Winter is Here and November is Gone

November it seems went by in the blink of an eye because I’m uploading this in December. Honestly each month I’m here becomes better than the last and I’m very happy that I picked to come to Edinburgh and University of Edinburgh over my other options. Though this month has been fun, it was the most academically stressful. Having three essays due back-to-back in all three of your classes kind of takes the fun out of being abroad just a little bit. But I am here to study so it all works out. One of the first things I did in November was go up to Calton Hill with some friends to watch the fireworks for Bonfire Night (aka Guy Fawkes Night). We made some mulled wine from scratch and hung out. Tesco’s sells mulled wine sachets, which are inexpensive and tasty. We then used travel mugs and brought the rest of the mulled wine with us to keep warm while we waited for the fireworks to start. It’s still quite jarring that you can purchase fireworks so easily here, and not just the small firecracker ones you think of on the fourth of July, I mean the ones that can sky rocket into the stars. But beyond the fact that we were probably too close to some of the fireworks being set off on the hill, it was amazing to see fireworks going off all over the city and country. There was almost a weird sense of solidarity knowing that people all over the U.K.

Calton Hill for the fireworks

Calton Hill for the fireworks

Later on in the month, I was able to celebrate a friend’s birthday where a large group of us went out for dinner and then to the Bedlam Theatre to see Spring Awakening. Bedlam theatre is right by Teviot and Potterrow, and George Square. The Edinburgh University Theatre Company the converted church and put on over 100 shows during the academic year. Their rendition of Spring Awakening was amazing for such a small budget (each ticket for a student costs four pounds). The theatre is small but that gives the space a sense of intimacy that you wouldn’t experience at larger theatre houses in Edinburgh or in London. Plus, what’s better than supporting other students at your university and inexpensive way to go to the theatre. I’ve also experimented more with my cooking this month. I’m proud to say I no longer rely on pasta bakes and other easy meals like omelets. I now have made things like vegetable loaded stir-fry’s. Not even just with food though, but also with drinks like coffee. Buying coffee out sadly is too expensive to do regularly so I rely on a French press to get me by. Instead of the usual black coffee (or when I’m hankering for something sweet milk and sugar), I’ve started trying to make the drinks I’d buy out. This makes drinking coffee in a lot more desirable but every once in a while I do splurge. The last thing I did in November was celebrate St Andrews Day by going to Holyrood Palace for free. If you order them online early enough you can get tickets to the castle or the palace. Being there reminded me of how rich the history of Scotland is and that it’s embedded so deeply everywhere you go in Edinburgh. But now, it’s time to bunker down and prepare for my finals.

St Andrews Day at Holyrood Palace

St Andrews Day at Holyrood Palace

 

Until next time,

 

Alex

October + November = Rough Times (feat. Lots of Food)

Well, well, well. It’s almost time for the end-of-semester exams and I’ve only thrown up a scant few blog posts. I am here, friends, to explain. And then fill you in.

The main reason for the lack of posts is that my hard drive crashed and was completely wiped in mid-October. This was obviously a wholly unwelcome intrusion into my technology-fueled life. Combine this with five essays, a fractured nose, shin splints, and an unexpected bout of – not homesickness, fit of nostalgia? – and, well, you get the picture. Or not, actually, because they were all on my broken hard drive.

Luckily, what I had taken on my phone is still accessible, so I’ve decided to just throw up the hodgepodge and some thoughts to go along with it. (Warning: this post is very garbled!)

Me and my mom took a quick selfie in front of Princes St Gardens before I moved in.

Me and my mom took a quick selfie in front of Princes St Gardens before I moved in.

I miss my parents and my sister, of course, and I knew I would. I’ve been away from them for long periods of time before, but I’ve never dealt with a time difference. It’s extremely annoying, but staying up talking to my family until 1 or 2 in the morning is never something I regret.

My first foray into pie crust... delicious!

My first foray into pie crust… delicious!

I have started to enjoy cooking a lot more than I thought. I think it’s because I have become mostly divorced from my normal creative outlets (sports – thanks, nose and shins!; my various music ensembles; unlimited access to a piano less than a 5 minute walk from my dorm). I have started to get more ambitious and more experimental. For the first month I think I only made slow-cooked beef dishes (hello meatballs, hello goulash!), but now I’m shelling out the time and £££ for more complicated dishes. I’ve fried chicken now, made shepherd’s pie and empanadas – which combines spiced meat and a dough – kind of like a calzone.  I made pie crust by hand for them, which was surprisingly fun. Working with my hands and puzzling over converted measurements takes me out of whatever is going on in my day and puts me totally at the mercy of time pressure, chopping, the scrape of a pan on the stove… My mentality has shifted from “cook to survive” to “enjoy cooking as a leisure activity” and my palate has been enjoying the shift.

Apparently "the best hamburger in Edinburgh"... certainly the closest I've found to an American hamburger.

Apparently “the best hamburger in Edinburgh”… certainly the closest I’ve found to an American hamburger.

More food (you’ve been warned). My flatmate Jordyn and I went to this place, a 10-15 minute walk from our flat.

What a tasty pun...

What a tasty pun…

We had both been craving a little taste of home, and decided to put the good reviews of Burger Meats Bun to the test…. I was not disappointed, but for some reason hamburgers just aren’t quite as satisfying here as they are in the states. Still, it has been nice to get to know my flatmates more as this process has gone on, whether through our weekly takeout nights (Saturday curries are a GO!) or our trips to the Christmas market, our nights out or our flat Halloween party, our movie nights in…

Yes, that is a BOX of food for the six of us... delish!

Yes, that is a BOX of food for the six of us… delish!

View from the ferris wheel at the Edinburgh Christmas market.

View from the ferris wheel at the Edinburgh Christmas market. Photo creds to my flatmate Maggie!

As we were decorating for Christmas yesterday, I mused out loud, “Do you ever wonder what your experience at Edinburgh would be like if you weren’t in this flat?” One of my flatmates looked me dead in the eye and responded “Awful!” Certainly, she probably still would have had a good experience, but we’ve really gelled as a flat in a way that has made my experience much easier than it could’ve been. I am learning a lot from them, and having a lot of fun with them, too.

Waiting for the bus has never been so beautiful.

Waiting for the bus has never been so beautiful.

The weather – let’s just say it’s been much better than expected. The fall has started to cool down into a perfect November. Often it’s sunny, and I’ve been lucky to experience high temperatures and low winds. I haven’t pulled out my winter jacket yet, and checking the weather back in Massachusetts always gives me a chuckle.

Old College at the start of the evening - stunning.

Old College at the start of the evening – stunning.

Riding the bus as the evening is creeping into the city is one of the most beautiful commutes I could imagine – seeing the old buildings lit up and grasped by the new evenings – I could never do it justice. Come see it for yourself if you ever get the chance.

The view from my evening commute. Not too shabby.

The view from my evening commute. Not too shabby.

I’ve also been exploring a little more; I’m definitely more comfortable wandering from my beaten path to scout out new places to visit knowing I (roughly) can get myself back to my flat or city centre without much trouble. It’s always fun to drag friends along, and I plan to use December to try and insert myself into this city much more than I have been. There’s some lovely areas around my flat that I’ve barely even touched!

Stumbled upon this view while taking a circuitous route to a friend's flat.

Stumbled upon this view while taking a circuitous route to a friend’s flat.

One of my first nights in Edinburgh, took a wrong turn down a popular street and was rewarded with this beauty.

One of my first nights in Edinburgh, took a wrong turn down a popular street and was rewarded with this beauty.

At this point, I’ve never been more sure of my decision to stay for the year. I know that the toughest parts are just coming up – missing my family for the holidays and gearing up for another semester after a steep learning curve – and I can’t imagine having to leave right now, with all the challenges of the new semester laying unfaced. Staying the year may be one of the most rewarding things I’ve done. I can feel myself becoming more confident in my decision to separate myself from my family, my school, my country, and my friends for 9 months. When I write it out, that aspect of study abroad always seems insane, and in many ways it undoubtedly is, but without doing insane things how would we grow?

A post-workout burrito is never a bad idea... tex mex lives in my heart.

A post-workout burrito is never a bad idea… tex mex lives in my heart.

Splitting desserts with acquaintances - surefire way to friends status.

Splitting desserts with acquaintances – surefire way to friends status.

Maybe the most beautiful loaf of bread I've ever seen.

Maybe the most beautiful loaf of bread I’ve ever seen.

Of course, I had to end with some more food. All purchased and consumed with new friends – the most social of all my endeavors may be mealtime. Although it has been very hard to adjust to a new school and city, I feel good about this final stretch of the semester. Things are slowly starting to settle into place – another reason I couldn’t imagine having to leave now.

Hopefully it will not be as long until my next post! Until then -

Lauren C

Striking A Balance

Well, it has officially been two months since my move to Edinburgh and, after staring at my laptop screen for an inexcusably long time, I have realized there are absolutely no words to sum up how incredible this experience has been so far.  Embarking on an international exchange, I knew that I would encounter a whole slew of new customs, opportunities, and challenges. And while I felt fully equipped to tackle the majority of these, such as differences in academic structure, currency, drinking habits, and road rules (hint: pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way here!!), I was caught completely off guard by one thing in particular. During all my preparations for school, and my giddy planning for weekend trips and traveling excursions, it never once occurred to me that the life of a student doesn’t necessarily mesh with that of a tourist.

A month ago I embarked on my first touristy excursion – a weekend trip to the Highlands. Let me tell you something, this country is beautiful, and not the “with the right Instagram filter this landscape shot will be stunning” beautiful. Rather the type of jaw-dropping, breathtaking beauty that seeps into your pores and heightens your senses and makes you swear that you’d crossed into a parallel dimension where colours blend a little differently and the wind speaks a whole new language. I’m sorry I know that was the cheesiest line you’ve ever read (it’s certainly the cheesiest I’ve ever written), but at the risk of sounding trite, a journey through the Highlands is nothing short of a tour through a storybook. I distinctively remember, while staring at the magnificent sights out the tour bus window as Scottish folk music played overhead, that this just couldn’t be real. Certainly I’d been dropped into another world, where every scene was taken straight out of a movie. To be honest I was half-expecting the sheep on the hillside to break out into song at any moment…

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Sorry, I think I’ve gotten a bit off track but the point being that this trip was one of the most incredible journeys I’ve ever had the good fortune to go on – which made returning to the land of school and responsibility that much more jarring. Almost immediately after coming back classes kicked into high gear. Usually this wouldn’t be a problem. I was always able to keep up with my (much heavier) workload at my home university, and if there’s one thing you learn as a student it’s time management. But somehow, even as deadlines drew nearer, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was just on vacation. Certainly getting my work done early didn’t really matter, and of course I should take every opportunity to  make new friends and explore the city rather than studying, right? I mean who knows when I’ll have the chance to travel like this again?! And here in lies the ultimate exchange student dilemma: How do you maintain your good grades and make the most of your education when all the while there’s a little nagging voice in your head saying things like “Time’s running out! Have an adventure! Go out there and enjoy yourself! Have you filled your ‘incredible stories’ quota for this trip yet? No?! Then get to it!” It’s hard to shake the feeling that these two lifestyles were really never meant to coexist, and that ultimately the quality of one will have to make way for the other.

At first this was difficult for me to deal with, some sub-par work was completed just in the nick of time, other deadlines were completely missed (for example, this blog post should have been submitted weeks ago – sorry!). Whenever I did manage to stay in and do work the dreaded FOMO syndrome hit, (mom don’t worry this means ‘Fear of Missing Out’ and is not some horrible new flu virus). But in the past couple of weeks I think I’ve started to figure out this vagabond life and how to best traverse the two worlds.

I’ve found coffee shops where I can work really well (like Black Medicine Coffee Co. and the Brew Lab), and I plan out my studying days to include some interludes for exploring. I’ve stumbled upon places in the city that I can always visit when work gets too stressful, without sacrificing my whole day. For example, Cameo Picture House has become a quick favourite of mine. It’s a movie theatre in a beautiful old building (with a conveniently attached bar), where I can go relax for a few hours and watch a movie, or meet up with friends for a drink after a particularly long study session.

Speaking of which, I have an essay that’s waiting to be written, so I think I’ll leave it here for now. But if in the meantime someone stumbles upon a world that allows you to travel, study, explore and get a full 8 hours of sleep without losing your sanity, please let this wandering student know.

Feeling at Home

It has been almost two months since I arrived, and I have naturally started calling Edinburgh my home. The longer I am here, the more I fall in love with this city. Over the course of October I had three of my friends from my University in the states visit me here, and it was funny to feel like I knew this city and was “the local”  guiding my friends on where to go and what to do.

The first big to-do was going to the Highlands. I booked a trip using “The Hairy Coo,” and it was terrific. We got really lucky because of the sunny weather and we made many stops along the way including the Wallace Monument, lunch in Aberfoyle, Loch Katrine, Doune Castle, and feeding a few Hairy Coo’s! The guide would give quick historical backgrounds on the sights we were seeing and it was nice to know the story behind the view.

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We left Edinburgh city center at 8am and came back around 6. I didn’t realize just how close the broad, lush greenery of the Highlands is to the Gothic city center. It was so easy to book the trip and go that I can see myself doing this tour and two others they offer a few more times over the course of this year.

I also did two trips up Arthur’s Seat. The views of the city are beautiful and it is well worthwhile to wait for a sunny day to do the hike. The second time I went we waited util the late afternoon, and the only downside once we got to the top was the extreme wind. I guess that taught me to dress in layers and bring a scarf.10728940_10152853828888338_629670829_n IMG_2983 IMG_2992

Although Edinburgh felt huge and confusing to me the first few days I was here, I quickly realized how simple it is to get around…and how small the city is in reality. One of my favorite finds in the city in terms of shops is Armchair books on Grassmarket.

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The walls of the bookshop are filled to the ceiling and you need a small ladder to get to the works at the very top of the shelves. My friend and I enjoyed going through the vintage books collection at the back of the store. It was cool to find a handwritten note in one of the books from about a century ago, stating who the book was being gifted to and for what occasion. I also loved looking around Armstrongs, a vintage shop on Grassmarket. There is a wide variety of clothes, starting from second-hand kilts and ending with wedding dress-esque colorful gowns.

Edinburgh is getting better and better with time and my plan for november is to leave the city center more, visiting a some more castles, lochs and monuments until the weather gets too cold. Cheers and until next time.

Home Street

Arms full of groceries, I plodded along Lochrain Place, place referring to a small (usually residential) side-road. I was a block from home, and a two blocks from Home street, where stood the Scotmid cooperative, origin of my groceries, full of “Wild Rocket” (pronounced roCKET or arugula), “Corgette” (Zucchini to me) and “Gammon Steaks” (ham?). A man on a bicycle stopped and asked me how to find Union Canal. I replied that the construction site forced one to go first on to Fountainbridge, before turning just before the Tesco Express. He thanked me and commented:

“Look at me, a local, having to ask a foreigner for directions.”

I smiled and thought little of the encounter except that the man was quite right to be out and about on such a beautiful day. I dropped of my groceries and picked up my flatmate Christofferson; inspired, the two of us set off for a walk. We walked down West Port to Grassmarket, where the sunny Saturday afternoon had attracted tourists and residents alike. The Edinburgh Castle loomed overhead, and we climbed its hill on the aptly named Castlewynd stairs, a scenic and quick route to the Royal Mile and Princes Street. Canvassers lined the streets, proselytizing independence, and distributing leaflets. We skipped the Royal Mile and headed towards the National Gallery, where a large group was gathered listening to a rock band play for independence. We sat for a few minutes, and I picked through the papers I had been given, and having decided to keep them as souvenirs, determined I should collect as many as possible. But where on earth could I get a “no” leaflet? I had seen precious few all week. Christofferson suggested we climb the Scott Monument, from which we could survey the city center. I agreed, eager to climb the monument for the first time.

Before the monument, next to the street, a heavy-set middle aged man dressed in tweed sat on a stool, holding a large sign which read: “Please Don’t Leave Us,” On the other side of a black metal fence, the kind which lines many of the parks of Edinburgh, a group of young persons questioned him sharply on economic figures and defense policies. We were close enough to hear his response:

“I don’t know the figures, I am not a politician; I just drove up from London. All I know is that we are stronger together.”

He looked worn-out– whether from the drive or accurate and persistent questioning of the young I never discovered– but not frustrated, just pleading, like a babysitter in the face of insurmountable children.

We walked on, and climbed the monument, which awarded a terrific view of the surrounding area, but did not reveal any obvious group of nay-sayers. To our delight, we spotted a massive “Yes” on the hillside of Arthur’s Seat. There was some commotion behind us, and we turned to see a young couple, looking as if they had just backpacked the highlands. They quickly rolled out a large banner, and threw it over the edge of the monument, their faces radiant with joy. It was a huge Scottish flag with a large “YES” across the middle. They hugged, and looked out over the city, beaming, like the pope gazing over the Vatican. A loud, stern voice could be heard over the intercom:

“Take that down, NOW.”

I thought it was loud, but the couple was in ignorant bliss due to their success. Christofferson and I walked down the monument sat on a bench overlooking the Princes Street gardens. We ate a small lunch of cheese and bread, and, our hunger satisfied, relaxed in the sun, just as one should on a Saturday afternoon. The Castle loomed over the landscape, seemingly unchanged. The street names on the other hand, seem to change every other block.

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photographs courtesy of the wonderful Christofferson

these events took place September 16, two days before the Scottish Independence Referendum

How Has the Semester Gone by so Fast?

It’s hard to believe that it has already been six weeks into the term and seven weeks since I’ve flown from JFK to Edinburgh. It’s a very surreal experience to think about that I’m living in such a beautiful city for my third year of college. With that said, I can’t think of a better way to be spending my third than by being at the University of Edinburgh. Now that I’ve gotten a handle on my schedule, and made a solid routine things have become very normal. Though the UK school system is very different to what I’m accustomed to in Connecticut, I do think that I’ve learned a lot in this new learning environment. Getting used to a 300 person lecture for a literature course was a little daunting at first (since my largest English class has been 30 students ever), but now it’s totally normal and easy to follow with my tutorial. It definitely makes me feel like there’s a solid and healthy balance between academic and social life here. There’s always work to be done and the work is difficult, but it’s never extenuating. Beyond academics I have to say I’ve been blessed with a very lovely flat with amazing flat mates. Living with six people can be daunting but between the four British students and one other American, it all works out. We even do communal dinners six days a week and hangout all the time. In short, it’s the best living situation I’ve ever had, having attended two different universities in the past and have now lived in three different housing arrangements.

The peek-a-boo view of the city from my kitchen.

Having so much to do in the city, Edinburgh is the perfect place to go to university. Though my dream city is London where I’ve lived for a semester in the past, Edinburgh has so much going for it and really tailors to students. Whether it is coffee with friends, to clubbing any day of the week, there’s just enough to do to so there’s never a dull moment. Having had seven weeks to be here so far I’ve definitely had enough time to explore the restaurant scene here. Elephant and Bagels is the best place to get a great bagel sandwich and makes me feel like I’m home when I miss Manhattan. The best place for latte and a solid two to three hour chat is Black Medicine Coffee and Co. I’ve spent at least three hours in there just hanging out with friends and studying every week. For pints though I’m a bit split. Brew Dogs has great craft beer and is located centrally on Cowgate. But for a more upbeat atmosphere for a bar, Pilgrim is also fun for a Thursday evening. The nightlife here is vivid and readily accessible to students, which is excellent.

My friend Vernon walking on the pier of Loch Lomond.

Living in Scotland’s capital though can feel a little isolating in the sense that there’s so much to see outside of the city. Last weekend I had the opportunity to go the countryside with family friends who are on holiday. They took their son and I to Rosslyn Chapel, which is where the end of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown takes place. After that, we headed to Stirling to see Stirling Castle and the National Wallace Monument (so many stairs, so little time). The views from both places were breathtaking. Not to get totally cliché and sound like a literature nerd, but from the top of both landmarks it looked like the scenes in the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice film when she walks to collect her sister from Mr. Bingley. Seeing the countryside of Scotland it is only now that I understand how the Romantic poets could be so easily inspired by Nature. The day was topped off with a stop at Loch Lomond, which is a cute lakeside preserved village. The views of the mountains paired with the water made me really feel like I was in the Scotland that I imagined. Scotland has such a versatile and green landscape it’s almost hard to conceptualize. I honestly could not think of a better place to spend my third year, this has been the best semester of my life.

Views from Stirling Castle. Elizabeth Bennett where are you?

246 steps later at the National Wallace Monument.

 

Well I’ve been everywhere now…

October:

My experience in Edinburgh so far has been nothing short of incredible. I have met so many amazing people in this past month, and seen so many places too beautiful to exist. I have been to the highlands and the sea, all without traveling too far from this fantastic city.

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I had no idea there were swans here.

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Classes have been extremely interesting. As a History of Art major, this is certainly an excellent place to study. And so far I have mainly learned that education isn’t as much about the grade here, it is about learning for the sake of learning, and that is a very important thing to recognize and apply to life. I hope I keep that thought with me after this experience is over.

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So far the most memorable experience of this past month was visiting the highlands. I went on a group tour with my study abroad programme. We traveled to castles, and distilleries, and Loch Ness, and the beautiful Glencoe that looked like something out of a fairy tale or a dream. But the highlight of my trip was visiting a working sheepdog farm. This experience included a very opinionated shepherd that seemed to have been taken out of a novel, about twenty Border Collies, thousands of sheep (though I only saw fifteen or so), two lambs, and twelve puppies.

We saw a demonstration and the dogs were just amazing! The shepherd would whistle a note and the dogs would go left, another and they would go right. Even the blind old ones were able to listen to the whistled directions, and herd the sheep. it was something I never thought that I would get a chance to see, and I am very lucky that I have. I also got to cuddle with the lambs and puppies, which made my day, as I love animals, especially baby ones.

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This first month has just been a whirlwind, and I cannot wait to see what the next few months have in store for me. I hope to fit as many adventures as I possibly can into the time I have here in this wonderful place.

 

Until next time.


Holley