Friday, May 18, 2012

First Month Best and Worst Awards

As of May 17th, we will have been traveling for one month. To recap, here’s where we’ve been: London, England – Brighton, England – Lewes, England, Edinburgh, Scotland – Portree, Isle of Skye, Scottish Highlands – Portnalong, Isle of Skye, Scottish Highlands – Glasgow, Scotland – Dublin, Ireland – Galway, Ireland – Cork, Ireland. We thought it would be fun to sum up with our Best and Worst of the British Isles.


The Caledonian Hostel -Edinburgh, Scotland.

18 pounds for two beds including breakfast, a full bar with 3 pound whiskey, nice hot showers, two great common rooms (one for quiet), a movie room and great artwork all over the walls. The twenty bed dorm was big, clean and had “lockers” the size of personal closets.

Honorable Mention – Skye Walkers – Portnalong, Scotland

Good dorms with bunks made out of wood, wonderful story-telling hosts and a nice “solar dome” out back to hang out in the warmth even though it was cold out. Lack of breakfast, internet and any sort of on-premise food/drink gives the edge to The Caledonian but we loved this place.


Smart Hyde View Backpackers – London, England

To start, they “conveniently” exchanged our money into dollars before charging us . . . at an exchange rate that was 8% in their favor. Then, they charged us 5% for paying with a card and another 3.5% fee for their service. They marked up the price over 15%! Then, they charged extra for lockers, maps and printing. Often, these are charged for, but what set these guys apart is they charged extra for all of them. They had us put our own sheets on the bed, did not wash the duvet cover and had a “convenient” en-suite bathroom. One to share with nine people. To top it off, we dropped the alarm clock under the bed. I won’t make you read what we saw when we looked under the bed. Finally, Leslie couldn’t sleep because the entire room smelled like feet. Can you say ventilation? Boo!


Leslie’s Winner – Abr Hur – Galway, Ireland

A quaint little cafe located by the Spanish Arch right on the water. It was packed, but we were invited to the bar where the friendly staff gave us free samples of some of the baked goods. It was located in an old Garrison of the City Wall which had been updated and colored brightly. We shared a crab-salad sandwich and a pot of tea. The sandwich came with some sort of candied pear and homemade bread. The pot of tea was a good one, with proper cream and sugar and enough to share for two.

Bryan’s Winner – Bill’s Restaurant – Lewes, England

English Breakfast! Fried Egg, two bacon, two sausage, baked beans, fried tomato, mushrooms and toast. When they say “bacon” they mean what Americans would recognize as slices of ham. This was standard English Breakfast fare, but this one came with locally made sausage, thick homemade bread and the best mushrooms ever. Bill’s was also unique because it was an organic / local grocery store. You would have an order form at your table so you could check off your groceries, give it to the waiter and they would have packages ready for you when it was time to go.


Edinburgh – Scotland

“Real Ales” would be the flat-warm beer that England is famous for, although we in the Northwest would call them craft ales or simply “good beer”. Locally made, distributed and always served on cask, these were prevalent throughout England and Scotland. Lewes had plenty of the “Sussex Ale” the English love, but we have to give the nod to Edinburgh for the vast array of darker beers and IPAs. We may have just been there at the right time as Edinburgh was celebrating their “30 days of IPA”, but at the same time, it was 30 days where the pubs had come together to celebrate local 11 different local IPAs! Top that off with the selection of Porters available in New Town and we have our winner.


Our buddy Hugh! Portnalong, Scotland to Glasgow, Scotland

Hugh was staying in the same dorm room with us on the Isle of Skye, having driven there from his home outside Newcastle, England. He offered to give us a ride to Glasgow and taught us all about sea otters, English politics and a mess of other parts of Scottish and English culture and history.


London, England to Edinburgh, Scotland Overnight Bus

Overnight bus. ’nuff said.


REI, Issaquah, USA 220 volt to 110 volt converter

All of our stuff that needs to convert from European to US voltage has a converter built in. D’oh!


Cliffs of Mohor Tour. Dublin, Ireland to Galway, Ireland

The Cliffs of Mohor were awesome with a 700m drop directly into the ocean. We saw a 5000 year old burial site and hills completely covered in limestone, but the true joy was the bus driver. Historian, geologist, archaeologist and full-blooded Irishman who shared stories from books, college classes and his dear old mum. Taught us all about Irish Blarney, which means never let the truth get in the way of a good story.


A tie! Haggis and Vegemite.

Both of these ended up in the napkin. The first being sheep’s lungs and innards boiled and turned into a sausage. The second being an Aussie favorite of some sort of yeast paste that taste’s kind of like concentrated foot juice.

Honorable Mention – Black Pudding

A standard in the Scottish Breakfast. This was okay until we figured out it was spiced and semi-coagulated pig’s blood. She didn’t want anymore after that.


Running to catch the bus from London – Victoria Station to Edinburgh. We knew we needed to be in Victoria Station, not realizing that Victoria Station is about six city blocks big. We ended up running from one end to the other and barely made our overnight trip.


Leslie had to go REALLY badly, but we were late, so we boarded the Irish bus from Galway to Cork, expecting a bathroom for the 3.5 hour ride in front of us. We start off, and there’s no bathroom at the back of the bus. An hour and a half in, Leslie asks the bus driver if there was time for her to hop off at a stop to use the restroom. The bus driver pointed out the snack locker we’d been sitting next to in the middle of the bus was actually the toilet. Oops.


“The Pub” – Portnalong, Scotland

We don’t actually know the name, but it was the only pub within walking distance of Skye Walker’s Hostel. For that matter, it was the only thing open past 1pm. Despite the fact we had nicknamed the bartender “Surly McSurly” the food was great, the patrons were friendly and they local real ale on tap. Add in a view of the Loch, singing Scotsmen and a couched TV room for the FA Cup final and we have our winner.


The Wetherspoon!

Bryan loved the British chain because it was reliably cheap and always had real ale on tap which rotated depending on where you were. Leslie hated it because the food tasted like somebody had boiled a pine tree and served it with grease fries. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. That said, we ate there 4 times due to our strict daily budget and convenience. Once in Glasgow, London Victoria Coach Station, two different Wetherspoons in Brighton and we skipped a plethora more. Towards the end of month one, Bryan kept insisting on going and Leslie would have rather ate boogers, so she inevitably said no. This caused a controversy in the relationship, only for a little bit though.


London-Victoria Coach Station

Try as we might, we just couldn’t avoid it. The central hub of UK public transportation, we always found ourselves here. The first day we arrived we took the train to London-Victoria to catch the transfer to the Brixton district and the last day in the UK we took the bus service from here to get to the airport. The cheapest path to get from Cork, Ireland to Marrakash, Morrocco went through London-Victoria . . . twice. In the UK, (for us at least) . . . all roads go to London-Victoria.

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