One thing I’ve learned is that, much like the United States, there are a thousand “UK’s.”
Here are a few that I’ve traveled to, with a dash of the Republic of Ireland to boot!
Stonehenge – Neolithic Britain
I’ve taken several field trips with my British Life and Culture module, including a trip to Stonehenge. We weren’t allowed to walk among the stones, but it was so exciting to be so close to these slabs of rock that were hauled thousands of miles, thousands of years ago, for reasons celestial.
On a slightly less mystical note, our group left just a few hours before Michael Bay filmed a scene for the new Transformers movie at the site.
Scotland – Three Cities in Three Days
Don’t try this at home (not like you would, because.. traveling… anyways).
My boyfriend Dennis and I planned our own excursion over the weekend to Glasgow, Stirling, and Edinburgh in Scotland, right at the neck connecting northernmost UK and its southern half. We learned the joys of taking a nine-hour Megabus ride overnight… and also the value of booking budget plane tickets early, to save both time and money.
Glasgow was as bleak as we’d imagined, given Peter Capaldi’s quotes and its depiction in Trainspotting. We visited an old friend of mine there, Lani, and together we explored the Necropolis – The City of the Dead, overlooking Glasgow Cathedral.
Stirling reminded Dennis and me of Markarth, a city from the fantasy video game Skyrim – all aslant stone buildings nestled in a hillside. We stayed in our first hostel here (The Willy Wallace), and the next day we hiked through the fall leaves up to the Wallace Monument – Scotland’s tribute to the fierce hero of Mel Gibson’s film, Braveheart… William Wallace (in case you didn’t notice, he’s kind of a big deal around here). This was my favorite city, because it was so compact, cobblestoned, and well-steeped in the history of Scottish Independence.
Finally we ended the tour in Edinburgh, where we explored the majestic Edinburgh Castle. Right after, we dashed over to Calton Hill, a vantage point dotted with monuments overlooking the city. Racing the sunset, we then sprinted through a graveyard, past Scottish Parliament, and up the geological marvel of Arthur’s Seat.
By the end of the day we were very proud of ourselves, and very, very exhausted.
Lesson learned: Don’t try to pack too much into one weekend. Also, Scotland has the cleanest water I have ever tasted.
Wales – 3 Days in Whoville
Two days after Scotland (this was on our Enrichment Week, when we really ought to have been studying), Hannah, Dennis and I all went to Cardiff, Wales to explore the town and see the Doctor Who Experience! After the tour, I had a sonic screwdriver and we were all eating at Eddie’s Diner, at the very booth where the Doctor and his Companions sat in “The Impossible Astronaut” episode. Cardiff was full of vintage shops and charm, even in our hostel, “Mrs. Potts.” We eschewed the expensive castle tour.
Ireland (Known to Some as Hybernia) – 6 Days of Adventure!
The Romans didn’t invade Ireland, because it was too damn cold. In fact, they named the place Hybernia, meaning “Land of Eternal Winter.” We learned this on a tour after we had already experienced it for ourselves – by late November, the wind was high and the air was full of frost. Yet the island was still, inexplicably, as green as we had imagined it.
Dennis and I set up our base in Central Dublin, and stayed in two hostels and a B&B (hostels are more expensive on the weekends there, so we had to hop around). The evening we arrived, we went straight to a pub and had a delightful meal with Irish Cider and Guinness.
On our first full day in Ireland, we took a tour around Dublin and learned about the history of Dublin Castle, several notable women in Irish history, and how Guinness’ black color was originally due to the silt from the River Liffey (later they realized this might not be sanitary, so they changed it up a bit). I was amazed to learn that the Leprechaun motif was originally designed as a racist caricature of all Irish people, which they later reclaimed as a national symbol and incorporated into their culture as a pushback.
The next day, we went on a tour to Newgrange, Trim Castle, and the Hills of Tara. Our guide focused on the more mystical and religious aspects of each location’s history. We actually got to go inside Newgrange, which for me as an anthropologist was SO EXCITING to see all of the neolithic carvings and spirals and geometric patterns that meant something to people long ago. I was equally thrilled by the Hills of Tara, where we played with dowsing rods and walked between passage burials to reach the Stone of Destiny, the ancient coronation site of Ireland’s High Kings. Our last stop was a Fairy Tree (a Hawthorne at the foot of the hills), where we threw oatmeal and made a wish to the Tuatha De Dannan (the Tribe of Gods, the original conceptualization of fairy folk). I was geeking out.
The day after that, we went on a long bus ride through Northern Ireland to reach the Dark Hedges (where Game of Thrones filmed the final shot of Season Two), The Giant’s Causeway, and the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. I had been wanting to see the Giant’s Causeway for years. It was unreal, clambering over the geometric shapes created by volcanos – sorry, by the legendary giant Finn MacCool – and seeing the ocean waves crashing over it. The adventure continued as we crossed the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge (the site of an old fisherman’s crossing from ages past), waves crashing underneath us, the air crisp, and the grass greenly tufting the dark basalt cliffs.
Our final tour was a long bus ride to the Cliffs of Moher in Western Ireland. We saw tiny famine houses and imposing castles as we passed through the Burren National Park, a spooky landscape of bare limestone mountains and deeply grooved bedrock. We stopped at the Baby Cliffs of Moher for a few minutes before visiting the real place. This was where they filmed the Cliffs of Insanity scene for The Princess Bride film, and it was fitting – the wind came in from the sea so strong, it threatened to bowl us backwards. The experience was nothing short of breathtaking.
We finished up Dublin the next day with a trip to the Museum of Archaeology, where I geeked out again over the well-preserved bog bodies and the ancient treasures and artifacts of ancient Ireland – and one more pint of Guinness (which hasn’t tasted quite as good since we left Ireland). Then, back to London, another nest of adventures in itself.
Back at my Home (Away From Home..)
Seeing all of these incredible places has made me truly grateful to be alive, and to have had all of the support from friends, family, and my college, to come out here and fill the cast of my lifelong dreams with real, vibrant memories. I will never be the same – I can tackle anything now.