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Rounding out my two-month adventure was a weekend with dear friends in the marvelously medieval Edinburgh, capital of Scotland.

I opted for an East Coast Rail train from London. It should have been a pleasant, four-and-a-half-hour journey northward along the eastern coast. Unfortunately, in classically British fashion, the train broke down moments after leaving Kings Cross. (Had I not had the pleasure of efficient, fully-functioning trains in Spain, France, Ireland and, to a certain extent, even Morocco, I might have been more forgiving of this mechanical malfunction!) An hour and a new train later, however, I (and a car full of screaming children) were on our way out of London.

Thankfully, my time in Edinburgh was otherwise worry-free and altogether delightful.

Aside from the usual things one does with old friends (wine, dine, reconnect, reminisce), we took in the curious Jupiter Artland on the outskirts of town. A sizeable outdoor sculpture garden, it afforded us the opportunity for some air and culture at the same time. (Always a great combination.) While it obviously fell short of the splendours on offer at the Gardens of Versailles, it was a lovely little place all the same.

Also, worth noting: Edinburgh Castle. I’d had the opportunity to visit this spectacular site when I last visited the city in 2004. Unsurprisingly, little had changed; it was still the same, imposing grey fortress overlooking the city that it was six years ago.

The return train journey to London was, to be fair, much more pleasant than the journey up. Even if the train had malfunctioned, however, I suspect my recollection of the trip would have still been quite positive: I was travelling with two very good friends, both of whom had joined me in Edinburgh that weekend.

During our trip, we reflected on the weekend that had just been and concluded it was splendid. We’d spent it together at the home of our dear friend and, despite the rain and altogether dreary weather, were thrilled to have had the chance to make the trip.

For me, of course, the weekend in Edinburgh proved bittersweet: it was, after all, the final leg of a summer adventure that had begun in Barcelona nearly two months prior, taken me southward along the Spanish coast, across Morocco, to Paris, then London, westward across Ireland, back to London, before finally arriving in Edinburgh.

All in all, it was a remarkable ride; one I’m so very thankful to have taken. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend the summer!

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So much Guinness! So many cows!

The Emerald Isle—aptly named—is lovely, especially once you make it to the Atlantic coast and can truly appreciate the end-of-the-world-iness of the place.

Following a brief stint in London, I flew to Dublin to meet up with a cousin and her friend who had planned a little Irish getaway. Together, in just over a week, our travels, which began in the Irish capital, took us westward, first to Galway then to Doolin.

Dublin

Nice town; a Lilliputian London, really.

Looking back, I’d say, in the three days we were there, we managed to hit all the highlights (and some lowlights, too!) Of note were the Guinness Storehouse, honouring the man who started it all and celebrating his most glorious brew. We also visited the infamous Kilmainham Gaol, which was at once haunting and fascinating, and Trinity College, Dublin, wherein we glimpsed the Book of Kells, which was, if I’m being honest, an expensive disappointment.

(It’s not that I don’t mind forking over cash to visit such places—I happily handed over oodles of Euros whilst in Paris for the pleasure—but I do think the cost should in some way reflect the… scope of the place.)

Anyway, after three days, and more pints of Guinness than I care to recount, we boarded a train for Galway, on the western coast of the island.

Galway

Unbeknownst to us, our visit to Galway coincided with the city’s eponymous races. Thankfully, we still managed to find ourselves a room in a quaint little place just steps from the town’s main square. Reminiscent of Fawlty Towers (sans Manuel, sadly), our hotel served as a perfect jumping off point from which to explore the city’s lovely, pedestrianized shopping district.

Of course, as we did in Dublin, we also took great delight in imbibing on the country’s most precious resource!

Doolin

What an adorable place!

Picturesque little Doolin, nestled on the coast, south of Galway in County Clare, became our home-away-from-home for the duration of our time in the country. And we couldn’t have asked for a nicer, cosier place to hang our hats than Lane Lodge.

For three days, we ate, drank, hiked, and boated… to the southernmost of the Aran Islands, Inisheer.

Without question, however, the most extraordinary part of our time in Doolin was spent admiring the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher—from both the sea and the land. Incredible.

Sadly, as with all things, my time in Ireland had to come to an end. London was calling, again; Edinburgh, too.

And so, I bid farewell to my cousin and her friend and, pack on back, made my way to Shannon International for a return flight to London.

Yes! This was more like it. This was the Morocco my friend and I were anticipating when we were crossing the Strait of Gibraltar.

Fes, one of Morocco’s four “imperial cities,” is an absolutely charming place—so long as you don’t mind the heat, the smell, the donkeys. It features Morocco’s, indeed the world’s largest medina; a labyrinthine maze of cobble-stone alleyways, narrow roads and souks. And, lucky us, we were staying in an absolutely gorgeous riad smack dab in the center of the place.

We were only staying in the city for two days, so opted for an official guide to show us around. It was well worth it! In fact, I’d say it was probably one of the best decisions we have made thus far. (I really don’t know how we would have managed to see half the sites were we left to our own devices.)

In a little over a half a day, we visited one of Morocco’s most beautiful madrasas,  which, much to our surprise, was modeled on Granada’s Alhambra. We also visited the University of Al-Karaouine, founded in 859 AD and an important center of theological study to this day.

However, without doubt, our most memorable moment came when we visited one of Fes’ many tanneries. I shall be forever grateful to the manager, who wisely suggested we take a generous handful of mint leaves with us during our tour. (The smell was beyond comprehension and, I later learned, due to the large vats of all-natural ammonia solution, made from a rich mixture of pigeon excrement and cow urine.)

Among the many leather goods on offer were the ubiquitous Moroccan slippers, which continue to mystify me. Despite the manager’s insistence to the contrary, the shoes simply do not fit properly. Regardless of one’s size, one’s heels are invariably left unprotected by the unusually short soles. Très bizarre.

Of course, as we did in Chefchaouen, we located a nearby hotel’s bar to unwind. On order: Fes’ own Spéciale Flag. Heavenly.

As much as we would have liked to stay in Fes for a day or two more (if for no other reason than to bask in the extraordinary hospitality of our guest house), we had to press on to Marrakech. And so, after two remarkable days in the heart of old Morocco, we boarded a train (at 2 a.m.!) to Marrakech. All aboard that train…

After four glorious days in Barcelona, we bid farewell to the city — its cafés, wide, tree-lined avenues, cheap sangria, beautiful beaches and first-rate public transit — and headed south, first to Valencia and then to Alicante.

Our time in Valencia was brief, but still long enough to take in the futuristic Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

We were also able to catch Spain crush Portugal, which was a thrill to be sure! Still, Valencia was yet another big city and, after five days, we needed some peace and quiet.

We found it in Alicante… sort of.

The town is situated a few hours south of Valencia along the picturesque Costa Blanca.

Our first night left a lot to be desired.

Sure, the beach was right out our front door; however, the place wasn’t exactly in Alicante, as advertised, but 5 kilometers outside of town. Not an insurmountable obstacle, but sufficiently inconvenient for us to relocate closer to city the following night.

Doing so proved to be both a blessing and a curse. Yes, we were much closer to the bus station, which meant we could catch the early bus to Granada (our next stop); we were also much closer to Alicante’s vibrant nightlife.

Suffice it to say, we made the early bus, but it wasn’t our finest hour. (Granted, it had been Canada Day the night before.)