So our trio split ways. I headed out of Spain and continental Europe all together (out of the Schengen as well, thankfully- I was about out of days) and Robin and Keith were in for some Portuguese adventures. We wouldn’t be apart long though, we had plans to rejoin forces in the UK.
My flight to Scotland was very early but fairly painless. It took me out of the heat of central Spain and into grey skies, scattered rain, and most of my layers of clothes. I got to Edinburgh in time to get onto High Street and meet up for yet another free walking tour. It was again totally awesome, with stories from medieval times and ancient cemeteries, to the coffee shop where Harry Potter was born. Wicked.
After the long day of travel and walking the city I was eager to have a bed to sleep in. I had very fortunately kept in touch with Andrew and Catriona, the Scots I’d met in Croatia. When I told Andrew that I was headed to Scotland for a few days, he offered me a place at his family’s house in Forfar. He wouldn’t be back from Croatia until the day after I arrived, but said his family would be more than willing to let me stay. It was perfect. I took a bus North from Edinburgh to Dundee and Andrew’s wonderful mother was there waiting with a sign: WILL (U.S.).
I only had a couple days with the Woodroffe family, but those couple days were fantastic. We had a chance to do some muddy biking and a little hiking in one of the glens nearby. I also made it just in time for the end of the Fringe Festival, so one of the days we headed back to Edinburgh and were entertained all day by street performers, comedians, actors, and musicians, completely free of charge. And of course it was very nice to get some laundry done, have a few mom-cooked meals, sleep in a big warm bed, and experience some incredible Scottish hospitality.
From Dundee I took a train back into England. I had a whole day to spend in Peterborough on my own before meeting up with Keith and Robin. I spent most of it in a coffee shop, out of the rain where I had some web and could relax, but I also got out to the massive cathedral and walked the town a bit. Then we were three once again and had the pleasure to stay with Helen, Robin’s very welcoming aunt, and her husband Gordon at their place in Spalding. It was more delicious home cooking, warm beds, and British hospitality (complete with tea time). They live on some land in the countryside and we got a showing of all the cool things on the property- from the World War II ‘pillbox’ to the old-time silo destined to be a deer stable and slaughterhouse. Keith even took a ride in the coracle- a strangely circular boat, on their little pond.
From Spalding we made the short trip to Stamford where we stayed with Robin’s cousin Patrick and had a few fun nights out on the town and in a couple proper English pubs. We also took the chance to sneak into the Burghley Horse Trials- a world-renowned equestrian competition held right there in Stamford. We were a little out-of-place, but it was cool to see the horses jump the gates in front of the elegant Burghley House.
In Stamford I once again said goodbye to my travel buddies (and said thank you to my hosts) and started making moves towards home. I took the train back to London where I met up once again with the great Peter Levi. I was thankful to have a couple days back at his family’s house, not just to sort out my travels home but also to spend some time with the awesome Levi parents I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting my first time through. Pete and I had a bike ride and a tour from Pete’s dad on some of the most ancient parts of London- where signs of the Roman Empire still existed.
Then it was back through London Luton, but going northwest instead of northeast this time. I’d found just the right flights to make going home via Reykjavík, Iceland nearly the cheapest, and I’d given myself a 3 day layover to check the place out. This time I was on top of sending my couch requests and had found some very experienced hosts just outside of the capital.
Once again, after the flight landed, I headed into town to see what I could see. I found some cool looking ships, a few over-priced shops, and a most awesome flea market. I walked the city to check out the sights and took a nap in a bench next to a pond. It was clean and sunny out, but it was still Iceland (64° north of the equator). I had all my layers on, which weren’t many by this point in the trip (no more pants, just cut-offs). I had heard legends of Icelandic wool sweaters, but even at the flea market I couldn’t afford them.
Again, it had been a long day of travel and city exploration, so I headed to meet my hosts. Fiann and Natalie had a 9th floor penthouse just a bit out-of-town. From their balcony I could see all of Reykjavík and it’s place on the North Atlantic. I had some great chats with them- they had a lot to say about how true Icelandic culture is being regrettably replaced by what tourists imagine it to be and what will sell in a tourist souvenir shop.
The next day Keith was again joining me for adventure. I stayed most of the day inside, out of the cold and windy rain before heading to town to our planned meet-up. That night it was a full house on the 9th floor with a couple German filmmakers, a cool Dutch journalist, a Spanish trekker, and us two Americans. We spent a good while connecting with the other travelers as well as preparing for our next day adventures.
One of the many great things about couch surfing is the groups. When I found out I’d be going to Iceland I posted in the Iceland group that I only had three days and that I was hoping to see some of the country besides the capital. That’s how I met Bragi- an Iceland native and former tour guide who had a car and was willing to fill it up with couch surfers to go on a little one-day road-trip to the nearby hot spots that make up the “Golden Circle”. Keith and I had the first two seats.
We got incredibly lucky with the weather. The day we ended up going was clear and sunny. Still cold though, of course, and I was very fortunate that Fiann had had a ‘to donate’ bag of clothes where I scored some pants and a jacket for the day-trip. We also got incredibly lucky with the tour guide and the other passengers. We were all in Iceland for just a few days, going one place to another, and we were all stoked to be seeing so much of such an otherworldly place. From geysers to waterfalls to hot springs to fault lines, we saw as much as we possibly could in our long day of driving.
That evening we hung out downtown with our new couch surfing friends for a while, seeing some of the Icelandic nightlife and live emo music scene. Then it was back to the edge of town, a short bit of sleep, and up nice and early to get to the airport. For once Keith and I were actually on the same flight. It was about 5 hours worth of movies and nodding off from Reykjavík to Boston.
It was a bit strange to feel at home in Boston, having never been there, but as soon as we were on American soil it felt like home. We actually had a nice afternoon hanging with Keith’s great friend (and my growing friend) Lindsey. She’d just moved out there for grad school, seriously not a few days prior, and was happy to have visitors already. Unfortunately I only had time for lunch and a bit of a hang out before having to get back to the airport for my evening flight to San Francisco. Keith got to stay and hang out in Boston for a few days.
So that was about it. I didn’t get into SF until about midnight, which in Iceland time is way late. Got the N-Owl down Judah and was crashing at my buddy Bryan’s in no time. The next day I took my time getting from the gorgeous weather in the city back up to Sonoma County, but I made it in time for dinner even. It was another great end to another epic adventure and again it has been a pleasure to share the experiences with you all. As always, thank you for reading.
A few special thanks to my United Kingdom hosts. To the Woodroffe family, I had no idea what I was going to do or where I was going to stay in Scotland. I can safely say: it could not have turned out better. Thank you so much for showing such incredible hospitality to basically a stranger. Helen and Gordon, you have a beautiful slice of heaven, thank you so much for sharing it. Patrick, it’s not hard to believe you’re related to Robin, simply based on your kindness and willingness to give. Thanks for everything. And of course, once again, to the Levi family, you guys are just so totally awesome and I’m so very happy to have had the privilege to get to know you and spend some time in your midst. Thanks again.
Thanks again for reading. More adventures to come soon.