• Skyler Neal

Ireland + UK Travel Diary

This was it, my first solo trip abroad (I don't count Iceland because my brother lives there). The day had come for me to board the plane out of NYC and off to the city of Dublin. Worried my HUGE backpack wouldn't fit in the upper compartments of the plane and that I wouldn't make the flight in the first place because I only had fifteen minutes to get to my gate. Would I make it? I mean clearly, I did so I don't have to tell you that haha but I'm just trying to make this part sound more exciting than it is ;). The butterflies settled in my stomach once I sat down in my tiny little seat on a large commercial airplane. I was ready for wherever this trip was going to take me...kind of.

Dublin, Ireland

I arrived in Dublin in the early morning hours, having not slept on the plane over, I was tired and nauseated but I still had a bit more to go until I could safely take off my heavy backpack, and plop down into a semi-comfortable bunk bed surrounded by strangers. Mustering all the energy I could, I got off the airport shuttle bus into the city and found a seemingly generic coffee shop to get my daily dose of caffeine and a little breakfast before I had to heave my bag over my shoulders, and walk to my hostel (about 20 minutes). I slouched over in the safety of a little booth upstairs where I could peacefully sip my fatigue away. Already, I was beginning to like Dublin. I saw little teenagers walking or biking in these cute little uniforms and I could almost hear their heavy Irish accents from afar. Punky alternative rock played above me mixing in with a little Beatles here and there. A quiet rebellion I thought.

I arrived at the hostel a few hours later, sweating and aching from the weight I was carrying. The entrance to the hostel was somewhat concealed in that there were no big signs saying this particular door led to the reception desk and so I waited confused for a second until a man came out, giving me a knowing nod and held the door for me. In a confused and fatigued state, I walked up the stairs after checking in only to be immediately greeted by massive murals of Caucasian models wearing traditional Native American dress, yikes. It was ironic because the majority of people working at the hostel (did I tell you there was a pizza shop right below the hostel?) were Indian, not native American. But I guess ripping off Native American culture really makes the big bucks in Dublin lol, who would have thought?

My roommate was a kind woman in her forties from Catalonia, Spain. Although there were six beds, there were only two of us. We talked about our cultures, in particular how much we disliked Trump, until I passed out on my bed in the middle of a beautiful day in Dublin, whoops. The rest of the day is kind of a blur to me but I do know what happened the next day...

I woke up, feeling a bit off from the jet-lag so of course, as I do, way too much, I walked to a coffee shop, the same one I'd been to my first day (it was cheap). After eating breakfast there I noticed a sign for one of those hop on hop off bus tours, so I bought a ticket and "hopped" on. Normally, I wouldn't take one of these buses to explore a city but because I was unfamiliar with Dublin, not to mention it was a bit spread out, I decided to do it. I'm happy to say that I don't regret it either! The bus driver was really cool, she knew so much about the city and her Irish sense of humor was never off beat. The first stop was at Trinity College, home to the Book of Kells. Do I know what that is? Nope. I just like looking at really old things for some reason. I know that it was written by ancient monks so there's that. No, I don't plan on becoming a history teacher anytime soon. The second and final stop of my day was the infamous Guinness factory. I'm not going to go into detail and spoil the fun for you but my favorite things about the tour were the tasting lessons, the advertising history of Guinness, and finally, the Gravity bar featuring about the best view of the city one could get, all the while holding a Guinness.

Cliffs of Moher

My last day in Ireland was perhaps my best day. I got the chance to take a tour bus out of the city and out to the Cliffs of Moher, a magical, fear of heights inducing place to be reckoned with. Well, reckon I did beside two hilarious Canadian girls I might add. We tried to look somewhat photogenic next to one of the most beautiful places on earth. We crept carefully close to the edge of the dramatic rock formations and breathed in the fresh sea air. There's something so refreshing about salt water. From there, the Canadians and I sat in a little town pub bonding over french fries and beer, great combo btw. That was a great day, shout out to my Canadian friends :).

Inverness, Scotland

Arriving at the tiny little airport in Inverness was a little confusing, having no idea as to how one actually gets in the city. Eventually, I found the right bus to take, hopped on, embarrassingly gave the bus driver a euro for the ticket (I was tired ok?), he, having no idea what it was, let me on the bus anyway for free (they use pounds in the UK). That's one of the most amazing parts of traveling, seeing people's kindness. Complete strangers are willing to help you on your way in exchange for nothing. I think that says a lot about humanity right there, thank goodness for good people.

The weather was perfect as I walked along the river in the middle of town towards my hostel. I was surprisingly shocked as to how charming this mini-city was. I had only booked a few nights in Inverness to tour the Isle of Skye, so I wasn't expecting much from the city itself, but low-and-behold I would now return there in a heartbeat.

My hostel was a funky little place, full of young people in old armchairs, sitting by the window, engrossed in their books. My roommate was a girl named Sophia from France whom I became very good friends with along the way through Scotland. However, I didn't meet her until later that night when she came back to the hostel. After dropping my stuff off in my room, I peeped at the Inverness Instagram story, seeing other young travelers exploring this place. I walked back down the hill towards the center of town. About a block away from my hostel was a castle looking out over the river. I strolled up the hill near the river's edge before I saw a familiar face sitting on a park bench along the path. Coincidently, this girl was one of the people I saw on the city's Insta story. I straight up asked if that was her while trying not to look like a stalker. After we talked for a few minutes, we both relaxed, feeling like old friends. Later that night, we became pizza buddies. Pizza in Scotland doesn't have a great reputation but this place was well and good especially after downing half a pint of cider.

Isle Of Skye, Scotland

The next day I started my tour of the Isle of Skye led by two VERY Scottish men equipped with quilts and a healthy dose of sarcasm. I wanted to go to the Isle of Skye because I was not only named after the magical place itself, but I have many ancestral roots there. The ruin of a small castle pictured above once belonged to the Chief of the MacKinnon (my middle name) clan who I found out married a Norwegian princess, later nicknamed "Saucy Mary" for flashing her tits at sailors passing by. I didn't make that up btw, there's literally a bar called the Saucy Mary with a huge mural of her on the side of the bar. What a way to go out Mary, respect. And that's how I know I'm related to Vikings, fun story.

After grabbing some cider at a local restaurant we turned back towards the mainland but not before visiting a grassy and hilly area on the island. Sheep grazed casually as each of us stepped off the bus and into the damp fresh air of the highlands. The sheep in the hills were not alarmed at our presence until a few of us (not me) started jogging towards them to....pet them? Right, ok, guys. If I sound salty about it that's because I am ;). After about twenty minutes of trying to blend in with the sheep around us, it started to pour cold rain. No wonder I got really sick later on. Amusing side note: on the way back to the bus I fell on my butt on the cold wet moss so yay. Despite this, there's no question the Isle of Skye is one of the most beautiful places in the whole world and I'm so very lucky to have been there. After leaving the island we came upon an old castle ruin on the Loch Ness. Apparently, it's been used in a couple James Bond movies so THAT's cool, not that I've ever seen any of them.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Man oh, man oh, man. Edinburgh, where do I start. From ghost tours to Harry Potter this city has so much to offer. I feel like, it's the funkier and more magical cousin to London, which says a lot because London is both of those things. When I used to picture Scotland, I only associated it with its biggest city: Glasgow, which is a very industrial city, not quite as cool as Edinburgh, a place where artists, writers, and royals-alike gather to celebrate a special piece of the UK. A place that is home to the Harry Potter series and where Elizabeth I of England established her monarchy in the fourteenth-century.

The streets of Edinburgh are teaming with ghosts of the past and foreshadows of the future. The history in this place cannot be ignored, for its colorful history is a part of what makes it Edinburgh in the first place. Artists stalk the local corners of cobblestone streets and it would not be uncommon to run into an Owl and its handler on the street offering the wise old bird a seat on your arm in exchange for a pound or two. No wonder this is where J.K.Rowling began writing Harry Potter here. Even if magic does not exist in our world, there exists an aura of mystery and wonder on every corner of the city.

When I arrived in Edinburgh, hopping off the train, running amidst a crowd of confused and anxious travelers, I had no idea where to go but as usual I pulled out my trusty Google Maps friend and I walked a short distance to my hostel, which looked like the entrance to a Hogwarts portal (sorry not sorry for the Harry Potter references). Looking out of the window in my room was such a lucky part of my days there. It was on the top floor of an old building on a street off the Royal Mile, one of the prettiest places in the city. When I was resting I liked to make some chamomile tea and read Harry Potter on my bed next to the window. What a great combo both aesthetically and emotionally.

I took a ghost tour in the evening hours with my new friend Sophie whom I met in Inverness earlier that week. Ironically, the sky was perfectly clear and sunny, a rarity for this rainy city. We walked around with a strange man who told us tails of murder and insanity (yum) until we reached the most haunted part of the tour: the Mackenzie Mausoleum, where a supposed Poltergeist haunts its walls. After a homeless man broke in to spend the night, apparent "paranormal" activity spiked in the area with reports of scratches on visitors of the tomb and voices. It became so bad, that people aren't allowed inside anymore. I'm not sure I believe in ghosts but the fact that the city had to take action means a Lil' somethin' somethin' had to be going on in there.

Anyways, back to the serious stuff. Harry Potter is a huge deal in Edinburgh. It's amazing how much time has passed since the first book was written and people still really care about it. Enough, to keep multiple Harry Potter shops in business there. J.K.Rowling actually went to college in Edinburgh. Walking around the campus, you could see where she drew her inspiration for the wicked dementors, as we flew through dimly lit concrete tunnels leading the way to the campus. Many of the books character's were given their names based off of headstones in Greyfriars Kirkyard (graveyard). There is even a headstone for you know who! Actually, just a real dude, minding his business in the peaceful graveyard, only to be named after one of the evilest book characters in literary history, poor guy.

To complete the Harry Potter experience I had to have lunch at the Elephant Cafe, one of the few cafés where Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series. I sat right by the window looking out at the rainy mist covering the street. Oh, and if you're wondering, the food was outright delicious. I highly recommend the shepherd's pie, I promise you won't regret it. My last day was spent at Holyrood Palace, the Queen's residence in Scotland. What a sight to behold, that place is teeming with history, murder, and scandal (luv). I highly recommend seeing this place because it's very hard to get into Buckingham Palace in London.

London, England

Before I go into the details of my wonderful days spent in London, I'd first like to talk about my unique and hilariously unfortunate hostel experience. The hostel itself wasn't bad, rather it was the people in it and their unique "quirks". So let me just go on a rant here for one second, excuse me. First off, I had the WORST cold so of course, I myself wasn't the best roommate between all eight of us boys and girls. I had the top bunk making it harder to throw out my tissue every time I blew my nose, needless to say, I had a mountain of tissues by the time I left my room each day. Secondly, between the bunk beds, the only thing separating us was about a centimeter of rickety plastic. Unfortunately, the girl in the bunk over had night terrors each night. She would scream and thrash in her sleep. Boy, was that fun. Especially, when the fire alarm went off at three in the morning alarming her even more to the point of kicking the plastic divider between us. If you stay at hostels in Europe, you'll learn quickly that fire alarms going off in the middle of the night is actually quite common due to the idiocy of some individuals who choose to smoke right under the smoke detectors. It's safe to say I didn't sleep well in London. Okay, back to the fun stuff...

My time in London is best summed up by a series of frustratingly bad decisions and LOADS of fun. My first day I decided to take another hop on a bus tour so that I could get some good pictures from above street level. The ticket cost about $28.00 and I only used it once during the entire day after I met my friend Yasmine in front of Buckingham Palace. We met after asking her to take a picture of me and we decided to just bike around the city. Questionable decision to ride bikes in a city with lots of traffic? Yes. It was still the best decision I made there. There's something really freeing about riding a bike around London. You can stop and take photos whenever you want all for four euros. Just don't accidentally brush the side of a moving bus like I did because you might die, like for real.

Yasmine and I biked EVERYWHERE. It was awesome. I saw so much of London and felt kind of at home in a strange way. We ate lunch at this amazing middle-eastern restaurant with crazy wall art and lanterns hanging everywhere. We then explored the Natural History Museum because when you see a giant lava dinosaur looking egg in the middle of a building, you go see it! Afterward, we had the privilege of exploring the butterfly garden in which I accidentally face butted a butterfly. We were both ok, don't worry ;)

We finished off our day at Peggy Porschen cupcakes, this very trendy place on Instagram which had a twenty-minute wait line for some damn cupcakes. Oh, Instagram. I'm guilty of course so I can't really say anything. It was kind of funny watching all these bloggers attempt to get the perfect shot. It was like looking in the mirror at my own stupidity. Forgive me for wanting a good Instagram feed haha. I'm so tired I'm sorry for my shitty writing. P.S. Love ya, Yasmine!

The next day, I had MORE tea at Fortnum & Mason in London except for this time it was HIGH tea (big whoop amirite?!). The best part though was seeing some of my campers from last summer who lived in London (I missed you guys so much). To my lil'red head: chin up girl you have everything going on and you are one of the strongest people I know :) To my lil-American, always be proud of who you are because you are hilarious no matter how much you feel embarrassed about things you said in the past. Girls, you're the best.

At long last, my final afternoon hours were spent at one of their townhouses in the city. Before that, we had gone to Abbey Road Studios, literally a block from her house *SCREAM harry styles omfg. He wasn't there though. If I were to live anywhere in London I would live in that area. I'll leave you with this little secret piece of advice for those Beatles fans out there, the crosswalk in front of Abbey Road is NOT the same crosswalk on the Beatles cover, it's a block down the road. For me, it was even more amusing to see people joyfully posing in the middle of traffic, at the wrong crosswalk, much to the delight of very patient Londoners.

Next stop: Paris, Florence, Cinque-Terre, and Rome - Travel diary post coming soon!