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. 

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.