Derry/Londonderry, a city divided between two countries

Derry/Londonderry, uma cidade dividida entre dois países

Recently I visited a city in the north of Ireland, Derry, and I noticed that there are still a lot of confusion between the “Irelands”. The confusion has some reason to be, after all there are three Irelands. And with that, people get quite confused between the three. Yes, three! Not one, not two, but three!

But how?

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Edinburgh, the city of the dead

Edinburgh, the city of the dead

An adventure doesn’t have to be epic to be enjoyed, it doesn’t have to last for several months to have memorable stories to tell, and it doesn’t have to be shared with an old friend to feel absolutely comfortable. This trip to Scotland was one hell of a trip, filled with moments to remember and to try not to forget (this blog will certainly help to keep those memories alive).

This trip to Scotland was quite spontaneous, not much planned, but obviously Edinburgh had to be in the list of mandatory places to visit. We checked prices how to get there, and the capital of Scotland happened to be the cheapest option from Cork as well. The first thing we did was deciding where to stay, taking into account we would arrive by the end of the day, we decided to go with it. Then…, we only had to enjoy the city 🙂

Besides the touristic thingies, I had also a personal goal of what to do in Edinburgh, and that was to meet an old friend I met in Greece. One of those friends who visit us countless times, in Portugal, in Ireland, and that we are really pleased to see them again. This time was my time to pay him a visit, it was a very pleasurable “had to“! We didn’t have much time to spend together though, one coffee the day after I arrived, and another one before my departure back to Cork.

National Gallery of Scotland

Regarding the city, after breakfast we walked to the castle, where we ended up not getting in because we already had a tour booked and we assumed we would get inside the castle anyway. We wandered a bit through the historical center while we were waiting for out tour, so that we could also have an idea of what to expect.

Free tour through Edinburgh

At scheduled time we were at the meeting point, ready for our free tour! Our guide was really eloquent, he explained in detail some of the most important moments of Edinburgh’s history, which can be resumed to…, a lot of dead people… Science, mostly medical sciences, have a really obscure past, most of what is known nowadays was due some not so good practices… The way medicine is practiced nowadays is way different from what it used to be just 50 years ago, and unfortunately thanks to those bad practices and experiences that they did. In early XIX century, Edinburgh was considered the capital of medical studies, and a lot was discovered there, a lot was tried…, and a lot of dark things happened there too…

We were fed by real tales of stories that happen in the city, each stop a new story. One of those stories tells the last public execution in Edinburgh city, in 1864, of George Bryce. Our guide has the eloquence gift, sharing with us such an horrific story really made us tremble a bit, it is hard for me to image how killing someone was considered a kind of street performance, and this one went too far. By evilness or incompetence of the executioner, George instead of dying the moment the floor opens, he was suffering for over 40 minutes, because the length of the rope was badly calculated. Even the sadistic population thought that was too much.

But not all horror stories end badly, one good example is the famous story of Maggie Dickson (they even have a pub with that name), which was sentenced to death for killing her baby son, even though she always denied that and all the proofs were inconclusive, she ended up being hanged anyway. She was 30 minutes hanged, and according to the law, her body was then transferred to her town. On the way to her town, the cart driver who was moving her body heard some sounds coming from the back, he stopped to double check what was that sound, and Maggie was still alive! By then, this was considered as will of God, therefore they forgave her for the crime.Maggie lived 25 more years after her death

Being in Edinburgh, obviously we would have to have section of the tour just for Harry Potter. Why? Because J. K. Rowling lived in Edinburgh, and wrote the first book in that city, most of the characters’ names were inspired in local people, and even some popular buildings and alleys in the book were also inspired by some streets in Edinburgh. One of those places is Greyfriears Kirkyard Graveyard, which is right a school that also inpired JK to create Hogwart’s. We walked around the graveyard and we were pointed at some tombs, the names engraved in those tombs were used as characters of the book itself, some of them well known by those who read the books or saw the movies, like Lord Voldemort. But for me, the best part of the graveyard was a less known story, of a dog…

Greyfriars Bobby, another legend-dog though not as known as Hachiko, is another great example of loyalty and how dogs are indeed a man’s best friend. According to the tales, Bobby spent about 14 years, until his death, always laying on the top of his owner’s tomb. Bobby died with 16 years, which means that a 2 years dog got so attached to his owner that he spent almost all his life on the top of a tomb…, if this is not loyalty… It is another story of death and graveyards in Edinburgh, but this one filled with love. Some years ago I was by Hachiko’s statue, and this time I saw Bobby’s, a story that at that point was totally unknown to me. It is great to know that animals also have these kind of homages.

Regarding the free tours, there are two things you should know, first they are not entirely free, these people spend their time to prepare these stories, and they spend even more time to share them with us. They need to have really good people-skills, they need to know how to deal with different kind of people and to keep their customers always happy. In the end of the tour, we give them some symbolic amount of money for the work they did, and it is up to each one of us how much to give. Of course some people don’t give anything…, but well… Regarding this tour, I loved his sense of humor which reminded me a lot the Irish personality and the way they make fun of the English, the Scottish also have history with them, and they don’t lack jokes towards that. It was a really pleasant and interesting tour, filled with culture and humor.

After our tour, we went for another walk, to the National Gallery, where we spent a good while to enrich our soul with art 🙂 We saw art from some of really known artists, I guess we spent around two hours inside, and from there we went to the garden right next to the galleries to rest a bit. It was a really tiresome day, a lot of walking, and that was just the first day, more up to come 🙂

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Reviewing the hostels and B&B where I’ve stayed in Scotland

Once upon a time I used to surf couches, but now it seems like just another fairy tale… I still love the concept though, but nowadays I am more into hostels. Those times when I was hooked to couchsurfing, the main reason was the experience and contact I had with the hosts, never for the fact that was for free. However, my last experiences were way too impersonal, even as a host. Nowadays I prefer to pay, and take my chances, I might or might not meet people who I get along with, and to add to that, there is also less responsibilities, as I am not staying at someone’s house.

On what this trip regards, since we were two, the options were totally opened, for both B&Bs and hostels in Scotland, and initially, due to our lack of experience searching for a place to crash for more than one person, we ended up not finding the best options. But everything is a lesson.

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5 Epic Railway Routes in Europe

5 Epic Railway Routes in Europe

Some of the most famous railway routes cross entire continents, and for the majority of us time to enjoy properly such an epic trip isn’t easy to have. It isn’t easy to take a full month for holidays, and even though one only needs 7 days to cross Siberia, to enjoy it properly it’s better to take a few stops, and for that 7 days isn’t enough… We need time, always time.

A few years ago I made a dream come true, an Euro-interrail (article in Portuguese). It was my first solo trip which took 10 days on a trip from Germany to Portugal, it was a dream that ended up becoming a reality by chance. The return tickets to Portugal by airplane were way too expensive, much more than 10 days by train through Europe. The decision was easy to make.

This is my first infography (original in Portuguese), with a few suggestions of small train trips in Europe, and obviously with one route in my gorgeous country, Portugal

Europe - Railway Trips
Europe – Railway Trips

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Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Stonehenge is one of the most enigmatic and known monuments in the world, also one of the 21 finalists of the New 7 Wonders and without a doubt a place to visit, not only by those interested in archeology, but certainly by everyone.

Historical context

This monument is by the same period as the pyramids and the pharaohs, but had a totally different civilization, and apparently not so developed either. However, there are still many unanswered questions about this monument and about the knowledge this civilization had, for example, the fact that the rocks are aligned with the winter solstice and the avenue with the summer solstice. How did they do that?

Stonehenge is a circle of stones, weighting more than 50 tons each, that were carried from about 240 km away (there several theories how they moved those stones). There are other archeological sites in the area that also prove that this civilization had knowledge that was lost and that nowadays it is still unknown to us.

Stonehenge
Stonehenge

Some curiosities about Stonehenge

Stonehenge had several construction and reconstruction phases, it’s believed it took thirty million working hours for the three phases. The archeological site is a complex of two main circles, one of them with blueish color stones, an avenue and by some man-made dirt hills in a shape of a circle surrounding the site as well. The archeological site area extends to the surrounding area, and a lot is still to be discovered. Unsurprisingly, this site is part of UNESCO World Heritage‘s list.

Regarding the surrounding area, even though this site is of an extreme importance, until recently it didn’t get the deserved investment by the British government, it was only in December 2013 that the visitor center opened and the busy road that was passing just a few meters from the main site was closed. Slowly, what is left by that road is now being reclaimed by Nature, but it is still quite visible how awful and damaging that road was, literally passing a few meters from those stones.

In order to avoid spoiling (too much) the area of the site, the visitor center was built 2,4km away from the main monument, which isn’t visible from there. At the visitor center you can see several animations of the construction an reconstructions phases of Stonehenge, and in real size. You also can test your strength, there is a fake stone with a rope attached, so that you can try to pull it and see how many people exactly like you would be needed to move that stone 🙂 It is quite impressive, trust me 🙂

How to get there?

The best way is really by car, the parking area is fairly big and without a doubt a hassle-free way to find the site.

Regarding public transportation, from London, you should take a bus to Amesbury, which is about 3km from the archeological site, and from there you can go either by foot or by taxi.

The distance from the nearest train station is considerably more, and even though trains are usually a more comfortable way of traveling, I don’t think it would be the best way to get to Stonehenge.

You can find detailed information how to get there on Stonehenge’s website.

And to conclude this article, it’s quite obvious why this is one of the most visited monuments in the world. It totally worths the time invested to get there to see what was built thousands of years ago. The work done by the local entities to restore and maintain the site is notorious, the visitor center is simple but really a must see. Even if late, it is nice to see that something is being done to keep Heritage preserved. The visitors can be a major reason for the deterioration of important sites, but in this case, at Stonehenge there is a fairly good safety distance to visit it without damaging, and even the entrance fee is to be used to ensure the safety and conservation of the site. You should visit one day.