Hot Damn

I decided to cut short my tour of the United Kingdom by taking a ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam. I took a train from Glasgow to Edinburgh, and then on down towards Newcastle. I would like to come back to Newcastle, when I have more time, but for now I am just passing through.

Floating Hotel

The ferry to Amsterdam was pretty exciting (for a one who enjoys slow travel). It leaves in early evening and gets in to the Netherlands the following morning. When you buy your ticket, you automatically get a bunk in a cabin, so it’s like transport and accommodation all rolled into one. You wake up in a new destination and you have the bonus of feeling refreshed once you get there. That makes this a great option for budget travellers, although I did discover that it is even better value if you travel in pairs and can get someone to share the cost of your cabin.

Sex and Drugs

Most people immediately think of “liberal pastimes” when they think of Amsterdam, The city is well known for allowing the sale of certain drugs (mainly marijuana) and for legal sex tourism. In the same way that Liverpool makes a big deal out of the Beatles, Amsterdam makes a big deal out of legalised drugs and sex. Although the city’s tourist board has allegedly been told to play these things down, they are still pretty much right in your face. On certain streets you can’t help but glance an eyeful of scantily clad women, whichever direction you choose to look in.

I, of course, elected not to indulge, but it is impossible to write about Amsterdam without at least acknowledging this important aspect of the city.

Free things to do in Amsterdam

In my hostel I met a bunch of travellers who were interrailing around Benelux and trying to do things on the cheap too. We decided to team up and find some fun but free things to do in Amsterdam. They had heard about a space called the EYE Film museum, which is a celebration of audiovisual materials. You can get these little pods and watch films/videos in them for free. Although the videos that we saw were mainly in other languages, we were able to get hold of some English language stuff to listen to.

We also went to the Waterlooplein Flea Market to have a look at some of the quirky second hand things that stallholders were trying to sell. One of my new friends was persuaded to buy an old military-style trench coat which went all the way down to the floor. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but I’m sure that she will regret it once she realises that she will be stuck with a heavy coat for the rest of her time travelling! A few pieces caught my eye, but I decided that I better not fill up my bag with random trinkets if I want to keep going for much longer.

Horticultural Garden

We also took a trip to the Amsterdam horticultural garden, which was lovely. When my new friends suggested it, I was a bit sceptical because I thought it was a little early in the year for plant life to be active, but there was still plenty of stuff to see and do. It turns out that the Dutch are famed for their green fingers, so the botanical gardens look great all year round. They even have loads of activities for the children, if you happen to be travelling with younger ones.

Next Moves

The whole of Europe is pretty well connected by rail, so I have been considering getting an interrailing pass. The problem is that there are so many different options available that I can’t decide which the right option for me is. I’m going to speak to a travel agent tomorrow for some advice.

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Glasgow

My next move was to get the train up to Glasgow. I parted ways with my travel companions to make my way up to Scotland’s second city. A childhood friend lived and worked there, so I was getting free lodgings, meaning that I couldn’t really bring any extra folks along for the ride. They had other plans in the south of England anyway, so this wasn’t a major issue. We swapped Facebook details at the hostel, said our farewells and went our separate ways. I caught a discount bus and made it up to the city within a few hours.

First Impressions

Glasgow reminds me a lot of my first impressions of Liverpool: the city seems to be a mixture of stunning architecture (the university building is amazing) and gritty realism. It is the perfect place for people who don’t like perfect places. Like Liverpool, the city has received a lot of bad press over the last century, but much of it has been unfair. I had heard a few stories about Glasgow’s reputation, but many of the things which are propagated are true of every other city in the world. In fact, the areas of Glasgow which I visited were full of multicultural community spirit.

City of the Dead

On my first full day in the city my friend had to pull an early shift at their work, but they suggested to me that I got up early and went for a walk around the Necropolis. This area of the city (whose name literally translates as City of the Dead) is a classic Victorian style of cemetery which is “home” to some of Glasgow’s most famous deceased inhabitants. Many of the monuments were designed or carved by famous Scottish artists, so as well as being a beautiful and peaceful early morning stroll, it was a chance to some wonderful pieces of artistic merit.

If you are going to head there, I would recommend visiting at sun-up or sun-down, on a clear crisp day, as this was just amazing.

The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond

There is no point in visiting Scotland if you do not intend to spend time in the outdoors. I have long been told that Scotland has some of the most beautiful countryside in the whole world, and what I saw over the past few days proved that it was definitely a contender. However, I hope to see many more contenders over the coming few months.

My friend drove us up to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs for a beautiful country walk. The scenery is just phenomenal. We even dipped our toes in the Loch for a few minutes, although I was very glad to be able to dry off in the nice warm car.

My friend is a local history buff and was able to fill me in on a lot of the local history and folk stories of the area. As an Irishman, I have always appreciated the power of folk tales and love unpicking the fact from the fiction. Thankfully the glens and lochs of Scotland have no end of fascinating stories to tell.

Kelvingrove Museum

As my trip seemed to be centred on nature, history and the outdoors, it seemed that going to the Kelvingrove Museum was a perfect end to my Glasgow trip. From the outside the building looks amazing, although rumour has it (definitely just a rumour!!) that the building was accidentally constructed backwards and the architect ended up throwing himself from the tower in despair.

Inside there are a few examples of Scottish art, wildlife and items of cultural significance. Whilst it is nowhere near the best museum in the world, it is well worth a quick visit if you have time, especially considering that this museum is free to visitors. The highlight of the day was seeing a rare taxidermised example of a wild haggis…

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Liverpool Calling

One of the things that I like best about slow travel is the ability to take some time to stop and think for yourself. I much prefer slow travel (ferries, coaches, trains etc) to planes, in part because there is so much more freedom in what you do. If you are on a train journey and you see something interesting, it is likely that you will be able to stop and get off sooner or later.

On a ferry you can wander around and enjoy all of the exciting bits of the ship, and you can go out onto the deck and enjoy the elements, even if they happen to be a little fierce. Compare this to a plane, where everyone is packed in like sardines and you’re stuck in your seat start to finish. Don’t get me wrong, low cost air travel is right for some, but slow travel is the best choice for me.

Ferry, Cross The Mersey

Whilst I didn’t quite manage the world famous Ferry Cross the Mersey, my ferry from Dublin did take me part way up the Mersey to Bootle, which is a few kilometres outside of Liverpool city centre. Coming into a city via the river is always impressive, because you get to see both remarkable feats of architecture and gritty, real areas which may not normally make it into the tourist guide books.

Our ferry arrived into the city just as the sun was beginning to go down, so the effects were particularly striking. Although I would have loved to have been able to travel further up the Mersey by ferry, it was fairly easy for us to get from the ferry port to our accommodation. Bearing in mind, my comrades had made this journey in the opposite direction and already knew the hostel and the transport system.

Beatles Overload

When most people in Ireland think of Liverpool they think of two things; Liverpool Football Club and The Beatles. If you are coming to the city for either of those two things, then you will not be disappointed. Almost every street you go down will have something to do with at least one of the “Fab Four” or your “favourite” Liverpool players. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good tune, but it is almost impossible to escape! Yes, the city should be proud of this aspect of its heritage, but Liverpool, there is so much more to you!

My travelling companions had already done the Magical Mystery Tour and visited the Beatles Museum, and were keen to visit some of the cities other top sights.

Maritime Heritage

Having enjoyed our ferry ride in so much the previous day I suggested that we head over to the Maritime Museum to find out more about other aspects of the city’s heritage. According to the exhibition, around 40% of the world’s trade was passing through Liverpool, meaning that the city must have been an important asset to the United Kingdom. The ports were even recognised by Hitler as a strategic target during World War Two. This fact makes it even more striking that the whole North West of England was basically forgotten by the British government during the latter half of the Twentieth Century.

On a (slightly) more light-hearted note, the Seized! Exhibition at the museum was a really interesting look at some of the things which had been found by border guards, which people were attempting to smuggle in or out of the country. The whole thing started a very lively debate later on whilst we were sitting in a coffee shop about how we would smuggle something if we really needed to. It turned out that Mitre’s parents were often forced to smuggle things during the Communist era in Poland, so he was able to regale us with a series of hilarious tales which thankfully all worked out well in the end.

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My Adventures on a Shoestring

I have always had quite a nomadic lifestyle, so it was no surprise to my friends and family when I suggested that I was thinking about jacking in my boring old job and taking a round the world trip. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I will miss the Emerald Isle something awful, but I’ve been “exploring” Ireland for 20 years now and need something as comparison.

All by Myself…

Having taken the plunge, I discovered that none of my friends were willing to make the same giant leap. Some of them were willing to commit to a week or two here or there, but no one I knew well enough was ready to give up their settled life for a year long whirlwind adventure. I figured that if I’m brave enough to quit my job to travel into the unknown, then I must be brave enough to go it alone. So that is why I’m stilling here at Dublin ferry port all alone waiting for the next ferry to Liverpool. Well, not quite alone…

The Adventure Begins

It’s a long way from home to Dublin ferry port, and I wanted to start my journey feeling refreshed, so I decided to spend my last few days in Ireland doing a bit of sightseeing and “relaxing” in Dublin. As this is a budget trip, I booked myself into a budget room in a (nameless) budget hostel in the Temple Bar area. Whilst the accommodation left a lot to be desired, the company was nothing short of excellent.

Dublin is a trap for people from all around the world who want to experience a little Irish hospitality and enjoy a pint of Guinness. Having been to Dublin a few times before, I had the advantage over most of the visitors because I knew a little about how to enjoy myself in Dublin for less money. Temple Bar is a great area, but it can be a little bit expensive if you do not know where you are heading to, so most visitors to the city do not budget accordingly. Some of the top pubs in the centre of the area can end up charging a wee fortune for a pint of the black stuff, so beware. However, it turns out that having a little local knowledge goes a long, long way, especially if you want to make friends in a budget hostel!

Unlike the stereotype of most Irish people, I’m not much of a drinker, but I still managed to enjoy the high spirits of others, especially when they are enjoying a few Irish traditions. Whether you are into classical music or hip hop, I find a bit of Celtic folk music is a great unifier, and my attempts to spend my last night in the country relaxing were (rhythmically) stomped into the ground.

Onwards Journey

And so, whilst enjoying my first solo hostelling experience and a little Irish culture I happened to find a few like minded spirits who were planning on setting off in the same direction as me. I met a Spanish girl (Manuela) and a Polish guy (Mitre) who had come to Dublin via Liverpool and loved Liverpool so much that they wanted to go back and stay there a while again. And that is how I came to be sitting with them at the ferry port waiting for the next boat out of Ireland. Although their previous visit to Liverpool was only brief, I’m hoping that they will be able to return the favour and share a little bit of their local knowledge of the city with me. And so the adventure begins…

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