Goodbye, Edinburgh

It wasn’t easy, but I made it out of exam-month alive, with a few shreds of dignity and a teaspoon of sanity left—although even these may be wrenched from me when the grades are released. I limped along with the help of coffee and wine and over-sleeping and under-sleeping. My eating habits were irregular or non-existent, and I didn’t leave the flat for days at a time. But miraculously, exams finally came to an end, and I am grateful for that and for the fact the no one threw eggs or flour at me. (Apparently Scottish students celebrate the end of exams by wasting food and ruining their clothes. I don’t quite understand the appeal, but lots of people seem to enjoy it!)

Even more bizarrely, as of this moment, I have one full day left in Edinburgh. Not that my last day will really count for much—laundry, fridge defrosting, packing, cleaning, returning library books and somehow ridding myself of a two-pound bag of small change will occupy the rest of my time here. It all feels incredibly unreal. My flat is empty, my friends have all gone home, and I will soon follow suit—in less than 48 hours I will be reunited with my friends, my family, my boyfriend and my cat! I wish I could say that I’m excited to return home, or heartbroken to be leaving Edinburgh, but mostly I just feel like I don’t want to defrost the fridge.

This is how I feel about defrosting the fridge and leaving this city that I love so deeply.

This is how I feel about defrosting the fridge and leaving this city that I love so deeply.

But before all this packing began, I said goodbye to the city the best that I could, and made some wonderful final memories. On a sunny/showery morning I finally made it to the Royal Botanic Gardens and spent hours just walking about and soaking up the sunshine. The May weather is still unpredictable, but there was enough sun to make up for the rainy spells (and the hail that fell the previous day).

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Afterwards, I got a final coffee and a scone with clotted cream and jam at Kilimanjaro Coffee, and the next day I treated myself to millionaire shortbread at Black Medicine Coffee Co. (my excuse is that I have to use up all of my pound coins, which they won’t convert at the airport.)

I ventured to the top of the National Museum, and regretted that I hadn’t known about their rooftops gardens before, because the views are absolutely stunning.2014-05-23 19.57.21

I had the chance to spend a final evening with my Gaelic 1A classmates and the other members of Comann Ceilteach. We had dinner at the Kama Sutra, an Indian restaurant on Lothian Road that, unexpectedly, offered menus in Gaelic!

And finally, to celebrate their respective last nights in the city, I had the pleasure of going out to the Dragonfly Cocktail Bar TWICE with my lovely flatmates. Four cocktails, thirteen different types of liquor, and many shenanigans were had. cocktails

Everything is about to change. I’m saying goodbye to Tesco, cobblestones, late-night chips with curry sauce, double-decker buses and daily rain. I’m saying hello to 24-hour diners, humidity, Rita’s Water Ice, and the chirping of cicadas all night long.

None of this seems real. I can’t believe I’ve already been here nine months, and I can’t believe I’m already leaving. It seems like yesterday that I was struggling through the Fresher’s Flu and getting lost on the way to Tesco and climbing Arthur’s Seat for the very first time in the rain.

Now I have to return to packing. It’s time to go. I have so many roots, friends, memories and beloved haunts in this city that I know I will never, ever leave it completely. And I know that I will return in the flesh one day. I’ve spat on the Heart of Midlothian (three times!) so it’s my destiny.

As my final tribute to the city that I have called home, I present an excerpt from William McGonagall’s poem “Beautiful Edinburgh.” McGonagall has the reputation of being the worst poet ever to write in the English language, and that combined with the fact that he was born and he died just up the road from my flat allowed me to really enjoy this terrible poem about a wonderful city:

“Then, all ye tourists, be advised by me,
Beautiful Edinburgh ye ought to go and see.
It’s the only city I know of where ye can wile away the time
By viewing its lovely scenery and statues fine.

Magnificent city of Edinburgh, I must conclude my muse,
But to write in praise of thee I cannot refuse.
I will tell the world boldly without dismay
You have the biggest college in the world at the present day.

Of all the cities in the world, Edinburgh for me;
For no matter where I look, some lovely spot I see;
And for picturesque scenery unrivalled you do stand.
Therefore I pronounce you to be the Pride of Fair Scotland.”

Mar sin leat, Dùn Èideann–until we meet again.


Skye High

I shouldn’t be writing this. I should be studying for my three exams (the first of which is in a week!) and preparing for two exam essays, but April was a month of such copious travel that I need to record those moments before I forget them. And working on my blog is also such a convenient way to procrastinate.

Way back at the beginning of April, I took a day trip out to Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire. Balmoral was built for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1856 and has been famous as the summer home of the royal family ever since. As it’s still a lived-in castle, it’s only open April through July (when the Queen arrives), and the only room visitors are allowed in is the main ballroom. But the gardens and grounds were beautiful enough to hold my attention for the whole afternoon. It was an unseasonably warm day, and wandering by the river, through the gardens and into the greenhouses was a pleasure.

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We also visited the nearby village of Braemar and did some (accidental) hiking. My flatmate and I picked a wooded trail and followed it for some time before we realized we were actually climbing a small mountain—the trees obscured our view of the top, so we had no idea how far the summit was, but the view was worth it when we finally reached the top.

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A few weeks later, after classes had finished, my flatmate and I took advantage of the Easter Break and booked a three-day bus tour to Skye. Skye has been on my Scottish bucket list for a long time, and although I would have loved to have spent more time there, I can also understand why most people visit in the summertime. During our time on the island we were visited by torrential rain, fierce wind, fog, and even hail. But we still managed to squeeze in enough hiking and castles to satisfy me, and, most importantly, we encountered a herd of feral goats. (And before this, I spotted a road sign that warned me to BEWARE OF FERAL GOATS.)

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I also discovered my dream house. I am going to retire here and host the feral goats.2014-04-11 19.44.53

To make up for the weather, an added bonus to our April visit turned out to be—lambing season! Tiny wee lambs were in abundance wherever we went, and this little guy had a hard time summoning up the courage to jump off the boulder and join his mother, who was waiting impatiently for him. He hesitated for a few minutes and baaed continuously for help, but finally managed to dismount from the rock all by himself. We cheered.

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Our first major activity on Skye was a hike to the Fairy Pools during a brief respite from the rain. The Fairy Pools are a series of pools and waterfalls running through Glen Brittle, with a view of the Black Cuillin mountains beyond. The scenery was spectacular, and we earned the view—we had to wade across the river twice, and I was reminded of my watery adventures at Finlaggan. Although luckily, no one had to take off their shoes this time, and convenient stepping-stones were in place.

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Later that day we visited Dunvegan Castle, the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. It has housed the Chieftains of Clan MacLeod for over 800 years, up to and including the present day. Not only is the castle fully furnished, and containing some beautiful artwork and family relics, but the surrounding gardens are stunning. Boat trips are run to a nearby island that is the favorite hangout of a certain seal colony. I feel lucky that I got to enjoy the water garden and the walled rose garden before the skies opened again, raining down hail on seal and human alike.

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The Water Garden

The next stop was another reputed fairy hangout, this time the Fairy Glen. Although the name ‘fairy’ gets attached to a lot of undeserving sites in the Highlands and Islands, I can completely understand why the Fairy Glen is considered a suitable habitat for the little folk. For one thing, rowan trees grow everywhere—on the hillsides, out of deserted crofts, and beside the water. Rowan trees were once planted to ensure good luck and to ward off evil, and judging by the abundance of trees, the inhabitants of Skye thought the Glen contained a whole lot of evil that needed warding off!

Castle Ewen

Castle Ewen

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The Glen is also covered in these strange, cone-shaped hills that appear almost wavy, like the ridges on sand dunes. They don’t look natural, but, as most weird Scottish landscapes, they are the result of glacial activity. As we hiked up to the highest point, a rocky outcrop called Castle Ewen, I began to notice other strange things. I got a shiver up my back when I saw spirals and names and shields patterned out of rock on the ground below us. In the center of each spiral was a small pile of coins. I guessed it was an offering to the fairies, but I’m not really sure. I left 10p in a pile of coins at the top of Castle Ewen, just to be safe.

Fairy spirals

Fairy spirals

Pennies at the peak

Pennies at the peak

The rest of the trip offered endless views of sheer sea-cliffs, mountains, more lambs and crazy ice-age rock formations.

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After we left Skye, we rounded off the trip with a tour of Eilean Donan Castle, which is purportedly the most photographed castle in Scotland (and it’s easy to see why). It’s built on a tidal island at a point where three lochs meet, and a bridge connects it to mainland. The castle was restored and lived in in the 20th century, and as such is fully furnished. Having grown up in an apartment within a fully furnished castle-turned-museum, and having experienced the £16 disappointment that is Edinburgh Castle, I decree that the only castles worth seeing are furnished castles. If a castle hasn’t been recently lived in, or extensively restored, don’t waste your money going inside. The best view is from the outside, I promise. But Eilean Donan did not disappoint, and I was very pleased to learn that the restorer of the castle thought to include secret passageways and peepholes into the Great Hall.

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After returning to Edinburgh, I had only a day to recover before catching the train to Oxford to spend Easter with my brother and sister-in-law. Oxford was blessedly warm and hail-free, and in true Easter fashion, Robin and I and her adorable ten-year-old neighbor celebrated spring by making dandelion jelly from the dandelions in her own backyard. I also got to play with their housemate’s two bunnies every day that it was sunny out! The three of us spent a day at the Botanic Gardens, which were fully in bloom. The Thames runs right through the gardens, and we watched ducklings floating down the river and Oxford students punting along and singing at the tops of their lungs. We explored Christchurch College, a Saxon tower, second-hand bookshops, and a variety of delicious restaurants. It was an Easter well spent.

The view from the Saxon tower

The view from the Saxon tower

David and Robin being spring-y

David and Robin being spring-y

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I left Oxford reluctantly, and returned to Edinburgh to face the cold, hard reality of exams. Fast forward to now—I haven’t left my flat in three days, eating and showering and getting out of bed are all optional, and no matter how much I study I don’t feel that I’ve achieved anything. Between me and summer vacation are two 3,000 words exam essays (one for a course I completed in November), a Visualising Scotland exam, and, bizarrely, two two-hour Gaelic exams. Right now it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when I saw people and left the flat and did fun things, and hard to believe that I ever will again. I’m starting to get anxious to return home and see my family and friends and boyfriend again, but May 29th seems farther away than ever.

The next time you hear from me, I will be finished with exams and just possibly, maybe, still alive and able to celebrate. Until then, pray for my deliverance from this month-long trek through the seventh circle of hell!

Where did the time go?!

Ah dear, I have been super remiss with blogging this semester. What can I say? Things have been hectic and spare moments have largely spent in the company of people I shall miss desperately after this year. So to make up for the time, (fair warning), this will be a massively long post.

Where to begin….

Best place to start, I think, is with Innovative Learning Week in February. I decided that, while the activities on offer by the Uni were interesting, my week would be spent in Istanbul with 3 of my lovely flatmates. The three of us had found a flat on AirBnB, settling us right next to Taksim Square- fortunately protest-free and calm while we were there!

Robin, Michelle and Nicole in Hagia Sophia

Robin, Michelle and Nicole in Hagia Sophia

It was an amazing trip, making my little history nerd heart collapse into a puddle of joy. We, of course went to all of the necessary stops: Aya (Hagia) Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar, the Basilica Cistern and the Suleymaniye Mosque. I shall refrain from bombarding you with too many photos, as I took almost 600 in 4 days.


Spice Bazaar



Can you spot Edinburgh?


Basilica Cistern

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My definite favourite moment of the trip was in the gardens of the Suleymaniye Mosque. We had just finished walking around the inside, and had walked out into the gardens, enjoying the view, when the call to prayer began. Standing in that garden, being surrounded by what sounded like the city singing and uniting as one, looking over the Golden Horn was a moment I’ll never forget.


Blue Mosque


Aya Sophia

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I also made a stop into the Archeology Museum- well worth the stop for any history/archeology nerd as they have an exhibit on the history of Istanbul starting in the Stone Age. I would also be remiss in talking about Istanbul without mentioning the cats, which are everywhere and it’s a fantastic thing as long as you are a cat lover, which I am. If there had been a way for me to take one home, I would have in a heartbeat. Although there were a few things we were unable to do, such as a boat tour around the Golden Horn and Dolmabahce Palace,the rest of the trip was so magical I didn’t mind. Sadly, we were only there for a short time- enough for me to be planning my trip back!

Spring finally came to Edinburgh!

Spring finally came to Edinburgh!

This fantastic trip was followed by March, a month full of classes, papers and, of course, archery. I would be remiss to not mention SSS Indoors. Held in Aberdeen, a large group of us traveled up, and, if I may say so, did quite well. I placed third in novice recurve women, with first and second novice women also going to EUAC! For the full medal recap, check out the EUAC page:


1st- Johanna, 2nd- Dari, 3rd- yours truly. Taken by Jennifer

Among all the excitement of the end of the semester, I was visited by two old friends from high school whom I haven’t seen in years, both also doing their study abroad around the UK, Farah at Cambridge and Mel at Birmingham. It was so lovely to see both of them, and to finally play tourist around Edinburgh! We of course went to the castle, climbed up Calton Hill, went whisky tasting, and just generally caught up on each others lives. It was so much fun being to show off the city through the eyes of not just a tourist, but as someone who has been lucky enough to get to call this place home for the past year.


this picture was totally necessary

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With the end of the semester and spring break came another trip, although this one taken solo. Amsterdam and Berlin had been on my must-go list from this year, along with Istanbul, so I’m immensely pleased to have been able to check both off! Amsterdam was stop number one, and I even surprised myself at my ability to geek out over art. From the Rjiksmuseum, to the Van Gogh museum and the Hermitage, I immersed myself in every museum I could find. This, of course, also included the Anne Frank Huis, a sobering moment in a vibrant city (and good preparatory stop before Berlin), as well as the Amsterdam Museum, the Rembrandt House, the Royal Palace and the Oude Kerk.

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As pictures are not allowed, I don’t have any of the red light district, but even for this liberal American, raised on the remnants of Puritan values, it was admittedly still a bit of a shock, albeit one that gave pause and a chance to reflect on why it was shocking. In other news, I apparently look Dutch, according to all the little old ladies who tried to speak to me in Dutch and looked sad when I explained that I was, in fact, German-American, because I apparently reminded them of their granddaughters. Overall, it was such a fantastic city to visit, and one I’d love to go back to, although, in all honesty, not alone. I know there’s still so much more to explore! Someday!

Next stop was Berlin, a city I fell in love with surprisingly quickly. Although Amsterdam was lovely, it didn’t appeal to my previously mentioned history nerd heart quite in the same way that Berlin did. In someways, Berlin is very much a living historical city, albeit one that is attempting to reconcile its past with its present and future, which, to be honest, just made me fall in love with it that much more. Plus, I’m potentially too fascinated by WWII and Cold War history, largely because it plays into my IR major’s focus (aka the creation of the modern nation state), which made Berlin ideal from an interest perspective, and then the city slowly won me over.

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My 4 days in Berlin felt too short, with every moment filled with something, or so it felt. Whether it was a walking tour, complete with an open bottle of beer, or just walking down Unter den Linden, Berlin was charming. With a trip to Charlottenburg Palace, the Reichstag dome, the Pergamon Museum, walking about a third of the Berlin Wall (from Wall Memorial to the Topography of Terror and Checkpoint Charlie ), the Jewish Museum, the gorgeous views of the Berliner Dom, the amusing DDR museum, Potsdamerplatz and Alexanderplatz and everything in between, I was always moving.

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Berlin is certainly a city I would move to in a heartbeat if given a job there. In addition, both the woman at the Reichstag who saw my German passport and others throughout Berlin reassured me that my German was good, which gave me hope for my upcoming German exam!

There has, of course, been a bit more archery, this time outdoors! Sadly, (but maybe fortunately for this slightly ridiculous blog post), there are no pictures, but I must brag nonetheless. SSS Outdoors, held at Edinburgh’s own Peffermill playing fields, was successful, and I managed to place first in my category, and also be part of the winning novice team! It was such a great way to finish off what was my last competition for Edinburgh (until grad school, if I have my way!).

With my travels over for the semester, I’ve been focusing on exams, the first of which was this past Wednesday. The countdown to having to leave is becoming more real, and planning for senior year (wait, what?) has commenced, with classes chosen, jobs arranged, and leadership positions secured. Things are slowly being shipped home in an attempt to avoid overweight bag charges, and my time is sadly wrapping up. But, although my departure is imminent (in my mind anyway… 24 days left!), each day is still full with potential and I look forward to what Edinburgh still has in store for these last days.

Best wishes to everyone in this time of exam stress! You can do it!


The Queens of Finlaggan

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Standing stone at Loch Finlaggan, with Eilean Mor on the right.

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy free of essays and assignments and overseas visitors, I promised a blog post devoted entirely to an afternoon of shenanigans I spent on Loch Finlaggan in Islay. Now, belatedly, I would like to follow through on that promise—mostly because the pictures are just too good to miss. On a free afternoon near the end of our February visit to Islay with the Highland Society, Anna, Ella, Róisín and I were determined to get to Loch Finlaggan, a historic site that was the seat of the Lordship of the Isles from the 13th to 15th centuries. During that time the Highlands and Hebrides were ruled by Clan Donald from Eilean Mor (Big Island) and Eilean na Comhairle (Council Island) in Loch Finlaggan, and ruins of the village still remain on Eilean Mor.

Eilean Mor, with Eilean na Comhairle beyond.

Eilean Mor with Eilean na Comhairle beyond.

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However, this goal was easier set than accomplished on an island where buses are few and far between. We were debating whether or not to attempt to hitchhike to Finlaggan when our lovely Gaelic instructor offered to give us a lift. She drove us a few miles inland and down a bumpy dirt road crowded with sheep who were reluctant to let us pass. We thanked her and headed straight for the visitor’s center on the shore of the Loch, which, to our surprise, was locked up and completely dark inside. A sign on the door informed us that it was shut until April.

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But we hadn’t come all that way to be thwarted by a mere locked door, and a mere fence! And we quickly discovered an added bonus to visiting during off-season—no admission fees. We skirted the fence and followed a stream down to the shore where we encountered a pair of dog-walkers who told us that the bridge to the island was flooded over at this time of year. Indeed, we saw for ourselves that the long, wooden bridge that connected the shore to Eilean Mor was submerged by several inches of water for the first few feet of its length. After considering this obstacle for a minute, we did the only thing that a pack of intrepid explorers could do: we took off our shoes and socks and waded in (except that I kept my trusty Docs on and lived to regret it). After all, it was only water, and it was only February, and the temperature was (probably) above freezing.


I’m a bit more worried about the cold than Anna is.

Believe it or not, they both still have all of their toes.

Believe it or not, they still have all of their toes.

We crossed the bridge as quickly as we could, and once we reached dry land we dashed to and fro across the deserted island, shrieking at the tops of our lungs from cold and excitement. We had the island to ourselves! We explored the ruined houses and the chapel, and we didn’t learn much about any of the structures because many of the information placards were underwater. The stunning views, the isolation of the place and the feeling of doing something forbidden made me feel that I had conquered Finlaggan.

This is maybe one of the reasons that Finlaggan is closed for the winter.

This is maybe one of the reasons that Finlaggan is closed for the winter.

I can't really explain this.

I can’t really explain this.


Shenanigans in the Chapel.

I was a Scottish princess, returning to my rightful home and kingdom. Róisín and I decided that when we get rich, we will buy up the island and reestablish the LADYship of the Isles. We will breed Scottish Wildcats, Hairy Cows and Blackface sheep. We will patrol the Hebrides in longboats and keep Scotland safe from invaders, grow our hair down to our feet, have dozens of red-haired children and master archery, fencing and riding in our spare time.

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The Conquerors.

The Conquerors.

After we could no longer feel our feet, we sadly said goodbye to our future kingdom and waded back across the flooded bridge. Only a short time after we began squelching down the road and chasing sheep out of our way, it began to pour. The nearest bus stop, at Ballygrant, was nearly two kilometers away. We distracted ourselves from the cold and the rain by singing Scottish folk songs, Les Miserables, Wicked, and various national anthems at the tops of our lungs. The rain came down so hard it stung, and although we stared pathetically at the one or two vehicles that passed us on the country road, no one offered us a lift. Finally we arrived at Ballygrant and took the bus back to Bowmore, from which Róisín and I had another mile to walk back to our house. The returning conquerors made cup after cup of hot tea, and I have never in my life been so grateful for warm, dry socks.

I know that someday I will return and rule all of Gaeldom from Finlaggan, observing my kingdom from the tower of my castle with my wild hair blowing in the wind and my wildcats beside me. I can only hope that day will come soon.1553371_10202443563363166_814010790_o

March Madness

My last blog entry was uploaded nearly a month ago, and it’s jarring to realize that this is the first free evening I’ve had since. March has been the busiest month so far, and it’s just zoomed by. Now, on the brink of April, I’m entering my last week of classes—then it’s onto Easter Vacation, reading week, exams, and…I’m not going to say what happens after that. Before I get ahead of myself, I have a lot of wonderful events (and a few mundane ones) to fill you in on. Spring has arrived in Edinburgh, and along with it, lots of visitors and some blissful and sunny days.

The Meadows at sunset

The Meadows at sunset

It all began when I boarded the AirLink bus at an obscenely early hour to meet my boyfriend Cadin at the Edinburgh airport. It felt so surreal to see him from a distance for the first time in the airport terminal, and even stranger to travel back into the city with him by my side, pointing out iconic Edinburgh landmarks I stopped noticing long ago. For the next week schoolwork was mostly neglected, and we filled our time sightseeing, pub-crawling, hiking, and cat-hunting (in a friendly way, don’t worry—Cadin really likes cats, and although he didn’t have much luck with the strays I see on my daily walk to campus, he did manage to snuggle with Library Cat for a while).

Of course, that first night I treated Cadin to a traditional Burn’s Supper and some cheap whisky, courtesy of Tesco.

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Cadin dragged me kicking and screaming to the Castle (£16 admission? Really? And no student discount!?), where he got acquainted with Mons Meg.2014-03-04 23.14.31

We also hiked Castle Hill on a sunny afternoon (which I think might be illegal, so please don’t tell anyone).

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Flowers started to bloom in Edinburgh that first week of March, and although we’re experiencing another cold snap this week, I can remember how incredibly exciting it was to see those first snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils in the Princes Street Gardens. We climbed the Scott Monument on the first truly warm day, and the views were stunning—Edinburgh looks a different city in the sunlight, and the Gardens were covered in blossoms.

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We hiked Arthur’s Seat on Cadin’s last full day in the city, and within those two hours it rained, snowed, and hailed—there was mist and sunlight and a rainbow, and the wind was so powerful that if you jumped in the air it would carry you forward for a foot or two before you landed again. Edinburgh is famous for its changeable weather, but this display was something special. I think the city was showing off for Cadin before he left, just in case he wasn’t sufficiently impressed yet.

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The next morning Cadin and I reluctantly took the bus to the airport, and half an hour after I saw him through security, I met my mom and my sister Annika in the arrivals lounge! That day is definitely a top contender for the most surreal day of my life. I spent the rest of the afternoon desperately trying to keep the two of them awake, and I decided that the perfect distraction for two Harry Potter fans would be a trip to the The Elephant House Café. My sister and I donned our official Gryffindor and Ravenclaw House scarfs (my mom was sorted into Hufflepuff, but sadly, she has no scarf), and we dropped off their luggage at my flat and headed out for tea. My hooligan of a sister immediately vandalized the bathroom wall, of course, but I suspect she may not be the first fan to do so.2014-03-09 01.20.132014-03-09 01.13.07

Halfway through the week we decided that Mom and Annika shouldn’t leave Scotland without seeing at least a little bit of the Highland scenery, and so on Wednesday the three of us boarded a bus and headed to Loch Ness via Rannoch Moor and Glencoe—an almost identical route to the trip I took in the fall. This time, however, it wasn’t raining all day, and the views (even through the bus window) were astonishing.

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Mom and Annika at Glencoe

Mom and Annika at Glencoe

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Once we arrived at Loch Ness my mom immediately bonded with Nessie, the friendly resident monster.

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The Loch Ness Cruise took us over the sparkling water and directly past Urquhart Castle. We didn’t see any monsters in the water, but that may be because we didn’t order any whisky from the cruise bar.

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Unfortunately, there was one, unexpected complication that slightly impaired my ability to enjoy the trip. For the whole week prior, I had been studying “the tourist gaze” and heritage commodification in my Visualising Scotland course, and all of ensuing consequences and complications regarding tourism in Scotland. Although I largely agreed with all of the articles we read, and enjoyed learning about an important topic I’ve never studied before, after a few days of this, the messages grew tiresome. The course is made up primarily of Visiting Students, and I don’t think I was alone in feeling that some of the readings said, essentially, “NONE OF YOUR EXPERIENCES ARE AUTHENTIC! EVERYTHING YOU SEE IS CONSTRUCTED! NOTHING IS REAL! ARE YOU EVEN REAL!?!”

Although, to be fair (and speaking as an English major), that does seem to be the primary message of many humanities courses. Although I appreciate the problems inherent in the tourism industry and issues of constructed identity, I don’t always want to be reminded of them. Sometimes I just want to have fun and be silly and enjoy the country I’m living in, without agonizing over “authenticity” (whatever that is), being embarrassed by my nationality, or pretending that I’m not still excited by castles and mountains. I walk a thin line between tourist and resident, and it’s sometimes disorienting to switch so often between those two roles. So, I learned my lesson—don’t study academically any social phenomenons you participate in, or the very act of boarding a bus for a fun day trip will paralyze you with anxiety and self-loathing.

Social anxiety aside, it was a warm and wonderful day, and I’m so glad my family got to see the Highlands, as everyone should before they die. After our return to Edinburgh, however, the countdown to my essay deadlines began. My family did much of the rest of the sightseeing without me while I stayed behind in the flat, pulling out my hair and drinking buckets of coffee in between frequent trips to the library. I took a brief break from studying to see Singin’ in the Rain with them at the Festival Theatre, and it was so absolutely worth it. The show was touring from the West End, and even though we sadly weren’t within the splash zone, we were all very impressed by the talented cast and the visual effects.

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The Festival Theatre

Sadly, spring break came to an end, and Mom and Annika had to return to their lives. I was too busy with my remaining essays to be heartbroken when the last of my visitors left for the next two weeks—which brings me up to now. My visitors are long gone, my essays are all handed in, and the semester is nearly over. After so much frenetic activity, I feel a little lost without a deadline to meet or a day to seize. My life has settled back into a normal routine, but even that’s about to end. Easter Vacation is nearly upon me, and I have no plans, few funds, and several empty weeks stretching ahead of me.

Sometimes that feels like a lonely and scary prospect, but more often now I’m starting to dream of everything that free time in this city could mean: sleeping in, reading novels, lounging in the sun in the Meadows, lazy afternoons in coffee shops and excursions to the Botanics and all the art galleries I haven’t visited yet. I’m going to have to learn to relax again after so much excitement, but I think that’s one lesson that won’t take me long to get the hang of.

Edinburgh’s Love of Independent Cinemas

The Cameo herself

The Cameo herself

As a film lover, one thing I really appreciate is Edinburgh’s appreciation of independent film houses. Back home, every independent theatre seems to be replaced with a megaplex, jumbo, supersize 3D, IMAX, light show crazy spectacle that shows 45 new movies a week. I am so glad to find a city that still appreciates film for film, without all the North American glitz. My favourite independent theatre in Edinburgh is celebrating it’s centennial anniversary this year-  The Cameo Cinema. This past week alone, at the drop of a hat, I have run around the corner to to see two films. (It’s essay season, can you tell?)

With the recent release of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel (which is great fun for Anderson fans; key to enjoyment is forgetting all reality and enjoying the art and the cameos of Anderson favourites), the Cameo put on a Wes Anderson retrospective. Starting with Bottle Rocket, this week is Life Aquatic if you are around, I was thrilled with this idea. Not only do I love his films, but being only twenty-one I missed the chance to see a lot of them on screen. Greatest touch is when I went to see Bottle Rocket, a DVD copy of Darjeeling Limited was waiting on my reserved seat with a note, “A present for you!”

My present from the Cameo

My present from the Cameo

Some other great films I’ve seen there include: Only Lovers Left Alive (cheesy script, but a beautiful film with great performances from all my favourites: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton and John Hurt); Philomena (starring a subtle Judi Dench and a humbled Steve Coogan, an excellent pairing)  Le Week-end (Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan and Jeff Goldblum (!!!) in a shockingly honest and beautiful film set in Paris); Sunshine on Leith, Filth (both of which are set in Edinburgh) and About Time (Richard Curtis’s latest heart-warmer).

My favourite aspect about the Cameo is their effort to make an experience of movie-going. They play both old favourites and newly-made gems. Popcorn comes in sweet, old-fashioned boxes and there’s even an in-house bar to grab a drink before, after or for the film. A couple week’s ago, I sat beside a man enjoying a bottle of wine and a film by himself.  Saw a glimmer of my future that day.

The Cameo interior (Flicker)

The Cameo interior (Flicker)

I love how they’ve preserved the pastime of “going to the movies”. I love the nostalgic feeling of the red carpeting and gold detail on the walls. I love the smell of popcorn and the ticket stubs.

If you share my appreciation for the traditional movie-going experience, and you are in Edinburgh, pop on over. You’ll be greeted with the warmest of feelings.

Lots of love,

Isabel xx

PS. I apologize for the intense gap between posts. Between the holidays and essays, I got a little lost. Sorry!

Islay Life

Innovative Learning Week has come and gone, and although I returned to university life on Monday and plunged headfirst into the soul-sucking bog of essay writing and irregular-verb-memorizing, I have the shining memories of last week to keep me from despair. Although some fools spent their edu-vacations (copyright Rebecca Gyllenhaal) in Florence or Madrid or other dull, warm locations, I enjoyed my week off in Islay with Comann Ceilteach, the Highland Society, and many of my classmates from Gaelic 1A.

The farmland behind our house

The farmland behind our house in Islay

Islay is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, and is primarily known for its eight whisky distilleries (Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Caol Ila, Bunnahabhain, and Kilchoman), its abundance of seabirds, and its Gaelic history and culture. Islay was once the seat of the Lordship of the Isles, a title that was most often held by members of Clan Donald—who, from Finlaggan, governed the all of the Hebrides and much of the Highlands. Islay was the center of Gaelic culture in Scotland from the 13th to the 15th centuries, and Gaelic is still spoken in Islay today by about 20% of the population. One of the primary purposes of the trip was to expose us Gaelic-learners to a southern dialect that is very different from the northern (predominantly Lewis) Gaelic that we have been taught.

The Paps of Jura from Bowmore

By seven a.m. on Monday morning, all twenty or so of us were napping on the bus en route from Edinburgh to Glasgow. From Glasgow we took another bus to Kennacraig, where, to my extreme excitement, we boarded a ferry, the Finlaggan. Hebrideans and other experienced travellers remarked that the ferry was unusually small, but any boat that serves food and liquor is a floating miracle in my eyes. We docked at Port Askaig and took our third and final bus across the island to Bowmore. The small-town feel of Bowmore and the incredible kindness and generosity of the islanders was made immediately apparent when a local couple offered my housemates and I a lift to our house.

The Finlaggan

The Finlaggan

Our house sat about a mile outside town in the middle of farmland, and two miles from the Gaelic Centre, Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle. After some initial grumbling, I came to truly love the walk to and from the Gaelic Centre. It was sunny almost every morning (a true miracle), and not only did I enjoy the incredible scenery every day, but I was able to chase chickens and roosters and geese to my hearts content. I even saw a pheasant one morning! My ecstatic reaction probably seemed as silly to my Scottish friends as tourists taking pictures of squirrels back home seems to me.

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We attended Gaelic classes every morning at Ionad Chalium Chille Ìle, and our lovely teacher introduced the 1A class to the mysteries of Islay Gaelic. Islay Gaelic has more in common with Irish than many other dialects (unsurprising, considering you can see Ireland from the southern coast), and therefore contains some different vocabulary and different phonology. ‘Madhainn mhath’ (Mah-dayn Vah) becomes (Meech-een Vey), and glottal stops are introduced in words like ‘athair’ (father) and ‘agam’ (my). After class we were treated to talks in Gaelic about subjects as diverse as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and boat building, and we even had the pleasure of taking tea with native Gaelic speakers on Wednesday afternoon. I tried my best to absorb meaning from everything I heard, but late nights in the pub and my unfamiliarly with Islay Gaelic conspired to leave me absolutely flummoxed at times. Luckily, Gaelic is never unpleasant to listen to, however little you may understand.

Ionad Chalium Chille Ìle

Ionad Chalium Chille Ìle

We took outings across the island in the afternoons, and our first destination was the Museum of Islay Life. The museum is housed within a converted church, relies on local donations to build its collection, and presents a picture of life on Islay from the Mesolithic Era to the present. Being raised in a museum, by a museum curator, I always appreciate the chance to see how other museums display their collections. I was impressed by the wide range of objects they had on display, and by the enormous span of time that such a small museum could cover.

The Museum of Islay Life

The Museum of Islay Life

On Thursday afternoon we took a bus to Port Charlotte on the other side of the bay—because no trip to Islay is complete without whisky, and because Bruichladdich Distillery is the only distillery that agreed to give us a tour in Gaelic. Once again, my Gaelic comprehension skills were not up to the challenge of interpreting much of the tour, but this time at least I can blame it on the incredibly powerful whisky that we were offered right out of the cask. I watched in horror as £30 per-dram whisky poured willy-nilly out of the cask, into our glasses, and onto the ground, but our tour guide didn’t seem bothered. Three drams and one gin and tonic later, I can safely say that a distillery tour on Islay is well worth your money in the end.

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Note the puddle of whisky on the floor.

Note the puddle of whisky on the floor.

The tasting

The tasting

Our free time included potluck dinners, beer pong, sing-a-longs, beach walks, a session at the Bowmore Hotel (which included members of Manran), hours-long conversations about religion, feminism and politics, and my first ever viewing of a rugby game! My impression was pretty much that a lot of men end up in a big pile every few minutes. Apparently this is called a ruck, but I prefer the term cuddle puddle. But the best adventure I had all week, by a wide margin, was a (barefoot) outing to Finlaggan—and I think that excursion deserves a blog post all in itself.

Bowmore Distillery

The Bowmore Distillery

My housemate and I ended the week by attending a service at the famous round church at the top of Main Street in Bowmore. There happened to be a christening on, and while I felt a little like an intruder, it was fun to see the baby ceremonially paraded around the church in her long white dress, and the congregation was incredibly welcoming and friendly. The Sunday afternoon trip home was uneventful (except for a rockslide that forced the bus to take an hour-long diversion), and we were all relieved to finally exit the bus at the end of a long day of travel.

The Round Church

The Round Church

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Unexpected things stick out in my memory, like how the darkness on our street was absolute—the only light shone from Port Charlotte across the bay—and yet, somehow we could find our way home even without torches. Like the wind that nearly blew me over one night but somehow wasn’t cold, the beautiful shells just littering the beaches, a lighthouse shrouded in mist, a herd of cattle on a steep hill.

Lochindaal Lighthouse

Lochindaal Lighthouse

I like to wonder what I’ll remember about Islay five, ten, or twenty years from now, and what I’ll remember about my year in Edinburgh. Usually the scenic ‘postcard’ moments are recorded only in photographs, and the memories that linger in your mind are small and strange, and may have seemed completely insignificant at the time. I like the idea that my mind is continually hoarding up small, strange details, only to surprise me with unexpected memories years later.

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