London calling part two: On the second last day of my Ireland trip in Belfast, after dinner I was talking to my friend Babis over messages and we planned for a daytrip to London. The trip was supposed happen at some point because in the last trip we had seen a lot of touristic sites in London (you can read about it in this previous blog post: link) but still there was a lot left to see. London is huge and is worth a second visit. We decided to do it on the next day after my Ireland trip was ending. When you are travelling and seeing all these mesmerizing places, you get lost and forget the track of number of days you were travelling for and ultimately forget the fact that your body can get tired of travelling. We decided to take a bus to London like last time. We saw the natural history museum and then took a rental Santander bike from Hyde Park to Oxford Street, one of the main market streets in London. It was a half an hour ride. Got some exercise done and we didn’t have to pay anything because for the first half an hour the bike is free except for the £2 which is a service charge. Then we walked towards the Piccadilly street and then to Trafalgar square. We ended our trip at Camden market by having by having some ‘Shawarma’ at a Mediterranean food place. I really wanted to go to Prime Rose hill but there wasn’t much time left as we had to go back to Victoria coach station to catch the bus back to Birmingham. It was a fun day overall and we enjoyed ourselves. Here are some pictures of the amazing day:
The next week and a half I utilized to study and prepare for the exams as the examinations were to begin in May and also get ready for the upcoming trip to Scotland…Woohoo, yes excitement!!…
Stop three! Edinburgh in Scotland: In this trip I had my friends Maxime and Elisa going with me. Maxime is from France and studies neurosciences and only person I know who is into this interesting field of studies. Elisa is from Italy and studies linguistics. Both were exchange students from their respective countries at University of Birmingham. We planned to have many more friends coming with us but alas they got involved in other plans or chose other destinations to travel. But that did not bring our excitement down a bit. I was already good friends with Maxime and he was good friends with Elisa. I was friends with Elisa and had the opportunity to meet her at different events or parties but this trip gave me the chance know more about her and hence better our friendship. Three people from three different countries, cultures and spoke three different languages, discovering a new place together what more real experience and adventure could you want from your exchange program, eh?
We began on the morning of twelfth of April. We caught an early morning flight, around 6, for Edinburgh. It was an hour long flight. I must admit it was the first time that I felt scared at the Birmingham airport. The reason being I forgot to take my passport, instead I took my expired Passport with me, thinking I had both of them. I usually carry both passports with me. I had checked in online so I had the boarding pass with me and thankfully Maxime and Elisa printed mine with theirs and hence handed me the printed copy at the airport. I searched online if they accepted any other ID and luckily they did accept university ID card as an ID since it was a domestic flight. I showed them my university of Birmingham university ID card at the boarding gate and they let me go towards the plane. Pheww…
When I told Maxime and Elisa in the plane about my inadequacy they were a bit shocked (they had brought their passports) and showed signs of gulping their anger, haha, as we were out of tricky situation but said that their excitement would have died if I would have missed my flight. I agreed.
When we got to our accommodation there arose a funny situation, the owner of the B&B couldn’t enter his own guest house as he left his keys inside. He manages the hostel on his own with a helper and the helper wasn’t inside as well. After a trying to call the different guests who were not picking up his calls because probably they were sleeping as it was early in the morning still, around 8. So he decided to get the guests to open the doors who were in the front room on the second floor, in this manner:
Come on you don’t see that happening every day, you can’t judge me for taking pictures, hahaha! He got down safely and the guests opened the door of the hostel, finally. We had some breakfast and decided to take a nap as we had almost no sleep as we had to catch such an early morning flight. Nap turned out to be quite long. We left the guest house around two in the afternoon. We were living 12 kilometres from the city centre so we had to catch the local train to get there. Hence began the exploring of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. After walking through the beautiful city we reached the famous city and sunset/sunrise viewing spot Calton hill. The view of the city you could see from this point is just so captivating that you don’t want go anywhere else unless so you have seen the view during sunrise, sunset and different times of the day. Here are the pictures:
We were debating whether to see the sunset from Calton hill or Arthur’s seat. Arthur’s seat is the tallest hill in the city range and provides the ultimate view. But we settled for Calton hill as we wouldn’t have reached the top of Arthur’s seat before the sunset. It is tall. After grabbing something to eat we got back to our guest house.
Next day when we reached the city center, first we gathered the information from a tourist information center on different day trips in the form of guided tours going towards the highlands so that we could book one for the next day. After making a booking we moved towards the Scottish parliament passing through one of the main market streets. We went inside and saw it, first time for me seeing a country’s Parliament. It was free of charge. We had a brief look at the Holyrood house from outside, Queen’s official residence when she visits Scotland. Finally began our climb towards Arthur’s seat.
Climbing half of the way passed easily. We stopped and had our lunch. We chose a place on the way where there were some flat rocks where we could sit or use them as shade if they were at a height. It was a sort of picnic. Finishing our lunch, we continued our climb. View kept getting better. Reaching at the point where we were supposed to begin the actual hike for Arthur’s seat, Elisa decided that she would stay at the bottom of the hill and wait for us until we came down. The reason for doing so was that it was getting dark, time was 6:30 pm and was cloudy, looked like it was going to rain. We tried to convince her that even if it rained it was perfectly safe to climb as other people were still climbing and it looked perfectly alright. But sadly we didn’t turn out to be good at convincing. Maxime and I started to climb the hill to reach the topmost point called Arthur’s seat. It took us around 30-35 minutes to reach the top and of course we felt breathless after such a long and steep hike. It was the most beautiful view of the city and surroundings. Perhaps the most beautiful panoramic view of any city I had ever seen! You may call me being really addictive to my phone or something like that, but after spending 10 minutes or so, I checked if I had signal on my phone and luckily I did. I called my mum on the video call and showed her the view from the top. She was surprised as I had not told her that I was going on top of Arthur’s seat or any hill that day. Decision to call her was spontaneous. She was overjoyed and enjoyed the view on her screen. We stayed at the top until sunset, took loads of pictures. Then finally came down, met Elisa at the station (she had moved to the station as it was getting dark), called it an early night as our guided bus tour was early in the morning and all three of us took the train back to our hostels.
Our bus tour for the highlands began on time and it was great to hear some actual Scottish accent which our guide had. Although the way they roll their ‘r’s sounds a bit funny. In the tour we saw the hills and mountains of Highlands. Including two small towns. It was one of the most beautiful natural sites I have ever seen. The mountains there have a different kind of beauty. They were not lush green or covered with snow. They get covered with snow but that’s during winter. You could feel a deep peace in the mountains. There was a patch of 50 miles, where there was no habitation, no villages or towns could be found within those 50 square miles as announced by the guide cum driver. I had also read about it earlier. Still that area did not seem isolated or dangerous at all. You can get lost in its beauty and walk miles and miles and still not get bored. The place is such that it seems that the mountains want to tell a historical tale or its past to you. Meaning it seems that the mountains and the air is almost alive o to be put in more logical words, you are too close to nature, pure and untouched by humans. We also saw the Loch Ness, famous for the Nessie monster stories. The lake is surrounded by many acres of land which is preserved and untouched by man for millions of years. Probably belongs to the rare pieces of land untouched by man. Truly a unique site. Although we didn’t spot any monster but the small cruise we took had a guide which explained all the horror stories of people drowning in the extremely cold lake were spine chilling. The driver was a very good guide. He informed us about Scottish culture and traditions. He showed us the castles on the way, we didn’t stop to enter them, just from the bus and told the famous war or royal stories related to the castles.
The next day we decided to cover the royal botanical gardens in the city. The gardens were free to enter. Then we explored the city more, went to some market areas and bought a few souvenirs. We decided to have some Scottish food, which was recommended by the guide from our Highlands trip. Haggis meat is really famous as Scottish traditional food. We went to a Scottish place for dinner and ordered the haggis tower! It was the tastiest dish I had in that trip.
In the evening came the most exciting part – meeting my friend Isan from University of Scotland. He is a Scottish, born and raised in Edinburgh. We met in Iowa State University when he came for a yearlong exchange program to ISU. It was a high point of my trip, meeting a friend who was an exchange student in my university while being an exchange student in his country. We were meeting exactly after one year. We discussed what progress we have made and what our goals were in the future. We promised that we are going to meet each other whenever we were in the same country. Oh the wonders of studying abroad as an exchange student! My trip ended at this point and we boarded the plane back to Birmingham next morning.
Until next time!
P.S. – Exams are coming!….