Thursday, 6 September 2018

London, Scotland, Ireland

Day 1

Well, it has been a while since my last blog, so I decided to cover this most recent trip... 15 days in London/Scotland/Ireland. I'm going to try and keep this one a bit shorter than my previous ones in an effort to not bore people to death.
I was lucky enough to fly direct from Calgary to London on an Air Canada Dreamliner.  I was unfortunate to not get a window seat, which resulted in me persevering through 2 movies (Avengers Infinity War, and Deadpool II) and 3 Sudoku games in an aisle seat. My American neighbours to the right of me were a bit...ummm, odd so to speak (a bit backwoods if you know what i mean)....ah crap...I'm already getting long winded here....let me move on to the actual trip!
Dreamliner, one of my fav jets
Getting through the London Heathrow Airport was extremely easy, and after paying £6 for a subway (tube) ride to Russell Square, I found myself left with only a few minutes walk to a small college called...Goodenough College (Yes, that is the actual name, a bit of an oxymoron in my opinion). My room was extremely plain, but @ £90/night, which included a private bathroom, it was a steal. It was only 10am when I arrived, but I was eager for a nap seeing I hadn't slept the entire 9hr flight. 

I unwillingly settled in, trying to shut the brain off for a few minutes, but it was futile knowing London was outside my door waiting! I decided to go out for some groceries...a few apples, oranges, olives, just enough to hold me over for a few days. I also walked a few of the quaint streets nearby before heading back for another nap.
My accommodation for 3 nights
6pm rolled around, and I grudgingly pealed myself off the bed.  I opted to venture out to a local back street pub for some cliche fish'n chips...seemed appropriate seeing that all the pubs claimed they had the best in England. It was ok, but it was the beer that propelled my need for sleep to cure the ever-persisting jet lag.  Not surprisingly, I was fast asleep by 9pm.
I over-endulged on cappuccinos on this trip
I liked the funk feel here
Local pub
Day 2

8:30am came quick, and without hesitation, I was out the door ready for the big day I knew I had ahead of me... just a simple 18km walk knocking off all the typical tourist sites.  A Starbucks Americano aided my focused exuberance.  One by one, I started to knock off the classic iconic sites I'd seen so many times on the web or in a book.
London walk route, 17km, returning by subway

  1. Trafalgar Square (never knew this place existed, but it was a pleasant surprise. I truly enjoyed it here with its perched up views and all the grandeur buildings surrounding it.)

Anything with fountains is a win in my books
This was a cool fountain
I like lion statues
  1. Buckingham Palace and its neighbouring parks (Didn't take long for me to gravitate to the nearby ponds to watch the swans and other interesting I've mentioned before, I swear swans have the best life!)
    Buckingham Palace, before the hordes of tourists
    I enjoyed the nearby park 
    Just starting to get busy
    looking back as I made my way to Big Ben
    Yup, he didn't move
  2. Big Ben (such a disappointment that this was under construction, and will be for another 3 years!)
    Damn you construction!!!
    Looking from the Eye across the Thames
  3. London Eye (Walked right by it. Apparently this is the most visited attraction...I had absolutely no inclination to pay for this attraction.)

  4. Millennium Bridge (A newer, cool minimalist bridge with an edgy look to it, I didn't take a picture of it.)

  5. St Pauls Cathedral (One of the most impressive buildings in London, and one I wish I went into instead of cheaping out.)
    St Pauls Cathedral

  6. Monument to the great fire (This was wedged within the city density, a monument commemorating the great London fire.)

     8. Tower of London (Another one I should of went into, but I won't regret this.  I walked the  entire perimeter, taking in the historic descriptions placed throughout.)

9. Tower Bridge (Probably one the the most iconic structures in London)
The Shard behind the Tower Bridge which is the tallest building in Western Europe

10. St Katharine Docks Marina (I was going to finish the day off with a beer here, but after seeing the prices with average ambiance, I decided to hold off until I was back near my hotel).
Everything around here was expensive
Dickins Pub
I finished around 1pm, and after taking 2 wrong trains on the tube which added to my long exhausting day, (which is surprising because the subway here is so damn easy to figure out), I eventually took the correct tube back to the college.  I took a 30 minute nap which was just enough to propel me back out for another 11km walk....this time to the Regent Park.  Naturally I stopped for some caffeinated power, and in doing so, unknowingly lost £20 out of my pocket...that's roughly $35cad for you Canadians.
Regent Park had amazing roses, and the walk was refreshing, but it didn't take long for me to slowly peter out, so I headed back to cap the night off with a Guiness at the college dorm (Freddies).
I called it a night at 10:30pm.
I loved this Calgary, we get "blue ring" crap!
Regent Park
Day 3

I woke up with a couple of cramped up calves throbbing, and this was only day 3...yikes!  I made my way down to the “college grand hall” for breakfast, and I shit you not, the place felt like I was eating on the set of Harry Potter! The food was cheap, bland, but cheap.  Disguising my tourist persona, I happily shovelled the £5 of breakfast down my gullet while bumping shoulders with the esteemed noblemen and dignitaries.
Seriously, Harry Potter 
I was too sore to walk all the way down to the Thames for my 10am river cruise to Greenwich, so I rented a “bike share” for £2 per half hr. Well let me tell you, it was not as easy as I expected. I swear I almost got into 4 accidents as I haphazardly mismanaged my way around the streets.  By the time I got the hang of it, I found myself a few km off route.  This resulted in me missing the 10am boat! Luckily for me, this only meant I was first in line for the next one at silver lining:)
The cruise (think of it more like a ferry) was roughly 1.2hrs, and floated by all the sites I previously saw by foot, but this time with the much needed commentary, helping put a story behind everything. 

After arriving to the Greenwich pier, I headed straight to the top of the hill where the observatory was located (I don't know why I need to be at the top of a hill when I'm near one!)  The views were great. It was also cool to see where the starting point for longitude was...meridian “0” (a question I always missed in trivial pursuit!)
Longitude 0
Would be cool to claim this
View from Greenwich Observatory
After 2 hrs enjoying the park and nearby town, I jumped on the cruise back (I was able to get it free, but I will skip the details on that;).
On the cruise heading back
My ingrained habits (which I seemingly can't shake) led me right past the subway entrance, and so once again, I dragged my sorry-ass back by foot to my hotel all achy and sore.  Certainly I'd be getting my second wind soon, right?

I returned to the college lounge Freddies and resentfully polished off a crappy hotel pizza and brownie, and later accompanying it with some grocery olives.

My London site seeing was done, and other than not seeing Hyde park, I felt 2.5 days was just enough.  Tomorrow, I would head north.

Day 4

I was wide awake for my 9am train, and was quite looking forward to the journey.  I splurged on a first class ticket, and hoped it would be as enjoyable as other high speed trains I've been lucky to experience around the world.  Unfortunately the ride was quick... like 1.5 hrs quick, just long enough to relax and be served breakfast.
My first class seat
Once we arrived in York, it was even quicker getting to the Hampton Hilton hotel to check in (think it was a total of 10 minutes).  The hotel was in an ideal location (just inside the wall), so it was extremely convenient as a jumping off point.  I only had one day here, so I made the most of it and headed straight out, first tackling the ancient wall that encapsulated most of the city. It was a total of 6km, but naturally a bit longer for know...with my uncanny skill getting myself off-route. The wall was one big circular hike around the town, spitting me back to the hotel after a few hours.

7km of wall walked
This town is pretty cool
Cliffords Tower
I relaxed in my new digs for a hour before heading back out, this time walking the town which comprised of many pedestrian streets with shops, churches, pubs, cafes, etc.  It was perfect, and I enjoyed the picturesque town immensely.
York Minster
I swear everything is under construction in Europe
Such cool streets everywhere in this town
See...Harry Potter is here
As the relentless sun beat down perpetuating my pace to a muggy grind, I decided to stop along the river for some local craft beer... "Samual Smith" ale which I quite enjoyed.  I then stopped in a pub for a lasagna, and decided to call it a day.
Classic tavern
I really enjoyed this moment
Great beer

Day 5

I tossed and turned for most of the night, and once 8am rolled around, I happily heading down for an amazing breakfast the hotel included.  This reinvigorated the lacking energy that was slowly manifesting, allowing me to make my way to the train for the next leg of my trip...Edinburgh.

Again, I splurged on a first class seat, and enjoyed the snacks and wine that were included with the upgrade.  I will note, the wine was probably some of the worse I've tasted...ever!  3 hours later, we arrived!

I checked into my room at the “Hub” and contemplated if I should risk the weather outside seeing it was looking quite ominous.  It wasn't really raining, but the dreary dark skies would suggest otherwise.

I threw on my Arcteryx shell and said screw bad could it get. This is when things went south so to speak.
Yup, it was wet out
Oh those views!  Arthurs Bench
As I made my way up to Arthurs Bench on top of Holyrood Park (roughly 300m elevation gain), the rain started, and then intensified.  Slowly but surely, my jeans became soaked, and this was the time when it dawned on me this was not a well executed plan.  Not only did I get soaked, but I also had no views once reaching the top.  I took a few pictures and raced back down to get out of my saturated cloths... tomorrow I would consider attempting this again.  On my way back down, I putzed around the Royal Mile for a bit.  I took in one of my favourite past times and people watched while the rain started to subside.  I knew tomorrow was going to be a long day, so I grabbed a sub and called it a night.
Yes I love swans lol
Day 6

The day started with me sleeping in till 9am, putting me a bit behind schedule.  I had a long busy day ahead of me, so I scrambled my things together and headed out for another tedious walk, knocking all the typical sites one would visit in Edinburgh.
My roughly 17km+ route within Edinburgh
  1. Calton Hill (great views, a dark history of executions were performed here, now full of monuments for many different dignitaries).
    Looking down from Calton Hill, Arthurs bench to the left
    Love the look of the shadows here
    A monument to one of the city architects 

  2. Scott Monument (very gothic in appearance, second largest monument in the world to a writer).
    Great gothic look 
  3. Edinburgh Castle (£18 to get in....I found a way to get in free, and let me tell you, if I paid the entrance fee, I would not be a happy camper.  Extremely busy, and not much for and done, and happy I didn't waste any money here).
    Love this, my favourite part of Edinburgh Castle...the pet cemetary

    Amazing, all this time, it stayed solid on that cliff
    Great park below the castle
  4. Dean Village (Old part of Edinburgh along the Water of Leith.  A bit sleepy, not that exciting)

From here, I walked through Stockbridge, bought some groceries, then made the long walk all the way to Leith which I immediately regretted...guess the waterfront is not much of a tourist attraction lol.  I decided to take this time to regroup and enjoy a cappuccino.  I finished the sight seeing with some speed walking to allow more time for my sore feet to rest.  If the sun stayed out, maybe today would be a good time to second attempt Arthurs bench for better views!

7pm rolled around, and off I went on my second attempt to Arthurs bench for an actual!
Got the views I was looking for

One of my favourites 

Day 7

In my opinion, today would be my first real adventure that could potentially test my patience. 

I arrived to pick up my rental car at 8am sharp, right as they were opening.  Oddly enough, they gave me a car with no gas, so I was forced to fill up immediately after leaving the lot.  I was a bit annoyed by this, but we will get back to this later.

It took me 5-6 attempts just to get out of the city.  It didn't help that while navigating such a complex city, I was also refamiliarizing myself driving on the left-hand side!  Plus, it didn't help my cloddish directions were scribbled on a very crude map... you can imagine how complex the roads are in a town as old as Edinburgh.  Once I freed myself from the grasp of the city and made my way onto the freeway heading north, it was smooth sailing for the next 2 hours to my final destination... the Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin hike.

It began as a beautiful crisp morning with not a ripple in the nearby lake. I was feeling quite positive, taking in my surroundings as I began the trek.  I gazed out at the sheep dotted throghout the hillsides, triggering a fond memory of my recent Iceland trip.
Start of the hike, beautiful home at the trailhead 
My cardio was on point, and after passing a local Scotsman, I found myself on top of Ben-Vorlich in under 2 hrs! Clouds were slowly rolling in at this point, but I pushed on to Stuc a Chroin, not feeling any ill-effects of the persistent elevation gain. 
Clouds started to roll in
It's a good view, not amazing, but worth the trek
Stuc a Chroin behind next objective

Sometimes you can't predict the clouds
It still was relaxing and enjoyable to take in
After passing a few sheep, I reached my final summit. Unfortunately my views were limited by the clouds which finally made their way over me, which continually threatening to rain on my parade.  I took 10 minutes or so to take a few pictures, and not long after, began my decent.  I needed to be back to Edinburgh before 6pm to return the rental, plus rush hour would be a concern, so any time saved would be a bonus.  I reached the car in no time, with only 3hr 50 minutes surpassing...4 hours quicker than the trail report suggested....I knew I found my second wind today!
These guys were everywhere
On my way down, green and boggy in some parts
Navigating back was quite painless as i followed my google maps on my phone.  With an hour to spare, I arrived to the rental agency to return the vehicle.  I mentioned to them how inconvienient it was they provided me with a car empty of fuel, and they agreed by reimbursing £15 onto my credit card which I was quite happy with.

After hiking 15km with 1100m elevation gain, I slogged my way to a grocery store, then back to the hotel for some much needed rest.

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