FOND FAREWELLS TO ALL THINGS IRISH, WELSH, SCOTTISH & ENGLISH
It’s hard to believe it’s been 2 months since we landed at Heathrow Airport, freshly traumatised from our experience in China. The past 2 months in the British Isles have flown and we have absolutely loved our time here, but today came our time to move on. We’re in Amsterdam now, just beginning our 90 day sojourn in continental Europe. What’s the verdict so far? Amsterdam is ongelooflijk!
We left London’s St Pancras station this morning on a slick, super-fast (300km/h) Eurostar train*, bound for Brussels. We crossed under the English Channel without any issues; it only took half an hour or so to get across to Calais in France (much quicker than when we travelled under the Sea of Japan getting from the Japanese island of Honshu to the northern island of Hokkaido in 2013). Cutting westwards from there we reached Brussels in just 2 hours, where our connecting train to Amsterdam awaited us.
*We looked at flying to Amsterdam, but the Eurostar tickets we got were cheaper than any airfare we could find, so through the Chunnel we went!
We spent most of our day watching the green, picturesque landscapes of 4 countries (England, France, Belgium, Netherlands) zip by, reflecting on the past couple of months and everything we’ve seen and done in the British Isles. As is our wont, we’ve summarised what our favourite bits of each country were, and what lasting memories we will take with us from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England.
Reasons why Britain and Ireland are on our list of places to come back to:
• The wealth of history and culture to immerse yourself into. Need we say more…
• Grand castles and stately manors. So many to choose from! So much fun to explore!
• Pubs with a cosy atmosphere, good cask ales on tap, and simple, traditional pub food on offer.
• The beautiful countryside and the friendliness of country folk. More than the big cities, that’s been a major highlight of the past 2 months for us.
• So many hiking opportunities. If you’re into mountain climbing, this is probably not the ideal hiking destination for you; but if you’re after simpler strolls, rambles, and treks that can take you up hills, across fields, and around fells, Britain is just right.
Just about the only thing we won’t miss about the UK is the cost of things. Britain in particular is not a cheap destination at the best of times, and with the Aussie dollar now valued at less than half the British pound, this is not a destination for the “budget traveller”. Also, whilst public transport options are OK across Ireland and Britain, they are not as frequent, punctual, or extensive as in mainland Europe. Renting a car in some places (e.g. Western Ireland, Northern Scotland) is the best way to go because otherwise you just can’t see the best of what there is to see.
Things we will always remember about Ireland:
• The green – oh the green! Such pretty rolling, green hills! The countryside in Ireland is undeniable beautiful. No wonder so many songs have been sung about it!
• The people are so friendly and fun. It’s a cliché, but it’s also a truism. In particular we loved the locals’ senses of humour and their of making fun of people (including themselves). We love it as it’s very similar to the Aussie sense of humour, but we saw a few people get a little perturbed by the Irish informality and humour. Made us think that if you go to Ireland and take yourself too seriously, you’re going to have a bad time.
• The music. Whether plaintive and heart-wrenching, or merry and foot-tappingly good, we discovered that Irish music is always worth listening to.
One thing we didn’t expect is how frustrating Ireland could be, however, in terms of the lack of systems and adherence to time (on buses, trains, tours, etc). It seems to us that Irish people’s view on life is pretty optimistic and happy-go-lucky – they don’t sweat the small stuff. Generally that is AWESOME, however, just occasionally, this lack of concern for “the small stuff” (e.g. being on time) was just a wee bit frustrating. We learnt to just roll with it, but it took a couple of days to adjust to what we ended up calling the “Fiddle-dee-dee Factor”.
The country we spent the least time in, and had the least expectations of, was Wales. This was also the country that surprised us the most in terms of the beauty of the scenery and the lovely rural feel of the place. The language is impossible, but the people are welcoming and friendly, and the pace of life so relaxed. Also, Welsh cakes are scrumptious!
From Wales we moved on to Scotland and promptly fell in love. The weather might be horrendous (or at least very changeable), but the mountains, valleys, lakes, and beaches are stunning. Simply stunning. We had heard all about the Scottish Highlands and how awesome they are, “You must go!”, etc, etc. So we went. But we did not expect to fall so profoundly in love with what we found there.
Last, but certainly not least, the country that’s (kind of) our Motherland: England. There are definitely some pretty bits to England (most notably the Lakes District, the Cotswolds, and the Yorkshire Dales), but overall it’s nowhere near as stunning as its neighbours. Still, there’s so much history to be had in England, and the castles, grand houses, abbeys, churches, universities, museums, and art galleries are second to none. London especially thrilled us and has taken its place amongst our favourite cities in the world.
There’s no doubt in our minds that we will return to Britain and Ireland at some stage in the future – there’s just so much to see and do, the people are awesome, the food’s not bad, and it’s a very easy, safe country to travel through. For now though our attentions have turned to a whole new city, culture and language as we take our first baby steps in the Netherlands.
We’re staying in a small apartment in the Nieuwmarkt district of Amsterdam, on a lovely canal lined with grand old townhouses. Our apartment is in the attic of one of the townhouses and it’s light, airy, and just lovely – we have views over the canal and are just a block from the closet restaurants, shops, and cafés. It should be a great home base from which to explore the city! Join us tomorrow to find out how our first foray into Amsterdam goes…