Nandaja Varma

Nandaja (നന്ദജ)

Coder, Jedi, Travel junkie, Avid reader, Feminist, Malayali, Kick Boxing noob, Cyclist, Major Procrastinator,...

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I am sitting near a fireplace in the outskirts of Threlkeld, a lake district village. The view from the window is absolutely breathtaking. I can see mist covered farms grazed by sheep, snow clad mountains, winter struck trees, and tiny little stone cottages. I can’t help but contemplate my journey this past couple of weeks around the United Kingdom and Ireland and I can’t control my urge to write about how incredible an adventure it has been. Backpacking in this part of the world is very easy in terms of navigating your way through, but not so much when it comes to your budget, especially when you have Indian Rupees in your bank account(which sadly has hit its record low). But I must say, being on a low budget made my journey 10 times interesting - thanks to all the incredible people I met along the way who helped me out or shared the same low on the budget situation.

My journey this time started in Cambridge where I met the rest of the PeARS team members and had an amazing time working, meeting great people from the university, exploring Cambridge, and a lot more. We even got to go up to the roof of King’s college chapel(which is a privilege reserved to the fellows in the King’s college), attend the Friday choir service, enjoyed tea in a room where Alan Turing possibly once did the same, and a lot more things which will remain in my memories as long as my brain is in a state to remember things. After our small get-together in Cambridge, Hrishi and I set out on a journey to explore the rest of UK. We had the best of times roaming around London, walking all around Amesbury trying to have a look at Stonehenge, surviving by eating the apples we plucked out of the trees on the roadside, trying to hitch rides to save money, walking around the bays in Cardiff, getting to the port by bus to catch a ferry to Ireland in the freezing cold in late hours, and crashing with some awesome cool people in Dublin who were angels in our low budget situation. From there I had to continue my journey alone since he had to get back home. I traveled around Ireland hitching, trekking, couchsurfing, drinking, and doing all kinds of fun stuff. Ireland was a mesmerizing beauty. I think Ireland is definitely the most beautiful place I have ever seen in my life and Irish are the nicest of people I have ever met in my life. From Belfast in Northern Ireland, I again took a ferry to a port in Scotland. I stayed with an amazing bunch of backpackers in Glasgow, then road-tripped around the Scottish highlands from Inverness with a couple of guys I met in the hostel, and then reached Edinburgh.

All I wrote so far was a build up for the beautiful, mighty old Edinburgh. It is not because Edinburgh was the best of my whole trip, but the most interesting thing happened in Edinburgh. So here it goes…

After my incredible journey around the Scottish highlands, I arrived at Edinburgh after a 5 hour bus journey - tired, famished and desperately in need for a bed. I walked half an hour from the bus station to get to the hostel I’ve reserved a bed in, for 8 pounds a night. As it turned out I got all the dates wrong and booked it for the next day. So there I was, on a Saturday night in Edinburgh with no place to stay and freezing. Initially I thought it could be nice thing after all. It is one of the safest cities in the world. I could just walk about the whole night, enjoying the night life, saving the 8 Pounds, and check in the next day. Boy, was I wrong! I got out, started walking outside to realize how cold it was. My spirits went down and I decided to try in some other hostels in the area. I started hopping from one hostel to another only to realize that most places were fully booked due to the weekend tourists and the rest were charging humongous sums of money for a night(The highest was 50 pounds a night! For a bed! In a hostel!). To tell you the truth, I didn’t have that much money left for the rest of my trip. So I again started walking and came face to face with the harsh truth that I was stranded in the city of Edinburgh in that bone chilling cold. After what felt like an eternity of walking(my watch said I only walked for an hour, but I was so damn sure that it was wrong!), I heard an angel singing “Shine on you crazy diamond” from somewhere. I walked and walked to find out where the angel is singing from to finally arrive in front of a pub where there was live music going on. There were bouncers in front of it, from whom I got to know that the pub is open till 3 O’clock in the morning. A roof above my head till 3AM! I immediately went inside and ordered myself the cheapest beer they had, which wasn’t that cheap though. Then the party crowd arrived, most of them were very drunk(so very nice). I started talking and even dancing, and more drinking. In effect I spent more than what I would have spent in my supposed hostel booking. The crowd was too much and I decided to get out. From one of the bouncers, I got to know that the railway station will be open all night and I can sleep on a bench there. I reached the railway station at half past 2 only to realize that they close it at 12 O’clock.

I started walking again, badly in need to urinate and saw a McDonald’s that was open and packed with a lot of drunken Scottish people. I went straight in, ordered myself a cheeseburger and a coffee(I was hungry and cold) and used their facilities. Even McDonald’s had bouncers and I started talking with them. I helped them in cleaning after the mess the party people made. But unfortunately it was about to close and I had to hit the road again. The situation outside was very interesting. People shouting, throwing up, snogging, peeing, etc. I found a nice little bench near a park and decided to spend the rest of the night there. It was almost half past 3 by then. I took out my Kindle and started reading Notes from a small Island by Bill Bryson. He always brings my spirits up. Ironically, the part that my Kindle showed was the one when Bill Bryson is in Dover, with no place to stay and trying to get some sleep on a bench. The Universe was screwing with me big time.

Drunken Scottish people offer all kind of things, if they see you on a roadside bench in the middle of the night. These things can range from drinks, smokes, drugs, kisses, to more non-materialistic things like peace of mind, enlightenment, and ecstasy(or does it belong to the first category?), but no one offered a place to stay. I decided to walk again because it was too cold just to sit there. I walked and walked. I helped people with useful information like where they can throw-up, urinate, find a bus, etc. because I have seen them all. I finally arrived at another McDonald’s which is open 24 hours. The place was again packed, but I decided to get another coffee and sit there till dawn. I got a coffee and found a place in the far end so no one would notice. To my dismay, a bouncer did notice and asked me to leave(it was very humiliating, of course). I again started walking. The clock was hitting 5 now. Almost there, I thought. I saw a guy walking with a lot of takeaway food and soft drinks in his hand(more than what he could handle), biting on his room key. I asked him if he wanted some help. He said yes and immediately asked how much do I want. He thought I was a homeless person trying to get some money from somewhere for my next beer. I politely let him know that I was just homeless for that particular night and he accepted my offer to help him for free(Should have charged him 10 pounds!). When we were walking he said they were having an after party at his place and asked me to join them. How bad can it be, I decided to go in. His friends were 5 Scots in their early 20s, 2 girls and 3 boys, who were very drunk. Two girls were spooning with a guy, and one of the girls was topless. Another guy was wearing the girl’s bra and dancing. It was a very interesting group of people. They offered me some expensive drink which I politely declined. One of the girls started talking to me how much she wants to do “world travel”, which is the reason why she dropped out of colleges thrice. I listened to all of their ramblings till half past 6 and then took my leave(to my great relief). It was morning, and birds were chirping and my miseries were coming to an end. I went back to my first hostel and they let me in to the warmth of their sitting room. And I survived the night…

If you’re still with me, please get your dates right and Don’t Panic!

I only have one more week to go on this trip, so I doubt if I will have such interesting experiences in the days to come. Thank goodness for that! Bye for now. I should get back to my tea and the incredible view now.

Peace.