Budget Travel Tips: 8 Desperate Ways to Finally Afford that Trip

Times are tight. I know it, you know it, we ALL feel it. Many people are opting out of travel altogether. So the question looms: is it still possible to travel on a tight budget?

I would argue that it is almost not.

It isn’t uncommon to see tips on travelling on a budget such as these from Reader’s Digest. Even though these can be valuable for a novice, comfortable traveller to cut down a bit on the overall cost of vacationing, they do not remedy the fact that travel is too expensive for most people these days.

So there’s nothing to do but give up, lock yourself in a dark room, sit in a corner, listen to Coldplay and sulk about your immobilizing debt that prevents you from experiencing life, right?

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That completely depends – how badly do you want it?

If you want it bad enough here are 8 things to consider to maybe, actually, potentially make travel a possibility for those with the dark cloud of financial hardship raining overhead.

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1. Convenience and Comfort? Ha!:

If you have the luxury of being time-and-place-flexible, there are sometimes affordable deals to be had!

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Flying to cool places

Do your research. Look at multiple airlines and their options, check out the budget airlines and where they fly. What time of year is cheapest? Peak-season travel is sickeningly expensive, so look at off-peak flights.

Try Skyscanner– they will give you a good idea of what the cheapest available options are, but do your own poking around too!

Bring only carry-on luggage (preferably a backpack!! For the reasons, see this post). There are many budget airlines in Europe and the UK, but they often charge a significant fee for checked baggage.

IMPORTANT– Speaking of budget airlines: be wary of them! Some do not have assigned seating and will OVERBOOK their flights ON PURPOSE in order to make more money (*cough* Ryan Air *cough*), and they count on the fact that someone won’t show up or will be late. ARRIVE EARLY, and be aggressive when boarding. You’re welcome.

One of the biggest expenses when travelling is food. The best way to cut down your food budget is to grocery shop rather than eat at restaurants or pubs. In the UK, for example, many shops have a £3 “meal deal” where you get a sandwich, bag of chips and a drink. Not the healthiest way to sustain yourself abroad, but certainly one of the cheapest!

2. Scrap Your List of Destinations:

If you have considered travel, ever, you probably have a mental list of the top places you’d like to visit. Murphy’s Law demands that these will likely be the most expensive places to get to. Throw it out. Embrace the possibility of new places!

For example, Brussels is somewhere I never expected to go, but I enjoyed it! (Not exactly a dirt cheap example, but the best personal one I have!)

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If I hadn’t gone to Brussels, I wouldn’t have seen street art like this:

What?

What?

Or this:

WHY?!

WHY?!

If, during your travels, you are lucky enough to find yourself nearby a more expensive destination that you MUST see (for example, Paris is a popular and pricey place to lust after), then spend as little time there as possible. 2-3 days is sufficient to explore a city-centre by foot.

3. Terrible Transportation:

Direct flights are lovely, but awful meandering ones are generally cheaper. Decide how much savings your time and physical comfort is worth (if you can’t bare the thought of embarking on a 1-2 day flight-hopping spree when the direct flight is 8-hours or less, you don’t want it badly enough).

Also, flights that leave at horrible times like 4am are generally cheaper than pleasantly-timed flights.

"Friends Fare" is a thing in the UK... if you have 3 friends. No more, no less.

A “Friends Fare” discount is a thing on UK trains… if you have 3 friends. No more, no less.

If you are ‘on the road’ and travelling from city to city, there are multiple options available to you (especially in Europe). There are flights, trains, coaches and…. BUSSES. Pick the bus that takes about ten times longer to get to your destination than any other method of transportation, and it’s likely the cheapest.

I once took a city-style bus in England from Exeter to Poole (a distance that should take less than 2 hours by car, but took over 5 hours by bus – with no stops!!! How is that even possible?!). City-style bus means NO TOILET… again, with no stops. It was an excruciating journey. This should be illegal – but at a fraction of the cost of the train, it was the only option in my range of affordability.

When in a location, WALK EVERYWHERE. Transportation within cities is so expensive, especially to and from airports. Use it as little as possible.

You can find some of the most beautiful places just by walking!

You can find some of the most beautiful places just by walking!
Arthur’s Seat Summit, Edinburgh

4. Travel with a Buddy:

Try to find a friend to go with that is in the same situation (or at least very open minded). This can be a challenge, but in the end you can both save money than if you were alone. Of course, the simplest reason for this is room-sharing, but also watching each other’s backs.

The biggest savings when travelling with a buddy (and I hate to say this) is HITCHHIKING. As a woman, I would never hitchhike alone. As a snobby person, I would never hitchhike at all. If you play it safe, however, you can get far on very little money. A friend of mine recently admitted their travels included a lot of hitchhiking, and this warmed me to the idea. Use common sense and be picky – don’t put yourself in a situation where you feel unsafe, and don’t hitch at night! Check out these tips.

5. Consider Long-Term Travel:

Find work, meet people, couch surf, move on.

For positive and real-life tales of SUCCESSFUL long-term EXTREME budget travel, check out the supremely cool Wandering Earl! He’s much more experienced at all of this than I am!

Earl, wandering.

Earl, wandering. My lil’ bro met up with him on his travels and he’s apparently a really cool guy 🙂

6. No Partying OR Partying for Board:

Choose one of these things. If you have all of your accommodation booked in advance, no alcohol, no partying. If not, choose bars and clubs with no cover fee, and then meet as many people as possible to find an available couch!!

I have never partied to find a place to crash... it sounds dangerous.

I have never partied to find a place to crash… it sounds dangerous.

7. Forfeit the Tourist Attractions:

CN Tower, Toronto: $32- $89cnd

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Eiffel Tower, Paris: €15

I thought seeing it from the ground was good enough!

I thought seeing it from the ground was good enough!

Big Ben, London: £15

This is not the tower of London, but it's a nice picture.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like much, but these admission prices could also be your food budget for a day or two! Save it for when you’re rich.

8. Hostels vs. Hotels:

Hostels can be hit or miss. Again, do you research! I use hostelworld.com and have never been disappointed. Look the cheapest available of course, but use the Internet to check where the hostels are located so you aren’t booking something in the middle of nowhere.

A small but very good hostel.

A small but very good hostel.

Normally the more beds in a dorm the cheaper it will be per night… so mentally prepare for 12 other people ruining your sleep schedule, coming to bed at 4am, getting up at 6am etc. Bring earplugs.

Don’t assume hostels will be cheaper than hotels. Of course, they normally are, but when my lil’bro and I recently went to Paris, we booked a one-star hotel, as it was cheaper than Parisian hostels. There’s an option on Hostelworld for hotels.

It’s very important before booking a hostel to read some of the customer reviews. Hostelworld is great for accurate reviews! If the reviews terrify you, don’t book the hotel. It’s usually fairly obvious when someone has just had a bad experience, ie. noisy streets on a weekend (duh), people drunkenly having sex or masturbating in the same dorm, loud snoring – these things aren’t the hostel’s fault. Bring earplugs. BRING EARPLUGS.

Check for bedbugs when you arrive, then forget about how awful the rest of it is.

HOW DOES THAT SOUND?

Does thinking about these things give you a tingle of excitement? Or does it inject fear and bitterness into your beautiful dreams of travel?

Do YOU have what it takes to be an extreme-budget traveller?

Enjoy your travels, be they desperately budget or gloriously comfortable, because travel is the best and most enjoyable education.

Thoughts on Loneliness

They say that even when surrounded by people, you can feel alone. Perhaps even more so than when you are, physically, alone.

Parisian love locks - not everyone is lonely!

Parisian love locks – not everyone is lonely!

During my recent travels I have felt lonely. A lot. I have also thought about what it means to be lonely, how we become lonely, why we feel loneliness.

This guy is so lonely he's going to extreme measures to attract attention. Cover up, buddy!

This guy is so lonely he’s going to extreme measures to attract attention. Cover up, buddy!

With travel, you have to accept a certain amount of loneliness. When I first arrived in Edinburgh, I was living in a hostel. For two weeks I flip-flopped between hyper-social and super-introvert. It’s like you have a certain amount of social energy, and when you are thrust into an extreme social environment like a hostel (especially when you’re travelling alone), it burns out quickly and you must retreat back into yourself, perhaps more so than you would normally, just to refuel. These are the hardest times when you’re travelling, because you see everyone around you socializing and having rad times, and you can’t muster one drop of the energy required to join them.

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If you have been travelling on your own and have not experienced this, then I congratulate you. You are better at this than I.

Of course, when I packed up my life and moved blindly to Edinburgh, I expected to feel lonely until I settled in and built myself a new life. What I didn’t expect, however, was how long this loneliness would last, and how much a part of me it would become. Don’t get me wrong, I have always highly valued my ‘alone time’ – even when I lived with a dude, and especially with my myriad roommates over the years – but now it has taken on a different quality, or maybe I am just more critically aware of it.

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I find that my feelings of loneliness are directly related to (or the same as) the presence of my own personal happiness in any single moment. If I have a productive day, for example, I am happier with myself. Even if I spend that day alone I do not necessarily feel lonely. The inverse is also true; when I do nothing, I feel less happy with myself and am more susceptible to loneliness – even if there are people around. This fact about me may have always been true, but I was not aware of it until recently. I love learning stuff about yourself, you feel so much more in tune with what you need!

Evidence of past productiveness: thesis notes

Evidence of past productiveness: thesis notes

Loneliness, or aloneness, can sometimes be exactly what I want. My favourite example of this was recently, when I went with my brother to the Muse concert in the Stade de France, Paris. The absolute best moment was during Madness; I closed my eyes and through some kind of magic, the thousands of people in the supermassive stadium disappeared, and it was just me and Muse and the music. It was glorious. Having my own isolated experience, and then looking over to lil’bro with tears of his own emotional reaction to this song, well, it was a good feeling. A shared loneliness.

M-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-mad-mad-mad

M-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-mad-mad-mad

Now that I’m back at home for the time being, I was hoping that my new ever-present quality of loneliness would subside. It has to a degree, but the only time it disappeared almost completely was when my best friend was visiting for a few days last week. Since I was around both my family and a friend, I felt more fulfilled than just with one or the other. I still think, however, that it is with myself that I need to feel content to eradicate loneliness altogether. I guess it’s time to start figuring out what I want out of life and what I need to do to achieve it.

The cold, slippery railroad of life. It's a perilous journey!

The cold, slippery railroad of life. It’s a perilous journey!

In the meantime, I got a cat.

Winston LVOES ME!

Winston LOVES ME!

We’ll Always Have Paris: A Brief Vacation with a French-Hater

There’s a wee little French city that has been the destination for romantics and shopaholics alike for many a decade. It’s called Paris – maybe you’ve heard of it?

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Like many others before me, and many more to come, I have had an obsession with going to Paris ever since I was eleven years old and was growing into my appreciation for all things adult, romantic and materialistic.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

In my recent adulthood, however, I have heard things that have marred this dream and given me a dose of reality (probably a good thing). Paris stinks, it’s dirty, it’s crowded, it’s expensive, Parisians are rude, the Eiffel tower costs your first born child to walk up it, lots of people try to scam you, the whole city is a tourist trap. All these things put Paris a little further down on my list of places to go before I die, but when presented with the opportunity to go, I wasn’t going to say no!

S'up?

S’up?

Having freshly moved to Lyon (him) and Edinburgh (me), my lil’bro and I decided in December 2012 that the following June we would meet in Paris for a few days to see the city. Oh, and also OUR FAVOURITE BAND. Muse. For me, this was going to be the perfect mini-vacation! Paris, Muse, and my brother – who I hadn’t seen in almost a year due to our recent voyages.

Check out the reflection in lil'bro's glasses!

Check out the reflection in lil’bro’s glasses!

The only problem was, in those 6 months, lil’bro developed a deep, lingering hatred for the French. Mostly this was due to the lack of communication, organization, desire to be efficient and a general attitude of malaise within any French bureaucratic system. For example, in order to get a bank account, he needed an address. In order to get an apartment, he needed a French bank account – a conundrum that was a pain to resolve. My favourite story was lil’bro’s attempt to apply for medical insurance. He went multiple times during posted office hours to the office where this was to be done only to find it closed with a posted sign saying “Fermé sans raison” <Closed for no reason> (this may, however, be an exaggeration born from frustration – a trait that comes from my Mother’s side of the family. NOTHING she EVER says is accurate).

Well, I arrived in Paris; still hopeful that it would be everything I wanted it to be.

Within the first few hours I was scammed out of €5 (my fault for being naïve and too nice), was an intended pick-pocket victim (best anti-theft device ever: giant box of tampons at the very top of your bag), hit-on by a Moroccan guy (which made me uncomfortable because his Dad was right there), and harassed by aggressive panhandlers on the train. Whatever, I thought, I’m in PARIS!

Yay! We're in Paris!

Yay! We’re in Paris!

Omg, I don't f***ing care!

Omg, I don’t f***ing care!

When I finally arrived at our 1-star hotel (really not that bad for what we paid), I hunkered down to wait for lil’bro to arrive in a few hours. Then the lightning storm happened. If I typed out everything that occurred in the next twelve hours this post would more resemble a novel, so I will summarize using bullet points:

  • My side: Lightning storm knocks out Wi-Fi, my phone stops working, no way of finding out that lil’bro’s plane has been delayed – hours of worrying what’s happened.
  • Lil’bro’s side: plane late, phone dead, address for Paris hotel on phone, discovers bag was left in Berlin. Bag has phone charger, Muse tickets, plane ticket back to Canada. F**k.
  • Airport says to call next day with hotel address so bag will be delivered, lil’bro skeptical about French promises.
  • Lil’bro asks for computer access to get hotel address since he has no idea where to go, none available. Random girl takes pity on him (he’s adorable) and he uses her personal phone to check hotel address.
  • Lil’bro waits for bus to get to metro, empty bus passes many waiting people. Next bus is LAST bus, not everyone fits on, lil’bro is skinny and angry, gets on bus.
  • Bus takes him to metro, doesn’t know which metro to take, guesses. Guesses RIGHT, happens to find map, miraculously finds hotel. Hotel front door is locked, yells outside for me, I hear him, let him in. He’s safe, sweaty, four hours late and PISSED OFF. It’s 2am.
  • Next morning, call airport, takes 8 tries. They can’t deliver bag after all, but bag is now in France and no longer in Berlin. We TELL THEM we will come pick up bag at airport, they agree.
  • Get to airport, bag has been put on flight to Canada. Has the flight left? No. Go get the bag then. Eye rolls. Agrees.
  • Finally get bag. Lil’bro’s hatred for France has tripled.

Able to relax at least a little, we go wandering around the downtown core and, to be fair, it’s pretty beautiful!

Sacre Couer Cathedral, our favourite building.

Sacre Couer Cathedral, our favourite building.

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Sacre Couer

Pantheon

Pantheon

Palais du Luxembourg

Palais du Luxembourg

I would definitely come back to Paris, but perhaps not until I have a bit more means, seeing as it’s difficult to find even a shot of espresso for less than €3, let alone any decent affordable food.

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We had some trouble getting to the Muse concert too. It was rush hour and people were squeezing themselves onto the metro to the point of overflow. Of course, the trains won’t leave if the doors can’t close, and lil’bro and I were completely exasperated by these people who were more concerned with getting on the train than allowing it to leave, thus causing everyone else to be delayed. It got to the point where station staff had to pull people off and man the doors while they closed.

But, of course, THIS made it all worth it!

Muse! Muse, Muse, Muse!

Muse! Muse, Muse, Muse!

Cool floating lightbulb :)

Cool floating lightbulb 🙂

Muse was flawless; their set-list was literally a copy-paste of my personal list of favourites. Chuffed to bits!

A Love Letter to Canada

Canadian-Flag

My Dearest Canada,

I love the UK very much, and I’m sorry, but I needed to give our relationship a chance. We certainly had some good times. While I lived in Edinburgh I was able to experience so much. Some of it was good: beauty, history, independence, travel, solitude, friends and personal growth. Some of it was bad: finances, my living situation, jobs, cold people, short winter days, the inability to foster my own happiness, and increasing loneliness. In the end, the bad outweighed the good, and though I am stronger for the experience, Canada, I have returned to you.

Saltspring Island, BC

Saltspring Island, BC

Your beauty is boundless. From the mountainous west coast of British Columbia, to the vast flatness surrounding my current small-town Ontario residence.

Looking from the Malahat to Willis Point, Vancouver Island BC

Looking from the Malahat to Willis Point, Vancouver Island BC

Mt Baker from the Malahat, Vancouver Island BC

Mt Baker from the Malahat, Vancouver Island BC

Quallicum Beach, Vancouver Island BC

Quallicum Beach, Vancouver Island BC

Jellyfish forest (NOT usual!), Todd Inlet, Vancouver Island BC

Jellyfish forest (NOT usual!), Todd Inlet, Vancouver Island BC

Winter in Stratford ON

Winter in Stratford ON

The universal friendliness of your people is overwhelming. My first day back, I was smiled at and greeted by so many people that I ran to a mirror to see if there was something on my face! There wasn’t. This is just the way of Canadians. I had forgotten. And though the Canadian sense of style may not be up to par with the UK, there is a much greater appreciation for inner beauty.

Ziplining in Esquimalt, Vancouver Island BC

Ziplining in Esquimalt, Vancouver Island BC

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Warship graveyard, Powell River BC

Although we have our problems and our history, I still believe that you, Canada, are the lesser of many greater evils. And though I may very well walk away from you again in search of greener pastures, I will always, unfailingly, return.

Happy Canada Day.

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With everlasting love, (and a new patriotic t-shirt)

Ambling Alana xox

Into the North: A Trip to Stonehaven

"Friends Fare" train ticket to Stonehaven

“Friends Fare” train ticket to Stonehaven

Friends are wonderful things. Though I had my initial difficulties connecting with people in Edinburgh, I did make some beautiful, fun, and interesting friends who will stick with me for the rest of my life.

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One friend hails from Stonehaven – a wee place north of Edinburgh, close to Aberdeen.

Stonehaven harbour

Stonehaven harbour

Stonehaven - home of the deep fried Mars bar!

Stonehaven – home of the deep fried Mars bar!

For one glorious weekend, she invited three of us to her home. The best part (other than 24/7 girl time) was having access to a car.

To anyone who has experienced the feeling of freedom you have with a car – especially in the vast countryside – after the confinement of a city and the limitations of public transportation, is it not one of the best feelings in the world?

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We just drove.

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 Along the way, my Stonehaven friend made sure we saw the important local places, like Dundee and Aberdeen.

Dundee beach

Broughty Ferry, Dundee

Broughty Castle

Broughty Castle

Aberdeen

Aberdeen

Hobbiton in Aberdeen?!?

Hobbiton in Aberdeen?!?

Aberdeen University Campus, in the old part of town

Aberdeen University Campus, in the old part of town

A cool old building - part of which has been cleaned. I didn't know they did that!

A cool old building – part of which has been cleaned. I didn’t know they did that!

The absolute highlight, however, was Dunnottar Castle right near Stonehaven.

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 Dunnottar Castle’s dramatic clifftop location, sea views and extraordinary level of preservation are astounding. A seriously special spot!

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So well preserved! Especially since some of it dates back as early as the 1400’s

P1090679P1090687P1090673 This magnificent ruin is Scotland’s entry in the “8th Wonder of the World” competition! If you are impressed by these photos, vote for Dunnottar Castle here: http://www.virtualtourist.com/8thwonder “Jutting out into the North Sea, the former residence of the Earls Marischal is most famous for holding out against the might of Cromwell’s army for 8 months to save the Scottish Crown Jewels.”

I am so lucky that I was able to do this wee trip simply because of friends! I can, without a doubt, say that my favourite parts of Scotland are in the north. Summertime in northern Scotland has no parallel, and these photos are just a meagre testament to the breathtaking beauty of this part of the world.

A Cold Day in Cramond

Once Upon a Time, long ago, my Mother was a wee bairn growing up in Scotland. Her fond memory of a town called Cramond sent me (accompanied by Ky) exploring. This was back on February and it was COLD!!!!

Just for the record, those are snowflakes... not dandruff!

Just for the record, those are snowflakes… not dandruff!

Cramond is just a wee little town, about to be swallowed up by Edinburgh suburbia. It still retains that small-town feel for now!

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Cramond is also the site of an old Roman fort! I like old Roman things, even if it is just the foundations that are left.

I like old Roman things, even when they barely exist!

I like old Roman things, even when they barely exist!

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The Romans may also have used Cramond Island in some way… no one is really sure if/how/why. Of course.

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Cramond also boasts the beautiful River Almond. Judging by all the boats, it’s popular for sailors.

The mouth of the River Almond

The mouth of the River Almond

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More ruins!

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Other than a wee tea shop Ky and I had a snack in, Cramond doesn’t seem to have much else other than houses and the sea. Which is fine with me! Hopefully Cramond will escape Edinburgh’s clutches for a while longer.

A Sunny Day in Stockbridge and the Botanic Gardens: A Photo-Heavy Post

Today was a gorgeous day. I thought I should share it with everyone in this short post.

It’s been snowing here in Edinburgh a lot lately, blizzarding even! Sometimes it even sticks…

One of the very snowy days, at 7am.

One of the very snowy days, at 7am.

 

Crazy Scots.

Crazy Scots.

But TODAY it was clear and sunny, so Ky and I decided to walk into Stockbridge. Stockbridge is a very posh part of Edinburgh that I would absolutely LOVE to live in!

There is always construction to ruin the view.

There is always construction to ruin the view.

Uh oh!

Uh oh!

I love the crescent-streets, they look so posh!

I love the crescent-streets, they look so posh!

Located in Stockbridge are the Royal Botanic Gardens, which are free to walk around. Of course, since it’s winter, they’re not super impressive, but the gardens are still a peaceful break from the busy city.

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WIth the colours so vibrant, the only signs of winter are the leaf-less trees and the dead gunneras.

WIth the colours so vibrant, the only signs of winter are the leaf-less trees and the dead gunneras.

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Ducks!

Ducks!

The serenity of the place was exactly what I needed after a very busy week.

Looking out over Stockbridge - you can see the silhouette of Arthur's Seat, the Castle, and several of the church spires poking up over the city. (It was snowing a bit at this point)

Looking out over Stockbridge – you can see the silhouette of Arthur’s Seat, the Castle, and several of the church spires poking up over the city. (It was snowing a bit at this point)

All-in-all, it was a pretty cool day!

Christmas Alone… Almost

Last time, I discussed the reasons that led me to head to Glasgow for Christmas, and how I was saved from loneliness by Canadian Amber and Hamish the cat.

On the bus ride to Glasgow, I reflected on how unlike me this was. I consider myself a spontaneous person, but only to a point – normally when strangers and inter-city travel are involved, I’m usually turned off. But ultimately, the thought of being well and truly alone on Christmas day (both my flatmates were away) was too pathetic to face.

So, with a backpack full of ingredients for mulled wine, I arrived at Glasgow Buchanan Bus Station to meet Canadian Amber. Being fair-skinned and ginger, Canadian Amber is the most Scottish looking Canadian I’ve ever met. She is an incredibly interesting person, having lived in small-town Vancouver Island, Victoria, Northern Canada (ew) and Los Angeles (while working in the film industry). She now lives in Glasgow while getting her Master’s Degree. She is also unfailingly kind and eccentric.

Hamish is a borderline alcoholic

Hamish is a borderline alcoholic

As we bussed to Paisley, she warned me that it had the reputation for being a rough neighbourhood. I must admit, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with this. Someone, however, made everything better. Ladies and Gentlemen, Hamish the cat!

On Christmas morning, I helped Hamish open his many gifts.

Canadian Amber and her kitteh!

Canadian Amber and her kitteh!

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Canadian Amber and I had homemade eggs benedict for breakfast, then went for a walk around Paisley. No busses were running, almost nothing was open. The sun was shining and the streets were deserted.

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We explored Paisley in almost complete solitude – so surreal!

A cool church in the sunset light

A cool church in the sunset light

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Paisley Abbey

Paisley Abbey

Paisley Abbey gargoyles. Can you spot the one that looks like an Alien chest-burster?

Paisley Abbey gargoyles. Can you spot the one that looks like an Alien chest-burster?

Canadian Amber and I made a delicious poor-man’s Christmas dinner that evening and stayed up way too late drinking various kinds of alcohol and torturing Hamish.

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He did not have the Christmas spirit

He did not have the Christmas spirit

When I went home the next morning, I thought about what kind of person it takes to invite a stranger into their home on Christmas day. I was very appreciative to get a dose of familiar Canadian hospitality for the holidays!

Conquering the Law (But not Actually): A Day Trip to North Berwick

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North Berwick (pronounced bear-ick, like Derick) is a seaside village East of Edinburgh. Boy do I like my seaside visits! Again accompanied by my Canadian companion, Ky, we ventured out of the city limits to seek the serenity of the sea.

Most British seaside towns I’ve seen – which is a fair few – follow one of two “themes”. Either they are attraction-based (arcades, manicured beaches, piers and waterfront boulevards), or they are functioning fishing villages. North Berwick seemed to be a fusion of the two.

It was strange for me to see the used, worn fishing equipment, boats and run-down waterfront row houses next door to two golf courses, the Seabird Centre, sailing lessons off the beach and a children’s play area.

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Sailing school!

Sailing school!

North Berwick has two beaches, each with it’s own wee off-coast island. In the spring and summer, you can join a boat tour out of the Seabird Centre that takes you out to these islands, which are apparently rich with wildlife.

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On the eastern-most beach, there is a man-made sea pool!

On the eastern-most beach, there is a man-made sea pool!

North Berwick has two golf courses, which is two too many for such a small town!

North Berwick has two golf courses, which is two too many for such a small town!

A unique landmark of North Berwick is the Law: a steep, high hill (or “Scottish mountain”). The Law was the shape of a very large pimple. This area of Scotland has quite a few such mountainous zits; whiteheads when it snows.

The Law from the beach.

The Law from the beach.

Anyway, the Law is a popular conquest for local hikers – though Ky and I couldn’t muster the motivation to follow in their footsteps (as my title hopefully suggests; I have a bad knee after all!)

North Berwick is a beautiful place to go explore – the beach is fantastic. Ky and I found a “Historical Glen-Walk” path that held such gems as an old house with a tree growing out of it, and some ruined cottages.

Yup, it's growing right outta there.

Yup, it’s growing right outta there.

"YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME PUNY HUMANS" - Nature

“YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME PUNY HUMANS”
– Nature

P1080888Close to town, we discovered an old graveyard complete with a big ruined church. It was supposed to be gated shut, but since none of these things are regulated in the UK, we found a way in anyway.

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Inside we saw a GHOST! No, it's just me.

Inside we saw a GHOST!
No, it’s just me.

The best part of the day, however, was our lunch at Buttercup Café.

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The café was located in the front room of a converted row house, where the living room would have been. There were about six small tables squished into this space. There were four servers. FOUR. They all looked to be no more than 80lbs apiece soaking wet; with their toothpick wrists they seemed only able to bring one item at a time (two-handed) out of the kitchen. Coming from the service industry myself, and often I handle a sixteen-table section on my own, it was hilarious watching four girls struggle to serve six tables between them.

They were all lovely, and I’m hoping, since it was a weekend, that they were in training.

While heading back into the city, Ky and I realized we’d finished our first list of places to visit.

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Where should we go next?

Insert Da Vinci Code Reference Here: A Day Trip to Roslin and the Rosslyn Chapel

In my search for interesting destinations day-trippable from Edinburgh, I was informed that the town of Roslin was at the end of the bus route 15 right out of downtown. The name rang a bell, and upon googling I discovered that this was one of the key locations of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. This was NOT the deciding factor for choosing Roslin, but rather the reasons that likely drew Mr. Brown there himself. The chapel boasts great mystery. Ky and I were eager to go.

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The bus ride out to Roslin was stunning. Our bus took us out of the city quite promptly, and I was pleased to find farmland and the kind of landscape that I find so much more beautiful than the city.

We passed the Pentland Hills; they were covered in snow and looked inviting. The day was slightly overcast but bright and clear (only in Britain can it be clear and overcast simultaneously). Ky and I fantasized about someday buying a holiday home together in the Highlands or near Roslin. One day. Sigh.

The snowy Pentland Hills

The snowy Pentland Hills

When we arrived in Roslin, it was snowing in the fashion I’ve seen several times this winter – light floaty flakes falling from the sky, enough to be pretty but not enough to stick to anything. Enough to warrant complaint from the Scots, but not us Canadians.

As soon as we got off the bus and got our bearings, a parade of people on horseback trotted past. Ky made a comment about being plunged into the middle ages. It set the scene nicely.

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We began to head down the road to the Rosslyn Chapel – it was apparent that we were in a VERY rural area. We weren’t in a hurry, so we investigated a few old graveyards and wandered down a few forest paths. One led nowhere and we doubled back, but the other path brought us to one of the most amazing places I’ve seen so far in Scotland! It was the ruin of Rosslyn Castle (which I didn’t know existed) perched atop a sort-of plateau in the middle of a ravine. The castle’s ‘main’ entrance was very much still in tact; a vaulted bridge that linked the castle plateau with a pathway to the top of the ravine.

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Castle bridge to the left, path downwards to the right.

Castle bridge to the left, path downwards to the right.

This path led to a courtyard that was definitely still in use. Most of the castle was in ruins, but there stands a more modern section that obviously is fitted with new windows and electricity. We didn’t explore further for fear we were trespassing. Instead we took the path that brought us below the castle and discovered that it lay by a river, and the further down to the foundations, the older and more desecrated it became.

It was odd looking up from the base, up three stories of broken windows and rusty bars immediately below two stories of modern windows with curtains and electric lights. I felt strongly that I would hate to live directly above an abandoned dungeon, because #1 of ghosts – obviously, and #2, I can’t imagine the floor would EVER be warm!

Why?

Why?

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Though it was muddy, this was the highlight of the trip for me – walking around the castle, by the river, in the Scottish countryside.

Is this to brick the ghosts in?!?!!

Is this to brick the ghosts in?!?!!

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When we finally made it to the chapel itself, I was quite happy to observe from without. But since we were there, the £9 entry fee (eek!) seemed worth it. Luckily, the lady behind the counter thought it was hilarious and charming when she asked if I was a student and I replied, “Of course, I’m a student of life” – so I got in for the student rate.

Under conservation construction.

Under conservation construction.

Rosslyn Chapel has been a curiosity for centuries. It was one of few Catholic places of worship kept in tact during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries (if I’ve got this bit of information right, it goes something like this: Catholic King of England wants to get a divorce so he can marry the foxy Anne Boleyn, but the Pope won’t let him, so Henry decides to make his own religion up so he can do whatever little Henry wants. To enforce his new religion, he destroys Catholic imagery and places of worship). Rosslyn Chapel was so unique, however, that it was saved from destruction. Its mystery is due to the plethora of symbols decorating the inside of the chapel – including images from the Knights Templar.

No photos allowed inside!

No photos allowed inside!

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Heading back  into the city, I wondered how hard it would be to get a job somewhere more rural – so much better than city living!

By the way, I looked for the Holy Grail, it wasn’t there.