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26 April 2005

new city walk in the dark

i spent almost the entire day in transit... mostly on a bus in scotland... inverness to perth, perth to glasgow, glasgow to stranraer... and then a ferry over to belfast from stranraer. almost an 11 hour journey. i've tried taking pictures while on the bus and occasionally one will come out without window glare... but mostly i'll just keep the scenery to myself. see [digression] below.

the ferry was much larger than i'd expected. onboard burger king, sports bar, lounge, smoker's lounge, quiet room, and 'find nemo' on several tv's. the ride was very smooth... no waves, no turbulence. the ticket i'd purchased from citylink had a final destination at the europa bus station in belfast. upon arrival at the ferry terminal, i bypassed the swarm of taxi drivers and followed a group of people outside the terminal to a stand labeled 'citylink taxi'. after about 15 minutes, a nondescript white bus pulled in and i waited while everyone piled on. still uncertain whether or not this was indeed the citylink shuttle to the bus station, i stepped onto the bus and just as i was about to address the bus driver, a man behind me said 'what are you doing, mate? this is a private coach.' ah, yes sir, i'm an idiot trying to hitch a ride on your private coach. back in the ferry terminal, the information agent told me citylink didn't provide a shuttle down to the bus station and that i'd have to call for a taxi. i'd been deceived. blah! and i'd let the swarm of taxi drivers swarm away. i considered walking, but it was already dark and i wasn't up for a new city walk in the dark to my hostel. i made a quick call using a direct dial taxi line and about 15 minutes (and seven pounds) later i was at the hostel.

the hostel was a bit bland. in my room, i met a couple from uraguay who told me that there's nothing to do in belfast. i would prove them wrong.

[digression] in general, it's very hard to capture the magnitude of an experience through photos. well, i'll restate... as an amateur, beginner, photographer, _i_ have a difficult time capturing some moments in pictures. for example, the pictures from arthur's seat next to edinburgh in no way show what a great view of the city that vantage point provided.

now that i think about it ... i'll restate yet again... you can't capture some experiences in photos. there is no way a photograph will ever compare.

posted by paul at Tue 26 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

25 April 2005

that stand by themselves

i wasn't sure whether i was going to try to make it to the isle of skye and didn't have time to research the transportation and accomodation options the day before, so i got up early in order to get to the library and [free: good. 30 minutes max: bad] internet access. sometimes internet research is fun. sometimes it's not... for example, when the clock is ticking down in the lower righthand part of the screen and you're trying to investigate all of the different transportation options between inverness, scotland, and kyleakin on the isle of skye, scotland... trying to factor in cost and trying to keep in mind the next leg of the trip... how to get from skye down to ireland... and then, i found a fare from inverness the entire way down to belfast... ferry cost included... and i found a hostel in belfast... and the time and price were right... and i was finished. to belfast tomorrow.

travel arrangements behind me, i had another day to explore inverness. i'd heard about some islands in the middle of the river ness a short walk from the center of town and i was off to explore. i'm into nature these days... trees with a giant personality and flowers that stand by themselves. there were several trees which had branches which must have been manipulated by some force as the trees were growing... twisting and turning and constraining. the river ness is very quick and crystal clear. round rocks on the river bed.

back at the hostel i ate lots more salad. i can still taste it now. watched some evening television with some other hostelites... some long term russian and polish guests. steven segal movie in english with the english at volume 3, narrated in russian at volume 7, and english subtitles. wow. kill the american.

posted by paul at Mon 25 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

24 April 2005

fog machine inside and lasers

loch ness. the legend. and it was only seven miles or so from where i was staying. i think scotland uses miles and not kilometers... someone please research that for me.

how to get there? the ubiquitous pamphlet stands with a billion tours taking you here and there, and we'll stop for this, and we're the best tour company out there. blah. i took lonely planet's advice and made my own tour for seven quid. urquhart castle, or what remains of it, is right on the loch... a loch ness monster exhibit is in drumnadrochit, about two miles from the castle. it was a sunday and citylink ran two buses out to urquhart castle... planned to take the bus there and then walk back to dromnadrochit. the weather was fantastic... a long stretch of sun. the castle was in ruins and the powers that be wanted six quid to check them out. pass. a great path along the road towards dromnadrochit... the hearty stabbing plants with yellow flowers are spattered throughout scotland. everywhere. rising hills and horses and more sheep.

in the town, i found the loch ness 2000 exhibit. it turned out to be interesting and well done. perhaps not almost six quid of interesting and well done, but there was a fog machine inside and lasers and information and science. i wish sometimes i had some type of head interface and could just plug into the museum computer and download all of the information to my brain... i keep coming across these exhibits which start my mind rolling about similar topics and i want all of the information immediately. now. plug me in. download. i'm trying to keep notes about things i want to research later. two tons of fish in the loch could support only two tons of loch ness monster... the possibility is quite small.

the bus wasn't due back until 8pm and it was only 5pm when i got out of loch ness 2000. the tourist office was closed on sunday [?: seems sundays are good touring days to me] but an information plaque outside the office showed a map of the area with some nature walks. ah, nature. i like walking through the woods on a sunny day... all the way back to loch ness... and then back.

i don't think i could have picked a better time to start my trip. the weather has been cooperating and there aren't many tourists around. i know this will change in about a month. dread that time. the hostels will be filling and i'll need to plan much further in advance.

posted by paul at Sun 24 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

23 April 2005

posturing and police intervention

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from the lowlands to the highlands, the mountains rising. four hours by bus and i was in inverness, a pretty little town in the scottish highlands. out for my walk. i'll leave out the details, but i happened upon a person with an overpowering personality, and i, entangled, could not happen upon a way to delicately extricate myself from the situation. the hostel provided no shelter; the person had the keycode and was staying there as well. but at the end of our journey together one half hour later, i came upon the light at the end of my no taste food tunnel. i found what i have been seeking...

the salad. it was everything i hoped it would be.

two others had arrived in my room: nico and vadim from paris, france. warm friendly guys. i told them about my travels and before i'd uttered the word 'france', vadim was already off about things to do and see in paris. i pulled out my lonely planet guide and both nico and vadim marked up the map of paris with the good and bad of the city. don't go to this area after 11pm... knife stabbings! try this food. check this out. it would be great to have local guides like this for every city.

after some more conversation during which i tried to practice my french, i uncovered that both were in a band and interested in music and we were off to find some live music in inverness. we found a club in which a band was playing traditional scottish music and i bought both nico and vadim a guinness to show my gratitude for all of the paris advice. we learned the bar had an upper level; upstairs, a cover band was playing a cardigans song. whenever i mention to uk randomites that i live in boston, 90% of the time i hear 'ah, the celtics'. the other 10% of the time i hear 'ah, aerosmith.' while watching the band, i met a very nice scottish guy of the aerosmith variety who told me his band covered 'walk this way'.

bars close early in scotland. i think the lights came on shortly after midnight and nico, vadim, and i wandered back to the hostel. stayed up late listening to posturing and police intervention in the parking lot. great night.

posted by paul at Sat 23 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

22 April 2005

too much no taste food

it seems as if the volcano on which edinburgh castle sits has a twin. a twin volcano named arthur's seat... and five of my roommates and i climbed to the top... to 520.5 meters. an amazing view of the city through the haze. so tired when i returned. slept for an hour and then some writing and then some food late. i've been eating too much no taste food. chicken sandwiches and pizza and chips. what i really want is a nice juicy salad with romaine lettuce and ripe red tomatoes and crisp red onions and oil and balsamic vinegar and then that type of salt that you need to grind to get out. that would be great. i'm going to seek it out. a lemon might satisfy in the meantime.

i think i might be meeting more americans than any other nationality on my travels. my roommates, kyle and jenny, matt, john, danielle... and then another kyle and tim... turned out to be a great bunch of people. kyle, jenny, and matt are patriotic canadians. see them in the pictures. the bar at the hostel had a two for one deal on fosters ice at the bar. fosters ice? now capable of 2.5 bottles and while the taste becomes less strong is still not very appealing. stayed up until 3am and had a fun time hanging with travelers in the hostel lounge.

i booked two nights at a hostel in inverness in the scottish highlands very near loch ness. i'm leaving on a bus tomorrow at 1:30pm.

posted by paul at Fri 22 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (2)

21 April 2005

heavy

my day off. my do nothing, write some recon entries, relax in the park nothing day. my trip is now about nothings with a dripping of sights here and there and people. aahh. the weather was beautiful and that was everything. maybe just a stroll through the national gallery of scotland. monet's water lillies series is so mesmerizing... the surface of a pond so... heavy? deep purple with oranges and yellows. i guess everyone likes monet and i do too. i selfishly stood entranced by one of his paintings for a good 15 minutes to the irritation of several other viewers. i spent the rest of the day walking in the gardens near the gallery.

it's chilly here. chilly and windy.

posted by paul at Thu 21 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (1)

20 April 2005

behold!

i'm in edinburgh, scotland!

i'm falling behind a wee bit on my entries here and so i put in some administrative time. i found a net cafe that will allow me to upload pictures... so, behold, the global reconnaissance gallery! the gallery link at the top of this page should work now. i have many more pics to upload, but it's going to be slow going.

i'll be filling in old entries with the correct date and this will cause them to fall lower in the page. you'll see a new entry from 16 april 2005 below. i'm planning to put up a discussion board (under the reconboard link above) that i'll use for administrative entries like this so as not to disrupt the flow on the main board.

having a great time... i've been in edinburgh a day and it's amazing. i'm off now to check into my new hostel.

posted by paul at Wed 20 Apr 2005 at 12:32:52 EST (-05:00) | comments (3)

with stone walls rising right from

i only booked one night at the hostel and so again i was left with the situation where i'd need to check out and then back in again if i wanted to stay another night. checkout time was at 10am. while the hostel was centrally located, the drain in the shower in my room was severely clogged and there weren't lockers big enough to hold my main pack. i decided at the last minute to book a night at another hostel... ran down to the lounge and jumped onto hostelworld.com and booked a night with a hostel rated highly by other guests. i checked out and took my pack over to the bus station and stashed it in one of the lockers... and again, out to explore... and what better than edinburgh castle.

a daunting castle perched on a mountain of volcanic rock. with stone walls rising right from. and the crown jewels and prisoners trapped deep in the vaults and speakers trying to give you the feel. failing but still trying. a boat built from scraps of wood and memory by those trapped. americans there. carving into the door timbers. one from 1980 and still no protection. more will come. the museums with mannequins with hair glued. why. the one o'clock gun and the queen's birthday is tomorrow with a 21 gun salute. i'm not here tomorrow. i'm here today. a windy day and chilly.

i haven't been keeping up with these entries and i'm not exactly sure how other travelers have been updating blogs on a daily basis. during the day i want to go out an explore the city... at night either i'm so tired that i just want to sleep or i want to hang out and talk with other guests at the hostel. finding time to keep this updated has become a burden that i'm considering abandoning. additionally, i feel that my entries have become almost like an itinerary... i did this... and then i did this... and so on. i'll do that no longer... the castle description above will be my new blueprint. i'm not going to guarantee complete sentences from this point on.

i've been on the road just over two weeks and the charm of traveling has worn off a bit. ha! i'm hoping once i get into a rhythm things will fall into place. today is the first day i've had feelings of homesickness. i keep running into couples traveling together and think about how great it would be if sarah were with me. seeing the sights of a new city has been wonderful. what isn't so wonderful is booking the hostels and arranging transportation. while i'm meeting many new people in hostels, the transitionary setting makes it difficult to do anything more than scratch the surface of a person. where are you from? how long have you been traveling? where have you been? where are you going? if i'm doing this an entire year... or even if i were doing this for just a month... i still need some time to just sit inside and relax... not see any sights... not do anything... just have a 'normal' day. i'm going to take one of those days tomorrow. and i think i'm going to make an effort to write a little each night.

so... i pulled the trigger on the new hostel just a bit too quickly this morning as i was rushing around trying to check out on time. the new hostel was in cramond foreshore, about three miles away as the crow flies... much longer as the paul walks with his heavy backpack through twisting city streets. in an effort to save 50p on the internet this morning, i failed to notice that the hostel runs a bus service from a location near the castle (and very near the hostel i stayed in last night)... but ha... three miles? or five miles? not a problem. easily walkable, even with the pack. i was on my way.

about forty five minutes and several miles later i had an intense piercing sensation at the base of my neck and an interesting 'my toenail is coming off' sensation in my right little toe which resulted from an 'oh shit, i'm about to get hit by this car' mad dash across a street. my walk had begun near the castle... down through a large commercial district... and then into a residential area. a very run down residential area. a very run down residential area with lots of glaring 'what the hell are you doing here?' and 'hey, nice backpack.' looks. right. hmm. it will be dark soon. this isn't good. trust your instincts. i'd passed a grocery store about five minutes before and so i headed back to call the hostel just to make sure i was in the right area and to see how far away i was... and oh, if they had a bus service that possibly ran near my location. no answer. try again... no answer. screw this... i'm walking back. it's amazing how a piercing sensation at the base of your neck and a sharp dislodged toenail pain disappear completely and you're able to walk twice as fast when you're trying to get out of a questionable section of the city before dark. i had a new energy, but wasn't quite sure if the new energy was enough to get me back to unquestionable territory before the sun went down. after 20 minutes of walking, i hailed the first cab that drove by... 5 minutes later i was back at my previous hostel... 1 minute later i had a room for the next three nights. yay. this made me feel better.

posted by paul at Wed 20 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

19 April 2005

u-shaped nails

i got up early as planned and was out the door by 8am [see digression below]. paisley was about 7 miles from the hostel and i knew i'd have to catch some sort of public transportation to get out there and back before 11am. the gps told me that one road, paisley road west, led straight to paisley from glasgow. to get to paisley road west, i first had to cross the river clyde and navigate some cities streets. after walking about 30 minutes, i discovered the bridge i was planning to cross was a highway with no sidewalk. with time wasting i decided to jump into a cab and asked the driver to take me over the river towards paisley. we hadn't gone more than a mile and a half and the cab fare was already more than five pounds, so i asked the driver to drop me off at the next bus stop.

first bus comes.

me: 'how much is the fare?'

bus driver: 'to where?'

me: 'paisley.'

bus driver: [heavy accent. incomprehensible.]

me: 'excuse me?

bus driver: [heavy accent. incomprehensible.]

me: 'i'm sorry. i don't understand.'

bus driver: 'wrong bus. you want number nine.'

bus number nine comes.

me: 'how much is the fare?'

bus driver: [laughing. heavy accent. incomprehensible.]

me: 'excuse me?'

bus driver: [still laughing. heavy accent. incomprehensible. caught the word 'fare'.]

me: 'excuse me?'

bus driver: 'how much is the fare, eh? to wheeere?'

me: 'paisley.'

bus driver: 'one pound twenty.'

okay, so apparently you need to tell the bus driver where you're going. in boston, on the city buses you pay one fare no matter where you're going.

i got to paisley at around 9am. the sun for the first time in two days was shining and i was happy. i really enjoyed wandering around for the next hour and a half and made sure to take a lot of pictures for my friend back home. i caught a bus back at 10:30am and got to my hostel with about ten minutes to finish packing before check out.

i wanted to check out the museum of modern art before meeting up with mel at 3pm, but i decided to run up to the bus station and purchase my bus ticket over to edinburgh first. at the bus station i discovered citylink ran buses between edinburgh and glasgow every 15 minutes and so i decided to wait until i was ready to leave to purchase my ticket. i packed up THE in a locker in the bus station and was off to the museum.

as with the museums in london, i took my time walking around and really enjoyed the exhibits. one exhibit consisted of six photographs, each depicting a different type of homemade 'weapon' that a child might construct. some examples were a rubber band which when held between the index finger and thumb could be used to fire u-shaped nails, a pen blowgun which shot pushpins, and a pish balloon. yes, pish. the humorous descriptions of each of these weapons were written in the same way a description might be written for a broadsword or spear.

i met mel at 3pm and we walked down to a place she knew and grabbed a drink. it turns out mel is in a band and we had a nice conversation about travel and music... and traveling with music. after a couple of hours she walked me up to the bus station and i hopped on the citylink bus over to edinburgh. an hour and twenty minutes later i was in a new city. i could tell immediately that i was going to like edinburgh.

digression: i was spoiled in the oxford hostel. the breakfast there was comprised of orange juice, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns, and toast. all subsequent complementary hostel breakfasts have been comprised of toast and cereal. blick.

posted by paul at Tue 19 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

18 April 2005

storm of the kingdom

just got into glasgow last night. i've written entries for saturday and sunday, but they're on my laptop and the computers at this internet cafe won't accept usb keys, so i'll transfer those entries (and hopefully pictures as well) as soon as i get a chance. with the current gbp/usd exchange rate, i'm going to pick up the pace on my storm of the kingdom. i'll most likely only stay in glasgow for two days... head over to edinburgh... up to inverness... and over to dublin.

here are a few random thoughts:

. my bus stopped in birmingham, england, on the way from oxford to glasgow. in the bus station, europe's 'the final countdown' was blasting. [insert main synth line here]

. european sprite is my new drink of choice. different and better.

. me at a cafe last night:

clerk: "aye mate, do you want that for here or take away?"

me: [what the hell did he just say?] "excuse me?"

clerk: "here or take away?"

me: [i'll take a stab at this...] "yes?"

. the computer keyboards i've been encountering lately have the double quotes, |, and @ signs on different keys.

. i'm being relocated to another room in the hostel where i'm staying and so i had to check out of my room at 11am and i can't get into my new room until 3pm. the hostel has a luggage check room, but there are no locks and there is no attendant... so, i'll be traveling with THE pack for the next several hours. i'm going to be huge by the time i get home.

posted by paul at Mon 18 Apr 2005 at 06:29:26 EST (-05:00) | comments (4)

unlocked unattended

still raining... and bob's still on about the freaking ticket. man. he finally took both tickets and left without a goodbye.

i'd only booked one night in the hostel and when i went down to the front desk to inform the staff i'd be staying an extra night, i was told that i'd be moving rooms and i'd have to check out by 11am and then check back in at 3pm. perfect.

'you can put your pack in the luggage room.'

the luggage room was nothing more than an unlocked unattended closet. it looked like the door could be locked based on the giant electronic keypad to the right of the door, but the lock certainly wasn't being employed. i took a quick look inside the closet and saw about 20 packs sitting on shelves. i didn't want to chance it... especially given the impersonal nature of this hostel... so i buckled on THE and went out to explore.

my first impression of the city from the night before didn't really change after a few hours of exploration. again... could have been the rain or THE pulling me down, but i just wasn't feeling glasgow. based on a multitude of flyers all over the city, it looked like glasgow had a very kicking music scene but i didn't see anything that appealed to me that night. i made the decision fairly early in the day to take off for edinburgh the following day. i felt in a way that i wasn't giving the city a chance, but i still had a lot of ground to cover and i didn't want to second guess myself.

it rained off and on (mostly on) for the rest of the day. i was back at the hostel right at 3pm to check into my new room... a full 14 bed room on the fifth floor. the other guys in the room were in and out and i didn't really get a chance to meet anyone. i ran out to the grocery store for some more spaghetti and meatballs and came back and ate while watching some tv.

my friend jesse, who i first met my sophomore year at the university of vermont, has lived in boston the entire time i was in boston. for one reason or another, we never hooked up until my girlfriend and i ran into him and his wife keira at the movies one day. we managed to squeeze in a dinner about a week before i left. jesse studied abroad for a year in aberdeen, scotland, years ago and knew that a girl he'd met there was living in glasgow. he gave me her email address and i exchanged a couple emails with her before i came to glasgow... she told me to give her a call when i got into the city. as i was dialing the number, i really hoped she wasn't going to have a strong glaswegian accent... i'd already had numerous problems throughout the day which made me feel like a complete idiot. luckily, i could understand mel just fine and we made plans to meet up the following afternoon at 3pm.

an old friend from pennsylvania, jodi, traces her family roots back to an area in scotland called renfrewshire, not far from glasgow. i planned to wake up early the next morning to go explore the administrative city of renfrewshire, paisley, and then return to the hostel before 11am when i had to check out.

posted by paul at Mon 18 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

17 April 2005

more industrial, if you will

i checked out of the hostel this morning around 9am in order to get to the bus station as soon as they opened at 9:30am. the evening before i'd checked at the train station and it was going to be much less expensive for me to take the bus from oxford to glasgow. i purchased my ticket for 48 pound 99 and was on the road about an hour later. spent most of the day in transit trying not to fall asleep for fear that i'd miss some of the scenery. it started raining lightly about four hours into the eight hour journey and by the time we got into glasgow it was pouring steadily.

the hostel was very similar to a giant hotel. it had ten or so floors and i was staying in a 14 bed room on the ninth floor. i got the impression immediately that this hostel was much more of an assembly line for backpackers... get them in... get them out. the hostel lacked character... the staff wasn't quite as friendly as the staff in oxford... the room not quite as clean. as it turned out, i was the only one staying in the 14 bed room. not bad, i thought... i get the lower rate and still get an entire room to myself.

when i arrive at a new destination i generally like to take a long walk about town to get my bearings, but it was still raining and so i decided to grab a sandwich and call it a night. i'm not sure if it was the rain or the long bus ride, but based on a 20 minute walk from the bus station down to the hostel and a quick half hour walk to get some food, i really wasn't feeling glasgow. to be fair, i just think it's a very different type of city than london or oxford... less tourist friendly... a little grittier... more industrial, if you will. typically that would suit me fine, but at this point in my trip i'm still looking for very picturesque places with very accessible attractions. that may change in the future as i begin to look for more than museums, galleries, and castles.

back at the hostel, two other guests had arrived... one from iowa and one from ireland. the irish gentleman, as it turned out, had missed a train and was only staying for a few hours before the next train left at 5am. the three of us talked for a while and when i mentioned that i was planning to head over to edinburgh and then up to inverness, the irish fellow... i'll call him bob... told me he had an extra ticket up to aberdeen and that he'd sell it to me for far less than he'd paid for it. i told him i wasn't planning to hit aberdeen and he was insistent that i could get the destination changed to edinburgh and then get a giant refund.

me: 'no thank you.'

bob: 'but i can't use this ticket and you'll be saving a lot of money.'

me: 'if i were confident that i could transfer the ticket over, then i'd consider it... if you're sure you can get a refund, why not just get the refund yourself?'

bob: 'because i'm not going to use this ticket.'

me: 'no thanks.'

bob: 'but you'll be saving a lot of money.'

this went on for between five and ten minutes... to the point where i was getting very frustrated and almost raised my voice to tell him to stop... and then i remembered i'd be sleeping in the same room with him. after i finally managed to change the topic to something else, bob mumbled something and handed me the ticket. it wasn't clear whether or not he was just giving it to me or whether he wanted me to think about it some more. i said thank you and just laid the ticket on the floor by my bed and quickly shifted the topic of conversation again before heading to bed.

posted by paul at Sun 17 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)