And here we go! We’re kicking off on our two year European adventure with the easiest way Mrs P and I could think of to start this exciting/terrifying two year exploration into the mountainous highs and cavernous lows of Europe. We just jumped into the car and drove North to see what happened.
Day 1 – South Shields and the Angel of the North
I’ll be honest; we could have made the roadtrip straight up to Edinburgh in one go but I wanted a small detour towards Newcastle for a very specific reason. Newcastle may be the spiritual home of Cheryl Cole, brown ale and the saveloy sausage, all of which will enhance your life in their own special and unique way, but it is also host to some of the most amazing people, art and scenery this country of ours has to offer. I’ve wanted to visit The Angel of the North for years but like so many people, I’ve never managed to make the trip. This time as I detoured off the motorway into a small layby which was the very modest setting for the enormous artwork, I knew I had made the right decision.
‘Wow’ Was the only word that The Child could say for at least ten minutes and I have to say that even after years of seeing her from a distance, I wasn’t prepared for the reality of visiting the site first hand. The overwhelming scale of The Angel is an incredible experience and the day couldn’t have been better for us. Completed in 1998 by Antony Gormley, The Angel of the North is a wonderful and enormous side attraction for anyone passing by on the A1 motorway and wanting a quick break for an hour or so.
Making the most of the trip to nearby Newcastle and the unseasonably warm weather, we then stopped at a cheap and cheerful Travelodge before going down to the beach at South Shields to see the sunset.
There, as we wondered down towards the pier and the funfair, we came across a couple of guys fishing. Graeme and his son Grant have been fishing on this beach for years and can be found happily out there on the sand in every conceivable weather. Given the otherwise deserted beach, we naturally gravitated over and started chatting about fishing, life and everything in-between. Graeme told us that he himself was off to Edinburgh the following week for difficult family reasons but the warmth from him in clearly tough times was clear and palpable. We spent some time on that beach in the gathering dusk and couldn’t help but marvel at these guy’s warmth, resilience, and hope for the future. As we left these wonderful people, Graeme and Grant wished us well on our trip and carried on talking, thinking and fishing into the night.
Day 2 – Edinburgh
A few days before I went to Edinburgh, I thought about the few things that I knew about the place. 1) Everyone in Edinburgh is as Scottish as kilts made out of Haggis. And 2) It always rains in Edinburgh.
Turns out I may have misjudged things a little.
First of all, even if we don’t talk about the fact that Robert Lewis Stevenson was born here, Sean Connery was born here, Walter Scott and Robert Burns were both born here and the electric toaster was invented here; there’s the small matter of the fact that they have a Cat Café. A café with the sole purpose of giving you the opportunity to have a cup of tea and piece of cake with a cat. Any city which can support such an enterprise outside of fanatical cat crazy Japan, has the ‘clearly mentalist’ thumbs up from me.
Second, it turns out that Edinburgh has almost no Scottish people in it at all!! Either that, or they had left the city for the weekend! It is surprisingly difficult to find anyone who is actually Scottish in Edinburgh and believe me I tried. Everyone we came across was either American, Canadian or a student at the University. In the four days we were there, I found only two actual bonafide Scottish fellows and only one of which was an Edinburgh inhabitant. The first encounter with our Scottish cousins was at 3pm, in a pub in the city centre. A Glaswegian visiting Edinburgh with her two Canadian (of course) friends were already three hours into what was clearly about to become a proper all night drink-a-thon. We introduced ourselves, told our story and asked for a photo – which is when things got a bit weird. We never did catch her name but after she agreed to be in a photo and then lunging for the camera like a drunken gymnast on her way to Olympic infamy to take a selfie, we decided that the lady in question was probably past her best for that day and should be left alone. As she was subsequently bundled out of the door by her friends, we caught muffled cries of ‘protective custody’ and ‘they’ve found me’! In the end, I’m still not sure who she thought we were or what we were about to do but let me make it clear in case GCHQ are watching: we didn’t do whatever it was that she thought that we did. Honest!
Our other local contact was more successful. It too happened in a bar, but this time the bar in question, Lebowskis, proved to be less one very drunk, selfie-taking-paranoid-inhabitant. Win! We sat, we drank white Russians and we started talking to Rory the Bar Manager, who was Canadian (another one). But no sooner had we started lamenting our lack of Scottish conversation, when from out of the stockroom walked Dominic; the floppy haired saviour of our Edinburgh Brexit Tour! We talked Brexit and enjoyed a few more of the White Russians than were good for us, said goodbye, stumbled out of the bar and back to our accommodation. Job one: Scotland is in the bag!
Lastly, as we enjoyed our time up and down the streets and hills of this city, avoiding the tourist bagpipe traps, dodging more Canadians in their Hey Jimmy hats and wandering into various whisky shops (of which there are an unsurprisingly large amount), I decided that it doesn’t rain in Edinburgh all the time. In fact, for the four days that we were there it didn’t rain at all! I know. It was a surprise to me too. I mean look at the place, its beautiful!!
We spent a few fabulous hours gazing down at Edinburgh from the top of Calton Hill observatory – then moved on to Arthurs seat via Holyrood as well as walking the Royal Mile trying not to bump into all the Americans and Canadians taking pictures of me taking pictures of them. Edinburgh is a fabulous city with so much to offer that I just can’t give it all to you in a couple of short paragraphs. The oodles of history, buildings, Canadians and the vibe all have an amazing energy that you can’t help but feel as you walk around. Plus if you are lucky with the weather like us, the views both around and above the city are absolutely gorgeous.
As a final story about how fact is so often stranger than fiction, as we sat in Lebowskis talking about our upcoming adventures, a friendly voice from across the bar demanded to know where we were from, where we were going, and why. Caitriona and Brendan, as it turns out, were visiting Edinburgh just for the weekend but are residents of the very small Irish village in County Tipperary that we had only gone and booked as next up to visit on this tour! What are the chances?! Rightly, they took it upon themselves to cross-examine us on our intentions towards their home county and country. Over yet more White Russians and an array of other cocktails we think we won them over, swapping swear words and childhood stories! It was a wonderful way to start this tour. I had wondered before we started but I am convinced now, that along with all the amazing sights and cultural experiences, it will be the people of Europe and their stories that will prove to be the most memorable of all. We are hoping to meet up with our newly found friends when we go over the Irish Sea in a couple of weeks. We’ll let you know if we passed their interrogation when we make the Irish connection – I wonder if this will happen every where we go? It’s exciting to think we shall finish in two years time with such an array of new friendships and memories that we can’t even contemplate yet!
Next stop: Ireland
Don’t miss the full #2MenEUTour Big Brexit Tour!
Two years to see all 28 EU member states before Britain leaves the European Union. Let’s go!