Monday, September 7, 2009

The long overdue "reflection" post

Well, I've been back in the country since June 27th, and I've had lots of time to reflect and think back on my 5+ months in Scotland.

If you have read any of my posts, my feelings toward the country should be pretty obvious. I love it, adore it, and miss it dearly. It was the best decision I have ever made, and I don't regret a single second of my stay there.

But since I need to go into slightly more detail, I'll stick to the list of prompt questions Northeastern has provided and hopefully that will both be interesting and satisfy my requirements!

1) What have you done that has made a significant difference in your life?
I'm trying to answer this question without just saying "living in a foreign country on my own was life changing!" because that's probably a cop-out. But it's also pretty true. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Scotland- I applied to the University without doing much research, and I had very little prior knowledge of the country. The thought of Scotland produced images of kilts and bagpipes in my mind, and a strange curiosity of whatever "haggis" was. But, I was very eager to find out and submerge myself in their culture.
My best friend Kristine was also studying abroad in Edinburgh, so I knew I'd have at least one friend built in. If all else fails, I thought, at least Kristine will be there. This was pretty important to me, because I was afraid of having to put myself out there...alone, and make new friends in a weird land. But despite having Kristine around the corner, I knew that playing it safe wasn't the reason I traveled 3000+ miles to a new country. So I decided to join university-sponsored groups (Edinburgh Swing Dance Society and the Film Club) in hopes of meeting new people. And...it worked! Not only did I find an unlikely activity such a swing dance that I really enjoyed, but I also made what I hope will be life long friends. Quickly I discovered that it's not so bad joining something alone or trying to make a new friends. Of course I was a little nervous at first, but it wore off fast. And that taught me a lesson. So now, back at Northeastern, if I want to join a club that none of my friends are interested in, I won't be hesitant. I think that's a pretty significant difference.

2)What advise would you give to future study abroad students?
This might be related to my last answer, but do NOT hesitate to join clubs and put yourself in situations that natives are in. That's the point of going! Get out there, don't waste your time watching television or chatting with your home friends on Facebook. You'll be home soon enough, probably sooner than you'd like, so just go out and do things. My flat had no TV and intermittent internet access, and it was probably the best thing that could have happened. It's easy to use those things as a crutch, so don't start the habit.

3) What did you learn about your host country?
Scotland is a proud country with a rich culture and extensive history. They have a very distinctive sense of national pride, partly stemming from the abuse and mistreatment suffered at the hand of the English. They are the underdog, constantly trying to break free from the confines of England, hoping to forge their own separate national identity. And I think they've succeeded. Despite not being even slightly bit Scottish and heritage, I couldn't help but develop an overwhelming sense of Scottish pride. I'm a history major, so after years of studying British (but mainly English) imperialism it was easy for me to go along with their "SCOTTISH NOT BRITISH" campaign. They want to be on their own, independent and with their own goals. I respect that, and that characteristic really helped me to fall in love with the country. Perhaps I just really like underdogs.
But the people are friendly, courteous, and seem to appreciate the important things in life. TV seems less important, family time and experiences seem to take precedent. When I returned back to America, I found myself being bombarded by flashing advertisements, televisions in supermarket aisles, and a million ways to distract yourself from your current situation. I can much more appreciate a country that hasn't quite figured out Wi-Fi like Scotland than one that constantly offers you ways to escape your life.
However, my perception might be a little skewed. I lived in Edinburgh, the capitol city and home to fairly well-off people. Had I lived in Glasgow, a more working-class and industrial town, or a village in the sparsely populated Highlands, I might have a different understanding of what it means to be Scottish. Scotland, for the size that it is, has a little bit of everything. Wealthy coastal towns, broken housing projects looming outside cities, isolated sheep farms, tourist-fueled towns, and everything in between. It's way more complex than people give it credit for. However, understanding all the separate regions of Scotland are essential to understanding the country as a whole, which is something I strove to accomplish. I traveled to Glasgow, Stirling, and different areas in the Highlands on numerous occasions, and it just re-enforced the notion that Scotland is much more diverse than one might expect.

4) What did you learn about yourself?
In short, I learned that I can handle a lot. I enjoy putting a lot on my plate. I took three Third Year Honours Courses, which are the top level the university offers. While my other friends were taking classes pass/fail that didn't relate to their major, unfortunately I didn't have that luxury. I had to really learn how to balance school work with play time. I knew I didn't want to lock myself in the library all semester long, as that would prevent me from fully experiencing the country and take full advantage of my abroad opportunity. However, I could not afford to blow off my responsibilities and do poorly. Ultimately I think I balanced it pretty well, without procrastinating too badly, and without leaving myself no time for fun. I ended up doing fairly well in my classes (US equivalent of an A- and two B+'s) and still having an exceptionally fabulous time. Not to mention, I had to deal with some bad news regarding the health of some relatives, the death of my 16 year old cat, and dealing with the normal unfortunate events that can happen to a family and other loved ones over the course of 6 months. It wasn't all easy, but I'm fairly confident that if I was able to handle that....I'll be able to handle whatever else that comes my way. Since my mother's cancer has just reoccured, and I'll be starting the graduate school search very soon, being able to handle a large amount of stressors is going to be vital to my sanity. I think my time in Scotland has helped prepare me for this.

5)What is your favorite memory?
I do not even know where to begin! Taking a tour of the Highlands and Loch Ness with my friends was certainly fun and memorable, memories of my parents coming to visit during Spring Break are something I'm sure I'll cherish for many years to come. Every week my friends and I would get together in one of our flats and cook fancy dinners, drink wine and have fun. But I guess if I had to choose just one, it would be our bittersweet trip to Tantallon Castle in North Berwick, Scotland. We went on the last day of finals, which also happened to be one of the nicest and sunniest days Scotland has to offer. When we arrived it was beautiful, and located right on the coast with gorgeous rocky cliffs. We barely explored the castle...instead, we lied on the grass in the courtyard and reminisced about the previous 5 months. We were all set to leave in 2 days, and everyone was extremely unhappy about doing so. But lying in the sun with such a beautiful setting in rhe company of people who had become among my best friends was priceless. Later that day, we traveled back to Edinburgh to celebrate our friend's 21st birthday, and then went out dancing to a club on campus that prides itself on playing "cheesy 90's music." All in all, it was a glorious day and ridiculously fun night, and was the perfect way to end such a fantastic stay in Edinburgh.


As my final thought, I will just say that no matter what lies in store for me, or what the upcoming months and years will bring, my time in Scotland will probably rank among the happiest and most fulfilling months of my life. I would trade it for nothing; I have not a single regret and enjoyed every single day. To anyone who is even casually considering studying abroad, please do not hesitate. It was the best and most special experience in my life so far, and if you pick a country that fits your needs, it will most likely be the same way for you. Go Scotland!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

This is what I do at 3 am.

Okay, first I'll start with the good news: Kristine, Abby and I have finally figured out our schedule for the month of June. It goes something as follows:

May 31-Paris
June 1- Paris
2- Paris
3- Bruges
4- Amsterdam
5- Amsterdam
6- Berlin
7- Berlin
8- Prague
9- Prague
10- Prague
11- Vienna
12- Vienna
13- Vienna
14- Budapest
15- Budapest
16- Budapest
17- Salzburg
18- Salzburg
19- Munich
20- Munich
21- Zermatt (Switzerland)
22- Zermat
23- Nice
24- Nice
25- Fly from Nice to Edinburgh
26- Fly from Edinburgh to Boston

That trip is the only thing keeping me sane right now. Yeah, it'll be exhausting, but it'll be the greatest adventure I'll ever have. I am beyond pumped.

Now the sad portion....


The thought of leaving this country, this city, is unbearable. I can't do it. If someone magically gave me the option of staying here forever, with the same people and the same lifestyle, I would accept it without even having to think. I wish. My experience here has been one thousand times more than what I could have ever expected...why must it end! Of course, I don't mean any of this against my family/friends at home, and it will be wonderful to see everyone again and get life back to "normal." But, if I could somehow combine the two...well, what more could I ever ask for? Basically, I just don't want to leave, ever. I am not ready. 5 1/2 months is not long enough.

Before I was even accepted into this program, I attended a study abroad seminar sponsored by Northeastern. They gave us a chart displaying when people are typically most home-sick (thankfully I never suffered too badly), and spoke to us about "reverse-culture shock." Now it's true that Scotland isn't drastically different from the US, and technically I probably won't have that much adjusting to do. But the hardest part, I'd imagine, will be walking out of my front door and not seeing the Royal Mile, not making elaborate family-style dinners with our group of friends, no more late night drunchies at Palmyra, not hearing the accents, not seeing the Castle as a backdrop to the city, not hearing bagpipes in the distance, no more kilted men, the lack of veggie-haggis, not seeing the gorgeous old architecture along every street, as well as being subjected to constant sprawling shopping centers and Wal-Marts, being once again bombarded by television adverts and flashy billboards (being TV-free was so liberating!), the rude and unfriendly people of Connecticut, and all of the other day-to-day differences that will be felt the most. Then, of course, the regular life problems that we have all been able to escape for 6 months! Living here enabled us to live separate lives...and it was a great break. I'm not all that interested in returning to reality.....

It was much easier to leave Boston because I knew that I'd be returning soon enough. My good-byes were only temporary, more along the lines of "see you later!" than anything else. Leaving Edinburgh is completely different. There is no returning. Assuming I do come back, it could take me years to save up enough money. Even so, it won't be the same. I won't be with the same friends, I'll have no flat of my own, places will have changed...everything will be different. Living here is so different from vacationing here. There is no coming back to what we have now, and I guess for me, that's the hardest part of it all. I love what I have now, and I know that once I leave on May 25th, it will never return. Perhaps I'm being overly dramatic, which is possible. We'll see, but somehow I doubt it.

I could go on and on, but it's 3 am and I have to wake up early to study. I'll be back hopefully tomorrow or the next day to post pictures from the Beltane Fire Festival, I promise those will be much more interesting/fun than this post. I just needed to get it off my chest I suppose.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Spring Break!

OK. I know I'm awful at this, but I promise that for my last month here, I will be better. SO much has happened since my last update that I think it would be best for me to just post some fun videos and keeping the writing to a minimum. More fun for you to watch, plus I'm just lazy....



So it seems I should start off with my parents' 2 week visit over here. We did a grande tour de UK, and hit Edinburgh, Oban, Skye, Glasgow, York and the Lake District. It was absolutely wonderful and I think we all enjoyed ourselves a great deal.

Here is a pretty good video from Oban:

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And at nighttime:


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The Scottish man we are talking to in that video is a drunken Donald Langston MacCauley. He started chatting to my mom while she was taking pictures, and, well....never went away. Eventually we tried to walk away from him to find someplace to eat dinner, and he followed us! He just kept talking and talking and talking. He was very nice and all, but pull yourself together man. Finally we parted ways, and we were free to find some food!

After 2 nights at a bed and breakfast in Oban, we set off to Skye. The drive was fantastically gorgeous. I took a bunch of video, but this one is nice and short and gives you a pretty good idea of what we saw the whole drive up:


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No idea where that video was actually taken, but that's okay! We finally made it to the Isle of Skye, and although the weather wasn't ideal, it was still pretty good considering the Highlands are famous for rain. The landscape was way different that the mountains and lochs we drove by on the way up...instead, it looked really desolate but still beautiful in its own way. I took one video there, it's not the best but it's still worth watching.

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While in Skye, we stayed in the "main town" of Portree, though it was fairly unpopulated. They had cool hippie shops and some tasty restaurants (where I had the best lasagne of MY LIFE). It was a very cute little port town, and we stayed in a bed and breakfast right outside the town center. The best part about the place we stayed in was the people we met during breakfast our last morning there. We met silly old Scot named...ummmm....something old sounding. I forget. But he was adorable! Plus there was a couple from the Netherlands with a newborn baby. CUTE.

After Skye, we trekked back to Edinburgh in one day. It was about an 8 hour drive, but the scenery was so gorgeous that the ride wasn't painful at all. That night, we ate at a pub along the Royal Mile and met this really nice (but super obnoxious) American couple. Sadly, my dad had to fly home the following morning, but this began my and my mom's England adventure!

We spent 2 more nights in Edinburgh so I could show her around some more, and then spent a night in Glasgow. We walked around, did some shopping, and saw a funny British film called "The Boat that Rocked." After our one night in Glasgow, we ventured off to York, England! Here is a video of us crossing the border...forgive my stupid commentary, but clearly I am slightly biased in favor of Scotland...


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We finally got to York after another long drive. York was pretty cool, and had some really neat architecture (including the largest gothic cathedral in Europe or something) but for some reason, it wasn't my favorite. It had everything: museums, history, pubs, shops, cute streets and more, but for some reason I wasn't in love. It did have a super cool craft market type thing which was a lot of fun, though. The funniest part about England by far is the eating manners of English people. It's insane! They cut everything so perfectly and they all look like they've just graduated finishing school or something. Plus they all seemed so stuffy! My mom and I were constantly looking a fool compared to all the other natives eating in the restaurants. It was hilarious. Here is a quick video of York, I didn't capture anything too great, but I suppose something is better than nothing.

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After York was one of the real highlights of the trip: The Lake District! We chose to stay in Ambleside, which was unbelievably gorgeous. We checked in to our lovely hotel which was right on the lake and then headed off for a walk. We stumbled along this little stonewall-ed off area were sheep were frolicking by the lake, so we hopped over the fence and tried to make friends. We noticed this one sheep making funny faces at us, so we stood and watched it for a while. Then it lied down and made all kinds of crazy motions. 5 minutes later, a tiny lamb baby popped out. We accidentally saw a sheep give birth! It was pretty gross actually, and I won't get into the details, so just trust me. Ick. But the baby was cute! And I got to chase around the other not-with-child sheep around the grass which was fun! I felt a lot like Spyro (anyone ever play that video game when they were little???) Later on, when we were walking back from dinner, we somehow managed to stop and talk to an old English couple. They were so nice, and told us how much they love visiting America and how lovely our country was. And, of course, they asked us how we liked Obama and went on and on about how much they loved him. How sweet!

Here are two videos: One is of the English countryside seen during our drive to Ambleside, and the other was taken near the banks of a lake in Ambleside. Both are quite gorgeous!

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The drive back to Edinburgh from the Lake District was quite eventful, to say the least. Our GPS had no issue with telling us to take crazy narrow backroads, so my poor mom had to deal with 1) driving on the wrong side of the road 2) narrow roads 3) rain! It was a great adventure though, and the scenery was so marvelous. Of course I had to document it with video, so hopefully you enjoy it! Sadly, my camera can't possibly do it justice, so you'll just have to go see it there for yourself. (Only, of course, if you make Scotland your primary destination first!)

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All in all, the trip was a complete and total success. Everything was spectacular, it was great to see my dear parents and show them around my home, and it was great to see some parts of Scotland that I probably wouldn't have been able to get to otherwise! I highly, highly, highly suggest that you all find some time in your lives to visit Scotland, it is such a beautiful and welcoming land that it is impossible to not fall in love. England, especially the Lake District, was very nice too, but as you all know by now I am extremely partial. Vive le Scotland!

Also, tonight I went to the Beltane Fire Festival which was INSANE in the best possible way. Considering it's 5 am here, it will have to wait for tomorrow, but check back again because I took some cool (and creepy) videos/photo for you to enjoy! It certainly was an experience...

P.S. A special thanks to my parents for making this trip possible, and for making it as wonderful as it was! :)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Oh god. It's been a long time. So much to tell! Where to begin?

So, during the first week of March, dear Amy Porter came to visit me!! We did a ridiculous amount of stuff, so let me try and recap. We went to a Rugby game...Scotland vs. Italy...and obviously Scotland won! People REALLY love their rugby here, so it was fun to see everyone get so into it. We climbed Arthur's Seat and experienced extreme wind at the top, but it was so beautiful. We went to Edinburgh Castle of course, and to Camera Obscura! It was the coolest place ever...5 floors of optical illusions (I can't hear the word "illusions" without hearing Job from Arrested Development say "Illuuuusions, Michael, Illuuuuuusions!") and some really neat views at the top. Oh! We also went to this museum called Dynamic Earth! DE is all about the earth, evolution, climates, and pretty much anything else having to do with the planet. It was so high-tech and had such beautiful displays...it was amazing. Hmmm...we did a ton more and of course now I can't think of any of it. We went to Bannerman's and the Tron for drinks on her last night, and of course went to Palmyra for falafel wraps afterward. It was so much fun, I wish she could have stayed longerrr! :(

After she left, I spent the next 14 days spending between 10-12 hours a day in the library. I think I counted up the full number, and it was around 140 hours. It was intense. I lived off whatever I could scavange in the library cafe...mostly baked potatoes, mars bars, and a steady supply of Coke Zero. That's pretty much the epitome of health right there. But, I got all of my papers done, hurrah! I think they all came out pretty well, but I don't know how well they will hold up to Edinburgh's history honours' scrutiny. Whatever. We'll see.

Right after I handed in my last paper on Friday, I met Kristine/Hannah/Katie/Cassie AND Chrystina and her friend Kyle who were visiting from home!! We hopped on a bus to Glasgow and spent the whole weekend there. Glasgow is only an hour away by bus, but has a COMPLETELY different feel. I guess the best way to explain it is ummm...Edinburgh is like Boston, and Glasgow is like NYC (without the skyscrapers). Much grittier, but very very cool. Our hostel was amazing. We had a terrific view, and I must admit....their beds and showers were 5 steps up from what I have in my flat here. It was a treat!

We spent the first day exploring and walking around, and then ate at a really cool place called The Goose. One great thing about Glasgow is that most things are a pound or 2 cheaper than in Edinburgh, so we took full advantage of that. Theeen, at night we had tickets to go see Joshua Radin at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. Best name ever for a venue? I do suppose. It was so cute and small, probably even smaller than Toad's Place if I had to compare it to something. He was SO ADORABLE...we were all in love. I wasn't entirely familiar with his material, but it was really enjoyable. The next day we dedicated to shopping and it was glorious. They have a store here called Primark which is pretty much the most incredible place ever. Imagine H&M or Forever 21...but 1/4 the price. I hadn't really bought anything for myself before that day, so I treated myself to some new stuff. The main shopping stretch was also very cool- every 20 feet or so had a different street performer. There were traditional bagpipers, mimes, teenagers with guitars, a guy with a saxophone, singers, a drum/bagpipe group, and lots of other cool people. It was just wonderful. The third day we went to the Kelvingrove Museum, which is probably one of the coolest museums EVER. It had art, exhibits on different cultures, stuff about the earth, rare taxidermied animals, and lots of other stuff! It was off the beaten path but definitely worth the walk over. We were pretty exhausted by the time we caught our 8pm bus, but it was definitely a great weekend overall. Glasgow is great.

Today is my last week of classes, and then my parents come to visit for 2 weeks on April 1st. After a change in plans, we are spending the first week driving around Scotland (Edinburgh, Oban, Skye, Glasgow) and then the second week will be spent in England (York and some other places). It will be good fun, and I'm definitely excited to see them!

Alright, I'm pretty tired so I think this will have to end it. I'm going to make another post this week about more things that have caught my eye, so look back in a day or so!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

March 20th Can't Come Soon Enough....

It's time to pay the price for all of my procrastination! On March 16th I have two papers due, and one other on the 20th. They all have to be 3,000, so approximately 12 or 13 pages double-spaced, which isn't too bad. But still. The "study" part of study abroad shouldn't exist, according to my theories at least. Either way, I have to lock myself in the library until then to attempt at getting all of my reading done. If I can survive 2 weeks of 12-hour library days I'll be pretty content. We'll see. I'll probably attempt at a real post sometime before then, cause lots have happened and I should probably keep this thing up-to-date. Ohwell. Wish me luck...

Oh, and on the off-chance any of you are willing to write my papers for me, they are...
1) Were humanitarian, economic, or political reasons paramount in making the decision to go to war over Cuba? (the most interesting of them all!)
2) How did the Civil War change nationalism in America? (or something dumb like that, yawn...)
3) And something about how the environmental movement of the 60s/70s basically fibbed a lot, and why they were so opposed to the free market solving the Earth's problems. (kill me)

Uh, so yeah. If I survive, I'll let you know.
(On the bright side, right after I hand my paper in on the 20th, we are taking a weekend trip to Glasgow! And then there is one week left of classes...and then Spring Break. And then a month for finals. And then we leave. Which is actually not a bright side at all. I've been here 2 months already, how is that possible!!! I don't want it to end...)

Okay, this was completely disjointed, but whatever! Back to reading.........

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ah, lots to write about since my last update.

Since then, I've visited Holyrood Palace, explored Edinburgh Castle, looked around St. Giles Cathedral and the Museum of Childhood, and took a 12-hour bus tour around the Highlands and up to Loch Ness. I have a ton, ton, ton of images and videos to share, so I hope you take a look and enjoy!

I'll start first with Holyrood Palace. Apparently it was founded in the 1100s and eventually came to house Mary, Queen of Scots for a bit. Today it still functions as Queen Elizabeth's home when she stays in Edinburgh. We took an audio-stick tour around the main rooms of the palace which were still decorated with the original furniture, tapestries, paintings and whatnot. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures indoors, so I don't have much to share, but you aren't missing much. It was really great and all, but probably much like you'd expect a British palace to look. I guess I'm not fascinated by royalty, but it was still really interesting and totally worth it. Connected to the Palace was Holyrood Abbey, which was fun to explore. I took some pictures which you can see here! It was a very gloomy day but you can still get the feel of the place.

Our next adventure was to the glorious Edinburgh Castle. I've seen it a million times in the distance from different points around the city, so it was wonderful to finally get inside. Another bonus: Usually it's 12 pounds (or 16/17 dollars) to enter, but we got special 2 pound tickets because of their Student Day! Pretty lovely. It wasn't quite like the other castles we've been to so far- they turned many of the rooms in the castle into different museum exhibits rather than keeping them original. I had no idea there would be so much to look at! We were there for a good 4 hours and I feel like we saw very little. We bought "Historic Scotland" passes though, so we can go back for free any time we want :) The views were incredible, though...you can really see every bit of Edinburgh and more. The weather cleared up for us which was also a bonus, and continues our good weather luck. Oh! The best part was probably our cute grandpa tourguide. He showed us around for about 45 minutes but didn't say more than a sentence or two about the castle itself. Instead, he spoke for nearly an hour about all of the wonderful contributions Scotland has provided to the world, boasted about their scientific superiority, and pinched the cheeks of all the girls in the group. He was wonderful! If you listened to the people of Scotland, you'd think that Scotland is the most intelligent and productive world-power ever to have existed. Perhaps I'm starting to believe them...?

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One of the lovely things about Scotland is that it seems like every pub we go to, everyone is friendly and likes to chat. It's also the best place to meet natives, especially the farther away from campus you get. The other night we went to a famous pub called Sandy Bell's that features live traditional Scottish music every night of the week. Kristine and her sister started talking to this 45 year old man named Iain from Glasgow and he was excellent! He taught us about whisky, the best ways to drink it, and what brands to look for. He kept telling us about his kids (one of them was named Lindsay!) and how great it was that we all took a chance and moved ourselves out to Scotland. We talked to him for an hour or two and it was really, really enjoyable. I feel like in America that sort of thing would be regarded as "creepy" or something, and perhaps rightly so, but it's just completely different here. Eventually the pub closed and we went our separate ways, but it seems that every time we meet a friendly Scot in a pub we learn a lot about the country and its character.

Yesterday we tried to make some plans for another adventure, but abandoned the ambitious ones and decided to wander around and stay close. We headed over to St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile which had absolutely gorgeous stained glass windows and architecture. Unfortunately we only got to stay for a few minutes before the kicked us out. A funeral was scheduled to take place there and for some strange reason they didn't want silly tourists hanging about. From there we went to the Museum of Childhood which was so cool! It was gigantic and free, so you can't really go wrong. They had a ridiculous collection of old dolls, stuffed animals, and lots of other old toys and books that kids used to play with. I must admit, the dolls were CREEPY. And lots of them were far from politically correct. Others just looked like plain not-fun. Although they were much more fun to look at than a museum full of X-Boxes and Wiis...so I gotta give them that. Eventually we left, bought some fudge, and headed back to Kristine's flat. We booked our hostels and bus tickets for our upcoming weekend to Glasgow, which I am very excited about!! I've heard wonderful thinks about Glasgow if you keep an open mind. Later that evening, Abby and I thought it would be a good idea to go to a Shabbat dinner at the local Chabad's house. Abby goes to Brandeis where Shabbat is attended by hundreds of students, so we were kind of half-expecting a good number of people to be there when we arrived. Not so, not so. We headed up the sidewalk to the house, and noticed 4 other people seated around the table. Oops. We were already late at this point and felt pretty awkward going in, but they made us feel welcome and immediately started feeding us delicious food. There was the husband, wife, and their 7 month old baby, as well as 4 other students from Edinburgh. Only one was a native to Scotland- the rest were American. I swear, there are more Americans here than Scots. Why?! Anyway, we were served course after course and participated in forced conversation about nothing at all for three long hours. I'm not complaining or anything, it was pretty nice, but the other students were on the awkward and/or unfriendly side. We sang Oseh Shalom and it was nice to know that the tune remains the same no matter where you are. It was nice. Happy mom? We might even go back again, and we plan on going to the Purim Carnival. All in all it was definitely worth it, albeit a little long and uncomfortable.

Now for the best part! A group of 7 of us signed up for a "Haggis Adventure Tour" which is basically a 12 hour tour around the Highlands of Scotland. The main destination was the gorgeous Loch Ness, but with many breathtaking stops along the way. Our basic route was Edinburgh--Sterling--Glencoe--Fort William--Loch Ness--Inverness--Dundee--Perth--Edinburgh. A lot to cover in one day, but SO much fun. The weather changed a hundred different times, so I felt like I was right back in New England. One of the major highlights was meeting a highland cow (or "Coo") which they had lovingly named Hamish...apparently the Scottish name for James. I was in total love. I definitely need one when I pack up and move to the Highlands! Some other high points: the random bagpiper on the side of the road standing in the misty mountains, singing that "I'll take the high road and you take the low road" song while dancing in the seats with Abby, singing the Scottish national anthem while dancing in the mountains in Glencoe, playing with the musical hats and the whisky tasting in Fort William, and most of all-- Urquhart Castle overlooking Loch Ness. It was most likely one of the top 5 most beautiful places I've ever been to. The loch went on for miles and miles and miles and was surrounded by giant mountains, blue skies and puffy clouds. It was perfect. The castle is mostly in ruins because it was built in the 400s...which made it even more spectacular. I would be totally happy spending the rest of my life in a shack in the Highlands exploring ancient ruins and raising sheep and cattle for the rest of my life. Ahhh, glorious. Unfortunately, however, the downside of this trip was pretty substantial. Nessie, the infamous monster of Loch Ness, never reared her massive head. As we drove along the edge, all eyes on the bus were fixated on the water, desperately hoping for even the smallest glimpse of the beast. No luck, sadly. Our tour guide did share two interesting tidbits with us, though: He is friends with a marine biologist who has dedicated 33 years of his life to studying the ecology of Loch Ness, and with super fancy sonar technology, he has deduced that there are approximately EIGHTEEN separate Nessies. He had some complicated theory about why these ancient dinosaur creatures still exist, and well...since I don't know much about science, it sounded pretty solid to me! Haha. On a slightly more depressing note, a man who once had children, a wife, house, and career gave it all up to live in a trailer on the banks of the Loch. Why? He wants to be the first to snap Nessie's picture. No luck quite yet, but let's hope that luck changes...Anyway, the rest of the ride back was cloudy and mountainous. I dozed on and off, and eventually we arrived back in Edinburgh. And here I am!
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Every day I am given more and more reasons as to why I never want to leave. Don't worry, I have no choice, so I'll arrive home eventually. I'll just do a yearly (or monthly!) pilgrimage back. Scotland is definitely worth the terrifying plane ride over.

So, pictures!

Click here for Holyrood Palace/Abbey Pictures
Click here for Museum of Childhood/Edinburgh Castle Pictures
Click here for Loch Ness Pictures!
Even more Loch Ness Tour!
(A lot of the Tour pics were taken from the bus windows so they aren't superb, but a lot from the Ness Castle are nice!! So they are definitely worth a look) video video

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Friday, February 13, 2009

A Recap of why I love this place and what I've been up to

I am madly in love with Edinburgh. I don't know how to say it any other way. One month has already passed since my arrival (seriously?!)...and I am still head-over-heels in love. It is possibly the best place in the world. Yes, I know that I haven't been quite everywhere yet, but I don't need to. Edinburgh has everything. Studying here has been perhaps one of the single best decisions I've ever made...and for that, I am forever grateful to Kristine who first proposed the idea!

I love the people I have met and befriended here beyond words. To think that in a few short months we will be separated by many many miles is devastating. The only thing that makes it better is knowing that I get to return to Boston...the other best place in the world. With more wonderful people. And more wonderful things to do. It definitely isn't a terrible alternative.

Seriously though, this place has everything I could ask for and more. The city itself is full of rich history and beautiful old architecture and friendly people and blue skies (yes, really) and amazing views and lovely countryside. My classes are surprisingly extremely interesting, and have rekindled my love for history and have even introduced me to higher-level economics. It sort of makes my head explode on a daily basis, but...in a good way? I tend to function best when slightly stressed out...and my classes are successful at making me so. I have a ton of work ahead of me, including a presentation on Monday (why do you think I'm writing this? Procrastination...) and I don't even mind. My presentation partners in all of my classes are lovely and it's been a good way to meet natives, rather than other American international students.

I have joined the Swing Dance Society on campus, and I keep going back to lessons despite being, let's just say...less than skilled. We've also joined the Film Society which has already introduced me to some fabulous movies (I recommend Withnail & I!). We make big "family" meals a few nights a week which gives us all a good excuse to cook, drink wine, and enjoy tasty food. We travel when we can, and find nothing wrong with hopping on a double-decker bus (and sitting in the front seat on the top deck, Sorry Dad) without any specific destination. The buses are infinitely more welcoming than Boston buses which is nice. Much like Boston, though, tons of things are within walking distance so it's not difficult to get around. I must say though, after commuting on the T 2 hours a day for 6 months...I actually miss it quite a bit. Silly.

Okok, enough mushy stuff. I just felt like such a post was necessary.

And for the record, no, I still can't fake having any sort of accent. It's hard! I'm determined to be able to by the time I get home, so I suppose I still have a few more months to practice...

Oh, also, being here is really throwing off my sense of spelling. I literally just typed and re-typed the word "practice" about 10 different times trying to figure out whether it was spelled practice or practise. I'll probably return home throwing in an extra U in my words here and there, but what can you do!

Alright, I suppose this is long enough. And don't worry, my next post will have shiny pictures and videos again. Talk to you all soon!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

So! On Saturday, Kristine, Hannah, Katie and I headed off to Stirling with the International Student Center from campus. We boarded the bus around 8:45 and drove for about an hour through lovely mountainous countryside. We crossed the bridge over the Firth of Forth and it was gorgeous. The best part, though, was probably all of the sheep roaming about (Kristine and I debated over whether or not they were "wild" sheep). At that point in the day we had absolutely no idea what was planned for us, but we were excited nonetheless. Not only that, but Stirling is right around where Amy used to live, so it was really neat to be there!

The first stop on the trip was in Dollar, Scotland at Castle Campbell. It was built in the late 1400s (a few years earlier than Craigmillar Castle, the one I posted about earlier) but only a small part of the original remains stood standing. Unfortunately, unlike Craigmillar Castle, Castle Campbell had been ravaged by a civil war and the owners never bothered to rebuild it. Even though the castle itself wasn't much to look at, it did have an amazing view from the top lookout. The real adventure came from actually getting to the castle. When we got off of the bus, our disorganized and non-English speaking coordinator pointed us over to the direction the castle was in, claimed there would be a short walk, and that we'd be to the castle soon. Not so. In fact, we had to hike up a muddy, unkempt, narrow pathway up a mountain! It was certainly unexpected but a ton of fun. It took at least a half hour climbing up, and I was pretty much focused on not dying or falling off a cliff into the gushing river. On the way down though, we got to take our time so I recorded this little video! It's only about a minute or so, but it gives you a general idea of what the mountain looked like.


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After that adventure, we got back on the bus to Stirling. We were absolutely ravenous by this point, as none of us were smart enough to eat breakfast and, you know, we had just hiked a mountain and everything. Unfortunately there was still no food to be had, because we were about to be dropped off at the William Wallace Monument. William Wallace was the guy Mel Gibson played in Braveheart and is one of their beloved national heroes. They built this giant monument to him in the 1800s and it was actually pretty cool. We climbed 246 steps up to the top of the tower and experienced the power of wind like never before! It was as if you combined all the wind in Boston and condensed it into one 10 square foot space. It was intense. The view was also spectacular...I tried capturing it on camera but of course it didn't work. Here's my attempt at the video, though, to at least give you an idea. You might want to turn your sound down, though- the wind is howling!

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After that, they dropped us off in the center of Stirling to find some food and do shopping/sightseeing. After climbing a mountain, the large hill leading up to the monument and then the stairs up the tower, we were definitely ready for some food. We plopped ourselves down in a sportsbar and ate until we felt sick, haha. Always the way to go. Afterwards, we wandered around for a half hour then caught the bus back home at 5. We went back to Kristine's flat and then made a delicious make-shift veggie soup out of some random vegetables Hannah had lying around. It was DELICIOUS! I know it doesn't look too apetizing, but trust me on this one. Mmmm.

Sunday, we all got together and I made everyone one of my favorite Faigi dishes- crowpretzluch! For those of you who sadly don't know what crowpretzluch is, it's just bowtie noodles with simmered cabbage, onions, salt and white pepper. I was afraid it would come out horrible, but I must say...it was pretty tasty. Faigi will be proud.


And, on an unrelated note, here is a little video of what my room looks like. Fun fun.
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Last night, we went to our 3rd swing dancing lesson and I'm still awful! It's so much fun though, so it's okay. Tonight we're joining the Uni's film society, where for only 10 pounds we get to go to as many movies as we want. What's Eating Gilbert Grape is on the schedule for tonight, so that should be good. Other than that, not much else is going on! Keeping busy busy busy, and it's good that way.

Leave me comments! :) OH! AND! If anyone wants a neat-o postcard, leave me your address and one will find you soon! If you don't want your address floating around the internet, feel free to e-mail me at baer.l@neu.edu. Talk to you soon!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Today was the coolest day of my LIFE. Perhaps that's an exaggeration, but it was definitely up there.

It all started with THIS:
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Okay, call me lame, but riding in the front seat at the top of a double-decker bus was beyond amazing. It's sort of like a roller coaster, except with more traffic and no 300 foot drops. So basically the best of both worlds. Also, this gives you a view of the street we walk pretty much every day! Isn't it charming? Video Bonus: You get a view of the ever-classy Potatoland, which is probably my favorite restaurant in all of Edinburgh. They really like their potatoes here, it is marvelous. Just disregard the silly dialogue in the background! We started talking about Pizza Hut. Ew. And then Kristine crashed into the windshield at the end. Oh, my dear friend.

Where were we heading on this bus adventure, you ask? Why, none other than the Craigmillar Castle! Basically, this historic gem was built in the 1400s and remains one of the best-preserved castles in Scotland. It was spectacular. Apparently it was also the home of Mary Queen of Scots for a while. Hannah and I are both history majors, so we pretty much just stood in awe the entire time. The place was pretty much deserted (we got there around 1pm on a Wednesday...) so we got to climb and explore without anyone bothering us. Kristine, Hannah and I took a good 2 hours to take it all in. And even though the place is only 20 minutes outside of the city, you can still see farmland and mountains all around. I'm not sure if the video captures this, but one side of the castle faces Arthur's Seat, one side faces the city skyline, one faces the Sea, and the rest overlook mountains and farmland. It was almost painfully gorgeous. I took over 400 photos (Mommy, aren't you proud??) and uploaded a bunch onto Flickr. The link is here: Click This! Obviously the images don't do it any justice, but at least they give you a general idea. The pictures also prove that it isn't always raining. In fact, today was 45 degrees and sunny! There's also a video below. I recorded it while we were walking along some sketchy mossed-over walkway along the very top of the castle. I hope you enjoy!!


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After the grand castle adventure, we headed back into town and ate at a restaurant over by Grass Market. I ate vegetarian haggis for four pounds, and I've come to the conclusion that vegetarian haggis is among my top 5 favorite foods. It is ridiculously good. And yes, I apologize Scotland, but I prefer it over sheep gut haggis. But to each their own. Later we hung out at a friend's flat, and then I headed back to do some "reading." But really, I just wrote this post to procrastinate. Of course.

All in all, today was amazing. Scotland is the most beautiful country in the world. Kristine and I couldn't have picked a more perfect location. It's almost too good.

Also P.S.: To all my family and friends leaving comments, I appreciate it!!! I am happy to know that you read along, and I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Observations

Hi! So I've been really busy lately, but I don't really think it would make for a good read. To sum up, though, we've basically been hanging around a lot, stopping by pubs, and I finally visited the Scottish History Museum! We spent about 2 hours on the first floor but never got further because there was so much to look at. Working at the Commonwealth Museum really gave me a new appreciation for all the work that goes into making exhibits! I can't wait to see the Museum finished and open when I get back home, and if anyone from there is reading this- Hello! :) Also! I went to "The Elephant House" cafe, which claims to be the Birthplace of Harry Potter. They say that JK Rowling used to sit in the back of the cafe, stare out the window for inspiration, and then wrote the first Harry Potter. It was the cutest little place, and even though I'm not a fanatical HP fan it was still pretty awesome. (That picture is a view from one of their windows: the building far back is the Edinburgh Castle!)

Rather than go into boring details about my days, I figured I'd change it up and talk about some of the different things I've been noticing.

1) Fashion-wise....Everyone, literally everyone, is a fan of the tattered mini jean skirt. I'd say a good 30% of the female population wears jean skirts at any given moment. It is very strange. Either they are way behind the fashion styles of America, or we will see a whole new jean skirt movement this summer. I'm hoping it's not the latter.

2) Almost NO ONE is a Scottish native. I don't understand! All of my friends are American, my flatmates are from Finland/Montreal/France, and most people in my classes are from England. Where do all the Scots live? I am taking a trip to Stirling this weekend, so hopefully it's a little bit more Scot-ish up there. I have met a few natives and they've all been quite lovely, I guess I was just expecting there to bit a wee bit more.

3) All of the foreigners that I have met, regardless of where they originate, are ecstatic over Barack Obama. As soon as they hear our American accents, they want to chat us up over how happy they are that Bush is gone and how wonderful Obama is. It seems to happen in every pub or wherever else we happen to be. It is really heartwarming, in a way. Maybe he actually can bring this world a little bit closer and raise our standing in the world. At least it seems that way so far.

4) Okay, well, this is a given, but they really like their alcohol here. Back in Boston, it seems like Friday and Saturday are the main "Going Out" nights. Unless there is a big sports game or something of the like, people don't tend to go out partying on weekdays. At least as far as I can tell, though I'm not yet 21. Either way, it seems completely different here. As one guy said last night, "Wednesday is the new Saturday! Tuesday is the new Friday! And we drink on Mondays and Thursdays to get us to the weekend!" I like beer and such as much as the next person, but there is no possible way I could drink every night of the week for years on end. How do they do it? How can a whole country have magical livers? Don't they have stuff to do? It is quite astonishing. Speaking of alcohol, we stopped by this Russian-themed club called "Vodka Revolution" which specializes in cool flavors of vodka. A bunch of us ordered that paddle in the picture and we sampled Birthday Cake vodka and Chocolate Orange vodka. I'm not the biggest vodka fan, but anything chocolate orange is delicious in my book.

5) No one here watches television. It is so refreshing. Instead of sitting on the couch and watching Law and Order SVU Marathons (of which I am extremely guilty) they actually go out and do things! It seems a big factor contributing to the lack of TVs is the "Television License" tax imposed by the Scottish government, which costs like 250 pounds a year or something. Crazy. Oddly enough though I am really enjoying being away from the television's constant grasp. I can still get my fix of The Office and the new season of Flight of the Conchords from online, so I don't have any complaints. (Though I do miss Law and Order marathons. Ugh.)

6) THEY ALL LISTEN TO AMERICAN MUSIC. I don't think there is anything popular here that isn't played back home. Does American music/film/culture really infiltrate everything? It seems that way so far. I was kind of looking forward to getting away from Nickelback, Creed, and maybe even Britney Spears for a while...but no luck. Looks like we'll have to suffer through Womanizahwomanizahwomanizahoh for a little bit longer! On the bright side: I saw a live bagpipe-er last night! It was marvelous!

7) Frying is the preferred method of cooking just about everything here. They have fried pizza, fried mars bars, fried haggis, fried burgers (???), fried vegetables, and just about anything else you can think of. Eating healthy here is ridiculously hard but it seems like it can be done. Not that I'm complaining, of course, fried anything is likely to be good. Last night, in honor of Robert Burns Night, I tried a fried mars bar and fell in love. So bad, yet so delicious. I also tried haggis, the real kind, and I have to admit that I actually liked it! Scotland is converting me and it's only been 2 1/2 weeks.


8) I have the simplest, smallest, most low-tech phone in the whole world and I love it. They seem to be a lot less interested in the lastest technology and fads here, which is also really nice. All I can say is that people here appear to really enjoy themselves and the city around them...which, I hate to say, is often different from a lot of Americans. Their happiness comes from things other than gadgets. I guess this is going back to the TV observation, but it's good to unplug yourself every once in a while. There's no need to watch hours of television a day while spending the rest of your time browsing the internet on your cell phone. Stay un-connected for a little while, you know?I know I'm guilty of it and will probably continue to be guilty of it once I return, but it's one of the lessons I'm learning here it seems.

9) It doesn't rain here nearly as much as I expected. I don't wish to jinx it so....I'll stop there.

10) Cliche, mushy realization: Edinburgh is fantastic for so many reasons and I am falling in love. It is simply gorgeous and its antiquity is really quite amazing. I cannot wait to travel and take as much of this country in as possible.

Okay so that's all for now. If you'd like, leave a comment, I really enjoy reading them.

OH P.S. If anyone has a Skype account and would like to talk, my username is lindsaybaer. Get at me!