I’m taking a diversion from posting reviews to reflect back on an amazing trip I took to London, Edinburgh, Largs, and Glasgow. This was my first time outside of the US which was kind of scary, but luckily, across the pond, I had one of my best friends waiting for me. Cat’s been interning in the UK for about a year now and before she left, I wanted to come out and experience just a taste of that part of the world.
Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to go to London. You see it in tv shows and movies all the time and it always looks so magical and I’m really glad that I got to see it, but I’ve gotta say Scotland was more my cup of tea.
Let’s jump into it, shall we?
Pro tip. If you want to travel to another country and avoid jet lag, get a red eye flight on the way there. I flew on Virgin Atlantic in Economy Delight (still Economy but more leg room) and when I sat down there were two other people in my row but after we took off they switched to go sit by their friend so I had the whole row to myself. I tend to sleep pretty well on planes so I was excited to stretch out in the now empty row and get some sleep. I barely stayed awake for about three hours of my flight which was long enough to eat dinner and watch a movie (The Greatest Showman, if you were wondering). The nice thing about the red eye was that when I went to sleep it was dark out but when I woke up at the end of the flight it was light and the afternoon so I was already partially adjusted to the 8 hour time difference. Stay hydrated. Get some sleep and you’ll be good to go.
Cat and I took The Underground and then the train to get to where she’s been living in Borough Green, which is about an hour outside of London by train. What’s really fun about taking the train is that you start out in London so you’re seeing all of this urban enviroment and then suddenly it all just stops and you’re in the countryside. There’s rolling green hills, community gardens, sheep, horses, and deer. It’s such a stark contrast but it’s super cute.
Borough Green is a small, adorable village that reminds me of Privet Drive from Harry Potter but withou the stuffy Dursleys. After we dropped off my little duffel bag at Cat’s place, we went for a walk around the place. There’s not that much more to do there other than walk around and enjoy nature. That was perfectly fine with me since I just wanted to get a feel for the place. Y’know, see where Cat’s been living for a year.
On our walk, we stopped by a church with an old cemetery. What’s funny about the states is that you don’t just go wandering about cemeteries. People think you’re kind of weird if you do (yeah, know that from personal experience), but it’s more acceptable in the UK. For example, in Scotland, Cat and I ran into people having a picnic in a graveyard like it was nothing. If they can’t make me into one of those treepods when I die and everyone insists on burying me, I hope people have raging parties at my grave sight. That seems awesome! Where was I? Oh. Right. Why cemetaries are better in the UK. Graveyards in the states re not nearly as old as the ones you’ll find in the UK. You walk through a place like that and you can feel the history all around. You feel its age. It makes you realize how young America is as a country. We’ve got a lot of growing up to do. Whoa. Got a little deep there.
Anyway! The best thing we saw on our walk was easily this precious cat. I’m a big cat person and it shocked me how many cats were just wandering around. I do love me a good, cat-friendly neighborhood. I suppose without coyotes and such, there’s not that much that might get to them if they’re outdoor cats. Despite Cat’s best efforts to tell me that people don’t just walk up to cats and pet and talk to them in the UK, I was gonna pet this cat. We stood there for maybe ten minutes while this adorable cat meowed and nuzzled up to us. It was happy to be pet, I was happy to be petting it. Best way to end my first night there, if you ask me.
Our second day, we trekked out into London to see the sights as best we could in just a day. We didn’t run by all of the most famous landmarks, but we did see a bunch of them. Cat and I walked about 15 miles in total and I highly recommend seeing the city by foot. It’s a much more immersive experience.
Our first stop of the day was Buckingham Palace, of course. When we walked around to the front, there were so many people waiting thatCat and I had to stop and riddle out why that might be. Apparently, there’s a special way the flag is flown when the Queen is there and that didn’t seem to be the case that particular day, but as we started walking we saw like a full entourage heading our way. It’s impossible to really see through the windows of the cars, but it did look like men in suits. This whole scene culminated in the car driving in through the gates and the gates closing behind them. No one got out of the car. No one announced who was in the car. People just wanted to see the car go by. It seemed kinda silly to me but it was also kind of fun to be there on accident with this happening.
In the middle of running around, we stopped in at the British Museum to see the Egyptian artifacts which was so cool. I love mummies and the British Museum has a lot of them. It’s kind of gross, but fascinating too when you realize that those are actual people that were once alive. They’re just part of history now. They’re helping us understand what people were like centuries before us and helping us guess at what our future as humanity may look like. I do have to wonder if removing them from their tombs affected their journeys in the afterlife…I hope not. That’d sure be pretty sad. Anyway, I’d love to spend a lot more time in this museum just taking it all in. Cat and I ran through just two small sections of a huge museum.
We continued our whirlwhind sightseeing extravaganza past St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Globe (someday I want to see a production there!), walked across Tower Bridge and headed into The Tower of London! This was really cool! The crown jewels were fun to see but I don’t think it will surprise anyone that I was really intrigued by the darker side of The Tower. The old torture instruments, like the rack, were chilling reminders of how cruel humans can be to one another. The coolest part of that whole place though was this dragon.
The dragon was constructed of all different kinds of weaponry and armor. The claws are made of pistols which is really clever. There’s chain mail, helmets, muskets, small cannons, and so much more. This was such a unique art piece and so unexpected. When I rounded the corner, I was instantly giddy. Check that out if you’re in the area. It’s worth it.
Of course, if you’ve been following the blog, you know that this night ended with me seeing Heathers. I’ve got a lot to say about that elsewhere but, overall it was a great day in London, only made better a beautiful taste of West End theatre. When I go back, I’ll take a little more time and see some other sights. I would definitely check out The National Gallery and more West End productions.
After our day in London, we headed over to Scotland and onto my favorite part of the trip. The train ride from London to Edinburgh takes about eight hours. We departed from Kings Cross which was cool. I got to see Platform 9 3/4 but we didn’t stop to take a picture because the line was just ridiculous. If you do wanna get a souvenir picture there, either go just for that or get there really early for your train.
A quick note about train stations. You show up with your ticket and you join the crowd of people all staring up at these boards, waiting to see what platform your train is on. Once it shows up, everyone rushes off to their platform like a stampede It’s kinda funny to witness the first time.
When we got to Edinburgh in the afternoon, we stepped out of the train station and it just felt like home. I was so at ease and in awe of everything I was seeing around me. In one direction there was this ancient looking cathedral, on a hill there was roman columns, and then opposite those was the Edinburgh castle. Everywhere around us was living history. I’ve never really felt that before but it was amazing.
While we were in Edinburgh, we stayed at the Castle Rock Hostel. The cool thing about the hostel is that it’s literally right by the castle. You just walk up some stairs and you’re practically there. Finding it the first time was a little bit difficult. We had to climb some crazy old stairs that were sketchy and there were a lot easier ways to get there that we’d later figure out but we did get to walk around the city past some bagpipe players and the old buildings of the city. Say what you will, bagpipes, when you’re in Edinburgh, are beautifully atmospheric.
Cat and I stopped into a pub for a true Scottish meal. I got bangers and mash (which was amazing) and Cat ordered haggis. If you don’t know what haggis is, well, brace yourself. It’s made with sheep heart, liver, and lungs and traditionally cooked while encased in the animal’s stomach. I know, I know, I know. It sounds gross. But the way it was cooked and presented was actually not too bad. I’d eat it again. This pub also actually turned me onto hard ciders too. There’s nothing quite like a hard cider freshly poured from the tap. If I could find Magners in the states, I’d be thrilled. I have, so far, settled for Strongbow (which isn’t really settling at all).
As we were leaving the pub we walked out and saw a very curious looking bus that said “London Necrobus” with a big black banner reading”The Ghost Bus Tours” on it with a little skeleton in one of the windows of this big ol’ double decker.
We asked about it and got pulled onto the bus. Cat was handling the business and I sat down by the driver who was telling me that becuase this was an old funeral bus (I guess that’s a thing?!) it’s got a lot of energy on it. He even went so far as to tell me that they’d caught some strange photos just the night before on the top deck; a full silhouette in a picture! Honestly, that’s all I needed to hear. I’ve always wanted to do a ghost tour of any kind so when we bought our tickets I was so giddy with excitement.
The thing about The Ghost Bus Tour is that it’s a theatrical production which means it’s heavily embellished with their own storyline so you’re hearing less about the historical ghosts roaming the area and more about the story they want to add in. I certainly would have loved to hear more of the history of the place and about the hauntings but it was still a really fun time. Next time, I’d take a walking tour I think. There’s a lot of them around the area if you keep your eyes peeled. Some of them seem more hokey than others though so maybe do your research first.
The best part of the tour though was when we got off the bus and walked through this old graveyard. I’m pretty sure it was at St. Giles. Our guide let us know about an orphan girl who haunts the place.
Apparently if she tugs on your jacket or shirt and you turn around she beats you up.
Yeah. You read that right.
Cat was joking with me that I shouldn’t turn around but you can bet that if it had happened that I would have turned around immediately. Imagine the story I could have told had I been attacked by a ghost. Incredible. Alas, it was not meant to be. I did get this nice picture of the castle though from the graveyard so the excursion wasn’t a total bust after all.
After a great first night in Edinburgh, I was really excited to do some more sightseeing in the morning. Naturally, our first order of business was to see the Edinburgh Castle. It’s maybe not as cool as other castles in the UK, but I was thrilled to be there. I’ve actually never been in a castle before so this was a magical moment for me. Though its got its focus on the monarchs that have graced its halls, the castle has a lot of different areas focused on war and the highland soldiers that helped in both World Wars. The national war memorial is also there which is a beautiful tribute the men and women who have fallen in battle (specifically the Great War). It’s also got one of the best views of the city from up on the parapet.
The castle was surprisingly crowded though so some of the more cramped areas, like where Mary gave birth to her son, were tricky to get in and out of. Definitely triggered my claustrophobia at times. There were some pretty cool things to see though that were far more open and less crowded. The coolest was the little solitary confinement rooms that you could go into and shut the door. We didn’t get any pictures in there but you just sat down on the bed and there was this heaviness and intense isolation. It’s easy to see how you could lose your mind in there. I wasn’t even in there for five minutes and I was ready to leave. I can’t imagine what it might be like to be locked away for days or months.
One of my favorite things we did at the castle was grab some tea in the tea room. It’s such a beautiful room in and of itself but there was something really elegant about having tea at a castle. I’m not usually a tea drinker but when in Rome, right? Cat helped me picked which tea to drink since I’m not a big black tea fan so I settled on an Elderflower tea that was so good. I also got a cream of cauliflower and potato soup that was so delicious. I highly recommend it if you’ve got a little time and are looking for a different kind of experience at the castle.
To round off our day, because Cat and I don’t know how to stop, we decided we were going to hike up Arthur’s Seat. It’s usually mentioned in conjunction with Camelot which is kinda fun, but it’s easily the best place to get some really beautiful views of Edinburgh and the surrounding hills and greenery. There’s a couple of ways to get up this. There’s the traditional way that Cat and I took which involves some ancient, shady stairs and a lot of loose rocks and slight bouldering that might leave you wondering why you thought this was a great idea and why you didn’t think to pack the right shoes for this particular excursion. Friendly warning, just because you see locals making the hike in their loafers does not mean your little boat shoes are ideal for this venture. I recommend taking the pretty way up which is along the backside. It’s grassy and a smooth hill all the way rather than death trap that awaits you the other way. Go down the scary way though if you do that since the views are still worth the rougher climb.
I definitely recommend you do the hike though no matter what way you go because it is worth it. It took us about two hours to get to the top (which included me stopping a lot to catch my breath, sometimes pretending to take pictures so I wouldn’t look as out of shape as I am, and reflect on my life decisions up to this point) which isn’t too bad, all things considered. But it took us significantly longer to get down but that was mostly because the aesthetic was amazing. Just look at these photos Cat took….
We spent a lot of time taking photos and enjoying the view on the way down so in total the whole excursion took us maybe five hours. Five and a half hours?I would do it again in a heartbeat.
On our way back to the hostel we saw a Frankenstein themed restaurant that we stopped in at. The atmosphere was pretty cool and I love that they showed the original film at the bar. The drinks were really good too. It’s not the best food we had, butI’m certainly glad we stopped in. There was a beer garden down on the lower level that I wish we’d checked out just for the fun of it. Maybe next time!
After that, Cat really wanted to head over to The Elephant House where they proudly boast JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books. It was a really cute spot and the more you walk around Edinburgh in particular, the easier it is to see the way the landscape shaped what we now know as Hogwarts and Hogsmeade.
After that it was time to bid adieu to Edinburgh and make our way out to Glasgow. If I were going to compare the two cities, Edinburgh is the old man in the park reading his newspaper that has so many stories to tell and Glasgow is the hip young artist who’s got a lot of spirit. Though I prefer Edinburgh, Glasgow’s not a bad city at all. It feels young but is still so quiet.
We didn’t hang out too much in Glasgow that first night because we were using it as a launching point to head out to Largs for their annual Viking Festival. The festival itself is free to attend which is awesome. They’ve got carnival rides and food trucks, a craft bizarre, and some fun entertainment. We knew there was a labyrinth you could go through but we just could not find it. Plugged the address into my Maps app on my phone and still…couldn’t find it. That was pretty disappointing but we did stop into a little arcade after that to play some games and win some tickets. We even earned enough to buy some playing cards and a little liquid alien (imagine gak but with an alien head floating around).
That was a pretty awesome couple of hours before we grabbed some bratwurst and cider. Well, Cat got beer again. I had some amazing Strongbow Dark Fruit they had on tap. We ate it right by the ocean while we waited for the festivities of the night to begin and if that’s not magical, I don’t know what else is.
When we were planning this trip we wanted to be sure if we went to the festival we could be there for this night because they do a big Viking parade, a boat burning, a skirmish, a fire dancer show, and then some fireworks. This is the night.
We hopped into the parade route, following the men and women in viking garb who were chanting the whole way. We got kind of lost in the back of the group so when we got to where we were going they had already lit the boat on fire and all the spots near the skirmish area had been taken. We did manage to find a good spot along a fence near the water though so we had an excellent view for the fireworks but a not so great view of the skirmish. We also caught the tail end of the boat burning which wasn’t too shabby. The boat was certainly not as big as I imagined it might be.
It was overall a pretty fun night. Until we got to the train station. At that time of night, there were only two more trains and Cat and I wanted to make the first one so we could get back to Glasgow at a decent hour. When we walked up though the train only had three cars which wouldn’t have been a problem until we heard that a country music festival was also happening in Largs and there were hundreds and hundreds of people who needed to get on the train. On our train, specifically.
Train cars aren’t that much bigger than buses so just string three buses together and put them on rails and you’ll have the UK train system that everyone was fighting to get on. Cat and I managed to squeeze into the last car but we were two of the last people to squeeze in. Let me tell you, there were people ready to start fights when they saw they couldn’t get on the train. Alcohol and not enough train cars? Not a particularly winning combination. We made it home safely though. No fights in our car, just some grouchy people who eventually got off a couple of stops later and boy was I glad to be out of that claustrophobic nightmare. Yikes.
We just had one more day of sightseeing left on our trip which was kind of a bummer but we were not going to waste it. Our first stop was The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
This cool looking museum had a lot of really interesting exhibits. We didn’t go into all of them but we, of course, walked through their little Egypt section, saw some of the fossils they’d found in Scotland, and checked out some of the art. There was a whole section devoted just to early Scottish artifacts which was also pretty cool. Well worth an afternoon!
Our next stop was the Botanical Gardens. Would you believe I’ve never actually been to a botanical garden before? It was honestly really cool. Much cooler than I thought it might be since it’s just….plants. There’s plants and flowers from all over the world and even a whole section just on orchids too which was really unique. Like usual, Cat and I certainly had our fair share of fun:
Just as we were heading out, it started to rain for the first time on our whole trip. We’d been pretty lucky thus far to avoid it but what kind of trip would it be to the UK without the slightest bit of rain? To try and wait it out we stopped into the tea place they had on sight which was pretty cute! I tried a mint tea which is probably favorite tea! It’s a little strong but I like how refreshing it is too. Try it sometime. It’s prety grand.
After tea, we headed back to our hotel, avoiding the rain as best we could until it just dumped on us. As I was taking off my jacket, I noticed my bra strap had slipped down off my shoulder and that it was…oddly blue. Like turqoise blue in large splotches. When I went to the mirror to inspect, I then noticed that, not only was my bra strap blue, but my whole shoulder had turned blue. Why? You ask. Turns out the army green shirt I was wearing that had a strange stain on it when I packed it wasn’t really stained at all. It was just holding some blue dye in its delicate little fibers waiting to be flushed out by some water. Like the level of water from a torrential downpour. The good news is that it all came off but we didn’t quite realize that as it came off ,I must have stepped in it because after we got back from dinner, I was sititng on my bed reading some Scooby Doo Apocalypse comics and Cat just started laughing. I’d gone from having a blue splotchy shoulder to splotchy blue feet. Hey, what can you do though? It makes a pretty fun story I think. The stain came out super easy from my clothes too so everything is all back to normal again now.
That does it, folks. The rest of the trip was just the journey back to London on the train to catch my plane back home. I somehow got very lucky to have a whole row to myself again so the flight was pretty chill.
While there’s still moments where I’m driving down the freeway, listening to some folk pop playlist on Spotify with the sun shining outside, that makes me feel like I’m in the right place, there’s still part of me that wishes I’d maybe stayed in Scotland. But, hey, it’s only a 10 hour flight away. I’ll be back soon enough and guess what? Cat’s coming home today! And honestly? There’s no one else I would have wanted to share this trip with. can’t wait to see what adventures we get up to now that she’s back stateside.