Once again, I haven’t written in forever. Let’s see…
Three weeks ago I went with the International Society to Inverness. I met a lovely group of Dutch kids, and we had a lot of fun (it’s always really interesting to hear about European Union politics, and the politics/news of individual European countries from the actual inhabitants). We stayed outside of Inverness in a large hostel, then walked into the town. It’s lovely, right on the River Ness, with grand old hotels and traditional stone architecture, and big castle right on the hill. We walked along the river, and as soon as the buildings end, there’s a lovely wood, and the sun was setting and the sky was clear. Really beautiful. Then we went back to the hostel to cook dinner with Hojaat, our very charismatic president, and a couple other people. Cooking “chili” for 90 people from scratch is quite the task, but it was really fun. That night we went to a pub, stuck in the middle of the windy streets of Inverness, where a really good funk/jazz band was playing. The next day we went to Loch Ness, to the castle that borders it. It has a really cool history: it’s 800 years old, and William Wallace stayed there. After being confiscated from its original owner, it was raped and pillaged for a few decades before being blown up. Then we drove back through the Highlands. The sky was stormy, and nothing looks more desolate, imposing, and heart wrenching than a highland heath beneath a grey, turbulent sky. We passed dramatic snow covered peaks, and glens windswept and the dull gold of dead grasses. Very beautiful.
Two weekends ago, I went backpacking with some friends. We took a bus to Aberfoyle, about an hour from Glasgow. It’s a small town that borders the Trossachs, the national park of Loch Lomond. We hiked up into the hills starting at about 1 in the afternoon. We passes a fairy waterfall, all green moss and sparkling in the sun, and woods a hundred different greens from trees and moss, still wet from rain and glittering in the dusky light that filtered from the tree tops. We camped by a lake just as the sun was setting, by a gurgling brook. We had a fire, and the stars were magnificent; you could even see the milky way, and the sky was such a perfect dark blue. Of course, I didn’t have a mat, so I almost froze to death that night. But other than that, it was great. The next day we hiked up around a loch, through more desolate countryside, by snow peaked mountains and a deep, black river and through fair forests. So much variety. We stopped for lunch at a place called the Byres Inn, byre for barn. It was an original peasant’s cottage with a warm fire and body spray in the bathroom. I almost died, I was so happy to wash my hands. This is why backpacking is fantastic: you really appreciate the little things. Our meal was absolutely fantastic; not only was the food great, but we were cold and hungry, so it was great. I had bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes) and the most tender lamb shank, and delicious coffee, and, of course, sticky toffee pudding. Oh man, so great. Then we hiked out instead of spending another night as planned, since camping in Scotland in February without a mat is true masochism.
Last weekend I took the 8 hour night bus to London. I’ve never been before, even though I’ve been obsessed with English history since the 2nd grade. Anne and Kira, my friends from Westminster, picked me up at the tube station, and I was so so happy to see them, not only because they’re such good friends, but also because it was so good to see someone from home! Anne is studying in London for the semester, and Kira came to see her. So after much excited catching up, Kira and I went with a couple of Anne’s friends to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and then Trafalger Square. London is so different from Glasgow… I mean, it’s so English. Everyone has an English accent. I know, obviously, but it still felt odd. And London is so huge! So many tourists, and chic people, and traffic. Kira and I went to the National Gallery, which was fantastic. They have 2 Renoirs, 2 Van Goghs, some Titian, Monet, Da Vinci’s Madonna of the Rocks (the drawing; the painting is there too, but I find it very creepy), Turner, Rembrandt, a Botticelli, and the Arnofini portrait (you know, the one where she looks pregnant but she’s really just holding up her dress?). Hundreds of pictures that I couldn’t care less about, some I hate, some that truly creep my out, but 15 or 20 that are so beautiful and captivating that they make the whole museum fantastic for me.
The next day, Kira and I went to the Monument, the tower designed by Christopher Wren after the great fire of 1666, and climbed the 311 steps to the top (and yes, I did get a certificate for it). Quite a nice view. Then we made the trek to High Gate cemetery, which is in a borough pretty far from the city center. I won’t lie, we kind of went because of Audrey Niffenegger’s book about it, Her Fearful Symmetry, which is a terrible creepy story set in a beautiful and sad place. It was sunny when we got off the subway, and we had to walk through park to get there. So idyllic! The actual cemetery is filled with tall trees, ivy and moss, and packed with fantastic architecture. I think it’s so powerful because it shows what people will do when there loved one’s die… they love them so much, and I think when they spent all of that money, it was the only way they could think of to express that love. A couple of graves really got me; one is a sleeping angel, from a husband to his ‘darling wife.’ Another is a mausoleum that cost 3 million pounds from a father to his 8 year old daughter; one of the angels inside has the exact cast of her face, and it’s dome is covered in gold. Heartbreaking; you know that every parents feels the same way when they lose a child, but this man almost tried to create a material measurement for that pain. It’s a very beautiful, powerful place. Then, Kira and I went to King’s Cross to see Platform 9 and 3/4. It was kind of anti-climactic, but still a good picture. That night, we went out for a night on the town with Anne’s fantastic roomates. Aside from the fact that it takes almost an hour and a half to get to your destination, London is a great place to go out in. We found a great pub called the Bar Fly, where there was a live band playing, as well as music. It’s in Camden town, which is a really cute part of London.
The next day, Kira had to leave, and Anne had homework, so I set off by myself. After 4 hours of sleep. I went on one of those dorky, touristy open topped bus tours. I probably would’ve enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn’t been exhausted, but such is life. I did see a lot of London, though. I stopped in Convent Garden for a lovely scone with clotted cream and jam, and soup, and then went and saw St. Paul’s, and then the Tower of London. I’ve read all of that history so much it was so cool to finally see it. Especially the place where Anne Boleyn was executed. Isn’t that awful, that it was so cool to see that? Ah well. And then I go to see the Crown Jewels. Oh my god. They’re so sparkly!!!
The next day Anne and I went to the flower market on Columbia Road, which was really nice and easy going after all the crazy sightseeing.
It was a really great weekend!
Last weekend, I went to Loch Lomond by myself. I was going to go hiking with some friends, but let’s just say that I got a little lost trying to find the meet up point. It’s not my fault that I don’t know which way north is (okay, kind of, but at least I know now). So I decided to take a train. It’s only 45 minutes, and you’re on the South Shore of the Lake. The morning was cloudy, and misty, and I walked through some woods to get coffee on another bank of the Loch. They had a little farmer’s market there, where they sold all sorts of Scottish beef and smoked fish and root vegetables and Scottish deserts. Very cute. Then, I took a “cruise” into the Loch, which went up and around an island, and passed by all of these 18th century “castles,” built by rich nobles to copy the Middle Ages, and converted into modern luxury hotels. It was freezing on the deck of the boat; nothing chills you like Scottish mist. After the cruise, I went for a 2.5 hour walk by the side of the Loch, up into the castle grounds and through the forest. Oh so beautiful. At one point, the sun came out, and the loch was shimmering and the mist was illuminated. Afterwards, I had sticky toffee and pudding and coffee in a small restaurant. It wasn’t as good as what I had on the Isle of Mull, but sticky toffee pudding is sticky toffee pudding. I decided that, while some people go on wine tours of places, I’m going to convert this entire study abroad experience into a sticky toffee pudding tour of Scotland. Sure, there are more calories involved, but wine doesn’t have butter and sugar in it. That night I went to a superbowl party with some friends at a bar. It’s a very surreal experience to celebrate such an American tradition whilst drunken Scots howl along to the national anthem, eat hotdogs, and cheer for a team that’s not even playing. I haven’t been so homesick this whole time. I just wanted to be home eating guacamole, and actually getting to watch the commercials (silly Scottish people, don’t they realize that that’s the best part of the whole game?)
This Friday, I went to Law Society’s Law Ball, since a lot of my friends are law students. It was at the Glasgow Science Center, a very modern building. We had dinner and then a ceiledh, and then we dance until 2 in the morning. I’m pretty sure my favorite part was my dress.
Then, I got up at 7 in the morning the next day, met up with some American friends, and took 2 trains, a ferry and a bus to get to the Isle of Arran, an island to the west of Glasgow. It was sunny all day long, which turned out to be not only beautiful, but downright lucky, since there were points in our hike when rain would’ve be rather dangerous. Arran has several very tall peaks; I think the one we ascended was 2500 or so, straight up from sea level. Parts of it almost look tropical, with waterfalls and lush greenery and flowering trees (even in the winter). We started the hike through this grand valley, with the peaks ahead of us and rush covered hills on either sides. There were waterfalls and streams, a lot of sheep, and it was so beautiful. When we reached the base of the peak, it was still a trail; pretty steep, but you could still walk it. But then the trail started looking more and more like a streambed, with freezing water pouring over the slippery rocks. And then, reaching the saddle required a bit of rock climbing, rather than just hiking. The view from the saddle was beautiful. Then we continued along the ridge so that we could ascent the peak. That started out as just walking too, but then the trail got less and less pronounced, and soon we were traversing over the face of the hill. There was one point where my entire body was in contact with the hill, and I had to crawl up it using clumps of grass as leverage. Then we figured out that that was the wrong way, so we had to crawl back down. I remember being little and playing with friends, and everyone would do something intense, like jump from a really high rock, or climb a tree, and I would always be too scared, so I would wuss out and take the easy way down. I wanted to do that, then, except there wasn’t an easy way down, and freaking out could’ve actually endangered my safety. I mean, it’s not like we were going to die. And I kept calm the entire time. So, after a lifetime of classifying myself as a scaredy-cat, I officially revoke that title. I’m feeling pretty badass right now, especially since I did all that in wellies. Maybe we were a little stupid to go, except that the people on Arran do this hike all the time, and there was supposed to be a path. Plus, we couldn’t go down the way that we came, because that would’ve been even worse than going on.
When we got to the top of North Goatsfell, we were supposed to go on to Goatsfell, a slightly higher peek above us. Except I put my foot down, just because I didn’t want to have a panic attack on the top of a mountain. So we descended into the valley over from the one we came from, which was easy, and such a relief. This put us out on the road, 5 miles from the town where we needed to be. This was after 11 miles of climbing and then tough descent, but somehow I dragged my sorry ass to town, and we had copious amounts of pizza to celebrate. As much as I might complain here, it was one of the most breathtaking hikes I’ve ever taken. At some points, you could see both sides of the ocean. It really was incredible. Plus, when we went home we had creamy Scottish ice cream with raspberry jam in it, and that alone would’ve made the whole day worth it.
Any way, it’s been a really great couple of weeks, and in between my adventures, I’m really enjoying just being in this beautiful city. The architecture and the parks and the people and the grocery stores are so different than Utah, and I love it.
Lots of love,
The band I went to see for Celtic Connection. Listen to them on MySpace.
January 30th, 2011
On Friday night, I went to a Celtic Connections concert with some friends. It was in the basement Oran Mor, a church converted into a pub. It was such a great concert. The first act was two women on the fiddle and a man on the guitar, Gillian Frame and Fiona MacAskill. They played Scottish folk songs, light and lovely and cheerful, some sad and sweet. Just what you picture (or hear?) when you think of celtic music. The next act was Sam Lee, a gangly English balladeer, who, along with serenading us with his warbling chant, also did a fair amount of dancing. He uses traditional English ballads, and yet gives them an almost Indian like twist, with resounding drumming. At one point, he introduced a song: “Alright, now this one is about STD’s. We’ve all had them at some point at varying degrees of intensity.” He was quite the character, and his music was definitely an experience (a good one, I should say!). The last act was Ciorra, an 8 piece Irish band with fiddles and cello and key board, and the loveliest blond Irish girl as their head singer. She walked on stage wearing a tight red dress, and I’m pretty sure that every man in that room fell a little in love. Hell, I think I fell a little in love. Anyway, they were fantastic. They would begin a happy, fast paced song, and then half way through they would double the pace, and everyone would whistle and clap along and laugh, and they just this stage presence that got everyone involved.
Last night, I went with my European friends to cook burgers. First we went to Tesco, our little grocery store, to buy the supplies. I was the only American there; there rest were French, and German, and Canadian. They didn’t believe me that you’re supposed to put mustard on hamburgers. So then we took all the stuff back to one of their flats, and I ended up cooking the bacon and the patties in a wok with my Scottish friend Chris, and it was very multi-cultural. And I must say, I have never enjoyed a bacon burger with chips and a coke more in my life. Sometimes, we just a need a little America. Then we watched Matrix with subtitles. It was a good night.
January 26th, 2011
Last night was Burn’s Day, a night celebrating both Robert Burns and the whole of Scotland. We went to a dinner put on by the international society at a club, O’Couture. They had a bagpiper to play for us, and to bless the haggis (basically a bunch of muttering, the only discernable words being “Scotland” and “Haggis”). I love Haggis. I know what it is, and I don’t care. The most delicious stuff ever, like ground beef but richer and with lots of spices. They also have vegetarian haggis, which is a lot like turkey stuffing, also very delicious. After dinner, we had a ceilidhe, and we learned a couple new dances. They’re such fun, my favorite way to dance. It’s basically just swinging around and clapping to the music and being twirled about. Another thing to put on your bucket list, I think.
January 23, 2011 Today was a perfect day. Yesterday as well. My friends and I went with the International Society to Oben and the Isle of Mull on an overnight trip. We had to drive through 2.5 hours of Scottish countryside, most of which was cloaked in fog. There were some points, though, when the fog would clear and there would be mountains covered in snow in the distance, and deep valleys with tiny cottages in the bottom, and streams and trees and heather. We stopped at Invereray, a tiny town with one street that sits on a loch, but we couldn’t even see the water through the fog. One does not need an hour to see Invereray, to put it politely. But then we arrived in Oben. Oben means ‘little bay’ in Gaelic, because its situation on the Atlantic is right in front of a plethora of islands. The main street is lovely, lots of touristy shops and original stone architecture. We went to the beach, and while my Biology major friends discussed the contents of the tidal pool, I walked straight into the water, halfway up my shins (all thanks to my marvelous rubber wellies) and splashed around like a small child. Some things never change. We climbed the hill above Oben, to McCaig’s tower, a colloseum type structure built for the purpose of employing workers. The view was spectacular. The sun had just come out, and layers of mist still surrounded some of the islands, and it sparkled in the air, and you could see all of the islands in the distance. There are beautiful houses, old stone cottages, all the way up the country lane to get to the top of the hill, and I envy those people. To see that view every day, oh my. Our hostel was lovely, very clean and sweet. The entire group of us sat in the living room, playing games and talking. We split into teams and all got a quiz to take, which is quite a popular form of entertainment here. It’s awesome. I promise. It was so nice to just sit and chat. The next day, we took the ferry to the Isle of Mull. We rode on the deck, and you pass all of the islands, a castle, a lighthouse. At one point, as we steamed (the boat was booking it) past a castle built on the point an island, I couldn’t help but feel so grateful. To be in Scotland, to have seen such a site. When we got to the Isle, we quickly realized that everything was closed. It’s January. In Scotland. Who goes to January in Scotland aside from silly University students? So, instead of fretting over our bad timing, we hitchhiked to the castle. Okay, we didn’t stand on the road with our thumbs up, but we did find a very nice local to take us in the back of his van. I realize that it sounds sketchy, but one just does not feel endangered on a half-deserted Scottish island in a group of 11 people, especially when the man giving you a ride must be at least 80. So after a rather tightly-squeezed ride, we arrived at the even more deserted castle. Don’t ask me what it was called. It was really just a stone building, built upon some jutting rock. We hiked down where there were sheep, right by the water. You could hear the waves, and the grass swished, and it smelled ever so faintly of sea salt. And sheep. It kind of smelled like sheep. But I secretly like the smell of sheep, which is weird, but that definitely means I’m in the right country. Then we walked back through the country lanes. I know that Highlanders are famous for their hospitality, and I’m sure that it exists, but I did not feel very welcome when more than one passing car almost clipped us. But don’t worry mom, I promise I look the right way before I cross the street. Most times. Or at least, the people I’m with do. Just kidding. Then we went to the Inn for lunch. Almost our entire group was there, and the poor bartender almost collapsed with the frenzy of it all. But that hospitality came through, and in the end he was quite a good host. I swear, that meal made my top 15 list. Easily the best since I got to Scotland. Fish pie, with local Salmon and baby shrimp, smothered in cream and topped with whipped potatoes. I almost cried. And remember when I had a fit over the STP (sticky toffee pudding gets its own acronym in my book) from the grocery store? Well today, I had it homemade from a recipe so secret even the waitress isn’t allowed to see it being made. It was covered in cream. The 5 of us split 2. Both were gone easily in less than a minute. Need I say more? Sticky toffee pudding should be on every person’s bucket list, no questions asked. Then we walked more, mostly so that we wouldn’t suffer from cardiac arrest from our lunch. They say we eat badly in America? All those critics should come to Scotland. They fry Mars Bars here. They cover an already butter and sugar laden desert with heavy whipping cream. A Big Mac aint no thang. I’ve done lots of others things in the past two weeks. We saw a jam session by a celtic band, part of Celtic Connection’s free late night session, which is Glasgow’s annual celtic music festival. This was for my birthday. I had a Bailey’s over ice as an old Scottish man serenaded me solo as I turned 20. Last weekend, we went to on a tour of the Glengoyne Whiskey Distillery and to Stirling. The distillery was very cool (especially since they gave us a free glass as soon as we got there. And yes, I did drink it, even though it was 10 in the morning). Stirling? Stirling was interesting. They let us off at the castle amid a torrent of wind a rain. Our umbrellas broke almost instantly. In fact, I think that they gave up as soon as they looked out the window. The castle wasn’t that fun to walk around (mostly creepy diaramas) so we walked to city centre, which was pathetic. The whole trip was fun, but only because we were laughing at how bad it was. And then I have class and we go to pubs and get coffee and I’m having such a grand time but I miss everyone at home! Lots of love, Lauren.