Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Sitting by a roaring fire in a castle...

You should really see my face right now. It is split in half by the biggest grin. In fact my cheeks now hurt as I've been grinning like the happiest fool since I arrived here a few hours ago. I am in a castle turned Bed and Breakfast in the area of Aberdeen in Scotland. 

My first delight was in being collected from the bus stop by my host, who has a lovely South English accent. She says words like 'glorious' with all the right accents and I'm sure words like 'splendid' and 'marvelous' and maybe even 'jolly good' are well used in her vocabulary. She reminds me of a character from a Miss Marple episode perhaps. She talks in a way that I would simple love to talk, but hardly ever do, because if I did I would seem an idiot. 

The next fabulous part about where I am is the castle itself. It's not huge by any means but it looks amazing and has been very tastefully restored and decorated. I am very picky and I have to say I approve wholeheartedly of this place. All the wallpapers are beautiful and accurate for a period home. The furniture is all antique and dark wood and there are lovely old rugs on the floors and framed antique paintings on the wall.

I have the best room in the house, well the best room guest wise. It is the main room on the website and the wallpaper is amazing. I wasn't expecting the room as I am paying a normal rate for single occupancy but as I am the only one here at the moment I guess I just automatically received the best room! There was tea laid out waiting for me in fine china with a teacup and saucer and a sugar pot and milk jug. There is also a small library in my room and among the books there are some Agatha Christie stories and Dorian Gray. 

I get the impression that there are two sections to this house and that I have this section all to myself. I am currently sitting in the library which is complete with heavy wooden bookshelves with fancy plated glass doors and vintage books. There are also comfy squishy couches arranged around the roaring fire and this one is deep enough that I think I could sit two of myself length ways, leaning against the armrests. The fireplace itself is painted a soft mint green and the wood is carved into what I suspect are native Scottish plants.

In summary I think perhaps I have found heaven. I certainly feel like I am living in Miss Marple (minus the murder mysteries) or Pride and Prejudice perhaps!

Many thanks to my mum who paid for this for my Birthday :)

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Goodbye to the land of green things

I have been slack again! I am now in Scotland and I haven't even finished posting about Ireland!

From Lisdoonvarna, which is on the Atlantic Coast near the Cliffs of Moher, I traveled to Belfast. When I was in St Albans I found out that Fleet Foxes was playing in Belfast and I really wanted to see a band overseas. I caught a taxi to the venue as I was running late and the taxi man was very surprised and somewhat concerned about the fact that I was travelling alone. But he was nice, he told me which taxis had a license and which didn't and a ballpark figure for what it would cost to get home so I could check I wasn't overcharged. One thing I love about taxis over here is that they charge by distance, not by time.

While waiting in the line I could tell that the girls behind me weren't Irish so I asked where they were from and ended up making some new friends from Florida for the evening. They let me tag along and I think the concert was much more enjoyable having someone to share it with :) They also gave me some advice on what to do with my extra spare day. I had planned to stay in Galway originally so I was in Belfast longer than expected because of the concert. The concert was well worth it. It was an open air event in a main square and part of a week long festival of performers. I unfortunately missed Laura Marling the previous night because I was still riding. But I kept standing there thinking "I am at a Fleet Foxes Gig standing out in the open air under a sunny Irish Sky." So good. And although Fleet Foxes on cd are reasonably mellow they seem much more upbeat live. They have a really good vibe and they sound so fantastic. He really gets into it, he broke a string after practically every song and had a guy stringing guitars at the side of the stage for him. And the support band was amazing too.

So the next day I took their advice and wandered into the city to the City Hall to find a bus to take me to Belfast Castle and Cavehill Country Park. The lady at the bus stands was lovely and told me which bus to catch and which ticket would be cheapest for me. While I was sitting waiting I heard a local guy telling an Asian man about Cavehill and mentioned that that was where I was going. In doing so I ended up with a local guide on my bus ride and some company for my hike. Having been riding for a week and hardly using my legs at all hiking to the top was probably a stupid thing to do, but I was determined to reach the very top. I am finding that I hate to be defeated by something, especially if it is my fault, once I decide to do something. So about an hour and a half later we reached the top of the highest point in Belfast. They say that it looks like the face of a man lying down and so call it Napoleon's Nose. Gulliver's Travels was based on it. The views were amazing, you can see all 3 regions of Belfast, including the bear below pacing in the zoo.

City Hall

the view from Belfast Castle

Then I did an open top tour with my new friend of the day; Nova. Whilst Belfast is not a very pretty city, nor does it have a great vibe, the history is very interesting. Sad of course like the rest of Irish history seems to be, but interesting. The hotel above the bus station is the most bombed building in Europe. It has been hit 30 times. Most of Belfast is relatively new as it was bombed to bits during the war and had to be rebuilt. As such there are not very many historical buildings around. There are also no homes in the centre of Belfast. During the troubles the centre was sectioned off into a secure zone and it was illegal to have residence there as it could be dangerous for residents or they could cause trouble. Although the zones do not exists anymore you can tell where they were. The city is thriving and busy and you turn one corner and it is all dead like Hunter Street.

The next day I took the Paddy Wagon tour from my hostel to the Giant's Causeway and Derry. The first stop on the way was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope bridge. I decided that this was something I wanted to do and although my legs shook quite badly I made my way across the bridge to the island on the other side. The island itself is not fenced and you feel like you could just step off the edge. You kind of get the feeling of being on the edge of the world. If I lived in the area like some people there obviously did, it would be a lovely, if not slightly expensive, place to go and sit and read for a few hours. I unfortunately only had a bit under an hour. But I did meet my first Australian of the trip! Her name was Stacey and she was from Melbourne. She offered to take a picture of me on the bridge and I took one of her. From there we met another Australian girl named Amy and we then sort of banded together. Very peculiar to hear our accent outside of Australia. In my opinion we sound horribly annoying.

The Giant's Causeway was lovely but there were too many people and it resembled more an ant hive than a scenic land formation. Still, it was nifty to see all the hexagonal rocks connected together so bizarrely. We also stopped outside a 13th century castle that is now in ruins from age. The man who lived there was holding a party one night and lightning struck the back of the castle. The kitchen crumbled into the sea with the 7 cooks who were in it at the time.

Londonderry/Derry was not what I was expecting. Don't ask me what i actually was expecting but I know it wasn't what it was haha. The walking tour we did was amazing and the history just hurts my head. The wall around the centre to separate the people is just crazy. We were told that people call it Stroke City, as in the city with 2 names, because calling it Derry or Londonderry gives away what Religion you are and you never know when that might be a bad thing to do.

From here I travelled back to Dublin with 2 American guys that had been Amy's room mates. The night before we had hung out in the oldest pub in Belfast which is now owned by the National Trust. The pub was amazing. There was stained glass windows and panels everywhere and there were these solid wooden booths that had doors that closed. Once inside I had the impression of being in confessional at church. It was very strange but very nifty. In Dublin I showed the boys around the Temple Bar area and then went to see Riverdance as reviewed previously and then made my way back to Belfast.

And that is the end of Ireland! Love x

Saturday, 2 July 2011


Although I have seen Riverdance in the past back in Australia and seen it numerous times on telly, I think I was much more impressed with it this time. Some parts continue to confuse me; why the hell is there Spanish flamenco dancing in the middle of all the Irish dancing??

Having spent the past 2 or so weeks in Ireland hearing about its history from the local people and tour guides I can say I understand the actual strory behind Riverdance a lot more. I don't think I fully comprehended the full continuing story before for some reason. Ireland has such interesting history. Interesting and really very sad.

The costumes have of course changed yet again. I think in some ways they were better but in many ways I do not think that Riverdance will ever leave the 90's with all the velvet, shiny fabrics and leather pants.

My favourite dances are always those where they come out and dance without music, the sound and rhythm is created simply from their feet. There is one dance where all the men come out and dance together in black clothing to no music, just the sounds of their feet. I think in some ways it is more impressive than dancing to music. My other favourite dance is a folk kind of setting. It's supposed to be the final gathering in the town before people start to leave to find jobs and a better life away from the famine. The set dancing always looks so fun and it makes me miss my weekly class of set dancing. I wish Jenny still taught it so that I could go back to doing that.

My final favourite is set in America and demonstrates the first clash between the more freestyle tap from the African Americans and the rigid dancing of the Irish. They have a bit of a dance off and mock each other and it all seems so fun and yet they are so talented it is really amazing. They change it a little each time and tonight one guy moon walked backwards tap dance style. I was very impressed.