“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berry
In an age where we’re living more and more in isolation, it’s important to connect with and understand others better. Traveling allows one to do just that. When we venture out of our comfort bubble (home), we are provided the wondrous opportunity to experience life as someone else lives.
Since traveling is generally expensive and paid vacation days are limited (for those of us lucky enough to have PAID vacation days), I want to get the most out of my holiday time. While I like traveling in the US (there’s so much I still have to see!), there’s something to be said about traveling internationally.
I decided to travel to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and boy did I see a lot of it. Unfortunately two weeks was not enough time to hop across the Irish Sea to visit Northern Ireland. Wales, England, and Scotland kept me plenty busy touring Pembroke Castle (West Wales), hanging with the Beatles (Liverpool, England), and scouting for old Nessie (Loch Ness, Scotland).
From my first night in Cardiff, when a group of older men drunkenly sang “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi for the entirety of the bus ride, I felt welcomed into the Welsh culture. I was graciously hosted in a charming Welsh home, which served as a home base for my excursions into the countryside.
When I say there were sheep everywhere…I mean there were sheep everywhere. The rolling green hills provided a never-ending feast for these furry friends. Opposite the hills, you had the coastline. We went driving along the rocky waterfront with the top down, wind in hair, and there’s me internally freaking out every so often that the cars turning the wrong way onto the road were going to hit us. I never quite got used to that – or the British obsession with round-a-bouts.
The Welsh language, one of the six Celtic languages, loves its “dd” (pronounced “th”), “w”, and lack of vowels. It’s an interesting language to read on all the traffic signs, and even more puzzling to hear spoken. The people were very friendly, mostly likely because of their constant access to Welshcakes. I had my fair share of these, both fresh plain cakes from the market and fancier versions filled with lemon curd. Crumpets and curry also became a part of my diet, though not eaten together.
A good portion of my trip was spent in Wales exploring parks (Cosmeston Lakes), beaches (Tenby, Ogmore by Sea), castles (Pembroke, Coch, Caerphilly, Cardiff), and museums (St. Fagans National Museum of History). And of course the obligatory pub night. You have to go out for a “cheeky pint”!
I cannot thank my hosts and tour guide enough for their hospitality, making my Wales stay that much more memorable.
…And then we were off to Liverpool to see the Fab Four and a night of pub hopping ensued. Thankfully we found a hostel with space available for the night, to rest up for the long drive ahead (and I wasn’t even the one driving!). The next morning it was onto Edinburgh.
Our first stop on the drive was the Lake District to see the longest lake in England (Lake Windermere). After a walk around part of the lake we continued driving through the picturesque district filled with restaurants and shops, narrow roads, locals and tourists walking about, and you guessed it – more lakes!
Before leaving England behind, we got a bite in Keswick (a roasted vegetable stuffed jacket potato), perused the weekend market, gazed at the mountains, and finally giggled our way through the town of Cockermouth.
Having friends across the globe is a blessing. While you might not get to see them too often, you get to visit some amazing places when you do. Because it’s difficult to get four people, living in three different countries together, the short amount of time spent together should be savored and cherished. Speaking for myself, I can say that it was.
My time is Scotland was full of shared meals, viewing new landscapes, reuniting with friends, and listening to the podcast S-Town (if you haven’t listened to it…check it out!). We reminisced about the past and shared new moments around a fire at our hobbit house while glamping.
While there was no Nessie siting (and boy did we look!), the Lochs of the Scottish highlands did not disappoint. Driving through the highlands was one of the highlights of my trip. The landscape was unlike anything I’d ever seen in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Cairngorms National Park, Ben Nevis (the highest mountain in Great Britain). There were snow-capped mountains, rocky outcroppings, green rolling hills, and not only sheep but highland cows. The highland smoky whiskey we sampled wasn’t too bad either.
After returning from the Highlands I was welcomed into another home, this time in Edinburgh. It was beautiful to see how old friends have made lives for themselves in a new city. My first impression of Edinburgh was, “I’ve somehow walked onto a Harry Potter set”. J.K. Rowling did write some (maybe more) of “Harry Potter” based on Edinburgh, from a local cafe called “The Elephant House”.
When I climbed Arthur’s Seat I understood how she was so inspired. The view from the top of this ancient volcanic site is truly breathtaking. You can see the water, all of Old Town’s medieval gothic buildings, Edinburgh Castle, and the current palace.
I believe Scottish food was my favorite, as I became well acquainted with the vegetarian British breakfast. This hearty meal is served differently in Wales, England, and Scotland, but I enjoyed my meal in Fort Augustus Scotland, including veggie haggis, the most. While veggie haggis sounds like a process meat substitute, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s actually made using legumes (generally lentils), oats, and spices of traditional haggis. Quite tasty indeed.
England again (briefly)
The final days of my trip were spent back in England, London specifically.
Since I’d already done most of the really touristy things on my first visit to London (Big Ben, The Eye, Buckingham Palace), I scampered off to the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone, a Japanese Tea Garden, and ancient moai from Easter Island. Why England still has so many precious artifacts from all over the globe is another question entirely. None the less, it was a memorable experience to see them.
There’s something magical about being surrounded by friends you’ve dearly missed, in places you hardly know. While we bask in pleasures of the moment, we struggle with the reality that those moments will soon be only memories. Edinburgh inspired me to write to remember those memories.
I agree with Wendell Berry when he says that only when discovering the world for yourself can you understand it. We travel to understand others, to empathize, and to hopefully realize that no matter where you are in the world we’re not all that different.
Where will your next adventure take you?