I'm typing this on a French keyboard - the first time I have encountered such an implement - and the layout is beyond crazy, so please excuse any typos that follow.
I'm currently in Antwerp, sitting in an internet cafe that smells of cliched computer nerd sweat. I've spent a few hours wandering the city and thought I'd blog about my most recent adventures while I wait for my friend Dan to finish work. Also, I've noticed I overuse the word "aweso,e" and will endeavour to be more creative with my adjectives.
So, after my last post, I went on a tour of the Scottish Highlands, Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye. It was through Haggis Adventures and, as Anna, the friend I was staying with, works for the company, I went along for free (excepting food and accomodation). So I should give them a shout-out: they were excellent, and anyone wanting a good look at Scotland's more secluded areas couldn't do better. First day, we drove up through the Highlands, stopping off at the monument to Mel Gibson - I mean, William Wallace - and assorted beautiful spots. Scotland is exhaustingly gorgeous. It looks a lot like Canada (which is fitting, as part of Canada broke off several millenia ago and crashed into what is now Scotland) and every curve in the road reveals a nez breathtaking viez. The first evening, we went along to a cultural show that explored how Highlanders lived until a few centuries ago. It was pretty grim. I volunteered to model the traditional dress that predated the kilt, but I might not have done so if I'd known it would have involved dropping my jeans in front of my twenty tourmates.
Second day involved a trip to the Isle of Skye. It was lovely, but I'm so glad I don't live there. Yawn. Although climbing a mountain, the na,e of which eludes me now, was a highlight. It was a punishing hike, but so worth it for the viez. That night, we cruised moch Ness. As well as presenting a very confincing argument for the existence of the Loch Ness monster, the tour operator taught us some fun facts. For example, the loch holds nore water than all the other lakes in the United Kingdom combined. Huh. So it was nice to learn to lake was notable aside from its cryptozoology.
The final day saw a visit to the bqttlefield of Culloden and the drive back to Edinburgh. The rest of my time in Edinburgh was relatively uneventful; I just swanned around like a local. One night, though, Anna and I went on a tour guided by her friend Kirstie. It was a tour of medieval crime and Edinburgh's hauntings. Most of it took place in the vaults, an abandoned ,aze of subterranean rooms that were once used by legitimate craftsmen, but zere eventually abandoned and used by the criminal community. I am a total skeptic when it comes to the supernatural - see my many cranky atheist diatribes - but I was shitting myself down there. Kirstie was an amawing storyteller, and my knees were literally shaking.
Last night, I flew to Brussels. I got myself a flight for £11, and figured that was worth the lateness of the flight. It all worked out in the end, but man, it was a bit of a drama. All of the hostels closed their reception at 23.00 and, as my flight got in at 22.30, that wouldn't work. Eventually, I decided to stay in a proper hotel, in a room by myself, with an en suite. Sure, it had all the charm of cat vomit and it was stuffier than a nun's habit in summer, but I felt very grown-up. I also appreciated how frigging expensive it must have been for Mum and Dad to take my siblings and I around the world in 2001. So, once again, thanks to Mum and Dad.
Anyway, upon arrival at the airport, the border patrol gave me a bit of a shakedown. They grilled me for about five minutes about where I was going next. As I haven't booked my train out of Brussels yet, I couldn't prove that I would be leaving the country before my three month tourist visa expired, and this alarmed them. They asked me about my travel plans, my savings, all that stuff, which was ridiculous. Border security in Europe is so inconsistent. When I arrived in Amsterdam, I was stamped and waved in by a bored-looking security guard, and from then on, my passport was never checked until I flew out of Aarhus more than a month later. Besides - and with all due respect to the good people of Belgium - I hqve no desire to move to this country the size of a fingernail that speaks not just one but two languqges that are incomprehensible to me.
This morning, I wandered around Brussels, and it didn't do much to charm me. They sure know how to do a good church, but the town's unofficial mascot, the Manikin Pis, was a tacky little thing, and the city seems frightfully confused. It is hqlf-way between the Dutch- and Fench-speaking parts of Belgium. All the signs are in Dutch and French, if not English as well, and all the inhabitants had to keep switching languages when they picked the wrong one. It was an impressive skill, but it'd piss me off if I had to live there.
Brussels was by no means a terrible place, but its drabness made me worry that my week here in Belgium would be terrible. It won't be. I caught the train to Antwerp, and Antwerp seems excellent already. First off, it is decidedly more Dutch. As a big fan of Holland, this pleases me. It also has a long shopping street that reminds me of Copenhagen's Stroeget. The architecture is stunning - their main cathedral made me gasp as I turned a corner and stumbled on its ornate immensity - and it seems rather culturally hip. Dan works in a store called RA13, which is a combination cafe/fashion and music store/art gallery. I've seen this kind of combination many times before, but none make it work as seamlessly and stylishly as RA13.
Now, I'm off to have a beer in a pub crammed with tacky religious paraphernalia (woop woop) before meeting Dan and going to explore Antwerp's nightlife. Yeah!