Tag Archives: British humour

The most awesome weekend trip I ever had, Part III – Scotland, the small European country… wait, is Scotland a country?

This was it. We were really going to Scotland. Waking up at 6, again, at the airport in time, even the flight was leaving on schedule. Well, I guess we just have had our share of bad luck the previous day. Uneventfully, we landed in Glasgow, made it to city centre, bought our groceries (a pack of juice and some gasoline, please) and took the train to Fort William. In my life, I’ve had my fair share of beautiful train rides, but this one was special. Perhaps because as we chugged through the highlands, I was putting together the ironing board, that I had to disassemble to fit into the luggage size limits of Ryanair. The other passengers were true Britons though and besides the occasional glare everybody kept pretending that people assembling ironing boards were most common on this stretch of rail. But the views on the West Highland Line are pretty damned spectacular, as well, so the ride was memorable even without the ironing board.

Fort William at the end of September is not that crowded. Our appearance with an ironing board would have caused quite a stir, hadn’t it been for the fact that among the 100 000 people ascending the Ben Nevis annually there’s plenty of freaks, and we were not really standing out, even in the thin autumn crowds. We set our tent on the camping at the foot of the mighty mountain and went to bed early to be ready for the big day.

Early start, again...

Early start, again…

The next morning started bloody early (again). We had our breakfast in pitch darkness and started our ascent. At this hour, we were the first on the track and had the whole mountain to ourselves (and the ironing board, of course). Weather was as fine as it gets on the most rainy spot in Europe, the thick mist lifting every now and then to give us a glimpse of magnificent views before settling down again. Close before the summit, however, we came across a small group that spent the night in the shelter at the top, so we had to settle for being the second group on the summit that day. The summit itself was what you’d expect a summit visited by 100 000 people a year to be – a giant public toilet. The ruins of the observatory and the scattered memorial boards and urns with people’s ashes did make it quite surreal up there. I wonder if all those people would wish their ashes to be left there if they’d know how many people take a dump on their grave.

Ironing board in the thick mist

Ironing board in the thick mist

The ruins of the observatory

The ruins of the observatory

Still shrouded in mist, we accomplished our task, ironing on the top of the Ben Nevis. We were done. From here on, everything we’d experience was a bonus. As it turned out, we’d get a wholla lot of bonuses. First of all, there were still quite a few people going to the top that day, and we’ve met them all on our ascent. We were given a heroes welcome. People cheered, congratulated us, asked whether they can take a picture of us and the lady holding a rag doll named Valery, who was going to the top in a red cocktail dress with the objective to stand there in high heels called us “crazy”. We were kings of the mountain.

This is it - extreme ironing on the top of Ben Nevis!

This is it – extreme ironing on the top of Ben Nevis!

Every now and then, the mist would lift

Every now and then, the mist would lift

Back in Fort William, our next task was to get out of there ASAP. Since we were on a budget, we planned to hitch-hike to Glasgow. Withing just a half an hour, we got a ride from an elderly gentleman who’s driving style was best described by “I’m old, and I don’t care anymore if I die”. I’m sure he’s been down that road many, many times before and knew every curve. But on the wet highland highways, in the darkness, driving on what for me was the wrong side of the road, I had to do my best to concentrate on the conversation with him to avoid looking at the road. Fortunately, the old dude was a great conversation partner – he was a retired Navy officer, going to Glasgow to attend a course in… tying knots! Apparently, if you’re a Scouting guide, even if you’ve been tying knots for the past 70 years, you still have to take a refreshment course every two year. The 3 most dreaded words in the English language are “health and safety”, I guess.

P9290090We were dropped some 50 km from Glasgow, at the side of a lake, the name of which I would never learn, and pitched our tent on the shore. By this time, Kristof, a housemate of ours who was in the area on an internship, has joined us as well, and we all hit the sack. The next morning we were… but wait, this has nothing to do with Ben Nevis anymore. I’ll just leave the last part of the story for another time.

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Filed under Europe, Just another small European country, Travel

The British Isles

Of the bite-sized regions I’ve divided Europe into, the British Isles are seemingly the least diverse. Just two coutries (UK and Ireland), one language (supposedly, English) and a uniformly depressing climate don’t appear too varied. But appearances can be deceiving. The countries of the British Isles may have only two embassies, but they do possess 5 national football teams, and national pride runs high, especially among the Scottish. Not to mention Northern Ireland. While everyone on the Isles speaks English, there are countless variations of it, to great frustration of the tourist who thinks he or she has mastered the language of Shakespeare yet can’t understand a word that’s being said. And oh, the climate. While some of the wettest locations in Europe are in the highlands of Scotland, London actually gets less rain than Rome. Let’s just say the climate adds variety to the British life. Never a dull moment – that’s the motto of the local weather.


  • Why go there?
    Americans and Australians favour the Isles as they offer a “soft landing” – culturally and linguistically speaking. The harsh reality is that the differences turn out to be rather noticeable, as this blogger found out. But experiencing these differences has a charm of its own. Plus there’s really a lot to see and do here. Like top-notch surfing sites in Ireland, superb hiking in Scotland, some of the world’s best beaches in Wales and, of course, London.
  • What’s it best for?
    To me, the greatest attraction of the British Isles is not the history, not the culture, not the drinking or the football, although all of these are generously offered. I go here for laughs. Seriously, this is the most humorous corner of the globe I’ve ever been to. This is where Monty Python, Rowan Atkinson, Douglas Adams, Lewis Carroll and many more come from. And it shows – the locals appreciate a good joke and are always prepared with one of their own. I occasionally do extreme ironing. In Belgium I was ignored, in Switzerland I was mocked, but here people genuinely appreciated me coming with an ironing board, and cheered me up all the way to the top of Ben Nevis.
  • When is the best time to go?
    July and August are the warmest, but May and June are the driest, so make your bet. Be warned though – London has seen summer temperatures over 35 degrees in the last few years and the tube is really no fun in such weather.
  • How to get around?
    British Railways are not famous for comfort, precision or speed, and the highways are rather congested. Plus fuel prices are ridiculously high (as pretty much everywhere in Europe), so driving 1000 miles to the Highlands may be pricey. Fortunately, this is where budget airlines have been invented, and all the major cities are well connected. Fly, but remember to read the fine print!
  • Why is it best to avoid?
    Some have difficulties distinguishing the British summer from the winter. Not the place to go to if you’re looking for weather guarantees.
  • Where to go if you just have one week?
    Stick to London. Hell, you can spend a year in this city and not ever be bored!


Filed under Europe, Europe by region, Small European things, Travel