London, Edinburgh, Manchester -- Oh, my!
12.25.2011 - 01.01.2012 45 °F
“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.” – Freya Stark
I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share my adventures from this trip. So here I am once again, struggling to find the words to explain my endless life shenanigans.
If you have followed my blog for a while now, you will have noticed a change in scenery.. in this case, being the words. It began as my study abroad blog for my adventures in and around Prague, and since I loved my blog so much, I can't seem to part with it just yet.. even making a new one breaks my heart a bit. So I've decided to just tweek this one up, so we can all relive the ridiculousness of my life the past year and a half.
Ya'll should know by now, my heart is not where I am. I get cabin fever so badly, it drives me to travel as often as I can. One one liner on Facebook, asking my dear friend Garth (note: Prague blogs) what he was doing for New Years sparked the flame to embark on another incredible journey. Naturally, I'm looking for any excuse possible to go abroad, so what better way to go than to meet up with an old pal? He and his brother Kyle were planning a trip, bouncing from country to country throughout the holidays and graciously invited me to tag along for the second half. After a wonderful Christmas morning with my beloved family, it was off to the airport I go!
ILM to CLT to PHL to LHR.. Wide-eyed and wondrous as I step into the third busiest airport in the world, my final destination, I come face to face with a tube strike on Boxing Day, the UK's craziest, Black Friday-esque shopping day of the year. The surrounding locals are bustling by the foreigners, recently landed from their holiday, anxiously awaiting the not-so-cheap Harrods sales that await. The foreigners, however, myself engulfed in the mix, get rolled about the crowd, pushed and shoved until I manage to find the only available working metro going out of Heathrow. Mind you, all international flights arrive nearly around the same hour, and apparently I was not the only one having the bright idea of traveling to London on Boxing Day but.. hey, what have you. I didn't get mulled and I made it onto the metro heading in at least the correct general direction I intended on going. With the best of luck, its reveal on my ride, with all bags in hand, that the metro will stop a whopping two stops prior to my destination. So whats a girl to do? Without a phone.. without internet. Wander about, of course! Thankfully there are gracious and wealthy people in the world, with nifty little devices called BlackBerrys that have Google Maps on them, who kindly pointed me in the right direction of a bus station and exact change for a one-way ticket. After a few round-abouts in a rainy square, I managed to find the boys' hotel! After a nice shower and a cold Guinness at a local pub, I was undoubtedly ready to take on the trip!
I feel like I saw a majority of the tourist attractions in London within the first few hours I was in the UK. On our way to the city center, we nonchalantly passed by the Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Parliament.. naturally leaving the London Eye shining beautifully blue from across the river. In most any romance movie or story, the plots are placed in either New York, Paris or London. Well kids, my dreams came true. Views were breathtaking, especially in the dark, each etch and turn of the Gothic architecture illuminating even from the greatest distances. We walked along the stretch of the river, crossing a bridge leaving us at the foot of St. Paul's Cathedral, where Kyle and Garth had spent their Christmas Eve mass. Oddly enough, St. Paul's looks strikingly similar to our very own Capitol building in D.C. Its majestic dome is certainly a building worth copying!
Needless to say, I crashed that night HARD.. traveling is a joy, but dang it can take a lot out of you. It would come as a surprise, however, that we did not leave our hotel the next morning until near about 11am because the 23-year old and 26-year old BOYS [evidently] wanted to stay in bed and watch "Camp Rock" on Disney Channel. But.. since I was baggin' on them.. I had this coming.. definitely blew a fuse trying to blow dry my hair. Such an amateur, American girl act, right? Sadness, first full day and already no hair dryer. First world problems are quite the unnecessary inconvenient kick in the butt, aren't they? Moving along, we made our way down a similar path towards Westminster Abbey in hopes of making an audio tour. Thankfully I didn't play it cheap and went ahead and paid the 16 GBP. It was two hour walk through history, literally. Nearly every influential king and queen of England is buried in there. Among them are other insanely awesome Brits, like Lord Byron, Charles Darwin (eh on him, but still cool), Sir Isaac Newton..also in the poets corner, there are memorial plaques and statues for Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, William Wordsworth.. you can't help but be in awe with those names in your presence.
Following, we grabbed a quick lunch and a nice brewski before scurrying off to the London Tower Bridge. Deciding to pass up the tower tour, we continued across the bridge. Although it has that old gothic look, I was surprised to see most of the wires and cables leading up the bridge were painted light blue. Aside from the soccer game (which you'll obviously hear about later) I'm pretty sure this bridge is the single most photographed scene on this trip. Its that awesome! The remainder of our evening was spent in a nearby pub, close to the hotel, to watch the Arsenal football game. We finished up London all cozy in our 4 by 4ft of a room. London is certainly going back on my "go-to" list.. I feel like I didn't get the entire experience one should. However, it is HUGE so two days would certainly not suffice. What I did get to see though was.. beautiful.
“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quiestest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy
On the 28th, we made our way to Heathrow to fly British Midland to Scotland. We landed into a rainy Edinburgh but naturally, that or the category five winds wouldn't stop us from being adventurous as soon as we settled in. The view from our hostel window was absolutely stunning, with St. Giles Cathedral and the Edinburgh Castle shining brightly in the distance. The weather must have been standard for Scotland because we certainly were not the only ones wandering about in the night. We piddled around town, in dyer need of finding some sort of pub so we could watch some good ol FUTBOL. We found a hoppin' hostel restaurant, full of some interesting kids around our age. Just to put this out there, Kyle and Garth have the typical big/little brother relationship. Those two bicker like an old married couple! So of course, Kyle is giving Garth a hard time about this petite girl sitting across the restaurant. The funny thing was was that the girl was indeed NOT even paying attention to him, but any opportunity to hackle with Garth, Kyle will jump at the chance. So since Garth is a woosey and can't start conversations with girls, I get talked into making the first move for him. So I go up to Anita (said, girl.. actually she ended up being 30 years old) and apologize for my random approach.. but my weeny of a friend in the salmon colored sweater thought she was cute. As I suspected she giggled and was flattered, but was quick to retreat after a brief conversation that actually included Garth. Haha. To our surprise, however, she apparently had sent a friend back downstairs to give us her Facebook information. Garth (and me!) must have made a better impression than we figured! We tried to meet up but unfortunately we didn't have time. Mad kudos to us though for spittin' some serious game!
The game plan was to make it to the 11am free walking tour with Sandeman's New Europe Tour. Never fails.. if ya'll ever travel, USE THIS COMPANY FOR YOUR TOURS! I have done it in Munich, Berlin, Paris and now Edinburgh.. all of my tour guides have been amazing! One of the zillion amazing things about Edinburgh is how easy it is to get around by foot. It seems like no matter what direction you're walking, you're always going UP hill.. its quite strange. Anyways, given the severity of rain, we decided to postpone the tour for the 1pm go around, so we just kinda wandered around on our own. Our tour guide's name was Troy, an original Aussie from Sydney. He took us around the heart of Edinburgh.. we learned about Greyfriars Bobby, the horror stories of Burke and Hare, the Stone of Destiny, etc. Scotland has such an endearing history regardless of their little brother effect under England. Throughout our tour, we made friends with another Aussie named Johno, one crazy, CRAZY Oz who was a friend well made because he made the remainder of the night nothing less than entertaining. We also befriended two girls from New Zealand who now lived in London. At a lovely dinner together, we decided to meet up later that night for the pub crawl.
After a quick cat nap, we hightailed it back into town for Sandeman's Pub Crawl. I've done a few pub crawls in my time, but never have I ever seen 90 PEOPLE in one. It was INSANE. I probably would have been a little frightened if I had been a local seeing our giant group wander about the town.. cause let me tell ya, we were THOSE.. OBNOXIOUS.. TOURISTS. But needless to say, it was a blast! The five of us stuck together more or less, naturally Johno was making his rounds causing ruckus elsewhere. We went to five different pubs.. the first, we walked into a shot of whisky and a line up of jager bombs ready for a domino effect. And thanks to Troy, yours truly got to start one end! It was a tiny little place, but they had extremely loud live music and they played Sweet Home Alabama! Amazing! The second place we went to had karaoke.. Lord have mercy, there were some brutal singers. Two incredibly intoxicated girls completely tore up "Sweet Caroline" (if you're my friend on Facebook, there's a sneak peak video of it on there). The final two places were club type deals, just the standard, European techno playing joints. Great fun!
Our train was to leave the station at 2pm, so we had a little time the next morning to finally make our way up to the castle. Sadly we didn't have time to go inside but the outside was just as beautiful to take in. We were all a little bummed we didn't get a chance to stay in Edinburgh for their Hogmanay, which is a big NYE festival. All the more reason to visit again! We passed several bagpipers on the way to the train station.. perfect way to end this Scottish adventure. Also, I've never seen so many sheep in all my life! The train ride from Edinburgh to Manchester was absolutely stunning. The first half was rolling, green hills and the other half (at least the other half of while I was awake) was beautiful snowy hills.. and all along the ride there were hundreds of sheeeeeep! SO MANY SHEEP! It was pretty cool. I wish I was able to get some pictures but.. it was nap time.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
And now we have made it to the final leg of the UK trip.. MANCHESTER! I felt a little wonky about this place. I heard that there really wasn't much to do, and as soon as we got off the train, it was pouring outside. Definitely not a good start. Plus the boys had Manchester United tickets and all I was planning on doing was scalp for tickets. Eh, this whole trip was basically going to be played by ear. We got settled into our 8 bed hostel room, met our roommates.. the 3 Frenchmen, Mikael, Vincent, and Alex.. and the South Korean, Han. We snagged Han and moseyed around the city center in search for food. Han turned out to be a pretty cool cat and he happened to be going to the Manchester United game too! The first night at the hostel was an interesting one. Not only were the beds insanely thin and squeaky, we had a fabulous wake up call around 7am in the form of a fire alarm! Stupid drunk folk, ruining our sleep.
Groggy and sluggish in ol' rainy Manchester, we made our way via tram to Old Trafford, along with Han. We basically sprinted through the rain, calling up the fellow, named Henry, that was hooking the guys up with their tickets (mind you.. rain+Courtney's hair=no bueno). Apparently this Henry fella is head of security at Old Trafford.. pretty rad. He has an executive box that he was kindly opening up for Garth and Kyle. Han already had his ticket for the north end, and I was left to fend for myself.. UNTIL..Henry asked if I had a ticket, so when I said no, he went upstairs and came down with THREE tickets. I'm pretty sure this whole situation dubs me the luckiest person on the planet. The box was phenomenal. There was a long dining room table in the middle with a spread of fancy Manchester United plates and glasses. Passing by two touch screen TVs and fully stocked fridge, you came to a sliding glass door leading to eight seats with an awesome view of the entire stadium. The three of us were in awe. Seriously. This place was crazy awesome. It wasn't until I was around the fancy people with their free glasses of champagne that I realize that I looked like straight crap. Haha. A family also joined us in the exec box room so it was kinda neat to get the inside on a upper-middle class British family.. and boy were they the stereotype! They cracked me up though, because I think they were from Liverpool, so naturally they were rooting AGAINST ManU. We were offered endless drinks and basically a four-course lunch throughout the game, which was delightful. Sadly, we witnessed one of the biggest upsets in Manchester United history, but it was still an awesome experience. We hung around a little bit after the final whistle to visit over.. A SPOT OF TEA (and get this.. they use legit little cubes of sugar.. it was precious) The family friend mentioned that since Ryan Giggs wasn't playing in that game, he was probably posted up in an exec box down the hall. I thought Garth and Kyle were going to pass out! We couldn't stop ranting and raving about the whole shindig afterwards. Never will I ever be able to watch a sporting event the same way.. not just because we got pampered, but because the energy and intensity in that stadium was so unreal and inspiring. America needs to step up their game on team spirit! Some of those fans were not just screaming, but CUSSING and FREAKING out on the refs and other fans, and there were all sorts of children around! It was even more hilarious when the family simply stated that the kids were getting "educated".
The night before, Garth spotted a Chipotle look-a-like that we of course had to revisit. After some good old fashioned American TexMex, we met up with the Frenchmen and threw back some brewskis in the hostel room. They taught us a new drinking game that is very similar to beer pong, just without the cups and table. [You sit with your legs spread and your bottle between them.. put the cap upside down on the mouth of your beer (or in my case, wine ).. fold another bottle cap and throw it at the other person's bottle cap to try to knock it off] Sounds pretty simple but.. I sucked pretty bad. Anyways, it should come to no surprise that once again, I fell in love three times with those three boys. The seven of us made our way to downtown Manchester to attempt some free bar hopping. I get pushed to the front of the group, kudos to me being the only chick (as usual) pushing our way into an insanely packed club/bar joint. I got to wear my NYE dress, although I was a little self conscious of it being a little.. over the top.. NOPE. I was rest assured once we walked into the club that I was undoubtedly the most conservative dressed female there lol. Ah, it was a great time and a night of full out crazy dancing. They even had Budvar, which is a Czech beer, so it brought back some great memories of the Prague days. We brought in the new year with Rihanna "We Found Love" and although my crowd was a tad bit random, I couldn't have wished for a better way to start 2012. Whilst continuing our wandering around the town, we found a large group of people gathering in a square, arms around each other, dancing in circles. Naturally, we all feel the need to join. It was a nonstop, let loose tribal dancing and I honestly don't think I've ever had so much fun. I could not tell you where we were or what kind of people they were, but there we all were, drunkenly cuttin' up in the middle of the town around 2am just having an absolute ball.
Overall, I think its simple to conclude that once again, like always stated, I had the time of my life. I am so blessed to have such amazing new friends, new bonds, new relationships, and this chance to catch up with the old ones. My nerd status was shown when the first thing I did when I got home was put my new stickers on my computer and put white pins into these three amazing destinations on the map on my bedroom wall. I concern myself with how distasteful I feel about coming back to the states after these trips. I feel the most sincere happiness when I am on a plane going away and the most saddened when I am on a plane going back home. Don't get me wrong.. I love my friends and family and I love being close to them.. but I know where the heart is. Maybe someday I'll make one of these trips a little more permanent.. just accidentally book a one-way ticket instead. I'd check a few bags to stuff the important people in so they can go with me! I already can't wait for my next trip.. which I'll leave as a surprise for now until its finalized. But I feel like it might be one of the best ones yet!
So as always, thanks for reading/stalking my constant on-the-go life. My last first day of classes is tomorrow so my feet should be planted firmly on the ground for at least a couple of weeks. Stay tuned though, you never know when I'll just pick and up and go per usual (like I kind of did this weekend to DFW haha) Anywhoo, happy days to ya'll. I bid you adieu.. in the goofiest possible manner I can manage for right now (ie picture below) Standard, right?