But I said that I was going to blog about Scotland before I left, so here I go blogging about Scotland.
Hoh. Lee. Mack'rel. Scotland has some of the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen in my entire life. So many mountains crowned with snowy peaks, deep gray lochs that seem to stretch on forever, and the trees. Even the trees are awesome--some look like the belong in the African savanna, with really long skinny trunks and wide branches that spread almost horizontally parallel to the ground, but most are these pine trees that look like perfect Christmas trees, and they grow all clumped together in massive groves, like they're trying to keep warm. I love the trees in Scotland.
Scotland is the United Kingdom's Deep South. People are incredibly friendly, will stop and give you directions without you having to ask, and will talk to you in the check-out line (i.e. on the last night, Caris and I went to a nearby grocery store and bought a few... okay, four... tubs of ice cream. We think of it as our form of alcohol. As we walked up to the counter, the dude at the register smiled really big and asked, "So is this your pint?" and then asked if we were having a girl's night in, which we were. You wouldn't find that kind of thing anywhere in London). The accent can be a bit hard to understand, but it's so beautifully rough. On Saturday, when we took our tour of Loch Ness, Glencoe, and the Highlands, our guide would said "loch" with this deep, guttural sound on the "ch," like "lokggghhh." It was amazing. We mimicked (not mocked) him for the rest of the day because we thought we sounded cool.
Getting to from the airport to the hostel was pretty easy. Sadly, Scotland decided to welcome us with rain (okay, a slight drizzle). Our hostel, the "Blue Sky Hostel," was okay... not the cleanest, but, hey, I had a place to sleep, and that was enough. We ate dinner at the pub literally next door because we didn't want to walk any further in the rain/drizzle. They had live music from a band called "Acoustic Butterfly," and they were actually really good (it was so "P.S. I Love You," but that was definitely in Ireland). I tried my first mixed drink ever with Caris--it was a raspberry-flavored vodka something with lemonade (which is like Sprite in the UK). It was really good.
Day Two, I woke up before everyone else and was just lying there for a bit, thinking. I pulled out the brochure for the tour we were going to do Saturday and was reading over it. I was looking at another tour, which was going to visit Stirling Castle... "home of the Stewart dynasty," it said. My eyes widened--Caris' last name is Stewart, she's Scottish, and she traces her line back to the royal Stewart dynasty (Mary, Queen of Scots... that sort of thing). It was her castle! So, when some of the girls were up, I proposed hopping on a train to see the castle for the day. And we did. We shopped in Glasgow for a bit, ate lunch, got on a train to Stirling, explored Stirling, and toured the castle. It was AMAZING! While we were there at the castle, which is up on a tall hill, we could see all the land around us. The sun decided at that moment to push its way through the clouds, and the whole valley sparkled. It was so gorgeous. The wind was blowing as I was standing on the outer battlements (or whatever they're actually called, the tall walls that protect the castle), and I felt very fiercely proud to be Scottish. Maybe it was something in the air.
Our tour the next day was so beautiful. Like I said about the mountains already, the countryside is very natural and rugged, completely untouched. Even the inhabited areas seem to blend right in to the landscape. I'll put up a video I took from the bus window--we passed huge lochs and towering mountains. We passed through Glencoe, where Ewan McGregor is from (every girl wanted to stop and look for him, but we were told that he spends most of his time in, TA-DA, London! Caris turned to me and said we'd go look for him when we got back). Loch Ness was a tad under-whelming... a lot like the other lochs we saw, except bigger. Still beautiful though. The touristy shops and stuff detracted from the mystery. They had big plastic statues of Nessie and crap. While the rest of the people on the tour went on a boat cruise around the loch that cost 10 pounds, Caris, Kristen, and I found this woodland path beside the gift shop. It led up these hills beside the loch, and we got the best views for pictures. There was no one around, so when we got to the top of the hill... we re-enacted Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Yes, I took a video of it, and, yes, I'll post it on Facebook.
I thought the tour was worth it--seeing the Highlands alone was enough for me--but I wish we could have stopped more often to get out, breathe Scottish air, and just take in the moment. Not for pictures, necessarily, but to just be there. It doesn't feel the same in a bus. On our way back, we stopped at a little restaurant for dinner, and Kaytee got haggis. She said it was awesome. I didn't try it because it was so expensive (at least at the restaurant we were at), but I hope to. One thing I've learned about myself since being here (among the many) is that I will eat pretty much anything. I will definitely try anything at least once. So I'll probably like haggis... as long as I don't think about what it's made of. If the Scottish like it, I have to like it, right? Right.
One more alcohol story: I tried whisky for the first time. Scotland is famous for it. We got little sample bottles on our tour, and so Caris and I tried it for the first time in our hostel that night (and... I got a video of it). I really wasn't expecting the sweet taste, but I was expecting the burn. It wasn't as bad as beer (blech), but I probably won't drink it again. Afterwards, we ate the four tubs of ice cream to wash it down. HA!
I loved, loved, loved Scotland. My one souvenir was a big Scottish flag, which I will hang in my dorm. I'm so incredibly proud of my heritage! WAHOO SCOTLAND!
Next up, in less than an hour now, is Greece, and then Italy. Holy moly. I can't wait. Please pray for safe travel, non-sketchy hostels/hotels, no pick-pockets, and nice people to help us when, not if, we get lost. I'll take millions of pictures.
Onward to Athens!