Main | TravelBlog: Europe - part 2 »

June 07, 2002

TravelBlog: Europe - part 1

This is the first of nine letters I wrote to friends and family during a two-month solo trip backpacking through Europe in 2002, a year after I graduated from Haverford College. The photos for this and other entries are on my flickr stream.


The first thing I notice about this computer is that some of the important keys on the keyboard (like @) are misplaced from the American ones, and that I keep hitting characters I don't mean to! I can only imagine what it will be like in an Italian or Greek internet cafe.

My first few days on the trip, in New York City, were a great way to start out. I was able to make some mistakes, get into something of a routine, figure out that I'd packed my main backpack wrong, and in general get used to traveling. I also learned that snobby art galleries (like the Neue Gallery) are sometimes more expensive ($7) that monolithic collections like the Metropolitan Museum of Art ($5). After a few days of kicking around New York, I headed to JFK airport for the long journey through Frankfurt to Edinburgh.

I arrived in Edinburgh, passed uneventfully through customs and hopped a coach (bus) into the city centre. I checked-in at the High Street Hostel, which is packed full of young folk (mostly British). Hostels are interesting, and I look forward to seeing what others look like. The High Street Hostel is two floors of five rooms with six to ten beds each. Kitchen, showers and toilets, laundry, a lounge and a pool table. I think everyone else my age from the States also notices this when they first arrive, and I've even been told it before, but it still surprised me just how many people smoke here.

Lisa Graham (who was studying at U. Edinburgh this past semester) has let me check my email at the university library, which closes soon, so I'll try to summarize my most recent adventures quickly:

The National Galleries here in Edinburgh (all free this year) are great. The Portrait Gallery was the best, being housed in a fantastically interesting Victorian gothic building in the centre of the New Town (adjacent to the Old Town, even though both are older than the US, I believe). There's a small church called St. Giles that I visited yesterday morning. I was surprised that there were so many war memorials inside it (usually brass plaques on the walls). I also met the minister, who turned out to be an American and former Harvard professor. He'd even heard of Haverford. Small world :) Today, I saw the Edinburgh Castle, which sits on what's called Castle Rock. The Castle's had a rather tumultuous history, involving lots of sieges and has swapped hands between the Scottish and the English several times. Most notably, it was the birth place of King James VI (of Scotland) and I (of England), who united the two nations. This 'Castle Rock' thing that the castle sits on is the basalt base of a long dead volcano that was uncovered when, in the last ice age, glaciers carved the area. When the glaciers hit Castle Rock, they flowed around it like water going around a rock (only a lot slower), and also left a long 'tail' of softer volcanic rock behind it. It's on this tail-mound that the Old Town of Edinburgh is built. The Castle also has a dog cemetery in it that was used in the 1600s by the garrison's officers.

Other fun things: I hung out in an Irish pub (there are pubs everywhere in Edinburgh. Literally one on every corner), heard a band called The Roods, and had two free pints of Guinness beer (cold, not warm. phew) courtesy of the Guinness Girls who were luckily doing some sort of promotional thing, and thus giving out free beer. I ran into a friend Sarah Leer from Wake Forest, who I got to know while I was working on a play there last Fall; she was studying in Bristol this past semester and just happened to be traveling with her family and just happened to be at the Castle Edinburgh at 9:30am this morning when I was buying my entry ticket.

I was rained-on two days, and had two days of rainless cloudy days (which are apparently the indicator that spring/summer is around, rather than winter). I've seen a couple of the ultra-compact cars made by Mercedes, Daewoo and Toyota (of all companies) that are literally less than six-feet long. Almost all of the cars here are compact, and much smaller than the behemoths you see in the States. The Jeep Grand Cherokee (of which I've seen only one) looks gigantic next to the small European cars! And finally, I got to see my friends Lisa and Cat, which was a very nice way to start out my trip.

Tomorrow, I head to London and am looking forward to a new hostel, seeing some theatre (my friend Madeleine has recommended seeing the play 'The Distance from Here' (which stars a guy I met at a party she took me to last summer, Jason Ritter)), riding the Tube, and seeing some major British museums.

Cheers from Edinburgh!

posted June 7, 2002 08:45 AM in Travel | permalink