Scotland in Four Days

I mentioned earlier that I was going on a longer trip to Scotland, four days in fact, and indeed I have! A German friend and I woke up early to catch our flight to Edinburgh. Once we landed, we made our way to the city center and the first thing we did was jump right into tourism mode by going up the Scott Monument.

 

The Scott Monument is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott and has 287 steps, making it a whopping 60 meters high. So, as you can imagine, it was quite an interesting climb. Want to think about the implications of climbing a Gothic-style monument built in the 1800’s? Let’s.

First, spiral stairs:

Second, no proper windows, so you’re definitely dizzy:

Finally, the stairs get narrower as you go up, so much that even I was getting a bit panicked by the lack of space. But, once we reached the top, the views were lovely, so I was happy!

Then, we took a walk up towards Edinburgh Castle. From up there, you can see the lovely building and lawn that inspired J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts and Quidditch Pitch.

We took a look at the castle as well, but only from the outside. We weren’t particularly interested in spending more money to tour the castle when we could be spending our time out and about in the city.

However, some of what we saw was a bit strange and I’m still not sure what to think of it:

I think even this mural was surprised it existed…

Then, I had a little bit more Harry Potter excitement as we went past The Elephant House, where Rowling started writing the Harry Potter series. So here’s a photo of me being rather excited about this, but annoyed by the wind and ready to warm up somewhere that didn’t have a mile-long que.

We ended up heading to our hostel, cooking lunch for ourselves, and taking a much needed nap before heading out into the dark for a trip up Calton Hill. From Calton Hill, you can see a lot of the city below, and it was especially gorgeous at night.

We spent the rest of the night enjoying Edinburgh night life (indoors, where it was warm, of course).

The next morning led us on a trip to climb up the Salisbury Crags. On the way, we made a very special stop just for me. The destination was a graveyard. Why was I so excited about a graveyard? Well, you see, Edinburgh was the epicenter of the Scottish Enlightenment, which featured a number of prominent thinkers. As an economics student, I am most excited about one thinker in particular: Adam Smith. Thus, I present to you, my little visit to his grave, and my one shoe photo from the trip (yes, really only one this time)!

More than a little excited to have found this….

Oh, and yes, we did go to the crags. They were quite windy so we basically went up a way, took some photos, enjoyed the view, and came right back down to search for a place to thaw our hands.

I really must tell you about the place we found. We saw a little tea room and decided to give it a go. It was straight up adorable inside. The place is called “Clarinda’s Tea Room,” and all of their desserts were made fresh, from scratch, that very day. They also had amazingly tasty soup made fresh, from scratch, that very day.

Oh dear, I think I am perhaps too excited about this tea room. Posting food isn’t exactly something I normally do on this blog, but here is the delicious meal I had….

Are you jealous now?

I had the lentil soup, and my friend had a very nice tomato soup. We shared a pot of passion fruit and orange tea that was equally satisfying. The moral of this story is, if you go to Edinburgh, check out this amazing tea room!

We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging around the city before packing up and heading to the Highlands. We made one quick stop on the way out of town for my friend to take some photos of the Forth Railway Bridge. Here’s a little peek of what that looked like:

So onto the Highlands! We drove up to a little town called Aviemore. It is right by the Cairngorms National Park, which we visited on day three. The night leading up to that day was full of rain. We joke that we were being punished for leaving the city because the weather only turned rotten when we left town.

What do two university students do in a National Park in the rain? It was only logical to grab a few mountain bikes and hit the trails. (No, it really wasn’t logical, but that’s what we did.) So, just to give you an idea of what a soaking wet Lynnae looks like, I’d like to provide you with this flattering visual….

Rain poncho and MBC hoodie plus a lot of layers kept me warm.

Really though, it wasn’t that bad. I complain, but in actuality I had a really good time. The park was gorgeous.

My legs were killing me at this point…

After our mountain biking adventure we packed up to head to the next destination. By this time, it was raining dismally. We were planning to head to a national park west of Edinburgh, but our plans didn’t work out. What happened is that the road we were going down, the only way to go without a five hour detour, was closed due to a landslide from the excessive rain.

We changed our hostel for the night and the next morning made our way back the direction we came from and just did little things, including enjoying the drive. On the way out, we could see the awesome power of the flood waters coming down the mountains and streams.

The water here was super high and the dam had every flood gate open.

One place we took a stop at was the Wallace Monument. It looked daunting from afar and we hiked up the hill to where it was to stretch our legs after being in the car for so long.

 

The other place we stopped before hitting the airport was Blackness Castle. It was rainy so we just looked around a bit and took a few photos before moving on.

 

That’s the story of our four days in Scotland! We saw a lot, had a phenomenal time, and it was money well spent. But seriously, go to that tea room.

Cheers!

Scotland: The Prequel

I finally made it over to Scotland, but only for a day. I have another, longer trip to Scotland this weekend. Since Taylor, another Midwesterner, and I all have a free day on Wednesdays we decided to take a trip over to Scotland. We got up early and took the ferry over, and then went by bus to the town of Ayr.

So what can you do in just one day in Scotland? It turns out quite a bit. First, we ran around town for a little while until we could catch the next bus to where we wanted to be. It was a really quaint town with very old stone architecture. There were quite a few little modern touches that you could see around if you looked.

Note the twinkling lights above.

After we enjoyed a tea and coffee break in a small shop, we headed down to the bus station and figured out which bus we needed. It didn’t take too long before we were off. The problem was that we didn’t know where the stop we needed was, so we asked the woman behind us. She kindly pointed it out when we got near it. People here are so approachable…

The bus ride seemed to take forever but was made better with a peanut butter sandwich made with love (thanks, Twin!). Then, at long last, we arrived!

At the main gate we bought our tickets for entrance into the park, and the person working at the front helped us figure out the last bus we could get back to Ayr in order to catch the coach back to the ferry. It was earlier than expected, and we had less than two hours at the castle. Still, we saw quite a bit!

The park itself is absolutely breathtaking. Culzean Castle was also much better than the one in Donegal County in my humble opinion (but don’t tell the Irish that).

First, we toured the inside of the castle. It was set up as the last inhabitants who lived in it had left it. They filled it with oil paintings, shiny furniture, and immaculate ceilings as any good castle owner does. In the basement of the castle we even got to tour the old servants’ work area, including the laundry room and the kitchen.

A castle with a view.

 

After getting our fill of the castle tour, we headed out onto the grounds to have a quick look around as we reluctantly made our way back to the bus. The view from the back side of the castle absolutely floored us.

 

 

Eventually we made our way back to Ayr and decided to explore the town. First, we went down to the beach. The wind coming off of the sea was very cold so we didn’t stay too long before moving on along.

 

 

Then we walked into the town to find this little gem. I was able to see it from a little way away so I followed its general direction until we got there. It was gated off so we couldn’t get any closer but it’s St. John’s Tower, the only bit left of what used to be a church at this site.

 

Then, my incredibly superior sense of direction which kept me from getting lost in Oaxaca kicked in and I was able to get us back to High Street. On the way we found a small river with a view. Then we found some clock towers back at High Street as we walked back towards our shuttle pick-up.

 

 

Last, but certainly not least, after being in the United Kingdom for over a month, I finally got my first fish and chips from the country! It wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t horrible either. The fish they used was Cod and this seems to be quite common. However, Twin, a self-proclaimed fish and chips critic, vehemently claims that Haddock is much better.

 

On that note, I’d better be off! I’ve quite a lot to do and so little time before I run away to Scotland for the weekend. Of course, there will be a blog post to follow that as well.

Cheers!

Gaelic Signs & Mountain Climbs

I’ve been pretty quiet about what I did last weekend. No one really knows so I suppose I should share with everyone. I took an amazing weekend out with Twin and two Germans in the Republic of Ireland! We spent the weekend in County Donegal, first arriving along the coast in the southern part of the county. The countryside was lovely, the music was chill, and the company was perfection.
All the colors!

As we went along this coastal route, we started to see more and more Gaelic writing in the towns until the road signs switched over to Gaelic as well. After driving along for a bit, we took a little detour down to a random beach. Twin, of course, got excited about tide pools, and I ran off across some rocks.

 

We got moving again pretty quickly, as we wanted to have plenty of time to explore the cliffs, and we also still had to drive up to the hostel that night. So, onward to the cliffs we go…

What cliffs am I talking about? Probably not the ones you are thinking of. We hiked along Slieve League (less famous than the Cliffs of Moher, but impressive all the same).

Amazing first view…
I loved how you could see the clouds at the top!
Taking a break…
Looking away from the sea you got another really humbling view.
Looking back down the path.

We had a really grand hike. Then we had to make it back past all these sheep in the road towards our next destination.

Twin’s “horny sheep” as mentioned in the guidebook.

On our drive we were also lucky enough to see our first Irish rainbow!

 

This was followed by my first sunset on the ocean, and, let’s be honest, I was barely awake at that point. (So yes, I stole this photo from a friend!)

 

At long last we finally arrived in the area where our hostel should be. But we couldn’t find it. When we stopped for petrol we asked the man working inside the petrol station if he could tell us where it is. He said it’s just a few blocks down.

Well, we weren’t in the city; it was really more of a highway. Blocks refers to some weird building or section of a building on my campus, so we didn’t really know what that meant. After driving and realizing that we had most certainly passed it we turned around only to find that the hostel was literally the next thing after the petrol station.

Not sure if that’s just how they say it here or if he thought we were really dumb tourists. I think he was making fun of us, though it’s hard to tell. These Irish are an interesting lot.

Anyway, we made ourselves some tortellini for dinner and finally crashed. When we woke up in the morning and looked out the window, we saw that we were actually right at the base of Errigal Mountain. So, after our quick breakfast, we packed up and headed to a nearby car park that Twin had found out about.

The mountain is quite lovely. We also had fantastic weather for climbing it; however, I was not digging the bog at the bottom of the mountain. Stupid me, I only brought one pair of shoes and they were soaked probably not even ten minutes in.

Errigal Mountain

So what do you do when you get fed up with the horrible mud plus shoes equation? Well… this happens:

My shoes are useless in mud here…

Yeah, I hiked it barefoot until we got up to the rocks. And happy little Twin just kept going with her waterproof shoes. Note to self: Chucks are not made for the mud. They’re alright for the real mountain hiking, just not the bog.

…but my shoes are okay here.
Halfway up.

Once we hit the rocks the climb got much better! It was quite exhausting, but not more than I expected. The temperature was strange though. At first we were hot, and I kept shedding clothes, until finally near the top, I had to start putting them all back on. Except for my feet. I gave up on those and just let them go numb with cold, then everything was all good.

Finally, we did conquer the mountain! It was nice to look down and see how far we had come. It was really interesting to me to think that my body was able to pull myself across the mud and up this massive rock. After reveling in this fact, all that was left was to enjoy the view…

Poor shoes…

When we had finished at Errigal Mountain we spent some time at Glenveagh National Park. It was a nice place but it wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as the other things we had done that weekend. The castle was interesting, but to be honest, I was more than a little freaked out about the decorations. The deer art reminded me a bit too much of the hunting culture back home.

 

So that’s my weekend in a nutshell. I have to say that was definitely the best weekend I’ve had since I arrived here. My upcoming four-day trip to Scotland will probably be even better!

Cheers!

One Month Gone Already

Today marks one month since I arrived. I can’t believe that it’s just gone by like that. I realize that the rest will probably pass just as quickly, and that makes me even more desperate to cherish every precious moment that I still have here.

In celebration of being here one month, I’d like to address some things that flat out confuse me, bewilder me or make me genuinely wonder about myself.

No. 1: Cheese

What is with the cheese here? I wanted to have a little on hand to use, to make a quick little quesadilla snack or to put on bread with lettuce for a quick and easy bite when I’m busy. Problem is, all they have is this white cheddar. It’s everywhere! You can also find a small selection of what I’m guessing are all some kinds of French cheeses, but absolutely no colby jack. No queso fresco. Just white cheddar.

No. 2: Automatic Doors

It seems to me like every door in the main building of our university is an automatic door. So what’s the problem, you ask? The problem is you have to push a button to open it. And I walk past this button often. Or worse, the door is already open, and right when I try to walk through it the door starts to shut… And I do most certainly at that point run into it.

No. 3: Different Sizes of Currency

This one is actually ingenious. Differently valued bills have different sizes. For example, a 5£ note is smaller than a 10£ note. Don’t ask me why this amuses me, because it just does….

No. 4: Driving

Not that I’ve been driving around the UK, and I know that they drive on the left wrong side of the road here, but it’s still strange to actually be in a taxi and be on the left side. Especially if you are sitting in the front seat.

No. 5: Obsession with Fire

This one is just plain weird. I really don’t understand it, but the Northern Irish have some kind of obsession with fire. It goes something like, “You must keep the doors closed at all times because they are fire doors. Fire is very bad. Fire is dangerous. Fire will kill you. So you will keep the doors closed, or you will die.”

We have heard so much about fire safety here, and I find this somewhat ironic because it rains a lot and is super humid here. Therefore, wouldn’t the logical thought be that there is a very low chance of fire?

No. 6: Race

I don’t think I was prepared for this one. When I went to Oaxaca, I knew going into it that I would be part of the racial minority. Mentally, I was ready for that. However, Northern Ireland is different. I know that I am part of a racial majority in my home community, but there is at least some kind of diversity. I also knew ahead of time that there is far less racial diversity here.

What I wasn’t prepared for is how much less diversity there really is. Only 2% of the population is a racial minority in Northern Ireland, and I wonder if anyone here is really aware of their white privilege. Judging from the conversation I heard in the kitchen last week, I know that at least one local is not.

No. 7: Single Rooms

More than anything, I am grateful for this. I have my own room! In the US, you always have at least one roommate if you live on-campus except in extenuating circumstances. But here in Europe, they value privacy (thankfully).

I really enjoy having my own room. Also, having a full communal kitchen which I share with only four other people is really nice. At Baldwin, in the last several dorms I have lived in, the whole dorm shared one kitchen, and in the last dorm that I lived in this kitchen only had a microwave, not even a stove. Go figure.

No. 8: Co-Ed Living

For most of the people here, this probably doesn’t even cross their minds. However, this is a new one for me. In high school, I hung out with basically all guys. Then, I chose to go to a women’s college. Which means that this is the very first time I’ve ever lived in a co-ed dorm.

How do I like having males around me again? I LOVE IT. Having friends again who aren’t just women is fantastic! Being here has made me kind of wish I’d gone to a co-ed college in the first place….

No. 9: International Student Perks

Being an international student means that I get to mix with the other international students. So basically, I know very few locals, but I have great friends from a lot of different countries!

This, I think, is even better than having a lot of Northern Irish friends because I am being exposed to so many more cultures. Either way, everyone who isn’t American has some kind of accent that makes it difficult for me to understand them, so every conversation is a (good) challenge!

No. 10: Tea and Chocolate

I’ve known for a while that I have a chocolate addiction, but let me explain to you how bad it really is. I have four boxes of butter biscuits, three bars of Galaxy with caramel, a bar of Cadbury chocolate with caramel, two bars of Swiss chocolate brought from southern Germany by another international student, and a box of Turkish Delight (ginger stuff covered in dark chocolate).

All of this chocolate is all in my room. I’m going through it rather slowly, and it will be quite a while before I buy more. Just note that I do admit to having a serious chocolate problem.

Not only this, but I’ve developed a tea addiction. Right now I have three different types of tea in the kitchen, and I probably drink at least one mug of tea every day. One day recently I even drank five. I never have liked drinking tea in the States. How did this change come about?

7fd41-teaedit
All the tea…

In conclusion, I’m learning more and more about myself, how I think the world should work, and how some people actually try to make it work. Some of these things (those automatic doors) are frustrating, but a lot of other stuff is intriguing and has been a good learning experience for me.

Cheers!

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

Before I really get going with what I want to say, I’d like to let everyone know that I’m not sick anymore. I have defeated the acute bronchitis! I’m too excited about this. Moving along now….

An interesting thing happened on Friday. It rained. Yes, I was surprised that it rained in Northern Ireland. I realize that this is the climate, but it was just so strange because the weather has been so nice, and we had not had a proper rain since I arrived. Just thought I’d share that with you all.

While I have been recovering I’ve been working on my thesis so I didn’t exactly get out much last week. While I was being wildly dramatic and dying from my illness, I managed to work a lot on my thesis. By Saturday, I was absolutely losing my mind and just had to go out.

Twin was in Dublin so I couldn’t con her into coming with me to the city and everyone else seemed to be gone or already have plans. Therefore, I just grabbed my stuff and took myself on a date!

It’s nice to just relax and spend time by yourself sometimes. I think I definitely needed that, especially after staring at all the data for my thesis for so long…

I arrived at Belfast Central after a train ride that nearly put me to sleep, and I remembered that St. George’s Market was open. I hadn’t been yet and figured it was a good time for me to go scope it out, since I’m definitely planning to return several more times to try to enjoy it as much as possible.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)
St. George’s Market

The market was inside, which really surprised me. When I think market, I usually think outdoors. Although, I suppose that this isn’t too far off from the covered markets that I visited in Oaxaca.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)
Inside the market.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

At St. George’s Market, they had quite a few food stalls out. Not that food is a bad thing, but I wasn’t exactly about to stuff myself and then walk around the city. I got to going around the craft stalls and there were a lot of locals with things that were handmade in Belfast or elsewhere in Northern Ireland. This place has Christmas shopping written all over it!

After perusing the market, I walked up towards City Hall. While I was walking past, a group of three women approached me. I could tell they were foreign (American to be exact), but apparently they didn’t recognize that I am as well. They asked me if I was from Belfast, and we all had quite a laugh when I said, “No, I’m from the States!” (Do I look like I’m Northern Irish?)

I made my way away from City Hall and towards the water. The wind was starting to pick up, and it was quite cold. At least the sun was out in full force. I walked along the water front and just enjoyed the day until I decided that I was hungry and ready to catch the train back to Jordanstown.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)
Titanic Belfast

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

I had a pretty good day out in Belfast and I’m glad that I went because the next day was quite cold and miserable. Then, the wind picked up and sheets of rain were falling down on us. My flatmate who is a local said that this is typical Northern Irish weather. I guess I’d better get used to it.

One more thing! I missed my very last Apple Day at Mary Baldwin yesterday. In order to still participate, I grabbed a few apples and went down to the beach with Twin. The tide was out and we walked out quite a ways. While we were out at the end, we noticed a seal hanging out on a rock sticking out of the water a bit away from us.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

Finding our seal friend was a nice surprise and Taylor also got a great shot of me for Apple Day. A little while later I sent it on to MBC with a “Happy Apple Day from Northern Ireland” note and they shared it. It’s fun to do little things like that sometimes.

Cheers!

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)