The UK

//This was written on my iPhone while at a bar and has not been spell or grammar checked. While most should be alright, excuse the glaring mistakes//

London and Edinburgh

I've always loved the UK. It really always feels good to get back there for me. My first stop was London, where I spent two nights and two days in the city. On the first night I arrived, I got up and out of the hotel and headed toward Leicester Square which is relatively near the Doubletree Victoria I stayed at. Was in a very convenient location being literally right next door to Victoria Station, one of London's biggest rail hubs. I was utterly exhausted on this first night though, as the trip over from Amsterdam had been a tiring one and the time zone meant it felt later than it was. Ended up back in the room by ten thirty. The next day I woke up and headed toward Big Ben and the London Eye. I walked from here along the river toward Trafalgar Square, where I sat for a little while determining what I would do next. Ended up grabbing a bite to eat and came back to the hotel, as at 3:30 I headed off to Bromley where some of my family lives. Went out for dinner with them and had a couple of drinks, which was pretty great! By the time I got back to London Victoria, which took ages because of a problem with the trains, it was already half past ten. I wasn't really in the mood to do much so I sat down at the hotel bar and had a couple of beers here. The next day I met up with Nigel, one of my dad's employees in London for a couple of beers and lunch. This was pretty fun, we walked around the winter wonderland at Hyde Park where they have an enormous amount of little stalls, rides, ice rinks, and most importantly, beer halls. We stopped in at one for a couple and then got in a cab back to Victoria station. After this I had to go straight to London Kings Cross, where I took the train up to Edinburgh. 

It would be very hard to report on Ednburgh in as much detail as I just have with London there. In part because I didn't do as specific things, but in part due to the many nights partying and drinking with the Scottish family. Many people will identify as Scottish or English, but usually it was their grandfather or great grandfather who lived there most recently, defining the family origins. Personally, my father was born there and I myself have spent two years living there. This means visiting Edinburgh is always an interesting experience. It's not so much going on holiday, I already know the city (at least in the centre) like the back of my hand. I don't have to go visit the castle or take a picture of every single building and Close on the Royal Mile. Cobblestones aren't new to me, and I have no desperation to visit Mary King's Close anymore (although all of these things are awesome). It's kind of like living in Melbourne and not needing to go up the Eureka tower every couple of months. Therefor Edinburgh is like visiting my old home. With the same family and family friends that I have known since I was a very wee lad. I stayed with my dad's cousin Maureen and her husband Tam, both of which I know quite well from the time I've spent in Scotland over the past 13 years. I can't thank these guys for putting up with me for the ten days I was there enough. They were excellent hosts and seriously helped out on my trip. 

On Christmas Eve I spent the day and night with Neil, Marie, Conal and Maeve, my dad's other cousin (Neil) and his family down in Dunbar, about an hour out of Edinburgh. Had a great time with them! While Marie and the kids went to Christmas eve Mass, Neil and I headed down to the local Dunbar pub and had a couple of beers while waiting for them to finish up. What great pubs they have in the UK, seriously, Australia just cannot match them. Following this we went back to their place and had a lovely cooked dinner that Marie had spent a lot of time on, and it was delicious. We headed back down to Maureen's on Christmas morning, as she was hosting the day's events. 

Christmas Day was the first big one we had, just the third night after my arrival in Edinburgh. Starting off around 2 o'clock, the whole family was around to celebrate. Presents were first, then drinks and nibbles and a lovely Christmas dinner complete with Turkey, gravy, potatoes and the full works was served up by Maureen after toiling away in the kitchen. The night progressed and more and more beer was consumed with many a good conversation. Ended up going right up until 3 in the morning, when we all finally made it to sleep. This was quite the struggle for me, because even though I'd been in Europe for a week, my body seemed to still be secreting melatonin by habit at the wrong times meaning I'd spent the entire afternoon and evening feeling tired as if it was the middle of the night. But was a great Christmas. Was very weird to have Christmas away from home, but it was still really lovely. Was so good to see all the Scottish family, they made me feel right at home. 

The 27thbwas pretty fun, went out with Tam and his mates to a Scottish football match, Hearts v Livingston at Livingston. Got started on the beers around 11am at the pub next to the train station and then continued at Gary's (a friend of theirs who I've known as long as them) for a while before the game as he lives in Edinburgh. As you can't drink in the stadiums anymore due to too much football instantly, we stocked up beforehand and watched the match. Wasn't the best game recently, but the quality was pretty great and was excellent to see proper football being played in front of a big crowd of real, devoted supporters. The big sports in Australia are. *ridiculously* commercial in comparison to he point where this kind of club devotion and community is entirely lost. The only thing I can think of that has the same is the Premier League Hockey, but that's only cause it's such a small sport. Crazy they can hold onto this aspect even while growing to tens of thousands of members. 

Went out again a few times over the next few days, and had another thing on the 29th I think at Maureen & Tam's as all of his side of the family were also over from Australia (Perth). This was great and they were all really nice. Was interesting because this night there were more Australian accents than Scottish, which is probably the only time this has ever happened in Edinburgh... 

Went out bar hopping on the Sunday night with just M&T which was fun, and on the 30th Maureen, Tam, myself and four of tam's family went out and did the same thing. This was pretty good, ended up out till one in the morning. I think cause we were waking up so late every morning the nights finishing at like 1-2 felt not even late. 

Hogmanay (or NYE in Aus) was a particular highlight. I spent this at the apex hotel in the grass market which do a big sit down dinner and ceilidh. Tam, Maureen, myself and a few of their friends all went out and booked a table at this dinner. The food was alright, but drink expensive. We still did though, of course. For those of you who don't know, a ceilidh (pronounced: Kay-lee, it's Gaelic spelling) is a traditional Scottish kind of dance, akin to line dancing or something similar. This is why my dog is named Ceilidh btw, cause we went to one many years ago. As it drew nearer I knew I needed more beer before I could get involved, so I had some more and I eventually got up and joined in (you couldn't really not). It's so fast and full on though, I came back to my table seriously sweaty. This went on for a little while, and then just before midnight a bagpiper came in and played a couple traditional songs (along with some proclaimers) and marched everyone down to the Grassmarket, a historic market place in Edinburgh's old town that the hotel is in, as it has excellent views up to the castle where Edinburgh's massive firework display comes from. I would also encourage everyone to lookup 'Edinburgh Hogmanay street party' and see some photos etc to see how big a deal Hogmanay (new year's eve) is in Edinburgh. Following this we went back into the hotel function space and sang along to songs. I must admit, hearing and joining in with a room full of 150 people loudly singing along to Flower of Scotland is something quite incredible and a nationalistic element Australia's culture just hasn't really developed yet. Advance Australia Fair, despite being developed by a Scotsman, is just not the same thing when sung in any group setting. This enormous sense of national pride and integrity is something Australia will eventually have, but doesn't quite yet. Although if you're Australian and haven't travelled much to places like this, I'll understand if you disagree about this. Following this party we went back to the Athletic Arms, or the Diggers as it is commonly referred to. It used to be a bar that was frequented by grave diggers at the nearby cemetery, hence giving it the names "diggers" and "athletic arms" (a.a because of so much digging). 

Had a few more beers here with the group then left shortly after last call. Ended up getting to bed at around 4AM, which was not too bad cause managed to sleep in until 11 the next morning. 

The following night Tam's Australian family came around for one last night, before they too headed off to a different city in Europe the next day (Prague I think it was for them). This was pretty fun. We drank a couple of beers and had dinner and nibbles. About 15 or so of them were over, which is pretty impressive, getting multiple families of around 15 people total all the way over to the UK from Australia at once is not an easy feat. Ended up being a small night though, and people headed off around 10-10:30 as the Perth Aussies and myself both had to pack and get a shred of sleep in before flights at 7AM. 

Will post again tomorrow with news on Berlin. In the meantime, I hope everyone back home in Australia is well and looking forward to seeing everyone soon.