Actual Events Solo backpacking stories Stories Summer Abroad Travel UK

Glasgow and Edinburgh

I was still sick the morning my flight left Dublin for Glasgow. I distinctively remember trying to force myself to finish a small jar of almond butter on the bus ride to the airport. Each spoon I forced in, I was calculating roughly how many euro cents worth were left in the jar. I eventually threw the rest away (I couldn’t take it on the plane as I only had a carry-on), but it was days before I felt absolved of spending 7 euro on a tiny jar of almond butter that I didn’t even finish.

But this sickness – I think it could’ve been a 24 hour flu thing, or maybe something related to eating cheap food, walking in the rain, and sleeping in strange places. The airport was packed and the flight was delayed. I didn’t want to give up my precious seat, but eventually I just HAD to go to the WC. My seat got taken when I left, so I spent the rest of the wait laying on the floor. I was worried that they might not let me board the plane for how ill I felt.

The flight… I think it was the flight where I noticed the texture on the airplane wall and I really wanted to run my fingers across it, but I was in a middle seat and didn’t want to creep out the person by the window. I left the plane thinking that I may never know how the airplane wall felt and wondering if that would become a life-long regret. A mixture of feverish delusion and trying too hard to “soak it all in.” But look, nearly a decade later and I still remember staring at that wall and wondering how it felt!

I had reserved a bed at a Globetrotter Hostel near the big library. It was across the street from another hostel that had cool-looking people chilling out on the balcony with beers and cigarettes. That’s what they call a hostel with a “good vibe.” The hostel where I stayed didn’t have such a good vibe. It was actually the worst hostel I’ve ever visited, but not because of the vibe. It was dirty, and in bad repair, and there was carpet in the WC by my room (no bath in there, just a toilet and 2 sinks). The stay came with a free breakfast that was served in the kitchen, but to eat the stale bread they were offering, you had to navigate the labyrinth of a basement. Seriously, I had to climb over old furniture through one of the rooms that led to the kitchen, and when I found the kitchen, I found that “breakfast” was a plastic grocery bag of old rolls.

Hostel kitchen
Bathroom by our room
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Broken tiles in the threshold of one of the many rooms at the hostel

I encountered one of the hostel workers in one of the downstairs rooms that was packed with old couches and over-stuffed chairs. She was technically American, but had been living in Scotland since her childhood, and for some reason, lack of money, loss of passport, some complicated situation with a Scottish parent, or I’m not sure exactly, but she was stuck in Scotland. She hated living there and wanted to go to America. From her I got the inside scoop about the hostel, that it was owned by one guy who actually owned several other hostels that had similar names, and he was doing something with the online reviews to make it look like all the hostels were excellent (or at least decent), thereby tricking innocent travelers into staying at that crappy hostel. And he wasn’t paying any of the hostel workers any money; their compensation was to stay for free at the hostel. She really wanted to get out of that place, but the money she was earning working other jobs was never enough to rent another place to stay. We chatted for a long time, and since she said that neither she nor her colleagues care at all about the order in the hostel, I dared to ask her if there was a towel I could borrow. She took me to the laundry room by the front desk – it was a smallish room that was piled high with towels and linens, washed or unwashed, I’ll never know! You couldn’t even see the floor, but she seemed to have some idea what was where as she climbed over the piles to grab me a towel. She told me I could bring the towel back to that room at the end of my stay.

Think about that…I have no idea if that towel was clean or dirty, and if it was dirty then how many other butts had it dried since its last wash. But I was 20 and fearless, and apparently desperate to shower. I took the questionable towel down to the icky basement and found a bathroom with running water. I remember comparing 2 possible shower stalls, but the options were grim: dirty tiles or loose and broken tiles; no shower head or no light. I think I chose the dirty tiles, shower head, and no light. And I thought I was so clever because I found some toilet bowl cleaner to clean the tiles with, but there was no scrubbing thing, so I just squirted it on the floor tiles and rinsed it off with warm water. My feet itch when I recall this experience.

I think I used the adjacent stall
At least the room doesn’t look so bad, and no bed bugs, at least ;)

The room where I slept had 8 beds, and together 5 of us stayed there the first night – 3 girls about my age, one from France, another from Germany, and another from South Africa, and a man in his 50s. I remember the French and German girl arguing about which of their countries Lidl and Aldi had originated in (I think the German girl was right). And the German girl told us that she grew up in the outskirts of Berlin and she remembered finding human bones in the forest where she would play. The older man was visiting Glasgow to attend a world peace conference with a famous guru. We were all sitting in the room and talking on the first night and the man announced that he was going to get ready to go to bed, but we could keep talking. I thought he was going to change into his pajamas in the carpeted toilet room next door, but nope. He dropped his drawers right there in front of all of us. I was horrified and quickly excused myself to go book a bus ticket to my next destination. It’s funny that nearly 10 years later I don’t think I would flinch at the sight of a 50 year old man in boxer shorts, but I have no clue what I was thinking taking a shower in that nasty place!

Another hostel worker, a woman from Ghana, helped me to find a budget coach service and book a seat to Manchester online. I debated calling up a Scottish guy I had met in Wales, but he only gave me his contact information because his friend practically forced him to, and I hate making phone calls, so it was easy to decide not to contact him.

The next day was Sunday, so in the morning I went to a Baptist church nearby. It’s scary to visit a church service all alone, where everyone knows each other and you’re the odd one out. But the people there were very friendly. I met a lady who had moved to Scotland from Canada, and she and some others invited me to join them at the cinema after church. I wanted to spend more time with them, but Sunday afternoon was my one chance to visit Edinburgh, so I did that instead.

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Edinburgh, the old part


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Foggy, misty, Scotland

Edinburgh was interesting but didn’t make a huge impression on me as I was there for such a short time. I was going to walk up King Arthur’s Seat, but it was raining and I still felt a little under the weather, so I just walked to where I could see it, and then headed back to the high street to look for somewhere that would sell me a scone with cream and jam.

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King Arthur’s Seat
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This picture does not do the building justice at all. Check it out on google images or visit it yourself ;)

Wandering around a bit, I found the parliament building, but only took one lame picture of it. Found a bagpipe player and felt giddy to be hearing bagpipes in Scotland, IN THE RAIN! (Because that’s how Americans picture Scotland, right?) And I dared to eat some haggis, but I stuck to the vegetarian version – the traditional haggis is made with something like minced sheep guts.

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Haggis. Some people should not be allowed to photograph food. 20-year-old Leah is one of those people.
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Seeing this little boy get his picture taken with the bag pipe player made me feel lonely, like I had no one to pose for a photo and no one to photograph me.
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My response to the loneliness was to get creative and pose with a statue :D

Later that evening, I was back in Glasgow, and the next morning on my way to Manchester.

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