A weekend in the Highlands

My last few posts have been sadly without photos. So, I decided that it was about time to post something more visual!

The first time I went to Scotland was three years ago, when I was living in Ireland. My friend Alaina and I went to Edinburgh for the weekend, and managed to squeeze in a Highlands tour while we were at it.

I adored Scotland, from the first. It’s just a beautiful place. Scottish people are so nice, even if they’re difficult to understand sometimes. The Highlands are breathtaking. I’d really like to run away from life someday and rent a cottage in the Highlands and write my first novel. Though maybe it will have to be my second novel, so that I can afford it.

Technically, my heritage can be traced back to Scotland. My name’s quite Scottish. And they love the heather flower there. So, you know, if you believe any of that stuff about having a subconscious cultural connection, then I could have one to Scotland.

Of course, my grandmother was from Newcastle and I definitely don’t feel a connection to it.

Anyway. So, my friends Jes and Tariq came to visit me a couple of weeks ago. I’ve known Jes since I was about five, and Tariq’s her boyfriend of five years, who I’ve become friends with too, over the years.

We decided to head up to Inverness for the first weekend they were here. Actually, I sort of decided. I told them I’d always wanted to go and we should. Luckily they agreed, and ended up loving it as much as I did!

Inverness, photo by me

That’s the city of Inverness, on the river Ness.

River Ness photo by me

There are some beautiful walks you can do from the city centre, along the river. This one takes you by two little islands in the river.

The coast photo by me

This walk went along the Caledonian Canal and out to where the Ness meets the sea. Sometimes you can see dolphins, according to the owner of our B&B. We didn’t have that much luck though.

Loch Ness photo by me

And, of course, Inverness is right next to the famous Loch Ness. So we took a little boat tour and looked for Nessie. No such luck, unfortunately.

Urquhart Castle, photo by me

But the tour finished up at Urquhart Castle, which I’ve always wanted to visit.

View from Urquhart Castle, photo by me

Even though we were technically in the Highlands, most of what we saw of the quintessential hills was from the window of our train. But for good measure, I’ll throw in a photo I took the first time I visited:

The Highlands, photo by me

At least I beat last year’s…

So, June 26th marked the end of my 50 Books in a Year attempt for this year.

I read 34 books this year. It’s not 50, but it’s one more than last year’s 33.

And I think that 34 books is pretty good when you consider that for each essay I wrote (6), I read an average of 10 books, so that’s 60. Plus at least one a week for my Roman Archaeology class last semester, that’s another 12.

But the 50 Books in a Year isn’t about academic reading. It’s about making time for myself amid essays and seminars and reading requirements.

Maybe next year will be the year I make it to 50. Because it will be the first year in 20 that I haven’t been in school. I’ll (hopefully) have a real job and a life outside of work. And freedom from academic guilt!

Also, this year I want to get back into the habit of blogging about all the books I read, because I sort of failed at that.

Misadventures, the finale

Day 9 - Corinth

The streets of Corinth were full of stray dogs. On our way to the bus station to visit the ancient city, Chandra decided to pet one of the friendlier looking of these strays.

Suddenly at least four dogs were following us at all times. They also got into fights with each other, barked a lot and almost got hit by a few cars. We were definitely causing a ruckus. The Greeks we walked by tried to yell at the dogs to get them to be quiet, and a couple of men had to break up a dog fight around us.

We went to where we were told the bus stop was, but the kiosk there didn’t sell tickets for Ancient Corinth. We finally asked in the nearby cafe. There was only one person who spoke English. He told us it was the right place, and to wait and he would tell us which bus to get on. We went around the corner and there was another kiosk there that sold our ticket. And then every Greek person in the cafe seemed to know we were trying to go to Ancient Corinth - because every time a different bus pulled up, someone would say yes or no to us. Sometimes they were wrong, but it was nice of them to try!

We finally got on the bus and walked around the ancient city for a while in the pouring rain. After wards, we went to eat lunch. We were the only people in the restaurant. We sat down and ordered.

Within the next ten minutes the restaurant was full. The waiter said we were his lucky charm and the reason they were so busy.

We walked back to the sketchiest bus stop ever and got the bus back to Corinth. We grabbed our luggage from the hotel and wandered off to find the bus stop, which was supposed to be nearby. We walked around in circles for a long time, until finally we pulled the same trick of following buses. We got a bus station, and she told us we had to wait on the corner, and we had to take the bus that would drop us off at the main bus station near the canal. We went back to the corner, which happened to be in front of a bakery. Chandra went inside to get some drinks and some baklava for us. She came out with two sprites, but no baklava.

Apparently she’d been trying to tell them what she wanted, and they didn’t understand, because they told her “No,” sold her the sprites and she left, confused.

I really wanted baklava, so I went in. I looked at the girl, and I pointed to the baklava and said “δυο” (pronounced ‘theo’, meaning two). I was catching on to a bit of Greek, I guess. I got the baklava and came outside. Chandra was amazed.

We eventually found our way to Olympia that night, though we were yelled at in Greek by the bus station cafe worker and the lady in the bathroom.

It was late, we got the last bus to Olympia. We were wandering the streets, heading towards where we thought our hotel was. A Greek man on a bike rode by and said hello. We said hello back, and continued on our way. He followed us. He eventually came up besides me and said “You are Montgomery, right?” I blinked, confused and a bit creeped out. “Yes… How did you know?”

“You are going wrong way. My hotel is this way. You have reservation,” he replied. I  guess we were late and he decided to track us down. Makes sense, since we were his only guests that night.

Day 10 - Olympia to Athens

We went to see the ancient city the next morning. We were surprised that the group of people ahead of us were decked out in Harley Davidson paraphernalia. Apparently ancient ruins really are for everyone!

Chandra got attacked by a giant bug while we were walking around. She screamed like a girl, which I suppose is forgivable, and I had to save her from it. She didn’t make my job easy, however, bouncing up and down and twitching the whole time I was trying to get it off.

We took the bus back to Athens that afternoon, since we were flying out the next day.

The bus arrived at a completely different station from the one we had been at before. I’m convinced this station was barely in Athens at all. But we had to get off, so we wandered around trying to figure out how to get into central Athens. Eventually we found a bus which would drop us near a metro station.

It did, indeed, drop us off in the city centre, near a metro stop called Omonia. We’d never been there before, and we soon found out why. All the things people say about Athens being a dangerous or dirty city made sense in Omonia. We were being watched, the entire time. We finally asked a non-threatening looking man how to get to the Metro. Thankfully, the Greek word for metro is metro, or we would have been extra lost.

When we finally got to the station, we found some new “friends.” Two men came into the train next to us and looked us up and down rather forwardly. One of them followed us out of the metro when we got off. It was creepy.

We had to catch the tram to our hotel, which was outside the city. I was starting to get more than a little annoyed, trying to drag my suitcase through all of these strange places, a fact that I was taking out on poor Chandra. I snapped at her about where we were standing in line and moved.

The tram finally came and we joined the crowd to get on. Usually, I keep my purse in front of me at all times so I can watch it. But in trying to get my bag and myself onto the crowded tram, it was still behind me. I went to grab it back when I saw that the man behind me had his sweater draped over my purse and his hand on my wallet inside. I gave him a look and the bastard smiled. I yanked my purse away from him, too flustered to say anything to anyone, and by the time I turned around again he was gone.

When we finally stood safely in the tram, I told Chandra what had happened.

“It’s another adventure!” she said. I gave her a look that said I was not impressed.

“I’m done with adventures.” I said dryly.

The end. Mostly. Except for us almost not getting back to England because of volcanic ash. But we did, eventually!

Chandra’s attitude was contagious, though, and in the end I did agree that our misadventures were the best parts, because they gave us great stories to tell when we got back.

Misadventures continued

Day 6 - Athens

We’d managed to stay misadventure free for a few days, but no longer!

This was one of the days that we were touring around with our class. We spent the morning all together, then took a break for lunch. We were supposed to meet up with the group at the Archaeological Museum at 2. We finished lunch early and decided to invite everyone up to the rooftop patio of our hotel while we finished our ice cream to waste the rest of the time before the museum.

As we walk into the hotel, I grab the key for our room so I can go to the bathroom. The woman at the desk looks at me and the key, then at the group of 6 people behind me.

“You are all in one room?” she asks, clearly distressed.

“Um, no. We were just going to go up to the roof.” I say.

“Only people who stay in the hotel can go on roof!” she says. We grumble a bit and then turn to leave. Finally, she concedes and says we can go up for a little while.

We chat on the roof top, looking out at the Acropolis, for a while. Suddenly, we realize that it’s 1:30. We were planning to take the Metro, but we’re still pushing it to get there on time. We get up and leave quickly, heading to the Metro station.

Turns out that the Metro is packed at that time of day. It’s hot and sticky and everyone is packed together tightly. The train seems to be going impossibly slow, and just stops completely several times between stations.

Across from me, Chandra is starting to look very uncomfortable. Her face is turning red, and she’s shifting nervously. We all look at her strangely, wondering what’s wrong. It’s Jennifer who realizes it first, looking past Chandra to the man behind her.

Back up, please!” Jennifer snaps at the man, who grins and pretends he doesn’t understand. Jenn pulls Chandra closer to her and the guy finally steps back. Turns out he decided it was a good opportunity to grope poor Chandra’s ass. We got off at the next stop. Chandra was a bit shaken up, but Jenn was our new hero.

We were severely late for the museum. When we arrived, our professor and the rest of the group were waiting. We started our tour, but for the next hour or so our professor pointedly emphasized the importance of punctuality at every possible opportunity.

Day 7 - Athens

We got severely lost on our way to the train station, heading from Athens to Delphi. We ended up in some random neighbourhood, but according to our sources there was a bus station there. We had all but given up hope, until I noticed that there were an awful lot of buses driving by us. My solution? Follow the buses! They must be going to the bus station. This theory proved extremely useful for the rest of the trip as well. Greece has a great bus service - providing you can locate the bus station (which is sometimes just a random unmarked corner.)

As we walked out of the bus station with our tickets in hand, we noticed that the buses looked very nice. They were shiny and new and had lots of space. Until we got to our platform. There was a really old looking bus parked nearby. I turned to Chandra and said “Watch that be our bus.” We laughed and were sure it wouldn’t be, when every other bus was so nice and new.

It was, of course.

Day 8 - Delphi

We woke up bright and early in the beautiful city of Delphi and headed out to see the ruins. We started walking uphill. We climbed the longest staircase ever. When finally got to the top of the hill, I was definitely sweaty. We walked towards the site, not sure how to get in but following what seemed like a path.

We ended up at a locked gate.

We turned around and went the other way.

Another locked gate. But there was a woman standing there. We asked her how we were supposed to get in. She said that it was an employee’s entrance and we had to go in the public way. We asked her where it was.

Apparently the entrance to the site was down the hill. About five minutes from our hotel. NOT up a giant hill.

That afternoon we took the bus back to Athens on our way to Corinth. We took the Metro to the stop where we had to catch the suburban rail service. As we were trying to buy our tickets, a huge gust of wind blew by and both Chandra and I exposed ourselves to everyone in line. Classy.

We got on the train. We went a few stops. Everyone got off, except us. The train then started going backwards instead of forwards. Apparently we were on the wrong train? Lucky us, we got to ride it twice!

When we finally did get on the train, there were no seats to be had. I was exhausted with all the dashing from station to station and taking many trains, so I decided it would be a good idea to sit on top of my big suitcase.

My suitcase has wheels. A thought which didn’t even cross my mind until the train jerked and the suitcase rolled out from under me and we both hit the ground with a loud crash - breaking the absolute silence of the train. I turned bright red and, of course, said “Sorry,” even though I was in Greece.

Still a few more for tomorrow!

Misadventures are still adventures

I still exist. I promise. It’s just that I’ve got this little thing called a dissertation going on. And a little addiction to bad vampire novels and the show Lie to Me. But I’ve got some posts I want to make. So, here’s one!

The best part of travelling is not necessarily the places you see - the monuments, churches or other wonders. It’s the stories you come back with.

When I got back from Ireland, people used to say “Tell me everything about your trip!” And I would blink a few times and mumble, “Um, it was really great. It rains a lot in Ireland. I drank a lot of beer. I spent a lot of money. I, um, kissed the Blarney Stone.”

Because I had been there for four months. I had lived there. You can’t just suddenly remember all of the details from any trip, let alone a long one like that, on command. So I told barely any stories in that first month I was back from Ireland. But I sure as hell have been telling them in the three years since.

Little things remind me of a funny time in Galway. A custom from home reminds me that they did things differently in Ireland. I don’t think I’ve shut up about Ireland since I left. I’m sure my nearest and dearest are more than tired of hearing about it by now. Look, I’m even posting about it again when this post isn’t even about Ireland.

This is about Greece. Specifically, the things that went less than smoothly on our trip last month. But it’s also about stories and adventures - well, misadventures, really.

Luckily for me, Chandra faithfully keeps a dairy, everyday. So she wrote me a list of our best stories and I intend to share them with you!

Day 2 - Heraklion, Crete

We stumbled out of bed far too early for a run.

“How can you be so talkative and cheerful in the morning?” Chandra asked me. If only she had known what was about to happen.

We got some odd looks from the staff, their expressions wondering what we were doing awake so early and why were dressed so strangely.

We left the hotel and ran down the road towards the beach. Our ten minute set was going well, but I was quiet. It was hot and having trained during the English winter, I’m not used to running in heat of any sort. Chandra, being her usual bouncy self, was really excited as we ran.

“Ooh, look! Mountains! Ohh! Ocean!” she said. I said nothing, trying to regulate my breathing and get through the set.

“Ooh, garbage!” Chandra said, as I ran around the garbage on the sidewalk. I turned and looked at her.

“I don’t see how that could possibly be exciting.” I said, my voice flat. So much for me being talkative and cheerful in the morning. That was the moment Chandra learned that when I’m annoyed, I use adverbs. She thought it was hilarious.

Day 3 - Athens

We Google Mapped our hotel in Athens so that we could get there from the airport. We were already late because our flight from Heraklion to Athens was delayed. We took the metro into the city and got off at the stop that was near our hotel, according to the map.

We get off with our bags and walk out into the Athens’ night. On to a street that seems less than safe at first glance and down right sketchy after further exploration. We quickly follow the map to find our hotel.

We arrive at the supposed address of our hotel only to find that our hotel is not there. Or anywhere nearby. It’s late, we haven’t eaten since lunch and we’re hot, lost and confused. Chandra goes into a nearby hotel to ask for directions. I wait outside with our suitcases.

“So, it turns out that our hotel isn’t anywhere near here,” she says as she comes back out. “It’s in the opposite end of town.” Google Map fail.

The hotel staff had Googled it for her, and found the same address as we had. But they knew it was wrong. They suggested we take a taxi to Plaka, where our hotel really was. A nice Greek man wandered by and helped us get a cab, and explained to the driver in Greek where we were going. We get into the taxi. I get a text from our friend who are staying in the same hotel asking if we wanted to grab dinner with them. I texted back yes, and that we’d be there in about ten minutes.

Thirty minutes later, we’re still in the taxi. The driver is going in circles and stopping to ask everyone on the street if they know where our hotel is. He speaks no English. We speak no Greek. We finally show him the number for the hotel and he calls it. They speak in Greek for a while.

Forty five minutes after we were supposed to be at our hotel, the taxi driver basically tells us we have to get out and walk because he doesn’t know where our hotel is. But, of course, we have to pay for the time it took him to not find our hotel. I shove the money at him, grab my suitcase and march away.

Chandra manages to find our hotel on a map and we head in that direction. Uphill. Rolling suitcases over cobblestones and through crowds of the slowest, oldest tourists I’ve ever seen. About twenty minutes later we finally spot the sign for our hotel in the distance.

“Hey!!” someone suddenly calls out. My eyes were fixed ahead and I had to look around for a bit before I spotted some people from our class wandering through the shops. They smiled and waved at us. I can only imagine the look I gave them as I said, “That’s our hotel. I’m not stopping!” and plowed past them.

I apologized the next day, after I had been fed, watered and slept enough to shake off my annoyance of wandering lost through a foreign city at night.

More misadventures to come tomorrow!