This trip, I only intended to go to London (for the fifth time this year!) (No random venturing to find the workplaces of my ancestors this time.) I booked my tickets months in advance for a great price and was excited that I would finally get to fly Icelandair! Right before the trip, I noticed that I somehow booked two Reykjavik to London flights, rather than a round trip ticket. So I called Icelandair to fix it, but they wanted me to pay four times what I initially paid for the ticket. So I took matters into my own hands and made an adventure out of it. I enlisted a friend, booked a train ticket from London to Manchester, a hotel room, and an early morning EasyJet flight out of Manchester...all for $300 less than what re-booking my ticket would have cost! Manchester is actually the Christmas capital of the UK (basically Whoville) but more on that later!
If you like Christmas lights as much as I do, add the UK to your Christmas destination list! I actually lived in London in December 2014, but I think the Christmas cheer has only increased since. Virtually everywhere in London, the streets are covered in lights. Immediately upon my arrival, I met up with a friend to go to Winter Wonderland, London's largest and most famous Christmas market.
Christmas in England has some differences to America. For the last three years, I've brought Christmas crackers and mince pies to my American family. My British friends are always surprised that Christmas crackers are not ubiquitous! For my non-British readers, Christmas crackers are like firecrackers and contain a little toy, a joke, and a paper hat. During the English Christmastime, you'll see work parties and groups of friends wearing these paper hats at restaurants everywhere! They're also used on Christmas Day.
If you really want to experience the English Christmastime, nothing can quite replace making English friends and tagging along for flat Christmas dinners! I'm lucky enough that after a year living in London, it feels like home and I have several friends still in the city.
After my time in London, we headed to Manchester (but not before missing our original train - luckily we were able to take one twenty minutes later with no charge!) Our first stop was Takk, an Icelandic inspired coffee shop!
Manchester is home to several adorable bookstores, including Chapter One, an independent store. Their Waterstones is massive and (despite telling myself I wasn't going to buy a book), I found a book with a fencer on the cover so of course I needed that. (The Dutch Maiden by Marente de Moor. It was a great read!)
Manchester prides itself as the Christmas capital of the UK. The entire city is like one giant Christmas market! We somehow found time to ice skate (yay for rental skates).
We had left our bags at the storage place at the train station. Upon collection, the worker noticed that my hands looked cold and gave me a pair of really nice red leather gloves from lost and found. If you lost your gloves in Manchester recently, I've been taking good care of them (though I almost lost them in a parking lot in Colorado, I found them again).
And then, because I like to keep busy, I flew back to Reykjavik for my skaters' Christmas show and then flew back to the States (and drove across the country while I was at it!).
Last Sunday, several hours away from unexpectedly booking a one-way ticket to London, was one of those days when I was inexplicably in a Scottish mood. That usually consists of going through my drawers in search of the tartan wool scarf I purchased during my first trip to Edinburgh and listening to the Scottish Bagpipes Highland Pipes on Spotify on my way to work, thinking, “Scotland is just so great, why are bagpipes not ubiquitous?” Actually, that morning I was in the mood for American fall. After finding some imported canned pumpkin and baking pumpkin baked oatmeal, my flat smelled very much like American fall and I was thinking, “American fall is just so great, why do European countries not care about pumpkins and fall as much as we do in America?” And then, fifteen minutes later, I was in a Scottish mood. So I decided to fly out of Scotland and spend the latter part of my week venturing through the north of England and Scotland.
After Dent, I went up to Carlisle for the sole reason of briefly seeing Hadrian’s Wall. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do a proper hike, but I dressed the part anyway, complete with my travel backpack (simply because I nowhere to store my luggage in Carlisle.) I hiked about twenty minutes from the city center, along the river Eden, until I was just a bridge crossing away from the wall. Except the bridge was out and the closest crossing was a twelve mile-hike away, which I didn’t have time for since I needed to catch the train to Glasgow. Foiled! (Guess who is starting fencing next week!?)
I still went to the Tullie House Museum, which discusses Roman history in the region and had artifacts from Hadrian’s Wall so it wasn’t a wasted stopover. Even better, there was a “How to Train Your Dragon” theme going on throughout the exhibit! Like London, Carlisle must have known I was coming. The lady working was very helpful and tried to figure out a city bus route that I could take to at least see the wall, which didn’t end up working out, but I appreciated her effort.
The annual Carlisle Pageant (what Americans would call a festival or carnival) was on and my visit coincided with the International Market so I spent the rest of my visit exploring that. The most puzzling thing started to happen: every single time I said something, people started looking at me as if I was speaking Icelandic instead of English. I do sometimes accidentally speak the wrong language, so I took a moment to make sure I wasn’t actually speaking Icelandic. I wasn’t, but everyone still just looked at me blankly. I stopped at a café to charge my phone and it took three workers and me actually showing them my phone charger for them to understand that I was asking if there was a wall plug. They said, “Sorry, we can’t understand your accent.” I was so amused by that, since I’ve never really had that happen before.
This accent confusion continued in Glasgow. I had been warned that Glasgow accents were hard to understand, but I usually consider myself good at understanding other accents. Most of the time, I could understand them, but there were a few times when neither one of us could understand the other, despite us both being native English-speakers speaking English! Until I reached the Edinburgh airport when I was about to fly back to Iceland, I did not encounter another American, for 60 hours in an English-speaking country! I was on a train in Glasgow, talking with the elderly woman across the seat from me. She said, “Are you really American!?” She seemed very surprised. I guess in some parts of Scotland, American sightings are rarer than Loch Ness Monster sightings. Who would have thought!?
A couple of times in both London and Glasgow people asked where I was from and I said, “Reykjavik” and they said, “Oh, you’re Icelandic? With your accent, I would have thought you were…Australian.” I have been mistaken for everything from Canadian to French to Czech, but never before Australian and then it happened twice in a couple of days! When in Dent, heard on the radio something about “pretending to be Icelandic,” and I remarked to my friend that just a day prior I too pretended to be Icelandic. Someone said, “Oh, but you speak English.” I said, “Yes, Icelanders have to learn English in schools.” Then he asked me how to say “thank you” in Icelandic, I said, “Takk fyrir.” And then he asked me to just say something else in Icelandic so I said, “Eg tala ekki islensku,” which if he understood, would mean that I am not actually Icelandic at all!
Speaking of Icelandic, I was on the bus in Reykjavik recently when a few German-speaking tourists asked me if I spoke English. I thought it was funny since I ONLY speak English (fluently at least). They asked all these follow-up questions about the culture festival that was going on and I don’t think they ever suspected that I wasn’t actually Icelandic.
I might like Glasgow better than Edinburgh. Glasgow has all the same offerings that make Edinburgh so incredible: the history, the stone buildings, and the distinctly Scottish culture, but with far less tourists. I visited the Glasgow Botanic Gardens and aside from that, mostly just explored the area, watched seven consecutive episodes of Reign (when in Scotland!), and got engaged to the attractive Scot working at my hotel reception (okay kidding, but he was the only Glasgow resident who actually understood my accent!)
I left Glasgow Sunday morning, taking an Uber to the bus station, a bus from Glasgow to Edinburgh, a flight in to Reykjavik, a bus to the Reykjavik bus terminal, and then a friend took me back to my flat, with a full three hours to spare before I started work for the day!
Hi, I’m Crystal! I love to travel and am currently a graduate student in Scotland. You’ll get all the best tips and insights from my experiences as a former ice-skating coach in Iceland and former study abroad student. Of the 27 countries I have visited, a type 1 diabetes diagnosis has been the strangest land yet. Type 1 has not slowed down my travels and you'll learn how to take type 1 with you on the road! You can connect with me further on Instagram @CrystalChilcott, or send me ideas of where I should travel next via email: email@example.comHappy Travels, Crystal
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