This is part two of my trip to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Check out part one.
Edinburgh had been nothing but magical since Donald, Johnny, Andres, and I arrived. Its history, atmosphere, and nightlife had captivated us from the get-go. But now our focus was on New Year’s Eve. What were we going to do in order to enter 2019 on a high note?
Day Three – New Year’s Extravaganza in Edinburgh
We all woke up late Monday morning a little deflated. Although the previous night had been a blast, we were still without any New Year’s plans. It seemed like everyone and their mothers would be attending the infamous street party. It was poor planning on my part for not purchasing tickets ahead of time. I had no idea Edinburgh would have such crazy festivities planned for the New Year, drawing in crowds from all around Scotland. If you plan on coming for New Year’s Eve, make sure you buy tickets ahead of time for whichever activities you plan on getting yourself into.
Hogmanay – Last Day of the Year
As we all laid in bed thinking our New Year’s celebration would be at a sleepy pub somewhere, Andres exclaimed that the Facebook page for Hogmanay (what Scotland calls New Year’s Eve) posted that there would be a last minute sale for tickets to the street party! Our mission was clear: get those tickets. Andres was able to buy all four of us tickets online but we still had to go retrieve them before a certain time. Luckily we had plenty of time to grab them. So on the way to the ticket tent, we picked up some food and drinks to bring back to the hostel in order to prepare for the night.
Edinburgh’s Atmosphere is Mesmerizing
After cleaning ourselves up (and looking quite dapper I might add), we toasted to our vacation together over some whiskey and set out for the street party. Edinburgh was completely unrecognizable in preparation for New Year’s Eve. The streets were packed and music was blaring from speakers that echoed all throughout the city. The whole atmosphere was mesmerizing and definitely something I will never forget. We weaved our way through the crowd towards Rose Street, where a rave of sorts was going on. Along the way, we were given more whiskey. Lord those Scots love their whiskey.
The rave was intense. The music and the lighting were euphoric, and everyone was dancing and having a great time. The only thing that slightly annoyed me was how long the lines to the bathrooms were. It took upwards of forty minutes standing in line filled with pushy people. Thankfully, I only had to go through that once. As midnight approached, the whole town began counting down to zero and we were all greeted with an impressively beautiful fireworks display from Edinburgh Castle, which Rose Street perfectly faced. They were probably some of the best fireworks I have ever seen in my life. I may have teared up a little bit. Right after the show, Franz Ferdinand played a song, too, which was unexpected and really cool!
Day Four – Continuing the Party
After midnight had hit in Edinburgh, we went to a pub called Stramash to listen to live music and chill for a bit. I was getting a bit sleepy so I left early and went back to the hostel to hang out in the common room. A lot of people were in there playing pool or hanging out, so I joined and chatted with fellow travelers. As much as I wanted to sleep, I kept winning at pool so I had to keep playing. Next thing I knew, it was six in the morning. I made my way back to my room only to find that my friends were still awake. Not wanting to be the party pooper, I continued celebrating with them even though my eyes were heavier than a Scottish cow.
We had a bus to Glasgow to catch at 10:00 AM, so we left the hostel around 9:00 AM and got some food next door. We were hoping to get a little bit of energy in us to make it to the bus station. Unfortunately, we got a little lost getting there. What should have been a ten-minute walk turned into a forty-five-minute ordeal. Imagine having no sleep and lugging your belongings around for almost an hour on bumpy sidewalks and cobblestone streets. I was miserable.
When we finally found the station, we had missed the bus. I was too exhausted to care. I almost just laid down on the floor and went to sleep. Luckily for us, the buses were running every hour so we were able to get on the next one without any issue. I immediately fell asleep the moment I landed in my seat.
Traveling to Glasgow
When we got into Glasgow, we called an Uber to our accommodation, the Alba Hostel. Unlike Edinburgh, this hostel was well outside the city center. It was still located in a nice area filled with many restaurants and such so I didn’t see much reason to complain. The plan was to drop our bags off and then do a walking tour of some sorts to see the town. However, the second we entered our room, we all crashed. Hard. None of us woke up until 9:00 PM. We ended up going to the BrewDog Brewery for some dinner and a couple of drinks before immediately going back to the hostel to catch up on our sleep.
Day Five – Tours, Scottish Food, and the Oban Distillery
With our energy back to 100%, we woke up early on our fourth day to go on an excursion of the Highlands. I booked this tour through Tripadvisor and the operator of the tour was called Timberbush Tours. We met our driver, Callum, in the city center and took off to the north with about fifteen other people. The tour stopped for a short break in a village called Luss on Loch Lomond for some sunrise pictures, and later in a town named Inveraray on Loch Fyne to see a castle before heading to our first major stop: Oban.
We had about two hours to kill in Oban so we walked along the town’s harbor to admire the view of the sea. Then we searched for a place to eat lunch, which wasn’t too difficult since there were restaurants everywhere. We ended up choosing the Oban Inn for no particular reason, but I’m glad we did because they had an array of delicious, traditional Scottish food. Always down to try something crazy, I ordered the haggis, neeps, and tatties. I’m still not really sure what I ate, but honestly, it was a very good dish and I highly recommend it. I washed it all down with the Highlander by Fyne Ales, which wasn’t the best beer I’ve had, but certainly not the worst.
After lunch, we walked over to the Oban Distillery to try some of their world-famous whiskey. As much as I love whiskey, I really don’t drink it straight. I wasn’t too thrilled when we ordered a flight of samples. To make matters worse, we realized soon after ordering that we only had fifteen minutes to drink them before Callum headed back on the road. I’ve never experienced a greater torture than having to scarf down four whole glasses of whiskey in a short period of time. I’ll admit, I left a lot in the glasses. The damage was done though. My stomach was burning, and surely my liver was cursing at me in a Scottish accent.
Back on the road again, we made our way further into the Highlands, occasionally stopping on the side of the road to take some photos of the breathtaking scenery. The landscape was becoming more and more barren with mountains intermittently scattered about. It was a very distinct environment in that there were so many rocks and so little vegetation. It’s not something I had personally experienced before. We didn’t stop in any more towns on the tour but instead drove from viewpoint to viewpoint. At one point, we stopped to see a herd of Scottish red deer. Unlike the American deer I’m accustomed to, these deer didn’t mind us getting close to them. They just went about their business.
Our Last Evening in Glasgow with an Early Flight to Belfast
We pulled back into Glasgow around 6:00 PM. We had an early flight to Belfast the next morning so we decided to grab a quick bite to eat and a drink. I was able to meet up with a Scottish friend of mine who I taught English with in Madrid, too, so it was great to catch up. Because I’d lost track of time on New Year’s Eve, I was a bit upset we couldn’t see more of Glasgow. I really didn’t think we’d be so paralyzed that we would waste a whole day in bed. I guess that means I’ll have to go back!
Stay tuned for part three as we hit up the last destination of our trip: Belfast, Northern Ireland!
by Tyler Black