It’s been a few days since I did some writing, sorry (you can probably blame it on alcohol consumption and lack of sleep, but that’s just the way cookie crumbles isn’t it?). I am currently on my way to Galway (Yes just like the Ed Sheeran song. The music video was filmed there, go ahead and give it a watch).
I guess as a preface to this blog, I would like to first mention how personal this trip was. Sometimes when you travel to a certain country it just resonates with you, and you don’t feel like some Sassenach (#OutlanderReference) on vacation, but more like you are a small puzzle piece that fits somewhere in the larger picture. I encountered this feeling in Spain, but I didn’t expect to feel it again, though I can’t say I am entirely surprised as all of my roots lead back to Scotland. I think that this is also a reason why I have put off writing this article, it’s just so personal as it links me directly to who I am and is so visceral. So I guess I’m just asking you to keep that in mind as you read it!
Well on that deep note, here is your weekend update (Though sadly lacking celebrity crush Colin Jost)!!
I landed in the mama land (Scotland for those of you who haven’t heard me call it that yet) on Wednesday night. The flight was on a small propeller plane and took a whole 30 minutes to arrive. The pilot announced our landing before the air hostesses even had a chance to disseminate all the beverages. A thirty-minute flight is absolutely fantastic, but the whole prop plane thing definitely makes you want to cross yourself a few times. Any way, made it to the mama land in one piece, where I met up with my long time friend Jose who I had met in my previous travels to Spain and who is currently working/getting his PhD from the University of Glasgow in biomedical engineering (BME) and biomaterials research. Yes I was lectured (at my request) on the properties of hyaluronic acid but I will spare you the details (unless you are interested). Anyway, he has a house in Glasgow about a 15 minute ride from the airport and it is fantastic and adorable, with its best feature, in my opinion, being the towel warmers. On another note, I have been refusing to shower in our AirBnB because I don’t like it (I am a shower princess, but I have other options so why not use them). So finally I got to shower with hot water and pressure. I also haven’t used hair conditioner for about a week now, and I think the pictures reflect that….
In the morning we went and rented a car. Which is awesome because neither of us are 25+ (we just had to pay a young driver fee). I mean they wouldn’t even rent us cars at all in Canada. Our wonderful ride for the next three days was a green, manual, diesel mini cooper, right hand drive of course. I can’t tell you how many times I (sitting on the left, where I usually drive from) reached for the shifter. Still so backwards. If you are wondering… fast forward a day and I did drive. This whole left hand side of the road of thing is hard. So many props to Jose for somehow keeping composed and calm for my whole 15 minutes of driving through the tightest windiest roads, and telling me how great I was doing. I also thank him for being honest after I was done driving, and telling me that he thought we were going to crash at least 5 times.
The first place we took our little mini cooper was right to my ancestral origins, Quarriers village. This is where my great grandma had been placed after being orphaned. We went into the visitors center and tried to meet up with the genealogist my aunt had been in connection with, but she was on vacation so we didn’t get to see any documents or find out exactly which house my great grandma lived in. The lady at the desk was so nice regardless, and give us an info book and a walking tour map to visit all the buildings. We got to see the church, and all of the memorials. One of the coolest spots was the Canadian garden (there were two) that were placed there to commemorate the Quarrier Orphans that were sent to Eastern Canada for labour (that’s how I got to be where I am). They had planted maple trees, which were so nice to see so far from home. We of course visited the graveyard and got to see all the graves. Normal people live in the village now, even the church was converted to apartments. The village itself was just so peaceful and so quiet. It made me quiet (a freaking miracle) on the inside and outside, and was such a fantastic visit.
We hopped back in the green mini, and headed on our way to Stirling Castle! My first Scottish Castle! Note: We did a lot of driving, and got a nice full range of radio stations, so I guess whenever I mention we were driving picture lots of carpool karaoke and terrible dance moves (especially really terrible versions of Despacito, despite one of us actually have a Spanish as a first language. And yes I did get to practice my Spanish). When we got to Stirling, we visited the old church first, with all of its stain glass. As was my tradition in Spain, I paid to light a candle. We also got to see the old hospital attached to the church, as well as the graveyard. The grave yard had graves dating back from the 1700’s and it was so cool to see how they were all designed. Skulls, crossbones, and skeletons were very prominent grave decorations, kind of opposite of how we do it now. Then of course up to the castle which was sooooooo awesome. All the old stone, and walls, the dinner halls, just so nice to see. And the view was spectacular.
After a few hours of castle exploration, it was back in the mini to Edinburgh!! Honestly, I am impressed we fit so much in just two full days. I also continued to refuse to drive at this point, because I was scared of my Canadian driving override in which I would suddenly turn onto the wrong side of the street or go the wrong direction in a traffic circle. We got stuck in some traffic, but compared to some Crowchild trail jams I have been in this was nothing. We passed the time playing some Spanish word games, and we were out of the jam before we knew it. Edinburgh is such a beautiful city, so old and so modern at the same time. I found a cat café! By this point we were starving, so we googled “best fish and chip in Edinburgh” and went on our way. We told the guys at the restaurant what we googled and they were so happy that we had arrived at their restaurant. And yes, it was freaking delicious!!! I also had a very Scottish Soda/energy drink (?) thing, called Iron Bru, with the bottle being as manly as the name. It tasted like orange monster or something, and I was pumped up! We visited most of the sites in Edinburgh and generally walked around until it was dark. We popped into a bar, and I got to have my first Scottish beers! (FINALLY, BEER). And in traditional Canadian fashion, bumped into other Canadians, a couple on their honeymoon from Vancouver! 10/10 would honeymoon in Scotland, but Jose says it’s too cold to honeymoon there and Bali or Bora Bora is a better destination.
We made it back to Glasgow without a hitch, now full of beer and energy drink, and passed out. This next day was honestly the funnest day of my life, mainly because of the things that went wrong. I have already learned that things are definitely not always going to go your way when you travel, and you always have to be open minded and open to change and minor disaster. Or in this case, general WTF moments. But if you know me, the following events shouldn’t surprise anyone. The plan for this day was to go hiking in the highlands. So we had picked a hike the night before, that should have been doable in 4-5 hours and formed a long loop around a few ridges. Nothing too serious. I made the conscious choice back in Calgary not to pack my hiking boots, but honestly I don’t think better footware would have saved me. As soon as we started on the trail we realized just how marshy it was. We had read that there was a short walk through a marshland, but this was bigger and wetter than we expected. So naturally, within 5 minutes had my shoes and socks off and was just hiking barefoot in the squishy ground. This whole trip to Scotland we had warm sunny, weather, especially so this day, so it was warm enough to roll up the pants and ditch the shoes. Thank goodness for warm weather. One part of the trail is a small ladder that goes up and over a fence. I went up the ladder no problem, but on the way down the ladder suddenly turned into a slide and I fell from the top of the ladder to the bottom. Normally this wouldn’t have caused much issue, you could just pick yourself up and dust yourself off and continue on. But no, this more than a marsh. This is a legit bog. I know a lot about bogs thanks to a trip we took to the Glenbow Museum back in grade 5 to see an exhibition on bog mummies. Bogs can preserve bodies, bogs kill horses, and bogs have even ended huge battles. And despite all of these fun facts, I fell from the ladder, straight into a waist deep bog. WAIST. DEEP. Half of my body stuck in the mud. It was pretty warm. After being pulled out (don’t hike alone kids), I insisted that we continue despite being mostly mud at this point. We walked along a gorgeous ground fed waterfall and river, and despite a decent gain in elevation, the ground continued to be treacherous and boggy. So we decided that we were significantly underprepared for this and to turn back. We went down to a portion of the river by the waterfall, had lunch and thoroughly enjoyed the beers we had packed. It was just so calm, surrounded by terrain that was so alien to me. Nature had kicked my ass, and rightfully so, I deserved to be put in my place. It was just so surreal, the whole setting. How can such a beautiful place even exist? The pictures I took can’t even capture it. The grandness of being surrounded by these mountains, in this green, boggy place. Sheer magic.
After a boggy, but more careful trek back out, I got back in the car (sorry car rental place). We were heading up to Fort William and Loch ness, but obviously I was just a literal shit show at this point, and my shoes were mudbricks. I smelled like a bog, not really the kind of perfume I usually like to wear. Anyway, we got to Fort William and I waited in the car while Jose went and bought me shoes. They are comfy, but the ugliest shoes I have ever seen (Hey I told him to buy the cheapest ones he could find). Oh well. We drove up and down Loch Ness stopping in different towns, and visiting Urquhart Castle. I was also on a mission to find Loch Ness pottery, which turned out to be at the top of a long winding mountain road with some super scenic views. When we got up there we found small wood cabin, and we enjoyed some tea with the artists it was great.
There is just so much to see in the Mama Land, I think I would have to do two separate weeks there just to see all the things, but for two days, I think we crushed it. We did almost everything we wanted to, plus some unexpected things (ahem talking about you, bog). We got home late that night and naturally drank.
I feel like the Mama Land baptized me in highland mud and took me back. Only over the last few years I have I really started to identify with my Scottish Heritage, taking more of an interest of where my family has come from and what they have been through to get our life in Canada.
Back in the airport to Belfast, I am hungover as shit, so not too much got done in Belfast. We did visit City hall though and learned more about the city! We also went to a wonderful weekend market and shopped and got lunch. Ugh so much fresh seafood, looked so good.
Sunday, we had booked a full day bus tour to a few castles, the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery, and the Giants Causeway. Firstly, I would like to ask whose idea it was to have the whiskey tour before the actual hiking part? I have bad coordination already (see bog story)! The day started out pouring rain, but soon it cleared up! Now at the distillery, I paid for an Irish Whiskey tasting. I was expecting like a few different whiskeys, less than ounce of each to try. What I was given was three different whiskeys, I think just under two ounces each. I watched the bartender pour the whiskeys with the regulator thing, and he tipped each one up twice. They were super good, but we only had less than 30 minutes at the distillery. Needless to say the bartender was impressed when I brought up all my empty glasses. I paid for that, I am not going to not drink it all. ~6 ounces in less than 30 minutes is a questionable decision. The Giant’s Causeway is so cool, and the geological rock formations are so unique. I have no idea what makes them hexagonal but they do look like a giant built a whole road with them.
I would also like to comment on travelling changes some things about you. Usually, I can’t function without sleep. I hate getting up, I hate not sleeping, but when I travel I can sleep three hours and then pack in a full day. I can nap whenever, wherever, something that is impossible for me at home. I turn into an energizer bunny. I still need my morning tea though, and fortunately there is an abundance of tea here!
That’s your weekend update! I will be writing more after Galway (The Democratic Republic of Ireland!) As always ignore all my spelling mistakes.