First Morning in Edinburgh 8:37 AM Tuesday, June 16, 2009 Umeed and I arrived yesterday afternoon with some pretty heavy bags and nowhere to stay and feeling pretty hungry and tired. We walked around for several hours and came across several hostels and checked their rates. What we were really looking for was an internet café so that we could book a room and get cheaper rates. Eventually, we came to a Mcdonald’s and decided that we were too hungry and just wanted to eat. To our good fortune, the Mcdonald’s had free wireless internet which we connected to just after eating and began our search for a place to stay. We found this place, Budget Backpackers, which had quite high ratings and was quite cheap at the same time. We decided to get our own private room for the first night so that we could properly rest and get a bit more familiar with the city. When we checked in, we chilled and relaxed for a bit in the room, then went downstairs and found lots of people getting ready to go on a pub crawl and we decided to tag along. However, we came back after the first pub because we were really tired and wanted a good night’s sleep. My first impression of the city is one of awe. The architecture is spectacular here; every building is like a castle or monument. When we first got here, we started looking for the famous Edinburgh castle which sits on a hill looming over the city, but we couldn’t tell which of these beautiful buildings it was. The weather is pretty bad; it’s gloomy and gray and a little cold and it was raining on the way from the airport yesterday and they predict more rain coming, so that’s a bummer. The people here are incredibly friendly and helpful. A refreshing change from the cold aloofness of busy Londoners. Today we are going to move into a 6-bed dorm room which only costs us 11 pounds per night (nice!) and hopefully we will be sharing the room with some pretty nice people. We had also planned on seeing the famous castle today and maybe taking a walk down the Royal Mile which is like the central street here. At night we’ll probably go out with people from the hostel if the hostel is organizing any activities for us to do. Second Day in Edinburgh 10:09 AM Wednesday, June 17, 2009 Yesterday was a nice day. The weather was good, to our fortune; the sun came out and it wasn’t too cold. We woke up and checked out of our private room and locked our bags in the storage. We went for breakfast close to the hostel and then came back in time for a free walking tour of the city that the hostel offers. We walked all around the city and checked out the key and important things to see in Edinburgh and we learned about the gruesome past of this place with many stories of torture and killing and wars and so on. We learned where the phrase “filthy rich” comes from: apparently in medieval Edinburgh, there was a curfew at 10pm and at that time everyone would open their windows and toss all their waste and sewage out into the streets. So the city began to stink with the smell of sewage. The lower floors of the houses were built of concrete or rock and so were fire-proof whereas the top floors were built of wood. The safer lowers floors were much more expensive than the top floors even though the stink of the city was much more offensive closer to street-level. This is where the phrase “stinking filthy rich” came from. As a note, I might add that there is no one “street-level” in this city because it is so hilly and full of ups and downs and extremely oblique angles of ascent on some of these streets. It is a very unique and beautiful city. After the tour, we came back to the hostel to plan the rest of our trip and book places to stay and transportation. We booked bus and train journeys that will take us to Leeds tomorrow, so this is our last day in Edinburgh. We are staying in Leeds for two nights and then going to Manchester for another two nights. After this session, we went out for a walk to high street to check it out. We went into St. Giles Cathedral which was just absolutely astounding with all its stained glass murals and exquisitely carved wood engravings and statues and memorials. It was an absolute art fest. After the church we went to a whiskey bar to try out some quality Scotch whiskeys which we enjoyed very much. On the way there we saw a street artist making spray-paint paintings and I bought one from him that I really liked. Then we went back to the hostel and on the way back, we bought a roast hog roll from a shop that was displaying the full roasted hog and cutting pieces of it and selling them. After chilling out for a bit at the hostel, we decided to join up with the pub crawl and go the whole way this time. We visited several pubs and got satisfactorily drunk and then somehow ended up in a drum-and-bass club that was free entry and cheap drinks and good music. All in all, an awesome way to end an awesome day. I expected I would be hung-over today after the rowdy night out, but I feel happily comfortable and well. Third Day in Edinburgh 11:08 AM Thursday, June 18, 2009 Right now we’re on the bus leaving Edinburgh and heading off to Leeds to start the next leg of our journey. Yesterday was our third day in Edinburgh and it was a nice way to end our visit to this beautiful city. In the morning the weather was bad and it was raining lightly with some very strong winds blowing. We went to visit the castle without feeling discouraged by the weather and hoping that the eccentricity of the weather on this island might favor us with a sudden switch from rain and wind to shining sun. The castle was very nice, although slightly disappointing. The one thing that did impress us, however, was the WWI memorial built inside the castle. It was a huge building with incredible detailed decoration and elaborate architecture. The stained glass paintings were beautiful as were the statues and engravings. Another good thing about the castle is its height which makes it a stunning vantage point overlooking the whole city and the sea that borders it. Another cool thing about the castle is the firing of the cannon which takes place everyday at 13:00. This is a tradition dating back to the days when seamen on ships anchored to the docks at Edinburgh would set their timepieces when they heard the cannon fire. We were lucky because we actually got to the see the man fire the cannon off at exactly 13:00. After the castle, we walked down to the Grassmarket to try out the traditional Scottish dish, Haggis. We found a pub which served Haggis called The White Hart and it turned out to be the oldest pub in Edinburgh dating back to 1516. I really enjoyed the Haggis but it was nothing like I expected it to be. It was just some ground goat meat mixed with spices and oatmeal and cooked and served with mash and turnips. It was delicious. We also drank some signature Scottish lager which was not too bad either. After lunch at the 500 year-old pub, we went to our hostel and decided to take a little nap to regenerate some energy and relax before going out. After chilling out for a few hours, we went back out again with the intention to get drunk and party. We wanted to check out George street which was recommended to us for its good nightlife scene. After walking up and down the road, we chose a pub and had a couple of Mojitos. We found George street a bit too posh for us so we decided to return to a more studenty place. We went to a hostel/bar called Belushi’s and sat in their bar drinking beer and whiskey. Eventually, we met two American girls who were here on holiday and, after befriending them, took them with us to a club we had seen earlier on George street called Opal. We had a really good time in the club and didn’t get back to our hostel until 4am. After only five hours of sleep, we got up feeling a bit unstable, not having given our bodies enough time to detoxify the alcohol from our systems and made our way to the bus station to pick up the bus we are currently on. Travelling to Leeds via Newcastle 10:42 AM Friday, June 19, 2009 So, yesterday was a bit of a challenge because we hadn’t gotten enough sleep before having to get on a 3 hour bus journey to Newcastle. The bus was uncomfortable and it was almost impossible to get any sleep on it. Newcastle was a beautiful city, and it was a sunny day when we arrived. We had two hours to kill and so decided to go exploring the city for that time. We walked down to the city centre and sat under the large monument erected there. At this point, the sun and chilling seemed to have begun to do their job as we started to immediately feel better. We continued to walk around trying to catch as much of the city as we can in the limited time we had there. We also caught a glimpse from far away and through a gap in some buildings of the castle there. There was a really nice church/cathedral that we passed by as well. Then, we began to make our way back to the station to catch our one-hour train to Leeds feeling rejuvenated and ready for the trip. After arriving in Leeds, we proceeded to figure out where our hotel was. Oh I forgot to mention that we had booked a hotel for two nights in Leeds because we found a really good deal on it which was comparable to staying in a hostel. So, we found our hotel on the map, jumped on the free city bus that took us close to there, and checked in. After resting and watching TV for a couple of hours we became very hungry and decided to go out and walk down to the city centre to check it out, grab some dinner and then some drinks. Leeds is supposed to have a wild nightlife scene, according to our Lonely Planet guide book and the opinions of several people we’ve spoken to, and we verified this yesterday when we checked out the main bar and club areas. It was a Thursday night and the city was on fire. Another notable thing is the incredibly high concentration of good-looking people, particularly girls. I have never been in a place where I’ve seen such a high ratio of attractive-to-unattractive girls. The unattractive ones were almost non-existent and were definitely the minority. We checked out a couple of pubs and bars that looked interesting and had a few drinks until we got too tired and decided to head back, satisfied that we had checked out the nightlife scene, and resolved to have a wild night out on the town the next day (that is, today) after having a very restful and long sleep in a comfortable hotel bed. Second Day in Leeds 8:54 AM Saturday, June 20, 2009 Yesterday was our second and last day in the city of shopping and debauchery, otherwise known as Leeds. So, this was the first night since we began traveling that we could sleep for as long as we liked and could wake up when our bodies had fully rested. When we woke up, we felt very relaxed and very chilled out and we just sat in bed for another couple of hours just watching TV and chilling. When we got bored of just sitting around, we got up, showered, got dressed, and went out to the city. We wanted to see the Art Gallery because we hadn’t yet seen one and there wasn’t really much else to see in Leeds. So, we walked down to the gallery and spent a good couple of hours looking at everything from paintings to sculptures and everything in between. I really enjoyed looking at the paintings and trying to understand the intention of the artist. There was one really cool installation which was a very dark room with one wall serving as a white screen for a projector which was projecting recorded video from the International Arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport in slow motion and calibrated so that the people were life-size. Some ominous hymns or psalms chanted by an operatic chorus were played in the background while one sat down and watched the slow-moving people approaching you through the double doors. Another piece that really caught my eye was this large painting entitled “The Temptation of Sir Percival” which depicted a knight in shining armor with his lovely maiden on his arms as they lay in a field. His sword was planted into the ground beside him and it had a cross in its hilt and his eyes seemed to be focused on the cross. His maiden’s eye’s, however, were apprehensively focused on him, with a look of fear painted in them, as if she dreaded to see him succumb to the temptation. The temptation was a glass of wine which he held between his hands hovering close to his mouth but not quite there yet. His head was encircled by a large but faded halo which seemed about to disappear. After the art gallery, we went out to watch a movie in a nearby cinema. We wanted to watch Public Enemies but it wasn’t out so we watched the new Transformers movie which I found to be very cheesy and full of rip-offs from other famous movies. It was nothing but an adrenaline trip. After the movie we saw a bar called Tiger Tiger serving drinks for half price so we went in and had a beer. Then we came back to the hotel to eat and get ready for going out. We had dinner and had a few shots of whiskey at the room and left for downtown. Then we began bar-hopping; we visited around five different bars and met a lot of random people. We were practicing our ability to start a random conversation with a girl or group of girls. At first we were feeling a bit shy and apprehensive but as soon as we picked it up we started feeling more and more confident. Then we got some cards which gave us free entry into a strip club called Red Leopard so we decided to go there for a while and check it out. Inside the strip club we found a bunch of guys hanging around the bar and a bunch of nearly naked girls walking around trying to pry their money loose from them. I became very disillusioned with the whole industrialization of sex. A few strippers approached me and started chatting to me and I tried to have a genuine conversation with them but that broke down as soon as they started asking me to either buy them drinks or get a lap-dance. Anyway, it was a good night though, but not quite as wild as we had expected it to be. The locals told us that it would be a much better night on Saturday, to our misfortune. But that’s okay because we’ll be in Manchester on Saturday (that is, today) and that’s supposed to be another wild city. Weekend in Manchester 1:10 PM Monday, June 22, 2009 We arrived in Manchester on Saturday at midday and proceeded to search for our hostel. We walked into this place called “The Print Works” which had a bunch of restaurants clustered around a square. One of the restaurants had free Wi-Fi so we just stood outside close to the restaurant and leeched internet from them to find out where our hostel was at. Once we found the place and checked in, we went out again to look for food because we were quite hungry. We ended up buying so sandwiches from Tesco and eating them in Piccadilly Gardens where there happened to be a large protest about the Iranian president getting re-elected. After eating, we walked around some more and tried to explore the city. Our first impression was that this place is a dump; the weather was bad and the neighborhood we were in was ugly. However, as we began to walk towards the center of the city we began to change our attitudes a little bit. Although this city doesn’t in the slightest bit compare with the beauty and grandeur of Edinburgh, it still has character and very friendly people. The main reason we came to Manchester in the first place was to check out the wild nightlife scene that it boasted to have. There is a club here called Sankey’s which is apparently the 7th best club in the world and which was built in a warehouse that used to be a soap mill back at the start of the Industrial Age. So, we just wanted to chill out during the day. As we continued to explore the city, we decided to stop by a Waterstone’s book store and relax on their comfy couches. I immediately found the “Mind, Body, and Spirit” section and examined their titles. I found a book containing Kahlil Gibran’s full collected works and decided that this was a must, so I bought it for 15 pounds. All of the sudden, the street filled up with drums and music which we decided to check. We left the bookstore and found a Brazilian parade making its way through the streets with women dressed in almost nothing dancing to the beating of the drums. We followed them around for a little while and then decided to continue walking. We came back to the hostel and wanted to crash because we were feeling exhausted. We took a 1.5-hour nap in the hostel to regenerate our energy before the night out. The nap was a good call because we woke up feeling ready to go out and party. We had been told in Leeds to check out the Northern Quarter for a few drinks before going to Sankey’s. So, we looked around and it turned out that the Northern Quarter is really close to where we were staying so we headed there to grab a drink. When we got there, though, we found that the crowd was a lot older than us and there was a bit of a pretentious vibe in the pubs. We grabbed a pint and downed it and then got out of there. We just bought small bottle of vodka and some red bull and mixed our own drinks in the Piccadilly Gardens and proceeded to get drunk. At about 11pm, we started to make our way to Sankey’s, even though that was still pretty early. The club was still pretty empty but the music was really good and we were just warming up waiting for the place to pick up. When it did pick up, though, OH MY GOD did it pick up. I’m fairly confident in saying that this was the best night out of my whole life. The music was unbelievable and the place was pumping; the floors and walls and our bones and blood were vibrating along with the music. It was simply impossible not to lose control and merge completely with the music. The crowd was amazing as well, all friendly faces and vibrating bodies. A truly unforgettable experience. At 4am our bodies were about to give up on us and I told Umeed that we should probably go home and pass out. But as soon as he agreed and we were about to make our way to the door, the music would break and I would get snared into it and get lost in wild dancing again. This process repeated itself like 3 or 4 times before we could actually get out of the club. Anyway, so we got home at like 5am and our ears were ringing and our bodies were pumping and it took me at least half an hour to fall asleep. Next day: we woke up and chilled out. We went and did some laundry that had accumulated with us. Then, we went and had lunch with one of Umeed’s friends that lives here and then spent the rest of the day with her. We went back with her to the university section of Manchester and chilled at her place and watched “Shawn of the Dead”. Then we went with her to a few pubs around the area and had a couple of drinks. After drinks, we went and had dinner at a restaurant called Revolutions. After dinner we went back to her place and watched another movie called “Carlito’s Way” with Al Pacino. At this point, we were getting really tired, especially since we didn’t really get very much sleep the previous night. So we came back to hostel and called it a night. Today, we woke up and checked out of the hostel at 11am but our coach to Liverpool isn’t until 3:45pm. So, right now we’re just chilling in the lounge of the hostel, killing time watching movies and surfing the net until it’s time for us to head out and start moving yet again. Travelling to Liverpool 9:09 AM Tuesday, June 23, 2009 Yesterday, after chilling in the lounge for a few hours, it was time for us to leave. We found the bus station and got on the bus and an hour later were in Liverpool. My first impression was that this was a very beautiful city. There was a lot of greenery and many beautiful buildings. Approaching Liverpool, there was a nuclear-bunker-shaped building which turned out to be a church, strangely enough. Upon arriving, we started to make our way to the hostel and the walk there took about 20 minutes. After checking in, we relaxed for a bit and then decided to go out and see the city. We walked down to the Albert Docks to see the Mersey, which is the large body of water upon which Liverpool lies. We wanted to see the Beatles Story museum but it was shut. So, we decided to go for a drink on the bay because the day was very beautiful and the sun was very strong. We had a nice cold pint which was very refreshing and after that, we decided to go walk around the city and take pictures. We walked down Mathew Street which was the street where the Beatles made it big. Then, we had dinner and headed back to the hostel. There, we met up with a group of Spanish girls who were visiting for a few days. We hung out with them for a little while and then called it a night. Week in Cardiff 3:42 PM Wednesday, July 01, 2009 So, now I am at the end of a nice relaxing and chilled out week spent in Cardiff. Umeed and I only spent one night in Liverpool and the next morning we took a four hour train ride to Cardiff. It was a beautiful journey travelling through the countryside and watching the scenic views. Umeed only stayed in Cardiff for two nights and then had to leave because he had to get back to Spain in order to start his job. But I stayed and will be continuing my travels for another three weeks. I’m just going to summarize very quickly the highlights of my week in Cardiff. We saw the National Museum which was nice and a very large public park right next to the castle and then walked down to Cardiff Bay which was very beautiful and the weather for those first couple of days was absolutely amazing: extremely sunny and hot and I even got a tan here which is amazing. We went out a couple of times, first to a Jazz bar and watched live jazz music. We checked out some other bars and pubs and met a few people and had a good time. The hostel we stayed at here, called The Riverhouse Hostel is probably the best place I’ve stayed at so far in terms of cleanliness and friendliness and facilities. They have free Wi-Fi and I have been taking advantage of that. They also have a widescreen TV with full Sky package and they have a lot of really good DVDs which we can watch for free. I watched Schindler’s List and Walk the Line and The Big Lebowski. At first glance the city seemed like a bit of a shithole because of the large amounts of litter all over the streets and sidewalks and also because of some very dodgy-looking people that were walking around. Also, the Burger Kings there had tills that looked like they dated back to the 1950’s or something they were that old-school. However, upon properly examining the city and walking around and talking to the people, I discovered that it is actually a very chilled out and comfortable place. The people are mostly very nice and I even received several greetings on the street from complete strangers that passed me by, something that would be considered almost heretical in London. Despite the litter, the city also turned out to be very beautiful with a lot of greenery and a lot of very beautiful parks. One day, I decided to spend the whole day in the Bute park in order to fully explore it. I hadn’t realized how big the park actually was when I checked it out earlier. I ventured into its depths and discovered a huge section of untamed wilderness with only the slightest hint of a trail running through it. It was an extreme pleasure to explore this area and see the beauty of nature as it is when humans do not manicure it with their aesthetics. On my last day in Cardiff, I spent a couple of hours looking at Art from various different eras in the Art museum which is right above the National Museum. They had a large collection of Rodin sculptures which absolutely fascinated me as well as a few Manets and a couple of Monets and many more artists whose names I do not recall. Going to art museums has been one of the greatest pleasures I’ve had so far on this trip as it has broadened my appreciation for art in general and has encouraged me to pursue it further. A lot of my time in Cardiff was spent just hanging around the hostel and either reading or writing or watching TV or surfing the web – basically just chilling. And that was good because upon arriving to Cardiff I was actually exhausted and I wanted a bit of a break from the intense travelling and after seeing how awesome of a hostel we had checked in to, I extended my stay in Cardiff to make it one week (originally it was two days) and decided to lay low. So, all in all, it was what it was intended to be, relaxing, but move on one must and so I did; next stop, Bristol! First Day in Bristol 9:29 PM Thursday, July 02, 2009 I arrived to Bristol last night at around 7:30 (well not actually night cause it doesn’t get dark here till 10:30) without the slightest clue where in the city I was or where my hostel was. On top of everything, it was sweltering hot and I was drenched in my own sweat lugging my bags around trying to figure out where I needed to go. After walking around for a bit, I succeeded in exhausting myself without really making any progress on figuring out where I was going. So, I decided to take a cab. It was 8 pounds but it dropped my right at the front door of the hostel. Now in comparison with the last hostel I was just in, this place is an absolute dump. It is disgusting and I’m glad that I’m only here for two nights because it is just filthy. On top of everything the door is broken and doesn’t quite close properly and there are holes in the walls and the neighborhood is a very shitty part of town. However, yesterday I didn’t realize that this was just a shitty PART of town; I thought this was what Bristol was all like, so I panicked a bit. I felt cheated by the countless people that had told me that I had to visit Bristol because it’s so nice. I couldn’t find a single nice thing about it. Well at least I learned something though: don’t stay in a hostel that isn’t rated or doesn’t have any reviews on the web. So, I chilled out, read a little, went out to a Mcdonald’s and then just passed out. I woke up this morning at 9:30 and immediately put on my clothes, packed my valuables into my backpack and walked straight out with it on my back. I decided that I would spend the whole day out in the city and would just keep on walking around and around and would not come back until it was time for me to pass out. I had been told that the graffiti artist Banksy was doing an exhibition here in Bristol and so that was top on my list of what I wanted to see. I kept on walking until I found this attraction called @Bristol which is like an interactive science museum and there was a little tourist information booth next door. I talked to the helpful lady there and she recommended that I do the open-top bus tour of the city and so I bought a ticket and proceeded to wait for the tour bus. This tour was when my impression of Bristol began to change. It took me all around the city and showed me all the important and beautiful things to see and I realized that this was actually an incredible city. So much history had taken place here: the first iron ship, the first suspension bridge, the first asphalt road, the first railway linking two major cities, etc. Also, there was so much beautiful architecture: so many churches, art galleries, university buildings, memorials, castle ruins, etc. After the tour finished, I walked up to the City Museum and Art Gallery because that was where Banksy was holding his exhibition. There was a huge queue outside and I waited for a while. What an amazing exhibition it was! Actually, I would call it more of a renegade assault on the museum rather than an exhibition in the museum because you could find his works scattered around among the various other art works that are on display. Random paintings would be altered in some humorous way and the caption would read “Local Artist”. However, there was also a large section reserved for just his pieces and this was awesome, it was such an incredible experience to see his art because I felt like this was art that was relevant and really sending a message and it felt like a really important message too: to expand our social consciousness and to respond to the problems of our world and to realize that there are problems and to try to understand human beings more thoroughly. After the museum, I walked on down to the shopping district and picked up the tour bus again (I can hop on and hop off as many times as I like today and tomorrow) in order to chill out a bit because by this point I was exhausted. It dropped me off at the city center and I walked from there up to St. Nicholas market which is a Camden Town-style area with a whole bunch of stalls selling anything from food to posters to CDs and other random stuff. I bought some lunch and the weather instantly transformed into a torrential rain. I hid out under a bridge to eat my lunch and to my luck, by the time I finished lunch so had the rain. So, I walked around and found myself back at the shopping district. I walked around the malls and realized that this was not really the place for me and that I wanted to kill some more time before returning to the hostel but I was too tired to continue walking. So, I decided to watch a movie. I watched Public Enemies; it was a bit of a weird movie and I didn’t really like it all that much. When that finished I began the trek back down to the hostel and the walk took about half an hour and here I am writing this recollection now. So, there it is, no more to write about. Travelling to Bath 6:27 PM Saturday, July 04, 2009 So, yesterday was a bit of boring day: just sort of immediately left the hostel as soon as I woke up and then rushed over into the city with about six hours to kill until my coach to Bath. So, I sort of just walked around lugging my bags and sitting down whenever I got tired. I chilled in Queen Square for a good amount of time, I ate, and eventually it was time to leave. Got to Bath: immediately shocked at how gorgeous the city is. In fact, this city rivals Edinburgh in terms of beauty and architecture and character. It is a very small city and I discovered that after I had found the hostel (five minute walk from the bus station) and went out for a short walk and realized I had just circled the city. I met the people sharing the room with me and they were both Cali people, which is cool. Later on, we all went out for a couple of beers at this local pub called The Huntsman which is like 30 seconds away. This hostel is pretty cool, a definite upgrade from my previous one: awesome location right in the center, friendly staff, funky style and character, tolerable level of cleanliness.