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)


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!


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. 

Choose Your Own Adventure

So many things have happened since last Monday and a lot of it is just business but I feel like I am on top of the world. 

Everything has been spectacular, even the plane rides. On the flight from Denver to Reykjavik, the first good thing that happened was that nobody was in the middle seat and I got the window. The next amazing thing that happened was that about half way through the flight, the pilot came on over the intercom and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, if you look out on the left side of the plane you will see the Northern Lights.” I was on the left side of the plane on the window! What luck! 

The lights were only white this time— not the multi colored ones that you see in pictures, but it was still spectacular. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of them. They rippled and were really fun to watch. 

When we landed in Reykjavik around 4am, the air smelled different than Denver air which made me happy. I had about a 3 hour layover, so I wandered around a little. I enjoyed the airport. I never thought I would say that. 

Then I got on my flight to London, where somebody told me I was in the wrong seat, so I got out like a doofus instead of checking my ticket. Then when I was blocking the aisle, I checked my ticket and found that I was actually in the right seat. I got a flight attendant, and it all turned out okay. Then I fell asleep and slept until the flight attendants started passing out immigration cards to fill out, which was the best time to wake up because when I looked out the window I was greeted with a view of the Thames, Big Ben, The Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace. I was thrilled. I scored out by being on the right side of the plane yet again. And then all I could think about was, “Nope, no infrastructural alien damage here. Big Ben is still standing. I guess Doctor Who is not, in fact, real.”

When I landed, I had the easiest time going through customs that I have ever had. The customs officer was really nice and the line was really short and he admitted my six-month visa without any fuss. I was really nervous about this part but it turned out to not be a big deal at all. 

So then I made my way through the airport and I found an information desk, and I asked for the best way to get to King’s Cross Station. I was told to take the London Underground to King’s Cross, and that’s what I did. The tube ride was one of my favorite parts of the day. Even though I didn’t see anything hugely exciting, I took great pleasure by watching the roofs of houses pass by and admiring the the chimney stacks (and thinking of Mary Poppins) and of watching the people on the train. So many of them were reading newspapers and I found that very satisfying even if it seems like such a minor detail. 

Finally, I got to King’s Cross. I had about 3 hours of time to kill, so I wandered around, found Platform 9 3/4 (of course, I took a picture) and got some food and tried not to fall asleep. Then I got on my train. 

Yer a wizard, Claire.

I had reserved a window seat, so I was very excited about this train ride. Then I was less excited when a woman came up to me and said, “Excuse me, that’s my reservation.” And I was like, “I’m pretty sure I’m here,” but she was insistent so we just swapped seats. And then she proceeded to not even look out the window for the ride so I was even more upset when it didn’t even matter where we were sitting except for the view! And then it got dark about 30 minutes later so after that I was not as upset and started to watch Netflix and work on my second sock. 

The most entertaining part of the train ride was two women who got on a stop or two after me who had brought plastic martini glasses, a whole bottle of gin, and tonic water. They were so funny to watch. First, they poured gin and tonic into their glasses, and then one of the glasses started to leak, so one of the woman just chugged the entire thing right then and there. Then she poured more gin into the remainder of the tonic bottle and started working on that too. And she was very loud and excited for about an hour, after which she fell asleep. I found the entire thing to be very amusing. 

Then I finally made it to Waverly Train Station in Edinburgh. I already had a hostel reserved since I wouldn’t be able to move into my flat until the next day, and my original plan was to find an information desk to figure out the best way to get to the hostel, which looked to be in walking distance from the station. Then I couldn’t find an information desk, so I wandered around until I found some taxis, and took a taxi to my hostel. It was only about a five minute ride, but I’m glad I didn’t have to wander through a dark city I didn’t know. Already I was thrilled by the stonework and the architecture around me even though I had only been in the city for about twenty minutes. 

From the outside, the hostel looked like it was in a gorgeous, really old stone building, but it was completely updated and renovated inside. I was in a 8 bed room for all girls, but only 5 or 6 of the beds were full. So I got there, put down all of my stuff, but I was so full of adrenaline that I asked the girls who were there if anybody wanted to go out and wander around for me. One girl from Denmark said yes, so we just walked a bit around. We found the place where J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote parts of Philosopher’s Stone even though it was closed, and I gushed about all of the incredible architecture and beauty around me. We only were out for maybe half an hour because after a bit I just crashed, so we headed back and I went to bed. 

The next morning, I got up pretty early and left to find some breakfast. Then I headed back to the hostel, zipped my suitcases up, and called an Uber to take me to Pollock Halls, which is an office for student accommodation so I could pick up the keys to my flat. I got the keys, and the man at the desk told me it was about a 20 minute walk to my flat, which is called Ratcliffe Terrace, so I decided to walk. He gave me a map, and I went outside, and at the end of the road there was a guard house, and the man inside came out and asked where I was going, and after I told him he said, “That’s a bit of a wee walk away,” and I said that was fine. He gave me another map and directions, which was a lot more helpful than the first map, and off I went. 

Luckily, I only had to make one turn the entire way there so I was very confident that I was going the right way even though it took me more like 45 minutes to reach the flat instead of the 20 minutes that I had been promised. I got inside the building, and then spent a lot of time wrestling with keys until eventually two extremely nice cleaning ladies swooped in to help me get in to the flat. I have my own bedroom out of six, and we have a kitchen and two bathrooms to share. The kitchen is already not very clean, but I have only so far met one person in the flat, so I don’t know if we will have a meeting to talk about chores or cleaning up. That’s a problem to confront another day. 

After I dropped my things in my room, it was only around 11am, so I decided to go on a bedding adventure. I had already arranged to buy bedding from visiting students from the previous semester, so the only challenging part would be finding the friend’s flat of the person I had bought the bedding from. This is when I discovered something really important: if you look something up on Google Maps while you’re on WiFi, when you leave WiFi, it will still lead you the right way even though I didn’t have cellular service. I was extremely happy to discover this. Even with this important map discovery, when I reached the apartment after about a 30 minute walk, I could not figure out where the entrance to the building was, so I spent a good ten minutes wandering around the outside until I finally found it and was let in. Then I collected the bedding, and carried two giant trash bags full of sheets and a duvet back to my flat. One guy told me I looked like a “wee vagabond.” I had to ask him to tell me what he had said since I didn’t understand him the first time. I was so thrilled the entire time. I was walking outside, in a beautiful city, with interesting and beautiful buildings everywhere I looked. I couldn’t stop grinning. 

When I dropped the bedding back into my room, I decided to go find the library because I had to pick up my student ID card. The part of campus where I will be spending most of my time is about a 25 minute walk away, and part of the walk includes going through an absolutely gorgeous park. And everywhere I look there are these gorgeous buildings and cobblestones and I am just thrilled by the aesthetic of everything. I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy the beauty. 

I picked up my student card from the library, and then I spent a ton of time wandering around campus on a visiting student office adventure. I discovered that not all of the buildings have great labels, so I went to a few different places and asked for directions until I eventually found it. I was then able to meet with a member of the office, and I switched out of one of the history classes I had been given to take a Scottish literature class and asked about registering with a doctor so I can have access to the NHS. After my meeting, I went to the university health services and discovered that they have reached patient capacity, and but was told how I can register with a local GP so I can still have access to healthcare. Then I headed back to my flat to take a break.

Later that night, there was a visiting student event called The Taste of Scotland held in the student union (which is essentially a castle, what world have I fallen into?!). I went with a girl in the bedroom next to mine as well as a group of students from the building as the RA’s had organized for us all to meet and walk over together. I met quite a few visiting students which was really fun. I tried to explain the US political system to a kid from Australia on our walk and failed miserably. 

The Taste of Scotland event was fantastic. I met a ton of other visiting students (the vast majority from the US), tried haggis (fine but not my favorite thing), heard some Scottish folk music, listened to bagpipes (better than the ones from school…sorry Izzy), tried two different kinds of whisky and learned about the history of scotch and whisky, learned some different Scottish line dances (and have since gained a huge appreciation for the highland dancers at Wooster), and heard a Scottish folk story. It was a great night!

The next morning was a required orientation program for all visiting students, so I walked over with Lena from next door and Maddy who lives in the same building. The event was in the prettiest building I have ever seen called McEwan Hall. Apparently all of the graduations and such take place there and it is an important part of Edinburgh’s history overall. We heard a number of important people speak, but I can’t say I heard anything that I didn’t already know. It was still good to get confirmation about a number of things.

McEwan Hall
Some images from inside

From there, I asked one of the staff members from the visiting students office about where the place would be to buy towels, to which her answer was Primark. So then I went on a towel adventure because I was kind of desperate at that point to take a shower. 

The Primark I was headed for was in the opposite direction of my flat, past the Royal Mile. It was an incredible walk—I couldn’t stop smiling the entire way. Every time I turned a corner there was another gorgeous church built hundreds of years ago and then I passed a street full of castles and bagpipers busking. I just kept thinking, “How lucky am I.” I’ve been planning to go to Scotland for so long, but everything just seems so unreal. I just wanted to go on some errands and I found a few castles. 

After bringing the towels back to my flat and taking a bit of a break, I went on a kitchenware adventure, which I had also bought from a visiting student from the last semester. This time the building was much easier to find and easier to get into. So now I have important things like a skillet and a sauce pan. Later that night, Lena and Maddy and I went out in search of a pub because none of us wanted to do nothing that night. We did find a pub, which was very dark and looked like anything you would see in the movies, but it wasn’t that crowded and also seemed to serve a 40+ clientele. You could tell that everyone was looking at us wondering what we were doing there. Still, we had some beer and talked and exchanged ideas about finding our classes and buying mobile service and where to buy forks. It was a fun night. 

The next day I decided to go on a cell service adventure. The store I went to was also on Prince Street past the Royal Mile so again I was treated to a fantastic vista of medieval buildings and fantastic stone castles and churches. Along the way I found a sandwich shop and spent some time in the courtyard of a church listening to a bagpiper busking. And now I have cell service which is a total win mostly because I can use Google Maps! That being said, I have gotten pretty good at figuring out where I am based on landmarks. I am pretty impressed with myself because one of my greatest strengths is getting lost. 

After my cell service adventure and taking a nap, Lena and I went to a ceilidh put on by the school for international students. That was so fantastic. There were three musicians on stage— drum set, accordion, and guitar— and they called out the moves to different dances as they played some fantastic music. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun at a dance. Also, I met a ton of new people, some of whom I actually am hoping to see again and become friends with. It ended around midnight, and by the time I got back to my room I was so wound up that I couldn’t sleep for a couple of hours. 

I had a pretty lazy Saturday, which in my opinion was well deserved after a very exciting previous few days. I did go find a laundry hamper and buy real groceries for meals. Even leaving the house right now is an adventure. 

On Sunday, I decided to go to the National Museum of Scotland. I had a great time! It was cool wandering around, but about forty five minutes in I realized that there was more to the museum than just nature and science stuff, and I found the history of Scotland wing. I am definitely going to go back to explore that wing more thoroughly. The best part about the museum was that it is free, as are most of the museums in the city. Then I left to go back to my flat because the RA’s were to be meeting the new residents and walking with us to a lecture theatre so we could hear about building policies. When we arrived to the building where the theatre was, the building manager seemed to have made an error in booking the room, so the talk was canceled, so instead we all went to Teviot, the student union, to get some food and hang out in the bar and then to play trivia a few hours later. That was one of my favorite parts of the day. I need to brush up on my arcane knowledge but we all had quite a bit of fun and a lot of laughs. 

Well I am going to cut it off there even though today was my first day of classes at risk of making this the longest blog post ever. 

Mary Queen of Scots
Map of Surnames
I’ll have to go here at some point.