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Chasing a Dream - Part I "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference" - Robert Frost

England and Scotland

UNITED KINGDOM | Thursday, 28 April 2016 | Views [196]

It was a bit of a shock to arrive into the cold rain of London after two months of balmy weather in Africa, and I had to dig into the bottom of my backpack for the down jacket. Despite the chill, it was still nice to enter the bustling heart of the city. I met K at the hotel, which was conveniently located across the street from Hyde Park and a few minutes walk from the Underground. K arrived a few hours after I did and it was a joyous reunion after so much time apart. He also brought me some much needed clean clothes, and I was happy to ditch the safari gear for a more urbane wardrobe.  

With only 2 days in London, we made the most of our time, exploring much of the city on foot and the iconic double decker buses. I dragged K with me to Wagamama's; my favorite place to eat in London, where we had a couple of steaming bowls of ramen at their communal tables. We made quick passes through the British Museum and the National Gallery before hoofing it over to the Thames for some people watching. We were discouraged by the obscene queue at the London Eye, but forgot our disappointment shortly after when we stumbled upon a food cart mecca nearby. The care and craft of the food on offer would put even Portland, OR to shame. There were pots of simmering paella and curries, crispy chips and calamari, and slowly rotating gyro spits, the difficulty was choosing just one. We certainly ate well, and the weight I lost traveling through Africa, I am sure to regain in the short time here.

From London we took the train to Oxford, rented a car and explored the countryside of the district known as the Cotswolds; a collection of quaint villages, oozing with provincial charm. The first night we spent in Lechlade at Vera’s Kitchen in a small cottage. Unfortunately by the time we had arrived in the late afternoon everything was closed, other than the pub. But the food was good and the locals friendly and chatty.  The following day was a leisurely drive through farmlands, stopping for Afternoon Tea in Bourton-on-the-Water, which was like walking onto the set of a Disney movie. Then it was a short drive north to Stow-on-the-Wold where we stayed at the Porch House, the oldest Inn in England. We had dinner at The King’s Arm, an unassuming pub, where K had the 2nd best burger in his life. The following day, we made a brief visit to Stratford-Upon-Avon, hometown of Shakespeare. Although we enjoyed the display of Elizabethan architecture, we found the smaller villages in the Cotswolds much more charming and less touristy. After Stratford, it was back to Oxford to return the car and catch the train to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh was love at first sight; the train station exits right into the heart of the Old Town and all around you can see the rich history in perfect harmony with modern Scotland. Here we met up with our Portland friends Ben and Jen, who by random coincidence happened to be traveling through Edinburgh the same days we were. Totally crazy! We spent the morning on a free walking tour with an enthusiastic young Scottish lad, where we learned many interesting and random facts that we never would have in a guide book, such as the city’s hero is a dog, and JK Rowling got many of her character names from a local graveyard (Tom Riddle is buried there). After lunch and a pint in Grassmarket Square, we headed up the hill to the Castle, arriving just in time to catch another free tour of the grounds. After a few hours spent in the Castle and enjoying the amazing views, we took advantage of the rare Scottish sun and strolled along the Royal Mile, shopping for whiskey and plaid. In the evening we had a lovely dinner at The Devil’s Advocate, before trolling the entire city for a pub with live bagpipe music. Nearly every pub had live music, but ironically, it was all contemporary American Pop. The only bagpipes we heard, was the guy playing in the street for money. We finally settled on a music free pub, but one filled with locals, and put up our weary feet and enjoyed some craft brews. After an amazing day, we said goodbye to our PDX friends.

The following morning it was back to the train station for a scenic journey to the heart of the Highlands, Inverness. We dropped our bags at the guesthouse and set off to explore town on foot. We wandered up to the Castle, then headed down the hill to walk along the river, admiring the charming manor houses we passed by, before happening on a lively pub called the Castle Tavern, filled with locals. We stopped in for lunch and a pint, K tried haggis for the first time, and I had a delicious bowl of mac and cheese made from smoked Scottish cheddar. In the morning we set off for the Isle of Skye, enjoying the drive through the remote Highlands in our bright orange mini-Fiat. We had heard many good things about Skye and it did not disappoint; the backdrop of rolling hills covered in heather reflected off the deep lochs was absolutely stunning. This was a time where the journey itself was the attraction instead of the destination. We spent the entire day touring the island, making a large clockwise loop around the island ending in Portree. We hadn't booked any accommodations for the night, instead opting to wait and find a B&B we liked. The options were endless, as it seemed every other home was a guest house. We found a charming place called Greenacres a minute out of town with great views of the harbor for around $100 US, including a full Scottish breakfast. I would definitely recommend not booking a place in advance as there are literally hundreds of places to choose from and many would likely not have websites, also it gives you the option of finding one that best suits your preference.

The following day we left Skye and made our way back to Inverness passing the famous Loch Ness, and stopping in the village for lunch and whiskeys. Unfortunately we missed the boat tour and didn’t have time to wait for the next one as we needed to return the rental to Inverness. We arrived back there in the later afternoon and had several hours to burn until our night train back to London.  Most of the shops were closed by that time, so we walked around a little more, then had tea and refreshments in the warmth of the Royal Scotland Hotel lobby. We had booked a sleeper berth on the Caledonian and found it to be quite pleasant, though rather expensive, but it was nice to sleep during the 11 hrs back to London, and we arrived in the morning feeling refreshed. We had originally intended to take the train to Canterbury and Dover, but on arrival into London, we were feeling rather lazy and prefered to spend our last day in town. We had found a 2 for 1 pass for the London eye online that could be used with a valid train ticket, and being a Monday the queue was tolerable, so we decided to go up. The views were great, despite our ill luck to be in a car full of unruly children. For dinner we found a tasty Indian restaurant near the hotel then went back to the room and cracked open the bottle of Brut Rose I had brought from South Africa, to celebrate the end to a fantastic trip.

It was a sad farewell to K the next morning as he was headed home and I would be continuing on to Eastern Europe solo.

Tags: cotswold, london, scotland

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