Posted in Travel

The Moments That Take Your Breath Away

I don’t often stop to think about how fortunate I am to be able to travel the world, to see all the places that I only used to read about in books, and to experience things that are on most people’s bucket list. I take for granted that I live in a city that in its own right is also a sought-after travel destination, as well as a place that allows me easy access to Europe and the rest of the world.

I admit to sometimes getting carried away by the social media hype, and sometimes I have to consciously remind myself that it doesn’t matter if you don’t get the perfect instagram shot, that what matters is immersing yourself in the moment and appreciating the opportunities that come your way.

I woke up at the unholy hour of 2 in the morning for our Capadoccia Hot Air Balloon excursion. The Turkish heat must have driven me temporarily insane because I became obsessed with the idea of taking the perfect photo, so I changed my outfit three times and spent at least half an hour curling my hair.

Our pick-up time was at 03:45 am and by 4:30 we arrived at a building where we were then sorted into groups. I was very excited to see that there were only four of us in our group and I thought, great, less photo-bombers. We then drove another half hour to Red Valley where the tour company was already setting up our balloon.

At this point it was nearing sunrise and I was getting quite frustrated. I’ve seen many photos of hot air balloons in Capadoccia and I knew the timing had to be right. It wouldn’t do to see it when the sun has risen completely. The whole experience is at its most dramatic during that glorious magical moment when the sun is just about to come up and the colours of the balloons are set against some of the most stunning backdrops you will ever see in your lifetime.

Needless to say I was nearly cursing as full daylight started to set in and everyone else’s balloon was up in the air except for ours. I didn’t want to hassle anyone because I certainly didn’t want them to take shortcuts and compromise our safety. I was not planning on falling off any hot-air balloons that day, that’s for sure. But I was becoming increasingly impatient and irritated from the wait, and I was even more annoyed when I saw a van full of people and was then told they were actually joining us in our basket.

I was also disappointed that, as I was going to actually be IN the balloon, I wouldn’t be able to have any photos with me in it. I was actually very briefly pissed that I wouldn’t have the chance to pose on some balcony somewhere while the balloons were floating up around me.

Thankfully I managed to get over myself and finally decided to stop being so damn pretentious and stupid and to just enjoy the moment.

And dear readers, what a moment it was.

Before I knew it I was climbing the basket and the pilots were blowing up the hot air balloon. We started ascending minutes later and if I had the time to think about what I was actually doing I probably would have been more scared. But as it was, all I could do was marvel at the view. I was too busy soaking in the wondrous feeling of being up in the sky, with the wind against my face, while I take in something that no camera would ever be able to capture.

The lesson here, guys, is that in this day and age where our self-esteem is directly proportional to the number of likes we receive on Facebook, its important to remind ourselves of the reasons why we travel.

We travel to learn about different cultures, to experience the way other people live, and appreciate the fact that despite our differences we are all the same. We travel to fall in love with the people we meet and the places we see, and we travel to have fun.

But most of all, we travel for the moments that take our breath away.

Posted in Travel

Twilight Over Istanbul

Life doesn’t get any more surreal than when you’re cruising down the river that straddles and bridges the gap between two continents, and between two very different cultures.

I love travelling. I’ve left pieces of my heart in all the places I’ve been to and am looking forward to falling in love with the places I’ve yet to see. But I know for a fact that Istanbul, and Turkey as a whole, will always hold a special place in my heart.

For one thing, the people we met were so warm and hospitable. We booked our tour through Chora Travels who were kind enough to arrange all the pick-ups, transfers and domestic flights for us on top of booking all our hotels.

The Turkish people also had a unique sense of humour and an innate playfulness that I didn’t really expect. For example, our driver was chatty and kind enough to tell me that apparently there were a lot of Filipino women working for the hammam places. Thank you. That’s good to know if I ever want or need a career change.

Our hotel could not be closer to the Hagia Sophia if it tried, any closer and we’d actually be in Sultahnamet Square. Although we arrived really late due to stupid European air restrictions they welcomed us with warm smiles and hospitable greetings. They even booked our sunset Bosphorus cruise for us before bringing our bags to our room.

Restaurants open until late in Istanbul on a Friday night. As the owner told us when we asked about closing times, he’ll close when people stop coming to his doors for a meal or when he feels like it. What a marvellously relaxed way of running a business. He gave us free baklava, cocktails with sparklers on it and a cup of Turkish tea that just hit the spot in all the best ways.

When I was in high school my social studies project involved making a replica of the Hagia Sophia. At the time all I knew of it was that it represented wisdom, and that it was the bane of my life as I was born without the artistic gene. So I was really looking forward to visiting this church to see how my art project measured up. Newsflash: it doesn’t even come close to capturing the opulence and beauty of the original.

I love Istanbul’s history. I love the blend of Christian and Muslim influences and how in an almost strange way the city has made that dichotomy something to be celebrated. You can see elements of both in Hagia Sophia’s interior.

We also briefly visited the Blue Mosque, which was an actual working mosque and thus was closed to the public during prayer times. Having briefly experienced what it felt like to be all covered up in that blistering heat I can now empathise and sympathise with those who are obliged to wear it out of respect for their culture and religious belief. More power to you, I don’t know how you do it.

My second favourite part of our blitzed tour through the city was the Basilica Cistern. Its always fascinated me, especially since I read and then saw Dan Brown’s Inferno. Spoiler alert: they’ve taken out all the water so the term “sunken palace” doesn’t necessarily apply anymore but damn it didn’t take away from the atmospheric feel of the place.

Something you must experience at least once in your life and then NEVER EVER AGAIN is to ride the Istanbul tram at rush hour. It gives new meaning to the term “being one with humanity”. Believe me, there’s nothing like being pressed up against a stranger’s armpit to create the illusion that unity can be achieved in this world.

There’s always that one moment when visiting another country where the inevitable disappointment sets in because reality doesn’t quite live up to the pictures. The Galata Tower is one such experience. Sometimes I think Instagram has both enhanced and ruined travelling for everyone.

On one hand its great to be able to see other people’s travel photos and draw inspiration from it, but sometimes when a place becomes so instagrammable that its filled to the brim with tourists that you can hardly see the structure or take a decent photo yourself I curse all our addiction to social media.

By far the best moment of the tour was taking a cruise down the Bosphorus. Istanbul is the city where East meets West, where Europe ends and Asia begins, and that’s reflected in everything from the food to the architecture. On one hand you get beautiful minarets and lighted mosques, on the other hand its also really easy to find and order spaghetti bolognese.

Watching the sunset over such a beautiful city, and seeing it with the lights shining bright, is something truly spectacular to behold. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the distinct skyline, and of the Galata Bridge when the cover of night takes away the dirt and grime that would normally be visible in the light of day.

To add icing to the cake you are then able to get a delicious meal of mixed grills and kebabs for the hefty price of 70 Turkish liras, which is like 5 GBP.

Yum!!!

There’s so much more to see in Istanbul. In hindsight I should have stayed at least two full days not only so that we can see everything but also because the heat takes a lot out of you so you feel exhausted a lot of the time.

A city is only as good as the people who live in it, and going back to what I said at the beginning, I have never met a group of people who were so eager and willing to please. People who work in the tourism industry in Istanbul give everything they’ve got to making sure visitors have an awesome experience, and that, among other reasons is why I’m definitely going back to Istanbul someday.

Posted in bloggers, fitness, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Self-Discovery, Travel

Life Lessons From Hiking

After a hectic four-day trip to Vegas, my aunt took my sister and I to a 15 kilometre hike around Silver Falls State Park in Oregon.

I’ve always considered myself a city girl, and I will probably never live more than commutable distance away from a major city, like London. If I have it my way I will be renting my flat in Soho (for the same price!) until I die.

But for some reason I’ve developed a strange fascination for hiking around nature this year. I’ve discovered how much I love to just walk with no particular destination in mind, to soak in the views around me and allow it to soothe my often anxious and high-strung city soul.

You learn a lot when you’re somewhere with no mobile phone coverage or Wifi, especially when you’re running low on battery and can’t even listen to music on your Spotify. In that instant, its just you and nature and whoever happens to be hiking with you (my family, in this case).

I’d like to share some of those lessons in the hopes that, like me, you find the time to get away from it all for a while and have the opportunity to enjoy the pleasures (and lessons!) of hiking.

Be prepared.

I’m very vain, and my instagram is filled to the brim with photos of me in various outfits. But there’s no room for vanity around nature. You have to be prepared for rain, sunshine, mud, water and whatever elements Mother Nature decides to throw your way.

For me, this really is a metaphor for life, and its something that I should really be sorting out now that I’m in my 30s. No one wants to think too hard about things like insurance and savings when life’s a party, but you can sure as hell guarantee they’ll be thinking about it when the challenges start pouring in like rain.

Disconnect and Unplug.

I’ve already blogged once about my increasing disillusion with social media, and yet I find myself still posting on Facebook and Instagram time after time after time. Its like I’ve been conditioned to think that anything I do in life is not worthwhile unless its validated by my “followers” in the form of likes.

Be honest. How often do you look around when you’re on holiday to find that you and your friends are all on your phones, racing to be the first to upload photos or post an Instagram story? Or wasting time trying to get the perfect shot that you fail to soak in the beautiful piece of the world that you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in?

Yesterday I had a phone that was dying and was without a Power-bank for a change. I also didn’t have mobile data or Wifi coverage. And I think it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me on this trip. To just be able to enjoy the experience without feeling the need to update the rest of the world about what I was doing, to really BE in the moment, was a gift.

I think for the rest of this trip I will try to be on airplane mode more often.

Put one foot in front of the other

I think of myself as a reasonably fit individual but I have to say I had reservations about the 15km hike, especially when I realised that a) there won’t be a toilet for miles and b) the trail will naturally have uphill, downhill and (did I mention?) uphill portions.

It requires stamina and good breath control, sure. But one should never underestimate the power of the mind. If you psych yourself out by thinking of all the ways it could go wrong, or decide that you’ll never make it before you even try, you’ll miss out on an incredible experience.

There were times during the hike that I thought a particularly challenging trail would never end, but eventually it evens out, and before I knew it I’ve made it to the finish line. It’s a lot like life, you really just need to keep moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other until you make it.

Breathe

I live in a city where life is so fast-paced that you wake up on Friday not knowing where the rest of the week had gone. I’ve built a career and most days I find that I actually love my job, but it does account for at least 30% of my overall stress and anxiety.

I attended a talk once where the speaker said that stress is really just a series of tasks that you need to do. You’re stressed because you’ve either procrastinated so much that tasks have piled up, or you’ve set unrealistic goals in the first place.

I’ll add to that and say you get stressed because you forget to sit still and just breathe. This hike was extremely taxing, but there were periods when we stopped to catch our breath, relax, enjoy the scenery and work up to getting our second wind.

Life should be like that. You should be able to press pause and look out for your physical and mental health. I think one of the things I could definitely do when I get back to London is to work less extra shifts and have more time for me. Since getting back from Australia I feel like the energiser bunny that just keeps going and going and going. I feel like I never have enough time to breathe, to just BE.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Nothing’s so important that you lose your health and yourself over it.

The journey is the destination

Finally, and I know this is such a cliche, but cliches exist for a reason. Winnie the Pooh once said:

We didn’t realise we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.

We spend so much time worrying about where we’re going and what we’re going to do when we get there that we don’t stop to appreciate the journey.

I didn’t even realise we were nearing the end of the trail until my aunt pointed it out to me. I was having so much fun exploring the beauty of one of Oregon’s most beautiful state parks that I didn’t realise we’d walked 15 kilometres.

Whatever you do in this life, enjoy it. Make memories, make friends, try new things, push yourself. At the end of the day, where you go and when you get there won’t be as important as HOW you get there.

Posted in Travel

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

In an effort to save money, I decided to book our tickets to the States individually instead of purchasing all of them through a single airline.

Based on enthusiastic reviews from my friends, I booked Norwegian Airlines for our flight from London to Seattle, and a connecting flight with Alaskan Airlines to reach Portland, our final destination.

I then booked JetBlue for the domestic flight from Portland to Orlando, and Norwegian again from Orlando to London. All in all, it cost me 800£ to book all these flights instead of the 1300£ it would have cost me had I gone with my original plan to book United Airlines all the way through.

You know that saying about best-laid plans?

Well, five days before our scheduled departure to the States I got an email from our travel agent saying Norwegian has changed our destination airport from Seattle to LAX, which meant that we’d miss our connecting flight to Portland and they’d had to find alternative connections to get us there.

My carefully planned and well-budgeted 13-hour trip had now become a nightmarish 26-hour journey which consisted of me flying from London to LAX, LAX to San Francisco and from there to Portland. I was livid, to say the least.

I spent an entire evening being transferred from one agent to another, and I am convinced that at one point I was talking to someone from the Philippines. Not one of them could give me an alternative that I was happy with.

Fortunately, my aunt was planning for us to take a trip to Seattle anyway and had already booked hotels to that effect. So I had the option of telling the airlines that I’m happy with a flight that will get me to Seattle by Saturday (we were flying Friday morning, London time). Norwegian confidently offered me a flight that would get me to Seattle by Saturday evening, with only a 2-hour layover in LA, as our flight was apparently arriving Saturday afternoon.

I thought it was just me being stupid at first, but the more I thought about it the more sure I was that IT DOESN’T take 24 hours to get from London to LA, even if you factor in the time difference. Something did not feel right. And sure enough, Norwegian had made a bloody mistake and did not realise that there were more than 24 hours in between the two flights they’ve booked for us.

At this point I was ready to inflict actual damage on someone or something. It had already been a day of pointless conversations and phone charges, and it was clear to me that I had to take matters into my own hands if I wanted to survive this holiday without having a stroke.

What I lack in actual riches I truly make up for in friends.

I sent a quick Facebook message to my friends Kittin and Jamie who were based in LA, and within minutes I had someone who can pick me up from the airport and a place to stay overnight.

My sister and I landed in LA as planned and were given an awesome welcome. We got to see the sights and I got to have a catch-up session with my friends that lasted until the wee hours of the morning. I haven’t seen Jamie since maybe college so there was so much to talk about.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a welcome in any city I go to, but I am really truly blessed when it comes to friends.

The next morning I found myself on the drive that overlooks the Hollywood sign and I thought to myself: things really do happen for a reason. I need to send Norwegian a thank-you card for fucking up my flights (excuse my language) because it gave me a truly amazing additional side-trip.

And yes, I would even fly with them again.

Posted in bloggers, Lifestyle, Travel

The Final Problem: Switzerland Part 1

The older I get, the more I need to find a place to hide for a little while and recharge. Work often gets stressful no matter how much I love my job, and the pressures of trying to make things work in a city like London sometimes get a bit too much. Its nice to have a place where I can just forget about it for a little while and just be able to breathe. Switzerland is that place for me, which is why I try to visit as often as I can.

Everything is so scenic in Switzerland, and there’s something about this country that just makes it a little easier to breathe. And I mean that literally. On my first full day in Schaffhausen I went for a 10k run towards the Rhine Falls, which is quite a hilly route.

Normally, I’d be huffing and puffing and getting side stitches once I hit the 3km mark but not only do I run faster in Switzerland, I also seem to have better breath control. I think its the clean air. You don’t realise it until you’re away from it, but London really is one polluted city.

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Wouldn’t you run everyday with a view like this?

 

I was blessed with absolutely gorgeous weather on this trip. So there were plenty of opportunities to go for a run and to do other activities such as going to a strawberry farm and picking fresh strawberries, the size of which were sometimes as big as a baby’s fist. If one wished to, one could also pick fresh roses off the rose garden.

 

While researching for this trip, I accidentally came across a fact that I really should have known ages ago, being a massive Sherlock fan. You see, despite the fact that Sherlock is OBVIOUSLY  a fictional character, the place where he appeared to have plummeted to his death in the book ‘The Final Problem’ is actually real.

The Reichenbach Fall is located in a small town in the north of Switzerland called Meiringen (pronounced My-ring-gen with a hard g). Because we also wanted to visit Interlaken and other neighbouring cities in that area, my cousin got us a Tageskarte (day pass, I think?) that will allow us to ride trains and buses to any destination within the country for a day, all for 45 CHF.

I think that’s a pretty sweet deal and something travellers should consider purchasing, because train tickets (like everything else in this country) do not come cheap. I think to get from Zurich Airport to Schaufhassen costs like 23 CHF for a one-way ticket. Its ridiculous.

Anyway, depending on where your base is, you might want to make an early start in the morning. It takes about 3 hours to get from Schaufhaussen (which is near Zurich) to Meiringen. You might also want to download the SBB app, which is their version of TFL, because it helps you plan your route and connections.

To get to Meiringen, we had to change trains three times. And we had to walk fast because for each change, we had about an average of 10 minutes to get from one platform to another or risk missing our connection. Needless to say, I was really glad I wore sensible shoes.

The train ride to Meiringen will take you amongst the most scenic and picturesque views that the country has to offer. I normally fall asleep as soon as the train gets moving but apart from the fact that I was scared as hell that we’d miss our stop, I really could not afford to close my eyes on the train ride because I’d miss one hell of a view.

When we finally got to Meiringen, we had to then figure out how to actually get to the bloody waterfall. Again, this is where the SBB app comes in use because it will pretty much give you a step-by-step guide on how to get to anywhere that has a bus or train station attached to it.

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A handy guide on the tram stations around Meiringen

For the Reichenbach Falls, we had to take a tram from Meiringen to a place called Alpbach, which is so close that you can WALK there if you’re not in any hurry or if (unlike us) you actually had a clue as to where to go. Also, it might be good to realise that this area actually has A LOT of waterfalls and you had to make sure you go to the right one.

From Alpbach station we had to walk to the funicular station to take us up to Reichenbach Falls. I didn’t realise how much of a presence Sherlock Holmes actually has in a town so far removed from England. They’ve capitalised on the great detective’s fame by doing tours and erecting museums in his honour.

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It cost about 12 CHF for a return ticket to and from the falls. Note: they only take cash. Also, if you’re planning to visit the nearby Aareschlucht (literally translated it means Aare Gorge) you might want to look into buying tickets for both because it will save you a few swiss francs.

 

The falls themselves are breathtaking. I don’t know, maybe its because I haven’t seen anything apart from buildings and man-made parks for a while or because as a traveller, I’m really quite easy to please. But I was ridiculously happy to have made it up there. I was even chuffed at the Sherlock Holmes cutout that they had near the funicular platform.

 

To get a closer look at the falls, and to get to the actual place where Sherlock fell to his death, you have to go on quite a bit of a hike. Again, wearing sensible shoes is key. Also, check the weather before scheduling your trip because I can imagine that it would get rather tricky to make the hike in unfavourable weather conditions.

 

Whatever you do, don’t forget to take your time and to take in the view from the top because its absolutely stunning. I’m pretty sure this blog post is now full of superlatives but even if I couldn’t find the words to describe how beautiful it is, the pictures should speak for themselves.

 

Don’t worry, falling is like flying, only a more permanent destination

The Reichenbach Fall, Sherlock

 

I think we don’t realise how much of a weight we carry on our shoulders until we go on a holiday and we shed that weight, even if its just for a few days. I have so much more to share about this trip, and I will be doing a series of blogs about it. But I just want to end this first one by saying that its my firm and unshakeable belief that travelling, despite its enormous cost to our bank accounts, is one of the few things that truly make us rich.

Travel on, wanderers and dreamers. 

 

Posted in bloggers, Lifestyle, Travel, United Kingdom

A Non-Hiker’s Guide to Climbing Arthur’s Seat

 

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“I’m on my way from misery to happiness today…”

– The Proclaimers

Finally, the last part of my Scotland blogs. Finding the time to write this blog was even more difficult than hiking up to Arthur’s Seat itself and I needed time because I really wanted to be able to do justice to one of the best experiences of my life (despite the unflattering photos and continuous whinging that you’ll all soon find in this blog).

The very first time I heard of Arthur’s Seat, my imagination was immediately captured. Despite the fact that I knew Camelot was just a legend, there was a small and unreasonable part of me that believed I’d find Excalibur on top of those hills.

I was all fired up to make this hike. I was so excited that it was all I could talk about during the long weekend. It was to be the grand finale of our Edinburgh weekend, not by design but because the weather was truly rubbish up until our last day, when the sun decided to come out and play.

TIP NUMBER ONE: Do not do this hike in questionable weather conditions. Seriously. 

This hike is quite a popular one and we asked several of our acquaintances about their own experience just to give us an idea of what to expect and what to prepare for. It’s easy, they said. Kids can do it, they said. Literally a walk in the park.

TIP NUMBER TWO: Do not listen to your acquaintances. Do your own research. 

It was not a bloody walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination. Climbing up Arthur’s seat is a proper hike. Had we known this, we would have been more prepared. I was wearing Hunter boots, for crying out loud. Those things were made for the rain, not for a rocky terrain. I was pretty much petrified the whole time that the rocks would somehow tear through the rubber and I’d have to make the long trek home on bare feet.

Which leads me to….

TIP NUMBER THREE: Dress for the occasion. 

I’m not much of a hiker but I’m pretty sure shoes with traction are a requirement if you’re climbing up hills and crags. There were also areas in which the ascent was slippery as hell. Do not even get me started on the descent.

Because we were rendered complacent by the seemingly expert advise of our numerous acquaintances, we chose to walk from our flat in the city centre to Arthur’s seat. As a direct result of this monumentally stupid idea, we ended up walking for FOUR HOURS.

It took us nearly an hour to get to the base of Holyrood Park (where the peak was), two hours to climb up and down the peak and, because we got lost, another hour to get back to the city centre.

We had no food, and even more appalling, we had no water. We were incredibly unprepared for this hike, its a wonder we didn’t pass out.

TIP NUMBER FOUR: Take a bloody bus or tram to Holyrood Park for god’s sake. And bring sustenance. 

Anyway, if you ignore the fact that you’re huffing and puffing and that you’ve been walking for the better part of two hours and you still can’t see the bloody peak, the views were pretty incredible. It was hard to believe we were still within the city of Edinburgh.

Being there truly felt like being transported back to a time and place when things were much simpler. Maybe that’s why city dwellers like me need to get out every now and then: take in a  little bit of nature, remind ourselves of how we are just a tiny speck in a very big world and this is why we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

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TIP NUMBER FIVE: Take time to breathe, ruminate and get a little perspective. There’s no better place for it than when you’re out in nature. 

And then of course you get closer to the peak itself and you are reminded by how much of a millennial you are because despite the fact that some of those paths really were treacherously difficult, you still find the time to whip out your phone so that you can have a photo to post on Instagram. Oh well.

I don’t know whether it was because of the bad weather on the previous days but going up the peak was a little bit too slippery for my peace of mind. I had to use my hands and my feet to make sure I don’t get an injury. My mind was already conjuring up visions of me asking my favourite surgeon to fix my broken ankle. Shudder.

TIP NUMBER SIX: Do not think of broken ankles while making a difficult climb. FOCUS, YOU IDIOT. 

The last few levels (for lack of a better word) before the peak itself were among the hardest bit you have to get through. I very nearly convinced myself that I was content with having made it that far, I didn’t really need to climb that last hurdle.

But then I thought about how I’ve come too far to chicken out at the last minute.

Plus, I think I have residual abandonment issues. I’ve always hated the thought of being left behind, of not being able to do something that everyone else was doing. Those things combined gave me enough of a push to get over my fears and just focus on climbing – excruciatingly slow, yes, but I was making it up to that peak if had to crawl on my hands and knees to do it.

And thank God I did. The views were awesome, yes, that was a given. But what I didn’t count on was the exhilaration that came with finishing a hike; I felt a huge sense of achievement even though I knew this was probably nothing compared to other trails elsewhere in the world. The important thing is that I did it, despite being genuinely scared at times. I am pretty sure there’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

TIP NUMBER SEVEN: Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear – George Addair

Okay so I didn’t find Excalibur on Arthur’s Seat. But I returned to London feeling recharged and ready to take on the world. I had memories of an incredible weekend and I felt even more motivated to do as many hikes as I can, see more of the world outside of the concrete jungles I usually visit when I travel.

There’s a reason why we spend so much money travelling. At the end of the day, what it all comes down to is that the world truly is such a beautiful place. There are so many places you can go, so many things to see, and you’re lucky if you get the chance to see as much of it as you can. If you do get that chance, grab it with both hands.

 

 

Posted in bloggers, Travel, United Kingdom

Escape To Edinburgh

Here’s a fact: one can go absolutely nowhere on short notice when one has a Philippine passport.

This is the reason why I had very limited options when I was feeling antsy over Easter weekend. I knew I had to get away from London for a while, but I didn’t know where to go that would a) be affordable and b) not require a visa.

Fortunately for me, all my searching eventually got me considering going to Scotland. Originally, I had wanted to visit the Highlands. Despite the fact that – as many of you know – I am NOT  a big fan of the Outlander series I kinda wanted to see the setting for it, maybe visit Loch Ness and just soak up some of Mother Nature’s goodness for a spell.

However, it was not a good idea to go the Highlands when the weather was so uncertain. Also, you will need AT LEAST 5 days to really be able to enjoy it and I did not have 5 days. At most, I had a long weekend. So, I researched Edinburgh instead and found that it was perfect for the kind of weekend I had in mind.

So I packed my bags, took a bloody uncomfortable ten-hour coach ride and hied myself off to the capital of Scotland.

I didn’t know much about Edinburgh beyond the fact that it had a castle right in the middle of the city centre. I was pleasantly surprised to find such a charming city that had all the modern comforts of London but with enough of a difference for me to know that I was definitely in Scotland.

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As I usually like to do when I first get to a new place, I walked around with my sister and my friend Romelyn to get a general lay of the land. The weather was NOT GREAT; I thought my boss was kidding when he said that it always rained in Edinburgh but I certainly did not feel like laughing when I looked up to overcast skies that day.

We didn’t really have an itinerary, just a list of places and points of interest to visit. Plus, it was Good Friday and the Catholic in me (plus thirty years of hearing my mother’s voice in my head telling me that one does not go gallivanting when the Lord has died) just could not bear the guilt of being out and about on Good Friday.

So we took a little tour around the city, passed The Scot Monument and crossed Waverley Bridge to make our way to The Royal Mile. We visited Victoria Street, which apparently served as the inspiration for Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter series.

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In fact, one can argue that Edinburgh is the birthplace of The Boy Who Lived, as JK Rowling wrote most of the first book in one of the cafes just off Victoria Street, a place called The Elephant House.

Side note: the owners of the cafe certainly had no qualms capitalising on the series’ fame.  It very clearly advertised this fact on the restaurant window for any and all tourists to see.

It was a little morbid but we also visited Greyfriar’s Kirk, which is really nothing more than a graveyard. Being total Potterheads, my sister and I could not resist visiting this place where JK Rowling apparently got most of the inspiration for the names she would eventually use in the book. It certainly had a very Godric’s Hollow feel to it and OMIGOD I AM SUCH A NERD.

After an afternoon of walking, we were so tired that we eventually decided to go back to our flat on Rose Street. I rented a flat off AirBnB from a very nice host called Charles. The location is so close to everything: Rose Street is a small street running parallel to Princes Street, which is the main high street in Edinburgh.

The area where we lived boasted lots and lots of restaurants, pubs and shops. It was extremely roomy – two bedroom, with a large living room and an open plan kitchen. It was so homey that there were times when I didn’t want to leave the flat. Thank you, Charles for being such a good host. If any of you are ever in Edinburgh, I would really recommend his place. Follow this link to see his page on AirBnB.

On Day two the rain was still relentless, but we still made the most of it by finally making our way to the jewel of the city, the Edinburgh Castle. This historic fortress sits on top of Castle Rock, which was made from some volcanic eruption millions of years ago. The view is absolutely magnificent, and it just dominates over the most of the city’s skyline. You can hardly go anywhere without seeing either the Castle or The Rock.

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We didn’t enter the Castle because, honestly, I’ve seen too many castles in my lifetime that I don’t think I can stomach forking over £30 to see another one. I usually go into castles if I know about its history and as I’m not as well-versed on Scots history as I am on say, The War of The Roses, I figured it wasn’t worth the cost or the time wasted on queueing. If any of you do decide to go, I would suggest pre-booking.

Below the castle is the Royal Mile and the surrounding Old Town, and its a good place to grab something to eat or drink. One of the things I regretted not doing is having whiskey in the place where its thought to originate but maybe I’ll do that some other time, maybe when I visit the Highlands. Its also full of the usual tourist traps but what do you expect; they have to get revenue from somewhere.

Because I was somehow obsessed with being one with nature for this trip (I don’t know maybe I’ve just seen to much of the concrete jungles of the world that my soul was yearning for a little greenery), we made the hike to Carlton Hill. Hey you Instagrammers, apparently this is THE place to be if you want to take some of the more iconic shots of the city’s skyline.

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It was quite a hike to get up to Carlton Hill, but what I would soon find out is that this nothing compared to the trek up to Arthur’s Seat, a journey that – for me anyway – was so fraught with risky paths that it deserves a blog post dedicated solely to it. More on that later though.

The view from Carlton Hill is also quite nice, if a bit ruined by the city’s evident industrial boom. Still, its easy to imagine Scotland the way it was when clans ruled the land and they had to fight over every bit of territory they could get their hands on. At least that’s what it seemed like to me anyway.

Being on top of that hill was a very welcome respite to the hustle and bustle that I’ve gotten so used to in London. It was nice to just walk around and breathe in some fresh air. Even though I am a self-confessed city girl, its nice to get away every once in a while.

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Of course, I would soon be itching for a little bit of civilisation as I got a little bit too up close and personal, LITERALLY, with nature while hiking up to Arthur’s Seat but that’s a story for another day. I will post it on my blog soon, along with tips on how NOT to approach a hiking trip.

Until then, have a good week blabbaholics and bookworms! Stay tuned for more travel posts just as soon as my day job lets up on the pressure. Lol