The Last Hurrah

It’s been a busy week.

Since my finals were over with almost three weeks before I go home it provided me with the perfect opportunity to get a last few country stamps on my passport.  One last hurrah so to speak.  The concept was simple, though daunting on paper: 5 days, 5 flights, three countries – Denmark, Norway, and Northern Ireland.  In the wee hours of the morning on the 12th I set out to Edinburgh airport for my final foray into Europe.  Let’s talk about it.

Copenhagen

I flew into Copenhagen rather early in the morning – I was in the city by 10 o’clock.  As I was travelling alone, I figured 1 day per city would be ample time to do whatever I wished to do there.  That, and I knew from experience how travelling alone could play on my psyche if I was not always doing something.

Regarding that, I’ll get it out of the way now: travelling alone kinda sucks.  While it gave me the opportunity to do my own thing at my own pace, I missed the comradery and the making of memories with my friends.  Along with that I had no direction – especially in Copenhagen.  I had no idea what to do, where to go, or people to talk to (except for my camera).  Paired with a strangely cloudless sky and no hat or shades all day I became rather miserable as the sun sapped the energy from my body.  It is readily apparent in the vlogs (which are still being edited) that I appear to be remorse in my situation.  Frankly, it took a lot of effort to pull myself together and make the most of the time I had.  At the end of the day I made it work, but it was not the last time during this brief vacation where I lamented my solitude.

That’s not to say that I did not enjoy Copenhagen though.  Over the span of twelve hours I effectively saw the entirety of the city.  My hostel being based off of Nyhavn helped me in that it was central and I could wander all over the place.  Probably the most photographed spot in the city, Nyhavn is a short little pier when a bunch of ships come to dock next to brightly colored houses.  Very photogenic.

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Nyhavn
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From the far side.

From my hostel I made my way North, walking along the waterfront and taking in the sights across the water.  Eventually I ended up at an old fort, now just a tourist destination.  From there I made my way to the little mermaid, which was not much further up the shore.  As expected the tourists were there in droves, which made taking pictures rather difficult.  The lighting was rather bad as well, so I was resigned to the fact that I would have to come back later.  I did, and it was totally worth it.  I caught the sun gleaming right off the statue as it was beginning to set.

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The view of the central square from a distance.
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The Opera House from across the canal.
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Travelling alone means that I had to take a lot of timed photos. Luckily I think I am quite good at taking them.
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Yeah, lighting was not great.
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The canal.
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Came back later. Much better!

From the Little Mermaid I wandered to the Royal Square.  Here the Dutch changing of the guard was set to commence at noon so I stuck around to watch.  It was not as glorious of an event as my friends had seen, for their was no drummer’s pomp and circumstance to liven up the square.  Instead it was just a simple ceremony, with soldiers doing their daily duty in an extraordinary fashion.  Cool stuff!  From there I wandered over to Frederiks Kirke, where I took in a humble sighting of Copenhagen’s biggest cathedral.  I’ve routinely made it clear that I am not particularly religious, but it was a good feeling to get off my feet and surround myself with some quiet for a bit.

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The Changing of the Guard
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Frederik’s Kirke

With still so much to do and little time to do it I roused myself and made my way onward.  I passed the Rosenborg Slot, where the Danish Crown Jewels are held, but opted to push on.  Picking and choosing what I saw was a big challenge, but I am content with what I saw and what I passed on.  From there I walked over and through the Botanic Gardens.  Honestly, gardens like this in every city are some of my favorite features: they are just a good way to get out of the city and enjoy some natural sights.  At the same time though it was at this stage of the day (and of the whole trip really) where I was struggling the most inside my own mind.  I was sunburnt, somewhat delirious from dehydration, and honestly quite miserable that I was on my own.  Took some damn good photos though.

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In an effort to pick up my spirits I wandered over to Torvenhallerne, the largest marketplace in Copenhagen.  I love markets, as I have probably mentioned before.  La Boqueria in Barca is easily my favorite, but this place was pretty cool too.  I picked up a “D Bomb” smoothie, which was just packed with fruits which were filled with, as you can guess, vitamin D.  I specifically chose this smoothie because I knew vitamin D is great for picking up someone’s mood.  Honestly it did help, but only some.  Still, I felt better.  I forged on around a small lake and went back to the hostel for a quick break to get out of the sun.

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Torvenhallerne

Once I felt up to facing the sun again I wandered out again.  On my path I came across a large square that had a sign saying I could go up to the top of this tower.  Don’t mind if I do!  After a moment’s wait I took a lift to the top and got a great view of Copenhagen from the air.

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After I was grounded I walked over to Freetown Christania.  It’s called Freetown for a reason.  Here pot is legal (I think?) and the land is essentially ungoverned.  As such, it is basically a commune.  You pay in honor jars, the roads are dirt, there is art everywhere, and almost everyone is, well, sharing their possessions.  There were a lot of tourists besides myself, so it’s not like I felt unsafe or anything, but it was a massive culture shock.  I filmed more than I took pictures, but there are some.  Check out the links at the end to see the full album!

I didn’t stay long in Freetown.  Quite simply, it was too much to take in, and I had more to see.  It was at this point where I walked back to the Little Mermaid.  To end the evening I strolled down to Tivoli Gardens – the actual happiest place on Earth.  It is an amusement park, one of the oldest in the world.  Some of the rides did not seem like they would be legal in the States though – they just looked so intense!  At the very least the G-Forces would be astronomical.  Now, did I ride any rides?  No, as I felt it pathetic to do so since I was alone.  Amusement parks are better shared with friends, plain and simple.  Still, it was a joy to wander about such a fun and energetic place, and capping off my night by people watching and sitting by a fire just felt good and right, which helped to ease my troubled mind.

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My first sight in Tivoli Gardens
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Damn cool place!
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DAMN COOL PLACE!
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VERY DAMN COOL PLACE!

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Haven’t been by a fire in what felt like years. Loved this moment!

Once I felt content with my time at Tivoli I made my way back to the hostel to get some sleep.  Bedwood was a nice place, and the beds had curtains on them, which is always a nice touch.  I slept soundly, up and at ’em at 5:45 to head back to the airport for my next day of adventure.

Oslo

I woke refreshed, reinvigorated, and ready to get to Norway.  Of all the locations I was to go to this one garnered my most excitement.  It was freakin’ NORWAY!  An hour’s flight and a half hour’s train got me into the city, where I was able to check into my hotel right away.  Notice I said hotel, not hostel.  Reason being was that for one night the hotel, which was right next to the hostel, cost 20 bucks more.  No brainer in my opinion.  Also, it was the first hotel room I had ever BOOKED for myself, which felt pretty damn cool.  Considering I had to be up at 3 a.m. the next day as well the privacy was extremely welcome.

By the time I was walking out the hotel door it was already 1:30 in the afternoon.  I had roughly 8 hours before I had to get some sleep in.  Challenge accepted.

Unlike Copenhagen I knew there were some things that I had to get done during the day, which kept my mind focused and not contained within itself.  Because of this I had an extremely positive day compared to the one before.  Even though the weather wasn’t great I was still in a better mood – for I had direction.

I purchased a 24 hour transit ticket [Oslo’s transport system is synonymous across all modes of travel.  With this one ticket I could travel by bus, tram, train, or ferry as much as I wanted!] and took the bus across town to what ended up being the woodlands.  Speaking of which, on my flight in I couldn’t help but notice just how forested Norway still is.  I LOVED that!  I’m a rural kid, it was incredibly refreshing to see a plethora of pine across the landscape.

The first stop was at the Viking Ship Museum.  Inside were three actual viking ships made 1000 years ago, carefully preserved or found in the muck.  It was incredible.  The designs were everything that I had pictured in my head, and the little trinkets put on display ignited my mind with tales of viking lore.  It was a simple place, but it was so. damn. cool!

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Since it was a small place I needn’t have stayed long, so I walked down the road, right to the Norse Folkmuseum.

For my Vermont friends, this place is essentially the Shelburne Museum, but for Norway.  For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, this place was an outdoor museum filled with relocated houses from different time periods in Norse history.  On the weekdays they would have actors playing as traditional Norsefolk.  Sadly, I was there on a Saturday, but still had a good chance to wander around.  There’s not much to say that the pictures can’t describe on their own, but the Norse chapel from the 13th century had to be my favorite part.  You see them in pictures, but it’s a totally different sensation when you see and feel the real thing.  A fantastic experience all around!

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In the minimal research that I have done about the Pratt side of my family, the Grant clan in Scotland, of which the Pratt’s are a sept of, originated with Nordic settlers.  Were some of my ancestors vikings?  It’s nice to think so.  Regardless, I felt at home around the old time relics of Nordic culture.  I took a few hours to take it all in, but I couldn’t stay as long as I wished.  After all, it was 4 p.m. and I had so much more to see!  Thus, I got back on the bus and headed back into town.

The original plan was to explore a fort on the mainland of Oslo, but as it happened I got off the bus right in front of the Nobel Peace Center.  “Why Not?”, I told myself.  So I went in.  It was a nice, albeit quick, experience to walk through the hall of Nobel Peace Prize recipients.  Obama, Wiesel, Teresa, The Dalai Lama, Mandela.  These, among many other names I was less familiar with, jumped out to me.  A brief excursion, but a rewarding one nonetheless.

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Outside the center
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Words from the 2016 recipient.
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Yes. 100% yes!

By chance the ferries to the Oslo islands were right outside the center.  Oslo sits in a fjord, and there are a half dozen small islands in the bay area.  My 24 ticket allowed me to island hop as much as I wanted, so I did.

The rain had begun to fall as I boarded the ferry.  There were multiple routes to take, but I knew not which specific island to travel to, and resolved to get off at the first stop.  I disembarked then, on the island of Bleikøya.  The ferrywoman said to me this, “Ok, see you in an hour.”  Then it hit me: I was stranded.  Literally I could not get off this island until the ferry came back or I stole a boat and paddled it back to shore.  On top of that, the weather wasn’t particularly great, but luckily I had my rain jacket handy.  So, seeing as I had an hour to kill, I began to trek out about the island.

Bleikøya was a small place, mainly a location for Nords to buy small little summer homes.  No one seemed to be present as I peered inside the brightly colored houses, and for a while I may have been the only person on the Eastern section of the island.  I told myself to be extra careful about where I stepped, as a rolled ankle or a bad fall could quickly turn my situation dire.  It was mainly in jest, but all the same when you travel alone it’s hard not to consider the possibility that you are, well, fucked if something bad were to happen to you.  Thus, I took my time across the muddy rocks, not venturing to closely to ledges or the water.

Now, from what I’ve read in review this particular island wasn’t the most interesting: that claim goes to Hovedøya, which I almost went to.  Still, I had a blast kickin’ about this little respite, both taking photos and enjoying the Nordic climate.  An hour went by, and the ferry, as promised, did not leave me stranded.  Had I more time I would have hopped to the other islands.  However, the clock was already pushing 6, and I still had yet to see the actual city of Oslo!  I made the decision to return to the mainland.  Hunger was the main driving force, but the weather also forced me back to some shelter.

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I walked off the very and immediately went to a local food truck to grab some Asian noodles.  Yes I could have found some Norwegian food somewhere … but … I was hungry.  And it was cheap.  Can’t beat that!

Once I finished my food I walked over to Karl Johan’s Gate.  It’s essentially the Royal Mile, but for Oslo and without a ton of tourist shops.  At the top of the road lay what I believed to be the royal palace, a grand yellow building that stood above all else in the immediate area.  Photo time!

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Karl Johan’s Gate
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The Palace
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KJG from the palace

I bought some Ben & Jerry’s to satisfy my sweet tooth (Vermont represent!) and I went back down near the train station to find a fun little amusement park.  More of a pop-up place than a park on it’s own, it nonetheless still had some stupidly dangerous looking rides that were similar to the ones I saw at Tivoli the day before.  My goal was not the park though, for I was heading to the Opera House.  Now, I wasn’t going to see a show, I just wanted to climb on top of the roof.

Wait, WHAT?!

Yes, you can walk up the side of the Opera House and onto the roof.  I guess it’s kind of a rite of passage if you ever go to Olso.  The views alone were worth the trek though.

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Ferris wheels just make me happy.
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Rawr.
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Thor’s Hammer?
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Ooohhh shiny things!
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Not quite Tivoli, but still cool.
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The Opera House
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Iceberg Art
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On the Opera Hosue
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#views

It was nearing 9, and I realized that I had to be up in 6 hours.  Begrudgingly I walked back to my hotel.  There I caught an episode of the Simpsons before attempting to trick myself it was later in order to fall asleep.  It did not prove difficult, and thankfully I was able to catch some z’s before having to depart Norway for my next leg of the journey.

Belfast

For the second time in three days I roused myself out of bed to get to the airport for an early flight.  Sadly it was not going to be a direct trip from Oslo to my next destination: Belfast, Northern Ireland.

No, I had a two hour layover in London Stansted.  If I was to describe Stansted Airport in a few words, they would be thus: completely and utterly terrible.  It’s cramped, crowded, and they have the longest duty free aisle I think I’ve ever seen.  Hated it.  Although, I think my saltiness about this place is primarily due to the fact that Easyjet FORCED me to check my duffel when I was boarding the plane.  This was entirely bullshit, as only two days earlier they let me bring both my duffel and backpack on board.  But no, fucking Pam had to be an ass to me and wouldn’t let me go on board with both.  Checking my shit ended up costing 5 pounds more than the plane ticket itself!  So, in other words, fuck you London Stansted, and fuck Easyjet’s stupid fucking bag policy.  The funny thing was that there was definitely enough space on board the plane for me to throw my stuff.  Yeah, not the best start to my day.

Belfast Airport though IS awesome!  Smaller than Edinburgh, getting through the place was very simple, and getting into town was just like back in Edinburgh (Airlink buses are dope!).  Better still, by the time I arrived it was past two, so I was able to make my way directly to my hostel.  I stayed at Global Village, which, while not the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed in, had it’s charm and everyone was friendly.

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Ireland is indeed very green!

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Coming into Belfast
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St. Anne’s Cathedral
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City Hall

By the time I was settled in the clock was already pushing 4, and I knew that today would be the only chance to do some things in the City of Belfast itself.  However, there was one site that I simply could not miss: the Titanic Exhibition.  The famous cruise-liner was made in Belfast after all, and the place is deemed as “one of the top tourist destinations in the world”.  Of course I had to check it out.  So, an hours walk brought me to the other side of town; to the Titanic Quarter.

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Since I arrived rather late, the only tickets on sale were cheaper, but they only allowed me in for the last hour of the exhibition.  I would not get the full experience, but that was ok.  The Titanic story does not interest me as it does to some others.  Hell, I haven’t even seen the movie yet!  That being said I did do some gift shopping though while I waited to go in.

From what I did see though I was quite impressed.  The exhibition detailed how the ship was made (and why) and provided an overview of what the experience of cruising on it must’ve been like for all classes of individual.  Of course, much of the place was devoted to recanting the story of its infamous voyage and the stories of the passengers (both of who lived and of who died).  I guess you could call the atmosphere rather melancholy, but the production of the place, as with everything else that revolves around the story, screamed “Hollywood”.

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While the staff warned me I would only have an hour to explore the exhibitions, I managed to make it through in about 45 minutes.  Again, it just wasn’t the most interesting thing to me.  Once outside I walked along the slip where the Titanic was actually made and took a few photos.  Not long after I wandered back into town in search of food.  For the second time in three days I was also nearly overcome with a sense of loneliness and hated my solidarity.  As with Copenhagen I again had no direction, and was suffering within my own mind because of it.  Oslo was different because I never stopped moving, whereas in Belfast once I was through with the Titanic my options for what to do in the city were pretty much exhausted.  Belfast is not a place where you can spend days on end.  It’s unique in it’s own way, yes, but I was glad that the following day would take me out into the countryside.  So, in preparation for that, I wandered slowly back to the hostel where I got a good night’s rest.  As it happened no one else had booked my room for that night, which is rare.  As such, I had my room all to myself, and relished in that opportunity.

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The slip where the Titanic was built.
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A big ship!
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Looking back towards the city.
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Working on my poses.
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Belfast does have some cool street art!
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#art

On Set

On my second day in Northern Ireland I was do do a Game of Thrones tour and visit the Giant’s Causeway.  I walked to the meeting point near Belfast city hall in a rainstorm, which held the start of the day to a lackluster note as my feet were already wet.  Thankfully this would be the worst of the weather throughout the day.

I boarded the tour bus with around 12 others; I knew not what size coach the tour was supposed to be taking, and I was thankful that it was a small one – I hate crowds.  Our guide, Gail, turned out to have been an extra on the show a couple of times.  She was in the very first episode, the episode where King’s Landing is under siege, and a few others as well.  Because of this, she had some insider info for season 7 which, while vague, was expected (at least to me):  people will meet for the first time, people will come back, and people will die (no, really?!).

Our journey would take us to multiple locations across Northern Ireland.  Well, I say that, but what I didn’t realize was that all of these locations were approximately five miles from one another on the Coastal Causeway.  Seriously, Pyke is a few minutes from Storm’s End, as is Braavos.  It’s kind of crazy really, but I think it adds to the fact that Northern Ireland is just simply beautiful.

Our first stop was for fifteen minutes at a castle just outside of Belfast.  I know not the name, but it was once owned by an Irish knight, which was pretty cool.  It also had a life sized statue of William of Orange out front – four feet tall he was!  Fun fact, carrots were originally white, but the Dutch created a new strain, now orange, in honor of their leader.  History knows why there was a statue of him in Northern Ireland, but I wasn’t really paying much attention at that point in the tour if I’m being honest.

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The life size statue of William of Orange
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Castles are cool yo.

 

Our next stop brought us to Carnlough.  Here they filmed the scene in Braavos where Arya falls into the water after being stabbed and where she climbs out of the steps into the city.  Now, the city bits in Braavos were filmed in Spain, but this particular location was just perfect for what the directors wanted, so in one scene Arya falls into the water in Spain and crawls out in Northern Ireland.  Cool stuff!

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Many locations have a placard describing what scene was filmed there.
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I can see the colossus statue in my mind in the background!
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It’s not hard to see why the GoT directors like NI so much.
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Stepping on actual movie sets.
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And the mist rolled in.
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It certainly added a nice atmosphere.
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Such a beautiful country.

Our next stop was to be Storm’s End.  Along the way we passed the quarry where filming for The Wall was done for the first six seasons.  However, this place wanted more money from HBO to film there for season 7, so HBO basically told them to, in the truest Game of Thrones sense, go and fuck themselves.  They are now filming at Wolf Hill Quarry for the Wall scenes, so I’m interested to see if I can spot the difference in S7.

Anyway, we arrived at Storm’s End not long after.  Here was where the scenes with Davos, Melisandre, a cave, and a ghost baby take place.  If you know the series then you know of exactly which scenes I speak of.

It was a beautiful location, and the weather really gave it a nice ambiance that was reminiscent of the episode.  The waves broke upon the rocks in glorious fashion, and the cave looked just how I pictured it in my head.  Gail tried to get some of us to recreate the scene to which we all passed on.  Also, if you remember the scene there are metal bars halfway into the cave.  Now, while there is a gate at the other end, the bars in the show were 100% CGI.  Could’ve fooled me!

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There was a cool bridge outside the cave area.
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Yup, I can see it in my head now.
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The little dingy came up here.
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Yeah, I can see it too, the most wtf scene in GoT (well, one of them at least).
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A 300 million y/o cave at that.

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Just call me Sir Davos.
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Refuge.
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Loved this place!
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Looking down on location once we had departed.

From Storm’s End we made our way to Carrick-a-Rede.  Along the way we saw the cliff of Ballycastle in the distance.  Here, in S7, is supposedly where Ice and Fire will meet for the first time.  If you don’t understand what that means then I can’t really help you, but just from seeing the location from afar I can honestly say my excitement for the event grew exponentially!

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Ballycastle Cliff

Onward to Carrick-a-Rede though.  This scenic place is home to a 300+ year old rope bridge.  A half a km’s walk through the countryside led me to the sight.  Truly I have no idea how this thing was made, but it was a pretty cool sight nonetheless.  Added to the fantastic view of the nearby cliffsides and Rathlin Island in the background it really was a pristine sight.

Speaking of Rathlin Island, it is the place where Robert the Bruce went when he was exiled from Scotland.  He spent 5-6 years in seclusion, learning patience and conquering his faults, before he rallied and went back to Scotland to reclaim his throne.  Game of Thrones indeed.

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The overflow parking lot for the bridge also happened to be an old quarry.  This was used as Renley Baratheon’s camp in GoT.  It was here where we were introduced to Briene of Tarth, Marjorie Tyrell, and said goodbye to Renley.  I was only able to grab some film of the location, but I could see how a big production could have taken place there.

Next we came to Pyke, er…, I mean Ballintoy Harbour.  Here lay the harbor where Theon arrived home on the Iron Islands and met with his sister.  Here was the beach where they cast their father out to sea and where Euron became the Drowned King.  Here was where Theon’s father fell, and where the towers of Pyke were CGI’d in.  Far and away this place gave me the most prominent remembrances of scenes from the series, as the locations were basically unaltered for their use in the show.  I really felt like I was immersing myself in the lore of the series, which, I suppose, I was – at least for all intents and purposes.  I also was introduced to a local who had a small shopping stand at the harbor.  He said that had seen some S7 filming, and that two people were running out of a cave and onto a beach where they were then slain.  There were no clues as to who, or why, but people will die in Pyke it seems come S7.

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We departed Ballintoy and made haste to the Giant’s Causeway.  After being given an hour and a half or so to wander at our leisure I made the trek down to the stones.  From the car park it was a 15 minute walk down to the site itself.  Despite the influx of tourist groups I found that the location as a whole was relatively empty (at least as much as it could be).  As I stepped on the famous stones it really puzzled me how they could be a natural phenomenon.  I’m no geologist after all.  The hexagonal shapes really incited a sense of wonder within my mind.  For all I knew giants may as well have roamed the land here.  At the very least the legend of the causeway is entertaining.

It’s funny to me how such small places can inspire such wonder around the world.  At this point in time the causeway might as well be on wondrous par with Stonehenge or Mayan pyramids.  At the end of the day all it is is a bunch of rocks, but at the same time it feels like so much more.  In a word, it’s simply magical.  I took my pictures, and soaked in the remnant energy that I could feel buzzing in the stones.  Eventually I had to take my leave, but not without letting the place imprint upon my being.  Truly a once-in-a-lifetime, bucketlist experience!

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The walk to the Causeway is about a km in length, and takes you right down to the sea.
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Made it.
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Halfway down the walkway.
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The Causeway from a distance.
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My throne.
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Now just posing.
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Water & Stone

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‘Cause giants will forge their own way.
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Truly a magical place.

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The giant’s chimneys
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Taking it all in.

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It was crowded, kinda.

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All natural… still can’t believe it.

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Northern Ireland man, Northern Ireland.
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The coastline from the top of the hill is spectacular too.

Our final stop of the day brought us to the legendary Dark Hedges.  This path is known as the King’s Road in GoT, and is one of the most recognizable sights from the entire show.  In reality, it is but a quarter-mile of old trees, but they way they have grown and formed has turned them into a true spectacle that cannot be seen anywhere else.  We were given but 20 minutes to get off the bus and take pictures, but then our tour guides asked if we wanted to throw on some cloaks and grab some swords.  Uh, YES?!  I donned a fur cloak, and picked up a sword that was actually made out of metal and felt like it could do some real (blunt) damage.  Now, I’ve always been comfortable around swords.  Growing up I would imagine fighting Uruk-Hai at Helm’s Deep or strolling the forests of Mirkwood all day long.  I would go as a knight for Halloween and thought myself a competent swordsman.  Now that I have a more mature faculty about me the love of swords and medieval weaponry still remains albeit it is tempered to a rational state.  Still, it was a joy to pick up the weapon, turn it over in my hands, and give a couple of thrusts to the air.  A Canadian requested my help to take some dueling pictures, saying to me that “North America needs to represent”.  I happily obliged, and made the most of the rest of my time on the road.

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It was too bad it was sort of busy on the road, for I had not the time to wait for the cars to pass.

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In another life I might’ve been a Stark.

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Not gonna lie, I had fun doing this.

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All’s well that ends well.
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Shame I couldn’t of kept the cloak.
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Love this photo.

With that, the tour came to an end.  An hour or so later I was back in Belfast, thoroughly spent, but happy with how the day went.  I love the Game of Thrones series, and it was a special experience not only to see some filming locations, but places of natural beauty as well.  Northern Ireland is a beautiful place, and I am so glad I got to see some of it.

Later that evening I went out to Five Points bar which was not far from my hostel.  It was a true Irish bar, and I took my time savoring a pint of Guinness there.  Normally I wouldn’t drink, being by myself and all, but I would’ve regretted letting the opportunity pass me by.  It was a proper end to a proper Irish day, and a great way to cap off my final journey.  I took solace in the fact that I was to return to Edinburgh the next day, which helped me fall asleep that much easier later that night.

The way back was uneventful, though I just want to point out how easy Belfast International Airport was.  Seriously, everyone was in a good mood and I had no quarrels with Easyjet this time.  At that, the flight only took 35 minutes as well, which felt like a blessing.  I was back at HC before 3 o’clock, and felt content with what I had jsut accomplished in the past 5 days.  A last hurrah indeed.

Photo Albums

Copenhagen

Oslo

Belfast

Game of Thrones/Giant’s Causeway

Inked

Yes, I got my first tattoo yesterday.  It felt like a proper thing to do considering just how much of an impact my time abroad had on me.

The phrase “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us” was what I chose to put on my body.  As you may know I have developed a deep connection to this phrase, using as my sign-off for both my vlogs and blogs.  Besides just being a notable phrase, it means so much more to me:

  • It will forever remind me to make the most of the time I have; to work harder, do bigger and greater things, and be a good person along the way.
  • It will remind me that I am the master of my own body, and no one other than myself has the right to (other than my given permission) alter it.  It that regard it is my taking responsibility of my being for the rest of my life.
  • It will link myself forever to J.R.R. Tolkien and his works, which played an incredibly important part in my younger years teaching me about companionship, determination, and legend.
  • It will show me that mankind is capable of creating incredible things – most notably stories, that we can transform into entire universes with morals and ideas that can teach us how to live and exist.
  • It will serve as proof that I can commit to permanence, and endure pain should it come to pass.
  • Lastly, it will be a message to myself and others that I grew immensely during my time abroad; that it is something which I will never forget, and will remain with me always.

I got the work done at Hotter than Hell Tattoo in Edinburgh.  The place was recommended to me by Sarah and Allison, who have either gotten work done there themselves or have brought friends there.

Admittedly I was nervous in setting up my appointment, who wouldn’t be?  But, upon explaining what I wanted to the guys there I couldn’t have had more confidence.  The enthusiasm they showed for my idea was incredible, and the fact that they said to me “Oh yes we LOVE Tolkien here!  Your idea is awesome and we would be happy to help you with it” just made me more comfortable with the process.  I scheduled the appointment, and took a deep breath.

The walk to the shop felt like a dream.  My feet felt light and I was stuck in my own head.  It was put up or shut up time, and I threw myself headfirst down the rabbit hole.

At the shop, the guys were incredible.  I quickly filled out my paperwork and got a first look at my piece.  I was in love with it.  Moreover, the artist doing the work on me (I am so sorry, I do not remember his name) was INCREDIBLY stoked to be doing a LOTR piece.  In the prepping and throughout the process he talked to me all about how he had purchased Gimli axes and was just a huge fan of Tolkien as a whole.  Having someone resonate with me on that was extremely comforting as the process began.  He fired up the needle, and went to work.

Looking back, the entire process took about 25 minutes.

Sure didn’t feel like it though.

I knew ahead of time that the ribcage was the most sensitive part of the body to get a tattoo done on, but was completely unprepared for the level of pain that erupted in my side.  Some may equate it to a bee sting, a constant one at that, but I have a feeling that I’m a bit more sensitive than most people to touch.  I’m very ticklish after all.  To me, this felt like what I can only assume to be a razorblade slowly and methodically cutting into my skin.  I could only help but grit and bear it.  I tried with all my might to focus on other things: conversing with my artist, thinking about those I care about, the Avengers (which was playing in the background), even breathing.  However, it did little to ease my struggle.  Yet, I was at the point of no return and pushed through ’till the end.  My artist said I handled it very well, though I made some pretty painful looking faces throughout.  I wasn’t about to disagree.  I got up slowly from the newly sweat-covered table, and examined the work.

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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. Every day now I will have a reminder, a reminder that: – I can create whatever life I wish for myself, as long as I choose to put in the effort and to work for what I gain. – That I am the master of my own body, and can alter it at will, giving me responsibility to take care of it. – That Tolkien and his works will always be with me. – That mankind can create stories, languages, entire universes, all on our own. – That taking action, good or bad, is better than non-action. – That my time in Edinburgh and all the memories that I made abroad with my friends will always be with me. A huge shoutout to @hotterthanhelltattoo . Thank you so much guys! Right from the get go you made the process simple and really showed that you understood what it was that I wanted and what I cared about. Thank you, thank you, thank you! —————————————— #firsttattoo #tattoo #ribtattoo #lordoftherings #tolkien #gandalf #fellowshipofthering #travel #deepermeaning #studyabroad #bebetter #workharder #motivation #determination #inked

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It was just as epic as I had hoped!  I was over the moon, but didn’t really show it due to exhaustion.  I thanked my artist, got the rundown on how to take care of it, and made for home.  I got a milkshake along the way, as the adrenaline had worn off and I was thoroughly exhausted.

Today, 24 hours removed from the event, I couldn’t be more happy with the work.  From beginning to end HTH was incredible to work with, and they have given me something meaningful that I can keep for the rest of my life.  It hurt like hell, but man am I happy I went through with it.  My ribs are still tender, but the location was worth it, for now I can pick and choose who sees it.

I love my tattoo, and I will cherish it and its meaning for as long as I live.

Arabian Revelations

Would you believe that I finished Seven Pillars of Wisdom?  Yeah, me either!  Somehow though I found the time (a.k.a. flights and train rides) to finish it.  With that, there really wasn’t one quote in the final passages prominent enough to stick out to me.  Instead, I think I’d rather right down Lawrence’s poem to Arabia, located in the prologue.  Truly, I think it best captures his struggle in the region, and is a heartfelt tribute from the man himself.  For you now, here it is:

To S.A.

I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands

and wrote my will across the sky in stars

To earn you Freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,

that your eyes might be shining for me

When we came.

Death seemed my servant on the road, till we were near

and saw you waiting:

When you smiled, and in sorrowful envy he outran me

and took you apart:

Into his quietness.

Love, the way-weary, groped to your body, our brief wage

ours for the moment

Before earth’s soft hand explored your shape, and the blond

worms grew fat upon

Your substance.

Men prayed me that I set our work, the inviolate house,

as a memory of you.

But for fit monument I shattered it, unfinished: and now

The little things creep out to patch themselves hovels

in the marred shadow

Of your gift.

Parting Thoughts

I sit here now and can only help but think about how this is all abruptly coming to an end.  Truly, my voyage into Denmark, Norway, and Northern Ireland was indeed my last hurrah.  Truly, my tattoo is a fitting capstone to four months of growth and experiences.  Tonight is even the last time I may see some of my API friends since it is our farewell dinner.  To that end I’m flying home on the 24th, only a few days away!

It is with a heavy heart that I know it is all coming to an end, but think this famous quote is a good one to think about during my final days in Edinburgh:

Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.

I’m certainly smiling enough.

There will be a time and place to embrace my friends and write down their names in this blog for the final time, but it is not today.  No, there is still some time left, and I plan to make the most of every moment.  Every day I will be reminded to do so after all.

And with that I think I will bring this post to an end.  There are few left to write, and I hope you have enjoyed them thus far and will into the final few thoughts I have to talk about.  Truly, this is my triumph (coming from someone who got a 74 [An A/A+!!!!!!] on his data analysis final!) and I am looking forward to it finally coming to a close.  Again though, that is not for this day.

Until next time then,

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

I certainly have.

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