My epic three-week Euro Tour began in lovely Belfast, Northern Ireland. Back in October, I spent a couple days in Belfast visiting a few friends that I had met several years ago while studying abroad in South Africa, and I ended up with a huge crush on the city. The one thing that I reeeeeally wanted to do but wasn’t able to the last time around was to take a drive along the north coast to see Giant’s Causeway, but my friends were kind enough to make the trek with me this time.
The drive was gorgeous. Our first stop was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which crosses over to a wee island. The color of the ocean water along the coast of Ireland is unlike any other I’ve ever seen: it’s the most stunning shade of seafoam, vibrant and soft simultaneously, and so clear. And if that weren’t enough, there was also a giant rainbow stretched across the sky that took my breath away.
Afterward, we journeyed on to Giant’s Causeway and it was truly one of the most majestic sights I’ve ever seen. The causeway is comprised of hexagonal rock columns that descend into the sea, and legend has it that Finn McCool, an Irish warrior giant, built the causeway so that he could cross the water to Scotland to do battle with his Scottish counterpart Benandonner. Benandonner crossed over it first, however, so Finn’s wife disguised him as a baby to protect him, and when Benandonner saw the size of the “baby,” he assumed that Finn was huge and fled back to Scotland, tearing up the causeway behind him so that he couldn’t be followed. Pretty awesome, right? I kept making awe-filled exclamations about how incredible it all was, which my friends found really funny because, since they’ve grown up with this landmark so close to them, they’ve ceased to be impressed by it. I hope I never feel that way about all of the lovely sights in Seattle; it’s so much more gratifying to try to retain a constant sense of wonder and not become jaded by the familiar, but I guess that’s probably easier said than done.
My friend Scott, emulating Finn McCool. He’s the king of yonder crag.
After Belfast, I continued on to Scotland via ferry, setting off just as the sun was coming up. It was the most ritzy ferry I’ve ever been on, complete with a slot machine-like game room, a cute little cafe and free wifi all the way across the water.
The ferry ride took a couple hours, and then I took a bus from the ferry port to Edinburgh that also took a couple hours. It was a lovely drive, full of lush rolling green hills and miles upon miles of sandy coastline. Once I arrived, I took a walk up to the top of Calton Hill and took in the panoramic views of the city as the sun began to set. Edinburgh may very well be the prettiest European city.
I got to see the Heart of Midlothian, a heart-shaped mosaic built into the cobblestones outside of St. Giles’ Cathedral. Apparently it used to be an execution site back in the olden days, and it’s not uncommon for locals to spit on it as they walk past to show disdain for what took place there. I personally witnessed a couple people spit on it, and I spit on it too, in an attempt to be cool and look like a local. I also got to walk around Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh’s extinct volcano (below).
Edinburgh Castle was also pretty epic. It’s basically right in the middle of the city and has incredible views of the city as well. I went in the afternoon and got to see the 1 o’clock gun fired, which was AWESOME. The cannon has been fired from the castle at 1 o’clock every day for several hundred years as a tradition, but it used to be fired as a matter of necessity so that the townspeople and sailors could have an audible indication of the time of day. It was a fantastic spectacle.
Sidenote: While I was visiting, I was able to meet up with Scott’s younger brother, Luke, who’s a student in Edinburgh. I had originally planned to simply meet up with him for a pint or two, but ended up accompanying him to a gathering at his friend’s flat. There were about fifteen other people there, all of them between the ages of eighteen and twenty, and they were all seated around a coffee table that was littered with empty bottles of booze. Long story short, I ended up going pub- and club-hopping with them until five in the morning, at which time I was formidably drunk. I felt self-conscious about my age in the company of mostly teenagers, but I also felt like I was able to relive my first year of college, when I was the consummate designated driver and didn’t drink at all, in a single evening. It was really fun.