Organised as I am, I started looking for cheap buses (we were thinking of hitchhiking but we didn’t have much time, booked (return) flights and wanted to do couchsurfing, which should be a bit planned…) quite early. As soon as the buses were booked, I started contacting CS-hosts, however, no-one I got in touch back then ended up being our host (people didn’t know their summer plans…). After I had spent part of my über-long holidays in Morocco, Spain, Germany and Austria I was looking forward to exploring Great Britain with two of my best friends. Verena and I left for London on August 17 and arrived late in the evening at Victoria Couch Station (Easybus – only £2/person).
Our bus to Plymouth left at around midnight and arrived 40 minutes early, at 5am. No good; it was cold, started raining and not even the McDonald there was open at that time. Verena, lucky her able to sleep anywhere and in any position, had slept a little in the bus but I hadn’t and the couch station was too uncomfy and cold to sleep any more. At 6 we went to McD and had some tea, then we went to Tesco’s and had breakfast in the couch station. It stopped raining and the sun came out. We walked through the city, from one to the other end. At the seaside we had a break before going to ‘the lido‘ I went in, crazy me. It was absolutely freezing. After a second I went out again. We continued walking around and stopped at the University where our CS-host picked us up. After dropping off our luggage at his place he brought us to the beach beach. Then we had dinner and went to bed. We slept very well!
Plymouth is a small city. It’s okay. Not that special but okay. The lido is great. And the beach a little further away, too.
The next morning, we walked to the bus station to go to Exeter. It was sunny and warm! We walked around almost the whole day. In the evening we hitchhiked to our CS-host in Dartmoor. The problem was that all buses going back to town would arrive too late for us to catch our bus in the morning and our host didn’t have a car. So we got up before 5 and started walking to Exeter. Finally, more than an hour later, a car passed and was so kind to stop and take us into town.
Exeter is really nice! There’s plenty to see and to do!
Our first stop in Bristol was the train station to pick up another friend of mine, Em, then we went to a park to talk. It was a bit cool and started to rain a little later but then it got rather hot and sunny! Verena and I were quite exhausted, so we were happy not to spend the whole day walking through town, for once. In the evening, Verena left for our host whilst Em and I went to the cinema and then for a drink before following her.
Seems to be a nice city, more to see and to do than in Exeter I’d say (after all, it’s bigger).
In the morning we separated again, Verena and I took the bus to Cardiff. We met our CS host who gave us the directions to his home. After walking to the docks and sleeping a little in the sunshine in a park we went to the train station. We found out that there were no buses/trains from our host’s ‘village’ for us to get to our bus at 5.20 and we were rather doubtful to find someone to hitchhike with there and at that time and we did not have the energy to walk all the way (3 hours? more?). Verena was thrilled by the idea to sleep in a park. I was sceptical – even though it wasn’t raining, after sunset it got pretty cool. Anyway, we put on loads of clothes and then went to McD’s to wait until it closed. Fortunately, we discovered that it was open 24/7. After ten we both got a bit tired, and since it was still a little ‘warm’ outside we slept a bit in front of McD’s – until drunk guys started bothering us at midnight. So we went inside. Unfortunately we had to notice that the seating area was closed off, only take away from midnight till 6am. The security guy saw our sad faces 😉 and asked what the matter was, I told him and after a minute he said he’d let us in but we’d need to go out every time a lot of people came in. Woop. That happened twice, and the second time (at 3am) a girl saw us and started screaming how unfair it was, that we were allowed to sit (open your eyes – we kinda lay on the benches) inside and they weren’t. I felt really bad, so when we came back inside we got our stuff and waited outside in the cold. The security guys offered us to just stay in front of McD’s and they’d look after us. How cool is that! We felt a bit like VIPs 😉 We read until it was time to go to the bus station. Worst megabus ever, so cold I couldn’t sleep in it. What a sleepless night!
Well. Cardiff is nice. The people there are friendly (as for the ones we met). Security guys (at least those we met) are great. Drunk people can be rude, but also funny (when we sat there in front of McD’s one guy gave us £2 each).
After arriving in Birmingham we immediately went to a park and slept for two hours, until a group of guys woke us talking shit. A security came by and made them leave us alone 🙂 Then we walked around (half-asleep, many breaks…) and were more than looking forward to our bus in the evening.
Birmingham is… not nice in my opinion. Too many (ugly) buildings crowded on too little space. We didn’t see that much though, so maybe we got the wrong impression…
Manchester! Luckily our CS-host picked us up from the station. I felt dead after that sleepless night in Cardiff (as I already mentioned, Verena can sleep anywhere and everywhere, so she got at least some more sleep). We had to stay up for another couple of hours until my friend Magda arrived at the train station (she came from Stansted airport). As soon as we were all at home, sleeeep. We slept till 10-something! Our first day of walking-around without our big bags. What a relief! We came across a great shopping centre (Afflecks) and went for dinner (Chinese. Never. Ever. Again.). At night Verena left (she went home). Magda and I went to Newcastle the next morning.
Manchester is a big city but the centre can be discovered in a day. Many nice buildings, not that crowded, nice! Very friendly and helpful people.
I had been to Newcastle before, so I kinda knew what to expect 😉 We walked a lot, enjoyed the lovely weather, went to the Museum of Discovery (wouldn’t recommend it for people between 13 and 30), walked in the sunshine – and then in the rain 😦 . Couldn’t wait for a hot shower at our CS-host’s!
Newcastle is a historic nice not-too-small/big city with many beautiful buildings. The beach isn’t far away (though it was too far for us to be bothered to walk there/take the bus 😉 ).
Got up before 4 to walk to the bus station for our train to Inverness. We were expecting cold and gloomy weather but it was surprisingly warm and sunny! We checked into our hostel (hadn’t found a CS-host) and went to Loch Ness by bus. The tourist information guy had told us to go to Drumnadrochit. So we did. Thanks – we had to walk 40 minutes to actually get to see the Loch at Urqhart Castle, and then we couldn’t even go down to the water, of course there was an entrance fee, about a tenner we didn’t see the point in paying. So we took the bus back to Inverness from there (what a nice bus driver – didn’t make us pay the way from the castle to Drumnadrochit even though our return ticket was from Drumnadrochit).
We went for dinner and then spent a not-so-nice night in the hostel (6 bunk beds, smelled awful, at least two people snored…). It was gloomy and rainy outside, we went for breakfast, walked around a bit and then to the bus station to take our bus towards home.
Inverness is bigger than I’d have thought, though the centre is quite small. Especially fruit is rather expensive (some apples £4/kg!). And remember not to go to Drumnadrochit if you don’t want to walk an hour in order to see Loch Ness.
I noticed my ‘conclusions’ were mostly like “the city is nice” – well, city is city. At least the cities of the same country often resemble one another a lot. It’s more about the people who live in that place and the experiences you make there (with the friend(s) you’re travelling with).
Thorough our travels we met wonderful people, be it our CS-hosts or just some strangers on the street offering us help when we were looking at a map (Birmingham, Newcastle), bus drivers (Inverness) and security men (Cardiff, Birmingham).
If you’re planning on backpacking (for little money), be prepared to carry around your bag all day long, to eat cold meals from cheap shops, to sleep in cold, uncomfy buses, on used couches or in rooms with several people (who might snore), not to shower for some days, to get soaking wet now and then, to have painful feet (and a painful back, obviously), and the like. If that puts you off, think of all the great experiences you can gather: see beautiful places, meet great people, have an adventure and most importantly: experience life as it is!
(and if you think you’re not doing enough “brain training” during your travels; you’re wrong: map-coordination, remembering addresses/names of hosts and bus times,… you get the gist of it… 🙂 )