A Travellerspoint blog

July 2009

I've done nothing in Cardiff...

sunny 16 °C

Thought I'd update this real quick. So far I've been in Cardiff 2 nights, and yesterday morning I popped my knee out WHILE shopping (a sign??) so I did absolutely nothing all day except lounge around in the hostel, and iceing my knee. Not fun! But I'm on my way out the door to explore, and my knee feels fine today. And I see sun poking out, so hopefully today will make up for yesterday!!

Posted by kvandervegan 02:00 Archived in Wales Tagged disabilities Comments (0)

Liverpool-- "Here Comes the Sun"... but not for long!

overcast 15 °C

WOW! Sorry for the late update, but there was NO wifi in Liverpool. Ok, there was, but it was either expensive, or didn't work, or I actually couldn't find it anywhere! But anyways I'll update this baby now lol..

I got into Liverpool in the middle of a very sunny day! So I quickly checked into my YHA hostel (boooo) with ten pound wifi for 24 hours (double booooooooooo) and headed out to Albert Dock to walk around. It was a beautiful day, something I totally took for granted, but really enjoyed walking around and soaking up that bit of vitamin D. I went into the Merseyside Museum as well, and looked at exhibits on the Titanic, Lithuania, and the International Slavery museum. It was all really cool. After that I went to Liverpool ONE, a huge outdoor shopping complex, but I didn't buy anything. Aren't you proud?!
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Yesterday morning I got up, had breakfast, and didn't let the pouring rain stop me from going out and walking the town. I went to the Cathedral; I guess it's the biggest one in the UK or something? It was pretty big! Had tons of different chambers and halls and stuff, it was beautiful. I also walked around in the gardens, which was more like a very organized, sort of decorative graveyard. It wasn't a regular graveyard, though. Most of the graves were around the edge of the walkways and stuff, and I kept wondering if they had to move a bunch of the graves to make the gardens, because I'm sure they weren't buried that way in the late 1800's, which was what most of the headstones read. It's so sad there are so many kids who died back then, and you see so many huge headstones of lists of kids from a family who all died under the age of 2. It seems like the parents just kept trying to have kids, even though they would have 10 who died. It's really sad! I also saw gravestones for the orphanages of Liverpool, where a lot fo kids died between 5 and 15. It's really hard to imagine what life was like back then!
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I then found a vegetarian cafe called The Egg, where I had an awesome lunch. I kept wandering around the city, eventually making it back down to the docks to go to The Beatles Story museum, which was really cool. I lied and said I was a student to get 4 pounds off the admission price, which I haven't done since I got here, but just couldn't resist! It was a huge difference compared to most places, and the guy didn't even question me so whatever. Probably won't do it again though, I was literally sweating after. I can't lie for the life of me!

The museum was really cool, really, really well done. I (shamefully) know absolutely nothing about The Beatles, past The Yellow Submarine and that Paul McCartney's vegetarian (all that matters really :)). But I learned a ton about them and it was cool, because after they go through their whole story together, there are little rooms dedicated to them separately that go through their own individual successes, so that was neat. I really enjoyed the museum and all the cool music and crazy videos from when they were in their prime.
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That night I made some dinner, then I had a crazy, overwhelming urge to go to the gym, and there was one down the street so I got all ready to go, only to find out that they were just building a gym down the road. Damn. I went for a power walk anyways, which led me to the theater, which led me to watching "The Proposal" which was really cute! There were some dumb parts, but overall I laughed a ton, so I was happy. It was the first time I had to walk home alone in the dark though, but I stayed under streetlights and made it safe and sound.

This morning I made the almost 7 hour train/wait/train/wait/etc.... trek from Liverpool to Cardiff, so once I got in I was exhausted, and in some serious internet surfing time, so I did just that. I finally got up and got some sushi at a really cute little sushi bar where it comes on a conveyor belt and you just take what you want it was so cute! Apparently they're everywhere but I thought it was the coolest thing. Anyways, finally heading off to bed now, having a bit of a longer stay in Cardiff so that'll be nice!
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Posted by kvandervegan 13:53 Archived in Wales Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

York

overcast 15 °C

Yesterday I got up and did Laundry. Laundry while backpacking is the most down time you get, because you’re forced to do nothing in your hostel until it’s done. You could go on a walk, but when all you do is walk you’d rather just hang out, read, write, or whatever. You’re forced to just relax. But I still hate it, especially when after 2+ hours of waiting, your clothes are still wet and you didn’t bring any more money down with you to the laundry room! I packed all my half-dry clothes up in my north face coat (little trick I’ve come by) and hung them out all over my room. 24 hours later there still not perfectly dry, but I’m not that concerned anymore.

After laundry, I went out to wander around the little university town of York. It is SUPER cute here! The streets are all really, really tiny, and there were no cars at all! It was a little weird.. I found a cute little hippy street market selling lots of jewelry, candles, incense, and scarves, but nothing really caught my eye. York is a walled city, so I walked around the walls a bit too, and saw the huge gothic cathedral that York's sort of famous for. I had lunch at El Piano, an all vegan, sort of Mexican-Indian café. It was so good, but I actually had to get the waitress to pick for me because I’m not good with choice! She was like, “I know what you mean, I’m vegan too, but can’t you just pick something?!” I was like EF fine! Haha. All the food comes tapas-style in these little bamboo boats, it was really cute. I ended up deciding on the potato soup of the day and the salad sampler (it’s all the salads in a big boat so you don’t have to decide! Brilliant!) It was really good and really filling, I couldn’t even get desert I was sooo full!
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After that I continued to wander around, and I went to the Jorvick exhibit, which talks about the ancient Viking town of York, and how they discovered it, etc. etc.. It was really cute you get into a “time capsule” that shakes you around and turns you back in time to like 907 CE or something, and then you get out and get into these ride cars that explain everything and move you around the exhibit. It was really cute! There were TONS of hanging animals and furs everywhere though, so that turned my stomach a little. But it was good. After Jorvick I wandered around, came back to the hostel and made dinner, and pretty much passed out!
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Off to Liverpool today! Hope everyone is doing well in the home country!

Posted by kvandervegan 01:40 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

Ghosts and Princes and Clans Re-united

sunny 18 °C

Last night (which seems forever ago already. On a side note, today is one of those, 'Ok, so where am I again?' days! I'm in York, England, but it doesn't feel like it yet!) I went on a ghost tour of the city, luckily AFTER it finished pouring rain. It wasn't actually all that exciting or haunting or anything though, but I met a really nice girl, Morgan, from Toronto, and her mom Laurie. We hung out on the trip and made pending plans to meet up in a couple of weeks on the beaches of Spain or southern France. I hope it all works out! Not too much to say about the ghost tour, it was interesting, but even me being the scaredy-cat that I am, would have liked to have a few hairs on my neck stand up on a ghost tour. But it really wasn't scary or anything! Went to bed early, and had a pretty good sleep despite staying in a room with 6 guys on a stag and 3 Irish girls who rolled in at 7:30 am. But that's what holidays are for!
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Today I got up, made arrangements at the train station, and followed the masses down the Royal Mile to the 2009 Gathering. And by masses, I mean 40,000 people. And who else would show up but Prince Charles, future King of England!!! Totally was like 20 feet away from him! No good pictures though, other than his backside, but Jasmine got AWESOME ones because of her inside information!!
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Jasmine, the highland mom I met at the Balloch highland games, and I met back up at the gathering, where her daughter was dancing. She told me not to tell, but she had gone on a pub crawl the night before with all the moms on her trip. She had an awesome night out, and happened to meet the royal guards for Prince Charles! The only single mom in the group, who was also a cop, got one of their numbers and was texting the guy all night/morning, and he told them exactly when and where to be when Prince Charles was coming in. How cool! You should SEE the pictures she got of him; close up face shots that were sooo funny, I told her to sell them online, they were hilarious! She was like 3 feet away from him, no kidding. Little brush with fame for the day!

Anyways, the gathering was amazing, and the weather cleared up perfectly for it. They had clan tents set up so I immediately found the MacInnes one and bought them out! I bought my dad and I t-shirts, a clan book, pin, button (which I sported all day) and a tie for my brother made out of the new tartan they had done up this year. They threw in a free clan pen because I'm such a good customer. Just trying to be a good clan member! It was really neat though meeting people with the same family history, and the main organizer even spelled his name like I did without the 'a'! Really cool. I believe we all came from the same thing anyways, but for some reason I felt extra related to these people, most of whom were from the states. Was a really cool experience! After that I wandered around and soaked up the amazing atmosphere at the games.
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I then went on to the highland dancing, literally fought some old lady for a chair (I so let her win; I'm such a good citizen) and sat and watched dancing all afternoon. As you can probably guess I was in heaven! It so made me want to go back home and either set up a dance school, get my judging certificate and judge competitions, or learn how to play bagpipes and pipe at competitions! I WILL do one of those 3 by the time I die :) OH and there was a little boy with the same kilt as me! Nobody ever has my kilt, and he was really cute so I took a picture!
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After a very quick 2 1/2 hour train ride (I was expecting 4 hours) from Edinburgh to York, I walked half an hour with my pack (quite a feat!) and am now writing this blog and drinking a glass of awesome 2.75 pound wine with ice :) life is good! AND there's a Thai spa across the road from my hostel, AND the bagpipes are still ringing in my ears. Should have an awesome sleep tonight on cloud 9!

OH and one more thought: I'm really proud to be from Canada, especially since coming over here. I've had people tell me I come from "the good land", and people are always interested in my home province and the landscapes and weather and anything Canadian. Whenever I'm in a group or tour and somebody asks where everbody's from and I say Canada, they always ask more about it. Whereas anywhere else, like the sates or Australia, they're like, "oh cool." and that's it, but when I say Canada they ask about it or talk about where they've been or say, "I've always wanted to go there!" It's really cool. Anyways, off to bed for me!

Posted by kvandervegan 14:43 Archived in Scotland Tagged events Comments (2)

Edinburgh-- Rain, Hills, and Pubs

rain 15 °C

SO! As some of you know Edinburgh was totally depressing me! The first couple of days here rained like crazy, so that made it hard to sight see, take pictures, and meet people outside of the weirdos staying at my crazy hostel. I did my nails, got myself into a book, called some friends and family, and just hung out for a couple of days (to make things less dramatic!) Edinburgh has definitely brought the homesickness out in me, but yesterday the sun came out and it all got better! I went on a free walking tour of the city, soy latte in hand, ready to start over in Edinburgh and take advantage of the good weather! I immediately met a girl named Tierney from California, and she saw her hostel mate Josh, from Australia. Really cool, incredibly NORMAL people, which was an awesome change from the crazies I've been running into! Very happy to have broken that little streak! Anyways the tour was awesome as usual, our guide Seth was really funny. We didn't learn too much about the history, but more about funny random things about the city. We passed by the Gilles Kirk, city chambers, Edinburgh Castle, the sight of the witch burnings, where the gallows and public hangings once took place, where J.K. Rowling wrote the first 2 Harry Potter books, a creepy cemetery, a school that inspired Hogwarts, and much more. It was 3 ½ hours long, and really informative. We learned where a lot of things originated, like sayings like “shit faced” and “the loo” and other things came from, as well as the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Really fun tour with some cool people.
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This is where J.K. Rowling wrote the first 2 books of Harry Potter. She was so poor that she would turn off her heat during the day and come here and drink tea all day and write. Now apparently she's worth more than the Queen!
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And this is the school that she could see from the window of the Elephant cafe that inspired Hogwarts.
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Then, Tierney, Josh and I got some amazing Thai lunch/dinner, and shopped for souvenirs along the Royal Mile. We all agreed to go on the pub crawl, organized by the same company as the walking tour, so I went back to my hostel to get ready for that. Met up with them at the Bank Hotel bar and began our pub crawl! Met a really cute couple, Justin and Kristin, from LA, and Senka, a girl from Croatia. I had an awesome night! Kristin was so funny, we were laughing all night. And Kenzie, the tour guide, was from Nova Scotia, so we chatted about St. FX University and showed the Americans that Canadians have west and east sides too (haha Kristin.. “You guys do that too?!”) Had quite a bit to drink, as these 3, very well groomed Italian guys kept buying shots for everyone, and drinks were less than 2 pounds all night. By well groomed, I mean they had Monroe piercing and had more heavily tweezed eyebrows than any girl I know. I almost asked what brand of tweezers they used. Really attractive guys, but I’m hoping they went home together because they definitely didn’t give off a hetero vibe! Anyways, once we got to the club, Justin, Kristin and I walked back towards my hostel. I’m so not into clubbing and dancing, even over here! But it’s all good and I had a great night!
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Today I walked down the Royal Mile to window shop, and walk Arthur’s Seat and see the Holyrood Palace. The palace is where the Queen stays when she comes to Scotland, so it was really nice and heavily guarded, even though I’m 99.9% sure she’s not there. I rounded the corner of the palace, took one look at Arthur’s seat, and headed right back up the mile. I was wearing thongs, a skirt, and had no idea that it was a huge hiking dormant volcano! I guess that was really naïve of me, but I just thought it was a nice walk lol. Might do it when I come back in August, we’ll see.
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That’s all for now, not too exciting. It is raining harder right now than I've ever experienced in my life! And it's the middle of July! But I'm gonna try and trek through it soon (I'm buying am umbrella first off!!) and head to Henderson's for dinner, supposedly an amazing veggie cafe, and then tonight I’m going on a ghost tour of the city, and tomorrow is the history making 'Gathering' highland games! Very, very excited about that. And tomorrow night I’m off to York, England! I hope that my hostel in York has free wifi, because I’m about done with paying for it!

Posted by kvandervegan 06:45 Archived in Scotland Tagged tourist_sites Comments (7)

Stirling: Home of Braveheart

rain 15 °C

Sorry I haven't been on here! It doesn't help when you have to pay for wifi at your hostel, and it only lasts for 24 hours till you have to pay again! Ridiculous! Anyways here goes!

Yesterday I literally flew out of my hostel in Glasgow. I had met a guy who I just didn't get a good vibe from so I'd been avoiding him the last day and didn't want to risk bumping into him in the lobby. I got into Stirling just before noon, checked my stuff, and went out to explore the town. And what do you think I found? A mall :) Of course I went shopping! I found a really good second hand book store, and I've been looking for a new book for a couple of days now, and I found like 4!! So I got 2, and one's a really big one, so I'm going to try and read it really fast and pick up another book before I go. They were super cheap too! So I was happy about that. I also got a couple new items of clothing and cute new shoes and.. oh you probably don't care that much! Haha. But I did find the CUTEST shirt that was WAY too big but it was only 5 pounds and is now my new sleeping shirt, check it out:
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Cute! I also found some great pre-made vegan food from Marks and Spencer, so I got meals to last me the next 2 days, and it means I get a break from cooking so I was all smiles! I went to an early evening showing of My Sister's Keeper, which was sooo good, I even cried! And if you know me you know I don't cry in movies, but I definitely was tearing up quite a bit. When I got back to the hostel I finally found some guys who spoke English: Wolf from Baltimore, John from New Zealand, Ian from Scotland, and Mike from Aussie, and we ended up going to 2 pubs, checking out some live music, and Ian was showing me some local beers.
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Didn't make it a late night though. Today I got up and the sun was shining and all was great! I headed out to the post office to mail some overdue post cards, then made my way up to Stirling Castle. And when I say 'up' I mean WAAAAY up. This friggen town is built on a hill, and man am I out of shape! I passed everyone on the way up, though, so it wasn't just me! Seriously it was quite the hike up the road to the Castle, but it was really cool. Was pretty pricey for what you get though, so I'm not sure I would do it again. It gave beautiful views of the whole city, however, so I guess it was worth it. And the gift shop was awesome! The tour didn't teach me much, and it was pouring rain and crazy-windy by the end, so I headed back to my hostel for a little break from the elements.
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OH I did learn something crazy: they are renevating the castle (I think they're always revovating castles) and they are putting in these tapestries that take a team of women 4 years, 5 days a week, 8 hours a day to make 1. And they've only done like 4 of like 20! Kind of crazy, and I don't think I appreciate them as much as some people would, but here's a photo.
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After warming up and drying off I caught the bus out to the William Wallace monument. The bus driver dropped me off and was like, in the typical Scottish way, "You just go 'round the corner, up the wee hill, and then right and you're there love!" I'm like ok thanks! RIGHT up a huge ass hill, and like a ten minute walk after that! Anyways, got there, paid the entrance fee, and the ladies like, "It's a ten minute up the wee path, dear, or you can take the courtesy shuttle." I'm like oh I'll just walk up the wee path. 20 MINUTES LATER I'm soaking wet from rain and sweat and I'm at the effing monument. And my calves were burning.
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So you get in and you walk up these teeeeny tiny stairs. The monument was built in the late 1800's, and it must have been built by very thin people because you could hardly fit 2 people on the stairs. If someone was coming up, the people going down had to stop and wait. And it was a loooong way up: 264 stairs! With 3 different stopping points on the way up. I couldn't help thinking that if you were a big person, you'd have to make everyone wait at the top so you could go up because there's no way you would fit!
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Anyways it was really interesting; it told the story of William Wallace, and a little bit about other noble Scottish men, and about the making of the monument. At the top is supposed to be an amazing view, but the weather and mist proved otherwise, and you had to focus more on not being blown away than how far out you could see.
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Tonight I went and saw Harry Potter. I'm really into the movie theater right now apparently! Hey, it's been a while! It was really cool because I'm pretty sure there were shots of some things I've seen over here. Pretty sure, anyways. And it was one of those moments when a) you realize you just saw a movie, for the second night, all by yourself! and b) you walk out of the theater (or, sorry, cinema) and forget you're in Scotland! That second part was really cool. And other than the brattiest little kids I've ever met and apart from me yelling at them halfway through (even though they barely understood my accent) the movie was awesome! I totally have the hugest crush on Ronald Weasley :)

That's another thing I forget to say in past posts: it's so funny the different words we use. Like chips are crisps and fries are chips, and if you go to get fries and ask for fries, some people won't even serve you until you say chips! And when I ask where the washroom is they look at me like I have four heads. I hate saying 'toilet' it's such an ugly word! Ian taught me that real ladies say 'the ladies' anyways so I'm gonna try and adopt that one. Also, it's a damn good thing I got new shoes before I left because they are saving my life! All I do is walk around, and here all I do is walk up ginormous hills! But I'm off to Edinburgh tomorrow; something I've been waiting for forever! Hope everyone is well and that's in sunny in your part of the world! I'm very jealous! :)

Posted by kvandervegan 01:50 Archived in Scotland Tagged tourist_sites Comments (10)

Let the Games Begin!

semi-overcast 17 °C

TODAY WAS AWESOME! Went just under an hour's train ride away to a little town called Balloch, where there was highland games going on. Got there, wandered around the little shops, and a lady had a "Scotland 2009 Vancouver Island Dancers" coat on! I couldn't believe it. So we chatted and I actually ended up sitting with with a group of 60 highland dancers and their families from the island! Jasmine and her daughter Julia were from Port Alberni. How awesome is that?! The dancing was amazing; I was in heaven! I even saw a couple of people I recognized, and one guy, Issak Lisak, who I've danced against like a million times! Crazy small world we have. AND there were lots of boys in kilts! Haha they were old men, but still! Not too much else to say but I did take like a hundred pictures so here they are!
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Today I wasn't feeling 100% so I slept in quite late, and then walked around Glasgow and into the cathedral grounds and such. No good pictures, however! Anyways, off to Stirling tomorrow. The weather here is crap at the moment, but I'm in Scotland and it's supposed to rain, right?

Posted by kvandervegan 11:48 Archived in Scotland Tagged events Comments (5)

Glasgow and Beyond!

overcast 16 °C

WOW I've been a wee bit busy, as they say in Glasgow! But it's about time to update this baby and get on with things!

I got into Glasgow at about 1 yesterday afternoon after a really long train ride (first one, by the way!) and checked into my awesome hostel 5 minutes away from the train station, and was helped by a very cute Scottish reception boy! Haha, just a bit of fun but anyways the hostel is unreal; I'm on the 8th floor so I have a great view, awesome bar in the lobby, really good breakfast (for a change!), good, clean kitchen, nice rooms, I could go on! It's the EuroHostel, if anybody wants to stay here I highly recommend it!
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Anyways I quickly got changed and headed out to find Mono, an all-vegan cafe I've been dying to get to, and I hadn't eaten since 6 am so I was starved! I found the place easily and it was unbelievable! Super cute, suprisingly big and inexpensive, and a huge, all-vegan menu! It took me forever to decide because I actually had choices! I could choose off the WHOLE menu and that NEVER happens! I'm lucky if I have 2 choices! As a vegan, you eat whatever you can, and I'm never unhappy about that because I'm not a picky eater, but to have a full menu to choose off of was something else! All you vegans out there should be very jealous! Anyways, I got the staple: huge bean burger with lettuce, tomato, caramalized onion, mushroom, and melted vegan cheese with a salad and fries. It was unreal, like UNREAL lol. Serously, check out there menu here:
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very cool for me! I talked to the girls working there for a bit and it was so cool, definitely made me want to open one at home! THEN I saw a sign advertising that they needed a supervisor and I actually thought about it! How awesome would it be to live in Glasgow and manage an all-vegan cafe? Super awesome!! Still thinking about it! Will go back for another before I leave, for sure. THEN no sooner I walk across the street and right into a vegetarian pub! The 13th note is a mostly vegan bar serving pub food and vegan cocktails, with vegetarian options as well. I took a look at their menu and noticed that they had vegan ice cream! So of course I got some and chatted to the bartender. They have live gigs there every weekend and a few weekends ago they had a band playing until really late, and the band members went out to McDonalds and bought bangers (pretty sure that's what she said she had a really thick accent!) for all the fans in the room, and the staff actually made the band members take the food outside and eat it. HOW cool and bitchy is that?! Haha I loved it!
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Aftert that I just walked around and checked out the sights, shopping, etc. Also walked by the River clyde and got a couple of photos.
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Yesterday night my roomate, Maria from Argentina, and I got all dressed up and went downstairs to Osmosis, the bar attatched to the hostel. We met a couple of guys, a group of guys from Ireland with incredibly thick accents, and a solo guy, Sean, from Aussie. We were all getting kind of hungry so we set out for some food and found a japanese/indian place that had AWESOME veggie sushi, like baby corn rolls and veggie rolls with smoked tofu, mushrooms, avocado, etc. Yummy! This blog seems like it's all about food lol but to be fair I've hardly eaten out this whole trip, so I've been eating like a queen in Glasgow! Anyways after dinner (at 10 pm, everyone eats super late here) we found a bar called Common, serving 1 pound drinks that we just couldn't resist! And they were actually drinks like full bottles of anything (Bulmers, Bacardi Breezers, Stella, anything! Double highballs were 2 pounds!) We actually met up with Sean's roomates there Jordan and Jameer, both from California, totally by accident, and had fun drinking and dancing and admiring all the Europeans' dress and style. We also watched Jordon's crazy dance moves that unfortunately left the ladies running AWAY from him... haha. The 1 pound drinks made it easy for everyone to buy rounds; a round for 5 people was the cost of 1 drink anywhere else! So Maria and I had a couple of drinks then walked back to the hostel around midnight.
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This morning I was up bright and early for my full day tour to the Highlands, Loch Ness, Inverness, and various other cities on the way up. The tour was a little pricey, and I knew I would be spending most of my time on the coach, but I had to do it just to go up and see more of Northern Scotland. We drove up, stopping a couple of times for tea and pictures. We had a stop at the Three Sister Mountains in the highlands and there was a random bagpiper (really bad too lol) who's probably there everyday. Even though he was horrible, it made for some cool pictures, but hard to get just him in the picture as all the tourists were rishung towards him to get pictures. Very cool though!
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We drove through a bunch of little towns, and the tour guide was a really nice, funny, very scottish old man. He knew every little detail about every town, so that was good. We finally made it up to Loch Ness, with a stop to look at the remains of the Urquehart Castle, which was blown up when the family evacuated it way back when, so that no one else could live in it. That's one way of making sure nobody wrecks your house.. blow it up?!
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We took a little hour long cruise of Loch Ness and searched for Nessie with no such luck (boooo). Met 3 flight attendant from Dallas, Texas, who REALLY wanted to see her! They were cool girls though, and definitely made me want to be a flight attendant one day! They actually do charter flights, and they flew over a whole bunch of the golfers for the British Open, and they wait in Scotland until it's over then they take the golfers up to Canada for another tour, then they go home. So cool! They've been everywhere! Anyways, the boat cruise was nice, and then we were on the road again. We covered over 600 km's in one day, so it was a lot of driving, but beautiful scenery, and probably a once in a lifetime thing! The cafe that we stopped at for lunch had veggie french onion soup too, so I was a happy camper!
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Got back into Glasgow just before 8 and organized my trip to southern Loch Lamond tomorrow for the highland games! The girls at the tourist center were amazingly helpful, and saved me from going 2 hours further to a different games, so that was good! Very excited for tomorrow; probably gonna take it easy tonight; even though the bar literally right next to me is hopping, I might just go to bed! Happy birthday Dad (yesterday), I sent him a postcard 10 days early from Dublin and it got to him right on time! Hope everyone's well at home, and that you're having better July weather than I am! It rains a lot here as well, but I'm loving it :)

Posted by kvandervegan 14:25 Archived in Scotland Tagged train_travel Comments (3)

Insane Belfast

overcast 15 °C

Have you people been watching the news? I came to Belfast at a crazy time. I really didn't realize I was in the middle of a religious war zone! Here are some links to some of the stuff that's been going on the last couple of days here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/jul/14/belfast-riots-real-ira-blame
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gp6UW1fDAkX96n9BTR_z9ikWFNUw
I'm fine and no need to worry at all, it's just a huge religious holiday that I walked into. But anyways, more on that below!

Yesterday morning I got up and did some laundry for the first time this trip. I lucked out because you can actually do your own in the hostel; normally they'll do it for you for an arm and a leg, or you go to a laundromat. Anyways that took up the whole morning, then I went out shopping! I didn't make it too far within the city, but I headed out on a main road and to the newly built Victoria Center which was massive and awesome. I bought a couple of things, but could have bought a lot more!
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A girl from my hostel and I have been trying to recruit more people to join us on a Black Taxi Tour, because if you don't have at least 4 people it costs you more, so we finally found 5 more people and booked our tour. They go around the Protestant and Catholic areas of Belfast and tell you a little bit about the history, and they go through the different murals that are painted all over the communities from both sides of town. It was an unreal tour, very insightful, very unbiased information. First we went to the Protestant side and looked at their murals. All beautiful, some chilling; the blue one with the gunman on top is soo creepy because it was painted so that wherever you are the gun is pointed at you. Like I walked past it and the painting moved and the gunman followed me it was unbelievable and very creepy! The protestants are the ones who want to stay a part of Brittain so they all had the Union Jack flag and colours displayed.
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Next we stopped on the Protestant side of the gates that seperate the two sides of the city. The gates were built in the seventies and rarely, rarely opened to let people go from one side to the other. Now the gates open from 7-7, Monday to Friday and are closed on weekends. It is unreal that the gates still operate! The people here are still that divided, they don't even go to the other side unless they have to, for work deliveries or something. They all have different schools, post offices, businesses, etc. The businesses are said to be fair labour in that they have to have an equal mix of both sides, so they are getting better. The other thing they got 10 years ago when the peace movement came in was unbiased, uninvolved police. The police are fair anywhere, are said to not have a religion, or at least not while they are working, and if not they would lose their job immediatly. I just cannot believe how divided this city is, and that I had no idea about it before I came here!
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Next we went to what is known as the Berlin Wall of Belfast, because I guess it has some resemblence to the Berlin Wall. Lots of graffiti and a new peace sort of design done, with people all over the world commenting about the troubled times. Something to see!
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Next we went through the gates, and there were kids throwing rocks at each other from both sides. The driver said he normally would have stopped but that it wasn't safe. The kids weren't just playing they were actually doing it out of hate it was unreal! I didn't think it would be like this at all! It's amazing what religion and politics can do to a place!
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We then went to a memorial garden dedicated to remember those Catholics who were lost due to battles and bombings and fires and raids, etc. The houses right next to the dividing wall had bomb guards, and all the windows are made of plastic so they won't break. Just veru recently the city put up a higher fence above the original wall because people were still throwing rocks, pop bottles, bombs, etc. over the wall. Unreal! I asked when the last time someone was injured because of the division and he said a man was beat to death just a couple of weeks ago! The Catholic side didn't have any colours displayed or anything, but both sides were very uneasy feeling and chilling. Everyone on the tour could feel the uneasyness in the air, it was something else.
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To finish off the tour we looked at the Catholic murals, and were taught a little bit more about the Catholic's side.
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I got back, made some dinner, and when V, a guy in my room from New Zealand came back with some more guys staying here who were on his day trip tour, we all went to the store to get some booze, and we hung out in the common room all night and chatted. It was relaxed and fun!
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Today I went shopping (suprise!), got a couple of pins of Northern Ireland to add to my small but growing collection, and basically just walked around for hours soaking up the gorgeous weather and the old party of the city. Off to Glasgow bright and early in the morning!!

Posted by kvandervegan 11:22 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged shopping Comments (2)

Beautiful Belfast: Carrick-a-Rede Island & Giants Causeway

sunny 18 °C

Well, highly unfortunately, the bachelor-party bus never showed, so I had to race to the other side of town to catch the last bus to Belfast. They must have changed their plans. But I did get a very scenic, hilly, green, 7-hour bus ride to Belfast, through Sligo and Enniskillen.
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I got into my hostel at around 9, and there was a crazy commotion going on outside. First off, the hostel is on a sketchy road, hence it being super cheap. Second, there was a sign on the door saying “DO NOT open door for ANYONE under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. ONLY staff can open the door.“ Third, there was NO ONE out in town. So all a very good start to Belfast. I hopped on my computer by the entrance door and next thing I know the doorbell is ringing like mad and the staff are trying to filter guests in and keep this crazy, drunken old Irishman out. There were 7 cops there escorting him away, a couple with HUGE military guns. Me and the girl next to me keeping looking at each other like “Holy crap!“ and “What the HELL is going on!“ Good times! A few minutes later 3 guys from my last hostel walked in. I had met them at one of the breakfasts in Galway, and properly introduced myself. Brett, Donny, and Adam were from Pennsylvania, and were all super cool guys. Brett wanted to stay in for the night, but it was Adams birthday so we decided to head out for a drink. We walked down the street and saw a beautiful city hall, amongst other things (Timmy's Ho's doughnuts anyone??), but it was DEAD. Nothing was open, no one was in the streets, and apparently some “Orange Day” holiday was going on, and there were going to be bonfires set around the town for the holiday. Also, the cop cars here are hilarious! This one actually stopped and "posed" for us haha, but they are ridiculous looking! The rubber at the bottom of them are to prevent the petrol bombs being thrown under them from the "troubled times" as everyone calls them, when the Catholics and Protestants were really fighting.
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The bonfires were starting at midnight, so until then we stopped at the one open bar we found and had a drink and watched some live music. Then we headed out to one of the bonfire sights. Apparently the Irish know how to do a bonfire; there were hundreds of pallets stacked up into a huge pyramid, with Republic of Ireland flags all over it and signs reading “Fuck the I.R.A.” and the like. Some religious holiday! We didn’t know then, but the holiday symbolizes when the 6 northern counties of Ireland joined the UK in 1690. It’s a very Protestant holiday as they are the ones who want to stay separate from the south, so the Catholics don’t come out on this day. There is still so much religious separation over here it’s crazy; I couldn’t imagine participating in something like this! It felt very eerie and cult-y and hateful to me, especially after being in Dublin and hearing their side to the separation and the wars and rebellion and stuff. Lots of people were out and wearing the union jack and the UK colours. And just after midnight the fire started and the tri-colour Irish flags burned away, and everyone yelled and chanted! It was crazy.
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The heat off of the fire was unbelievable. Everyone had to stay really far back, and we felt like we were being burned by the sun! It was so hot that the streetlights near the fire were curling downwards and melting. Unreal!
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This morning the three boys and I went on the Giant’s Causeway tour. I woke up at 7:55 and we were leaving to get breakfast at 8 so good times for Kelsey! Literally ran downstairs! Got some breakfast and headed out to Bushmills on the bus. Our first stop was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. It was a GORGEOUS day out so the pictures were outstanding. The rope bridge was 4 pounds, but the views were totally worth it.
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One little clutz move: I fell down these stairs and cut my leg and foot… highly embarrassing in front of the boys! But something I would do for sure lol.
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Our next stop was the Giants Causeway. We took the long way around and got some beautiful photos. It was suuuuper hot out so we had a really nice walk around the cliffs and hills, and got some good pics.
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We walked down to the Giants Causeway next. It was really neat; they were formed by volcanic rock like 55-61 million years ago when the pressure from underwater tsunamis forced the rocks upwards in these weird formations. It totally looked handmade but it’s not! Also got some greats photos here, and met a really nice girl, Heidi, from Las Vegas, who’s on her last week of 3 months of travel.
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I also got some pictures of some of the fields in Ireland and some sheep. Normally I'm on a bus so I don't get to take the pics but here they are.
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The last stop on our trip was in the town of Derry. The boys and I opted out of the guided tour to grab a very late and needed lunch. We stopped at one of the only places open and got some food.

Tonight I’m definitely going to take ‘er easy! Nothings open, there’s crazy people and parades and madness going on outside, so I’m staying in. Actually the tour group in Derry said that they watched police stopping people from throwing petrol bombs! I can hear the parade from the room, as well as two very drunk men yelling at each other outside. It’s a touchy subject and a big deal to these people, so I figure I’ll stay out of the way and I’ll wait till the mall’s open tomorrow, thank you!

Posted by kvandervegan 12:22 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged tourist_sites Comments (8)

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