Death by Travel Pillow

You think that a travel pillow would be your saving grace on a long series of flights abroad. It’s the shoulder support your neighbor does not wish to be. Which, in all honesty, I did happen to wake up on the shoulder of my neighbor on one of my flights over to Scotland (sorry, by the way). Learning from that mistake, I took out my memory foam travel pillow. I pictured my face resting on a cloud that would mold to the form of my face. You think that sounds like heaven, but it was death. I slowly began realizing that not only was the pillow making my neck reach forward like a pigeon walking, but it was also cutting off the circulation in my neck. I tore it off myself and ripped it to shreds in a fit of Hulk-like rage. Ok, just kidding. But we can use this as a metaphor for the trip. Expectations were different than reality. Happily, this was a good thing.

 

Day 1

I should say that I’m embarrassed with how my friend, Mer, and I ran to each other and squealed as she met me outside of airport security, but I feel no shame. After a day of long travel, though, there was some concern about staying awake and being ready to tour around. But thank goodness for the preflight shot of tequila and a little dose of NyQuil—those got me through the trauma of almost being choked by my pillow. I was completely jazzed and ready to go.

We took a saunter around town to check out the Necropolis which was an eerily beautiful combination of detailed stone work and history of loss. Working up an appetite on our tour, Mer showed me her favorite vegetarian place, Flying Duck. I’m not the picky, tell-everyone-I’m-vegetarian-at-all-moments type of vegetarian, but it makes me happy when I can have a fellow veggie show me where the good food is. A solid tofu sandwich and a smooth pint of stout was all I needed to prep for our night on the town.

With my smeared airplane makeup, we headed out to the bars to meet all the friends I had only heard about in stories. Placing names to faces was wonderful, but it was also a great time to discover where the different Scottish accents came from. But I suppose most of the focus turned to how much better Guinness tastes in Scotland than in the United States. I hung my head in shame as the people around me were shocked and disappointed in my vocalized distaste of the beer, but then they placed one in front of me. The first sip was pleasantly smooth and better than what I originally tasted in the States. As for the rest of the evening, it was just as smooth.

 

Day 2

Struggling to wake up to our over-eagerly timed alarm, Mer and I guzzled some coffee and caught a train to Edinburgh. As the man checking tickets approached us, my friend scrambled to find hers which had been lost in the sea of her purse. I was expecting him to be frustrated and whip out some New York accent saying “move it along, now.” The man patiently waited for Mer to find her ticket, and he then apologized to us. We were taking up his time, but he found it pertinent to say sorry. Nearly everyone I met seemed to have this level of politeness. It was refreshing, but I was taken slightly aback.

Mer and I trudged up to the classic Edinburgh Castle to capture the gorgeous view of the city from above. In the line for tickets we happened to hear some American accents and found out that our new acquaintances were from our hometown, Pittsburgh. It was the classic realization that “it’s a small world.”

Seeking out graveyards became more important to us, so we found Grey Friar’s Bobbie and went from there. Grey Friar’s Bobbie was the Friar’s dog, back in the day, that essentially laid on his master’s grave until he too passed away. We bypassed all the tours around us in the graveyard and beelined it for the most intricate headstone we could find. Clearly the aura of the graveyard came over me and I was caught looking nearly possessed (as seen below). Soon after I scared everyone with my face (I’ve heard that’s a normal thing for me apparently?), we hopped on the train back to Glasgow for a night in with the show Outlander. With semi-accurate Scottish history and attractive people in kilts, how can you go wrong?

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Day 3-5 (The Highlands and Isle of Skye)

I left my friend in Glasgow and caught a small tour van from Edinburgh in hopes of maneuvering through the rural areas of Scotland without being part of an obnoxiously loud and boisterous tour group. Success. Rabbie’s tour group was the perfect combination of fulfilling the tourists’ dreams of visiting beautiful sites and the wannabe-local travelers who wish to understand more about the people and culture. We stopped by places such as the Duone Castle (where Monty Python, Game of Thrones and Outlander were filmed), Loch Lubnaig and fields full of sheep.

Through blustery winds and pockets of torrential downpour, our van made it to Skye’s town of Portree. I was the only one from our tour staying at one of the local B&Bs. As I came in through the door of the cute tucked away place, the owner said “so you’re the single woman we’ve been waiting for.” Is it weird to spend some quality time with numero uno (aka myself) at a cozy bed and breakfast? I don’t know about you, but some time with freshly brewed tea and a hot bath is all I need at night. Plus, no one can make fun of me for laying on the floor and putting my feet up the wall for fifteen minutes. It’s a practice I keep for rejuvenation and to decrease inflammation in my feet after a long day of walking or travel.

In the morning, I had the chance to strike up a conversation with the B&B owner—a woman who has lived on the Isle of Skye for around 30 years. She described her favorite spots on the Northern edge of the island. Her face glowed as she spoke, and I got to meet her adventure pal, Kiwi the dog. It was great to see the pair get excited about the island (I assume from all the tail wagging that Kiwi was stoked).

As for our day of traversing across the island, it was combined with a bit of sun, buckets of rain and around 60 mph winds. On the top of the Quiraing, it was so incredibly blustery that I couldn’t even stand still enough to snag a normal picture of myself (sorry, mom). Some volunteers fixing the trail on the top of the hill were nearly blowing around like tumbleweeds in the wind and eventual hail. Somehow, though, our little van seemed to find the small spots of sun throughout the day. We paused at the Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock, Stein Inn (the oldest serving inn on Skye), Fairy Glen and the Fairy Pools.

I figured the Fairy Pools were just a Pinterest stereotype where the overly photoshopped pictures cannot compare to the duller real-life version. To my surprise, the pools were so clear that you could see the various colored stones on the bottom, and it was all wedged between mountains. Being in that valley was humbling as you realize how much knowledge and time the Earth around you had seen. I was fascinated by the sun setting behind me and the rainbow that appeared as I was hiking back up to our parking spot. I could easily say that being at the Fairy Pools was one of my favorite moments of the Skye tour. Not to get weird or anything, but If I could have just plopped myself on the ground and stayed there staring at the mountains for a few days I would have.

On the drive back to Edinburgh, we had a more relaxed vibe. We stopped at Loch Ness which was not too much of anything without the legend attached, but the mushroom pie I ate was worth the stop. We had the chance to tour the Eilean Donan Castle. A fully restored 13th century castle that was beautifully placed amid three conjoining lochs. It was a wonderful picture to have in my mind on the last leg of the van journey.

Day 6

Back with my Mer, we met up one of her friends for a classic UK brunch: eggs with beans, spinach and sweet potatoes. It was the perfect way to refill and recharge from my trek on the island. It was good to have something in my stomach before we headed to a pub for a bit of whiskey tasting.

One of the people we joined at the pub plays the Scottish pipes which he brought to the pub. Some man sitting next to us looked at the elongated case and said “Well, I hope that’s not loaded.” Not thinking, I told him it was because obviously the case was full of something (you know, like pipes). I didn’t realize that he meant a loaded gun until his eyes nearly popped out of his head and he scooted away and out the door of the pub. I may have just caused that man an unnecessary stressful evening.

Day 7

The day was very relaxed and mostly spent with me catching up on homework as I stared out the window into the rainy streets of Glasgow. My friend had rehearsals and sound check for her performance to happen that evening.

The traditional Scottish music performance was fabulous. Not just because everyone was talented, but because you could see the happiness and excitement in each performer’s eyes. I wanted to smile because they were smiling, and it made the music that much better.

Day 8

Day 8 was my flight home. I was reluctant to leave the beautiful place, and I am going through a little bit of the post-travel blues. Luckily, I know I have fond memories built up and my next adventure starts in May.

I’m off: Adventures in Scotland

Today, I’m grabbing a nice long flight across the pond to explore the land of thistles, Scotch and those kilted men doing yoga (you’re welcome, ladies). I only have a week to pack in as much Scottish fun as I possibly can which includes a ceilidh, a road trip around the Isle of Skye and attending a Scottish fiddling concert. So, feel free to check out my Instagram this week for posts about all my adventures!

 

The Flight

Finding a cheap ticket abroad is a little difficult when you can’t be flexible with your travel dates. As a student, I’m stuck with the dates set for spring break, but Student Universe saved my wallet. They’re cheaper than other sites like Kayak or Travelocity, and have great customer service! I initially snagged a ticket that would have me grabbing a cab from JFK to LaGuardia in the middle of rush hour on a Friday. That was a rookie mistake on my part, but Student Universe was great with swapping my flights for an easier layover in elsewhere. With my passport and tickets ready, I’m hoping for a smooth flight.

The Planning

Being that I’m visiting my friend going to graduate school in Glasgow, I’ve been fortunate to have a more relaxed planning process. I pulled up the ever-so-handy Google Docs to create a list of what activities I wanted to check out. I searched online, asked people I know who have made the trip and (of course) asked my friend about her suggestions.  I made sure to have the activity/place, address, transportation and costs on my spreadsheet. Seeing my total budget at the bottom of the sheet was really important for my sanity and bank account.

The Gist

Here are the basics of my agenda:

  • Glasgow
  • Edinburgh
  • Glencoe
  • Fort William
  • Portree
  • Stirling

Amidst those destinations, I hope to capture amazing pictures, meet great people and take in whatever Scotland has to offer in this short week. Here’s to doing, not lusting–Stay tuned for next Friday’s post!

 
*photo credit: Meredith Hudock