The Final Go

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It was Thursday, and on Saturday I was scheduled to participate in the Nuts Challenge. It is 14k (two laps) in the cold, sloppy mud, and about 50 obstacles or something. Bottom line, I really needed to go on one final run to prepare my body for torture on Saturday. I told Wilma my plan, and gave her some suggestions to do while I was out. She was sleeping when I left, and 10k later she was still sleeping. In all fairness, she had been consistently traveling for the last few days, and probably hadn’t had a proper night’s sleep to adjust to the time difference yet. Plus she was getting sick. Anyway, it worked out. Because I did my run, and still had time to shower and get ready, and then we could hit the town of London together. I had already done most of London tourist things before, so I let Wilma pick what she wanted to see and guided her there. We got lunch, checked out Parliament, Buckingham Palace and then went to Harrods. Harrods was a recommendation of my Nana’s. It’s her favorite store even though she can’t really afford to shop there. I think most people can’t afford to shop there. We both needed to use the restroom and searched for it in Harrods. I don’t know why the bathroom was so difficult to find there, but it took about 4 floors, two workers and almost 20 minutes to find it. Harrods reminded me of a casino. The décor was Egyptian Jungle themed. Wilma described it as the Disneyland of department stores. We went to a café on the 6 floor or something and had some overpriced coffee and hot chocolate. Earlier in the day we had tried to buy our train ticket from London to Worthing. This would have been my third ticket I bought with them. For some reason we could not purchase the tickets online. I thought it was their website, but it was now 5pm and I still couldn’t purchase train tickets, so I decided to call them. The lady on the phone said she could see where I had tried to buy my train tickets 3 different times. She said their restricted my account for fraud. I explained it was not fraud. I had bought tickets online with them before using the exact same credit card. She said there was nothing she could do and the restriction would be removed tomorrow. I became angry because tomorrow I would have to pay full price for a train ticket which was over 4 times the price I had been quoted online. I argued with them about restricting my account when I had used them before no problem, and the customer service rep started giving me attitude and asking me if I would prefer they did nothing to monitor my account and let random people buy train tickets under my name and card. And I said it’s not FRAUD! You are preventing ME from buying a ticket. It was not a pleasant phone call, as we both started getting rather sassy. I basically told her thanks for nothing, she said you’re welcome and we hung up. I then had a brilliant idea to go to the train station and buy the tickets there. There was no way they could say anything about fraud because I would physically be there with my card and ID. In the kiosk I could only see full price tickets so I waited in line to talk to someone. He searched his computer and could only find full price tickets. I started to argue again. I was looking at my phone maybe ½ hour ago and saw the discounted tickets. He said there was nothing he could do. We saw another customer service place for Southern and Wilma asked if I wanted to go in there and talk to someone. We were headed to a Jack the Ripper tour that night and had originally planned on stopping by the hotel before going to the tour. We were running out of time now and would probably have to head straight to the tour. I went inside the office and complained again. The lady said she understood my frustration, was confused why Southern put a fraud warning on my account and told me there was nothing she could do. The only good thing the lady said was at 6pm the systems reset and advance tickets were no longer available. Why couldn’t anyway tell me that earlier! I hung up the phone at 5:25 and was talking to this lady at 6:30. I was beyond frustrated with Southern Train and I wish there was another way to get from London to Worthing because I would do it just so I didn’t have to take their service. Unfortunately there wasn’t and I was forced to pay full price for a train ticket. I tried to buy my first train ticket from them at 11am online. It still gets me boiled up thinking about it. I filed a complaint. I’m sure nothing will come from it, but I hope anyone reading this can learn the cheeky ways of the train companies so they don’t get scammed like me.  So after paying a ridiculous amount of money for a train ticket, we went to East London for our Jack the Ripper tour. The tour was pretty cool. It was a history lesson about the era, the area and the famed killer all in one. After the tour we finally made it back to our hotel to drop off some shopping and I needed to brush my hair. It was now after 10pm and definitely dinner time. I thought we might go for a few beers afterwards and decided to head to Camden Town. The only place still serving food was the kebab joint but oh well. We made our way into a local pub and quickly made friends with a group of boys there. We were chatting and having a good time when one of the boys got creepy. Think Italian Creepy but even more abrasive and up front about his intentions. He even pulled some of the same lines as the Italian like, “what kind of adventures are you looking for.” And I rolled my eyes and thought to myself not again. So again I said no, no, no and no. But he wouldn’t drop it. I had no idea how to get Wilma involved in the conversation. It wasn’t like I could text her an SOS. The creepo finally asked a question about her and I said, “How about you ask her yourself.” Wilma heard her name called and turned to us. The Turkish boy now living in London asked Wilma his questions and she was quite taken aback. WTF is what she was thinking. And thank goodness I’m not in this alone anymore is what I was thinking. I would have left a long time ago, but I really wanted to finish my drink. And for a second there I thought the guy was kidding with his advances. But after he received more nos from both Wilma and I he said, “Well why you don’t guys leave then.” At this point the rest of his friend had gone out for a cigarette, and Wilma said, “Don’t you smoke?”  The boy left for a minute, I started chugging my beer, and when he returned he said, “Why are you two still here?” It wasn’t funny anymore. I finished my beer, went to the bathroom and we left. We said goodbye to the normal boys we met and they were confused as to why we were leaving so soon. I thought in my head. Your friend is a freak. That’s why. Chilling at the second bar we saw two of the normal boys show up and I shook my head. Please don’t let the creep be here. He wasn’t thank goodness. They even admitted to him getting perverted when he is drinking. Thanks for warning us aholes. We basically shut everything is Camden Town down and then took a cab home. I called the front desk to ask what time check out was and he said whenever, just not before 7am. Since it was 3:30am I don’t think checking out after 7am would be an issue. But for me to check out whenever. That clerk might regret telling us that.

When in Rome

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It is my last day in The United Kingdom. Today I will head back to NYC, and then make the journey to my beloved West Coast. I remember when it was my final day in New Zealand. That seems like ages ago now. New Zealand flew by so fast. When I was leaving, I felt as if I had just arrived. Now as I am getting ready to leave the UK, I feel like I have been here forever. Before I recall my final week in England, let me finish up with Italy. I woke up early and made my way to the Colosseum. Because I was so early I didn’t have to queue for long. I got my audio guide and started exploring inside. The first view was spectacular. I could imagine myself being thrown back in time and gathered in the colosseum for a fight. You can now see the stage floor and what lies beneath. I envisioned the ferocious beasts roaring below, and the gladiators preparing for their next fight. I could picture where the nobility would sit and the peasants. You get a sense of how loud the colosseum would get, and the cheers and boos echoing off the walls. Anytime I would throw myself back into Roman times, I would be thrusted back into the present as I ducked to avoid a selfie stick being handled by a giggling girl. This was the colosseum now. Home to thousands of visitors and selfie sticks daily. Although it was crowded, it was manageable. I couldn’t imagine this place in the summer. Hot, and about 5 times as crowded. For how massive the colosseum is, you can only view a small portion of it. I’m sure it’s for safety reasons, and to help preserve the ancient ruins. After the colosseum, I wondered around the surrounding area and ticked sights off of my checklist. I made my way up the main road and gazed at the ruins on each side. I visited a few more piazzas, and saw statues similar to those in Florence. There is a giant museum, dawned with flags, heroic statues, and I was memorized. I walked to the Pantheon and had a cappuccino at Saint-Eustache. The birthplace of the espresso. At this point it starting pouring. I didn’t bring my umbrella. It was too heavy to carry both my umbrella and water bottle, so each morning I made a decision which to bring. Yet each time I didn’t bring my umbrella it poured, and when I did bring it, it never rained. I stopped by the Trevi Fountain one more time. This time there was only about 50 people around since it was pouring. I didn’t stay long. I was getting soaked. After my “linner”. Late lunch, early dinner. I dried off, changed and went back out to wonder the streets of Rome. I went back to stroll through the ruins on the main road again. I explored on the other side of the river, and stepped inside of a church when Mass was in session. This church must be used to visitors because people were coming and going from the back seats frequently. I hung out for a bit and then decided to make my way back to my side of town. It had been a long day walking around Rome, and tomorrow was going to be another long day. I was going to Vatican City. I didn’t wake up as early the following morning as I had hoped. Instead of arriving at the Vatican at 7am like it had been suggested to me, I finally arrived around 8:45am. I took the subway. I was very cautious of my surroundings. Everyone’s warnings came rushing to me about pick-pocketers, or people who would hold a knife to you for 20 Euros. I really didn’t want any of that to happen. The subway was packed. We were honestly packed in like sardines. I didn’t have a thick coat on thank goodness because I was sweating. The lady standing next to me was getting overheated as well. Each time we stopped I prayed no one else tried to get on the subway. I don’t know how we would fit in another soul. Luckily it thinned out. I got off at my stop, and when I emerged from the subway there was a man waiting there. Are you going to the Vatican? And he rambled off directions and told me about the different queues. I made my way closer and could see the queue. I tried to pull out my map to make sure this is where I wanted to be. My goal was to see St Peter’s Cathedral first. A groups of guys at the corner started shouting more directions at me, and asking if I wanted to pay for a tour to skip the queue. I tried to ignore then and they started asking, “Do you speak English?!” I really wish I knew a line in some uncommon language like Klingon and could pretend I didn’t speak English so people would leave me alone. I got in the queue which turned out to be the line for the Vatican Museum. I had no idea if this was the line I needed to be in to see St. Peter’s or whether I would have to queue again. And thus my issue with Vatican City. I was ill prepared. I didn’t have a map. My only tips were about visiting St Peter’s, and now I was heading into a museum. The best thing about Vatican City was the abundant supply of bathrooms. Rome lacks public bathrooms, so it was nice being in a place where I could drink as much water as I wanted and know a toilet would be nearby. It also may have been beneficial taking a tour through the Vatican because I had no idea what I was looking at. I saw so many tapestries and religious paintings while in Italy. I made my way into the Sistine Chapel which was crowded, an Italian theme. I didn’t know anything about the Sistine Chapel expect it was famous, but I didn’t know what for. The museum didn’t offer any reading material, so I couldn’t tell what I was looking for. I stared at the walls and the roof which I found very busy. I was looking for a way into St Peter’s Basilica, and was hoping I wouldn’t have to wait in another queue. One guard told me I could get there through the Sistine Chapel. Instead of going left like I did, I needed to go right. I couldn’t backtrack to the Sistine Chapel; I had to go through the museum again. So I walked swiftly through the museum again, passed all the same artifacts, and was back in the Sistine Chapel. I looked at the walls again and headed for the door on the right. The sign said guided tours only. I asked another guard how to get to St Peter’s and the guard said through the door on the right. So I walked through the door for guided tours only. I was promptly presented with a fork in the road. One was the cupola, the top of the Basilica, and the other was for the Tombs. My friend recommended the tombs, so that is where I went. I thought I might have a chance to visit the cupola later, but I never saw another entrance to it that didn’t include queuing up again outside. The tombs of the past Popes was a sight to see. I wasn’t disappointed, and when I finally made it inside St Peter’s it was magical. The floor, the ceiling, the walls, the decor, everything about it was stunning. It was huge, and looked like it could host multiple Masses at once. I walked around every nook and cranny that I could and tried to absorb all the good juju around me. Being inside such a magical place took its emotional toll on me, and I was ready to go. I spent some time in the square outside which was just as spectacular as the inside. The sun started to come out as well. It was still early in the day. I had a lot of time to see what was left of Rome, so I decided to walk back to the other side of the river. I saw Rome’s castle. I went to another square that had Egyptian looking cats all around it. Then I decided to check out Leonardo da Vinci’s museum. For a few reasons. One was, I really needed to use the restroom, and I figured a museum would have a bathroom. I never saw any public bathrooms in Rome, and most of the time I either went where I had lunch, a museum, or I walked back to my place. And two, I thought a Leonardo da Vinci museum would be cool. The museum was in a church and had no bathroom. The workers pointed me in a direction of a public bathroom which I never found and a Burger King which had closed their bathroom for cleaning. I did eventually find a bar that let me use their restroom without having to buy anything. I then decided Rome smells like poo because there are no public toilets. I went back to the museum which ended up being quite cool. As I emerged from the museum, I saw the rain. It was raining cats and dogs. I did have better rain pants on, and a rain coat, but I knew I would still get drenched. At this point I was just ready to go home. It was probably a 45-minute walk in the rain, but I eventually made it back. My under layers were dry, but my pants, jacket and shoes were soaked. I changed into something dry and relaxed for the rest of the night. I sat in my room and watched the rain pour down from the window. Not the most exciting way to spend my last night in Italy, but it’s what I did.

 

An Awkward Rome

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When I awoke in Florence it was pouring rain. I thought I would go to a museum I had a ticket for, but the queue looked a little long for me, so I grabbed some chocolate, my bags and headed for the train station. I was going to spend three nights in Rome. Not the same place as last time, but the same area. I was hoping the weather in Rome would be better than in Florence. It had been raining a lot. And when it rains in Italy you need an umbrella. It floods and absolutely pours, and I’m always drenched by the time I get back to my room. I lugged my suitcase to the train station in the rain and waited. I would get to Rome about 1/2 hour before the start of the Scotland vs Italy rugby match. I had thought I may buy a ticket to the match, but when figuring out logistics there just wasn’t enough time. Had I known before I booked my train, I would have scheduled a much earlier train. After making my way once more through the streets of Rome with my suitcase, it was finally time to explore. I did watch the match until about 1/2 time and then ventured on. Besides, I think the All Blacks might be more exciting to watch. I had a list of things to do in Rome suggested to me by a blogger I follow. I could post their name, but that would make them more popular. They are popular enough, and don’t need me to heighten that. I was told to eat ice cream on the Spanish Steps. After walking around a bit, dodging selfie sticks, and reading maps I finally found the Spanish Steps. Only a small portion of them were available because 90% of the area was blocked off for construction. And way to many people around to sit on them and have some gelato. I probably would have been trampled. I walked around a bit more, and saw a cafe that Mary Shelley used to sit at. It was similar to the Elephant House, and way too crowded to go inside. So I observed from a far. I looked at the map and decided to check out the Trevi Fountain. I wanted to avoid always pulling out my cell phone. Practice for South America. So I pulled out the map and tried to locate where I was at. I’m not sure which is worse. Pulling my cell phone out to see where I am at and risk it getting swipped, or pulling out a map and looking like a tourist. No way around looking like a tourist when I have a giant map and looked lost. A man came over and asked if he could help. I said no thank you, I got it. So he stood there in my peripheral vision.  Then after a few minutes he came up to me and started pointing in the direction of popular tourist attractions in Rome. I said thank you, but I’m looking for the Trevi Fountain. His eyes lit up, and pointed in the direction of the fountain. I said thank you and began to move that direction when he followed me. “I’ll take you there.” After a small eye roll, I shrugged sure. He did lead me right to the fountain which was nice. But then didn’t want to leave. It was kind of difficult to sit and admire the fountain when I had this strange Italian man hoovering over me. I was trying to be polite about the situation, by slightly ignoring him. The fountain was unbelievably crowded. There had to be 300 people crowded around it. It was beautiful though. I made my way through the crowd, my new “friend” following me, and better yet, telling me where to sit and which to direction to go. I don’t really like being told what to do. I decided to throw my coin into the fountain and make a wish. He poked fun at me saying I threw a penny in the fountain. This guy. I threw in like 50 cents. I didn’t realize the more money you threw in the more likely your wish was to come true. Geez. I finally decided it was time to ditch my new attachment. I told him I needed to go home, and thank you for taking me to the fountain. He started to follow me again. Wanted to know why I was going home so early. I have been traveling for a while now, and I had started to notice a pattern in guys and when they are trying to pick you up. Number one they always ask if you are married and look for a ring. After talking for a bit more, and usually at a random time, they ask you where your boyfriend is. I like how they say where and not do you have one. The conversation can go a few ways from here. More times then none you are talking to a creep who doesn’t care if you have someone back home and still tries to pursue you. In their mind, if the boy isn’t here then you must not really care too much and are off traveling alone looking for adventures. So my new follower asked me what sort of adventures I was interested in, and what I usually did with people I met on my travels. Let’s just say he was confused when I said I like to eat ice cream and go hiking with my new friends. He told me most tourists he meets are into other other types of adventures. The conversation was a little more awkward because of some comments he had made earlier, but you get the jist of it. He then tried to make a time we could meet up tomorrow. There was no way I ever wanted to see this fool again. I made up some bogus itinerary. He said he was going back to the fountain and I was finally free. I walked back to my room checking over my shoulder a few times. I did not see that man again thank goodness. And for the rest of my time in Rome I was a bit more rude to people, and tried to hide my map a bit more. Unfortunately my awkward first night in Rome was not over. Reception recommended me a nearby place to get good food. I looked at the menu and wanted everything. If there was ever time my eyes were bigger than my stomach this was it. People in the restaurant kept looking at me for a few reasons I think. I was a single female, I think the blonde hair is off putting, and I didn’t speak any Italian. One couple asked me how I could order from the menu. I can get by, and I understand enough Spanish that I can get by. By the time my third course came around I couldn’t eat one more bit. The other patrons thought the meat was bad, and I said no, but I am absolutely stuffed. I would like it take away. After a while, a waiter finally came over and asked if I was done. I asked for a box, or take away. And so the waiter took my meat away and never returned. I finally got the bill, and took out my card when the manager in a stern voice said no card! Cash only! This man is lucky I brought cash. Because I don’t remember seeing a cash only sign. It wasn’t like I went to eat at the Nugget, this was a nice establishment in Rome. And lucky for me I had enough cash that I didn’t need to ask for change. I paid my bill and got the heck out of there. I was over Rome for the day. Ready for sleep and to start over tomorrow morning.

Caio!

IMG_9690I had spent most of my time in Europe in the UK, or the British Isles if you include Ireland. I wanted to spend a week somewhere on the mainland. Some of my family said I should visit Greece, others said I should visit Italy, all agreed I should go somewhere where the weather is warmer. I checked the future weather report for both Greece and Italy and they both were reporting the same type of weather. I tried to ask around to see if I could get a tie breaker. I even asked twitter. No one could tell me Italy or Greece. I flipped a coin. Seriously. And it landed on Italy. After I returned from Ireland, I booked my trip plane to Italy. I booked the rest of my t.rip while in Edinbraugh. It gave me something to look forward to. I was enjoying my time in Scotland, but it was nice to think that in a weeks time I would be enjoying Italy at its 16 degrees celsius sunshine. Plus all the delicious pasta and wine I would be consuming.  As I was flying over Europe, I realized Italy’s primary language wasn’t English. This would be my first time in a country by myself where the primary language wasn’t English. No Wilma the translator with me this time. Navagating the airport was fine, the signs were in both Italian and English. And I know a little bit of Spanish, which has some similarities to Italian, so I was making do. I booked my train ticket, and was on my way to Rome. On the train it dawned on me I forgot to research what kind of plugs Italy uses. I did have a universal plug, which I was pretty sure would work. The English plug on it was loose, but I had aquired a few replacements. I googled the Italian plug, which happens to be an European plug, and I had a converter for it. Crisis adverted. I made it to Rome, and located where my accomidation was, and started walking. Just outside the train station Rome is covered in graffiti, litter, and smells a bit of poo. There are a lot of people hanging about, and I felt a little more self aware walking the streets. Walking around Rome was definitely a bit diffierent compared to Scotland. I kept a better eye on my small backpack, my rather large suitcaste and my surroundings. It was hard not to look like a tourist. Not only did I have all my luggage, but I was boosting long blonde hair and pale skin. I made it to my room and got settled in. The staff was great, very friendly. They told me a few places I could go for some pizza and gelato. I was only staying in Rome one night because I was headed to Florence the following morning. My train to Florence wasn’t until one, so I figured I had time to do one thing in Rome in the morning, and I choose the Colosseum. I speed walked down there, took a few pictures and speed walked back. The sun was out and shinning. I had a long sleeve on but no jacket. As I was speed walking back, I could feel the sweat dripping down my back. I hadn’t sweat with such little clothing on since Africa. I grabbed my luggage and went back to the train station. I could not find the train to Florence on the digital screen. I asked one of the ticket masters and he told me to sit tight for a bit, the train would show up soon. It was about 10 til my train was to leave and I still didn’t see it on the screen. I decided my train must continue on to one of spots listed on the digital board. I matched the train number to the train going to Venice. I had less then 10 minutes to get to the other side of the train station. I made it thanks goodness. I arrived in Florence and once again lugged my suitcase around the cobblestone to my next accomidation. After settling in, I decided to go see David. Not my David haha. Michelangelo’s. I went into the Galleria dell’ Accademia and saw the religious paintings, the various sculptures, and when I turned the corner the mighty David. He stands at about 20 feet tall and is gorgeous. You could spend a good amount of time just staring at his magnificence. I walked a bit more around Florence. I was staying near The Church of Santa Maria or The Duomo which is basically the center of town. Florence doesn’t have the graffitti like Rome. Its a bit cleaner, and more uniform. All the churches have the same marble design, and the roofs are a red tile. It really is a beautiful city. I checked out the market, which is basically a bunch of carts full of stuff for sale. Now that I have packed my bag for home I’m glad that I didn’t buy anything. I was really looking at the purses and the scarves. I walked back to my room when I met a Canadian girl staying at the same place as I. We chatted a bit and decided to go get a drink and some food after checking in. She is from Canada but has been living in Slovenia for the past few years. We walked around Florence for a bit more until decided we were absolutely shattered and it was time to retire for the night. I was running my mud run in less then two weeks time, and decided I should do a bit more running. I woke up early and ran up to Michelangelo Piazza. From there you can see the see the whole city and the view is beautiful. I had moments of sunshine and some overcast. There is a replica statue of David in the piazza. It was about 8:30am when I made it up there, there were a few tour buses up, but I’ve heard that usually the place is crawling with them. So I  made do with the light number of visitors. I had heard of the view from Santa Miniato was just as good, so I ran up there. It was a spectacular view as well, a bit different, but still brillant. I don’t know if I could pick one over the other because they boosted different things. I decided to run back to my room and came across a lovely running path. One I would use again if I was staying longer. I made my way back through town and to my room. There is a giant river that runs though Florence. I spent most time on the Duomo side, but it was nice to get on the other side and cross the Ponte Vecchio which is the most popular bridge in Florence. I had a few churches on my adgenda as well as a few plazzas. My favorite was the outside sculpture muesum. There you saw Donatello’s take on David along with a few other famous statues. I stayed there until the rain came. And when the rain came it fell hard. I rushed inside a church, but I was already soaked. The rain let up a bit and I decided to grab some lunch. One of the server’s at the resturaunt was getting off their shift soon and volunteered to show me a bit around Florence. It is amazing the amount of history the locals retain about their city. I don’t think I could tell you any history about Gridley, and not much more about California. I decided to go on one final walk for my daily gelato which I consumed in the outside sculptor museum. It wasn’t raining, and a lovely evening out in Florence. I had one final full day in Florence. I spent it climbing 900 steps. I climbed both the Duomo and the Bell Tower. I visited the Santa Croce which holds the tombs of Michelangelo, Galelio and Machiavelli to name a few. The rain came again and I was drenched. I made my way back to my room to change for dinner. I was meeting one of Mckenna’s Navy friends who lives in Pisa (about 1 hour from Florence). We ordered a variety of dishes and everything was absolutely delicious. The raviolis were to die for, and I am pretty sure I ate veal. Reason I think is beause the meat was really red, like it looked to be cooked rare, but it didn’t bleed like a regular medium rare steak would. It was also really tender. It’s only a guess that I had veal. Whatever it was, it tasted delicious. After dinner, we walked around a bit and I got another history lesson. Florence has a lot of high end shopping and we laughed at the high priced hideous items for sale in the window. It had been another long day, so Johnny and I said our goodbyes and I went back to my room. My plan for tomorrow was to sleep in as late as possible.

Glasgow

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I spent most of my last day in Edinburgh in a museum. I walked by the Elephant House Cafe where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter. I took a picture, but did not go inside. It was too crowded, and I read reviews that the food wasn’t worth the price. I took a train to Glasgow, and got settled in. As I mentioned before, I was meeting my friend Rose. She was in Glasgow because a friend of her’s from Ireland now lives there. After dinner, I took the subway to the West Side of town and met up with Rose and her friend Laura. It was raining of course, but that is Scotland. We socialized for the night. Went to a few different bars, and even hung out with a few other locals.  Some locals I could understand, others I couldn’t. It was similar to Ireland. Depends on how fast they speak. The next morning I had decided to visit the People’s Palace, which is a garden and a small museum, and the Glasgow Cathedral. I met Rose and her friends at the Cathedral, and then we got some lunch. When we were out the night before, a local told me how Scotland needed a “last call,” but you could stay out all night in London. I asked why the difference since they were both part of the UK. His response was The Scottish, especially the Glaswegians, were alcohlics. They need to be sent home to prevent bad things from happening. This came to light during my time at the People’s Palace. They had an entire section designated to responsible drinking. I saw pictures of drunk guys passed out in the gardens during the middle of the day, and they had a wooden charriot type wagon thing on display. This was used to haul the drunk people off to jail during the 1800s.  Another interesting piece in the museum was “determine their punishment.” The Glaswegians had been given a survey. It was different scenarios, all resulting in murder, and they picked jail time or death as a sentence.  Mind you some deaths were on accident or negligence, and some were quite gruesome. The Glaswegians are brutal. They said everyone should be sentanced to death. The Scottish see no mercy.  My time in Glasgow was rather lazy. I did see the city. I walked around it a lot both during the day and at night.  I checked out the Necropolis  which is a creepy cemetery. Some tombstones stand over 15 feet tall, and even have rooms. The dates weren’t as old as  I thought, and some date of deaths were in the 1930s. Not sure why you need a 15 foot tomb room, but to each’s own. It was wonderful spending time with Rose and her friends, and I met some girls at my accommodation that I befriended as well. Glasgow was a different city for me compared to Edinburgh. I really enjoyed my time in Scotland. The stories were interesting. The country has been at war with either each other or someone else (primarily England) since the beginning of time. It is a beautiful country. The Highlands are breathtaking, and the cities have there own unique beauty. Glasgow is a little more modern, and boosts the second largest shopping area in GB outside of London. Edinburgh has some modernization to it, but the old city is something to brag about. I loved the old case stairwells, the cobblestone, the castle. The food was fine. The UK isn’t known for their food. I did try some Haggis. It was fine. And I had an Arran burger. Arran is my father’s first name, and they had quite a bit of food and beverage items with his name on it. The weather was less than ideal, but I came in February so I wasn’t expecting much. The Scottish are hilarious. They are very proud of their heritage. I told my tour guide I had some Haggis in England, but was looking to try some in Scotland. When I said that, the tour driver spit. Keep up the feisty spirit you guys. Cheers Scotland.

The Highlands

IMG_9529I was dressing warm for my trip to the Scottish Highlands. My fleece lined leggings, ski socks, thermals, winter coat, gloves and my winter headband. It was going to be a 12 hour tour. We were going to drive through Glen Coe, Ben Nevis, Loch Ness, Inverness, Cairn Gorm Mountains and then return to Edinburgh. It snowed the night before which made the mountains beautiful. The mountains in Scotland aren’t as tall as those in California or New Zealand, but they were still beautiful. The bus driver was halrious. He wore a kilt and had three rules. Don’t talk on your cellphone during the tour, don’t talk when he is talking, and be on time. A group of about 4 people were late for the tour and the guide gave them a hard time for it. It was funny to watch. We drove passed Sterling Castle where the William Wallace mounment is. So unfortunately I was unable to get any proper pictures because we never stopped. As we got further into the Highlands, the snow became thicker, and the scenery became more beautiful. It was now snowing and blustery again. We had reached Glen Coe where the first stop was scheduled. I was nervous. It looked awful outside. The driver said from this point we wouldn’t be able to see anything , espcially the Three Sisters which is the main attraction. He drove a little further down the road and pulled over on the other side of the hill. The snow and wind had stopped, and it even looked like the sun might break through. We stepped outside the bus and took in the amazingness that surrounded us. It was like I was back in New Zealand staring at the Southern Alps speechless. It was absolutely breathtaking. This is Scotland. Omigod, Scotland. I was not expecting this. Turns out Glen Coe has a sad history. An entire clan was murdered. Also, the area is where scences from Skyfall were filmed along with Harry Potter. We kept driving and made another bonus stop to take in the beautiful panorama that surrounded us. The sun had come out now. I needed my sungalsses in Scotland. It wasn’t warm, but it wasn’t rainy or windy either. Our next stop was Loch Ness. We arrived just in time for our tour. As soon as the boat launched, the wind and rain came. I tried to hang out up top and outside for as long as possible, one so I could see the sites, and two the inside was too crowded for my taste. We searched for Nessie, but did not see anything. We took the boat to an old run down castle, the only one on Loch Ness. Loch Ness is the second largest lake in Great Britian. Only second to the largest lake I saw in Northern Ireland. After our cruise, we returned to the bus and started the journey home. The driver wasn’t a fan of Inverness and drove quickly through it. I was exhausted. I’m pretty sure the driver is used to people falling asleep on his tour, especially in winter after nightfall, so he plays an audio tape. I peaked out the window for any Northern lights, but I was unsucessful. We arrived in Edinburgh late, but suprisingly I was no longer exhausted and decided to go check out a ghost tour. The guide told us stories of all the executions that used to go on in the square we were standing in and the street that my hotel was on. The executions were quite brutal and went on for three days. Everyone was hung, beaten, and quartered with their body parts sent to the four corners of the UK. And their heads would be spiked in London for all to see. We then went down into the vaults. It used to be a merchants quarters, then turned into an illegal merchants quarters, then turned into a place to store dead bodies sold to the medical school, and I think finally a place for hookers. She told us strange stories about things that had happened or been felt during previous ghost tours. I grabbed my cross and started rubbing it . I’ve got my own personal guardian angel, and no spirits are coming near me. The ghost tour ended around midnight. I made my way home and went to bed. Set no alarm. And woke up at 11:30 the next day. It was glorious. My last full day in Edinburgh consited of a nice run through the new part, both in age and for me. Then I toured the castle and its grounds, and finished the day by checking out the Queen of England’s Scotland castle. During the Winter, when you wake up at 11:30am you’ve killed most of your day. I was okay with it through. I had seen Edinburgh for the beautiful city it is. Tomorrow I would check out a few more things and then take the train to Glasgow. And in Glasgow I would meet my friend Rose from Ireland. What a small world.

A Blustery Day

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It was a blustery morning when I arrived in Edinburgh. The pilot completed an excellent landing in the winds, and it was also his 30th birthday. I made my way to the tram station and headed to central Edinburgh. I had about a 10 minute walk to the hotel after my drop off point. After walking for a few moments, I was presented with a hill. I treked up the hill with my suitcase (which stands to my hip) as the wind tried to blow us around. I tried to read the map, and saw where I needed to go next. It was another hill. This one steeper, made of cobblestone, the wind was picking up and it was even starting to sprinkle a bit. I kept walking and made it onto a main street. A man was playing the bag pipes. There was a giant old Catherdral. People everywhere. Souvienor shops. And the spectacular Edinburgh Castle. I was in Scotland, and it was beautiful. I continued to follow the directions, but I was lost. I was on an upper street and needed to be on the lower street. I couldn’t understand google maps. I stopped to study the map. It was really howling now, and my 10 minutue walk turned into a 20 minute trek up two large hills in the wind and rain all while lugging my suitcase around. I finally figured out there was a secret staircase that I needed to use to get to the lower street. I lugged my suitcase down the small and dark case. A case being an alleyway for people only. I finally reached a downhill point in my journey. And at the bottom of the hill was my hotel. My room wasn’t quite ready, but that was okay. I had some errands to run. Yep, I was on holiday and running errands. I booked my Highland tour for the following morning and then made my way into town. One of my errands was I wanted to figure out Peru. I went into the STA travel shop and found a program that would work for me. It isn’t quite as long as what I was originally looking for, but I’m okay with that. So basically I booked a volunteer/adventure package. I will work with children and help them gain certain skills so they can succeed in life, and then I will have two side trips. One to Machu Picchu (which was my main goal for Peru) and another to the Amazon. Everything is already planned for me. Where I’m going to stay, what I will be doing each day, plus some scheduled free days. My airport transfer, my two side trips are all organized, and I have a few day trip activities already planned. It’ll be different than what I’m used to but I’m okay with that. I will be with the same people for the entire 20 days, and most of my time with be spent in Cuzco. I’m looking forward to staying in one place for a bit because consistently traveling does get tiresome. Also, I could be more excited for Machu Picchu and the Amazon. One last adventure before it’s back to the real world. The flight was the most difficult to situate. San Francisco had the most options, but not without a long layover. I have about 24 hours of travel on my way there and back. Plus I fly in and out of San Francisco at really bizarre times. No direct route to South America for me. Another cool thought, this will be my 5 continent since I started my travels. Besides Antartcia , I only have Asia left. Settling everything for Peru took a while, but that is okay. The weather was atrocious anyway. My second errand was renewing my mobile phone plan. I officially checked into my hotel and settled down. I walked around a little bit and got some dinner.  I was right next to a few pubs, one being the smallest pub in Scotland. I was also situated next to Scobby’s Cafe which I loved. My tour the next day had an early start, so I wasn’t going to be doing anything crazy.

The Emerald Isle: Back to the Uk

My trip is silly so far. I have gone from USA > UK> Africa> UK>Ireland> UK> Ireland> UK (where I am currently in Scotland). I was driving to Northern Ireland to visit a friend of mine I had met in New Zealand. This would be the second NZ friend I have met in Europe. I now have friends all over the world. Its wicked. It was a long drive to her house

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. And I never went through another town since I left Galway. I was in the middle of nowhere Ireland. There is no border patrol. Didn’t even know I was back in the UK until I tried to pay for my chocolate milk in Euros and the cashier looked at me silly. “Oh..you want a pound.” My friend lives in the middle of nowhere. I drove about a half hour off the main road through farms until Siri said my destination was on the left. I tried calling Rose to let her know I’m nearby because I wasn’t entirely sure which house was her’s. No service. I aimlessy walked around utill I found reception. I had dropped my car off at the fish and chips shop. I was in the right area. Siri told me I had arrived about 30 seconds to late. Rose was impressed. She said she will now tell her other local friends that they have no excuse if they can’t find her house. The American girl found it. She had another friend over (Cardessia…I know I didn’t spell that right). Long story short there was a lady who had been sick. The doctors didn’t really have an answer for her as to why she was sick. Cardessia had a relic of a powerful Saint someone had lent to her. Her and Rose were going to lady’s house to say a few prayers and bless her with the relic. My next observation about Ireland was that it was very religious, but the Irish also like to party and have fun. I had come to that conclusion before I arrived at Rose’s. I hadn’t seen so many catherdrals and churches in such a small area. But I haven’t been to Italy yet. We went to the lady’s house. On our way there we saw a wake was going on at her neighbors. Rose asked the guys standing out front who had passed away, and if they new where house Mcgholin was. They knew. Small town. Frances was a lovely women. Bless her. She made us tea, brought out crackers. We chated for a bit. Turns out she used to take Cardessia’s Granny to mass when she was wee. The girls wanted to make sure I wasn’t feeling uncomfotable. I said not at all. I was getting a local Irish experience I would remember for the rest of my life. Some stories were told. Tales exchanged. We said some prayers and blessed Frances. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but my sister Fraine came to surface and some tears were shed and more prayers were exchanged. God works in mysterious ways. And we all agreed he doesn’t take those who aren’t ready, and have served their time on earth. It’s still tough because she didn’t need to serve long. We went back to Rose’s house and ordered some take out. Since it was Valentine’s Weekend most of the restaurants were fully booked up. Rose and I were going out that night with another friend of her’s named Ciara. I said my goodbyes to Cardessia. We went to a little bit bigger of a town. Kind of like going from Gridley to Chico, expect the big town is Gridley. And Gridley has about one street full of pubs. We drank, we danced, we chated. I had a blast. We got back into Rose’s house late. My drive was shorter the following day, but it had been a long week. I was made a traditional Irish breakfast which was brillant. Rose showed me around a few more highlights in her town which included some cottages, the lake they live near, and the chapel. This is how I know I wasn’t possesed back in Killarney. I walked into the chapel and even spoke with a Father. No spirit would have been able to do that. I said my goodbyes to Rose, but they were only temporary. Turns out she has a friend in Glasgow, and will be visiting her the same time I’m in Glasgow. What are the chances. I drove to Dublin, and walked around. I checked out the Temple District. The whole week I had been listening to Irish radio, and all they talked about was a shooting in Dublin. The gang problem in Dublin. How violence had risen, and the cops were scared of the mob. I was a little hesitant to be walking around Dublin on my own at night, so I made sure to stay in crowded areas. There was an awesome band playing a free show on the street. It started snowing. Lots of couples since it was actual Valentine’s Day. Dublin was okay. I didn’t get to see lots of the usual sights because I ran out of time. That was my last night in Ireland. I made it to the airport. Returned the car okay, and faced no problems coming back into England. Actually I didn’t even go through immigration. Go figure.

The Emerald Isle Night 2-4

075I woke up at a decent time. Showered, had breakfast, explored Cork long enough to get myself a pair of earings and Mckenna her jersey and then went up to Blarney. I parked a bit away,  but I enjoyed the walk. The sun came out for a bit even though the grounds were muddy. I wasn’t sure if there would be a queue to “kiss the stone” so that is where I bolted. No queue, and we actually had to ask another visitor nicely if she would press the button to take the picture of me kissing it. The stone is in a really random location, and you have to go backwards off the edge of the castle and kiss the stone upside down. I’ve now been blessed with the gift of gab. The castle is ancient, and narrow. Unsure how the hefty Winston Churchill made it up that staircase. I explored the castle and its surrounding grounds. I found a witches stone. Apparently she is released from the stone every night. There were a few other superstitious relics around the castle grounds. Something I’ve noticed about the Irish. They are superstitious. I noticed some people walking around with a black dot on their forehead. Oh! It was Ash Wednesday. After lunch in Blarney (where people were having pints, not me, I was driving) I made my way to Killarney. Once again about 1/2 hour before dark. I made dinner and then walked around the town a little bit. Checked out one pub, and then I found out they had a LOTR pub! It was called the Shire. I had to go there! I walked through the Hobbit door to find out I was the only one in the pub who didn’t know the bartender. There were only 3 people in the pub. I drank my Gandolf ale and left. I needed to be up early tomorrow anyway. I woke up bright and early and drove into the National Park. It was really pretty. My first stop was an old abandoned abbey surrounded by a graveyard. My second notice about Ireland is that its creepy. Its haunted. The roof of the abbey was gone, but there was a corrider that went down into the basement. I shined my cellphone light down there, and hell no. There was some sort of spirit down there waiting to posses my body and take over my life. In a roundabout way, I ended up down in the basement anyway. I sprinted through the corrider and up the stairs toward daylight. In case you’re wondering, I haven’t been posssed. I’m pretty positive. And youll see why later on in my trip. I went for a wee walk to the waterfall. I saw some Irish deer. They look weird. The waterfall was cool. Ireland is green. Very green. I decided to drive through the park a little bit more, and thats when I was blessed with the amazing views of the mountains and the lakes. The mountains aren’t very tall in ireland. But it adds variety besides rolling green hills. There are goats, and some mountain sheep. The sheep were in my way of a pictuesque shot and wouldn’t move. Darn sheep. I had a second road trip to comeplete that day, so it was time to leave Killarney and head to Dingle. After lunch I decided to conquer Slea Head Drive. One of the most scenic drives in all of Ireland. And was it. The cliffs aren’t as tall as the Cliffs of Moher (but that is what makes them special) but they were still divine. The sun was out for a bit, so I took proof that sun in Ireland does exist. I was really becoming an expert driver on the left hand side. We will see what happens when I go back to the US. I would probably pullover ever 2 kilometers or so. That might be an exaggeration, but a 35 km route took me 3 hours or so. I did go for a longer walk at the end though. The sites were memorizing. At one point I noticed a large herd of sheep coming at me. They were on the road. This road wasn’t big enough for the two of us. When they got closer I stopped my car so the sheep could go around. They were confused at first, but eventually figured it out. I could see the dog and the farmer behind them. Darn sheep. Always in my way. As I rounded the peninsula, (STAR WARS SPOILER AHEAD) I am pretty sure I saw Luke Skywalker’s island. I know it is off Dingle. Tiny island though. Not much else there except Luke. I went for a good 1/2 hour walk or so, to probably one of my faveorite views. I didn’t realaze Ireland had so much hiking. Killarney had tons, and so did Dingle. Good to know If I return in the summer. I returned to Dingle and checked into my room for the night. I got some dinner. That town was dead. It is purely a summer town. Have the shops were closed for the winter. But luckily I found a pub to serve me beer and food. I had another long day tomorrow. I was headed to Cliffs of Moher and then Galway. The drive to the Cliffs was fine. Long but fine. The Cliffs were breathtaking. I lucked out and got some sun towards the end of my visit. It was really muddy out there. My pants and shoes were fiflty. I laughed at all the girls walking through the mud in heels (just a small heel) or white canvas shoes. You can walk to the edge of the cliff. I couldn’t do it. I had visions that a gust of wind would come and blow me off the edge. No one would know I was missing, until I didn’t return to London in a few days time. The park would wonder why my car was left overnight. They would probably assume quickly that I fell off the edge. But to put two and two together for my family in England to find out that it was my car at the Cliffs and that I probably fell to my death, I thought that might take 5 days or so. I stayed away from the edge to play it safe. And I had heart attacks for the people who would stand on the edge or dangle there feet. I am now curious how many people have died at the Cliffs of Moher. That was my highlight for day 3 in Ireland. I drove to Galway which is probably my favorite city. The city center was cute. I loved the pubs and all the live music. I would of loved to spend more days there. But that was becoming a theme for my trip. As long as I get a different immigration lady, maybe one day I’ll go back. (Might be the only overseas place I can get David to go to anyway) 🙂 I had yet another long day tomorrow. I was driving to Northern Ireland near Belfast. That trip needs an entry of its own.

The Emerald Isle Night 1

023I could see the Emerald Isle from the window. The sky looked blue, everything looked green. I was ready for a week with the Irish. I made made my way to immigration where there was honestly no one in line. It reminded me of New Zealand, and I instantly thought, “I already love this place.” I showed the lady my passport, and I don’t know what it was. Maybe my backpack, my shortness, because I am an American, because I had been to 3 continents since November (which I think is rad by the way). Whatever the reason, the Irish immigration lady did not like me, and she accosted me with questions. “Keelie, when was the last time you were in the US?” “How are you paying for all your travel?” When do you plan on going back to the US? What have you been doing in the UK since January? Where have you been staying in the UK? Oh with family (insert eye roll). What are you doing in Ireland? Where will you be staying? When are you leaving Ireland? “I’m leaving in a week,” I replied. Show me your flight out of Ireland!! I pulled it out. Then she asked how much money I had saved for my trip, and how I earned this money. She begrudgingly stamped my passport and I was allowed entry into Ireland. But at this point I’m now thinking. Do I want to be here? I made my way to the car rental place and agreed to two upgrades. One from manual to automatic, and the other for the insurnace. I was feeling nervous about driving on the left and didn’t want to take any chances. I got on the freeway and was on my way to Cork. I thought I was doing pretty good. GPS was working, and freeway driving is easy. I wasn’t going extremely fast, but I also wasn’t sure what the speed limit was. It was a two lane freeway, and I was crusing in the right lane, which would be our slow lane in the US.  The man behind me kept flashing his lights and putting on his blinker. I panicked. What is wrong with my car. Is something hanging from it? Is it about the explode? What is wrong? Then he got in the left lane and sped up next to me and kept staring. What did I do to piss this guy off? Is he going to run me off the road? What is wrong with my car? He sped off. Then another car came up to me, and this guy sped up, zoomed into my lane and slammed on his brakes. All while he had his left blinker on. Then I remembered a conversation I had with Karen. The right lane is used only for passing. You don’t drive in it. So the entire time there was nothing wrong with my car. These people just wanted me to go back to the left lane. I moved over no probelm. But my driving woes weren’t over yet. I saw a sign for Killkenny. Oh! I love that beer. Lets check it out. Benefits of having a car. So I got off the freeway and went to Killkenny. It ended up being a 50 kilometer detour but oh well. I noticed I kept drifing to the left side of the road. I kept driving over the warning bumps. The road to Killkenny was narrow and had a lot of pot holes on the side. I also kept hitting those. But the extent of my drifting didn’t really kick in until I got into town. The roads were narrow, there were cars coming at me and cars parked on my left. My rearview mirror folded in. I side swiped something. I just don’t know what. And then it happened again. I was mortified. I had only been driving for maybe 2 hours and I already wrecked the car . When I parked in Killkenny I assed the damage. I popped my rear view mirror back out, and my car was dirty. But that was it really. From then on I made a concious effort to hug the center lane. When I was driving through Dublin near the end of my trip, the car in front of me kept hugging the left line, and would actually drift over it slightly sometimes. Rookie left side driver I mumbled. I made it to Cork no problem, and with about 1/2 hour left of daylight. It had been a long first day in Ireland. I made dinner and went to the pub for some Guinness. There was a soccer game on, and the pub filled up quickly. Two pints later I was full, and feeling a slight buzz. I retired for the night. Big day tomorrow. I was going to Blarney Castle and then to Killarney. Let the Irish road trip begin!