Looking down a gloomy street in Edinburgh Scotland contrasted with a bright red telephone booth

Scotland

I suppose I should begin by admitting that I’m horribly obsessed with geography (as well as all forms of useless information). Ironically, it’s the only subject I didn’t take in school. If there’s a squiggly circle with a capitol, I’m all over it like a Pekingese on a rubber pork chop. I want to know what it’s called, why it’s called that, what they eat, what they speak, and how to speak it. Which is why I must begin with the subject of Scotland’s geography (all of you other geography addicts who find this elementary can skip this part if you must. There’s an interesting write-up on the origin of Slovakian county names that I could pass along).

The quaint (yet perpetually gloomy) town of Queen’s Ferry

Scotland is the northern tip of the isle of Britain. If England was a head, then Wales would be the beard and Scotland would be the hat. (Although, if I used that analogy around a Scot, they’d probably raise one gigantic eyebrow and say something like (Only to be read in your very best Scottish Brogue): “Eff hats were enter-teening, cap-tah-vee-ting, and more bloomin’ brell-yent than the person that’s wearing et!” Then, I would be knocked unconscious with the swift blow of a whiskey bottle.

What any self-respecting Scottish pub would have on their walls. A Scotsman stabbing an Englishman. Do I need to emphasize the point never to call someone from Scotland, English?

What any self-respecting Scottish pub would have on their walls. A Scotsman stabbing an Englishman. Do I need to emphasize the point never to call someone from Scotland, English?

When visiting any country that far North you can expect rain, drizzle, fog, and overcast. Now, I know that sounds unpleasant, but Scotland’s natural beauty and astounding architecture easily outweighs the occasional (and by occasional, I mean persistent, never ending, “Oh my word! When will it stop?!”) crumby weather.

While I may have spent a total of only four days in this kilt-clad country, I feel as if Scotland and I had some true bonding time (Now, we’re not close enough for me to call it ‘Scot’, but I think we hit it off pretty well). I was staying with a friend in Scotland (I never travel without some sort of contact. Staying in a hotel room reduces the potential of a country when you’re in a plush room with those little free shampoos and samplers of horrendous coffee). The only thing was, my friend worked full-time. So, at 5:00am there I was at the train station. Though I was by myself, I was overwhelmed with excitement. One of the best advantages to having a contact, is that they can give you the low-down on everything there is to see and do! So for the first excursion (keep in mind, I only really had two good days to explore) he told me (in a Scottish accent, of course) to take the train to the capitol city of Edinburgh.

Looking down at Edinburgh

Here’s a perfect opportunity to explain the British ‘gh’. You’ll find people that insist that it’s pronounced Edin-berg, or some will even suggest Edin-borough or better yet Edin-burah. They’re all wrong. If you want to be respected upon your arrival in the land of haggis and plaid then please make the effort to pronounce this city correctly, it’s the least we can do. As in everything said in Scotland, the “R” is rolled: “Edin-brrah”. Once you master the correct pronunciation of Edinburgh, you’ll then instantly be wearing a kilt, and playing a bagpipe with pieces of haggis scattered about your freshly grown Scottish beard.

Alley in Edinburgh

Even the dark alleys are cozy and welcoming in Edinburgh

This city was so great, I spent parts of two days here! (If you’ve read any of my other posts you’d know I only suggest spending one day in a city of any sort) In most cities, I’d recommend researching the sights ahead of time so that you can optimize your day (or days if you’re in Edinburgh), that is not the case with this city. Simply step off the plane or train and proceed to the cobblestone streets of this unbelievable place and wherever you wander, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views and a distinct cozy feeling. I never knew you could feel ‘cozy’ while you’re outside, but even the air of Edinburgh makes you feel like you’re wrapped in a blanket (plaid, preferably) sitting next to a fire with a hot cup of tea and a good book.

The roads are so cool here, that is, until you catch your big toe in one of the cracks, trip, fall, and the next thing you know, your kilt is over your head.

The roads are so cool here, that is, until you catch your big toe in one of the cracks, trip, fall, and the next thing you know, your kilt is over your head.

Originally most of the buildings of Edinburgh were light in color, but after the dawn of the industrial revolution, with its despicable smog and pollution, most of the structures were left blackened. That is what gives Edinburgh its distinguished, yet somewhat eerie nature, exemplified by the regal and slightly foreboding sentinel of the city, respectfully known as Edinburgh Castle. Even with this unbelievable Goliath of a castle, I still remained faithful to my three-step castle viewing process (as set out in the Northern Ireland page).

Edinburgh castle

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh castle Gardner keeper's house.

The garden keeper’s residence.

This lofty structure is built on a rock mass in the middle of town, making it an excellent landmark. Just about any street you’d peruse…there it would be…. the ever watching citadel breathing down your neck (which if you’re a hopeless ever-lost traveler like me, is a welcome relief. “I have no idea where I am or how to get back to the train station, but hey there’s the castle again. Whatever that means… “).

How’s that for a point of reference?

After miraculously finding my way back to my friend’s house, he informed me that we would be going on a motorcycle tour to a place called Loch Lubnaig. I was supplied a helmet and what looked like an oversized protective pajama suit and off we went. Since there was two of us and one motorcycle, I was, needless to say, sitting behind my friend holding on for dear life like a juvenile lemur upon his mother’s back through the high canopies of Madagascar. Not the most dignified position, I must say. There came a point along the journey where my oversized helmeted noggin would sway violently back and forth. The slightest movement and I thought my head would be thrusted underneath one of my armpits. I (very carefully) looked at the speedometer, (the round dial on moving vehicles that most cautious drivers look at from time to time) all I could make out was that the little orange stick was past the mark that read “100”. At that moment I was immediately filled with equal parts of excitement and utter helplessness. Imagine a kindergartener who wet his pants after just receiving a good grade for his macaroni art project…excitement and then helplessness. I have to say it was worth it. I apologize that it was too dark for a good photo but you’ll have to take my word for it. Loch Lubnaig was stunning to say the least. Before the perilous ride home we were rewarded with the classic fish n’ chips at the local pub, over which we discussed my plans for the next day.

image

Hey,  it was either this or a leather biker kilt. (Loch Lubnaig in the background)

My friend mentioned an airplane museum that was a ‘must see’. All I had to do was take a train to Drem (Thankfully, I finally found the correct name of this place on a map. Every time I told this story, its name would change. I never could recall the proper name of the station. It always seemed to come out ‘Grim’ or ‘Drip’ or sometimes even, ‘Phlegm’) and then once I arrived at this oddly named train station in the middle of nowhere, I needed to catch a bus. I thought to myself “I’ve got this. What’s one train and one bus? Piece of cake.” That’s where it all went down hill. I was told by the bus company’s website that the bus stopped at Drem Station, when in all actuality, they stop at some street corner outside of the station (and my view). So there I sat, waiting and waiting. I had to be back at a certain time, because I had a meeting to go to, so I was already cutting it close. After about 30 minutes, I heard a bus in the distance. Temporarily relieved, I made my way towards the entrance of the station anticipating the arrival of the bus. I walked just far enough to see the bus leaving! I had all of two international minutes left on my phone, so I called the bus company. In a thick accent I could barely understand, the representative said: “You twit! The bus comes to the street corner outside of Drip Station (oops, I meant Drem). You’ll have to wait another 1 1/2 hours before the next one comes! *click*” I, of course, didn’t have an extra 1 1/2 hours to wait. So I was faced with a tough decision, either go back on the next train or attempt to walk it.

Outside 'Drip' station.

Outside ‘Drip’ station.

Filled with intermittent bursts of enthusiasm, I’d push on down the road towards the air museum. Then I’d panic and worry about not getting back in time or worse yet, being abducted by one of those wild kilt clans. Forced to live out my days in a skirt and prove my manliness by hurling 12 ft wooden beams and screaming obscenities. So I’d run back to the station. Then, I’d muster up the courage and set out again, only to return with the proverbial tail between my legs. Finally, I decided just to go for it. I suppose I didn’t realize it was a five mile walk through one of the most sparsely populated regions of the UK. All of the roads were lined with 7ft. high hedges so you could only see what was straight ahead or straight behind. This proved to be quite a hazard, since at the most unexpected times rogue Scottish tractor drivers would come blasting down the roads at what seemed like warp speed. Thankfully the inside of the coat I was wearing was neon green so I simply flipped it inside out to alert oncoming (and by oncoming, I mean psychotic and unrelenting) tractor traffic.

On top of that, the winds were quite strong that day making it increasingly difficult to keep my hair in place. Then, out of nowhere, ultralights (tiny personal aircraft thingies) filled the skies. Apparently making good use of the air currents. Probably laughing uncontrollably at the sight below.

By the time I finally arrived at the museum I had bloodshot eyes and crazy hair from the wind, I was breathing heavily from all of the hiking, and I was wearing a fluorescent green coat that was inside out. I’m actually quite surprised they let me tour the place instead of, say, calling the police.

The museum was called the “National Museum of Flight”, however the sign was so badly worn, all I could make out was “nal Muse Flig”. A promising start! Once I entered the facilities I found that they were a perfect accompaniment to the welcome sign. Most of nal Muse Flig’s buildings had broken windows or the roofs had collapsed. “I walked all the way out here for this?” I thought to myself, “I could be in a skirt throwing logs right now!” The original reason for me journeying all that way was to see a Concorde they claimed to have hangared there. I was seeing no such thing. I didn’t even see a building large enough to properly house a VW Beetle, let alone a Concorde.

WWII Plane at air museum Scotland

One of the few planes that were actually in tact.

Figuring that I might as well tour the place since I made all the effort, I purchased a ticket. As I walked into the first hangar, my jaw dropped. There it was, the fastest commercial airplane ever built, the Concorde! Not only that, but it was fully open to tour. Like a giddy school girl, I ran up the steps screaming. I dropped my bottle of glitter in total amazement.

Concorde Scotland

If you look very closely you’ll see a trail of glitter along the jet ramp. Who brings glitter to an airplane museum? I mean, come on!

After that, the rest of the museum consisted of various piles of parts complete with a placard that read: “This used to be a…” Then I stumbled upon a random shed without a label or a placard. The windows were all busted and the roof was partially caved in, so I knew it must have been part of nal Muse Flig . There inside was a group of 80+ year old Scotsmen constructing a replica WWI biplane from scratch. As I stepped into the old out-building, admiring the beautiful specially imported Canadian Pine skeleton of the plane, an angry little old man shooed me out, “Get outta here, can’t you see we’re trying to eat?!”, he said. As I was respectfully exiting, another older gentleman rushed out, “Wait! Don’t mind Quincey. He gets prissy when he’s hungry. I’ll show you around.” After being lectured through just about every nut, bold, and screw of the aircraft, I was satisfied, to say the least. I kept trying to excuse myself, but my impromptu tour guide kept on going. At last, I made my way out of the building only to see the last bus of the day departing from the Museum. I had missed it again!

All the guys working on it started in their 70s, and have worked on it into their 80's. At this rate only 20 more years. I hate to break it to them...

All the guys working on this started in their 70s, and have worked on it into their 80’s. At this rate only 20 more years until it’s finished. I hate to break it to them…

“Don’t worry”, said my new friend, “I’ll take you to Phlegm station” (doh! Sorry did it again). This is where it got interesting. He was standing near the passenger side of the car and was, what looked like, warming up to get to the driver’s side. The 90+-year-old airplane builder then burst into motion, but in the most peculiar fashion. “Hyper-tippy-toeing” is the only way I can word this obscure maneuver. Imagine the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy at 10 times the normal speed, but the sugar-plum fairy had severe osteoporosis. After his mini marathon to the other side of the car, it took a good 5 minutes for him to stop gasping for air and regain his, slightly lop-sided, composure. Then off we went back to the station. I said my good-byes, thanked him for the tour, and then he drove away. I stood at the platform waiting for the next train, when unexpectedly he came back. Barreling down the road in reverse. Rolling the window down, he yelled out to me: “You’re on the wrong side of the station, you twit!” and just like that he was gone.

In your travels, give England’s “hat” a shot. You won’t be disappointed. I mean, come on, where else can you be called a twit twice in one day, and walk five miles with your coat inside out to visit an abandoned air museum in a town called phlegm?

Kilts

I couldn’t think of a better way to end this…

England

When one sets out to explore the European continent for the first time, certain core (and by core, I mean ‘comfort zone’) countries immediately come to mind. Most want to see countries and cities that will be readily recognized by their friends when they get home. “You went to Dublin?! I’m so jealous, tell me everything!” That’s the line that most hope for when telling of their travels. I try telling someone about the day trip I once spent in Luxembourg and they just look at me blankly, thinking to themselves: “That’s in Indiana, right?” Then, “Surprise!”, your story is ruined, you then have to spend the majority of your time just explaining where Luxembourg is and more importantly what it is. By the time you get to the ‘good stuff,’ they’ve lost interest. And that’s alright.

Colorful taxi driving through London, England with Big Ben in the Background.

Oversized taxis, traffic lights, giant buildings with the sole purpose of telling you the time. Gotta be a comfort country.

There comes a point in every traveler when you have to resolve to leave your comfort zone and venture into places that you may have a hard time explaining ‘where-on-earth’ it is. That is where you find unforgettable travel experiences.  Don’t let how many likes you think you may get on Instagram dictate where you travel.

Black and White facade of Big Ben Clocktower in London, England

Ok, I admit. When I posted this on Instagram I was hoping for some likes…

England can be one of those comfort zone countries that’s first on your list to visit when you get to Europe. (If it isn’t, and you instead were dreaming of roaming the streets of Riga, Latvia for your first European adventure, then I’m impressed. For you, my friend, are a courageous swashbuckler of olden times. Please proceed to the nearest airport and conquer the seven seas of your imagination).

Steep english road in England

You miss out on moments like these when you stay in the city.

Now, I’m not saying all comfort zones are bad, I’ve heard comas are quite tranquil. England is in a ‘comfort zone’ for a few key reasons. First of all, If you’re a native English speaker (in other words, someone who is only capable of learning one language every 70-80 years) then you can leave your phrase books at home (although, they should write a few for some parts of England where sometimes you have to resort to sign language even to get directions to the nearest pub). Second, you won’t have to worry about the food and water quality there. This is where ‘England Myth #1’ needs to be addressed. It states: “All English food is boiled, tasteless, and altogether ‘icky.” NOT TRUE! I don’t know where or how this gossip was spread (probably French propaganda), but it ends here. In England you’ll be delighted with not only good ol’ pub fare (i.e. Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers and Mash, Fish n’ Chips, etc.), but also tantalized by amazing Indian food everywhere you look. Definitely not ‘icky’. In fact, I’d recommend keeping travel size samples of English food in your pockets so that the next time someone carelessly decides to recite ‘English Myth #1’ you can immediately force feed them a miniature Shepherd’s Pie, silencing that slanderous notion for all eternity. Trust me, they’ll thank you. (I’d recommend bringing along some napkins with the mini pies as well, I’m still brushing bits of corn off my coat from last week.)

Old brewery in England that spells Brewed as Brewd

How can you have bad food with spelling like that?

Ok, so we have an idea of why England can be a comfort country. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering: “How can we keep that from happening?” I’m glad you asked. Even though England is a default comfort country, don’t worry, there are ‘un-comfort zones’ to be found! Take note, there are both good kinds and bad kinds of ‘un-comfort zones’. Dropping your wallet full of freshly withdrawn pound notes (along with your glasses) after dark in some random subway station by yourself surrounded by escaped convicts with tasers is an example of a bad ‘un-comfort zone,’ avoid these.

Severed pig heads at an English Rag Market in the UK

Nothing says ‘un-comfort’ like severed pig heads for sale.

Comfort countries, in turn, have comfort cities. As a general rule, more comfort, more money. Needless to say, London is a comfort city. Amazing to visit, not so amazing on your wallet. For example, London’s restaurant prices are over 170% more expensive than, say, Budapest (which is definitely not a comfort city). My advice: if you have your heart set on London, then by all means go, but try to limit how much time (money) you spend there. In my opinion, most comfort cities can make for a very satisfying day trip. I saw Paris for the first time in a 7 hour layover (Always try to capitalize on your layovers. For another quirky tale on this, check out my Fiji page). After you’ve had your fix of comfort (psh…who needs comfort?) head up to the Cotswolds.

Big Ben with a budding tree branch in the foreground. London, UK

Another reason I keep my time in the city to a minimum. I inevitably get lost, walk in circles and take pictures of the same things over and over. Hence, the surplus of Big Ben shots, whoops.

After driving about 100 miles northwest of London, you’ll swear you’ve traveled back in time (or to any BBC sitcom for that matter). Named after the Cotswold Hills, the Cotswolds run through six different English counties. In the U.S. when you cross a county line little changes, except for a boring green sign that says “_____ County Line.” In England, it’s much different. The accent changes, the industry changes, the architecture changes, each county has its own unique flare.

Cotswolds English Market

Fun fact #875: Notice that the building is goldish color? That’s because the buildings of the Cotswolds use a specific kind of limestone common to that area. If you go further north or south in England, you’ll see different colored structures for this same reason.

The Cotswolds are chock full of little villages waiting for you to discover. Each having its own Cotswoldy (definitely not a word) charm. When you visit the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, for example, be sure to check out Shakespeare’s residence. (By ‘check out’, I mean strictly abiding to the 3-step castle viewing process set out in the Northern Ireland page., of course)

Shakespeare Residence in Stratford-Upon-Avon in the Cotswolds, England

No, that’s not Shakespeare out front. I think he was away that weekend. Or, perhaps, not away. That is the question. (Ok, that was cheesy.)

Inevitably, you will be confronted with a small chalkboard street sign that has the words ‘cream tea’ scrawled on it.’ When you see this sacred billboard, liberally apply the brakes, find an appropriate parking space (on the correct side of the road), and run screaming with joy into that miraculous establishment as fast as you can. Nothing tops the euphoria that ensues upon consuming those glorious scones, accompanied with their trusty sidekicks, clotted cream and strawberry preserves. Washing it all down with a piping hot potta’ tea with milk, your life will flash before your eyes. All the while you’ll be wondering how you’ve survived all these years without once partaking of this invaluable gift to humanity (Well, that wasn’t dramatic).

Cream Tea with Scones and Clotted Cream in England

There’s really no comment needed. Maybe a moment of silence would be appropriate.

After you’ve enjoyed your cream tea (if you’re like me, there’s going to be more than one round) set off, down the windy roads of south-central England. You really can’t go wrong once you’re in the Cotswolds. Stop at whatever town is your ‘cuppa tea (sorry couldn’t resist), whether it be Cheltenham, Broadway, or wherever your little rental Ford Fiesta will take you.

Old Market Cotswolds England

This market place is over 600 years old! That’s gotta be like 1200 years in metric!

This is the part where I talk about pubs. Pubs sum up everything you could possibly want in an English adventure. Do you want to see architecture from the 16th and 17th century? Go to a pub. Do you want to sink your teeth into some freshly fried Cod or maybe devour a generous helping of bangers and mash? Go to a pub. Do you want an opportunity to hear English accents in their natural habitat? Go to a pub. Do you want a ‘Double Shot Caramel Macchiato with extra foam? Then go back from whence you came! Obviously you have to no appreciation for culture.

Then, there’s English Myth#2: Don’t order a beer in England, because they serve it warm there. What?! Ok, sure with beer that’s handcrafted like at “The Olde Swan” pictured below, you could risk ruining a good brew by refrigerating it. So while some beer there may not be refrigerated, it’s certainly cellar temperature. Let’s put it this way: England is cold, which means English dirt is cold, which means that English cellars are cold, which means…. I’ll let you figure out the rest. (I’m still working on bringing samples of English beer with me at all times to refute this second bit of malicious gossip. Only set back is, by the time English Myth #2 comes up, the beer is warm from being in my pocket with the mini shepherd’s pies.)

Snowshoe Arms in the Cotswolds, England

By far my favourite (notice spelling) pub of all time. Snowshill Arms.

This place, "The Olde Swan", even brews their own beer in the back room!

This place, “The Olde Swan”, even brews their own beer in the back room!

From severed pig heads, to flat cap souvenirs. The rag market has you covered.

From severed pig heads, to flat cap souvenirs. The Rag Market has you covered.

Now, you’re probably thinking “ok, say I take your advice and spend all of my time in the ‘un-comfort zones,’ how am I supposed to get a decent souvenir? True, the ‘comfort’ method would be to traipse into one of those touristy gift shops and grab a fist full of key chains. Feeling more adventurous (or more thoughtful)? Check out some ‘Charity Shops’ or better yet, head to the Rag Market in Birmingham. There, I found a genuine Harris Tweed hand-woven flat cap for £5 (normally £50). If you do the math, you could buy ten flat caps for the price of one, imagine that! With that kind of discount, you could even afford to buy souvenirs for people you don’t like very much (just kidding)!

So as you sit down and plan your European adventure, be it the first, second, or tenth time, go ahead and schedule in some comfort countries. But promise me this, that you will seek every opportunity to find the un-touristy, un-popular, and un-comfort zones, and when you go to tell me about your adventures, it better take a good ten minutes to explain ‘where-on-earth’ you were.

Editor’s Note: Due to the increase in hate mail from “French Propaganda Weekly” I find it necessary to inform you that in no way have I been paid by the English Tourism Board ‘s BETEFBFTM (Britons for the Ethical Treatment of English Food and Beer For That Matter) division (although it was tempting).  

 

 

 

Still scrolling? Here are a few bonus photos to make it worth the trip:

Town road in England

Really any road in England is worth admiring.

Catapult near Warwick Castle, England

Aha see! A random 100 ft. tall catapult, I told you this was a comfort country.

Ludlow Castle in England

Ludlow Castle

Big Ben overlooking the Thames in London, England

Sorry, I just had to sneak one more Big Ben photo in there.

Pathway off of a cliffside near Carrick-a-Rede, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland

Cliffs of Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s take on the Cliffs of Moher (which are located in the Republic of Ireland)

These ten counties of the Island of Eire are technically its own country. A country that makes up only 3% of the population of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (affectionately known as the UK). For a better (or at least I hope better) explanation of the names of the regions of the British Isles, see my “British Isles” page.

It’s seems to me that Northern Ireland doesn’t get as much recognition as the Republic of Ireland. I understand, when you think of Ireland, you think of Dublin. Though the Republic’s capitol is a must-see for all the american tourists who have to say: “Oh back when I was in Dublin, and yes I mean Ireland, yada yada,” who cares, you’d be severely missing out on Ireland’s natural beauty if you chose to forgo Northern Ireland.

If you are planning to visit any part of Ireland, here’s a few ups and downs to Northern Ireland to help you decide if the northern ten counties are right for you (uh oh, I feel like I’m selling insurance. By the way, you could save 15% or more by….).

Lobster outpost in Carrick-a-Rede, Northern Ireland

One of the original lobster outposts.

First, let’s start with the bad news. Northern Ireland is on the pound (GBP), so if you’re coming from the U.S., that can decelerate your “bang-for-your-buck-o-meter” rather quickly. Although, the dollar (USD) is climbing at a staggering rate. Last time I checked, 1 pound sterling cost $1.47, that’s about what the euro cost when I was in Europe last year (2014).

Another bit of bad news: you probably won’t hear that “leprechaun accent” that you know you were hoping for. In fact, the Northern Irish sound to me like heavily accented Minnesotans (don’t tell them I said that, of course). I’m not going to go into the full explanation of why that is, but to illustrate this further, when overseas I’ve been labeled as Irish as many times as I’ve been placed as American (now that could be because I tend to adopt the accent of whoever I’m talking to, but that’s besides the point).

Onto the good stuff (Hint: Notice how short the ‘bad news’ portion is). In my opinion, there are three things you HAVE to check out while you’re visiting Northern Ireland. The best part: they’re all located within about 11 miles of each other!

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

So hop in your car that you’ve rented (hired, if you’re going to learn the lingo) and then once you’ve realized you’re sitting in the passenger seat, gracefully exit the vehicle and get in the driver’s seat…weirdo. Anyways, drive up to Dunluce castle, which should take you about 1 hour and 15 minutes if you’re driving from the capital city of Belfast (that is if you don’t get into a head-on collision since you keep veering into the other lane). Once you arrive in Dunluce (and after you’ve changed your trousers from all of those close calls) behold this, now ruined, medieval castle. The rule is: the more ruined the castle, the cheaper it is to tour.Approaching Dunce Castle, Northern Ireland

As a side note, when you plan on gallivanting across a country where there are heaps of castles, pick one castle that you feel you must see the inside of and stick with that one. If you veer from this advice, you’ll soon find that once you’ve seen one castle (on the inside that is) you’ve seen them all. Now don’t get me wrong, I love castles. I usually try to incorporate at least one new fortress on each trip, but I choose to take the free route. Follow this easy three-step process when touring a castle: Step 1-Save £30 by not paying to go inside the castle. Step 2-Load up on pictures of the exterior. Step 3-Proceed to the nearest pub, and go “hog-wild” on a shepherd’s pie. All the while, flipping through countless (free) castle pictures on your camera and admiring that crisp £20 note that you just saved (cost of pie and pint factored).

Now, back to Dunluce. It is quite “ruined,” meaning it is quite “cheap” (£5, I think) and since it’s in this state of dilapidation, there’s not much to see on the inside (it’s so ruined, you can practically see the inside from the outside. Definitely not the castle you should pick to ‘splurge’ on.), but you can take some amazing exterior shots. I believe this castle even made it on the inside of a Led Zeppelin CD case. (I may have misheard though. So google it before bragging to all of your ‘LedHead’ friends.) Ok, spend 20-30 minutes tops here, and then head northeast!

The Giant’s Causeway

In only 4.5 miles you’ll reach my personal favorite. Even though I typically would never call a touristy area a necessity, the Giant’s Causeway is just that. This natural wonder is, well, naturally wonderful.Looking up at the cliffs above the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

 

Ariel view of the famous polygonal stones of the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

Polygons await you when you arrive at the Giant’s Causeway. Who doesn’t love polygons?

DSC02652Seeing about 40,000 interlocking polygonal pillars, some towering almost 40 ft. in the air, feels like LEGOland the way nature intended it. (If you’re debating between visiting Northern Ireland and going to LEGOland, then sadly, we can’t be friends). As a budget traveler you should, of course, opt to walk instead of being bussed down to the causeway. Though I originally chose that option to save some dough, in hindsight I’d recommend this anytime over the bus. Though it is a bit of a trek, you’ll be rewarded with a plethora (all great article uses plethora, everybody knows that) of Kodak moments. If you’re into folklore, check out the visitor center/gift shop that has a video presentation about Finn MacCool and the fearsome Scottish giants (I have no idea if it’s worth watching. Plop me in a foreign country with a camera and the last thing you’ll find me doing is watching a movie, unless it’s a good movie…and there are snacks. Come to think of it, if there were snacks at that Finn MacCool video then you wouldn’t be seeing these pictures of Northern Ireland). Spend as long as you like here, this is an unforgettable sight to see.image

 

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede 3Then after you have seen enough, venture another 7.5 miles to get to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge near Ballintoy, Northern Ireland. Legend has it, bridges were built to the miniature island of Carrick-a-Rede for over 350 years. Originally used by salmon fisherman, but since the salmon have all but disappeared, it now serves only as a tourist attraction. There is a toll of £5.60, which is certainly worth it (reach into your pocket, you should still have that £20 note from NOT blowing it on castle admissions, and cheesy “my friend went to Ireland and all he got me was this lousy…” trinkets). If you’d rather not cross this bridge, I understand…pansy. At first I found it frightening, but then seeing my 70-something-year-old tour guide (No, I didn’t pay for a tour guide, he was my cousin, obviously) fly across the bridge with the grace and speed of a well fed Peregrine falcon, I decided to ‘give it a go.’ Words and pictures cannot convey the excitement of crossing this perilous overpass. It looms 98 ft (30m) above waters that share the same latitude as the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. As you intrepidly cut across this mess of ropes and planks, bombarded by winds in all directions. All the while swaying side to side, back and forth, and up and down, it’s no wonder why some are so petrified by the time they reach the other side that they have to be boated back to the mainland. I’m making this sound horrifying, aren’t I? It sounds terrifying, but when it comes right down to it, it’s a blast. Look on the bright side, according to records, no one has fallen off this bridge in all those centuries. Hey, maybe you could be the first!

Looking straight down 100ft from the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in Northern Ireland

So if you choose to make the voyage over to Ireland, be adventurous and give Northern Ireland a chance. Yeah, they may not have the accents we’d hope for, and sure it’ll cost you a little more to peruse then euro zone Ireland. But remember the next time you’re at a dinner party and that one guy starts out his story: “Oh, back when I was in Dublin, and yes I mean…,” (we know he was really just there for a two-hour layover after some business trip) all the dinner guests begin to slouch in their seats and prepare for the long ride ahead. That’s where you jump in and say: “Yeah, but did I ever tell you about the time that I scaled the perilous bridge of Carrick-a-Rede.” Instantly the heavens will turn ominous and roar with thunder. You’ll then be transformed into a bearded fisherman with one leg and a yellow rain slicker. Instantly endowed with an impromptu Irish accent. All the, once bored, dinner quests will be on the edge of their seats, glued to every word of your tantalizing Irish tale.Looking across Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge in Northern Ireland

Editor’s Note: When telling your ‘tantalizing Irish tale,’ resist the urge to say ‘top of the mornin’ to ya’,  which no one in Ireland actually says or even worse, ‘Argh!’  which gives the story a pirate feel ultimately leading to the death of your once interesting story, prompting the return of the business trip drivel. Trust me, you don’t want that.