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25 September 2012

Scotland Road Trip 3: Sunny Edinburgh, Lake District, and Total Exhaustion

It was the Sunday of our crammed weekend road trip to Scotland. After a full day of driving around the highlands and a night living up Edinburgh's nightlife, waking up at a decent hour was really not easy at all.

By some miracle we were up and ready around 11am. We left a few beers for our host with a thank you note scribbled on a paper plate, then we departed to do a quick exploration of Edinburgh itself.

Since I had visited Edinburgh previously (despite getting stranded in the city), I was the expert on the city and gave my friends the best 2-hour tour that I could muster. We started on the royal mile, not far from where we found a place to park the car (there was the Edinburgh Marathon finishing up that morning, which led to a lot of road closures and parking restrictions).

The warm and bright sun really contrasted the dark neo-gothic architecture of Edinburgh. It made it feel more like an amusement park than an actual city. Nevertheless, it is impossible to avoid being charmed by the history and Scottish culture around every corner.

We walked past St. Giles' Cathedral and all the way up to the castle itself. The castle was crowded with tourists, and we were strapped for time, so we didn't go inside. Also, the esplanade outside was largely roped off with construction as they were setting up large sets of bleacher seating. So, we walked down the stairs, passing by my previous hostel, the Castle Rock Hostel, which has a spectacular view looking directly upon the castle itself.

We proceeded down to the Grassmarket, where I explained the story of Maggie Dickinson. And then around to Greyfriars Kirk, where I told another great story, that of Greyfriars Bobby.

Not far from Greyfriars Kirk is the Elephant House, which proudly proclaims itself as the cafĂ© where J.K. Rowling frequently sat as she wrote the first Harry Potter book. Here's the view of the castle from the back window. Think it would inspire you to write a world-famous story of wizardry?

Maybe a brilliantly sunny and warm day isn't the best day to experience the expected brooding, dark atmosphere of Scotland. Nevertheless, in this part of the world, you simply do not complain when the temperature is 27˚C and there is not a cloud in the sky! So, after taking a quick peek in the National Museum to see Dolly the Sheep, we wandered over to the Princes Street gardens. There, we joined the growing masses of people to soak up the ephemeral Scottish sunshine!

I got a small ice cream and an order of fries (always a winning combination!) and we relaxed for a few moments in the gorgeous gardens. But we couldn't waste the rest of the day, we had a long drive back to London ahead of us. And we had a few amazing stops along the way.

19 September 2012

Scotland Road Trip 2: Driving Around the Highlands

The weather was incredibly beautiful for the late May weekend thatwe were in Scotland. Remarkably, there was not a cloud in the sky, and the long late Spring days made for perfect sightseeing and traveling. As I awoke, I glimped outside my window and took in the splendor of Edinburgh and the hills surrounding the city.

After a long drive from London that didn't get us into Edinburgh until 3am, we understandably were a little slow to wake up for the first full day of our Scotland weekend. We picked up our other two travelmates (who were staying at another friend's place) and soon we were all on the road again.

It didn't take long outside of Edinburgh for the city to give way to countryside. Scotland is, after all, a mostly rural landscape. The motorway had a little congestion as we passed by construction, but all in all it was smooth sailing as we headed onwards toward our first destination: Stirling.

07 September 2012

Scotland Road Trip 1: The Long Drive to Edinburgh

It was the last weekend of May when my flatmates and I made a weekend road trip from London to Scotland. It was a busy weekend full of things to do, but because of everyone's schedules, we couldn't leave until after work on Friday. Nevertheless, just the drive from London to Edinburgh on Friday night was a memorable adventure!

It should have been a relatively simple drive (by my American standards), only 7 hours by Google Maps. But the journey turned out to be more complicated: Figuring out how to get the rental car (all the way at Heathrow); dealing with rush-hour traffic; eating far more fried chicken than we should have; picking up a travelmate in Sheffield; and learning that I simply cannot drive a stick shift!

And so here goes the story of how an afternoon/evening drive turned into an all-night journey.

Time-Lapse Video: Road Trip Across the USA

I love time lapse videos, and I really love road trips. So having discovered this video, I feel obliged to share it! This guy drove across the USA, seeing many of the most iconic sights along the way. If you ever have the chance to make such a trip, do it! The size and diversity of landscapes in the States is almost overwhelming, and this video does a pretty good job of showing what you can see in your car.

(For best viewing, watch the video in fullscreen!)

05 September 2012

A Day in Cambridge

It was a cool and cloudy (typically English) May day when I traveled to Cambridge, one of the most historic and academically prestigious cities in the world.

I actually lucked into this trip, thanks once again to Couchsurfing: A fellow couchsurfer, Ethan from Taiwan, had two extra tickets to Cambridge because his two friends weren't able to make it to London in time. So he graciously posted, and I responded. I invited my friend Ziva (visiting from Slovenia) to come along with us.