Scotland & The Irelands

It has been three weeks since we left Scotland and Ireland. We have been so busy traveling and exploring that this is our first chance to sit down long enough to recount our adventures from our time there. So here goes… better late than never…

Our four months in the UK will always be a pleasant surprise that was never in our plans or our itinerary. We kind of just ended up there but quickly fell in love with it, nonetheless. England was certainly amazing but Scotland and Ireland far exceeded any expectations we ever had.

We arrived in Glasgow, Scotland on New Year’s Eve to yet another housesit. We had hoped to meet the homeowners, get settled in and have time (and energy) to venture out for a little New Year’s celebration. But when we arrived after a long day of travel to four wild and rambunctious animals, we quickly realized that we were going to have our hands full. We joined the lovely couple for a nice dinner before they got dressed in their complete Scottish kilt costumes and headed off to perform in their traditional Gaelic choir in a televised event.

With travel exhaustion setting in, we opted to stay home with the fur family, pop open a bottle of bubbly and watch our new Scottish friends’ live performance on TV. It was definitely a New Year’s like no other we have celebrated but one that we will not forget.

The next couple of weeks at that housesit proved to be some of the most challenging times we have had throughout our pet sitting adventures. Taking care of a hyperactive, disobedient, non-housebroken 4-month old puppy was somewhat of a nightmare. Under our care, he discovered how to escape out the kitty door, knock the trash can over, rip  the toilet paper holder off the wall, pull our toiletries bag from the counter, pull books off the shelf, pee on our bed (and everywhere else), destroy everything within reach, and terrorize his siblings. Keeping up with him was a full-time job, leaving us very little time to get out of the house and explore. He tested our patience and even at times, our desire to continue house and pet sitting.

But at the end of the day, this sweet little face would look up to us with loving eyes and his warm, fuzzy little body would fall asleep between us and despite all his destruction and terror, we couldn’t help but love him anyway.

Our second day in Glasgow, we welcomed Yuki, a Chinese-Canadian PhD student into the home (set up through the homeowners on AirBnB) who shared the common areas of the house with us during our stay. This was a unique experience for us, as we have always had the homes to ourselves during sits but it turned out to be a positive and interesting one as we learned a lot from Yuki. We interacted daily with her and learned a lot from her about her native country of China, her home country of Canada and her host country of Scotland, where she was taking university classes.

She shared with us many local spots of interest to visit that she learned about from her fellow Glaswegian classmates. One such place was the neighborhood cathedral turned into a whiskey restaurant, concert and wedding venue. We spent a couple of evenings there doing our own Scottish whiskey tastings, choosing from a menu of hundreds of options from the 6 different regions throughout the country.

We had our very first visitor, Daniel’s mom, Joyce join us for two weeks as we moved around Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland, seeing some of the places she had always dreamed of visiting since she was a little girl. In our housesit applications, we had mentioned her arrival and in every instance, the homeowners were more than welcoming, allowing her to join us for comfortable accommodations with true local experiences.

Throughout the remainder of our time in Glasgow, we visited the award-winning transport museum, went on board the Glenlee ship, walked through the Necropolis, one of the most interesting graveyards overlooking the city, toured the beautiful university campus and drank beer at the local Tennent’s brewery, all the while admiring, yet struggling to understand the thick, impossible accents of the local Scottish folks.

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Our next stop took us to the capital of Edinburgh (pronounced Ed-in-bruh). There we stayed in the coziest, comfiest hostel where we slept in pods.

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During an insane amount of walking through the Old Town, we learned about the city’s creepy and tumultuous 3,000-year-old history of bloodshed, war, death, and extremely cold and miserable winters. At night, we took a haunted tour through the Greyfriar’s Kirkyard cemetery, listening to ghost stories and famous tales of the town.

We toured Scotland’s oldest and biggest castle that towers over the city on the coldest day that we have yet to experience on our travels. At the highest point of the castle, high on the cliff, the wind was brutal and the air felt like needles on our skin. The painful conditions made us appreciate the strength and tenacity required of the people that have inhabited this part of the world for centuries.

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While in Edinburgh, we ate at a local restaurant and sampled a traditional Scottish dish called Haggis, which we later discovered is made of sheep’s lungs, stomach and intestines. Our server did not reveal the ingredients until after we had enjoyed every last bite. And despite how unpleasant-sounding it may be, I must say, it was a tasty dish!

On our last day in Scotland, we heard about a nearby pub where local musicians gather for nightly jam sessions. We decided we could not leave the country without taking part in this cultural experience. When we arrived at the tiny pub, Sandy Bell’s, we saw a group of 8 musicians sitting around a table in the back room. As we approached them, a woman pointed to a tiny bench in the corner, inviting us to join in their intimate space. We quickly realized that this informal group was a hodgepodge mix of people, ages, and instruments, some of them playing together for the first time. One young kid had even taken a road trip with his mom all the way from Inverness, three hours away, just for the opportunity to play with the group in hopes of getting his name out there.

There was most likely a lot of freestyle play taking place but to us, it sounded like they had been playing together for years. They sang a couple of Scottish war songs, one of them by the young kid from Inverness that gave us all chills it was so good. The whisky was flowing and the vibes were indescribable. It was truly a magical moment and one that we will remember as one of our favorite experiences in our 10 months of travels.

Leaving Scotland on a high note, it was time to pack up and head to Dublin. Since Ireland is not considered part of the UK, we had to go through immigration once again upon arrival. After our bad experiences, we were thoroughly prepared for any and all inquiries about our visit. Luckily, this time it was a smooth entry and we were on our way. The homeowner for our next housesit was there waiting for us at the airport to take us back to her house on the outskirts of Dublin, in an upscale suburb along the sea called Clontarf. She took us to her lovely home where we shared a nice meal and conversation, learning much about her home country.

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We were introduced to Tashi and BB, the two international champion show dogs, one of them still in full coat. I learned the whole grooming process that was required to maintain BB’s hair in her owner’s absence. And it was quite the process! The combing and braiding took about 20 minutes to do (if she cooperated).  BB has actually entered again this year in the Cruft’s competition where she will be competing for another world title.

The city center of Dublin is easily reached by public transportation so we would simply hop on the bus and be there in 15 minutes. We spent a couple of days touring around and seeing the sights. One of our favorite things we did was going inside the massive, historic library at Trinity College. It truly was a sight to see!

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We also had a lot of fun drinking Guinness and listening to live Irish music at the Temple Bar, walking Grafton Street and visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Guinness brewery. One evening we even met up at a pub with a couple of Joyce’s friends who live near Dublin. There, we learned that no one in Ireland has ever heard of an Irish car bomb! 😀

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The adventure continued in Northern Ireland where we spent a few days in its fascinating capital of Belfast. We took a hop on/hop off bus around the city where we learned all about The Troubles, the period of political conflict from 1960 until the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The period of severe divisiveness can still be seen around the city with the many walls that were built to separate the Nationalists and the Loyalists. They are now covered with hundreds of murals and graffiti representing both the horrific violence that took place and also the people’s hope for a more peaceful future. The extent of street art is seriously impressive!

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Belfast today is perfectly safe, welcoming and nothing reminiscent of its volatile past. We met some of the friendliest people there who were exceptionally warm and kind.

During the tour, right as we reached the highest point of the city on the beautiful Parliament building’s property, it started to snow. Out of nowhere, the biggest snowflakes I have ever seen starting coming down. We went out on the upper deck of the bus and got some amazing photos of the winter wonderland.

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The next day we visited the Belfast castle, overlooking the city and visited the gigantic Titanic museum. It took us three hours to get through the museum and we could have spent even longer, there was so much to see! From the windows of the state-of-the-art building, we could see out into the shipyard where the world’s biggest cranes, Sampson and Goliath were used to build the Titanic (and many other famous ships).

Our final tour in Belfast was at the Crumlin Road Gaol, a former prison built in the late 1800’s. The tour took us all around the property, into the underground tunnel connecting the jail with the courthouse, into the prisoner’s cells, and even into the execution room where the original noose was still hanging. It was an eerie, creepy experience but so fascinating at the same time. We heard all kinds of stories of the atrocities that when on there over the course of a century. Interestingly enough, there is a portion of the prison that doubles as a wedding venue and as we were told, is strangely popular.

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The next point on our route was up the northern coast of Northern Ireland to a small seaside town called Portrush. Here, we had another housesit for two adorable pups and their equally friendly owners. We were greeted at the train station by Tim who picked us up and offered to give us a little tour of the entire region. He graciously drove us to the Giant’s Causeway, leaving us to take our time and explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the home to more than 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that were created from an ancient volcano.

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Tim also drove us by the Bushmills distillery, the Dunlace Castle and even the Dark Hedges, a creepy cool street featured on Game of Thrones.  We then returned to the house to meet his wife, Judy and the pups, Beau and Socks. They shared an amazing meal with us followed by a proper amount of wine and good company in front of the fireplace. We will forever be thankful for their kindness and the opportunity to get to know them.

While our stay in Portrush was short and sweet, it was just long enough to explore the quaint little town, stroll along the beautiful beach with the dogs and celebrate Daniel’s golden birthday at a local restaurant.

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Our time in Scotland and the Irelands came to a close, along with our travels with Joyce. We took a bus back to Dublin where we parted ways the following morning. As always, it was hard to say goodbye but we knew the next adventure was waiting for us on the other side.

 

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