London, Leeds, Newcastle, and Edinburgh
I took to travel life pretty quickly. I live out of a backpack that I leave in the hostel under clothes hung up to dry. I wash clothes in the sink. I take my iPod, camera, and passport with me everywhere and aim for one meal a day, after eating breakfast in the hostel.
I wanted to start in the UK because I knew I would experience very little "culture shock." It is very similar to the US, and the two-way cultural influence is obvious. Still, I've gotten used to looking the wrong way before I cross the street.
On my last night in London I went to Leicester (Lester) Square, where they had set up a reader board to tell drunks about bus services so none ended up sleeping in the gutter.
On Saturday I took the train from London to Leeds to visit a friend who is going to the university there. The college is definitely the town's biggest feature, but it also has a long history of industry and religion. Many of Leeds' surplus old chapels have been converted into dorms and even nightclubs.
I took a bus from Leeds to Edinburgh. We drove through the snowy downs of Northeast England and had a one-hour layover in Newcastle, where I met an old man and couldn't understand 90% of what he said. I had to pick out the words I could understand and respond to those, an awkward trade learned from conversing with people who speak English as a second language.
I think Edinburgh is the San Francisco of Great Britain. The city is not really a cultural hub, at least not in the winter, but it is proud of what it has, namely Scotch, tartan, and bagpipes.
It's also very hilly. A big gash runs under Edinburgh Castle, itself on the crag of an inactive volcano, and right between Old Town and New Town in the city center. Steep roads run up and down away from these landmarks, down towards the bay to the north, and up around Blackford Hill and Hollyrood, with King Arthur's seat on top and a gold course underneath.
My hostel, the Castle Rock, is right under Edinburgh Castle, just off the Royal Mile with all the tourist spots, haggis restaurants, ale pubs, and the Scotch Experience museum, complete with an It's A Small World raft ride in a busted open whisky cask.
I've been in Edinburgh for a day and a half and haven't seen much of that, but already I've encountered the last thing I expected to see here: a Scottish Hare Krishna.