Hey, Ireland, Nice Craic! Day 75

"Nice craic" Why, thank you!

Just say neigh to the use of puns...

Just say neigh to the use of puns...

This phrase took me some time to understand. This wasn't a severely misspelled compliment towards my derriere but a charming little catch phrase about good times in Ireland. Having a blast at a pub, cheers-ing to good friends, good Guinness, and swaying to the pipe of a Irish folk musician? That's some darn good craic right there.

I assume most travelers come to Ireland to enjoy the scenery and some good ol' fashioned craic. Our white and green bus shot to the west side of the country, down to the south, and around again to Dublin, with every stop centered on the pursuit of lovely views and some lovely good times.

Each time we stopped along the path towards the Atlantic, the more I believed the weather in Ireland is truly confused. Standing in the rain amidst sheep poop on the Hill of Tara, I thought, "This is really lovely. If only my toes weren't wet and ...messy." Walking around the Trim Castle, I thankfully basked in the sun of a surprisingly clear sky while meandering around the massive stone structure. And as the mist that coated my camera lens outside the Locke Distillery had me finally uttering, "I don't get this damn barometric situation! Ah, to hell with it. It's whiskey time."

Every day we flew across the clouds and squeezed our big bus between pasture-lined country roads. Once in a while, the mist would cease, and an opening in the atmosphere would reveal St. Patrick's mountain or a field of white horses. It's hard to let Ireland's weather ruin a trip to Ireland, but when the weather is good, it's gorgeous. Nothing on the trip topped the ultimate vista at the most westerly point of our tour. Atop a cliff covered in purple flowers, I sat and stared at breaking waves and tiny uninhabited islands off the coast. A butterfly landed next to me. I laughed, because it was all so ridiculously poetic.

The cliffs of Moher luckily emerged from an intense cloud cover only a half hour before we got there, and we were able to see where land was sliced by an undulating knife before the Earth popped in the oven. It caused a little existential hiccup to hear we were standing in Ireland's most popular suicide destination, but thankfully we didn't witness any travesties of the sort, only the simple elegance of nature.

And with every evening, whether we tucked into a one horse or 2,000 horse town, it was a mission for Guinness, for three-time distilled Irish whiskey, for a moment's rest from a day of bumping on a bus. And when the mind is filled with the vibrant greens of the day, one can easily conclude Ireland is easy on the senses.

Neon chlorophyll and Guinness...and don't forget the nice craic.

Wild and Sexy Scotland: Day 68

Loch the shape of Scotland

We bolted for the Highlands. There was no stopping us. The bright yellow tour bus resembled the Coors Light Silver Bullet Train in my mind as it streamed like a beast across very green and steadily growing hills. When there was a need to stretch the legs, we stopped in a town that brings to mind the adjectives quaint, cute, and colorful. When our bellies grumbled, pubs and cafes appeared , and never did we leave the big yellow bus door without multiple recommendations for the best food to be had or the best church to be seen. On the bus, it was always learning time. If I were to pack in the amount of knowledge our guide Kyle had about Scotland into my head, surely geometry equations and verb conjugations would shove out my ears. Basically, his brain overfloweth with Scottish facts. He told stories, recounted mythical tales, and even played DJ by orchestrating an eclectic and authentic Scottish playlist. Bus time was never wasted time.

As the landscape got cooler, we began the side trips. The Battle of Culloden was apparently one that determined the fate of our future countries and cultures. Kyle explained the brutal slaughtering of the Jacobites as we stood on the very soil that soaked up the puddling blood. You can do nothing else in such a spirit-filled presence but wander solemnly and imagine mass fatalities occurring on this, currently, luminous land. Eerie.

After having a little cultural reenactment by a traditional Scottish clansmen (man, those clothes must have smelt rugged), Kyle made it possible to take an optional boat ride on the Loch Ness. We boarded as skeptics, thinking we were only there for the scenery and to joke about water monsters, but I returned to solid ground with squinting eyes and an odd sensation that I believed what the sailor aboard was telling us. There really may be a monster, or perhaps 18, in the Loch Ness. There's some pretty eerie "proof" circulating on the down low.

Day two pleased me to no end. The castle from the movie Entrapment?! Get outta town! We walked around what was once majestic, then terrorized and knocked to the ground, and is now rebuilt to its original splendor. Eilean Donan Castle is one famous little stack of rocks at the merging of three lakes, and I oggled the rooftop, trying to envision Sean Connery dropping his whiskey glass into the swampy abyss.

And with a subsequent visit to the Isle of Skye, I was then rocked by colors: slate blue ocean, yellow-green hills, pale blue skies, grey and mossy stones of yore. This day reminded me I see the Highlands permanently stuck in some medieval period, where stones are primary building materials, blood is shed in the most brutal way, and the oldest of English vocabulary is necessary for conversation (though Highlanders usually only spoke Gaelic). It's funny to think where we get these ideas, to suspend a culture in a time we never really knew or witnessed firsthand. I guess Scotland lends to it with the preservation of its medieval castles (as does Florence with the Renaissance architecture or my grandma with her 70s style furniture). We all reminisce about the good 'ol days, I guess.

I was never untouched by the view out the window. The soil of the hills held stories I'd cringe hearing, and the clouds were ever-present to keep the landscape new and changing. Glencoe was no exception to the beautiful Highland rule: this spot on the Earth is towering and begging to be hiked. And when a leisurely drive around the open land brings you past cows with teenage boy hair, you can't help but think the Highlands are hilarious. One may even call them Wild and Sexy.