I Say Edinburgh, You Say…

I have not posted in quite some time now and I know exactly the moments to blame. I’ve decided that the best way to explain this event is via a comparison to Mario Kart, everyone’s favorite Nintendo themed racing game. Periodically during the race your character (in my case, Peach or Daisy) will encounter boost strips in a certain area of the path. If you can manage to get your kart over to pass overtop the strip, you’ll get a short boost of speed, so hopefully you can pass up your siblings for the win. I somehow managed to navigate myself to a fabulous CouchSurfing festival in Edinburgh and was given a giant burst of speed and excitement! Edinburgh Rocks 7 opened my eyes to a whole new side of the CS experience!

 I have already written about how I enjoy staying both in hostels and with couchsurfers, but even when I’m in a hostel, I like to check the community page for the area where I’m staying. Here, any member can post localized messages or events. I usually check to see if there’s a weekly meet-up or interesting event, but imagine my surprise when I found not one cool event, but a whole weekend of planned festivities! There was even a discussion thread devoted to hosts for festival goers and I was immediately offered a place to stay for the duration!  
The festival was very well planned,with plenty of time for chatting up and getting to know everyone involved (pub meet-ups, speed friending, BBQ, Scottish breakfast) amid the more intricate events (ceilidh, Highland games, scavenger hunt, talent show, free hugs, movie night). My excitement began with a night of ceilidh (apparently pronounced “kay-lee” – hhhmm). What is ceilidh, you ask? I wondered the same. As far as I could tell when the night was over it’s a Scottish Gaelic word for ‘intense evening of crazy folk dancing during which you will sweat, laugh, fear for your life, be stepped on, and enjoy every bit’. I was hooked and attended every single event during the festival. Between competing on Clan Highlanders and winning the scavenger hunt with Team LIFIA in an epic talent show tie breaker, I developed several friendships and learned about people from all over. And those new relationships are what propelled my adventures into overdrive. 
I received several offers of couches to visit during my journey.  Another American traveller and I followed two fellow Rockers (and Clansmen!) to Newcastle where we continued the fun times. From there I met back up with another new Edinburgh friend in Manchester and we spent four wild days backpacking and mountain hiking in Snowdonia national park. Then back to Newcastle for a killer electro pop show featuring Static Soul, my host’s flatmate’s band. A night of wild dancing with some of the loveliest Gordies before early morning buses to Glastonbury festival where another friend (this time from home) had procured production and stage passes for me for the last day. Somehow my most relaxing day in nearly three weeks was spent backstage watching Vampire Weekend and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds rock the main stage before enjoying some whiskey and Mumford & Sons from the dressing room area with several lovely characters. 
Are you exhausted from just reading that last bit? I’m tired from just reliving it all as I typed! I still can not believe how just one weekend can shape so much of my trip. Even now, weeks later, I am heading to Amsterdam to join back up with the same traveller that came too to Newcastle and later I hope to meet up with another in Budapest. So many thanks are due to so many people for their hard work, generosity, and friendship. This is only one of many CS camps, festivals, and other major events that are hosted through the summers. I will be on the constant look out for others and hope to return again eventually for another Edinburgh Rocks! 
Question of the Day:
What has been your most pleasant surprise event while traveling?

Why Choose Between Hostels and CouchSurfing?

When I arrived in Dublin on Thursday, my plans for the summmer were very loose.  I’d used many styles of accomadation during previous travels and had great experiences with with CouchSurfing and hostels. When planning for this summer, I had a hard time choosing which to rely on. Luckily, since I have three months to travel and I can take my time wherever I go, I don’t have to choose! Before arriving, I had booked two days in Isaac’s Hostel and confirmed two days with a CouchSurfing host. The rest of the summer I would plan as I went. 



As mentioned in my previous post, it is very easy to meet fellow travelers while staying at backpacker’s hostels. KC, SC and I hung around together for the duration of our hostel stays. We explored Chester Beatty Library Museum, a place pointed out to us on our free walking tour, and enjoyed three floors of exhibitions, all containing pieces collected by Chester. Fellow backpackers understand the importance of exploring and eating on the relatively cheap. The museum was a free stop and we had a group ‘dinner’ to prepare our tummies for the night’s pub crawl. Dublin has lots of cheap convenience stores. Also, if you’re lucky enough to be a science geek, you can also unexpectedly lose five or six hours at the Trinity College science gallery. KC and I did as much, resulting in my receiving top accolades in balloon pop guessing and Texas Hold ‘Em. That place is heavily indebted to me for some serious science. I do wish we’d been playing for cash, I was that much of a shark at poker. Plus, our subsequent pub crawl with the hostels would’ve be VIP all the way. Kinder eggs for all.
The boys planned a trip to Galway, but I was set up with a CouchSurfing host so we split up the Dream Team and I went to meet up with Stijn. My luck continued with my host selection, as I ended up with a great guy that involved me in his entire weekend. With him, his CSers are his guests instead of just strangers on the couch. It turned out that Dublin had a pretty active and diverse CS community with some of the friendliest people ever. Stijn and I had both gone out late the night before so we started out with a stroll around Phoenix Park, the largest urban park in Europe. He was quite knowledgable about the area and told me all about the deer wandering about. I’d never seen such color variation in a herd of deer! Once we had some food in us we were able to perk up for a night of fun. Started out at the birthday party for fifty year old Irish twins at a back room of a sushi restaurant with free sushi and a rad DJ. Honestly, I dont know how I can top that event for the rest of my trip. I did mention the free sushi, right? Stijn introduced me to some other CSers and we kept the night going with loads of dancing. 
Depending on your style of travel, quiet days where you spend most of the time at a table eating and drinking tea can be a major advantage of hanging with a CSer over other hostel travelers. Since I have 3 months of traveling, I welcome the occasional low key day. Plus, a nice meal and tea is tops after a late night. I even splurged on what ended up being an adorable and delicious chocolate mousse dessert served in a baby Guinness glass! Seriously, look at that picture and tell me that isn’t the cure to anything that ails ya. 

Another big advantage of a local host is their knowledge of events around town. Yea you can ask the front desk at the hostel for recommendations, but often they have a select list of places/tours/events that they promote. My host knew about a FREE comedy show in the basement of a pub. One that I’d actually eaten in with KC and SC (Stag’s Head). We got there just in time to snag some of the last seats right up front, just to the side of the stage. Not only are there five acts for no charge, but they also handed out chocolate candy treats during intermission. Allegedly, they usually pass out ice creams. I highly recommend trying to hit up a show there on a Sunday or Monday evening. I had actually planning on leaving the next day, but Stijn told me about a group that was heading to Dun Laoghaire for a day by the seaside. He graciously agreed to let me stay an extra night and got me all of the information I’d need for the next day’s event. It turned out to be a fantasticly sunny day, perfect for the trip. There were a few people from the previous nights out in attendance, but loads more new faces that were eager to be friends. I was not actually brave enough to jump into the water, but a handful of the group actually went in. When there are swimmers wearing thick wetsuits to get in, thats usually my cue to simply enjoy the view. 
All in all, I think I saw most of what I wanted to see around Dublin. The two approaches both covered some really fantastic experiences and I definitely want to keep up with my trend of exploring different areas with travelers and locals. It also seems like the weekends are the best time to hit up a CSing host, as they are usually free from work to show you around and the hostels are sometimes pricier then. Next stop, Belfast!