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Grand Finale

UNITED KINGDOM | Sunday, 30 October 2016 | Views [274]

Can you believe that this is my last places post? Because I absolutely cannot believe that it is. Four months has flown by and I am now back in the States. Europe has been incredible but I have written a post with my final thoughts, etc. on my trip. This post focuses on my time in Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London.


DUBLIN

I really enjoyed Dublin even if my time started off a tad rocky. The cheapest flight I could find from Munich to Dublin didn't leave until seven-something at night and was supposed to land in Dublin around 10. Of course my flight was delayed. By the time I collected my bag from bag claim and got on the airport bus to city center it was eleven. My mom, upon learning how late my flight would be landing, had asked me to take a taxi to my hostel. I assured her that I would be fine because the bus had a stop right across from the hostel (or so I was led to believe by the hostel's directions). If you are sitting there reading this and thinking, "Yeah, the bus definitely doesn't have a stop right by the hostel," then give yourself a cookie because you would be completely correct. So there I was wandering around the middle of Dublin as the time neared midnight without any clue of how to get to my hostel. Finally I was able to connect to wifi and use the GPS on my phone to find my hostel. I get checked into my hostel ad forgot the only reason I could afford to stay basically right in city center was because I had booked a 24-person dorm. Yes, you read that correctly, twenty-four person. At this point it's almost midnight when I walk into my room and of course everyone is already in bed and sleeping. I'm trying my absolute best to be quiet because I know how much I hate when people check in late and are really noisy in the room. The lockers are under the bed and metal and seem like a screeching disaster waiting to happen so I leave my stuff next to the bed. Then I look around for an outlet and there's like two charging stations with about eight outlets each for the entire room. On top of that I had forgotten that Ireland and the UK have a different charger than continental Europe so that converter was buried in my backpack. So when I woke up in the morning my phone and iPad were both basically dead. All in all, not a great start in Dublin.

I spent quite a bit of time wandering around city center and The Temple Bar area. Two of the three full days I was there the buses were on strike and while I could have walked to many of Dublin's top attractions, like St. Stephen's Green or Trinity College, trying to go to more than one of them would have been very time and energy consuming. I very much plan on returning to Dublin and will see those things whenever I am able to return.

The big thing I did there was the Guinness Storehouse. Even if you, like me, do not particularly like beer, I still very much recommend going there. While you can buy your ticket at the Storehouse, I'd recommend buying it on their website because you have to pick an entry time and you can sometimes get cheaper prices online, just a tip. I went at 9:45 AM because it was 6€ cheaper than the normal entrance price. The tour is self-guided so you can spend as much or as little time at each exhibit. Throughout the storehouse you will learn about the ingredients used in Guinness, how it's made, how it's transported, the history of the company and its founder Arthur Guinness, its advertising, and much more. There is also a tasting room where you can get a free shot-sized sample of Guinness. If you're like my dad and really enjoy beer, you can pay extra for the Connoisseur Experience in the Guinness. Academy where you'll learn how to properly pour and taste Guinness. There are several cafes and restaurants where you can stop and relax for a bit. I hadn't eaten breakfast so stopped at one of the cafes and ate a Guinness chocolate muffin. It was fantastic. You end your tour at the Gravity Bar which is the top floor and has panoramic views of the city. With your ticket you get a complimentary pint or soft drink. I'd suggest stopping by the Guinness store on the ground floor before you exit the Storehouse. It has about every Guinness related item you could possibly imagine. You can even get pint glasses engraved!

I really enjoyed Dublin but wish I would have had time to go into the Irish countryside. Everyone I have talked to has said Dublin has absolutely nothing on the countryside. If you go to Dublin try to leave some time for leaving the city.


EDINBURGH

I absolutely love Edinburgh. It's right up there with Barcelona and Stockholm for my all-time favorite cities. I stayed in the Grassmarket which is right by the Royal Mile in Edinburgh's Old Town. Unlike basically every other city where I stayed multiple days, I did something different every day.

The first full day I was there I spent my time wandering around just Grassmarket. This area has cute shops, tons of pubs, beautiful cobblestone streets, interesting history, and the inspiration behind Diagon Alley. I liked popping into the little shops, especially the kilt maker's! I also ate so freaking well when I was in Edinburgh. For lunch I had a chorizo & wild boar burger. I saw it on multiple menus and thought I'd give it a try. It had an interesting taste but was delicious! I then went out to dinner with a couple of girls from my hostel on the Royal Mile.

The second day was by far the best day. I went on a day trip to Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands. The company that did my tour actually also does 3, 5, 7, and 10 day tours and I wish I would have had the time for one of those, but I only had one day so I did the day trip which makes for a 12-hour day.

We made five stops during the day. First, we stopped in the small town of Callendar (and yes, our guide did make a cheesy joke about dates). It's considered the gateway to the Highlands because once you leave the landscape becomes dramatically different. We were given about half an hour to get some breakfast, stretch our legs, and use the restroom. I had a sausage roll which was just a sausage in a buttery pastry. Yummy! Second, we stopped at Glen Coe to take some gorgeous pictures of the mountains.

Third, we stopped at Fort Augustus where we most time. Part of the tour included a lunch so we are there but there were several restaurants and takeaway places to eat there. We had two hours to explore the little village or, in the case of most of us, take an hour long cruise on Loch Ness. It was absolutely fascinating. I normally do not put much credence in mythological creatures or conspiracies, but I have always believed in the existence of Nessie. Although I obviously did not spot Nessie, I believe even more strongly in her possibly. Let me explain what I learned. First, Loch Ness is the largest loch (lake) volume-wise in Scotland. There is so much water in Loch Ness that if you were to drain the water and take all of the water from lakes and rivers in England AND Wales and put it into Loch Ness, you would not fill it. It's absolutely massive. And there are dozens, if not hundreds, of caves and crevices so it is entirely possible that there are creatures in the Loch that we know nothing about. Second, there is a lot of peat in Scotland's lochs. This makes is basically impossible for sunlight to penetrate the water making it look black. You can look straight down into the water and not see anything. Third, people can dive in Loch Ness; it's too cold. Year-round it is 5 degrees centigrade. If you were to fall into the Loch with a life jacket on you would could survive up to 10 minutes before you died of hypothermia. If you were unlucky and didn't have a life jacket your chances of survival greatly diminished. You would maybe survive 2-4 minutes. Thus, it's impossible for humans themselves to explore Loch Ness. Fourth, there are historical accounts of Nessie. Historians and archaeologists have found many historical accounts and depictions of encounters with Nessie by the clans and ethnic groups in the area. Fifth and finally, sonar. All the cruise boats use sonar to determine how deep the Loch is as well as to catalogue animal detections. Size ranges of animals in the Loch are represented by different colors. Well, in the 30-something years they've been using sonar, five times they have detected a creature larger than a Great White shark under the boat. But, even if you don't buy into the existence of Nessie, the cruise is still very interesting with stunning views.

The fourth place we stopped was at the Commandos Memorial. The Commandos are an elite force in the Scottish military and the location of the memorial is also their training ground. Once they've made it past basic training they then have to survive on their own in the Highlands for two and a half months. If anyone sees them they have to start their two and a half months over again. It is also a great place for pictures. The last place we stopped was Pitlochary, which is a cute little town.

If you get the opportunity to spend time in the Highlands, please do. My 12-hour day trip cost about $75 plus another $15 for the boat cruise. I talked to a girl in my hostel who was leaving the next day for this company's 10-day tour and she said it cost her about $1000. For what you get, the tours are super expensive. You do spend a lot of time in the bus but the views are spectacular. Plus you have a tour guide that will explain the significance of much of what you will see. I've always found Scottish history to be more interesting than English history and if you know nothing about Scottish history you'll learn so much. As my guide joked, he could basically put on Game of Thrones and you'd have Scottish history.

After the long day, I knew I needed food and decided I had to try Scotland's favorite food: haggis! I'm not going to explain to you what haggis is because, quite honestly, if you think about it too much it will completely gross you out. But I didn't want to get a full meal of it in case I didn't like it. So I got haggis nachos! It was actually pretty good, if very salty.

My third day in Edinburgh I walked the entirety of the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile, which is actually longer than a mile, is the street that stretches from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace (which is where the Queen stays when she visits Edinburgh). In between are gorgeous churches, shops, boutiques, restaurants, cafes, and pubs. I spent several hours walking the Royal Mile, stopping in many of the shops and doing way more shopping than I intended.

My last full day I walked around the area adjacent to the Royal Mile which includes the University of Edinburgh. Much like any part of the city I saw, it was beautiful. I made sure to stop by The Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling wrote part of Harry Potter. You can find many places like that in Edinburgh because that is where she is from. Anyway, I walked near the University of Edinburgh before going to the National Museum of Scotland.

The museum is absolutely incredible. It states that it aims to bring Scotland to the world and the world to Scotland. What I loved about this museum was how diverse it was. There were exhibits on fashion, world cultures, animals, space, innovation, technology, geology, interior design, transportation, communications, and so much more. There's literally something for everyone and even more fascinating is that much of it is hands on. For instance there's a Formula 1 simulator in the transportation display, a screen that types out your message in Morse code, rocks to touch, world music to listen to, buttons to push, games to play, and experiments to try. Some of it reminded me interactive displays at a children's museum, but geared towards adults. The best part about this museum? Except for special exhibits, the museum is free!

I finished my wonderful time in Edinburgh by meeting up with some friends I made while I was in Athens who go to university in Edinburgh. It was so much fun to catch up on what we've been up to since leaving Athens six weeks prior. All in all I absolutely loved Edinburgh and did not want to leave.


GLASGOW

Quite honestly, I think most places would be a let down after Edinburgh, and I was only there two nights, but I wasn't all that impressed in Glasgow. Really the only thing I did was walk around one of the main shopping districts, Buchanan Street, and a major plaza, George Square, for a few hours. Then I was bored and went back to my hostel and was bored in comfort.

My friends in Edinburgh told me Glasgow is great for nightlife and shopping. I can't comment on the nightlife but I can attest to the good shopping. They also told me that I'd like Glasgow but I wouldn't like it more than Edinburgh. I can definitely see that. My suggestion is to go to Edinburgh and the highlands rather than Glasgow.


LONDON

Whooo boy. I spent a lot of time in major cities that are major tourist destinations, especially for Americans - Paris, Rome, Madrid, Florence, Munich, Brussels, Athens, etc. - and in general I enjoyed my time there but wouldn't necessarily go back; I've seen most of what there is to see. I guess I thought that London would be the same way. Except that it wasn't. I really, really loved London. I was there for five full days - and I do mean full - and there was so much I didn't get to see and do.

I didn't have the time or money to go into most of the main attractions (Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London), so instead I did a vintage double decker (routemaster) bus tour that also included a Thames cruise. It was about four hours long and you get to see all the main sites and if you do the morning tour they'll take you to a great place to see the Changing of the Guards without having to squish in with thousands of others in front of Buckingham Palace. Plus the guide explains the history and significance of many of the sites.

What you'll learn about London is that while attractions can be quite pricey, most museums are free. And there are some 400 museums in London so there are plenty to check out. Unfortunately I only had time to go to one museum and even then I only had a little over an hour to see it. I went to the British Museum. It was recommended to me by several people because I like archaeology and history. It was wonderful and I wish I had more time to explore it. I've also heard wonderful things about the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, Tate Modern, and Tate Britain, as well as many others.

If you, like me, absolutely love Harry Potter, London's got ya covered. If you go to King's Cross Station, you can take a picture of you pushing a luggage trolley through Platform 9 3/4 (there's also a gift shop there). There's also a Harry Potter walking tour you can go on. I was going to do it but it was going to take up most of my last day and there was so much I still wanted to see. Plus it was rainy and my feet hurt.

I definitely recommend the Warner Brothers Studio tour: The Making of Harry Potter. This is where they filmed the movies and it's absolutely fascinating. You can see the actual sets they used, props, costumes, and concept art, among many other things. You can even get butterbeer! What impressed me so much was the attention to detail. For instance, in Ollivander's wand shop, each box was hand inscribed for authenticity. There's the tapestry from Sirius's childhood home that has name and Andromeda's (as well as several other names) burned off. The people who made the props and set definitely do not get enough credit for their hard work and talent. The tour is self guided and you can take as little or as long a time as you want. They recommend allowing for about three hours but that's just a ballpark guess. That's about how long I took but I probably would have taken longer if I hadn't been by myself. There's also a massive gift shop and I may or may not have spent an amount of money that I am not yet willing to discuss on souvenirs and gifts. Oh, and fair warning, it takes awhile to get out there. I'd allow for at least two hours each way. You'll have to take a train to Watford Junction from London Euston and then take the shuttle from the station to the studios.

Happy birthday to me! I spent my 23rd birthday in the best possible way: seeing Harry Potter & the Cursed Child. I have not yet read the script because I wanted to be completely surprised for the play but I've heard it's gotten mixed reviews and some backlash. But the play was phenomenal! The problem with scripts is that they can't adequately portray mannerisms, sarcasm, or body language they way actors can and wow were the actors fantastic. Theatrically it was one of the most incredible stage performances I've ever seen. There were so many times I had to remind myself that they were using special effects, not magic. It was spellbinding (get it? Spellbinding? I crack myself up). If you get the opportunity to see it, I highly recommend it (although it will be difficult to get tickets. When I looked for one single ticket three months in advance, there were a grand total of five remaining). Thanks Mom and Dad for paying for the ticket (well, technically tickets since it's two parts)!

Other things to do: walk around Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, and Harrod's. I went into Harrod's on my birthday before the play because it was the only time I was dressed nice enough to go in (I was wearing a dress). I drooled over the gorgeous bags and purses before going to the one place in the store I could (barely) afford: the chocolatier. I bought myself some fancy-schmancy truffles for my birthday (red velvet, passion fruit, raspberry, popping champagne, strawberry champagne, and pink champagne).

London transportation is super expensive so get an Oyster card. I think it's like £5 (a girl I met in Prague still had hers and gave it to me so I'm not positive) and then you preload money onto it. Every time you swipe to get into and out of a station it deducts for the trip and a slightly cheaper price than you'd pay for an individual ticket. Plus at the end of your trip you can redeem it for the money left on the card. Unfortunately I was unable to redeem my card so if anyone is going to London soon (or knows someone going to London soon) and wants mine let me know! There's still a decent amount of money left on it, enough for several trips.


Overall this has been a wonderful experience that I will never forget and always be grateful for. If you're interested in my thoughts and suggestions, then read my other blog post!

 

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