and headed down to the local Three sisters Pub which has a large outside area and was showing the Scotland-France soccer game. The pub was packed and the energy level was insane – after a lot of back and forth Scotland eventually scored which resulted in an explosion of activity and excitement…everyone was jumping up and down and shaking things, pints, and pint glasses fell to the ground left and right, and the whole crowd was jumping up and down in excitement. After things settled down a bit Scotland eventually won, 1 zip which led to another round of celebration. From there we explored a few other pubs, met a number of other travelers and eventually found our way back to the Hostel.

Day 2: I woke up fairly early, did some wash, got settled and set out to explore the town with Chris – one of the guys from the night before. We started with a 3 hour free walking tour of the city, which covered history, and was just a great general intro to the city. Edinburgh is really incredible, because as a capital city – it’s incredibly small and has a fantastic historic/old town. In addition to the old town and tenement buildings, the closest part of the new town was all built in the Victorian era at the same time on a master planned design. So it has an incredible classical uniformity, beautifully laid out pedestrian and motor oriented areas and a great standard look. When the tour ended we explored the city proper a bit, found a market, the bus station, the train station, and a number of other random stops before returning to the hostel, cooking dinner, socializing with a few randoms in the kitchen, then taking a quick snooz. About 10:00 we woke up and made our way down to what I hoped was going to be an active Salsa club. Unfortunately, it was a standard night and the turnout was poor – i’ll try again Monday (which is a designated salsa night). After leaving the salsa club – pretty much upon entry we walked around a bit more and sampled a few other random pubs. Unfortunately, while Edinburgh has a ton of natural beauty, it’s missing natural beauties. About to give up and call it a night, we stumbled into an odd Cafe/bar that had a great local crowd and was full of attractive, friendly girls. After an hour or two we called it a night – both having early mornings.

Day 3: I decided to do a 3 day Isle of Skye/Highland Tour to really get a good taste. The tour consisted of 10 people. Myself, Simon (our Driver/Tour Guide, 2 other Americans, A Tasmanian, A Hungarian, 3 People from Taiwan and 2 Germans. From Edinburgh we made our way straight into the country side. Our first stop was the castle where Mary Queen of Scots was born for coffee/tea and to introduce ourselves. From there we made our way to a historic battle field where Simon shared a mixture of folklore and history with us. After the battle field we meandered through the lowland country side – which included a brief stop to feed/see a harry island cow (had to throw tater and carrot slices at the fat thing to get it to come visit/eat some more). When we crossed into the highlands we made a quick stop to look at the country side/rolling mountains/talk about peat at which time Simon also pulled a bottle of single malt Scotch Whiskey from his pocket and explained what made it special, before teaching us a traditional toast and then passing the bottle around. The bottle of scotch followed us throughout the trip and served as a fun little tradition whenever we had stops that were exposed, especially cold, or rural and significant.

After our introduction to the Highlands we continued on making a few other stops to explore lochs, glens, or take pictures. Eventually we arrived at the valley of Glencoe made famous in songs and folk lore that recalls the massacre that occurred there. The place itself is incredible. A riveting valley with rich waterfalls and steep, graceful walls all around you. We parked and walked the 1/4 of a mile or so down to the river where we paused for more lore/history before making the way back up to the bus. When I get photos up – this is definitely one set you need to see. From Glencoe we continued along our way making a few other stops and eventually coming to a reconstructed version of an old castle. The castle sat out on a small island and was connected by a bridge. Rebuilt to spec in the early 1900s it was incredibly picturesque. As the sun set, and the golden rays of dusk started to reach out and embrace the castle we took a few photos, shivered from the cold northern wind and piled back in the bus. From there we had one final brief stop at a super market to pick up food for the evening and headed to the hostel. All the while the sunset was one of the most incredibly and gorgeous sights I’ve ever seen. In fact, it was so incredible, as we wound down a 1 lane rural road we stopped to just take it in for about 15 minutes (the whole sunset lasted a good hour).

We reached the hostel which was a great little place, then started cooking – as part of the tour we all paid an additional £35 which included lodging, breakfast, and dinner. We BBQd Ribs, Hamburger, Sausage, and Chicken before all heading to the local (tiny) pub to meet some of the locals and reflect on the day.

Day 4: (The Isle of Skye) – The day was a blustery, cloudy, rainy day – one quite different than the day before. We left our main packs at the hostel (we’d return there again for the evening after making a circuit of skye) and piled into the van. The first 30 minutes or so was pretty quiet as everyone suffered through their respective hangovers and tried to figure out what exactly had happened the night before – but then shortly after that we all got back into touring mode. A good 20 minutes took us to the main bridge from the mainland into Skye and another 10 minutes later we stopped at a lookout that sat across from a huge, majestic, bald, sweeping mountain. At the foot of the mountain and all around us there were – what looked a bit like large ant hills made in the peat. There Simon told us about the folklore that claimed that each was a Fairy den and how the locals avoided harvesting peat from them out of respect. As the weather continued to deteriorate we piled back into the car and made our way further up the coast. After a few other fun stops for local lore, history, or fun photo shoots we came to a set of high cliffs that reminded me of a miniature version of the cliffs of moehr (Moore?) in Ireland – except, unlike those cliffs a waterfall shot out and off the down one side, spilling crystal blue water out and down the 200 or so feet to the rocky cliffs below. On the other end of the lookout we could see the sheer cliffs as they plunged into the sea.

We left the cliffs and made our way to one of the old ruler’s former castle. The castle was perched majestically on the side of a cliff overlooking a bay, with a large island. The spot we stopped initially gave us a great vantage point while Simon told us a bit of the history. From there though, several of us decided to brave the rain and howling winds and make the 10-15 minute walk the long way to the castle. It was well worth it. After arriving at the castle and exploring it briefly the others (who had stayed in the van and come around to walk out a shorter – straight but less interesting path) arrived as well. Hunkered down in a corner overlooking the bay Simon again recounted more of the Castle’s quirky history. As we made our way back down to the van we had to cross a stretch of exposed coastline. The wind was so fierce that you could lean halfway into it. The sheer power of it inflated your cheeks and stole the breath from your lungs as the soft rain stung your face. It was incredible! The energy, power and crispness. The castle behind us, cliff to the side of us, beautiful gray torn ocean out past us and highlands in front of us.

Drenched, cold, and excited we continued on a short way where we elected to stop at a small goods shop. Where we picked up sandwiches, hot pies, and drinks – before heading down to the coast where teh waves were crashing in. Huddled in the van we pulled up onto the dock and faced out into the wind and the bay while we ate our meals and watched the wind blow the rain past us. The sea and sky merged into one gray, glorious entity as the waves came crashing in onto the black rocks dotted with orange seaweed and kelp. After finishing lunch we continued along our way and eventually came to stop at a beautiful waterfall near the road. Behind the waterfall as a majestic backdrop was an incredible stone formation that looked like a spear or spire sticking up from the mountain. Again after a few photos, a lot of water, wind and rain, and a few people slipping and sliding on the wet grass/hill we paused with the waterfall crashing down beside us to listen to Simon recount the story of an old man (who later became the stone spire) and the brownie he helped.

From there we continued along the way – almost all 1 lane roads – surrounded by hundreds of waterfalls, awe inspiring highland mountains, beautiful lochs, and peat covered in blooming heather (a beautiful red/purple low bush) to what Simon called the fairy Glen. The glen was a beautiful little area with a climbable spire – about 100 feet up that offered an incredible view of the valley, loch etc. Just visible through the mist and fog across the valley were huge waterfalls. Meanwhile in the glen there were sheep everywhere, wild ferns, peat, old treas covered in green moss, small streams and a gorgeous waterfall. We explored the glen for a good 40 minutes. It reminded me of some of the opening scenes in the Lord of the Rings/the parts around Rivendell – only it was real, the rain was still falling but more of a light mist and with just a bit of wind.

From there we continued along and stopped for goods and a snack at one of the larger towns on Skye. We checked out an interesting Himalayan bizarre they were having, i grabbed some chips (fries) and then we headed home.

I’ve left bits out, and I’ll try and follow up when I have better internet access – needless to say though – it was incredible.

Day 5: The return – I’m out of time now but it was also a great day. Mixed weather we stopped at Loch Ness, an incredible canyon where there was a beautiful waterfall with jumping salmon and moss covered trees, the last battlefield ever fought on British soil and a quick scenic stop. I’ll have to continue later as I’m out of time. Hope to get photos up soon!