The London Tube: Organized Chaos


This serene picture of London found on Wikipedia was not at all like the craziness I experienced!

Nothing could have prepared me for London.

The tips I had read beforehand online seem ridiculous as I make my way down to the infamous London Tube. I laugh as I remember one tip which suggested to stand at least a couple feet away from other travelers to avoid being pick-pocketed.

Forget about a couple feet.

Forget about personal boundaries.

There are people practically breathing down my neck. I’ve never been so surrounded by so many other people. Growing up in a rural area, I’m used to having a decent amount of space between me and others. Not so in the Tube though.

My first trip underground reminded me of that Brad Pitt flick I saw a couple summers ago. Not as bad, but pretty close.

My first trip underground reminded me of that Brad Pitt flick I saw a couple summers ago. Not as bad, but pretty close.

Honestly, it feels like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie to me.  There’s people running frantically all over the place. They’re coming from everywhere and going everywhere. They’re talking rapid fire into phones and throwing briefcases over their shoulders as they dash off.  It’s absolute organized chaos.

I manage to get through the turnstiles, but one look at the brightly colored spaghetti like map of the Tube makes my jaw drop to the ground. I realize that it is going to be an absolute miracle if I get to Paddington.

Map of London

Looking at the map of the underground was like a game of Where’s Waldo, in which I was Waldo.

After a couple minutes, I think I’ve figured it out. I hop on the tube with my incredibly large backpack and only slightly smaller roll on suitcase.  The tube is packed. There’s about eight people touching me and I’m kind of trying to remember my yoga breathing.

It takes about three minutes before I realize that I want off this train. Someone could offered me a million quid to stay on and I still would have left. There’s a feeling of claustrophobia that is slowly taking hold. The sweat is dripping off me and my backpack straps are chafing my shoulder blades.

I practically fall through the door as the tube stops.  I grab my stuff and go up the stairs.  (Actually, I went the wrong way initially. My American self is on the wrong side and I received some sour glances. ) With one man’s help lugging my stupid suitcase up the stairs, I finally find myself in London.

I’m completely lost, but I am so happy to be out of the Tube and under the night sky that I’m surprisingly calm.

Stay tuned for my taxi cab trip into Paddington.

A (short) Sea Voyage

I am telepathically urging the taxi driver to move faster. It’s not working. Not even the slightest bit.

As I sit in this taxi cab, the ridiculousness of my schedule has finally hit me. I intend to travel across three countries today. First though, I have to make it through Dublin’s early morning traffic to get to the Irish Ferry Port. Unfortunately, even the elderly gentlemen walking alongside the River Liffey is making better time than me.

Photo Taken By JKC

Photo Taken By JKC

I stare out the window, examining  the Samuel Beckett Bridge that reminds me of a giant harp stretching into the blue, cloudy sky. It is a perfect day to be at sea. I like to think of this trip as my first sea voyage, even though my journey to Holyhead, Wales will only take a couple hours. We move a couple feet forward. (“Nearly there” says the taxi driver kindly.) We pass the gaunt, stick-like people of the famine memorial, and I’m thankful that I get to travel in such comfort.

Picture Taken By JKC

Picture Taken By JKC

I think of all the sea voyages I have read about. I think about ancient tales like the Odyssey with cyclops and sea serpents, and the biblical story of Jonah who’s swallowed by a whale. I think of books such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, a story I still need to read. I think of more recent tales, such as the Life of Pi, where a boy finds himself in an ocean of uncertainty.

The taxi’s now moving. Backpack securely on and the ships coming into view, I swear I can taste the adventure to come.

The Story Behind the Statue

I exhale slowly as I stroll around the Garden of Remembrance. I have just arrived in Dublin, Ireland and this is the first chance I have had to breathe.  Dublin is my first stop on my backpacking journey. I’m nervous! I’m estatic!

When I landed in Dublin Airport I realized I was not quite sure where I was going.  I made my way outside the airport and found a bus that seemed to be going into the center.  I got on.  Staring out the window I watched as the  nothingness transformed  into the built up, bustling city. Although I couldn’t be sure of my exact stop, my gut told me that I had arrived in the heart of Dublin. After settling in at my hostel, I decided to take a free walking tour.

Photo Taken By Jill Crotty

Photo Taken By Jill Crotty

A few others and  my guide found ourselves in The Garden of Remembrance, a site to honor all those who have given their lives fighting for Irish Independence. It is a serene place with lovely yellow tulips and a large tiled cross filled with water.  Our tour guide tells us the history of the place as we walk.  The statue of children clustered among stone swans catches my eye.

The statue tells the story of a man named Lir who  married a beautiful women named Aoibh. Together they had four children. Unfortunately Aoibh died suddenly of illness. The king of Ireland wished to keep the powerful Lir appeased and gave him another wife, Aoife. Aoife was terribly jealous of the children. She intended to kill them, but she couldn’t do it.  Instead she turned the children into swans.

Oddly just after the tour I spot four pure white swans basking in the Irish sun.  I can’t help thinking that they are watching over me as I begin my travels.

Photo Taken By Jill Crotty

Photo Taken By Jill Crotty

Sword Swallowing and Fiery Tricks

There is a shirtless man with his hand on the hilt of a two foot long sword.  He opens his mouth and puts the tip of the blade in. Inch by inch the sword disappears, until the jeweled handled is all that can be seen. Triumphantly he stands, his arms like outspread eagle wings.

A smattering of applause.

He nods appreciatively.

Grinning, he removes the sword before moving to the next part of his act.  He ostentatiously flips a switch on a mechanical torch. It alights instantly. He has one guest stand with the flaming torch. He jokingly declares that  the “Americans love this.”  The entertainer then pulls a bed of nails from his other props. I know what’s going to happen already.  I’ve seen this particular performer before on the Royal Mile  and yet I still stop to watch.

Photo Taken By Jill Crotty

Photo Taken By Jill Crotty

The Royal Mile in Edinburgh  is arguably one of the best places to watch street performers. It’s not as crowded as other major cities, yet still has an excellent atmosphere.  Performers can easily draw a crowd as tourists wander in and out of the cashmere stores.  (Tartan cashmere gloves and scarves are perfect souvenirs, unless you’re sending gifts to relatives in Florida).  Stuffed toy Scottie dogs,  fudge and kilts fill the walls of every store, and nestled in between the shops are the pubs. Each advertising the best price for a  pint! Even an upscale inn is located on this famous street. Go upwards on this slopping street and at the top you’ll see where Edinburgh Castle majestically stands.

Picture Taken By Jill Crotty

Picture Taken By Jill Crotty

George Eliot  once remarked that “ When I look out in the morning, it is as if I had waked up in  Utopia.”

As I savor the sight of Edinburgh, I can’t help agreeing.

The Fairy Lights Under the Archway

Glasgow sparkles.

From the glitzy designer bags to the finest diamond jewelry Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city, and it’s most commercial.   Prada, Nike, and Gucci line the hectic streets. Musicians with open guitar cases strum wordless melodies.  Tourists and locals rush between the multi-level stores to the underground subway, and back again.  I find myself swept up in the crowd.

I enter the Princes Square shopping center.  It is surprisingly beautiful.  There are deep, red-brown wood accents, decorative white railings and spotless glass windows.  Although shopping is not one of my interests, I enjoy walking around the shops looking at the galleries and boutiques.  Feet aching I exit the center and head to Costa Coffee.


Picture Taken By Jill Crotty

 Dusk is falling as I make way through the hive of buzzing people.   I notice a small stone archway with columns on both sides.  Engraved at the top reads the Royal Exchange Square.  (Later  I would discover that over 500 people attended an enormous feast to celebrate the re re-opening of this square in 1829!).  Above the arch, my gaze follows  the fairy lights strung between two weathered stone buildings creating a canopy of  golden lights above me.  The sky is a vivid, velvet blue and the lights look like the brightest of stars. It’s a good night in Glasgow.

Picture Taken By Jill Crotty

Picture Taken By Jill Crotty

Monsters and Myths

Something lurks within its deep, blue watery depths.

There are sightings of a creature.  A creature with the neck of a plant eating dinosaur and the body of small whale. Reports of this animal began in the mid thirties and have been reported as recently as 2011. The world knows this creature as the Loch Ness Monster.


Picture Taken By Jill Crotty

My trip to Loch Ness (Lake Ness) began with a train ride to Inverness from the ghostly, coastal city of St. Andrews.  Undeniably, it was the most breathtaking train ride of my life.  The train twisted and turned through the snow covered mountains. Looking through the window reminded me of a charcoal drawing.  The black, dead vegetation contrasted sharply with the bright white of the snow.  In just three hours I found myself in the capital of the Highlands—Inverness.

After checking in at the hostel, I walked along the River Ness and meandered through the city.  I really wanted to see the famous Loch Ness though.   A couple hours later I got my chance.


I spot a large,  grey tour bus on the side of the road. For a second I hesitate.  Then I go up and knock.  A heavy set man, with a thick Scottish accent cheerfully opens the door. He tells me he is going to Loch Ness, the Urquhart Castle and the Loch Ness Center. I clamber aboard the empty bus gratefully. A young German couple and a youthful French man get on at the following stop.

Picture Taken By Jill Crotty

Picture Taken By Jill Crotty

We drive on the narrow, two lane road up the mountain and Loch Ness comes into view. The blue water stretches to a  distant, jagged mountain range.   Loch Ness  is the largest body of fresh water in all of Britain.  The tour guide tells us a few facts about the Jacobites, the supporters of King James VII who invaded long ago. I try to focus, but my mind is on the splendor of the lake and my nose is pressed against the glass.

It’s not until I am standing outside near the ruins of the Urquhart Castle  that I realize the strength of the wind. My hair whips against my face.  Small, white caps cover the lake. My eyes travel across the choppy water.

Then I see it.

The German couple spot it.

The French guy gestures at it.

We point without need, and reach for our cameras frantically. It is a once in a lifetime shot. There is a beautiful rainbow that stretches seemingly from the heavens to the pristine blue waters of  Loch Ness with a piece of weaponry from the castle.  They say the Germans have a word for everything, but my German companions are wordless. So am I for that matter. Not even a glimpse of the monster of  the deep can compare to this sight!


Picture Taken By Jill Crotty




The Time Traveler Blogger

To journey across multiple countries is an incredible feat, but to travel across time is a far greater accomplishment.  Unless your surname is McFly you probably haven’t spent much time traveling back to the future. No worries! Neither have I.  Those with a keen eye have noticed a discrepancy with my blog.  It is July, yet the date reads April.  The simple truth is that I am blogging about my past travels in the present. I change the date of each blog post to somewhat reflect the time when I was abroad.


Picture Taken by Jill Crotty

There’s a few reasons for my jumps in time.

 Long Days of Travel

 When I was backpacking I found that I was too exhausted to blog. After a long day of new sights, sounds, and people I crawled into my bed at whichever hostel I was at and promptly fell asleep.   In the mornings I would sent a quick email to family and friends letting them know my location.

 Hitting the Books

 Since I was studying abroad I was focused on academics for the majority of my trip.  I would go to write a blog post only to remember a text book chapter I had to read or a tutorial session that I needed to prepare for.   My blog had to take the back seat unfortunately. My time management has gotten better, but I still am a full time college student.  Priorities remain!

 The Full Experience

 The biggest disadvantage to blogging about past events is the potential to forget things thought in the moment.  Having pictures of all the places I’ve visited helps considerably though.   There are advantages to blogging after the fact. Reflection for one.  When we think of experiences we think of a single moment, or day, but that is not the full experience.  Sometimes the  greatest part of any experience is the hindsight we take away.

Other time traveler bloggers please comment below!

Along the Hidden Sea

I’m leaning against the cold metal railing. The smell of salt and seaweed fills my nostrils and the child-like caws of the seagulls echo in my ears.  I know the ocean is just a few foot drop, but I cannot see the waves. I can only hear as they crash against the rocky shore below. I squint uselessly into the fog.

When I arrived yesterday in the coastal town of St. Andrews, known for being the birthplace of golf and its crumbling castle ruins, I could look out at the sandy beach from the street.  Not today. Today a persistent white mist has cloaked the town.  I have never seen a fog like this. It is so dense I could be a foot away from someone and not see them.

Picture Taken by Jill Crotty

 Picture Taken by Jill Crotty

 Since my time in St. Andrews is short, I decide to continue moving. For a while I walk.  My face is soon moist from the mist. The railing and the path are the only clearly visible things.  The fog abates slightly about a half a mile later.  Opposite the side of the hidden sea I spot a grey stone tower with a cemetery.

 Curiosity getting the better of me I amble over.  To my left is the  tower known as St. Rule’s Tower, and to my right is a solitary stone archway.  Between these two weathered marvels is an expanse of green grass with rows of flat lying stones. On each a faded inscription of a person’s name and their birth and death date along with a word or two more. I pass the tower and go further into the cemetery. Here are more elaborate graves carved into the walls.  Just a bit further I tell myself.

A note to my readers:  If you ever find yourself in a seemingly quaint coastal town in Scotland covered in a white mist, and looking like something out of a Scooby-Doo episode, do not wander aimlessly around ancient graveyards.  

 It’s after I’ve visited the last couple sections of the graveyard that I decide to go back to the tower.  It’s about then when I see a couple of figures in the mist ahead of me.  I watch the figures drift around a bit.  The fog’s still thick and their silhouettes seem fuzzy, like people on an old antenna television screen. After a couple of minutes I realize they are saying something. I inch closer, avoiding a headstone jutting up out of the ground.  I make out the words “lunch” and “harbor.”   Not ghosts, just a couple of fellow (hungry) tourists!

Yes I know it’s a rather anticlimactic tale.

Photo Taken by Jill Crotty

Photo Taken by Jill Crotty

If you’d like a true ghost story  about St. Andrews there is the story of the White Lady.  Two stone masons were fixing part of St. Rule’s tower  in the late eighteen hundreds. They entered into one of the chambers and found a woman lying there. She was dead and dressed in a white dress and leather white gloves.  A few have reported seeing such a woman floating around this sleepy town.



Opening New Doors (Literally and otherwise)

The taxi has dropped me off in front of a weathered grey, two story building.  Multiple green trash cans and a brightly painted blue door contrast sharply with the bleak looking dorm. I pull my suitcase up the front steps and rummage for the keys I received. I put the first key in. I twist and jiggle the knob.

Come on I mumble pleadingly.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see the black taxi cab speed off down the road.   The second key goes into the lock smoothly.  I hear an audible click. Breathing a sigh of relief, I push the door open my hand gripping my rolling suitcase.

There’s another door, which leads into a small area with a staircase on the left. Slightly further, I see I can turn either left or right.  I choose right. I  peek into the kitchen area with bright red walls.  I continue, listening to the sound of my suitcase wheels on the tiled floor.  Looking around I don’t see anyone.  The numbers on the doors are going up, I know I must be close to my room.

Another flight of stairs.  My suitcase is too heavy to pick up. The wheels hit every step on the way up.  Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk.

I stop, breathing heavily, then continue.

Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk.Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk Clunk. Clunk.

I make it to the second floor. Groaning, at the sight of more stairs I check the number  on my envelop. I look at the door to my right. A match. I pull out my keys again.  The struggle between myself and the door continues.  A guy comes down the upper flight of stairs. I introduce myself and wonder how many people heard my elephant like thundering. He pushes against the door and it opens.  I thank him and we talk for a couple minutes before he leaves.  I fling my backpack on the open bed.

Then it hits me. I’m actually in Scotland.  Let the adventure begin.

Circles and Connections

Ten hours later I’m racing through the labyrinth of London Gatwick. I’ve made it off the airplane in record speed.  Ahead of the pack and breathing heavy, I run down the deserted hallways.  It’s only about 7:45 am in London and the day’s travelers haven’t arrived.

Further and further.  The stitch in my side growing.

At last I spot an information desk where three ladies sit. They don’t see me at first; they’re busy spinning out a long conversation. I raise my voice slightly and ask about immigration. They gesture ahead towards a few glass booths across the room.  It must have been good fate because there’s not a single person in line in immigration. I hand over my letter from the University of Edinburgh and identification.  The woman with the thick rimmed glasses, and plum colored lipstick takes her time. She consults another lady about student visitor visas. Finally, she stamps my passport. I jam it in my bag.

She points to her left and says “You go down the stairs, exit and up two floors” when I ask about departures.

It’s not until twenty minutes later, that I realize I have no idea where I’m going. I’ve passed the currency exchange place twice.  Circles. I’m going in circles.

I spot a bunch of passengers heading through a doorway. After a moment’s hesitation I follow.  Through more hallways then I notice an escalator. The ride up brings me to an open area where tired travelers wait in security lines.   After a minute explanation, a short grey haired women in an official vest leads me through.  Fingers crossed, I fervently hope I can make my flight.  Past security, with my belongs pressed to my chest, I find the departure board. I stare up at it to find my flight.  In glowing red I read “closed.”

Initiate Plan B.