Friday, February 06, 2009

Hairbands! Hairbands galore!

Some of you may know that I just spent almost a week in the land of haggis, tartan and the most beautiful English accent that ever was: I'm talking of Scotland - or to get more precise, Edinburgh (which in my personal list of favourite cities ranks among the top three).
The reason why I went there was a spontaneous decision to accompany Sanja, a fellow student, who went to Aberdeen to spend the summer term abroad. And I got EL to join us as well :D.

EL and I wanted to keep costs low (on unimportant things) and decided to share my beloved rucksack between the two of us. To provide space for potential purchases we took our HUGE Tesco bags, which we had bought in Inverness, with us (Ryanair is great: 10 kg hand luggage!).

About the journey:
The flight to Edinburgh was quite pleasant but got pretty rough at the end ... about 5 minutes before landing.... and I have to admit I got a bit scared.... The pilot landed the aircraft with a couple of bumps and everyone sighed in relief... when suddenly a flourish startled us all (‘Congratulations, you have survived?’ - EL): “Congratulations, you have been on another on-time flight!” Nice one! *grin*
We reached Edinburgh at about 11 pm and took the bus to the city centre. Fortunately, the (MacBackpackers) hostel keeps its reception open for 24 hours each day, so it was ok to arrive late without giving notice. The hostel itself was interesting -- as generally hostels of the “MacBackpackers’” company seem to be: The interior was decorated with suits of armour, interesting middle-age style tapestry and the like. We were nicely received by the (cute) receptionist and his weird colleague...
(“Hey Ladies. Are you waiting for your keys?”
Cool” nodding with a weird smile ... hey, is he on drugs?)

The rooms had interesting names as well: Our 12 bed female dorm was called "Mr. Men" and our beds had names like “Mr. Small”, “Mr. Bounce”, “Mr. Messy”,... Another room was called “Underwear”. (I shall come back to that.)

We went to bed early because we were so fagged and got up late the next morning for the same reason. My primary concern then was to find that *beeeeeeep* bank HSBC to turn my cheque into proper money. Sounds like a good and easy plan, but it wouldn’t be HSBC if it actually was easy:
I: “Hi. Can I get money for my cheque here?”
HSBC lady: “Do you have an account with us?”
I: “Yes.” (‘why?’)
HSBC lady: “You have to transfer the money to your acount and it will be available after 3 working days.”
I: “So,... on Wednesday I have access to my money?”
HSBC lady: “No, on Thursday.”
Great... I leave on Wednesday....

Let’s leave this disillusioning and slightly frustrating situation behind and forget about the fact that I’ve got a nice massive overdraft on my Austrian account now... lalala... and turn to something nice: The free city tour that I’ve already taken once and therefore recommended to my two friends:
We met our lovely American tourguide Mark at Starbucks', where we got a size upgrade on our drinks on showing our free tickets. Holding tight onto our hot Grande Caramel Macchiatos we rejoined the tour.
Mark invited us to participate as much as possible with guesswork - which was knowledge in my case - to make it “more interesting”. When I "guessed" the numbers of stories of the average building on the Royal Mile correctly and identified a stone thistle as such (because pineapple just doesn’t make sense in Scotland!) he attacked me directly:
Oh someone has read the tour book closely.
No, I’ve just been on this tour before.”
Allright - do you wanna lead the tour instead?”
Ok, I’ll keep my mouth shut...”
He kept picking on me... (“Who of you has already tried haggis?”... “Ah you - Is there anything you haven’t done?”) ‘Twas fun, though and he didn't say all that in a mean way :-). Apparently his bad conscience got the better of him nevertheless, and when we were sitting in “Biddy Mulligan’s”, enjoying our cider, he came up to me and apologised for “giving [me] such a hard time” :-D.
Slightly intoxicated and freezing more than ever we went on, giggling at all the jokes and taking loads of pics...

We didn’t go out that evening, because Sanja preferred to get some sleep before travelling to Aberdeen the next day.
(Before that I met a funny American guy: I was sitting in the lounge with Sanja’s laptop when he asked me, where I was from:
Austria! Interesting. My governor as well....”)

After a “delicious” breakfast at Subway’s (because everything decent was still closed) we set out to find the bus station where Sanja’s bus left. We walked ‘round St. Andrew’s Square, which was one big construction site, and finally saw the bus station (labelled in HUGE letters). We couldn’t imagine the bus would leave from there because the entire road was blocked. So Sanja approached a girl:
Excuse me. Can you tell us where the bus station is?”
The bus station? Well... can you see the big building over there that says “Bus Station”?”
... fair enough - ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer. We told her that we HAD seen it but we couldn’t imagine that the buses left from there but apparently there was an escalator leading to a lower level where we found the stances. After a lot of hugging and waving, Sanja was finally gone and EL and I proceeded to M&S and Top Shop to buy a lot of stuff that we actually didn’t need (apart from the flip flops -- they are vital when you want to have a shower in a hostel...).

In the afternoon we climbed Arthur’s Seat (215m) - the summit of the “mountain” or whatever you want to call it - in Holyrood Park. The wind quickly blew us down again and once again we landed in a pub - “The World’s End” this time, with "friendly, Scottish staff". I gave in to my curiosity there and then and tried the national dish of Haggis with neeps and tatties (that is haggis with mashed potato and similarly treated turnips) and discovered that it actually DOES taste nice! (I swear, I was not drunk or otherwise influenced when I made this assessment.)

Ok, I’ll cut all this blether short now: We spent most of our time at Starbucks, reading, but of course not ALL the time:

I got up, went down and had breakfast: I took one of the newspapers and read something about a snow storm in Great Britain. This puzzled me a bit, because there was no sign of snow... or was there? I took a glimpse out of the window and was surprised to see nothing but big fat snow flakes being blown past it. Whoa!
EL slept about 2 hours longer than me and so I had time to make a new aquaintance: Gary, an Australian of Chinese descent, who was very talkative and added me on facebook half an hour later - to his already existing 1000 and odd friends... I've got a feeling that this will become a very intimate friendship... ;-)

EL and I paid a visit to the Scottish National Gallery. And a short visit it was because we found most paintings... hm... what’s the right expression... well, very ugly indeed. So after about an hour we once again went to our favourite coffee shop. We hoped to find it nice and warm there, but after about an hour it got really draughty and we moved. To HMV’s. and then to “The Tron”, a pub-like facility with the most kitschy toilets...

We didn’t go out that day either, because EL had caught a cold (“too many vitamins and fresh air”) and so we went to bed early once more.

I got up early once again and went down for breakfast -- as the only member of the "group" with a desire for food in the morning. There I met my friend Gary again and had a lengthy chat with him about teaching, English, travelling, metabolisms etc. He also supplied me with useful information (i.e. where to find the cinema). We were then joined by EL and after some more chatting about Ghost tours and nearly getting raped in Finnish youth hostels, EL and I walked to the cinema to check out the programme before progressing to H&M’s and buying lots of (warm) clothes once again. After lunch at Pizza Hut’s (nice staff there, seriously... a bit more attention would have been appropriate, though) I insisted on visiting an exhibition about “6 famous Scots”. Sounded promising, but wasn’t: It turned out that it was only one Scot at a time, changing in the course of the year and for now we could only learn about Billy Connolly. So after about 15 mins we were out on the streets again and on our way to the Akropolis aka Calton Hill, which offered us an amazing view in all directions (“Ich kann das Meer sehen!” - “Nein.” ... oh, that was 2 days ago...).

Of course we felt cold afterwards and ended up at - yes: Starbucks’, once again. There I delivered a rather embarassing performance:

I: “A tall freshly brewed coffee, please, and...”
Girl: “To sit in or take away?”
Sit in. And...
Shall I leave room for milk?”
No, thanks. And then I...
Sorry, but would you rather like strong or mild coffee?”
Strong... And I’d like the “Very Berry Scone”, please.”
Blah-blah-blah strawberry jam blah?”
I understood “The one with the berry jam?” (She showed me the scone.) and answered: “Yes....” then my brain had finally decoded her message correctly as: “Would you like some strawberry jam with it?” and I quickly shouted:
Erm... No! Sorry... I misunderstod you...”
Girl (grinning): “Ok. That’s 3.55, please.”
On handing over the money I dropped a pound coin that quickly ran away and hid from my view. I took my change and started looking for the lost piece of metal. Another Starbucks employee approached me:
Are you allright there?”
Yeah, just lost a pound
Oh dear...” and she got down on her knees (!) to help me. Suddenly, an elderly man turned towards me. He’d just found a pound coin and thought his wife had dropped it. So he’d put it in his pocket - still more embarassed I took the coin from him, thanked him and buggered off with my stuff as quickly as possible.

But that was not all: Some time afterwards we irritated the guy sitting next to us by discussing whether “arse” was British while “ass” American English (--> triggered by a passage in my book). When we started talking about underwear and what “drawers” might be (Gary sleeps in the “Underwear” dorm, in a bed called “drawers”) the guy threw us another look and left.... Weird, considering that we were talking German and he wasn't supposed to be able to follow our conversation.

Because we were lazy we spent the evening at the ODEON cinema (“Revolutionary Road”), where I bought Ben&Jerry’s ice cream just because I wanted the cotton bag that came with it.

Afterwards we went out. To Whistle Binkies, a bar that I already knew from my first trip to this glorious city. They've got life music every night and young and unknown bands performing each Tuesday. The first band wasn't really what you'd call "young" but the music they played was really good. After them we retreated to the back of the bar, though, because sitting immediately at the speakers is probably not very healthy after some time...

We met some nice guys there (as always) who bought us drinks and after some more or less interesting chat we got back to our hostel - in high spirits, not tired at all and quite drunk. (Not as drunk as one of the girls who we shared our room with... the day before it took her about 2 minutes to get the key into the lock and this night she managed to get it in and seemed to be so happy about the fact that she left it there...).

Not much happened that day... We had a last Semi-Scottish breakfast (declining black pudding and sausage) and rehydrated ourselves before we took the bus to the airport and flew home (flourish on landing in Bratislava included). At the said airport we had to wait a nasty span of 2 hours till we were allowed to get into the bus and another 45 mins before the said bus departed... so it was midnight when I finally closed the door of my flat behind me...

A postscript and note about the headline: This journey’s leitmotif was hairbands: I lost mine on the first day, but that was no problem because they started turning up everywhere: In the pocket of my jeans, on my wrist or just littering the ground.... in masses. (I didn't pick up each one, though...yuck!)

1 comment:

El said...

Hihihihi. I think we really had a great time. :grin: