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!