Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hostel Travellers

Our recent stay at the Castle Rock Hostel was our first hosteling experience.  We weren't sure exactly what to expect - we didn't know if we'd make friends or be murdered in our sleep - but, we did our research, found a highly recommended hostel via our trusty, go-to travel website, www.tripadvisor.com, and planned to stay only one night so we wouldn't be forced to spend too much time in a bad situation.

Luckily, from our previous day trip to Edinburgh, we already knew our chosen hostel was in a great location so we weren't gambling as far as that was concerned.  Additionally, staying only one night meant we could survive without using the shower facilities, so that really wasn't too much of a concern either.  The sleeping situation, however, did cause us some anxiety.

The available room options were either an all female dorm or a co-ed dorm and we chose co-ed because we wanted to be in the same room even if we couldn't share a bed (all beds were twin bunk-beds).  For safety, Desi would take the top bunk and Mike would sleep on the bottom.  In a room of 10 people, had something sinister happened it would have happened to everyone so we're not sure why bunk ownership was a concern but it sounded good at the time.

The verdict after our first hosteling experience is positive; we have become hostelers.  For less than £30 per night for both of us, it's a good option to have.  But, at around £30 per night there are also other contenders.  When travelling on a budget multiple options are always a good thing.  Additionally, for a couple who tend to be loners whilst travelling, staying in a decidedly communal environment would be a good way to shake up our travel routine.  It's always a good thing to challenge one's comfort zone every once in a while.

For more information regarding our stay at Castle Rock Hostel, Desi wrote a review of our experience at http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g186525-d189265-r85027005-Castle_Rock_Hostel-Edinburgh_Scotland.html.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Edinburgh, Take Two

This past Saturday morning we headed down to Edinburgh for our first overnight stay since becoming UK residents.  We took the bus down, leaving Dundee around 9AM and arriving in Edinburgh about 1.5 hours later.  We dropped our bags at our evening's accommodation, the Castle Rock Hostel, before starting our Edinburgh Castle tour.
view from our hostel

our tour guide at the castle
We began our castle experience by taking the free guided tour which provided us with some history and context for what we were about to see.  The tour took us from the base of the castle to the top of Castle Hill and then left us in the square to continue exploring on our own.  The most exciting parts of the castle were the crown jewels (there was quite a huge build up to the display room, much like the wait for the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland) and the amazing views of the city.
view of Edinburgh from the castle
We spent about two hours at the castle and then headed into town for some lunch before exploring some new parts of the city.  We stopped for a photo op at the Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling wrote parts of the Harry Potter series, and did some charity shop browsing but otherwise just enjoyed being in Edinburgh, one of the most beautiful cities we've ever seen.

The Cadies and Witchery Tour
Later that night we had an appointment with The Cadies and Witchery Tours.  It was a fun tour around Castle Hill highlighting areas related to Edinburgh's history of witch trials.  Edinburgh has many tours to choose from and we chose this one because it was rated highly at www.tripadvisor.co.uk.  Although we enjoyed it, next time we'll choose a tour with more of a focus on Edinburgh's reputation as the most haunted city in the world.

view from our hostel
The next morning we awoke to a beautiful view of the castle, just in case you forgot where you were.  We set off at around 8:30AM, down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace, where the Queen resides every summer.

Pictures at Holyrood were only allowed in the outside areas of the front courtyard, abbey ruins, and palace gardens.  The tour included areas of the palace still in use today but also some historically significant areas, like Mary, Queen of Scots private rooms.  It was fun and interesting touring a royal palace, especially one with such historical significance.
front courtyard at Holyrood Palace
After our palace experience we headed next door to Arthur's Seat for a hike and some amazing views of the city.  It only took us a couple hours to hike to the peak, where we stayed for only a few minutes before beginning our descent.  The hike seemed very popular, especially with dog owners, but we were very glad to have talked ourselves into doing it.  On such a beautiful day, we would've regretted passing up the opportunity.
Palace and Salisbury Crags
Holyrood Palace from the hike to Arthur's Seat
Castle, from summit at Arthur's Seat
Fried Mars bar
The rest of the day was spent wandering Edinburgh and taking advantage of things found in the big city which Dundee doesn't have, things like sushi, fried Mars (and Snickers) bars, and car boot sales.  At 6:45PM we were headed back to Dundee, exhausted but happy that our first mini-break had been such a success.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cheap Flights

One of the many reasons we wanted to relocate to the UK was because of its proximity to the rest of Europe.  We thought exploring Europe would be a lot easier if we lived in it and, with the plethora of cheap fare airlines available, exploring Europe might also be financially feasible.  For example, we recently found airfare to Frankfurt-Hahn, Germany from Edinburgh for only £42 (including taxes and fees).  Sadly, and something we never would've considered possible when dreaming of our life here while still in the states, we didn't purchase the flight.

One of the reasons we passed on the trip was due to time constraints.  With Mike's school schedule our travel dates aren't flexible at all, only allowing the weekends for travel.  Leaving Dundee on a Friday afternoon or evening and returning that Sunday, best case this still gives us less than 48 hours at our destination.  Of course, we must also consider travel time to/from Edinburgh airport.  Plus, since discount airlines often use rural airports to keep costs down (Hahn is about 2 hours outside of Frankfurt) we need to consider time to/from the destination airport to the destination city, too.  Given these details, in this example an additional 6 hours taken up by travel to/from airports, we would have less than 36 hours at our destination.

Another reason we passed on the fare was due to cost considerations.  We budget £50 per day trip (any admission costs, food, travel) when we explore the area around Dundee.  Applying that number to a mini-break and adding lodging, our budget would need to be about £200 per trip plus airfare.  So, that £42 airfare to Frankfurt-Hahn would wind up costing us £242, if we stuck to our budget, for less than a day and a half in Germany.  Is that enough time to do more than say you've been there and is it worth the price?

We've decided we're going to hold off on any weekend flights for the time being.  With plenty to see around us in Dundee we can explore more for less by just renting a car or jumping on a bus or train.  We'll allow ourselves this first semester to acclimate to our surroundings and reconsider taking advantage of these fares after our return from Paris in the new year.  £42 for a weekend in Germany (or anywhere for that matter) is hard to say no to.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Going Out

Last night we headed across the street to Fat Sam's, where all the kids go dancing and whose inebriated aftermath often wakes us up around 3AM each morning when the venue closes, to catch the Eliza Doolittle show.

Eliza Doolittle sings "Pack Up" which was the first song we heard played with any consistency upon our arrival in Scotland.  Much like "Who Let The Dogs Out" is the soundtrack to our Hawaiian vacation from July 2000 (it was ubiquitous during our time there; we'd never heard it before and thought it was an island thing until we returned home and found it had infiltrated the mainland too) this little ditty is the soundtrack to our Relocation 2010.

We're not sure what we were expecting Fat Sam's to be like but we were surprised to find something more akin to Seattle's Showbox than Salt Lake's Vortex; more acoustic live music than dance club with cages.  Also, the crowd was very mixed, with kids still going through their awkward years to adults old enough to have kids (or grand kids) going through their awkward years; some may have been with their kids but most seemed to be with other old people, gangs of clubbing pensioners.  Everyone seemed to be very welcome, though; the kids weren't creeped out by the old guys and the old guys weren't doing anything to creep out the kids.  It was all very different than anything we've experienced in the states.

The room was small and the acoustics were good and Eliza, having only her debut album to sing from, was through within an hour.  We were home in bed by 10:30PM.  It was fun to do something new and different and although Desi - clearly unable to multi-task walking in heels, managing a curb, and watching for traffic - fell to the ground on the way home, bruising here knee, we look forward to our next night out at the club.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Further Observations

"Ta" or "cheers" are used more often than "thank you" and "no bother" rather than "you're welcome"

It is an odd night if we're not awakened by screaming and/or singing and/or yelling at or around 3AM.  No doubt due to the clubs closing around 3AM and pubs closing around 2AM

It is also an odd morning if we don't have to dodge piles of vomit on the pavement.

The Scots are not early risers and the streets are usually deserted until at least 8AM.  Even the university enables this behaviour; Mike's earliest class doesn't begin until 9:30AM

Clouds move very fast here

Bank holidays are frequent though mysterious

Everyone here has been abroad

Desi's first Scots-ism was "wee" instead of "little" which she uses often at her day job ("Would you like a separate wee bag for your trifles?")

Mike's first Scots-ism was "bit" instead of "part" ("I really like this bit here.")

Other vocabulary exchanges include using "sorted" (after a question has been answered it has been sorted), "half five" rather than 5:30, "bin" instead of "trash can", "rubbish" instead of "trash", and "crisps" instead of "chips" although chips is used when discussing the tortilla variety

Time passes slowly in Dundee

Monday, October 11, 2010

Glamis Castle

Today we went to Glamis Castle, located about an hour north of Dundee via bus.  The ride cost £5.50 per person for an all day Tayside bus pass and took us the scenic route through Forfar, a small town we have yet to explore, before dropping us at Glamis' front door.
Glamis Castle from the formal Italian garden
The £8.75 admission price per person included a guided tour of the castle, where the Queen Mother was raised and where Princess Margaret was born, and access to the vast castle grounds.  The castle is still in use today as a family home for the Earl of Strathmore and as a venue for weddings and other private functions.  
Highland cattle
In addition to a few lovely gardens and a nature trail the castle grounds contain a small to medium sized herd of Highland cattle.  Highland cattle are shorter and longer than the cows we're used to, not to mention hairier.  They are truly adorable.  Desi was so happy when she was able to pet a calf grazing near the fence for a few minutes before having to leave.

In addition to the cattle we saw a rabbit, some large birds (we're not sure whether they were herons, kingfishers, or storks but they were blue/grey, long, and thin), a grey squirrel, and a few elusive red squirrels.

Glamis Castle
After spending four hours visiting Glamis we're really looking forward to our next castle experience which will be Edinburgh Castle in two weeks.  Edinburgh Castle is much larger than Glamis and most likely contains a dungeon which Glamis is lacking.  We have high expectations for the guided tour and history lessons provided there. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Three Years

Mike confirmed this past week that he was accepted at university as a 2nd year student.  This is great news because it means that he graduates a year earlier than planned, 2013 instead of 2014.  However, we find this news puzzling because none of his previous college credits were transferable nor did he receive any notice of this until after matriculation.  But, we're not questioning it.  If they want Mike in his 2nd year they can have him.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Christmas In Paris

Yesterday we bought our winter break tickets to Paris on easyjet for £122.61.  We'll be travelling from Edinburgh and staying in Paris for Christmas and then travelling around France and into Spain.  Our trip is just over 3 weeks in duration, so we should have plenty of time for sightseeing.  We're thinking 6 nights in Paris and 6 nights in Barcelona then maybe along the French Riviera returning to Paris through Provence?

We hope to have a few mini breaks before our winter break, including a Halloween adventure to Edinburgh where we've booked a Halloween themed walking tour.  Apparently, Edinburgh has the reputation for most haunted city in the world.  We'll definitely report back about our experience.

We're on a pretty tight budget for our trips but we'd rather travel on a super tight budget than not at all.  For instance, Edinburgh will be our first hostel experience.  We'll be staying right outside the castle, though, so location will be ideal.  Plus, the hostel is highly recommended on tripadvisor and only costs £28 per night.
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