Belfast, Northern Ireland (the first time)
Belfast, Northern Ireland (the second time)
Belfast, Northern Ireland (the first time)
Belfast, Northern Ireland (the second time)
songs: “Under My Thumb” by The Rolling Stones and “Laura” by Girls
I knew, before I even started traveling, that this was going to be among the most epic three and half weeks of my life and as a result, I had my iPhone constantly on the ready to record all of the incredible experiences I was having. I think it annoyed the people I was with a little, but I’m so glad I did it. I’ve watched this video probably twenty times since I’ve completed it, and it never ceases to bring a huge smile to my face. It was amazing to live it and now I’m so glad that I have this video as a memento, and that some of my best memories of my travels are preserved in moving pictures for all time. I hope you enjoy watching it too!
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.
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.
It totally slipped my mind this past weekend, but I realized that last Friday marked the end of my first month in Amsterdam. Wow, right?
I’ve noticed that the older I get, the faster time passes, but in this past month, time has moved the slowest I can remember it moving since I was a kid. Which I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing, it’s just a strange sensation to experience time passing this slowly when I’m used to it whipping by and constantly asking myself “How is it ______ already?” I’ve been thinking a lot about why it is that time seems to have slowed way down since I’ve been here, and I think it’s simply a by-product of the overarching newness of my situation. I’m in a country that’s unfamiliar, where an unfamiliar language is spoken, where I’m doing a job that is for the most part unfamiliar to me. That’s a lot of unfamiliarity. When I started my last job, I remember feeling, for the first few months, that no matter how hard I tried, everything I did ended up being wrong. And as someone who wants to do well and prove herself capable, it’s an indescribably exhausting feeling to always feel wrong. And here, it’s not just my job I feel I’m doing wrong, it’s life I’m doing wrong: it’s speaking the language and finding my way around and entering the tram through the correct door even when I see other people entering through the back door and not being scolded by the tram operator like I am. But I’ve been trying to adopt the mindset of “Fake it til you make it,” and to just observe what other people do and try to mirror them, and that, for the most part, has worked pretty well. It’s all just a matter of repetition, and I think at a certain point it will feel normal.
For the most part, I’m still kind of in awe of my surroundings. And maybe it’s less that I’m in awe of my surroundings than it is I’m in awe of the idea that at some point in the near future, I’m not going to be in awe of the things I do on a daily basis because they’ll become commonplace. For example, on the days that I pick up the kids from school, I ride the bakfiet (the bike with the cart in front), and the past week or so, I’ve gotten on the bike and started cruising, and there’s a moment where it feels normal and not like a big deal, but then I look up at the slanting trees and listen to the leaves crackling underneath my tires and then hang a right toward the main road and I think to myself “How is this my life?” Even after a month, it still hasn’t completely sunken in that I’m not just a tourist here, but that I live here and that my life for the next year is going to be here. It’s so different than anything I’ve ever done before, and it’s so different than I imagined it would be because I had no idea what to expect, but I feel so fortunate and like it’s a gift. And I kind of like that everything is still a novelty to me. I like that I’m dazzled by living here because I feel like it makes me appreciate this experience more fully, so in a way, I hope I never stop feeling this way.
I hadn’t planned on taking any trips during my first month in Amsterdam, just so I could focus on getting familiar with the city and to save a little money, but an opportunity arose, so I visited Belfast, Northern Ireland. I met a group of people from Northern Ireland back in 2008 when I studied abroad in South Africa, and I was able to meet up with a few of them and see them for the first time in three years. I was absolutely charmed by Belfast and its inhabitants and its delightful pubs and tasty Guinness. I know it’s only the first European city I’ve been to, but if I had occasion to move there, I think I can confidently say that I’d do it in a heartbeat. It would be a lovely place to live. And it was really nice to be able to understand what people were saying to me, and to feel understood by them, and to be able to eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations. That’s truly one of the things I miss the most, because it’s utterly impossible to do in Holland.
To sum things up, I’ve experienced the amount of discomfort that I expected to feel moving to a new place, but it’s less so every day and I think that’s a step in the right direction. And more than that, I’m experiencing wonder on a daily basis that is utterly magical to my adult mind. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 11 months hold for me here.