Thursday, 18 February 2010

Edinburgh--the magical city

Besides my first weekend here, this was the very first time I spent all weekend in Edinburgh!! I know, that seems highly ridiculous. However, I have been making my weeks very productive in terms of exploring the city, knowing that I was traveling on the weekends. But, having said that, I was still ridiculously excited to be here for an entire weekend. SO, we decided to start the weekend on Thursday of this week, because, let's face it...why not?? So on Thursday, Nora, Carolyn and I decided to go on a walk and explore the city before we had to go to class. Luckily, we got sun (!!) for those brief couple hours in the middle of the day, so we took advantage them. First off, Carolyn and I sat at the Starbucks right on High Street, waiting for Nora to come and meet us and just talking about life and how much we love being here. I can't believe I only have 3 months left in this city, and with these people I've met here. That thought really bums me out, but I'm determined to make the most of all of it. Anyway, once we were all together, we walked down across the bridges towards the Walter Scott Memorial...we looked like total tourists the whole time, because all three of us had our cameras out, snapping shots of everything we could see. We paid to get into the Memorial and proceeded to walk up all 287 stairs to the top of it! Half way up, there is a little museum that explains what the monument is for, and what accomplishments Walter Scott had during his life. He was a pretty impressive guy! At each stair landing though, there was incredible 360 views of the city, and the further you went up, the more beautiful everything got. We could see the ocean, the mountains, and of course the amazinggggg city skyline and the castle!! The best part of the walk though was that there was a bagpiper playing on the street below us, and we could hear his music the entire time. The second we got to the top of the building, he started playing Amazing Grace, so we just stood there, looking over the entire city and listening. It was an amazing moment for sure. First of all, the bagpipe is beautiful, and second of all, I cannot imagine a more perfect city to listen to it in. Once we had taken about a million pictures, we headed back down the steps and walked to class...not a bad way to spend a couple hours!

Carolyn, Nora and me with the city and the castle in the background--on the Walter Scott Monument
View of our beautiful Castle and the National Gallery down below
View of Arthur's Seat from Walter Scott Monument
Friday was another incredible day exploring my home city. Nora, Emily, Carolyn and I decided to walk the entire Royal Mile--something I can't believe I saved until a month and a half in, but oh well, better late then never! It was a beautiful blue-sky day...a VERY rare occurrence here, so we were feeling pretty lucky. Our end goal was to get to the new Scottish Parliament building because it is open to the public 7 days a week, and then over to Holyrood Palace. We began our journey down the famous street, and even though it is only about 3/4 of a mile down from where we started, our journey took us about an hour to get down to the bottom. We were just wandering, stopping in stores and looking around at the buildings. We wandered into a modern-day Scottish museum, Carolyn stopped to buy presents for her dad's birthday, and Nora got sucked into an antique map shop before we finally made it to our intended destination. The lengthy walk was so much fun--the whole time, I kept reminding myself how many people in the entire world have walked that exact street. The history in this city just boggles my mind. However, we did finally make it down to the Parliament building. It definitely stands out amongst the rest of the gothic architecture that is everywhere. It is a modern building, with a spanish influence to its style--very interesting to say the least, and apparently very controversial amongst the Scottish. Also, despite it's promise to stay open 7-days a week to the public, it was closed on holiday, so we were unable to go inside. We did however, get to cross the street and look around the Holyrood Palace. It's the queen's residence when she comes to stay in Edinburgh, so it's very royal and spectacular. We didn't go inside because it was 17 pounds, but we did peak through the gates and take lots and lots of pictures. After that, we started to feel the cold, so we ran back to a little tea shop to warm up. Reality began to sink in right around then, and we all realized we needed to get some work done that afternoon, so we capped the day off at the elephant house, looking at the sunset and reading some books.

Scottish Parliament Building
Nora, Emily, Carolyn and I outside Holyrood Palace
To finish the night off, Nora had Emily, Carolyn and I over to her apartment because all of her flatmates were gone for the weekend. She lives in a flat that is slightly more removed from the city, and is about a 20 min walk from all of our flats, but the walk is absolutely stunning, so her commute isn't that bad. WE headed over there for a good old slumber party that night, and completed the event with baking a cake and watching girly movies while compiling our blankets and pillows in a pile on the floor. We ate the entire cake (needless to say) and stayed up talking until the early early morning. The next day, after having slept in till about noon, we got up, cleaned, and went for a nice walk around Nora's apartment. She lives across this huge park, and once you get to the other side, there is a whole little community of cute shops and restaurants over there that exist outside of the downtown area that I live in. It was so much fun exploring a new place in the city that I hadn't seen before, and it was another gorgeous day weather-wise, so there were really no complaints! On our way back home though, we saw mass amounts of police men lining the streets of Edinburgh. That day, there was a mass protest/riot going on being led by anti-Muslim people. It was a little scary and really crazy to be int eh city that day, but luckily, we were able to avoid the majority of the gathering. For the most part, I haven't experienced any racism or anti-feelings towards any of the muslims here, but obviously there are some intense underlying tensions that exist throughout the city and the rest of the UK.

The rest of the weekend finished off by cramming in some work and research for papers that are coming up. The beginning of this week was pretty much the same--it has started to sink in how much work I have to get done over the next 2 weeks, but I'm trying to remind myself that 2 weeks of stress isn't too bad considering that I deal with much much more at Bowdoin. However, I have gotten very comfortable in the Library over the past couple of days, despite my hatred for that place. It makes it better when you have all of your friends cramming with you as well, and we've been making the week do-able with mandatory movie breaks and walks to get outside. Also, yesterday, the library got even more exciting when we had a famous visitor stop by....the Duke of Edinburgh, aka the Queen's Husband, paid us a visit!!! Emily, Natalie, and I were just walking back from a study brea when we saw a bunch of security gaurds gathered around and lots of students huddle together. We stopped one guard to ask what was going on, and just then, the Duke walked by! He came over to our group and said hi, asked what year we were, and asked if we like the library!!!! That was the first royal person I've ever seen, let alone spoken too!!!! Definitely made the long day in the library worth it.

Tomorrow, I am off on my Scotland Roadtrip Adventure. Certain family members have their reservations about this trip, because yes, we will be driving on the other side of the road, but I'm so so so excited!! I can't wait to tell you all how it goes!! Wish me luck!

New things I did this week/weekend
--visited Walter Scott Monument
--walked the Royal Mile
--saw the Parliament Building and Holyrood Palace
--explored new Edinburgh neighborhoods
--saw a racial protest/riot
--met the DUKE!!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Denmark and Bowdoin Reunion!

Wow--another weekend, another city. The good news....I have officially survived my first cross-Europe solo travel experience! There were a couple of moments that that fact remained uncertain, but in the end, I made it to Denmark and back safe and sound. The trip was wayy to short, and very fast-paced, but all and all, it was an incredible weekend with Bowdoin kids from school, and I'm so sad it's over already!

My trip started off last Thursday, when I woke up early to catch the free shuttle from the train station to the airport. I cut the timing a little close, but in the end, made it to my gate in time and flew to London for my first stop on my way to Copenhagen. I hung out in London for a while before my next gate was announced, and when the number finally came up on the screen, I headed towards the shuttle so that I'd be on time for my flight. That's where my first travel troubles began. The transport shuttle malfunctioned and shut down just in time to keep me stranded on the other side of the airport, wayyy too far from my Copenhagen gate, and right as the announcer was calling for all passengers to board my plane. Uh oh. So, I looked around, saw a girl about my age also looking flustered, and asked her if she was flying to Copenhagen. She was, and so we both freaked out together. Luckily, we found enough people who were in our same boat that we figured they'd have to hold the plane. Well, we weren't exactly correct in that thought. After finally finding another way to our gate, we stepped off the shuttle just as the announcer called gates closing in 1 minute! So, we started running. Yup, I sprinted through the airport with 10 of my new best friends. Luckily, we made it just in time, and boarded the plane completely out of breath, but happy to have gotten on. About 15 passengers weren't so lucky, and were stranded in London. Phew!!

Ok, so, I made it to Copenhagen on Thursday and met Gillian at the airport. Let me take a sec to tell you about this's incredible! There's wood floors everywhere, designer shopping, and car displays!! It's also soooo incredibly quiet. Just imagine thinking that about JFK or Chicago O'hare. Never!! Anyway, Gilly and I hugged for about 5 minutes, freaking out that we were both finally reunited, and in Denmark of all places, and then headed for the train so that we could go to her homestay house. We made it out to suburbia Denmark, and she showed me around her incredible house that she gets to stay in for the semester. Her parents are amazing and they had the best dog in the world--Candy Chanel. Its a Finnish (?) lap dog, and it's the cutest, best thing in the world!! Gilly told me that it sleeps in the snow sometimes because it gets so hot inside! The inside of the house was beautiful as well. The Danish architecture was very evident in this house, and it was just so nice to be in a home again! So for the rest of the night, Gilly and I just hung out, relaxed, had an amazing homemade lasagna for dinner, and caught up on the last month that we've both been going through this crazy abroad experience.

The next day, we got to sleep in and were woken up by Gilly's host dad making chocolate croissants for breakfast. Not bad huh! We headed out on a walk with Candy Chanel after breakfast...and that's when i learned her true abilities as a Finnish lap dog. She likes to hunt. And lucky Gilly and me....we got to see her in action. I wont go into too much detail because it was one of the most disgusting things in the entire world, but we saw Candy hunt a field mouse and come up with it in her mouth!! She then proceeded to walk with it like that for the next 5 minutes before hse finally dropped it. UGHHHHHHH. awful. BUT, then, we headed into the city center of Copenhagen so that we could walk around a bit, see her school, and be in the city in time to pick up the rest of the kids from Bowdoin arriving from Spain! Getting off the train in the city, were were immediately surrounded by tons of bright colored houses lining the streets. I loved them! We did a little city-walking tour then, and Gilly showed me her school building and the BEST place to get pastries in the world. Literally, the pastries in Denmark are incredible. I had this chocolate croissant with chocolate chips and whip cream and strawberry filling...ahhh to die for. I loved walking around though, and learning all about the history of the city. It was so interesting to be out of the UK and see how different another city could be. Each city and place I've been to so far has such a different feel and atmosphere to it. Edinburgh is full of old stone buildings that are gothic or romantic looking...Copenhagen is filled with colorful buildings each side by side mixed in with old churches and monuments. And not to forget the canals here and there! Also, everything's in Danish! Funny thing, I totally forgot that they speak other languages in Europe!! I've gotten so used to having English everywhere, but nooo, in Denmark, they speak Danish! Yes, most people speak English too, but it was so funny to see all the street signs in another language. Props to Gilly and everyone else that has to deal with that in their host cities!

All the buildings that I loved so much. Why can't we have this much color in our cities??
BEST. PASTRIES. EVER! (there's a reason we call them Danish's!)
After seeing some sights throughout the city, Gilly and I headed back to the train station to meet up with our friend who's also staying in Copenhagen and everyone else coming in from Spain. Greg, Becky, Alyssa, Emily, Kate, Sam, Danny, and James all arrived at the station at about the same time, and a complete hugging and screaming reunion commenced in the middle of the crowded station! It was sooo amazing to see everyone again...I can't believe it's been so long since we've all been together at school. And the one thing we couldn't get over was that we were all reunited in a European country! Such a weird feeling. Everyone but Greg is all studying in Spain, most in different places, but there nonetheless, so for the entire weekend, we heard lots and lots about Spanish culture. The Spain kids were all starving, so we headed for lunch--there was a quick stop at a 7-eleven on the way though, because in Copenhagen, you can drink beer while walking down the street in the middle of the day! Needless to say, we all wanted to take advantage of that and cheers to being reunited! The rest of the day was filled with catching up, walking around, and finally getting ready for going out that night. We went to a thai place for dinner and the headed to Greg's apartment before going dancing. We ended up at this dance club that had snow falling from the ceiling, fog machines going full force, and lots of strobe lights. It was definitely alot of fun to dance and just be out with everyone from home. One thing we found out really quickly about's SOOOOO expensive! I don't know how those kids are doing it for the whole semester!

Saturday was another good, long day in the city. We woke up late again, but this time, Gilly's house dad had laid out the most impressive breakfast spread I've ever seen. I'm not kidding around here...there was orange juice, tea, coffee, chocolate milk, amazinnnggg cheese, meats, all different kinds of breads and jellys, nuetella, and then an omelete dish with tomatoes and sausage on the side just in case we weren't satisfied with everything else. Ah so so so good. So we all got to sit around the table and eat with her parents and catch up some more before heading into Copenhagen--once we left the house, we headed for the Carlsburg Brewery but met a few disasterous speed bumps on the way. First of all, I lost my clutch on the way there. Luckily, I had taken out my credit cards and phone the night before, so all I had lost was my ID's and some money, but still, I was so frustrated with myself at the time! (Just wait, the story about my clutch will come back by the end of the weekend). We did finally arrive outside brewery after getting slightly lost walking there, but unfortunately we couldnt' find the entrance for the longest time, and then realized the brewery had been closed for 30 min by then!! So, we got some cool pictures of the outside of the place, but none of the inside. We ended up leaving and going back into the city to go see Nyhaven at wasn' t as cool as seeing it during the day, but it was beautiful nonetheless and so cool to see the canal all frozen over! While walking down the canal though, we found a Scottish pub to go into to warm up!! I was very excited about that as you can imagine. After that though, we did pretty much the same as the night before--got some dinner, hung out for a while, and then went out dancing! We also did make it to the ice bar in Copenhagen!! We all had to get dressed in these massive blue coats with fur hoods and then got 40 minutes to hang out in this big ice cube basically. It was definitely an experience. The only stressful part about the weekend was trying to go out with such a big group. Once we were all out and it was dark and crowded, it was hard to stay together and decide where we should all go...none of us had working cellphones and none of us could speak Danish, so moving a group our size around the city became pretty stressful. Luckily, both Friday and Saturday night went smoothly enough and it ended up being so so so much fun!

Nyhaven at night--not the best picture, but hopefully you can sort of see all the colors!

The whole Bowdoin crew outside the City Hall--Sam, Emily, Greg, Danny, James, Gilly, Alyssa, Kate, me and Becky!!
Ice bar!!--I really wanted to take that coat with me, but I figured it'd be kinda obvious
Ok, Sunday morning we didn't have much time to do much of anything before our planes home, but there is a story that ended my vacation on an extremely high note. Remember my lost clutch? So, I woke up on Sunday to a text message saying that a person had found my wallet!! I didn't know how they had gotten my European cell phone number, and I was a little nervous to find out, but luckily my host parents got on the phone with the guy and spoke Danish for a while, and when they got off the phone, informed me that the man was coming over to their house to drop of my wallet!! About 5 minutes later, this man came in and handed me my clutch with everything it, wished us all a Happy Valentine's Day, and left. It was incredible!! I got so so so lucky and the Danish are such nice people! Definitely a great way to finish off the vacation.

After 3 crazy days in Copenhagen, it was nice to be excited to head back to Edinburgh. I mean, I love this city. I still get excited when I'm walking around, anticipating what incredible view is coming around the next corner. I can't imagine I'll ever get sick of seeing these cobblestones streets winding up a hidden alley way, or seeing the castle over the city. Don't get me wrong--getting to see all of my friends from home in Copenhagen was amazing. I'm so glad we all did it, and it was a great way to celebrate Gillian's 21st birthday. It definitely made me realize how lucky I am to have all of those friends at school, and how much I miss them while I'm here...but it also made me realize how happy I am to be in Scotland, and how incredible it will be to relive this experience with everyone once we're home! As for now, I'm just enjoying Scotland, and can't wait to be in Edinburgh this weekend...for a whole weekend!

One more thing--yesterday was Pancake Day here!! (Well, technically, I think it was Pancake Day across Europe) But, anyway, my friends and I decided to celebrate by cooking pancakes and getting together for dinner. Their pancakes are more like crepes here, so that's what we made, and they were delicious!! We had fresh fruit, syrup, and chocolate sauce, and dinner was definitely a success! Ok, that's it for now....peace out cub scouts.

New things for this week:
-Going to Copenhagen!!
-Cooking crepes for pancake day!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

1 Month in the City and Family Home-stay Weekend!

Hellooooo all,

It's been a little over a week since my last post, and believe me, I have lots and lots to share, so bare with me with all of the stories I'm about to throw your way. Last week was a great week back in Edinburgh recuperating from my last adventure and this past weekend was an incredible experience in northern England (although very different from spending a few days in London!). So here life over the last week and a half:

Last week was spent basically recovering from my whirlwind weekend in London. I was still getting over my cold, and had to do a lot of research for a paper in my Scottish History class, so most of my days were spent in the Elephant House, curled up with tea, and reading books. Not bad, but slightly stressful because there is absolutely no way I can keep up in this class...I mean, I'm not Scottish, and therefore no very little about the UK current and past state of affairs. It is extremely difficult to keep up in a class that is dominated by UK history majors that know much much more about the subject matter, but the material is really interesting, so I'm doing my best. As always, studying in the Elephant House isn't really something I can complain about either, and my friend Emily is in the class with me, so at least we got to stress out together. Even with the relative work stress, I still managed to socialize with everyone and relive our past weekend many many times over in conversation. In fact, in hopes of continuing our show-biz experience, the girls and I decided to check out a local production of the Beauty and the Beast on Thursday night that was showing in a really cool theater near our campus. We got all dressed up, went out to a cute dinner, and then headed to the theater for the show. Maybe it was the fact that we had just come off of the most amazing show production I'd ever seen with Wicked, or maybe the fact that it was realllyyyyy an amateur production, but the show was a slight dissapointment. Not the best costumes, actors, sets, ect and there was actually a near disaster when the boy playing chip fell over in the middle of the show and broke the table and huge tea cup he was hiding under. However, it was still so much fun to be out with all the girls again, and we decided to chalk up the experience to yet another funny night in our lives in Edinburgh.

Friday, me and half of the IFSA Butler students left on our home-stay weekends to a town called Shap, located in the lakes district of Northern England. We took a bus down there, and after about 3 hours of riding in complete darkness, we arrived at a McDonald's pit stop in the middle of nowhere to be picked up by our families that we would be staying with for the rest of the weekend. Luckily, my host mom arrived shortly after us, and picked up me and the other two girls I was staying with. My host family was a farming family, we quickly found out on the drive to her house. After another 30 min drive, we pulled into her house and met her husband and three kids (age 9, 8, and 3). None of us had eaten dinner so our mother laid out the most incredible spread of cheese (that was made by the milk their cows produced) and meats. SO GOOD! We stayed up after that and drank tea and talked to the parents for a while about their lives on the farm, our lives in the states, and stuff like that.

The next day, we woke up early so that we could drive around the lakes district before we met the entire group for a fish and chips lunch. Waking up at the house was beautiful! It was so exciting to see where the house was located, because the night before everything had been dark. It was a quaint farming house set on a hill above the actual farm. The father's parents and brother lived on the property as well, so the farm was definitely a family business. It felt like we were in a scene from Pride and Prejudice though....surrounded by sheep, farms, and rolling green hills. So, the drive was incredible. We drove to the town of Windermeere and then over the mountains to Keswick to have our lunch. The entire time, I was just wishing I could capture how beautiful the scenery was. I was not expecting to see mountains that big in England, nor was I expecting to see stone walls going straight up to the tops of those mountains. The rolling green fields and hills were so expansive, and there was something so peaceful about the entire region. Of course, each bit of land was scattered with sheep and horses, stone houses and walls, which just made me love the whole place that much more. After driving around though, we made it to Keswick and found our chippery (the place where we had fish and chips). Keswick was an adorable town, set in, you guessed it, the middle of nowhere. It was like a fake town...there was a farmers market set up outside and no cars were allowed to drive down the city center, so everyone was walking around. It was sooo pretty but very sureal. Also, my first fish and chips experience was a success! After the drive home though, we were ready for some fresh air, and so me and the two other girls that were there decided to explore the area around our little cottage. We walked down the road for a while right as the sun was setting, and it was amazing. Again, straight out of Pride and Prejudice. Our walk was even complete with a tractor driving past us as we returned to the house. I realized that I could be totally happy on a farm somewhere in the countryside of Scotland...I love love love Edinburgh, but I think I'm more of a countryside or wilderness person. Also, needless to say, when I was walking down this narrow road in the countryside of northern England, it was really hard for me to imagine that I'd been in London just the last weekend! It's like my life is a whirlwind of traveling and new experiences. Anyway, we got back to the house just in time for the first Six Nations Rugby game England vs. Wales to start, and since my host father and I had both bonded the night before over our love for rugby, we sat down to watch the entire game in the den before dinner. England ended up winning...hopefully an occurrence not to be repeated when I see them play against Scotland in March! Watching the game with my host father was so fun...he knows so much about the game just from playing as he was growing up and watching it all the time...and he was definitely into it! Not a bad place to watch a game. Then, after the game, came dinner. Our host mom made the most incredible mintz meat pie (from scratch) and then an incredible apple crumble. I don't know how she did all of that cooking when she had three little kids running around, but she did, and it was delicious. We had to clear our plates before we could be done for the night, so needless to say, we were all stuffed. All and all, it was a fabulous day on the farm!

Windemere and the Lakes District
View of the Lakes
Our host family's house and HUGE tractor!
View from the house down to the farm
Gorgeous view from our sunset walk
Typical view of the countryside
Ok, so Sunday we woke up early to help our host father with his chores on the farm. First, he took us in this huge tractor down to the barns where cows were kept, and showed us around. They have over 100 cows on their farm, and they are all in these huge barns. Then, he showed us where the milking happens...unlike in the old days, they do not milk all 100 cows by hand anymore, but he did show us how it was done on one cow. And yes, I did try it out too! Holding a cow's utter was not my favorite experience in the whole world, but at least I can say I've done it, I can add it to the list of new things I've tried in Scotland, and I NEVER have to do it again! When they aren't milking cows by hand however, they have these machines that pump thousands of gallons of milk each week into these cooling tanks, where the milk is then taken and sold to cheese farms. It was an incredible production, and listening to our host dad explain all about the machines, the cleanliness of the barn, and all the uptake it requires to keep a milk farm running was really neat. He could have talked for hours! After we left the cows, he took us up to the sheep pasture where we got to feed the sheep! When we entered the pasture, about 50 sheep started running after our open ended modern-day wagon, and they surrounded the farmer the minute he stepped out with food. I was a little scared to be that close to the sheep, but also sooooo excited. THey were all so cute! Again, the dad explained all about the different markings, the wool industry, and the different species of sheep he had. Basically, anything you want to know about sheep or cows, I can now tell you. After farming, we went back to the house for another incredible meal...this time, roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy. SO GOOD! I was definitely not excited to go back to my cooking, which still consists of mainly cereal, pb and j and the occasional stir fry if I'm feeling super motivated. Oh well. After lunch, we headed back to Edinburgh. The weekend was amazing--a completely different weekend than the one before, and full of new experiences. It was really nice though to be headed back to Edinburgh and have it feel like home.

The cows!!!!

View from the back of the tractor...all of the sheep chasing us down for food
Sunday night, I was face with the ultimate question--write my paper that had been looming over my head for the past week and was due at 4pm the next day, orrrr watch the Superbowl. Needless to say, I decided to watch the game. We all stayed up late, headed to the sports bar in our student union, and tuned into the game. Unfortunately, we missed all of the good commercials because they weren't broadcast in the UK, but the game was still fun. GO SAINTS! That did mean though that Monday morning came wayyy to early, and I had to lock myself in the library for the rest of the day. The paper got was a close call in the end though. At about 3'45, having just finished my bibliography and emailing it to myself, I rushed around the University library (one of my least favorite places in the city) trying to find a computer to print my paper out from. I ended up begging my way onto this girl's computer, frantically running around to find a printer, and then sprinting to the office where I handed my paper to the secretary at exactly 3:59. I definitely won't be doing that again....but it all got done somehow!

I just also have to say that I'm finishing up this blog post while sitting at my desk and just looked out to see an incredible sunset over the city from my window. I'm loving every part of this city, and I can't believe I've been here a month already! I'm both soooo excited for the next couple of months, and scared they will go by too quickly! Ok, that's it for now....tomorrow I head to Copenhagen by myself (AHH) to meet up with some Bowdoin kids, so get excited to hear all about that next time!

New things I did this week:
--Explored the city with the girls, and went to a theater production
--fed some sheep
--handed in a paper at the very very very last minute


Tuesday, 2 February 2010

London Pictures!

As promised, here are some highlights from the trip!
Touristy picture to the max!

View from Buckingham Palace before the changing of the guards
Gorgeous sunset
Trafalgar Square...Big Ben in the background
Wicked!! Outside the Apollo Victoria Theater before the show!

Carolyn, Nora and in front of Big Ben and Parliament.

The whole crew (me, Annie, Carolyn, Emily, Natalie, and Nora) on the Westminster Bridge