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Scotland! The land of kilts, bagpipes, and original James Bond and Henry Jones Sr., Sir Sean Connery. This was the part of the trip prior to leaving that I was looking forward to the most. I was craving the sight of lush, green mountains and historic castles.
I arrived in Edinburgh just shy of Noon and was thrilled at how easy it was to get to my hostel from the airport; Just a short bus ride and walk, and I was there. They even had WIFI on the city bus! I was on a roll.
Once I got off the bus into old Edinburgh I was met with one of the most beautiful, characteristic cities I've ever seen. Unlike the more-modern Glasgow, which I'd eventually visit later in the stay, Edinburgh has held on to its old-world charm. You really feel like you are in some fairy-tale town. It's a busy city and one of the two biggest in Scotland, yet still feels small and is conveniently walkable. Even my hostel, the aptly named Budget Backpackers Hostel, was located in a historic, old building.
Once I actually got to the hostel, I quickly learned that my excited American smile was not going to get me far with the hostel staff. Something to note: hostels aren't necessarily as friendly as they advertise. While they are clean and safe, that whole 'you're going to feel like you're at traveler Disneyland' vibe advertised on the websites is not exactly the reality.
Once I got in the room I was determined to be more outgoing and meet people. Living in LA, I tend to be a little more closed off with engaging in conversation with new people. Let's be honest, that whole "Where are you from?"/"Oh you're an actor"/"Let's discuss the industry the whole time" thing gets really boring after a while. I was thrilled at the idea of getting to meet people from all over the world, so naturally, the very first person I met was a 21-year-old pretty boy from LA who enters the room shirtless and proceeds to do push-ups. Sounds nice right? No. For someone who wanted to experience the world, I found myself experiencing just another day at CAZT for an audition.
I left my room at the Melrose Place of Edinburgh and wandered around to see who else was in this Scottish hostel. I soon discovered that everyone else in this hostel was traveling with someone or so it seemed. I felt like I was on the Noah's Ark of European backpacking trips. I ventured into the dining hall only to be met with silent stares by a group of people from Spain who clearly were not up for communicating outside their clique. I moonwalked out of that dining hall faster than Javier Bardem's spanish.
I left the hostel to explore more of Edinburgh, even getting some fish and chips along the way, or for the Americans out there, fish and fat french fries.
The next day was my actual birthday, and I had booked a tour of the Scottish highlands. I was so excited that even the prospect of having to arrive at the pick-up location by 8am did not bother me. Our tour guide showed up, and I don't think I've ever seen a more Scottish Scotsman in my life. He was rocking a kilt, beard, and extra dry humor. Eventually Tour Guide Tommy stopped with the Braveheart inaccuracy rants, and we were out of Edinburgh and on our way to the Highlands.
The beauty I saw that day in the Highlands was breathtaking. From Loch Ness to Glen Cloe, the scenery was incredible and the peacefulness was utterly refreshing. Glen Coe was by far my favorite portion of the tour, and I was reminded of an infamous character in the 2000s cult classic Mean Girls. I repeated out loud "You go Glen Coco" and started laughing. Tour Guide Tommy was oblivious, and if he thought Americans might be crazy, I had a feeling after that his assumptions may have been vindicated. Well, I thought it was funny.
August 4, 2017: The Battle of the Tourists. Today I saw Edinburgh Castle and apparently so did the rest of the city. I should mention that this is the most historic castle in Scotland, and I also happened to be there during their Fringe Festival, which is one of the biggest in the world. So the odds were not ever in my favor. But like Katniss, I fought my way through. It's surprising how these royalty castles are set up like small towns that overlook the city on top of a hill. This is the same with the charming, and not nearly as busy, Stirling Castle. Stirling Castle was also a popular castle of the historic royals of Scotland, and part of the fun is getting to venture through a quaint Scottish village to get there. The history of Scotland pops up when you least expect it too. After finishing at Stirling Castle on another day, it had started to rain, and I wandered into this local cafe that just happened to be the former home of the 2nd husband of Mary Queen of Scots and father of King James I, Lord Darnley.
My personal favorite was one called Tantallon Castle. I wanted to make sure to see a castle on the coast. Scotland has numerous castles and this one did not disappoint. It's located in North Berwick, which is also one of the sunniest parts of the country and to my luck, it was indeed sunny the day I went. It is located on the outskirts of the town and was home to the Douglas Clan. The castle itself is on the top of cliffs overlooking the sea with a beautiful field surrounding it. Because it isn't as well-known as Stirling or Edinburgh Castle, there were only a few other people there, and I was able to walk all throughout the castle, even to the top! It was a day I'll never forget.
I absolutely loved Scotland. It's beauty and history is truly awesome, and I would recommend this place in a heartbeat. Did I mention how good the Guinness beer is there? Seriously, just go for the beer alone.
Next up, join me on my adventure in London. Hint, there was lots of rain.
In case it wasn't obvious already, I love to travel, so what better excuse to take a big vacation than a milestone birthday?
At the beginning of this month I ventured out on my 30th birthday trip: backpacking in Europe. My destinations included Scotland, London, Paris, and The Netherlands. I would be staying in hostels with only a backpack as my main piece of luggage. Did I mention I've never stayed in a hostel before? My only image of hostel-life is the horrifyingly graphic Hostel film where people get kidnapped and murdered at a hostel in Eastern Europe. Oy. At the end of the day though, I'm a girl on a budget, and if I felt uncomfortable at any time I'd randomly announce at check-in that I'm ex-CIA. That may or may not be true...
I had a good laugh with friends prior to leaving when I announced the airline I would be flying was called WOW Air. It's an Icelandic airline that offers inexpensive flights. It was only when I saw the physical airplane that I realized the joke had legs. What lay before us was a giant pinkish-purple vessel with 'WOW' written on the side in giant, capital letters. I could only imagine that thing soaring across the Atlantic. Upon getting inside the airplane, I discovered that the colorful theme didn't end at the exterior of the plane. We had pinkish-purple carpeted floors and flight attendants decked out in the bright design. If ever I was going to pretend I'm in a Britney Spears 'Toxic' music video remake, this would be it.
My quirky airline did not disappoint though, and I made it safely to my layover in Iceland. What a heck of a layover though. I landed at 1:30pm and wouldn't be flying out to Scotland until the next morning. I decided to stay in a nearby hostel to get a good night's rest and convinced myself that I'll have another time to explore Iceland more. As a girl still on a budget, I was determined to walk to my hostel since I had already spent enough money on an over-priced shuttle back to the airport for the next morning. The hostel was about 3-4 miles away, but I convinced myself that after a 9 hour flight, I would gladly welcome the opportunity to stretch my legs a little.
Cut to 20 minutes in the walk while carrying a heavy backpack, and I was on the verge of hitchhiking for the first time in my life. Upon hearing my mother's worried tone in the back of my conscience though, I pressed on along a desolate stretch of highway in the boondocks of Iceland. Eventually I reached a crossroads but couldn't tell which road led to my hostel. With no WIFI or data, I was screwed. Enter "George" from Poland.
I should back track. Prior to leaving for my trip, I watched and fell in love with the film Leap Year. In a nutshell it's about Amy Adams meeting a hot Irish guy while lost in Ireland, and he helps her get to Dublin. I figured a good looking Polish guy using Google Maps was a close enough equivalent to a movie moment.
Not only did George use Google Maps, but he also went out of his way to walk me to my hostel. Since I live in Los Angeles, any kind of gentleman-like behavior blows my mind. As I made a mental note to get out of LA more often, George asked me if I wanted to grab something to drink later that evening. I accepted, and our plan was to meet up at my hostel lobby in 2 hours.
I would like to say I knew what had happened during those 2 hours, but I'm afraid it will forever be a mystery, for the man who I met up with at 7:30pm was not the approachable, kind, handsome guy who selflessly helped me find my way earlier that day, but an awkward, overwhelmingly eager man who made me feel like instead of Leap Year I might be entering Liam Neeson Taken territory.
Thankfully I made it out of the situation unscathed. Mr. Poland tried to do the eye-linger-kiss-attempt, but I turned into bro-mode and if I recall, I slapped him on the back with the words "take care man".
I was safe. I was in my hostel and even met a super cool girl from Australia also backpacking for her 30th birthday. I was officially going to get a good night's rest and be on my way to Scotland the next morning. Little did I know, I would soon experience my first real horror of hostels: The Persistent Snorer.
The next morning I left for Edinburgh a little wiser about men and a lot more tired. The adventure was only beginning, and I had a lot more excitement that would come in the following weeks. My biggest lesson from my extended layover in Iceland: bring a really good moisturizer because that place will dry up your skin quicker than a Michigan winter.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in Scotland!
Jill Zwarensteyn is a television producer, writer, and comedian who has been featured on Amazon, TruTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Tiplr, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com