Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Céad Míle Fáilte!

For those who don't know, the about means One Hundred Thousand Welcomes in Gaelic.  So that's where the name of my blog originated.

I've been home for a little over a week and I keep putting off this final Scotland post.  It'll mean that the semester really is over.  But I have to do it some time.  So here's things I'll miss and things I won't miss about Scotland!

Things I won't miss:

Campus Net

Would you like to connect to the internet?  Sorry, it's going to be out for the rest of the night.  I don't care if you had to do research.

These Door Knobs

They're just kind of funky and sometimes you forget you have to press the button and panic because you think you're stuck in the bathroom.

Having to Pay to Pee

I know this isn't just Scotland, but I really do dislike it.  Make sure you pee ON the train or bus, since the station's going to be expensive.

Putting Everything in One Bag for RyanAir

I already miss discount airlines.  Seven Euro flights from London to Oslo are just fantastic.  The flight itself?  Not so much.  You can only have one bag.  And every five minutes they ask you if you want to buy something else.  The flight home was wonderful.  I took advantage of all of the complementary beverages!

Padlocking My Backpack

Or my stuff in the hostel.  I don't want my passport to get stolen, but I also don't want to have to worry about my passport getting stolen.  But my padlock is pretty awesome.  And yellow.

Waiting in the Airport

Jon and I chose to sleep in the airport three times over the course of our adventures.  It saved money.  But it also added up so that we spent more than two days in the airport while abroad.

Sharing a Kitchen

This was the stove on a good day.  Very few people did their dishes.  It was bad.

The Refrigerator

Everyone gets a shoebox cubby.  The girl above my didn't know how to pack her's.  I ended up with pre-cooked bacon, a gnocci, a package of deli meat, and a lot of milk in my fridge over the course of the semester.  Also, it smelled like something died in there for the last few weeks.

These STUPID Laundry Cards

You pay for two washes and two dries.  It might work, or you might get one wash done and then it just reads error.  This is why I prefer machines that take quarters.

Geddes Court

It's the ghetto.

Mail Time!

I shared a mailbox with everyone else in the building with a last name beginning with K...


Because some people don't even try to blend in.

Things I will miss about Scotland:

The Word Queue

It's not a line.  It's a queue.  And one does not stand in line.  One queues.  It's a national pastime.

 Walking Outside and Climbing a Hill

They're everywhere.  And it's fun.  Plus, you get a great view.


I'm going to miss getting delicious, healthy snacks in my mail every week...

My Nessies 

I brought them back, but they won't be the same when they're not hanging on my shelf above my bed.

The Heart on My Keys 

This was how I knew which keys were mine.  I'd say I miss it, but I brought it back with me.

Gigantor, the Desk 

There's something about having a desk the width of your room that's just awesome.

Domino's Deals 

Two for Tuesdays.  Half off when you spend forty pounds.  Delicious.

Cthulhu on My Door

Because it was awesome.

Chocolate with Toys Inside 

And it's yummy too!

Cheap Public Transport 

I know I already mentioned kind of missing cheap flights, but that goes for all cheap transport.  Ten pound trains to Inverness, seven pound buses that take us right to our ferry?  It's the best way to travel.

Walking with Views Like This 

I want to live on Orkney for several months.  Because it's wonderful.  And you can see the Northern Lights.

Red Phone Booths 

Sometimes their location surprises you.

Hitch Hiking as a Viable Option 

We never actually did it, but pretty much everyone recommended it. 

Sheep Everywhere


Guys in Kilts 

This does not require an explanation.

The Crisp Selection 

I finally got the chips/crisps thing straight at the airport on the way home.  I was excited.  I'll miss calling chips crisps and I'll also miss having about ten thousand flavour options.

The Signs 

And also seeing the Wallace Monument ALL THE TIME.


They're as cute as cute can be.


Because cooking on a student's budget is rather exciting.

The Campus 

The University of Stirling is BEAUTIFUL.

Double Decker Buses 

You can feel like you're driving!

Spending Most Days with These People

Because they're awesome.

More than anything though, the thing I'll miss most about Scotland is that it's full of Scots!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

London and Oslo and Berlin and Dublin, Oh My!

I’m home now.  But not yet caught up on blogging. 

Ice Cream to celebrate being done!
I finished my last final on my second to last Friday in Scotland.  It went pretty well.  Definitely not my best work, but whatever.  So after finishing, Jon and I got everything together for our final trip.  We would be going to Edinburgh that afternoon to climb Arthur’s Seat with Rachael and Krystin.  That evening, Jon and I would take an overnight bus to London.  After spending the day exploring London, we would sleep in the airport and then catch a plane to Norway.  In Norway, we would spend seven hours waiting until our next flight, which would take us to Berlin.  That is Sunday evening.  We would then spend a few days in Berlin and from there, on Wednesday, fly to Dublin.  We’d spend the night in Dublin and then go back to Scotland to hang out, sleep, and then enjoy our last day in the UK.  The following day, we flew home.

The entire IFSA group save for Krystin attempted to climb Arthur’s seat during our orientation in Edinburgh.  We later realized we didn’t even get to the right hill.  So Rachael, Krystin, Jon, and I decided to do it right before going back home.  I was wearing my fake ked shoes, which are awful for exploring, and Jon and I had all of our luggage for our impending trip.  And it was warm.  So it wasn’t the most enjoyable climb, but it also wasn’t absolutely terrible.  The top was really crowded, but we hung out up there for a bit, took some pictures and waited so that Rachael and Krystin could get a picture up with the trig point.  Overall, good life decision. 
At the top!

After we climbed back down and returned to the city, Rachael and Krystin caught a train back to Stirling.  Jon and I went for dinner (we just went to the train station to get fast food.  It was awful.)  Then we had to do a bit of exploring to find the bus station.  We normally got there by walking through a mall, but because everything in Scotland closes around five, the mall was closed.  So we walked around the mall, and down side streets and eventually found it.  And then we waited.  The bus was scheduled to leave at 10:45.  People began to queue a bit before ten, and Jon and I made sure to be close to the front of the queue, so that we could get a good, non-carsick inducing seat.  One of the workers at the bus station made fun of everyone a bit for queuing so early, but it happens. 

Waiting for a bus...
Jon and I booked our bus tickets with Megabus.  A few minutes after 10:45, a CityLink bus pulls up.  In the window is a handwritten piece of paper which said “London.”  Apparently something had gone wrong with our bus, so we were taking this one.  Well, we weren’t taking that one specifically, since that one was for people getting  off before London.  A second bus pulled up a bit later.  Jon and I got on this one and began one of the more miserable journeys of our life.  Suffice to say, we didn’t sleep much.

We got to London just before eight the following morning.  Jon and I got tickets for our bus to the airport, which would leave from the same station, and then dropped off my backpack and Jon’s briefcase thing with a luggage check place.  After climbing Arthur’s seat with all of our stuff the day before, we decided there was no way we’d do it again in London.

We went to Buckingham Palace too!
London was pretty fun.  We got day passes for the tube, so after going to everywhere we wanted to see (Platform 9 ¾, Abbey Road, an attempt at finding the Ziggy Stardust memorial thing, London Eye/Big Ben), we just rode around for a bit.  I did get to see the Globe Theater, which required a bit of walking and Jon almost getting pickpocketed.  But he didn’t.  Then we went back to the bus station and picked up our stuff, walked over to Westminster Cathedral for Mass, and then returned to the bus station to catch our bus to the airport. 

Another thing.  We bought an air mattress just before going to church, so that we wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor in the airport.  It was pretty cheap, and we opted to not spend the extra money on a pump, so we blew it up ourselves, and it was fantastic.

The next morning we boarded our plane to Norway!  Upon arriving, we walked around the airport, realized just how expensive everything is, walked outside for a few minutes, walked back inside, went through security, bought a little bit of food and then waited for the next five and a half hours for our plane to Berlin.

We were nearly late taking off for Berlin, because there was a group of drunk Germans sitting where they weren’t supposed to and generally being belligerent to the flight crew.  Security was going to throw them off for being “too drunk to fly,” but they finally settled down and we could leave.  Then we flew to Berlin and Jon and I made it to the hostel (but not before going to the hotel on the other side of the square, of the same name and description).  We got food (kebabs) and then went to sleep.

At one of the memorials.

We spent the next two days walking ALL OVER Berlin.  We saw the fancy gate during the day and at night, and went to the Tiergarten, and some Holocaust memorials, and the Turkish Market.  We also walked around the museums, saw the Topography of Terror exhibit (which helped Jon with his German history) and stumbled upon an art market, where Jon got a wallet and I got a painting!  I even managed to use a bit of German.  I ordered fries near the Turkish Market and then talked to the guy in the stand about where I was from (as always, my accent gave me away) and then we chatted about his son, who lives in Boston.  It was a lot of fun and rather exhausting (the walking, not the talking).  The evening of our second day there, Jon and I went out for dinner and hookah with Xenia(!!!) and her boy (friend?) Axel!  We got pizza and it was delicious and fun and very happy.

By day.

By night.

The next day, Wednesday, was our last in Berlin.  Jon and I split a kebab and some fries and a coke and then walked around for a bit before heading back to the airport.  We managed to navigate several train changes, which was really thrilling.  Then we waited in the airport for a bit and got on our plane (LAST TIME FLYING RYANAIR!!!!!!!) to Dublin! 

In our hostel... check out the bottom rows.
Quick Dublin summary: People are fantastically nice, it’s difficult to find cheap food, it would have been nicer had we been there for more than a few hours (most of which were spent sleeping).  The guy who stamped my passport had to write that I was going to Edinburgh from there.  He spelled it Edinburugh.  When Jon went through, he had to take a phone call and returned, excited, that he was going out drinking that night.  Definitely one of the better welcomes to a country.  But yeah, we got to the hostel, tried to find food, gave up, went to sleep, woke up the next morning and had a frustrating time trying to print our boarding passes (one working computer and one guy who never seemed to leave it), got help from the nice guy at the desk, ate a lot of free hostel breakfast, walked over and saw Trinity College, and then got on a bus to the airport.  Jon and I got a bit of food and a Guinness in the airport and then waited for a while before we could get on our plane.  The flight back to Edinburgh only took about twenty minutes!  Then we took a bus back into the city and another bus back to Stirling.

Overall, it was a very good trip.  I was very happy to see Berlin (that’s where my great grandfather was from) and actually really enjoyed the city.  However, it was really nice to get back to Stirling.  It wasn’t really nice to get back and have to pack up everything to go home.  I decided to leave that until the next day and just went to sleep instead. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Highland Adventure: Where I neither hitch hiked nor saw the Northern Lights, but nevertheless managed to have a great time.

May 7-11 was awesome. 

These were the dates of our highlands trip.  By highlands, I mean two days in Inverness, two in the Orkney islands, and one more spent travelling back from the island to Stirling.

On the train.
I began planning the trip a few weeks ago, since the Neolithic sites on Orkney were some of the spots Jon was most excited to see in Scotland.  Krystin, Caitlin and Rachael were all initially going to go along, but at the last minute Rachael decided not to go.  While we were rather sad that she wasn’t there, it was nice to have four people while travelling, since that meant we could just take up one table on the train.

We left on Monday morning, taking the train to Inverness.  Because we purchased tickets in advance, we had to pick them up at the train station.  There were a few stressful moments where ticket machines didn’t work quite how they were supposed to, but we made it on the train in plenty of time.  In addition to having to print our tickets, we were also assigned reserved seats because of the advanced tickets.  My seat was with a group of older ladies.  I’m assuming that they were going on a trip together, and they were very friendly.  When I pulled out my Nook to read (The Island of Dr. Moreau, which led to some strange dreams at the hostel), they began a rather animated discussion about their own trials and tribulations with e-readers and other tablet-like devices. 

Locker graffiti...
The women got off at the next stop, so I called Jon, since he and Krystin were in a different car, and asked if they wanted to come up and take the now-vacant seats.  They did, and we enjoyed the rest of the train ride.

Our arrival in Inverness was a rather rainy one.  We checked into the hostel (Buzzer at the door.  “Umm... we’re here!”)  and chose our beds.  We were sharing a room with four other people, a really nice guy named Keith (we chatted with him and he gave us advice on what to do in Inverness), a couple who may have been German, and a troll hunter.  I’m not lying when I say I’m pretty sure this woman was an actual troll hunter.  Needless to say, she seemed awesome.

Troll hunter cave.
Also, graffiti on our lockers told us, in Spanish, that we were going to die that night.... (Spoiler alert: we didn’t)

Anyway, we did a bit of exploring that afternoon, then walked over to Dominos and got pizza for dinner.  It was delicious.  After that we were a bit pathetic, and spent the rest of the evening relaxing in the room.  Keith made fun of us a bit for that, but we didn’t care.  It was nice to not be in Geddes.

McDonald's welcome you...
In Gaelic!
Day two in Inverness was equally relaxing.  We went for a walk, bought a boat to take to Orkney, saw the Loch Ness Monster, and went to a pub.  Two of these things actually happened.  You will not believe how small Nessie really is.
Jon in kilt.
In the morning we got a bit lost in town, but wandered around until we made it back to somewhere familiar.  We found our way to the castle, but it was actually used for administrative things, so we just wandered around outside and enjoyed the view.  From there, we ended up in a museum of the highlands, which was pretty cool.  There were several points at which we could try things on, like cloaks and kilts.

After all that excitement, hunger dictated our next move (which was to McDonalds, like true Americans).  We ate and, feeling fortified and a little gross, headed off to try to see the cathedral.  It was closed, but Caitlin and Jon noticed a map nearby that showed the walks around Inverness.  We found the one we’d attempted earlier that morning and walked that, which took us along the Caledonian canal and out to the sea.  It was a lovely walk, and our only other issue was accidently trespassing in a marina. 


That evening, I made basketties with chicken for dinner (and some without chicken, since Krystin’s vegetarian).  We digested in the room for a while before making our way over to Johnny Foxes, a pub along the river with live music!  They guy playing was good, and his multiple ghettoed instrument setup was impressive.  Everyone was a bit sad to leave (it was a bit before midnight), but we had to catch a bus at nine the next morning, one which would take over two hours, and one which would potentially make Caitlin and I very carsick.
Guy at bar.  See facebook for his foot set up.

Another spoiler: it did, but not so badly that we threw up all over the driver (who was, like everyone in the highlands, very, very nice).  After that, we had an hour and a half ferry ride over to Orkney.  Little did we know, we weren’t actually taking a ferry, but a cruise ship.  It was AWESOME.  Super nice, complete with cabins (for extra money), a restaurant (just for the price of food) and a bar/lounge (free unless you wanted food/drinks).  Would recommend to a friend.  There was also a sun deck, but it wasn’t particularly sunny.  However, it was a great place to watch the Island of Hoy go by and, eventually, Orkney approach. 

Ferry = Luxury +10
So we landed in Stromness, found a bus to Kirkwall, took aforementioned bus, got to Kirkwall, went on a bit of an adventure to find the hostel (very unhelpful directions) but at last we did it!  The hostel was found!  Which was great, except that we got there around 4:30 and reception didn’t open until five.  So we sat in the lobby and waited.  

Passing by Hoy.  There was wind.
Our patience was rewarded when we checked in and learned that the nicest man in the world worked as the manager at this hostel.  Not only did he make sure we were all in the same four person room (since Jon had originally be in a “male dorm”), but he also recommended places for us to eat in town, helped us figure out how to get to all of the things we wanted to see (his recommendations: walk, hitchhike, or rent a car.  We considered the last option, decided on the first and attempted [yet failed] at the second), and also did research as to whether or not we would be able to see the Northern Lights.  Not only that, but he had a super sweet dog.

The duvet queen.
We got into our room (very nice and allllllll to ourselves) and enjoyed not being one a moving vehicle for a few minutes.  When that excitement wore off, we left and went into town in search of dinner.  The place Frank Alexander (that was his name) recommended as being cheap and still good turned out to be an American diner.  A little disappointing, yes.  But the food was good and they actually had hot dogs (Jon got one.  I had pineapple pizza.)

That evening, we attempted to see the aurora borealis.  We sat outside in the driveway of a farm for over an hour, but saw nothing.  Well, almost nothing.  We did see clouds, Kirkwall at night, and also Frank, as he took his dog out for a walk.  He chatted with us for quite a while before continuing onward.  A bit later we decided we were just too cold, so we went back inside.  Around midnight we went out and check again, but it was still somewhat cloud.  Sad days.

Kirkwall by night, without aurora...

Jon and the hole we had to crawl into.
We left early the next morning, taking a bus to Maeshowe chambered cairn.  It’s a nifty mound thing that’s was a Neolithic burial chamber, is perfectly aligned to catch the light of the winter solstice on the back wall, and also covered in Viking graffiti.  Unfortunately, you can’t take pictures inside, because of time issues between the tours.  But it was pretty awesome.

From there, we walked a little over seven miles to Skara Brae, a Stone Age village.  On the way, we saw two stone circles!  One only had about four stones left, but the other was HUGE, with something like thirty of the original sixty still standing.  Pretty cool stuff.  Those got us properly excited to see Skara Brae.  Unfortunately, we still had to walk about five miles from the second circle to the site.  Fortunately the weather was nice, but it was pretty much all uphill.  Not only that, but our hitch hiking attempts failed, despite Frank’s assurance that almost every native would pick you up.  We were in a kind of touristy area though, and there were also four of us, which made space a major issue.*  

Circle #1

Circle #2

At last!
When eventually we arrived at Skara Brae, we first got some tea so that we could thaw out before again venturing outside.  There was a short, incredibly dramatic movie which basically told us that Skara Brae existed 5000 years ago, we don’t know very much about it and no one knows why it was abandoned.  Very informative.  Then there was a neat little exhibit where we could try (via computers) to build our own houses, supply our village, or reconstruct clay pots.  From there, we went and played in the replica house for a bit, since you can’t actually touch anything in Skara Brae.  After that, we journeyed back 5000 years and visited the Neolithic village.

Me and Jon and Skara Brae
It was pretty cool.  You had to walk around or above the stone houses though, rather than inside them where we could play with everything.  But that’s okay, it was still cool.  It was also built on the edge of a kind of cliff/dune thing, right next to the beach.  Any visitors had a lovely view of the ocean as they walked around the village.  However, that also meant we got an ocean breeze which, in northern Scotland, means freezing.  After walking around and seeing all of the small stone houses, we went to the other attraction for which our ticket gave us access, the Skaill House.

Caitlin in the waiting room.
That was the home of the family that discovered Skara Brae.  While interesting, it wasn’t particularly exciting.  But it was warm, out of the wind, and somewhere where we could waste time until we had to wait for our bus back to Stromness (and from there one to Kirkwall).  Skara Brae closed at 5:30, but our bus would only get there around 6:30.  We waited in the Skaill House, and then in the Skara Brae visitors’ center, but eventually they kicked us out because they were closing.  The woman who asked us to leave was very nice, and told us that the bus stopped at a public restroom (which had a waiting room out of the cold), just a bit outside of the driveway.  So we walked down there, established that there was, in fact, a waiting room, and then walked around outside.  The bathroom was on the edge of a parking area, right next to the beach.  So we walked around the beach for a while (it smelled pretty funky near the water), got cold and then went up to wait for the bus in the waiting room.  After a good bit of unappreciated singing, we caught the bus.  When we arrived in Stromness, we pulled up just behind the next bus, to Kirkwall.  We exited the bus just in time to watch it pull away.  So we spent an hour in Stromness, which involved realizing pretty much everything was closed and eventually finding a deli/bakery/grocery store, where we each got a bit of food to hold us over until we could find dinner in Kirkwall.

It was a rather beautiful beach.

When back in Kirkwall, we went to a pub for dinner.  I’d eaten too many Doritos (i.e. all of them) and so I just got a drink and snacked on some of Jon’s chips (i.e. fries).  It was a wonderfully friendly pub (again, like everything in the highlands/Orkney) and we returned to the hostel rather exhausted and very happy.

As we were falling asleep, we had the chance to all talk, since we weren’t sharing the room with four other people.  It was really great to finally start to actually connect with and get to know my friends on this trip.  The down side was that at that point, we had less than a month left. 

And now I have less than two weeks left.  Our return from Kirkwall to Stromness by bus, over to Scrabster by ferry, walk into Thurso (only two miles this time), train to Inverness, and train to Stirling were pretty uneventful.

These past few days have been finals.  I had my African Environmental History exam on the 16th, Scottish History on the 19th, and on the 25th, I’ll take my final exam about the Victorian Census.  That night, I’m taking an overnight bus to London, spending the day there, sleeping in the airport, taking an early flight to Oslo.  There, Jon and I have a seven hour layover until our flight to Berlin, where we’ll be staying until Wednesday afternoon.  From there, we’re flying to Dublin, spending the night and then returning to Edinburgh in the afternoon.  We’ll get back to Stirling the evening of the 31st.  The 1st of June is our last day in Scotland, so that will be something, and then the next morning I’ll be catching an early taxi with Jon, Rachael, and Caitlin to go to Edinburgh Airport and from there, America! 

*I'm not sure how anyone could resist our hitch hiking attempts though...