Today is September 16, almost a month into the semester at Georgetown, but it’s only my second day of classes at the University of Edinburgh. The past two and a half weeks have been so full of traveling, meeting new people, and learning just how different Scotland is from America that I’ve hardly had time to think. Today, I finally have a free minute to sit down (in a coffee shop with a scone and clotted cream, of course) to tell all of you about this crazy adventure. I’ll devote this post to my first week of traveling, and post another after about Edinburgh thus far. Forewarning: this post might be slightly less insightful than others, since we were mostly doing touristy things, but they won’t all be like this.
My mom and I officially began our journey on Saturday, September 1, with a bit of a rough start at London’s Heathrow airport. My mom’s luggage got sent to Miami, and we were greeted by cab drivers who insisted that the only place to get a taxi was not from the official cabstand but in the sketchy parking lot upstairs. We realized our mistake before it was too late and found a legitimate London cabbie, but it was still a bit of a wake-up call that it’s best not to look like an American tourist.
The rest of the week went much more smoothly. We spent the next two days mostly on hop-on, hop-off tour buses, seeing things like Big Ben and Trafalgar Square that you’re supposed to see in London. We went on a walking tour to follow the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, saw the food halls at Harrods, which I apparently saw when I was there as a baby, and took a river cruise down the Thames. We also toured Westminster Abbey (not West-minister, as I just learned while writing this), where my favorite spots were the ornate Lady Chapel and the Poet’s Corner, where Charles Dickens is buried.
Since we only had two days in the city, it was a bit of a whirlwind, but I at least got a good overview of the city and I’m certainly planning on going back. With that in mind, I can’t do justice to London here, but from my impression, it was much more cosmopolitan than I had expected. Since the tourist season was almost over, most people out and about seemed to be on their way to work, and I couldn’t help feeling like I was just an annoying American tourist getting in their way. I saw at least one American restaurant on every street—they even had a Five Guys and a Chipotle—and the shopping districts were full of American stores. I have to admit, this detracted somewhat from the magic of being in London, but overall it was lovely, and if nothing else, a good way to acclimate to being overseas.
The one thing I did particularly enjoy, though, was the first afternoon and evening in London. As I mentioned before, my mom couldn’t stop talking about scones with clotted cream before we left, so of course we couldn’t leave the city without having afternoon tea. I also couldn’t leave the city without trying a “townie,” which is currently all the rage, at least according to NPR. It’s apparently as famous as our cronut (I’ve never tried one, but they’re supposed to be amazing), but it’s a brownie inside of a tartlet crust. It was good, but the tea and scones were much better. We finished off the night with a trip to the theater to see “The Book of Mormon,” the American musical about the American religion, which I suppose in retrospect contributed to my impression of London’s Americanization. Regardless, everyone thought it was a great show, so I guess Mormonism has spread further than I thought!
Dublin was much more cultural and less American, so, to be perfectly honest, I enjoyed it more. The first day we arrived, we went on a bus tour to see the sights, but the only thing I really remember is going on the Guinness factory tour. I’ve had Guinness once before—in Canada, so it was legal—and I didn’t like it at all, but the tour guides taught us how to “properly taste” it, which made it much more enjoyable.
The many exhibits in the multi-storied, pint glass-shaped factory building taught me that Arthur Guinness, the original creator, really supported the city’s culture and its people. Because of that, they say that Guinness tastes better in Ireland, and I believe them—especially when you get to say “sláinte,” or cheers, before drinking it. The views from the Gravity Bar at the top of the building were unbeatable. We finished off the night with dinner at the Temple Bar, the mainstay of the Temple Bar district full of restaurants and pubs, where we had dinner (and more Guinness, of course) while listening to live Irish music.
The second day in Dublin was a whirlwind of tourist attractions: the beautiful St. Stephen’s Green, which features monuments to authors including James Joyce and Oscar Wilde; St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where Jonathan Swift was a dean; a tour of Trinity College and its library, which is stunning and features the famous Book of Kells; the Kilmainham Gaol, where Irish rebels were held and executed during and after the Easter Rising; and the Old Jameson Whiskey Distillery, which is now only a museum but still features tasting. From all of this, I feel like I truly got to experience Irish culture and history, which was fascinating.
That night, we went on a literary pub crawl, because what better way to experience the city than by combining the two most famous Irish exports, literature and beer? We visited four pubs that Irish writers like Samuel Beckett had frequented and were guided by two actors who performed some of these literary figures’ famous poems and short stories, so it was an educational and extremely enjoyable evening.
On our final day in Dublin, we weren’t actually in Dublin, but on a bus tour to Wicklow and Glendalough. It’s hard to explain the beauty so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
After we got back, we visited the Leprechaun Museum, which has a cool setup (rooms decorated to fit various fantastical themes, like the giants’ room or the witches’ forest) but was slightly cheesy. We were guided by a storyteller who told us all about Irish folk tales, which were interesting but didn’t have much to do with leprechauns. The most interesting part of it, though, was that the Irish used to believe that jaundiced or deformed babies couldn’t possibly be their own children and must have been swapped with fairies’ children. In cases like this, they would kill their babies or leave them out to die—like our storytelling guide told us, Irish folk tales rarely have a happy ending.
Thankfully, our stay in Dublin did have a happy ending, because the trip overall was fantastic. I learned so much about the spirited Irish people and their beautiful country, and I was actually worried I wouldn’t like Edinburgh as much as I liked Dublin. Don’t worry though, I do.