Travel, travel, travel! (And a bit of studying in between)

First of all, my apologies for such a huge hiatus… My awe of the UK has not subsided at all since I first got here. I have spent some more time exploring Edinburgh, doing a bit of hiking, continuing to get lost and discovering new things about the city, and feeling more and more like a local. It still feels different and I do miss the comfort of familiar stores, home cooked meals, and sunshine, but nothing is as foreign as it used to be. I’ve also explored a bit outside of Edinburgh as well. I’ve hit Alnwick Castle (a ton of stuff has been filmed here including parts of the first two Harry Potters and Downton Abbey!), some parts of the Highlands, and London! The Highlands trip and London are probably my favorite places I have been to so far.

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One morning I decided to walk around Edinburgh and tried to capture some of the beauty that I see everyday. This is the Meadows. When it is a dry, sunny day, it seems like half of Edinburgh decides to come lay out in the grass. I get to walk down this path pretty much everyday and there is usually either some soccer, rugby, or ultimate frisbee being played (in rain or shine). It’s a nice place to let dogs and kids run around, too. I never get tired of it.
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This is a little alley behind the main library on campus. You don’t see a lot of graffiti around Edinburgh so I thought this wall looked kinda cool, especially in all the fog.
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This is Buccleuch Place. Lots of classrooms and offices, etc. But I think it’s a really cool looking street.
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So that morning that I decided to walk around Edinburgh, I went to eat at the Elephant House (i.e the “Birthplace of Harry Potter”). A pretty touristy place, but still awesome. J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote her first drafts of Harry Potter in this cafe. It’s also just a cute cafe to hang out at. You can’t see it in this photo, but you can also see the Edinburgh castle in the distance out the window.
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This is George IV Bridge (it actually took me a really long time to figure out that this was a bridge… When you walk on it, it doesn’t seem like a bridge until you realize that there is another road underneath you – it’s a little trippy). Lots of cafes and little stores on this bridge (including the Elephant House) and the Royal Mile is at the other end.
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I find the architecture in Edinburgh (and the UK in general) really awesome. There is way more history in each building then there is in the U.S. and I love that old, antique look.
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So here’s the castle. I gotta say, it is pretty impressive. It sits on a big hill at the end of the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a street that runs from Holyrood Palace to the castle. A super touristy area, but still a fun street to explore.
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This is the iconic view of Edinburgh from the top of Calton Hill. It’s even better in person.
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This is the front of Alnwick Castle, and the front of Hogwarts! This is the path that Harry, Ron, and Malfoy walk down in the first movie on their way to have detention in the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid. So cool!!

I was absolutely blown away by our trip to the Highlands. I am a pretty outdoorsy person and was amazed by how beautiful northern Scotland is. It was a weekend long trip with a professional tour company and was a very nice introduction to how much there is to explore in Scotland. We hit a lot of beautiful little towns and touristy places on the way up to Inverness (where we stayed the night) and on the way back down to Edinburgh as well. At practically every place we stopped, my thoughts were, “Aaaah. Why is this so pretty??!! I NEED to come back here.” The tour guides also kept saying, “Okay, we are coming up on some really pretty scenery now,” and I’m like, “Oh, I guess all those rolling hills of orange and yellow trees with rays of light peaking through the clouds was the ugly part. Yeah, of course.” A couple highlights were Loch Ness and Glencoe, though I think Glencoe was the highlight of the weekend for me. It was just so gorgeous and somewhere I definitely want to go back to to explore and do bit of hiking.

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This is the first stop we made on our Highlands trip. It was a really adorable, quaint town on this river. Absolutely beautiful.
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Just one of the many amazing views traveling through the Highlands. And this was one of the areas where the tour guides were like, Okay the pretty part is coming up! So, to give some perspective, this was one of the “ugly” parts… I know, right?!
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This is Loch Ness, obviously. Super pretty, but to be honest, not as exciting as it sounds. It’s a really really big lake.
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This is Glencoe. The picture does not do it justice at all. It is amazing there. One of the prettiest places I’ve ever been to.
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We finally found some hairy coos! The trip would have been incomplete if we hadn’t seen some.
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This was the last place we stopped on our way back to Edinburgh. These are the Kelpies. You can see the people standing at the base to give you an idea of how huge these sculptures are. I found this really amazing – just the scale of the sculptures and how accurate they look! It’s also great at night because, as you can sort of see in the picture, they have lights inside that change color. So it is a really magnificent sight.

I spent last weekend down in London with a friend who happens to be studying in northern England for the semester. It seems like a cliche thing to say, but I LOVED London. This was my first time there and I came back from it thinking, I need to live here one day. It felt a bit like a mix of Los Angeles, New York, and Washington D.C., but with prettier buildings, nice weather (I hate the heat and love rain, so nice in my opinion), and cool accents. 😉 I used to think I wasn’t a big city person, but it turns out that I am. I love the outdoors, but I also need to be close to a big city (I am from LA so…). I really like Edinburgh but London also made me realize that Edinburgh is quite a bit smaller than I’m used to. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Edinburgh, but London is… different. I could go on and on about all the things I loved about London, but that would take too long. Just go to London. It’s awesome.

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You can’t go to London and not get a shot of one of these guys…
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The London Eye.
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Had to see Big Ben, obviously! I actually thought it was going to be bigger… But still awesome.
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We walked down the walkway that runs under the Eye and along the river. Lots of cool little restaurants, street performers, and shops. This was a really cool little skate park with some amazing graffiti!
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Same walkway. Really awesome outdoor bookstore thing.
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And this is, what I refer to, as the Harry Potter bridge!! (I don’t know what it’s actually called…) It’s the bridge in Harry Potter that the Death Eaters destroy. As you can tell, I’m not a Harry Potter fan at all…

Being in this amazing place and it being so easy to travel (I’m also going to Madrid next weekend!), it can be easy to forget that I am actually here to study… (Don’t worry, I’m still going to class and doing my homework, Mom!) But finding that balance can be tricky. I was actually supposed to go on another trip this weekend, but I decided I needed a little time back in Edinburgh to get some work done and to also remind myself that there is still so much in Edinburgh that I haven’t seen yet either. The thing is, traveling isn’t just fun, it is also super educational. You gain so many experiences that you could not possibly learn from reading a book. So if you ever study abroad, travel as much as you can, but within reason. The book stuff is really important too! And don’t forget that the city you chose is also a place to be explored! Just because you are living there, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hit the touristy places there as well! And don’t be afraid to look like a tourist. I walk around Edinburgh with my big camera, I’ve been to the castle more than once, I’ve walked up and down the Royal Mile quite a few times, and I pretty much always get ambushed by those people who want unsuspecting tourists to buy their magazines or take their coupons, or whatever it is they keep shoving in my face. And you just smile, walk away, and think, “Tourist my butt! I’m a local now!” Be a local tourist – yeah, I just made that a thing. I’m a local tourist! And you gotta be it loud and proud!

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I thought I’d throw this picture in as proof that I am studying! 😉 In the library on a Saturday morning so early it was still pretty much empty!

xoxo

Alex

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