In an attempt to escape the hustle and bustle of schoolwork, I booked myself a trip to London. How often can one go to London for the weekend? Due to the short-term of my decision, I took the bus. Now there are a few things about buses, or “coaches,” as they are known here:

Firstly, I am not a small person but bus seats are mean for individuals much smaller than myself (and the person next to me). While I was fortunate enough to be next to someone encompassing equal amounts of seat volume as myself, there was still not nearly enough space for the both of us. The trip began in Edinburgh and then stopped on its way to London Victoria in order to pick up additional passengers. Because I was a part of the initial journey I secured a window seat which helped a bit.

Yet, and my second point begins here, my bus driver was under the opinion that instead of regulating the heater, he instead put both the heater and the air conditioner on high thinking the effect should even out. I can assure you it does not. Instead, you feel as though your feet are on fire, and your nose may freeze off.

My final point being something difficult to express in words. The trip took nine hours. While it took the same amount of time to get to Scotland on an airplane there was a significant difference. When 60 people are shoved into a small space with a minimum amount of air,  significant heating problems and toilet onboard, there begins to develop an odor that cannot be put into words. The smell of people confined and sweating for nine hours is not something I would ever like to encounter again.

The bus trip over, I preceded to marvel at just being in London. I arrived in London at 7am and spent the next three hours searching for any establishment open at such an hour (which is quite a difficult task in the UK I can tell you). Upon finding a small shopping center with a Costa Coffee, I purchased a map and began the task of determining my route for the next two days. Discovering I was only a short walk away from Harrod’s. While the map described the walk as just a short distance, I had forgotten to take into account my inability to read maps. Therefore, an hour and a half later, I finally arrived at Harrod’s to discover it was not yet open. I found a small café nearby and ate a wonderful chocolate croissant while journalling about my trip so-far and reading the paper. After an hour, I was able to walk through the wonder that is Harrod’s. I journeyed to the Harry Potter section and then to the bookstore. The place is huge! I needed yet another map just to get around.

After Harrod’s I was determined to slay the beast that is the London Underground and began my trek towards my hostel. To my surprise, the Underground system is phenomenal. Coming from the US (where there is no real form of public transportation to be heard of) the London Underground was truly amazing. Even with my substantial lack of map reading ability I found the stop needed for my hostel with ease. Crowding aside, the experience was quite enjoyable.

Because I had undertaken the journey alone, I had sprung for a little more expensive hostel. St. Christopher’s was actually pretty good. The room was spacious although it was mixed gender. With the exception of one snorer, it was quiet. The lounge area was nice and encouraged conversations with others. I met some interesting people and it was nice talking to others traveling to London from other areas of the world.

The next day I decided to join a free walking tour of London. It was very informative and my tour guide was great. I had a chance to see many of the main London attractions including the London Eye, Westminster, and the Clock Tower with Ben Big.

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The tour was great and mainly took up a nice chunk of time. At the end we concluded at an English pub. I had fairly decent fish and chips. But the best part was talking to others on the tour. I met a man from Alaska, a brother and sister from Minnesota and a couple from Bangladesh. All were very nice.

Afterwards, I walked through the National Gallery. I found the Van Gogh works and admired many different works of art. Then, due to boredom and the increased heaviness of my bag, I once again attended a walking tour. This one as a Jack the Ripper tour. Luckily the tour was less Jack the Ripper focused and more just the darker side of London, which I was thankful for.

At the end of it all, the only thing left was the bus ride back to Edinburgh. A nine hour bus ride is just how I always wanted to spend a St. Patrick’s day. (sarcasm) Only to once again arrive in a city in the UK at 7am in search of a Starbucks.

My weekend in London was altogether, terrifying, wonderful, stressful, and stress relieving. I was a great experience but I would recommend having an accomplice to all the fun next time around. :)

Celebrating the Big 21

Posted: March 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

One of the things I get to experience in Scotland is my 21st birthday. Rather than celebrate in a normal American fashion (ie not remembering the experience), I decided to combine multiple aspects of both cultures. In tradition American celebration we went to Fubar (a youth club) on the night before and celebrated when the clock turned midnight. The club had a Willy Wonka theme that night. They had chocolate paint (sadly not edible) and confetti cannons. It was great not having the pressure of turning 21 as Scotland does not have the same connotations for the birthday. It was a great experience but the best part of my birthday came the next day.

To celebrate the day of my birth a group of friends and I booked a bus tour to Loch Ness. My family has a great love of Nessie stories. There is a television series on Discovery Channel which centers around the search for the Loch Ness monster (known as Nessie). Along with Looking for Sasquach (another golden gem of the Discovery Channel) my family and I love joking about the search for Nessie. In honor of this family tradition, I was very excited for Loch Ness. Image

The best part had to be finding (at least in a roundabout way) Nessie. I was very excited and took multiple pictures to send home. I also found some small glass Nessies to bring home with me (they are adorable). The tour guide was wonderful and extremely informative. He loved his job and you could tell.

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When the weekend was sadly over, Monday turned out to be just as surprising and great as the weekend had been. My parents sent me a surprise birthday package! Of all the things I was thankful for it was most definitely the jar of peanut butter. Other aspects of the package included cheesy American magazines, oreos, ramen noodles, and many other great things. I was so pumped I spread it all out for a picture. The package also had messages written on it including “smelly cat smelly cat Monty says hi!”

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Glasgow

Posted: March 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

In search of the prefect outfit for my birthday, a friend and I went to Glasgow last Wednesday after class. One of the greatest parts of living in the UK is the availability of the public transportation. For around £8 I can visit the largest city in Scotland. Glasgow doesn’t have the same archaic beauty as Edinburgh it still presents a great wonder to observe. Walking around Glasgow it was fun to see all of the hustle and bustle of urban life. We spent some time relaxing in a cafe called simply “Eat” and watching the people of Glasgow walk by. There are around 8 shopping centers in the city. Two of them are on each end of the main street. The train will drop you off two streets over and is only an approximate five minute walk from many different shops.

While I thoroughly enjoyed Glasgow, I did find out how much Stirling has to offer. Many of the shops in Glasgow are also in the Stirling City Center. For being the same size as Grand Forks, the city center is very nice.

In the end, we ended up spending the majority of our time (and money) in H&M, a shop available in Stirling. Moral of the story, you don’t have to travel to get the best shopping. Often the best experiences are right on our own doorsteps!

 

 

An Edinburgh Adventure

Posted: March 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

Over the past weekend I traveled to Edinburgh. Armed with only a hand drawn map from a friend, we managed to find the Royal Mile, the famous Elephant Cafe and hike up a giant hill only to discover it was the wrong one.

When we arrived we first stopped (upon recommendation) at a cafe called The Chocolate Soup. The only words to describe the cafe are amazingly delicious. The “chocolate soup” they serve is a fondue of sorts of pure chocolate which you can get separately or mixed into your drinks. Both are extremely good.

Our next stop on the ‘tour de Edinburgh’ (which eventually became a tour de chocolate). Was the Edinburgh Museum which is happily free to visitors. The museum is extremely large and one could spend days looking at all the interesting exhibits. In the end we spent a large amount of time in the animal section asking the eternal question. “Why did God make narwhals but he couldn’t make mini giraffes?” Seriously, mini giraffes, think about it. We also found  (fake) Nessie hidden among the fossils.

After the museum we walked along the Royal Mile enjoying rare Scotland sunshine and the novelty of the Waverly Station bagpipe player. Soon we arrived at a crucial aspect of our journey: The coffee shop J.K. Rowling began Harry Potter in, The Elephant House. Much nerdy conversations and a mocha later, I discovered a hidden drawer in the table overlooking the Edinburgh Castle and the graveyard in which Rowling discovered the name Tom Riddle. The drawer was filled with notes and napkins some messages to Rowling herself, others addressed fellow fans, and a few included Elephant drawings.

A meander through the Grass Market later, we found ourselves looking up a giant hill. After deciding that the hill must be Arthur’s Seat. We trekked up to the top, a long and strenuous haul. Arriving at the top, we discovered a larger hill with paved paths and a small statue at the top. We had climbed the wrong hill!! Too tired to endeavor for the real Arthur’s Seat, we retired to, yet again, The Chocolate Soup. Round two was just a good.

Moral of the story: even the highest hills require some good chocolate, after all there’s no calories in anything shared!

In the true spirit of an American Tourist I spent my first full weekend in Scotland exploring the historic elements of Stirling. Our first stop was the Stirling Castle located on a hill overlooking the town. The castle is absolutely beautiful but also large. When we arrived the sky looked very overcast and gloomy and only got worse from there. Owing to the fact that gust of snowy cold air swirled about the hill we did not stay to look over all aspects of the castle. Yet, what we did see was extremely interesting and definitely not something one could find in the US. I would encourage everyone, if given the chance, to visit it. However, plan for the castle to consume your whole day. The cemeteries surrounding the castle are intriguing enough for a solid few hours all by themselves.

On Sunday a friend and I decided to join the campus Nature Society on a hike/walk from Stirling Campus to Dun Blane about a 5 mile walk. The path followed an old road called The Darn Road thought to have been used by Romans when the country was just beginning.

The walk was quite long but also very enjoyable. But, as I am beginning to learn, Scotland is full of mud. I’m glad that I decided to bring a good pair of tennis shoes with high soles as a large amount of the mud was kept at bay. Luckily a large amount of the path was still frozen (I’ve never been so happy to see frozen mud!).

The views were phenomenal though! It was a great way to see the Scottish countryside. The trees and fields are so beautiful. We rested a bit by the edge of a stream while the sun was shining. After the walk we rode the train back to Stirling. It was the first time I’d ever been on a train and was an experience attempting to gain tickets from the terminals electronic ticket machine. All in all the weekend was well spent literally traipsing the Scottish countryside!

Does Scotland Not Have Bugs?

Posted: February 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

An interesting thing about living in Scotland is the complete lack of screens in the windows. Even on the fourth and fifth floors of the buildings the windows open out into the open air. As a native of the land of the mosquitoes, I cannot help but wonder do they not have bugs? Even when closed the windows feel as if made of paper they keep so little sound out. And yet, the scariest of all of is that we are warned not to leave our windows open when we are not in our rooms because the squirrels will come in and eat your food. Surprisingly enough, the idea of coming back to find squirrels in my room is not near as scary as the idea of all of my food being gone! The work of cooking for oneself without benefit of fridge space or freezer has been a most worthy adversary!

The Journey Beginning

Posted: February 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

After several failed attempts, and many frustrated appointments with IT I finally have internet! We arrived at Edinburgh Airport early Saturday morning. We had made the flight from Amsterdam (our initial layover from Minneapolis) along with four fellow international students at Stirling. Brecken and Brett from Wisconsin and two girls from South Carolina. We took a taxi directly to Stirling from the airport with Brett and the South Carolina girls. The trip was fairly quiet as we spent most of the trip looking at the new Scottish countryside.

Housing on campus has been a rather large disappointment. All the internationals students have been compiled into one single wing of the campus’ worst dorm, normally intended for freshmen. As we were all expecting to be in flats mixed between international students and locals. Yet, we are all crammed together in unsatisfactory conditions. The dorms are hallways of single rooms with shared bathrooms and kitchens among the floor. It is difficult to make friends when so isolated. This has caused many of the different nationalities to form groups among themselves (a natural reaction to such anti-integration by the University’s housing). Housing has been the most difficult hurdle to overcome here.

Classes began today in full. I had but one lecture which is an average day of study. Surprisingly the streets are very alive for weekdays. Many of the Scottish students go to clubs during the week and go home on the weekends. This is very in reverse of American college were we anticipate the weekend rather than the weeknights.

So far Scotland has been an interesting, and often frustrating, experience. But, the school year has yet to begin so the are more adventures to be had!