It was sometime in November when it hit me. Scotland was a frequent visitor in my daydreams and it has been years since I embraced (and fully lived by) you are the master of your own life. So I found a Contiki tour that takes you there. And I booked it. My buddies thought it was brave that I was planning to spend 8 days with complete strangers, and even braver that it was during New Years Eve. I personally thought it was an act of courage not to YOLO, since as the slang word indicates you have only one life, and postponing your life dreams means you are confident you will have a long enough tenure on this earth to do it “some other time”.
So I was “brave” and headed to London to meet 50 people who as far as I know could be complete douchebags. They weren’t.
It’s 6am and dark in the city of London. I dragged my 20 kilo maximum as per the rules of the coach suitcase, and waited with 50 strangers for our turn to get on the bus. I took my usual window seat and watched as people paired up. “Will someone sit beside me? Will I get picked?” I found the annoying voice in my head say. And I realized for a second what my friends meant about being brave. The last time I heard that annoying voice I was in gym classes waiting to be picked last for handball teams. Shhh voice, I am 35 years old and fabulous. Someone eventually sat beside me and his last name was Snape and that was pretty cool.
Once settled our tour manager announced that we will be playing a version of speed dating that involved bus musical chairs and one minute intros. After telling my life story in 30 seconds around 20 times I had identified my new bffs. Spoiler alert, I was wrong. Goes to show first impressions aren’t always right even though you think you are old enough to read people in 30 seconds.
And off we went, exploring full towns in 2 hours each, taking pictures that will soon sit under our fluorescent office lights reminding us that we are worldly explorers, and acquiring semi carefully picked souvenirs for our crew back home.
Our first night was in Liverpool. At the exterior you see a grey industrial city, lots of bleached hair confident gals in suede jumpsuits who we learnt are labeled as WAGs, or wives and girlfriends of footballers. We also learnt how to spot one that is truly coupled with the local celebs and one that is just aspiring to be so. Lovely.
But after running around this city, meeting the people, being called Laav 158 times, we noticed something beyond the bleached grey exterior. They aight. Their ancestry is lined up with a sacrificing working class, immigrants coming and going, acceptance of many incomers with their diverse tongues which finally all merged to create the current Liverpudlian accent we all know and can barely understand.
Early mornings aren’t a favorite amongst most travelers I know, but I personally get too excited to sleep and in the streets before the sun comes up. And this specific Liverpool morning was one that I would never forget, for you see, we were taken down memory lane of one the most important home grown products of the city, The Beatles.
Next up was York. And it was during the flooding. You would expect the people of this quaint town to be distressed because of the weather situation, but alas, they were quite the opposite of that. The town people whose houses were flooded had been welcomed into the homes of those who were safe and dry. The part of town not submerged in water was as welcoming and charming as a fairytale. Musicians playing in the courtyards, shopkeepers smiling from cheek to cheek and sunlight creeping through the vintage houses. I must say this was one of my favorite places I have ever visited. Once the sun set, we were taken on a ghost tour. Now if you are like me and do believe in the fact that the essence of spirits can indeed linger in our world until their messages are delivered you will enjoy this tour. And if you are not a believer, you will still enjoy the charming ghost expert that took us around and the stories he and his mates claim to have witnessed across the many decades of their residence in York.
As we bid goodbye to York, we continued onto the scenic route and into Scotland. Oh how magnificent that country is!
As we drove through Lake District and closer to the long awaited Edinburgh the bus mates- now great friends – started making plans for the next evening. For you see, the highlight of this adventure was mean to be New Year’s Eve celebrations, Hogmanay. Rumored to be the best (and one of the first) of NYE parties around the world we were ecstatic. The first evening in town was madness, Scots know how to party! There were many songs sang, dance-offs miserably failed and giggles that will never be forgot. I wish I could say the same of the NYE party itself, but unfortunately, as many overhyped events end up, it did not live up to the expectations. Regardless, we welcomed the new year with fireworks above beautiful medieval castles and a band we never heard of before.
One of the hardest things I ever had to do was waking up New Years day at 8am, packing and heading out on to the next adventure. That day we visited 3 towns, Pitlochry , St Andrews and another one I cant remember #DontAsk.
Little did we know, New Year’s Day in Pitlochry is a special occasion, marching bands, some sort of local dance that entails every resident and visitor lining up from one end of town to the other, locking arms and hippity hoppying until noon. I must declare that hippity hoppying is not the correct technical term. I made that up.
St Andrews was so fancy it hurts, that made sense when we were told the university there hosted much royalty A.K.A. Prince William Duke of Cambridge. Graduated in 2005 just incase you didn’t know.
Next up Glasgow. The most memorable thing about this town is the cuisine that can be summed up in minor stroke inducing. Fried mars bars, fried pizza fried errything. The party scene wasn’t too bad though.
We stopped at a few other places before arriving back to London, one of those places was a locksmith on the border with a quirky story. When the age of marriage was increased in England, but stayed the same in Scotland, that little stop was the refuge of young eloping lovers. We had a fake marriage and packed our things and were off on our way.
London arrived, and it was time to bid farewell to our new best friends, our long lost soul mates with firm promises of meeting again and taking another Contiki trip together. To date it haden’t happened yet, but alot of us are still in touch.
Summary? Contiki good, Scotland divine, life’s too short so go out and meet the world.