No time to write (or read) a proper travel blog, so I'll just use this and try for short updates.
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  • Day20

    London - walking tour

    August 20, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Back in London again, staying at another cheap hostel but this time it's very close to a tube station, so not such a hike every day to get out.

    Finally got around to doing a (free) walking tour - kinda went through the same places I'd already been, but the guide of course had extra historical notes to make things interesting. Pic 1 is the alley they replicated for Nocturne Alley in Harry Potter, 2 is the National Gallery, 3 is Admiralty Arch, 4 is a statue of James Cook on the street between there and... #5 Buckingham Palace, looking appropriately ominous, 6 less ominous through the attached park.

    I quite liked this walking tour guide because he mostly let the interesting bits of history speak for themselves, unlike some of the other guides who try to be funny or super dramatic and it just distracts from the point of the tour.
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  • Day19

    Scotland - Bye!

    August 19, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    I've had a great time in Scotland, with warm and often sunny weather, and only a few short, light rain showers.
    I'd like to come back to Edinburgh again NOT during festival time, I think it'd feel like a different city. I'd also like to explore more of the Hebrides islands, it seemed like there was a lot to see and I only scratched the surface.

    Through random coincidence, Tim and Kristina (https://timzic.wordpress.com) will be arriving in Edinburgh at almost exactly the time I'm leaving. We'll probably be in the same building at the same time but never see each other on our respective European trips.
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  • Day18

    Lismore - island hiking

    August 18, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☀️ 12 °C

    On the very strong recommendation of Adrian, I spent a day on the Isle of Lismore. I don't think it really lived up to his claim that it is literally the best and most amazing place ever, but it was very pretty, quiet, and relaxing. It's not one of the main tourist islands around here (like Mull, Skye, Iona) so there were just 3 other tourists getting off the ferry with me (pic 1) - no fighting the crowds here! It's called "the garden island" but I think "the farm island" would be more accurate, it is almost all covered in sheep/cattle farms.

    I followed the other tourists up to the cafe/visitor centre/museum (yes, it was all one building) and it wasn't supposed to be open yet (at 10:30) but the owner kindly opened it up for the crowd of (4) people arriving. I got a (hand drawn) map and proceeded to the ruins of Castle Coeffin (pic 2, it's about 800 years old) on the cafe owner's recommendation.

    The way to the castle was quite unclear - had to go down driveways alongside fields and through closed gates. At one point I got a fright when farmer in a nearby field stopped his tractor and angrily yelled "what're ye doin'? Ge' over here!" a few times... before I realised he was yelling at his dog. Whew.

    Next, I hiked to the highest point on the island. Only 127m up, but quite difficult because there is no path (and I also have quite inappropriate hiking shoes) - so, finding my way over streams and fences and avoiding mud, poop, and thistles. Worth it for the spectacular views though, here is a photo sphere from the top: https://goo.gl/photos/Ep19iHkX73jAWjJu6 and there are a few more pics on this post.

    Finally I hiked back down to the road, past the lochs (one in pic 6), toward the lighthouse at the south end of the island. Unfortunately (after jogging a bit in a last ditch effort) I had to turn around to make it back before the last ferry left. Less than a kilometer (judging by GPS) from the end of the road, but I really didn't want to be stranded there overnight!

    Despite what everyone says about Scotland, it was hot and sunny all day, and I even got a bit sunburned!
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  • Day17

    Oban - arrival/exploration

    August 17, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    Exploring Oban on my first day here. It's a small seaside town that feels very much like Paihia in NZ (without the nice beaches, but with more history). Oban is mostly used as a port on to the Hebrides islands, rather than a destination so somehow feels a bit less vibrant and happy than Paihia.

    On top of the hill overlooking the town there's a kinda bizarre hollow circular structure, McCaig's Tower, architected and commissioned by a wealthy philanthropic banker around 1900. Turns out they stopped building it when he died, with only the outer wall completed. Nice views from there though!

    Walking along the coast, you come to the ruins of Dunollie Castle, a properly old (1400s) fort. There seem to be a lot of small forts around here, must have been a fairly unpleasant region over the last few hundred/thousand years. Unfortunately it was closed for the day so I just got a distant picture through the trees.

    Also interesting: all the signs here are bilingual: English and Scottish Gaelic.
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  • Day16

    Edinburgh - last day jumble

    August 16, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    First, the view from my hostel window! It's more fancy than my last hostel (although it seems most side streets in Edinburgh look very picturesque like this). More importantly, it's much closer to everything than my last place.

    Next, the seat of authority in a dystopian future? No? Just what Edinburgh built to commemorate a famous novelist.

    Then I went to the Botanical Gardens. Very pretty, and very manicured through most of the garden. Also had a nature-based art exhibition in the visitor centre that I found very interesting (the pic is composite photography from many sides of a tree).

    Finally, one of the last Fringe shows I went to, and one of the best (for me). There were gamer/developer/comedians talking about games and questioning the audience, then the comedians had to compete in various retro games on stage. Ended up being both interesting and very funny.
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  • Day15

    Edinburgh - tours

    August 15, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    Went on a walking tour (so much history!). Got the impression that Edinburgh was pretty self impressed with "the Athens of the north" motto and attempting (failing) to build a replica Parthenon.

    Next, a whiskey tour! It was part museumy - going through the whiskey making process, main regions, and how things affect the flavour - and part whiskey tasting, where you could compare single malt whiskies from different regions and a blended whiskey. Interesting and enjoyable, although pretty pricey even given the whiskey sampling. I think I liked the blended whiskey best (cheap tastes, woo!). They had a huge collection (world's largest?) of whiskies, especially in rare bottles.

    Bonus: balloon octopus! 🐙
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  • Day14

    Edinburgh - food

    August 14, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Continuing with my food-sampling (I'm thinking this will become a regular topic) I tried more Scottish fare: scotch pie (similar to a NZ meat pie except with thin hard pastry instead of soft flaky pastry, and the filing was less rich and "meaty", maybe because it's lamb/mutton instead of beef mince). Decent, but mostly just made me miss mince pies.

    Next up, macaroni and cheese pie! (pic) Same crust as scotch pie minus the top. I wouldn't expect it to work (double carbs) but it's actually very good! Also cheap (for UK) - only 1 pound.

    Oh yeah, food is pretty expensive here - some seems to scale so it's roughly the same price as NZ converted into pounds, others seem to just replace the dollar sign with the pound sign and be done. Worst conversion I've had is a 70p McDonald's ice cream (roughly 3x the price). And it was smaller too!

    Finally, had a Cornish pasty. Basically take all the ingredients of a roast and put them in a semi-circular pie of flaky pastry. Also pretty ok and perhaps a bit healthier (less unhealthy?) than a purely meat pie.

    Oh yes, I also had Yorkshire pudding a while ago. It is not pudding (I was kinda expecting that). It was also pretty basic (just empty puffed pastry with gravy on top). Maybe that's unusual?
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  • Day14

    Blair Atholl - Robertson clan museum

    August 14, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☀️ 15 °C

    Took a 3 hour bus ride to visit the home of Clan Donnachaidh (in Gaelic, children of Duncan - this was from before families kept a fixed last name, instead called by "[name], son of X, grandson of Y", Robertson is the main last name now). It was a tiny one-room museum with a connected little shop selling kitschy little clan-related souvenirs, but still lots of interesting stuff seeing as it's directly related to my ancestry. There's even a DNA mapping project.
    This trip also gave me a nice chance to see some Scottish countryside. Could almost be NZ, besides the occasional Victorian-style house (pic 6) and the towns (many old buildings that look very similar to those in Edinburgh, Victorian style all made of the sand grey stone).
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  • Day14

    Edinburgh - economist bonus

    August 14, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    There's a big statue of Adam Smith, "the father of modern economics" on the main tourist street. I didn't know he was Scottish! Here he is looming over me at night, reminding me of exams.

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