The London Tube: Organized Chaos

Tube

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 Dublin Detour

I had only intended to write one post about Ireland but a spontaneous decision to go to Howth, a small coastal village not far from Dublin, sparked my imagination. Read on readers!

***

Howth is the last stop on the twenty minute train ride from Dublin. We pull into the station just as the low and purplish thunderclouds knit themselves into wet blanket.  The train station is the size of a one room school house. On the right a balding man sits in the ticket window. He warns those who have arrived that the final trip of the evening to Dublin is just three hours away. I nod and button up my coat.  As I leave the train station, I walk towards the harbor.

Photo Taken By JKC

Photo Taken By JKC

Its already beginning to rain. I spot a small cafe and head inside. It is warm and homely. The majority of the round wooden tables are empty. Part of the cafe is an ice cream shop. There’s a couple kids running around with dripping cups and sticky hands. I decide to have a bowl of clam chowder and wait for the rain to subside.

I’m just finishing up the last few drops of soup when the rain seems to break. I pay for the soup at the counter and hurry out.

I walk along the pier. The water is a nearly transparent aquamarine.  White sailboats bob along side orange buoys. There are cliffs with green foliage and little white houses. A small red and white structure (a lighthouse?) can be seen the distance. A small green craggy island hill juts up from the water.

Photo Taken By JKC

Howth’s the place where fairy tales  begin. It is the place where I would imagine mermaids, salty sailors, and exploration of uncharted waters. I take a few pictures  before heading back to catch the last train.

Photo Taken By JKC

Photo Taken By JKC

Photo Taken By JKC

Photo Taken By JKC

Photo Taken By JKC

Photo Taken By JKC

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.

IMG_3293

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.

IMG_3196

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!

IMG_3205

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.

Clock

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!

Feathered Men Don’t Fly

Royal births, gruesome deaths, elegant banquets and bloody sieges. It’s hard to imagine that the calm grounds where the tourists  now stroll was once home to such events.  As I walk through the stone arch entrance of Stirling Castle, I enter a small courtyard area. To my left is the Great Hall with a warm yellow exterior and a surprisingly simple facade. Ahead is the sloping stone path to the royal kitchens. However, my eye is on the incline tucked away between the Royal Palace and the archway.  I make my way up the slight hill to the relatively flat look out area.

Photo Taken By Jill Crotty

Photo Taken By Jill Crotty

It is one of the castle workers who is flapping his arms, and pointing towards one of the castle’s ledges that catches my attention.  I move toward the group that’s listening intently.  I’m instantly intrigued.  The story goes like this:

James IV, was one of Scotland’s great kings, who was known for his incredible abilities. He spoke six languages fluently, and amazed his people with his knowledge of everything from literature to dentistry. The idea of alchemy, or turning basic metals into gold,  sparked this young king’s interest as well. Meanwhile  John Damian, a foreign alchemist, was looking for funding for his research.  It was a perfect match. James eagerly invited Damian to work  at Stirling Castle. Damian accepted the invitation that included funding and plenty of whisky.

 However Damian’s interest turned from precious metals to the secrets of flight.  One day Damian strapped chicken feathers on himself with the intent to fly to France.  He launched himself off the rampart… and then fell. Fortunately, he only suffered a broken thigh. Damian later explained that the problem was the hen’s feathers. Hens don’t fly so eagle feathers should have been used Damian concluded after his failed attempt.

As I walk towards the Great Hall, I consider mankind’s stories of flight. From Icarus’s flight to close to the sun to  Leonardo Da Vinci’s brilliant drawings to Damian’s attempt at Stirling Castle, the idea of flight simply makes our hearts flutter.

 

 

 

 

The Falkirk Wheel

The locals knew what I was talking about.

For the small town of Falkirk  the wheel has become a heavily discussed topic. And it’s obvious why. The Falkirk Wheel is a miraculous feat of mechanics. Engineers based the wheel’s design on the Celtic double headed axe. It’s pretty slick, and surprisingly modern looking for a structure that resembles an ancient weapon of war. When I first saw the structure I felt that it would have fit well into the movie Stargate. This is no movie prop though, it’s a massive rotating boat lift. The Falkirk Wheel is said to be as high as eight double decker buses on top of one another.  The half moon shaped visitor center seems relatively small in comparison.

Picture taken by Jill Crotty

Picture taken by Jill Crotty

After purchasing my ticket at the visitor center, I snap a few pictures before the boarding the boat.  The barge slowly makes its way onto the gondola. Our very cheerful guide tells us that the wheel is able to rotate using minimal power because of Archimedes principle, which states that floating objects displace their own weight in water. Basically, the water leaving one gondola is equal to the boat’s weight.  Both gondolas, the one with only water and one with the boat, are then equal in weight.

Incredibly, this enormous wheel only takes the power of eight boiling kettles. Quite impressive. Even to an American who has never come close to putting on the kettle. Our guide continues to answer questions about the mechanics. I glance up at the clear ceiling of the barge. I can see the little droplets of water that bead off the plastic tarp and run down the window.  As we go up the view of the snow capped mountains comes into sight.  The rest of the ride is smooth. Before I know it the boat is sliding back into the gondola. The water level is adjusted, the arms turn, and we are against the small wooden dock.

I grab my backpack and exit with the other passengers.  It truly is awe-inspiring.