This is what my friend Lester said to me when he picked me up at the train station in Glasgow, Scotland. It had been raining everyday in Scotland for a month straight. Apparently, this is normal for Scotland in July. But, incredibly, sun was forecasted for the next two days. I took advantage and went to the Scottish Highlands for some hiking. If you have never seen the Highlands, think big, green hills. Very scenic.
Looking down from Ben Nevis (1343m), the highest mountain in Britain
After my two days of hiking the clouds completely swallowed up the blue sky and the rains returned. Sometimes the travel gods smile on you.
Short aside: When you travel you sometimes encounter some odd situations. I had one in the Scottish Higlands. I was walking down a road when an old pickup truck stopped. An old guy with a classic Scottish accent (ie, Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies) and a white beard handed me this bottle of milk. He said, “After a long walk, what you really need is a pint!” He then drove off without another word. It was strange. But the milk was delicious.
I actually started my British travels in England. A few of the fine discoveries I made in that country:
– lawn games, especially croquet. Great fun for a sunny afternoon in the countryside
– Pimm’s. A liqueur that goes very well with croquet
– bitter. An English pale ale that is flat and served at room temperature… sounds awful, I know, but it’s quite good
– old fashioned milk bottles. Some people actually still get them delivered to their doorstep every morning
– traditional music. You can still hear it played at bars.
– the fry up. An English breakfast, essentially bacon, eggs, sausages, etc. The complete version, I’ve been informed, is the “Full English”.
Stuart, Tobi, Leigh, and Ben (England) talk strategy and trash on the croquet lawn. Don’t worry about all the pink, these are good guys. (Farnham, Dorset).
The Full English, courtesy of Andy & Lydia (London).
I would like to bring some of these great English things home with me. On the other hand, they also have Marmite: yeast extract they spread on toast. It tastes awful and looks like the substance that came out of my motorcycle when I changed the oil. The English can keep the Marmite.
You know what is cool about Britain in general? The institution that is the local pub. Every little village has one, even if it has absolutely nothing else. If you need medical attention, for example, you likely need to go somewhere else. If your car needs gas, you are out of luck. An ATM to get some money? No, sir. If you want to buy groceries to feed yourself, you won’t find a shop. But, if you want a pint, no problem — the local pub has you covered.
I made a short jaunt over to Ireland. Not to be outdone, the Irish have some great pubs of their own. Dublin, for one, is home to what seems like a million of them. I am sure you have heard that the Irish drink a lot. Sometimes in the world you come across claims which that, when you visit, don’t quite meet your expectations. Not so with the Irish — they are proudly upholding this stereotype with every raised pint. If you go to visit, bring a spare liver.
I visited the Guiness brewery in Dublin and found this piece of genius advertising. I followed this policy and it served me well.
The last thing you need to know about Britain and Ireland is that they are excellent hosts. I met lots of British and Irish all over the world who invited me to come visit when I was in their area. I told them I would. And now, often over a year after meeting them, they found that I wasn’t joking. I get around :) These people put on a clinic in hospitality for me.
Travel is a whole different experience when you are hanging out with the locals. It is even more enriching. I have done it often (not just in Britain and Ireland, but all over Europe now). I am truly privileged. I find myself in the enviable position of having many people to thank. I realized that if tried to do so in every blog post, I would never finish one. I plan on a big “thank you” at some point later, this is important for me.
Anyway, if the two islands of Britain and Ireland interest you, may I recommend having a gander here.
I feel like a How To video on The Unique Art of World travel. In installment #19, I show you how to sling a hammock. This one isn’t too exciting, but is crucial for backpacking through the the Amazon and the Guianas. In these places, I spent more nights in a hammock than in a bed. An extremely versatile piece of accommodation, you can a hammock when trekking the jungle or when floating down the Amazon in a river boat. Enjoy. Many thanks to Andrea for filming.
These days I visiting my friend Bart in Poznan, Poland. A great city, I am finding. I have been on the move a lot in the last few months, so I am going to stay here for a while and take it easy. That, and I need a new passport (again). Funny story here. I went to the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw the other day to apply for a passport. They asked me a few questions about what I have been up to the last few years. I tell them. I left Bart’s name and phone number as a reference. They called him. Here is just part of the exhange:
Canadian Embassy Worker: “We are calling to confirm Shawn’s identity. What is his profession?”
Bart: “He was a ski-bum. Now he is a backpacker travelling the world.”
Canadian Embassy Worker [laughing]: “Right, that’s him.”
Classic, eh? See, even my own government is confirming my lifestyle.
I am going to do some more blogging this week. If you are interested, be sure to come back in a couple days.