Monday, 8 March 2010

WELL.  I think I should first send out a small apology for not updating this as often as, apparently, I should.  I was unaware that this was, oh what's the word, popular?  Not to go all High School on everyone...  So, to please my adoring fans (Yes, this really IS going to my head) , I will tell you the tale of Pancake Day.

See, not only to the Scots erect statues to honor not only kings and queens but WRITERS, invent the television and the bicycle, but they have come up with quite possibly the best idea on earth.  Here in Scotland they have.....


What, you ask, is NATIONAL PANCAKE DAY?  It is the day when the entire Island of Great Britain gathers around their stoves and dinner tables to make and then consume PANCAKES.  No banks close, no addresses are made by the President to tell us something or another that we really don't care about and quite honestly are annoyed by because it's cutting into the first 20 minutes of "Dancing with the Stars", it's just a nationally recognized holiday where the Scottish eat pancakes for supper.  And it is GLORIOUS.
My host mom had me and Shannon and Jessica, two other girls from the palace who also have Sheila as a host mom, over for this wondrous occasion.  I ate more pancakes that I'd like to admit, and I decided that the US could stand to take a page out of Scotland's book; and get us some NATIONAL PANCAKE DAY.

Now what would you all say if I told you the past couple of weeks had been uneventful? You wouldn't believe me, would you? That is because you are all smart people. And because the past couple of weeks haven't been uneventful.

This weekend I went to a Kate Nash concert in Glasgow. I went with Becca J, Libby, Cassie and Emily Carlson (also known as Carlsberg). The five of us went with honestly a bit of apprehension because the day before when we had gone shopping there was a little bit of tension. (I got a DARLING little dress, it's got an orange and blue patterned skirt and a cream t-shirt like top and it looks REALLY good on me. Like I'm surprised I looked so good it looks that good on me.) I think the issue was we all were used to our friends at home, and THEIR humor, so we just had to get used to each other. We took the train to Glasgow and let me tell you, I am good at trans. I can get my ticket, find the platform, board, and make sure I'm getting off at the right stop like a pro. Seriously, I could probablly teach classes in train riding because I'm that good at it. The ride to Glasgow is about an hour from Edinburgh Waverly, the main train station in Edinburgh, and when we got there it was fairly early and we couldn't check into our hostel yet.

I'm going to take a break in the story to once again assure all of you that hostels are not the scary, bedbug infested, murderer inhabiting places that movies make them out to be. The one in Glasgow was really a hotel but with bunk beds and you don't know who your roomates are. Emily and I were in a room with two, as I discovered from a book left on a table, French girls! I don't know if they were Canadas or Genuine Frenchies, but they spoke francais and that's that.

We left our bags in the bag check room thing they have there and took a train to Paisley to go to Paulo Nutini's parent's fish and chips shop. I didn't know who Paulo Nutini was. I'm still pretty sure if you showed me a picutre of him I'd be like, ah, who IS that? But Emily LOVES him. So much that she dragged us to Paisley to eat at his parent's fish and chips shop. It was good food though, and reminded me of Friday night fish fries, except here instead of tartar sauce they give you brown sauce. I don't know what's in brown sauce, but it's as brilliant as Pancake Day. We met our Scottish professor, Mooney there and we did our best sucking up and he said “Donkey” like Shrek for us. It was really a very enjoyable little excursion. When we were done with lunch, and since we couldn't check into our rooms at the hostel in Glasgow until 3 we went to Paisley Abbey. It was amazing. It was the most beautiful church I've ever seen. The stained glass windows were magnificent and depicted a ton of different bible stories and were just beautiful. The Abbey itself was originally built in the 11th century, so the medieval literaturist in me was DYING!!!!!! I mean, when that building was built the people worshiping in it were making the pilgrimage to Canterbury and then INSPIRING CHAUCER'S BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!! And no, I could not have used any less exclamation points to emphasize that. I only wish you could have heard me yell it as I wrote it. One of the Megans certainly did. There was a tour guide at the Abbey who really knew his stuff and showed me a die from the same era found in an old drain next to the city. Again, I died from excitement. After the Abbey the girls and I went back to Glasgow (by train again) and set out shopping for something to wear to the concert. I had what I was going to wear packed along with me, but Becca J still needed something to wear. We spent like 3 hours in Primark which is the best store in the world. I got a nice pair of jeans for 4 pounds, which is like 7 dollars in the states. I also got a necklace to go with my dress and a pretty hair clip with feathers on it. Becca, Libby, and Cassie were no where near done shopping when Emily and I were DONE. We wanted to sit down and not move for a while so we decided to go out to eat and we'd meet the other three at the hostel to get ready. Well, we went to Pizza Hut. And let me tell you, it tasted like America. Emily and I split a supreme pizza and garlic stuffed mushrooms (something I'm pretty sure you CAN'T get in the States, but hey, Scottish Pizza Hut has to be somewhat classy) . It was DELICIOUS. We also tried barbeque chicken wings and practically cried because it reminded us of home. But they weren't spicy at all. Which was good for me, but sad for Em. I told you this to let you know that I'd actually commit murder for Taco Bell right now. MURDER. Later that night, after a few drinks at the Crystal Palace, I pointed out to the girls that Taco Bell is the perfect drunk food and that is TOTALLY marketable here. YOU HEAR THAT TACO BELL? GET THE FRICK OVER HERE!!! But I digress. The concert was marvelous. Kate Nash (She's a bit like Lily Allen, if you've heard of her. Otherwise youtube her. She's really cute and she was super nice and I got a t-shirt because I'm a college student and I don't have any concert tee's.) was so fun and taught us the lyrics of one of her new songs on the album that hasn't been released yet so we could sing along with her. The only problem was everyone there was like 16, and REALLY obnoxious. She had to tell the crowd to quiet down so she could sing a slower, quieter song. Which only added to how cute she is. After the concert the girls and I went to the aforementioned Crystal Palace, I had a bottle of VK Tropical, which is SOOO delicious and afterward we went to McDonald's and I had a cheeseburger and then a security guard was hitting on me and then I left and we saw Kate Nash's band walk by and we almost chased them down to go party with them but instead we went back to the hostel and I went to sleep. Done. And Print.

Sunday I spent receiving pretty yellow flowers from birthday boys and watching Harry Potter with a bunch of friends. And eating a Donner Kebab which is a lamb pita and it's so good and I also had two veg Samosas which are like spiced vegetable mash in a triangle egg roll, only Indian and not Chinese.

I will add quick before I run off to class (Mooney said SOMEONE got a 35/35 on their essay and I REALLY want it to be me) that I'm really sorry I was a bit M.I.A., especially with so many devoted readers (I just really want you all to know how much I appreciate you! And how cocky I'm getting) and I have practically an editor now (Mom) breathing down my neck to be sure that my adventures electronically cross the ocean for the enjoyment of others. So basically......... the next one won't take three weeks.

Fun Fact: Irn Bru is the favorite soda here. I think it tastes like bubble gum, Codey Hatfield (Nick's roomate) thinks it tastes delicious.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Isle of Skye!

This weekend I went to the Isle of Skye, which means nothing to you most likely so I will explain but first:

Getting Here Part 2.

Apparently there are questions about my daily life that have not been answered, so I am going to give everyone a little walk through of my castle-y world.

1. I have tried Haggis. Yes, I know it's cooked in a sheep's stomach, and yes I know it's made from the bits of sheep left over like the heart and the lungs, but IT IS DELICIOUS. Seriously, it's like a mix of stuffing and sausage. But for all of you picky eaters who won't try it because you think it sounds just TOO gross, Your loss. Like I said, I really enjoyed it.

2. The weather here is actually a lot like Wisconsin. Everyone said it would be "a different kind of cold" a "damp cold" but it's kind of spring here, like, right now, and my wonderful mommy keeps the house back home just above freezing anyways, so I haven't really noticed a difference. But like I said, SPRING HERE. I saw snowdrops (the flower) this weekend at a latitude the same as the bottom of Alaska, so, ha. It has rained a bunch, but it really isn't like everyday. But I have noticed that it seems to get misty and drizzly almost every night but that only adds to the Scottish atmosphere. Its a half hour walk to Tesco, which is the closest big grocery store around here (Lidl, which IS Aldi's, is only like 6 blocks away, but they close at 8 and don't have everything), and I love walking past the gorgeous stone houses with the tiny yards to get there in the fog. I always feel like I'm in a movie.
But, Average Day! I get up most mornings at about 7-7:15 (this is 1am for all of you in the Midwest) and go down to breakfast. We are always given breakfast here, but on the weekends it's self-serve. I have class at 8:30 on mondays and wednesdays until about 5pm, but only 1 class at 10:30 on tuesdays and thursdays. Also, no class friday. I love my professors. I only have one Scottish professor, and that's because this program also gets professors from the UW to come live here and teach, so I'm not learning from the Scots so much. But my English professor IS from England, and he taught ESL in Samoa, and he knows like everything, so he's got the best stories. The only problem is all of my English classes are in Classroom 20, which means nothing to you but will soon. Why? Because I'm about to tell you. Classroom 20 is the coldest room in the house. It has an awesome Harry Potter ceiling, all stone with this big seal in the center but it hemorrhages heat. So stories of the South Seas are a little less delightful that they could be, but more amazing. (Meaning they suck to hear because I'm shivering, but sound like a beautiful dream) Apart from school the rest of the day is my own. The castle doesn't have a curfew, and we got to choose our own quiet hours, which no one actually enforces because we are all pretty good, considerate kids. I have been out to the pubs a few times, and I went on one pub crawl which was a lot of fun (I do recommend it for anyone coming here) but BEWARE THE AUSSIES. I had a lot to drink because my Australian tour guide did not believe me when I said that I shouldn't do a shot of that blue stuff that tastes like candy. I'm telling you this for your own good. Aussies don't believe in limits.
The house is on like 500 acres of land. I didn't actually pay attention to the real number. If you are that curious, google it. And the grounds are BEAUTIFUL. There are a ton of trails going through the woods and by the North and South river Esk, and through fields and little glens. I go for a walk around about once a week, and I'm sure that number will rise as it gets warmer and as I find people who want to go. There's a path down by the river that has a super creepy tunnel along it. I ALMOST went in, scolding myself about being a coward, but about four steps in I heard something hiss at me and I RAN OUT OF THERE. It was mostly comical.

But! I must address this before I move on to my weekend up north (a phrase they do not use here), the bathrooms are shared, there is one on every floor. I don't use the second floor one (Remember, that's 3rd floor to the Midwesterners) because it's scary and there's an animal skull on the windowsill outside it. The showers are not big open, public ones like in high school gym class, they are all in the same room, but they are separate. And, drum roll please, there IS A BATHTUB!!!! Two, actually, but it's in a dingy little room all by itself. It does the job, yes, but it makes me miss the well lit, clean, toilet included bathroom I had at home.
Okay, that's a run down of my life here. If anyone has any pressing questions, just ask me and I'll try to include it in my ramblings about, well, everything I do.

And now, the moment we've all been waiting for. What did I do this weekend? Well....

I went on a MacBackpackers tour of the Isle of Skye. For anyone who is geographically challenged, or map-ally challenged as you really could have just looked this up yourselves. Lazy. It's off the west coast of Scotland, so I was a little bit closer to my home in Wisconsin! And it was awesome! We had to be a the hostel in Edinburgh at 8am, so we left the castle at 6:15! We really didn't NEED that much time, but there were 16 of us going so we broke up into groups to get there early and not clog up the bus system. After waiting in the hostel for about a GAZILLION hours for everyone to get there we got a minibus and stared driving north. We stopped at a little town who's name escapes me and we went to a beautiful cathedral by a river. It was the loveliest place I've ever seen. The grass was green and the river was clear and the trees around it made it all seem like it was a made up place in a painting. We drove through the highlands and I got to see wonderful snow-topped mountains (and if they weren't mountains I DON'T CARE! I gave up calling the Bluffs "hills" a long time a go, so these were DEFINITELY mountains.) To be totally honest, I don't remember a whole lot of the trip driving up there as I was running on a teensy bit of sleep. We stopped at Elieen Donan, a castle that has been in the Highlander movies and Made of Honor, and we were there at twilight too, so the castle was lit up and the sky was all pink. Seriously, it was impossibly beautiful. We drove over a huge bridge and got to the island. After checking into our hostel (it really wasn't that bad. The rooms were nice, and our whole bus got a private house with a door code that I STILL HAVE MEMORIZED!!!!! Mike said I wouldn't be able to, but I still know it. I will until I die. My last words will be "C3467Z. Suck it Mike." and my family will HATE me.) We went to the pub "Saucy Mary's" and had supper and listened to a one-man band for a while. Then the single girls, actually all of the girls, were getting hit on and a bunch of guys wanted us to go to the other pub so we could see their friend DJ there. WE SHOULDN'T HAVE. He was the worst DJ ever. He was literally throwing beats together on Garage Band. Suck and a half. So finally a bunch of us, tired, sick of listening to the same 'boom boom pth boom' walked back to our hostel and went to sleep.
Day 2! We left at 8 am, which wasn't so bad, and went to a magical stream. At least thats what Ewan told us. Who is Ewan, you ask? Well I'm horrified I haven't said anything yet. Ewan was our tour guide and an EXCELLENT one at that! He filled our trip with stories about the history of Scotland, told us about the geology, he went to the pub with us, he was wonderful. He even gave me a Valentine's Day present! We also found out that he wasn't following an itinerary, he was just showing us the places in the Highlands that were historically significant and amazing. He brought us to an ancient burial ground that is older than the pyramids. OLDER THAN THE PYRAMIDS!!!!! THAT'S REALLY OLD! I got goosebumps there, and many other places he took us. Back to the story, Ewan took us to a magical stream where, if you hold your face in the water for 7 seconds, you can be healed of ailments, have good luck, and ensure yourself long life. Naturally we did so. Miraculously, the freezing water DID make my nose feel less stuffy, and it was SO peaceful. Jake, a friend of mine, and I were saying that we didn't hear anything once we were in the water. It was just us and the river, and it was magical. Ewan took us up the hills to a place where there was a heart-shaped loch, and cliffs overlooking the shore. We saw a waterfall that we got to climb around and I fell in the mud. (But falling in the mud is in my blood, so I'd like to make a shout out, HEY MOM) We also went to a harbor town where we got to see a old look-out tower and visit some shops. There was a necklace that I fell in love with, but had to let go because of lack of the 27 pounds it would have cost. That's like $45! But I did get a lot of good pictures and a heavenly bacon sandwich. We went to the northernmost tip of the Isle and saw the Lava flows that are the same as Giant's Causeway in Ireland, and he told us about the geology there. We went to a castle where an evil man's baby got thrown out a window (it was a sad story). But the BEST PART was

I got to see the ocean! I've never actually seen it before, since our flight was at night and, um, I can't actually see things in the dark. So we went to a castle, and instead of looking at it extensively I went down to the beach. It wasn't really a beach though. It was a big slab of rock covered in barnacles and kelp and TIDE POOLS. The tide was out so I got to play in tide pools and poke sea anemones and I found a hermit crab and a ton of snails. I got a couple of seashells too, which is just so cool.
We drove back to our hostel and went out again. I went to a really good Indian restaurant and i had a paneer that was so good i'm craving it right now. Afterwards I went to Karaoke at Saucy Mary's and had a great time with my house mates. I found out that the Scottish find American accents sexy, just as we melt for theirs, and I gave a hilarious rendition of "Somebody to Love" for the pub. Truly comedy in a song. AND LIKE EVERYONE STARTED DANCING WITH ME. Since I had had a few pints the night before (I wasn't drunk Judging McGee, I'm not going to drink myself under a table in a foreign country) I was sticking to water that night. But suddenly Ewan, our amazing tour guide, grabbed me and stared twirling me around the dance floor. We tangoed and waltzed , and then he grabbed Jake and then Jake stared twirling me around. Brit tapped my shoulder to cut it, and I was like, "Woo! I can stop making a fool of myself" except she wasn't cutting in for Jake, she was cutting in for me! She tried to spin me, but being shorter than me, ended up clotheslining me in the face. It was as smooth as butter, I tell you, and I looked like the fooliest fool out there. But it was SO FUNNY.
The next day we left the Isle and saw Glen Coe, a gorgeous valley with the most beautiful river I've ever seen running through it. Libby and I scampered up and down the hills exploring and avoiding the seemingly endless piles of sheep poop everywhere. We stopped at Hamish the Hairy Coo (He's 16 years old) and took pictures with him. Hamish is a very large cow. Then we took our final stop at the Wallace Monument and climbed the STEEPEST hill and I nearly lost a lung in the process. I also found out that Nick and Libby are half-giant and take the longest strides ever. I have long legs, mind you, but I'm not as abnormally gigantic as they are. And then FINALLY we were home!
Which is weird. Because, see, I'm not home. The two wonderful packages of candy and Ramen noodles and Valentines Day cards waiting for me proved that. It's a weird place to be, not wanting to leave but wanting to go home SO BAD. I miss home, but I am having the time of my life. I didn't even include everything I did on this trip to Skye! (1. Y0u are probably VERY tired of reading this and 2. I am VERY tired of writing this) It was a fantastic adventure and I got to see some of the most amazing things ever. I have made lifelong memories (other than door codes) and I can't wait to go back to the Highlands. Until next time!

Fun fact: St. Patrick, the Irish icon, was born in Scotland. Boom, mind blowing.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Planes, Pubs, and Dalkeith Palace

Well, it's taken me over a week to say this, but i'm FINALLY settled in. Tonight I did my first laundry of the trip and it really drove home the message that I'm not just here on vacation, I live here!

I'll start out with a recap of the adventure so far. The flight over was really nice. My grandma said KLM, the airline I flew out with, were really good, and she was right. We had an in-flight movie, and dinner was marvelous (I had salmon and some rice stuff, and a coke, it was super good!). Sadly I had been fighting a cold since the Sunday before I left, so my nose was stuffy and I just didn't feel good. I took a night-time decongestant and ended up coughing and being gross and sniffly the whole flight. My sincerest apologies to the Dutch guy sitting behind me. The GOOD thing though was our flight wasn't full, so they let us get up and move to different seats and I ended up getting a whole row to myself to sleep in. So we landed at Amsterdam at like 7 in the morning, but it was still dark, which was weird, however, as we landed the lights of the city were on, and fortunately I was sitting next to Nick (Nicholas James Quinn, an ace guy in my opinion) and he pointed it out to me or I would have missed it. (Because I was all stuffed up, my ears weren't popping, so my head hurt SO bad as we descended). We had an hour layover in Amsterdam, which turned out to be basically enough time to get to our gate, fill out the UK border agency information card, and get onto the shuttle that took us to our plane. That's right, a shuttle. The plane from Amsterdam was a little city-hopper, and it had a staircase that folded up into the plane and everything. I felt like Bianca from "The Rescuers". Also, by some sheer luck of the draw, I got the seat next to Nick, and the second descent (worst than the first) was made better by him being such a friend and giving me some gum and holding my hand.

Let me tell you now, I will never complain again about ear pain if I can see Edinburgh from the sky again. It was green, and the hills were so beautiful, some event topped with snow. The firth was glistening. It literally brings tears to my eyes to think about it. It was a dream come true. That's what I love about Scotland, it's all of the stereotypes that the movies and books make of it, but it's also even better. We waited for the bus to Dalkeith from the airport in Edinburgh for like 4 hours. It was enough to drive me crazy, especially because one of my ears hadn't popped. (It ended up not popping until the next day. Which was the best morning because of it.) At the airport I did get to meet a bunch of girls and guys who I now call my housemates AND my friends! There were two girls, Brit and Emily, who are my best friends here. And Cassie and Libby who are so funny... everyone is so nice here though. I can say totally honestly that there isn't a person here who I don't like. There are times when I want to light some of them on fire (Yes, I'm talking about you Spencer), but I love everyone. The house was impossible. I didn't know where to look first. And THAT is when the told us we had to lug our 50+ pounds of luggage up THREE FLIGHTS OF STAIRS. I will be coming home so skinny and in shape! Since I was sick I pretty much just unpacked, ate dinner, and went to bed. Some people went out, but I needed to be in a bed and get my ear to pop. The next day was SO BORING. Orientation is not exactly going to ever win an Oscar for best drama, so I guess I shouldn't complain. It was... informative. But the HOUSE! I live on the third floor (They call it second here, it goes ground, 1st, 2nd, ect. which takes some getting used to) in a nice room with two girls both named Megan. I call them the Megans. These girls are the sweetest two girls I've ever met. We are so in sync schedule wise too that it was a match made in roomate heaven. I did have to re-arrange my bed and wardrobe because they were in the STUPIDEST placed possible. I feel like I've made a marvelous improvement the way I have them now and might change my major to interior decorating. The stairs still get me winded, but I can tell that I'm getting stronger. I can walk up them without needing a lung transplant now, but running up them is a different story. And sometimes I run up the stairs. Not because I'm late but because it takes so much time! To make a sandwich I have to go to my room where my bread is, down to the basement where the student fridge is, to the servery to make it, and then to the dining room to eat it. That's almost every floor of the house dedicated to making a sandwich. As I said, I will be in shape at the end of this.
Well, I'm going to have to break my first week into two parts. Maybe three. But Lord of the Rings made more money that way so perhaps this is my way of building suspense and getting you all to read more! Tomorrow I'm off to Stirling and Linlithgow Castles, and I hope soon I have time (and internet speed) to post some pictures! As they say here in bonny Scotland, Cheers!

Fun Fact: Edinburgh is at the same latitude as Moscow!