Greetings, all. Happy 2008 to you. It’s been some time since I’ve last sat down to write – so much has happened, I’ll do my best to fill you in on the life of me between today and the train ride to Voss when I posted last.
I’m in Edinburgh, Scotland. I’ve been here since New Years Eve. But, how did I get here? It was quite the journey – filled with both ups and downs.
Norway. Let me see. Norway was cold, dark, and expensive, albeit unbelievably beautiful. I last wrote as Brian and I were making the world’s most beautiful train ride to Voss (in the dark!). Brian and I got off the train in Voss with the intentions of heading to the hostel that Lonely Planet touted – it had a sauna, it sounded perfect. After having a dinner of a bacon-wrapped hot dog (amazing), we headed down the road in the direction the lady at the convenience store pointed us. We recognized the hostel from a distance – as Lonely Planted described, it was seated directly on the shore of the lake that Voss surrounds. I could feel the warmth of the sauna. Unfortunately, as we got closer and closer to the hostel, I could see that one thing was wrong … it was dark.
We arrived at the door of the hostel to find it was closed for a couple weeks for the holiday. If we were in a large city, this wouldn’t have been a problem – but, in western Norway, I didn’t imagine there were any other hostels open. It ended up working out okay – we were able to check into a reasonably priced hotel. It had been some time since I had slept in a proper bed – I had no complaints.
We left for the Norway in a Nutshell tour the next morning. As per the usual, I was able to make Brian and I about five minutes late. Why? Because I was trying to finish eating one of the greatest continental breakfasts of all time – bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, coffee, pickled herring, caviar (though it was in a tube, it was lovely), crackers, ham, hard-boiled eggs, and more. I wanted to get a proper breakfast in me and also pack up some leftovers for the rest of the day. Either way, we left about ten minutes later than we should have. This resulted in Brian and I running through the slush-covered morning streets of Voss. We frantically arrived at the bus station and found our bus – not 30 seconds to spare.
Looking back, the Norway in a Nutshell tour was the most organized tourist adventure we’ve embarked on. I also feel it was the only way that Brian and I could have properly experienced Norway with the resources and time we had at our disposal. I also feel that if we hadn’t gone on the tour, I would have been very unimpressed with my time in Norway. The tour itself began with a bus ride through the mountains outside of Voss. After about an hour bus trip, we arrived at the end of of the Naeroyfjord (fjord). We later departed for a two hour trip on a fjord cruise ship – it was really amazing. I couldn’t help but think how we were in the middle of nowhere – shortly after this, we stopped at a fjord side village to drop off a family who had been into Voss to get groceries. I can’t imagine living in such a remote, yet remarkably beautiful area.
The tour ended with a trip on the Flam Railway – one of the steepest railways in world. We began at the town of Flam (which is right on the fjord, and therefore at sealevel) and ended in Myrdal (865 meters above sea level) some 20 kms later.
We caught a train from Myrdal back to Oslo. We decided when booking the ticket the night before we would spend the extra €8 to be upgraded to Comfort Class. This allowed us to have a more spacious seat – but, more importantly, complementary tea and coffee. I reckoned we could make up the price of the ticket by drinking heaps of free coffee and tea. We did. We arrived in Oslo five or six hours later with no accommodation booked. To save money, we decided we would … sleep at the train station. So, where did Brian and Matt spend the evening of December 29th, 2007? Curled up, hugging their packs in the cold, well-lit, but very reasonably priced Oslo Central Train station. It was an interesting experience that I hope doesn’t happen again soon. I probably got about 4 or 5 hours of sleep. Since the start of my travels, I’ve learned that if I’m tired enough, I can sleep anywhere.
The next day was spent busing, flying, and in the end taxiing to a moderately priced bed and breakfast in Prestwick, Scotland. After a shower, a couple of our first pints in the UK, and take-out Cantonese, I was more than ready to sleep in my own bed. Needless to say, it was infinitely more comfortable than the bench I claimed in Oslo.
After sleeping in a cold train station, I have much more respect and sympathy for those who are homeless and sleep rough in Norway, Ireland, or any other country in the world for that matter. Homelessness is a horrible thing. We can’t speak for how someone gets to the point where they have nothing else to resort to other than begging for change, but the fact of the matter is they are there. Human beings sleeping on the streets – it’s just wrong. I was leaving Ard Bia one afternoon in December, and it was cold, windy, and blowing sheets of rain. I watched a man staggering up Shop Street – soaking wet with a can of cider in his hand. I would venture to say he didn’t ask to reach this point in his life.
As I was watching this man walk up the street, I also watched all kinds of people hurrying up the street with two, three, five shopping bags in their arms. I didn’t send Christmas presents home this year, instead, I opted to make a once-off donation to the Simon Community of Galway – the Simon Community provides services to the homeless: emergency shelter, soup kitchens, housing projects, resettlement work, and other accommodation options for people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. There is so much wrong in this world, but together think of the difference people can make. Enough of that.
Brian and I ultimately ended up in Edinburgh, Scotland, on the night of New Years. We didn’t have accommodation booked but planned on staying with a guy we met through couchsurfing. Edinburgh is home to one of the world’s largest street parties – over 750,000 people come to Edinburgh for their New Year’s Hogmanay Celebration. We realized as we were busing in from Glasgow that it didn’t appear we were going to be able to get in contact with our couchsurfing host. His phone seemed to be dead. Well, stay at a hostel you say? Sadly, hostels in Edinburgh had been booked for at least the last three months. We didn’t want to let our lack of accommodation plans taint our New Years, so we camped out at a pub which had a stunning view of the Edinburgh Castle. Edinburgh is an unbelievable city to walk through – the city is nearly entirely made up of awe-inspiring buildings. Everywhere you look, you see massive buildings that scream Georgian architecture. Fascinating, really.
Sometime after 2008 rolled in, we decided we would don our packs and roam the streets of Edinburgh. Some hours later, after meeting all sorts of interesting people (most drunk), we realized we needed a place to sleep. Ultimately, we ended up making our way to a hostel on the west end of town. We sat down in the entryway, leaned back against our packs, and fell asleep. Shortly after this, someone arrived back to the hostel and let us inside so we could sleep in the warmth of the hostel reception area. Perfect! But, it gets better. Shortly after falling asleep again, a girl came from one of the dorm rooms and let us know two people had just left for a early flight – we were welcome to have their beds, she let us know. No complaints by us.
A New Years Eve that I don’t believe I’ll ever forget.
Since 2008 has rolled around, Brian and I have been bumming around Edinburgh getting little things taken care of – Bunac orientation, setting up a bank account, scouting out job opportunities, getting new service for our cell phones, etc. We’ve been staying with a wonderful girl we met through couchsurfing. Debbi is a student at university here in Edinburgh and has been terrific. The couchsurfing project continues to amaze me – Brian and I have stayed with her three nights and it’s as though we’re long-time old friends. Couchsurfing presents a brilliant way to travel, meet new people, and get a real feel for the cities you come across. Debbi, thanks for everything.
So, I’m basically caught up until today. As a whole, I so far have enjoyed Scotland. I miss the comfort of Ireland – my friends, my own place (though shared with a massage parlor), my job, and the dimly lit Irish pubs with good Guinness. That being said, I’m excited to see what each day brings. Today, when Brian and I woke up, our plan was to head to Newcastle, England (we’re scheduled to fly out of Nottingham, England on the 9th for Barcelona).
We headed to the train station with the not-so-unfamiliar weight of our packs on our back. We arrived to find the cheapest ticket to Newcastle was just about 50 quid. We didn’t want to pay this much, so proceeded to head to the bus station. Realization: the world wide web was correct last night in telling us the last bus for Newcastle left at 11:00. We didn’t believe it to be true – in Ireland, you could get to any small village ten or twelve times a day. Realization, this isn’t Ireland and no more buses were headed to Newcastle – or any place south for that matter. Frustrated, we decided to head to a coffee shop, get online, and see what our options were.
At 7:30 tomorrow morning, we’re flying from the Edinburgh Airport to Faro, Portugal.
now … some pictures …
and, a video
Again, happy new year to you all. The last year of my life has been full of firsts and of lasts – of hellos and goodbyes. I’ve been blessed to experience what I have in the last four months – today marks four months since I first left the US. It has been amazing to say the least – I can’t imagine what the next six months will bring. I wish you all the very best in 2008. cheers.