Northern Ireland, Scotland & heading south
Once Upon a Saga:
Trains, buses and boats have brought me far. And my journey has just begun!!
Belfast swept my feet away. And I am not even sure why? I can say for sure that people there were much more friendly and helpful than in any of the other places I have been to so far. Not that others have been unhelpful or impolite. Maybe it's the accent? Whatever it is I kind of felt at home.
The Titanic was built in Belfast and oh my God they are proud about it. Or perhaps it is an attempt to shift focus from the previous years of violence and open war in the streets. After all the ship did sink on her maiden voyage...didn't she ;) Well, that wasn't their fault I am sure...
Like as if the World hasn't seen it's share of religious wars. Northern Ireland: Protestants and Catholics? Really? Perhaps that covers it...just 2 different beliefs both fighting to be right. Or maybe it goes a lot deeper? Maybe it is about supporting or opposing British rule. Perhaps the struggle is centuries old and just manifest it self through something else. Or perhaps it is equal to most everything in being about population control and power. Whatever it is I am sure that what I was thought in school is wrong.
Good thing they are done fighting and that everyone are friends now. Really? The conflicts in Northern Ireland are as much over as the Iraq war and just because global media attention turns its blind eye doesn't conclude anything. But it is not as violent as it used to be. The streets are safe and Belfast has a lot to offer visitors. The tourist information office is by far the largest I have come across so far and I am looking forward to going back some day if not anything then just to experience Giant's Causeway.
(Your friendly neighborhood police in Belfast)
But hey, I only dipped my head into this for a little more than 24 hours so what do I know. Well, I do get to talk to a lot of people and in Belfast I spoke to many people on various political and social levels.
While in Belfast I left my bag at the friendly tourist information office, which was the first public place I wasn't turned away with the words: sorry, terrorism. Go figure. I then found my way to the docks and visited the Red Cross office who were really nice and friendly. Then the friendly bus driver took me back to town. I visited some other places before hanging out for hours at a downtown Starbucks for free wifi. I was waiting for my couchsurfing host to get back to me which never happened so quite late I had a beer and a large stew at a pub and headed out into the worst rain I had seen so far. I located a hostel and got a bed in a 6 person shared dorm. I woke up at 1:30 am during an intense discussion between someone in bed and someone who believed that it was his bed? After a long time hoping that one of them would give in it just got worse and the guy turned on the light. I politely asked them to take the discussion outside as there were 4 of us in the room who were not in the discussion. This had little or no effect and after another 10 minutes the discussion eventually ended.
The next morning I had a friendly breakfast at a friendly cafe and then found the eyes of Northern Ireland and gave a friendly lady who was enjoying her breakfast in the park a 4 clover pin from Ireland. Yes! The chain of taking and giving still exists! :)
The boat from Belfast carried me to somewhere almost unspeakable in Scotland which was absolutely breathtaking right from the beginning. A female bus driver gave me a free lift to the nearest train station in Ayr. So she got the green heart pin from Belfast. Looking through the window of the train Scotland quickly moved past me in its glory and I was reminded how remarkable a place this planet is. The landscape was anything but flat, covered in green and dotted with sporadic clusters of sheep. Old stone buildings from forgotten lives still stand proud as stone monuments in the nature and gives it all a Braveheart/Highlander kind of feel.
I was racing though. I had to get to Edinburgh fast as my girlfriend was flying in from Copenhagen. I made it to Edinburgh 3 hours ahead of her and welcomed her at the airport. She had been in the air for a few hours on a direct flight...I had gone from Denmark, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, England, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland and now Scotland to be in the same place.
(Panorama view of Edinburgh from the top of the 170 steps of the Nelson Monument, Calton Hill)
Edinburgh is a really nice city. It is modern but looks old with its huge stone structures all over the city. In Sweden you build from wood...because you have huge forests. In Scotland you have rock and it just looks awesome. Our days together were mostly spent walking the city streets and enjoying the scenery. We did walk into a tourist trap when we entered Edinburgh Dungeon which was not as educational as we had hoped for. It was more so an attraction meant to scare people. You live and learn.
I could have spent much more time in Scotland which is becoming my catchphrase for everywhere I go these days. But that is a good thing I think. That must mean that the world is still worth exploring and so far most of the places I have been to are not even on the top of most people's list when they have a little vacation. Even better. If you're planning on traveling through the UK, hiring a coach would be the perfect option, that is the perfect way to see all of the sights along the way. Mayday travel are one of the best in the business, check them out!
I decided to take a day in London on my way to Spain and I got around the inner city pretty well before ending my day at Piccadilly Circus watching a little show called Les Miserables. Amazing! Well done to the cast of Queen's Theatre.
However London alone does not even compete with the lost adventures of Torbjørn and Dennis back in the day. That was truly LONDON, BABY!
Getting out of London wasn't easy on an Interrail pass. Well, sure...if you booked way in advance. But I do not have that luxury and my next available train was in 6 days time...or so. Where there is a will there is a way and I found myself a train that wouldn't take me to Paris (the only route to Madrid) but to Dover. At Dover the boats sail every 30 minutes and that would get me into France which was a start. But foot passengers are not allowed to board in the hours between blah blah blah...and woop-ti-doo... Clever me, I stopped a few vehicles and asked if they would take me onboard the boat and after a few tries the adventurist; Mr Tim, said yes. Tim had already traveled most of the world either in his own bus, his jeep or by motorcycle. He is 40 and currently lives in Scotland. Good man. We had a few hours together before we arrived to Calais and I was making good time. From Calais I got to Paris by train...somewhat tired.
Ah Paris! Well, it isn't the same when you are alone now...is it? The unfriendly woman who attended me after I had been standing in line for 40 minutes told me there were no trains available for Madrid that day and was ready to let me go. So I pushed for the unreasonable question of WHEN there might be an available departure. After being a little difficult she found reservations for me the following day. So Paris was open to me for the rest of the day. But first I needed to stop by a restroom and I went down to the wonderful service of Gare Du Nord toilet staff. 70 cent the sign said so I found 14x5 cent from my wallet. Whatever are these ridiculous small coins for anyway? The quite large-only-French-speaking-mama completely denied taking my money and after a short discussion, with me claiming that this is "THEIR currency", the supervisor finally stepped in and took my money.
After that I had a nice cup of morning tea at a cafe, found a hostel, enjoyed the view from Sacre Coeur, took a few pictures at the Triumphal Arch and the Eiffel Tower and rounded up the day fighting against some really slow internet. It pains me to say...but I did meet a lot of very kind French people. However I stand fast; France would be a lovely place...without the French. No no no!! Just kidding!! You frenchies are wonderful just the way you are! (Except for the woman at the ticket counter and the one at the rest room).
Madrid, Spain...here I come!
Torbjørn C. Pedersen, Once Upon a Saga - still going strong ;)