I’ve Done Things and Not Blogged

Okay, wow, it’s been forever. Before I get started, I’m going to reflect for a bit. I think there’s a direct correlation between my being bored and/or depressed with how much I journal and how many blog posts I write. While Brazil was in many ways a great year for me, in many ways it was also not a great year, and that is reflected in the frequency of my posting, because journaling and blogging was a way to relieve my boredom. As such, I am honestly not hugely bothered by the lack of blogging I have done since arriving in Scotland. But then I started getting bothered about the lack of personal documentation I’ve been doing, which then bothered me about the lack of blogging I’ve been doing, so here I am again. 

Friday, April 5 was the last day of term, which is incredible. After term ends, there is two weeks of spring break, one week, of revision, and then exams. My only exam is on May 10. Everything else I’ve had to do for classes has already been completed, so in reality, I don’t have anything to do until May 10 in terms of academics, except for studying for that one exam. I’m enjoying the free time and also freaking out because I have so much free time. So that means it’s time for more exploring!

I did, however, manage to do a ton of exploring even while classes were in session. One of my goals before arriving in Scotland was to find something to do every weekend, and I’m very proud of myself for delivering on that promise.

So let’s back up a bit! (not necessarily in order but whatever)

Stockport

February 9, 2019

I was able to see the lovely Chiara! One of the reasons I wanted to come to Europe (geographically, at least) was because so many of my friends from Brazil were European exchange students. I wanted to be able to see them again and do some traveling myself over the summer, but Chiara, who is from Germany, was in the country herself visiting family friends, so I took a train to Manchester and then to Stockport to see her and spend the night!

While I didn’t really see any of Manchester, and just a little of Stockport, seeing Chiara more than made up for that. 

However, the journey to Stockport was more than memorable. Already a lot of people were going Manchester, and then my train there was canceled. So I was with a lot of unhappy people at the train station, all trying to figure out how to get to Manchester at 7:00 in the morning. Eventually, I was told to take one train to Carlisle, and transfer there to Manchester. So I got on the train, and everything was fine and dandy, until an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying that the train from Carlisle to Manchester had also been canceled, so we should stay on until the next city and transfer there, so that’s what I did. Unfortunately, the next train would be in a few hours, so I got a cup of coffee and chilled with my book in the train station.

A few hours later, I joined the crowd of people all hoping to get on the same train. When the train pulled up, it already looked incredibly full. But I was determined to get on, so I squeezed onto the train along with the other determined people. It was so crowded that I could have lifted up my feet and stayed exactly in the same place.  Luckily, Manchester was only about a half hour ride from the station, but this was still a half hour of claustrophobia. I’m just happy I made it, even if it was a few hours later than planned. 

From Manchester, I took another train, this time only about a five minute ride, to Stockport, a post-industrial town south east of Manchester. And at the train station was Chiara!

After a few minutes of awkwardness, and trying to figure out what to talk about after not having seen each other for three years, we picked up as if we had never stopped. It was great to see her again, and I can’t wait to see her again this summer. 

Moreover, our hosts, Alan and Anna, couldn’t have been better hosts. I was treated to amazing food and got to see a little bit of Stockport, which was nice. Over all, a fantabulous trip. 

A Week Off

February 18-22

Right around Week 5 or 6 or classes, we had a week off. Officially, the week is called Creative Learning Week, and I didn’t find out about it until basically the week before, so everyone had already made plans by the time I realized I had an entire week with nothing to do. 

My week was amazing even though I stayed in Edinburgh. I spent one day in my pajamas watching James Bond movies all day. I spent another day wandering around. I downloaded a podcast about the Royal Mile and took a podcast-guided tour and went to two different museums along the Mile, topping the day off with a whisky tasting. I spent a day in New Town and went to the Scottish National Gallery and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, both of which were amazing. My personal highlight was the portrait gallery with photographs of different famous Scots. David Tennant had a prime location close to the Queen, which I thought was funny. I also spent a day wandering around The Meadows, where I discovered that the crocuses had come up, so I took a ton of pictures. All in all, a great week!

Stirling 

March 23, 2019

I asked two friends from class, also both American exchange students, if they wanted to take a day trip to Stirling with me. So we took a train and had a great time! Here’s the adventure in pictures, and I’m not much of a photographer other than of the smartphone variety. 

The Hairy Coo Bus Tour

March 10, 2019

Wet. That’s all I have to say. It rained the entire day. We went to Doune Castle and five minutes later I slipped (twice) and was covered in mud for the rest of the day. The sights were beautiful but mostly I remember being cold and wet and covered in mud.

A Royal Weekend

My friend Izzy from Wooster is studying abroad this semester as well, except he is at the University of Aberdeen, which is north of me. He texted me awhile ago asking if I would be free the weekend of January 26 (a month ago, already?!) as some of his friends were coming down to Edinburgh for a night. So Izzy came to visit! 

I met him at the train station on Saturday morning and the first thing we did was to find a lunch place and catch up a little. then we walked a bit on the Royal Mile before we decided to go to Edinburgh Castle, which I had not yet visited. The castle is the highest point of buildings in the city and even before we stepped foot inside we were treated to a gorgeous view of the surroundings of Edinburgh and the uninhibited sight of the castle. 

I know I keep talking about all of these gorgeous buildings, but everything is quite striking and I just can’t get over it and I doubt I will be able to. I get excited about pretty houses that don’t look like suburban Aurora. 

Well we obviously had to go inside of the castle. Of course we were treated to a lovely buffet of wind and rain, but that did not diminish our moods. Castle Rock has been inhabited since at least 600 B.C.E. which is wild to think about but of course the castle that stands today is not that old. As I was told in my History of Edinburgh class, the archeologists really want to dig into the rock, but the castle is in the way so they can’t have full access. It has buildings that range from the 12th Century to the 16th Century with different renovations as different eras come along. It was incredible to see because while the buildings may not be completely the same as they were in the times of their building, this is the same location that Malcom III and David I and Macbeth of Shakespeare fame frequented, and Robert the Bruce, and many many more important kings and historical figures. 

We were able to see the Scottish Regalia and the Scottish Crown Jewels. We saw the oldest standing building in Edinburgh—St. Margaret’s Chapel—which was built in the 12th Century by David I. After seeing the Crown Jewels, we went on a free tour around the castle which was entertaining, mostly because the tour guide told us about all of the stupid things he had been asked (namely, “Is that land over there America?”). After a few hours, both Izzy and I were ready to quit, and the cold and the rain wasn’t helping anything. 

St. Margaret’s Chapel
From inside St. Margaret’s Chapel

Izzy and I decided to walk to my flat and make some tea, after which we would find Izzy’s friends at his hostel to meet for dinner. That’s when we discovered just how far away my flat was from the hostel, and how hard it is to make plans with people when you aren’t with them in person and ideas are changing every five seconds. An Uber easily solved the distance problem, but when we arrived at the hostel, we discovered that Izzy’s friends were already eating, so we asked the guy at the hostel for a good dinner place and then walked ten minutes to my favorite put I’ve been to yet. I was kind of turned around location-wise, but it looked to me like we were in a more modern and urban part of the city and the pub was full of people but not overly crowded. I really enjoyed the vibe and it felt like the place that people would go to after work that wasn’t annoyingly touristy. After a meal and great conversation and eventually being joined by Izzy’s friends, we called it a day and I headed back to my flat. 

The next morning I met Izzy and his friends for breakfast, and then as a group we decided to go to Holyrood Palace. We all walked along Princes Street and enjoyed the views before crossing over to the end of the Royal Mile and to the Scottish Parliament with Holyrood right next door. Among other things, Holyrood is home to the ruins of an abbey that was originally founded in 1128, one of the current Scottish homes of the Royal family (when they’re in residence the palace is closed to visitors), former residence of Mary Queen of Scots, and the place where Mary Queen of Scots’ secretary and likely lover was stabbed to death. It also houses some fantastic artwork, including an entire hall only of portraits of kings and queens (including a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots with the faint outline of a footprint thanks to the Jacobites). We were given audio guides to lead us through the palace. 

After looking around the palace, we wandered around the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, which was amazing. One one side, you are standing among the ruins of a beautiful stone building and in the distance you can see a landscape of grass and hills meeting the Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat. It was probably the most Scottish view I’ve seen since being here. 

From there, Izzy and I got lunch, after which we headed back up the Royal Mile where we parted ways—Izzy to Waverley Station and me back to my flat. 

Harry’s Wondrous World

A few things before I let you read the post. First, thanks for sticking with me and my weird subscription issues. Second, thanks for commenting! I love reading any responses! Okay, now onto the show. 

A few weeks ago I was wandering around the city after classes with a friend and I saw this amazing building on the other side of the road and both of us were like “wow what on earth is that” because it was a spectacular building. I am in the land of spectacular buildings but I was still struck by this so we went to investigate. The building was surrounded by walls and by every entrance there was a guard restricting people who wanted to enter and there were signs saying “No public access—school in operation” which made me very curious. I asked the guard what the building was and why there were signs everywhere and he looked surprised that I had had to ask. Apparently the building that I accidentally discovered is called George Heriot’s School, a private school at which J.K. Rowling once taught and the building is reputed to be the inspiration for Hogwarts. I almost fell over right there. The guard then said that a close distance away there was a church with a graveyard where J.K. Rowling used some of the names on the gravestones for Harry Potter characters. 

This is around when I was wondering “what is that?”

I was with a friend and we were on our way to find the street that inspired Diagon Alley from Harry Potter, so the graveyard would have to wait. Just as we thanked the guard and went on to find Grassmarket, school let out and I watched in complete delight as students came out dressed in what looked to me to be a Hogwarts uniform with Ravenclaw scarves and ties. All they were missing was the robes. 

As we made our way from Hogwarts to Diagon Alley, I kept looking up to see Edinburgh Castle towering over us on Castle Rock and everything was gorgeous and brilliant. Just a few streets over we found Victoria Street just off of Grassmarket. Even if this street did not have ties to Harry Potter it would be completely worth a visit. It is a beutiful curved street with brightly colored buildings that take the same curve the street does. It is built on levels and you can go up a level and overlook everything, which we did. While there are quite a few Harry Potter shops along the street, there are also the usual tourist shops selling cashmere and tartan themed clothing and I even saw a wedding party on one end of the street. 

When I started thinking about Destination: Scotland! Edinburgh wasn’t even on my first list of choices as I was focusing on the lesser known universities. But then both my mom and my friend Neva told me to think about Edinburgh. My point in saying this is that I did not have a Harry Potter themed ulterior motive in coming to Edinburgh, but now that I’m here it is so much fun to see how the city influenced the world of Harry Potter. 

The next weekend, myself and two friends from my flat (Lena and Lynn) decided to climb Arthur’s Seat which is essentially the extinct and eroding volcano that overlooks the city. This was completely amazing and not a hard hike at all and to top it all off the view was completely incredible on the top. You can see the entire city from the top (even thought it was freezing) and you can see the Firth of Forth and it was fun to be with friends and to feel like we were on top of the entire city. On our way down we went looking for a cafe, and when we were in the age I told my friends about my Harry Potter themed adventure the previous week, so we decided to go find Greyfriars Kirk with its graveyard. 

Just more fun to be had! It was quite hard to find some of the graves (I had to enlist the help of Google) but it was still a nice time walking around and exploring. It was kind of weird that with a few exceptions, the only graves with flowers were the Harry Potter themed graves. I don’t know how I feel about that. After a while we were all tired and cold so we called it a day. 

In further Harry Potter related news, I have joined the Harry Potter Society, to I’m sure absolutely nobody’s surprise. During the first meeting, we had to fill out a quiz so they could sort us into houses. Unlike the easy multiple choice quiz I was expecting, we had to give answers to questions like “If you were lost in the Forbidden Forest and could bring one person with you, who would you bring and how would you escape?” I said I would bring Paige because she has a great sense of direction and that I would take care to befriend a phoenix so if we couldn’t find our way out we could call them for help. 

After we filled out the quizzes we were sent out of the room and when we came back, everything had been rearranged to resemble the Great Hall of Hogwarts. Banners hung on the walls of each table and there was a head table with each of the society leaders in the front. Right by the head table there was a stool and a guy holding a hat and he called us up one by one to place the hat on our heads and to sort of. I was sorted into Ravenclaw. After we were all sorted, we socialized and ate cookies and chips and other junk food for our welcoming “feast.” Harry Potter Society meets every Wednesday and does different activities. So far there have been two different pub quizzes but there have been other activities too.

As for the latest Harry Potter themed adventure, the weekend before last, I signed up to go on an excursion sponsored by the International Exchange Student Society to the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which is a shooting location for some of the Harry Potter movies, specifically the train scene in  Chamber of Secrets and as the Black Lake in a number of the movies but most notably the second task scene in Goblet of Fire. The bus left from the main library at 7:45 and we drove up to these destinations with several scenic stops along the way in the Highlands. 

Nothing was short of gorgeous. Even looking out the windows, the views were amazing. I could almost convince myself that I was in Colorado except for how much wetter it was and that these are the kinds of scenes you see in movies. Every once in a while our tour guide would say, “Look out to the left, you may recognize the view from the James Bond movie Skyfall,” or “Look out front, that’s where Hagrid’s Hut was until they took it down.” 

There was one major drawback which I probably should have seen coming and that was the almost intolerable levels of motion sickness I experienced. I felt very awful both for myself and the lovely girl I was sitting next to as I could not contribute anything to the great conversation we had been having and had to focus on breathing. Luckily I did not puke. Several stops into the trip we stopped at a town called Fort William for lunch were I was able to buy anti-nausea travel medication. I spent the rest of the trip in a somewhat groggy haze but I would take that any day over the nausea I experienced earlier. 

Then we finally made it to our final destination of the viaduct. The views were fantastic. When you look in one direction, you see Loch Shiel, the lake that resembles the Black Lake from the films, minus Hogwarts sitting on its banks and some CGI effects that remove any inconvenient islands. Then in the other direction was the Glenfinnan Viaduct: the bridge upon which the Hogwarts Express travels. This was so very obviously the bridge—no CGI effects (minus a flying car). But even had there been no Harry Potter connotation it was worth the view. 

for reference

We hiked closer to the viaduct and then up a hill to get a different view of it. Everything was so icy that people were sliding around and falling right and left so at some point I gave up and was happy with the view I had. There was a church nearby which was unfortunately closed but it was also on a different side of the lake so we got to see everything from a different angle. Finally, there was a monument for the Bonnie Prince Charlie down by the lake that we examined, as the Glencoe Uprising in the Jacobite Rebellion took place nearby. 

After a few hours, we all got back in the bus to head straight back to Edinburgh. Our tour guide put in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secretsto play on the ride back and luckily because I was drugged I was able to watch it without further nausea. However, because I was drugged, I only stayed awake as far as the train scene (we all cheered when we saw the shots with the viaduct) and then I promptly passed out. I only woke up when we were near the city outskirts and Harry had just defeated a basilisk. 

I have more exciting news expect this post took me a week to write as I keep getting distracted (I’m in Scotland!) so I’ll post again hopefully soon. That is to say, if the choice is between blogging and finding St. Giles Cathedral, I’m going to find the cathedral.