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Argyll Weekend Excursion

In the midst of midterms I was given a break with a trip to Argyll Forest offered by my study abroad program, IFSA-Butler Scotland. This trip took us to the west, past Glasgow, onto a rocky ferry ride, and to a hostel located in a beautiful manor. It was approximately a three and half hour trip.

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So far this semester I haven’t participated in any events that IFSA has put on, so this trip became the first time I would be reunited with the year students and greeting the new spring students. When we arrived we were handed our room and group assignments and had dinner. I also met a girl from Lee Summit (which is by my home town Overland Park) who I ended up sharing a room with.

The main activity for the night was a night hike.

When I stepped outside I thought I would fall on my face or run into a tree because it was extremely dark, but gradually my eyes adjusted and I was even able to avoid the puddles. There were 90 students and we were split into four groups. A few in each were given “torches” (head lights) and with a leader we marched into the dark forest. We made our way along a marked trail that would be a simple walk in day light, and our main focus was on not slipping, running into poky branches, and getting our feet soaked. The hike lasted about an hour and I became a proud survivor in that I did not fall on my face.

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The next day and our only full day on this weekend trip we were told to rank activities, and we would be split into teams and participate in two of them. We could have chosen from hiking, gorge scrambling, sea kayaking, underground caving, canoeing, mountain biking, or a high ropes course. My top three were gorge scrambling, underground caving, and the high ropes course. In the end I was put in team three where we would spend our morning in the caves learning about Scottish history and our afternoon on the high ropes course building on our team work skills.

Waking up at a bright and earlyish my room of seven girls got ready and headed down to 8:30 breakfast. We got there early and were on the slightly hungry side having not eaten for over 12 hours. Breakfast was good and hearty to prepare us and fill us up with carbs for the active day ahead. Our group met up outside in the courtyard to be outfitted into waterproof jackets and trousers, that were glaringly red. We then received helmets and harnesses, took a group photo of our team, the Bellbottoms (because Andrew’s red trousers flared out to an exaggerated degree), and then piled into a small bus and drove off to the caves. It should also be noted that we were told to sit as close to the front as possible in the bus because of all of the potholes on the road. My experience with these potholes in any story or retelling will never become a hyperbole; The drive was literally more bumpy and jarring than some simulated rides like Dinosaur, Indiana Jones, the Mummy, Thunder Mountain, or any ride that jerks you around, this drive had the potential to give you whiplash, and all I have to say is thank God for seatbelts because if I hadn’t been wearing one I would have turned into a dish of scrambled eggs.

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We were told that the caves are not the usual type that we are used to seeing. These are not limestone or even really caves, but fissures that were created by glaciers during the ice age. What I thought that I would be doing before I left for this trip was taking a relatively easy walk to an opening in the ground that had a stable and safe staircase leading into a cavern were we would get a tour of the cave and a briefing of its history. Reality was much different and more exciting.

Once we received our torches and our ensemble was complete we had a strenuous hike to get to the cave. We had to climb over large logs and rocks, which involved some clumsy crawling and scooting; this was probably the dirtiest I have ever gotten on a hike and I did not even slip and fall into mud. Once our group of eight students, Morna our guide, and Andrew one of the IFSA coordinators had all gathered at a flat area we were told that we were going to enter the cave. Looking around I couldn’t see any cave or opening, but there was this small crack. This crack, that looked only big enough for a small child to fit through, was the mouth of the cave we were going to enter. Morna told us that the opening was much larger than it looked and proved it by slipping right in. Only three people could fit at a time inside the cave so we were split into smaller groups. Now, I have never claimed to be the most graceful person, or even someone who could create a resemblance of a somewhat graceful movement, I am downright klutzy. My skills were shown off to new degrees in this particular cave. First when I went through the opening my harness got stuck on the rock so half of my body was in the cave while the other half was out. My legs dangled for purchase and suddenly I got free and slipped down the rock wall to the ground. Now it wasn’t a long drop (since I’m tall my feet had only been about a foot off the ground), but not being able to see made it unexpected. Once I was inside I was strapped to a rope and lowered into the depths of the cave. I felt like I was being lowered into a rabbit hole; the hole kept going and going and once I thought I was at the bottom I was told to turn sideways between two rocks and keep going lower. Once I was at the bottom I couldn’t see any of the lights from where I had descended and the voices calling out to me from the people waiting above were distant.

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Once my small group of 3 was gathered at the bottom all that was left to do was follow the directions we were given and find our way out. We moved down the cave and worked our way under a boulder where there was a rope with knots, we lowered ourselves farther down, and then we crawled, slid, and contorted ourselves until we arrived at the exit. At the exit, we once again strapped our harnesses to a rope and attempted to climb out. Now pretty much everyone climbed up just fine, but thank God for that rope and hard hat because if I didn’t have them I can guarantee that I would have seriously injured myself. I slipped off the rock wall I was climbing and hit my head on the rack wall behind me, but due to my gear and the rope I felt no pain or even fear. I was able to righted myself and get to the top of the opening and wait for the rest of my team, the Bellbottoms, to get through the cave. I might have not felt fear but I do have a slight embarrassment, so to anyone trying to dig up a video of my graceless exit, good luck because it will be a hard and most likely fruitless search.

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Once everyone made it successfully up we moved to the second cave which laid 20 meters farther up, so we began hiking again. This cave was a bit different. Instead of being lowered we would move up and sideways. We crawled into the cave (which was much easier entering compared to the first) and then pulled ourselves up onto a shelf. The entire Bellbottoms group was able to fit here and we turned off all of our headlamps, plunging ourselves into complete darkness. I thought the night hike from the previous day was dark but there was no comparison to the complete darkness of a cave where the sunlight does not reach. In this darkness we took group photos and scrapped some granite rocks together that set sparks, but for any wondering there were no ghost stories told.

We turned our lights back on and told that we had two options that we could use to exit. We could go back the way we had come (which seemed to be the suggested route) or there was the second way. This was how it was described to use. We were given no information, and it was kept vague, so being the smart, fun, and adventurous group that we are of course we chose the route that we had zero information on. We were given many opportunities to change our minds. We were told if you had even the slightest claustrophobia or apprehension then route 2 was not the route you should be taking. We were also told that the space was so tight that if you were bigger than a certain amount that you would get stuck, and if that happened you would need to take a slightly different direction and crawl through muck, kind of like the escape from Shashank Redemption but with a wider space. I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t fit because of my difficulties with the first cave opening and my harness getting stuck, but I marched on ahead. To get in to the opening you had to lie on your side and go feet first. You then used your hands and arms to push your body forward. In previousIMG_7766 posts I have said that if you were claustrophobic then you shouldn’t do certain things like go to the top of Notre Dame or St Peter’s but those spaces seem overly spacious compared to this cave. There is no room to adjust yourself to find a more comfortable position, and if you are not careful and do not stay aware of the position of your helmet then the helmet will get stuck. Luckily for me I have not been overeating or going crazy on ice cream and cookies so I actually didn’t get trapped and was able to move with relative ease; but just because I was able to get through with no problems does not mean it was easy. Getting through was uncomfortable, dirty, and took focus. Even the skinniest and tiniest people in the Bellbottoms had difficulties. Once we got past this part there was a turn that swung our legs around and then the rest of your body just seemed to follow. The rest of the way was easy and only involved some ducking. We were then finished with the caves and headed back for lunch and to get ready for our afternoon activity, the high ropes course.

 

I have never participated in a high ropes course before, but I love zip lining, and this was just as fun. The equipment for high ropes was a helmet, a lower harness, and an upper harness. The site was walking distance from the hostel/manor/activity center. We began with practicing on a course that mimicked some of the challenges we would face up in the air. I actually have really good balance so I didn’t have any troubles balancing on the wobbling logs or the thin ropes and chains. My only problem was with the swinging tires where you stepped from one twisting tire to another.

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Our first challenge for the high ropes course was balancing on logs and walking across. For this you climbed up staples and walked across a wet log, and once you reached the other side you would climb more staples and walk across another wet log. Once you finished you would just step off into the air and be lowered to the ground. I have mentioned before that I am a klutz and that even while walking on a perfectly flat surface I am klutzy enough to trip and stumble, but when it comes to walking across a log where balance is essential, I have no problems. In fact, they told me that I was like a monkey climbing up the staples because I was so fast; the people watching beneath me didn’t have time to take photos or record a video because I was done so quickly.

The next obstacle would be more challenging. On this one you climbed a ladder and then staples. You would move sideways on a rope while leaning forward on another and make your way across. Once on the other side you climbed up more staples walked sideways on a chain, using a few dangling ropes to help balance you. These ropes and chains were not thick. They were probably the thickness of two to two and half fingers. Once again I had no problems moving across.

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The last obstacle we were faced with was the trapeze, and it was by far the most challenging and the one I most looked forward to. This one is set up for teams of two, and my team was the first to step to the plate. I went up first. I started with the ladder, which actually ended up slipping around the pole it was leaning against while I was climbing up it, so it was a good thing it was tied or I would have fallen. After the ladder were wooden pegs. I climbed these pegs up higher and higher to a small perch at the top that seemed barley big enough to fit me let alone two people. Then I waited. The pole swayed side to side and all I could do was try to maintain my balance without falling off while I waited for my partner to make her way up. This was the most difficult thing that I had to do the entire day. Once my partner got to the top I carefully moved my feet to one side to give her room, but at the same time making it harder for me to balance as I was no longer centered. Once she was up she had a difficult time gaining her balance while trying to stand up, and ultimately ended up falling off. I then waited for her to reach the ground and make her way up again. Finally she was up and we were both in position. On the count of three we would leap off of our perch and into the air to make a grab for the trapeze bar. This was the moment I had been anticipating, the moment of glory. We leapt. And I grabbed it. My body extended and both of my hands got a firm grip, and then I slipped off. The bar was incredibly slick from the rain and we ended up with an epic fail, a hilarious video, and one second of disillusioned glory. Apparently we wiped off the bar enough (I was told by the other groups that they could see my hand prints) where it was no longer damp so the other teams had an easier time of grabbing on, and some even did tricks in the air, but I had a great time almost making it and laughing at our slip-up on the way down.

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What I learned from the caving and high ropes course is that I have no real fear of danger. Being in a tight space, falling, hitting my head, walking through the air, and trying not to fall from an unstable perch, being in danger don’t faze me at all. I have more fear for the mundane things in life like being late for a class or meeting, failing a test, or making a bad impression (and spiders and bugs).

We then had dinner and watched Braveheart to wrap up our weekend excursion. The next day we would head back out across the ferry and return to Edinburgh.

This weekend trip was a blast. I got to enjoy numerous new experiences, make new friends, and be part of the awesome Bellbottoms team (our team is very proud and got close very quickly). This was a great break from the stress of midterms and I am returning with unforgettable memories. Now I feel ready to give my presentations, write my essay, and once classes end go and explore the world.

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Helpful Hint: Before signing up for tours and activities know the risks and what you are in for because not all activities are suited for everyone. If was claustrophobic or acrophobic I would most likely have had a panic attack and not have enjoyed my weekend as much as I had.

Reunited on the Bonny Streets of Edinburgh

Last semester it seemed that every weekend I was jetting off to a new place and a new adventure, but so far this semester it hasn’t been the case. I have become a hermit due to:

  1. Money
  2. Midterms

After my trip to Paris I began to feel the pressure of the fast approaching midterms, so I decided to save my money and instead focus on academics. Luckily for me my friends who I visited in France decided to come to Edinburgh and visit me (so that I finally emerged from my flat).

Last semester there were no breaks once the term began in September. But seemingly out of nowhere the entire university got a week off of school, and the business school got another week off on top of that. This allowed me to dedicate my time and be a competent tour guide.

They had been to London and Alnwick Castle and Edinburgh was their next stop on their winter break trip. I met them at Waverly Station and took them to their hostel. I then started my tour with new town. Starting with the Balmoral (as they are Harry Potter fanatics like me) IMG_7574 IMG_7573we walked down Princes Street where I went over a bit of history; such as Princes Street Park once being a loch that waste was dumped in giving the town the nickname Ole’ Stinky. We took pictures of the Sir Walter Scott memorial, the author of the Waverley novels, went inside the affordable and trendy Primark, and exchanged money. We moved around the castle, going past the castle terrace, and down to Grass Market. They learned the amazing (and unbelievable) story of Maggie Dicksons and got some gelato from my favorite ice cream shop, Mary’s Milk Bar. We went into Greyfriar’s Kirkyard to pay our respects to the man (Thomas Riddle) who inspired the name of the darkest wizard of all time, he who shall not be named (Tom Riddle). We then made a circle and went through my university and old college, stopped by my flat, and headed to dinner at the Elephant House, the birth place of Harry Potter. We finished off the night at the Three Sisters pub where we watched the Bayern Munich game and participated in the famous Wednesday pub quiz. Some categories we were almost flawless in such as the Disney Princess category and the observation category, while some were left completely blank like the Train Spotting category (a Scottish film). We were utterly defeated.

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The next day we started bright and early to hike St. Arthur’s. We faced many hurdles like the icy and slippery ground but despite nature’s effort we made it up in great time. The top of St. Arthur’s is one of the best views of the city and my favorite. You can see everything (even my flat). The other great view of the city is Calton Hill, where Edinburgh gains the self-named nickname, Athens of the North.

We then had lunch at Spoon and marched our way up the rest of the Royal Mile to go inside Edinburgh Castle. This was actually a first for me. After being here a semester I had never once stepped past the castle gates, mainly because I am too much of a penny pincher for not wanting to put up the $GB 16.

The castle is the beautiful centerpiece of Edinburgh. At one o’clock you can hear deafening sound of the cannon go off, so be warned and plug your ears. You can see the prison cells, the banquet hall, and a few rooms. There is also a shop where you can buy whiskey and have a “free” whiskey tasting. We sped through the castle so that we could make the long walk to Duddingston with another group of friends in Edinburgh that weekend. [One of the girl’s surname was Duddingston to explain the long trek (about 40 minutes)]. We ate at the Sheep Heid Inn and participated in another pub quiz.

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It was a week night and only locals (most of them regulars) filled the pub. The pub quiz was almost entirely made up of Scottish culture, which we knew almost nothing about, despite me having been living here for one full term already. I am proud to say that I knew that Dr. Watson’s first name is John and the logo of the Rangers football team, but that was about all I could answer. We were big failures when it came to results, but when it came to having a blast no one in that pub could beat us. That ended our night and I walked them back to their hostel, and made my goodbyes. They were leaving at six the next morning.

Although short I had a lot of fun reuniting with my friends in Edinburgh. Being able to be a tour guide made me proud of my city and let me show off my love for it and spread it to others. It was like I was stepping into Edinburgh for the first time and my eyes once again saw how truly beautiful and amazing Edinburgh is. It also let me show of my knowledge a little which never hurt the ego.

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Helpful Hint: When you are being a tour guide plan ahead and be prepared, because they will ask for recommendations and advise, you are the expert guiding them through the city they know nothing about.

Hung Up on Midterms

I talked about a little in the previous blog post about how the pressure of midterms was starting to be felt, and how I can feel every tick of the clock that is counting down to the due dates of my papers and projects. Let me first just say the layout of the first semester is very different from this semester. In the previous semester there were no breaks until finals where you had one week for revision. In this semester though we get a break in winter (one week for most and two weeks for business students), it is longer, dissertations are due for fourth years, classes end [for me] on March 30, there is a long spring break, and finals don’t start until April 25 and they will last until the end of May.

My midterms included, two individual papers, three group presentations (one where we have to create a business and make a business plan), and two group papers; all due in the same two week period in March. So far my weeks have been filled with group meetings and research for papers and projects. The classes I am taking this semester are: International Strategic Management in Practice, Services Marketing, and Entrepreneurship and New Venture Creation. My main projects in each have been a book report and presentation on the book Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry, a service blueprint of Deliveroo and a paper comparing services for service quality face-to-face and internet, and creating a business and business plan that will be presented to angle investors. The pressure is on, but once March ends (and classes) I will be able to relax, travel, and go on adventures.

Last semester I spent my time moving between classes (on weekdays) and new cities (on weekends), but this semester it feels like I am more focused on academics and traveling will be a vacation and reward for my all of my hard work.

How the fall and spring terms are set up is very different from each other and my approach to how I divide my time is too, but I like it. By being here a year I was able to see different aspects of the student culture and I got to experience different strategies to how you can live your life studying abroad.

Helpful Hint: No matter how you divided your time while studying abroad remember you are there to study, but also experience a new culture. It is important to find balance.

Paris Travels Take Two

This was my first trip since getting back to Edinburgh. I had already gone to Paris last semester, but the trip was interrupted by unexpected and devastating events so I wasn’t able to experience everything that had been planned.IMG_7208

For the first time I went to Edinburgh airport by myself without my group of traveling buddies accompanying me. While lonely, going to the airport by myself at 5:00 in the morning it was also one of the only times that I made it to the airport before boarding time. Before when I was traveling with a group we would pre-book a taxi and split the cost which was easy and convenient, but since I was by myself I took the bus. The bus departs from Waverly station and takes approximately 30 minutes (same as the taxi). Taking the bus also saves money as its only 4.50GB per a person and provides free Wi-Fi. The bus was easy, comfortable, and affordable but it is better to take a taxi if you are traveling with heavy or great amount of luggage.IMG_7091 IMG_7231

This Paris trip was going to be short and sweet. I left Friday morning and would return Sunday. I had preplanned everything in advance. I mapped out all of my routes for walking and using the trains and I made reservations and printed out my tickets online.

My flight on Friday had quite a bit of turbulence and ended up having a late arrival. It was a good thing that I took the first flight in the morning because my plan for the day was touring Versailles and that would take a 80 minuet train ride and Versailles winter hours meant that it closed at 5pm. Since I went when it was off-season the queue to get in went by quickly and there were no backups or hindrances when I moved through the palace.

There was a special exhibit open on the Sun King’s funeral procession. In my opinion the most beautiful part inside the palace was the famous hall of mirrors, but my favorite part of going to Versailles was the gardens. Even in winter when nothing is in bloom the gardens are spectacular. To see Versailles you need an entire day, and after quickly moving through the palace I spent the rest of my time in Versailles wandering through the gardens. The gardens are expansive. They are almost like a maze, although designed to be symmetrical, there are so many turns and pathways it is easy to lose your sense of direction, but this also leads to surprises; for instance, when I took one pathway that led away from the main path, that is lined with fountains, I found an oasis. In the middle of this perfectly manicured garden there was a bit was wildness. There wasn’t symmetry here but instead the plants growing where they pleased, spouting in different directions. And where the rest of the rest of the garden was still hibernating for winter, here in this small part, the grass was bright green, leaves were still on the trees, and the flowers were in full bloom.IMG_7354 IMG_7366

Other parts of the gardens were just as enchanting. Marie Antoinette’s peasant village made me feel like I was in the opening scene of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (and I might have broken out into song at one point while walking though). This part might have actually have been my favorite just because of my Disney obsession. [This deserved its own paragraph]

After Versailles I grabbed a quick dinner and got back on the train to head to the hostel I was staying at with some friends I was meeting up with. This ended up leading to a few missteps, and “learning opportunities”.  Once I got into central Paris, my transfer line was closed and there was not another line that would get me closer. Unfortunately, I didn’t have Wi-Fi access and no way to know how to walk there. So I got a taxi. Unfortunately, my friend had all of the information for the hostel (all I knew was the name) so I had the driver drop me off at station I was supposed to have ended up at. Once I safely arrived I unfortunately couldn’t check in because my reservation was under my friend’s name and I needed her passport to be able to go to our room. After waiting around three hours I decided to book another room and go to bed because I had been up since 4am. I found out the next day that my friend had problems on her end with her train leaving late and not getting in until 1am. I think I made the right decision in getting another room. Thankfully the rest of the trip went much more smoothly.IMG_7129 IMG_7177

The next day was probably one of my favorite days I have spent abroad [once again due to my Disney obsession] because I was able to go to my third Disney park, Disneyland Paris, with one of my best friends who I met when I worked at Disney World. The classic rides were all there, like Pirates of the Caribbean, but they were a bit different from their American counter parts. For instance, the Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris is more trilling compared to the one at Disney World, but its theming was based around astrology instead of astronomy. Also there were no games or purposeful distractions in the queue to entertain guests. We were able to do everything in both parks thanks to there being only a small crowd in about 8 hours.

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Somethings I liked that were different: there were a lot of great sales on main street, the castle was beautiful (I liked it better than the Sleeping Beauty castle in California), inside the castle you could walk upstairs and walk through the story of Sleeping Beauty,  the rides had a higher thrill factor, all the cast members were in character and everyone was friendly even the guests

 

Something I didn’t like as much that were different: The theming wasn’t done as well, The hot dogs at Casey’s Corner were bland and they only had a couple of topping choices, Star Tours was offered only in French and was not in 3D (although listening in French made C3PO more humors), there were no fillers in the queue to be offered as distractions

 

I really loved the park, but personally I don’t think any Disney Park can compare to Disney World, entering it was like coming home. After having spent five months of my life walking around Disney World while doing my internship, the layout of Disneyland Paris was like a smaller version of Magic Kingdom. It was easy to get around and navigate where to go and what to do next due to my previous experiences. It was nostalgic and now I can’t wait to have my reunion with all of my friends at Disney World.

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Helpful Hint: Always, always, always make sure you have access to all of the travel plans such as the confirmation to the hotel

End of Intermission: Back into Scotland

After a few weeks away I am now back in the UK. Even though I wasn’t gone for a long period of time some parts of Edinburgh have been slowly changing; there was some new construction, the weather went from freezing to mild and blustery, new shops have opened and some have finally closed their doors, and it is no longer dark by 3pm. These changes have been happening little by little but now after having been away it all seems to have changed at once. It is the start of a new semester and even though I know the city now, it feels like I am almost starting from scratch. While I haven’t done much since I have gotten back I have been planning out my semester, and I can’t wait to see what it will all have in store.

The End is Near, Goodbye Edinburgh – For Now

The semester is over, and I feel like I have just arrived in Edinburgh. My semester here has passed by so fast that it seems surreal that I am going home. Thankfully I am studying for a year so I will return once the spring session begins. It will be a shock to go back and find many of my friends gone, as they were only there for a semester. Goodbyes are hard but I am really grateful for this experience and all of the memories that I was able to make with friends that I will keep for a lifetime.

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To commemorate the end of finals and our last few days together my friends and I headed south for a weekend in London before we all split and went our separate ways.

Our first day in London was spent at Buckingham Palace, where we saw the end of the changing of the guard (and may have seen Prince George and Princess Charlotte), the houses of parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, going up the Eye at Sunset, and walking through all of the Christmas markets. The largest one was in Hyde Park, and it was more like a fair. There were carnival rides, games, and food and some shopping stalls. It reminded me a lot like a state fair, except the food was not all deep fried.

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Our second day we walked all over the Tower of London, where we saw the six Ravens, Traitor’s Gate, the square where three queens lost their lives and heads, and learned what it takes to be a guide. The guides at the Tower of London are actually all part of the Queen’s personal guard and live in the buildings surrounding the Tower. They have also all served over 22 years in military service for the crown and have an officer rank. From there we saw London Bridge or Tower Bridge and left for Harrods. Harrods is a ginormous department store that sells almost anything you can think of, and we ended up getting turned around and lost pretty much the entire time we were inside. From there we went to Piccadilly Circus which is like Time Square and then to Convent Gardens. As we walked around SoHo we also searched for noses that are on buildings. An artist put models of noses around London to protest big brother activities, but they are now a loved and unique part of London.

Before our flight we went to 221B Baker Street to see the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes which is the real home to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, we walked across Abbey Road (sort of like The Beatles) and took a cheesy picture that is up there with awkward family photos, and we toured Kensington Palace and ate at the Orangery.

 

I have been to London before and I have decided that it is not a city you should rush. There is a lot to see, but you get the most out of it if you take your time to enjoy it and do the tours instead of just trying to cram everything in. I will have to go back if not just for the British Museum, but to also enjoy all the parks when the flowers are in bloom and the weather is better.

My time in Edinburgh has felt short, but I feel like I have accomplished a lot. I cannot wait for what 2016 will have in store, but for now I am going to enjoy my winter break and time with my family before I go back. Thank you to all of my friends, flat mates, IFSA-Scotland, classmates, professors, and

Edinburgh for making my first semester so memorable!

 

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Helpful Hint: When you go to study abroad people will tell you what you should do and how you should get involved (and it is good advice), but don’t listen to them if it doesn’t interest you. Your time abroad should be about what you want to do, so don’t hesitate and find what you will enjoy because every experience abroad is unique and the main thing is to not have any regrets when you return home.

When Goghing to Amsterdam

(Sorry for the bad pun)

For the first time since I left Edinburgh for a weekend trip I haven’t felt like I was participating in The Amazing Race. We had plenty of time to spare at the airport and were even able to have a proper breakfast.

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When I stepped into the city center of Amsterdam it was like a different world. On the train ride over we passed many apartment and business buildings and the scenery reminded me a bit of the suburbs at home (just without all the American single homes lined up in a row).  When you step out of the train station in the city center you enter a large square. Across you see the palace, to the right a grand church, and to the left is a canal which Amsterdam is famous for. Undoubtedly the best part of Amsterdam is walking through it.

We stayed in Amsterdam for two and half days which was more than enough time. We saw the Anne Frank House (where you are not allowed to take any pictures), the Van Gogh Museum, the Tulip Museum, and the Cheese Museum (where you can sample A LOT of cheese), walked through the Red Light District, and experienced an Ice Bar (where everything, including your glass is ice).  I really enjoyed Amsterdam but my advice if you decide to travel to this city is to rent a car. The best way to see The Netherlands is to take a car and be able to drive through the country side and see the tulips growing with the windmills in the background and go from city to city. This way you have more freedom to move about as you like and are able to get a better grasp on the country.

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My only regrets are that I was not able to go into the palace because it was in use at the time and I was not able to see the Rijksmuseum.

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Helpful Hint: When in Amsterdam eat pancakes!

The Holiday Season is now Upon Us

A Thanksgiving treat

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I have always celebrated Thanksgiving and it was very strange living in a place where is doesn’t even exist. After Halloween ends the next big holiday is Christmas, and there feels like something is missing when November rolls around. Because I have never been away from home on Thanksgiving I feel like I might have taken it for granted in the past. The semester is almost to a close and longing for home begins to set in. You miss your family and the regularities of home. Not being with your loved ones on Thanksgiving really set this in. Being in a foreign country gives you an entirely new perspective and appreciation for this holiday and makes me even more thankful for my family and home.

Fortunately for me, because I am part of the IFSA-Scotland program they set up a special Thanksgiving dinner for their students. They have a nice meal that gives everything you would normally see on a Thanksgiving table, but add a bit of a Scottish twist. For one they served haggis balls and after dinner we ended the night with a ceilidh. I have been to a ceilidh workshop but an actual dance before, and it was a lot of fun and a great work out. Everyone dressed up and all of us were unsure what to do when the dance began. It started off a bit like those awkward middle school dances we all remember. But once the band began and started to give us instructions on what to do and where to go we lost all reserves and danced the night away.

(If you have never seen a ceilidh I would recommend looking up a video or if possible attending one.)

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Christmas Market Extravaganza  

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Being able to see the Christmas Markets is one of the reasons I choose to study abroad during the fall semester, and they did not disappoint. Christmas markets across Europe begin to open their stalls once November arrives. There are all types of markets: some just for food, some for crafts, medieval, children oriented, decorations… the list goes on. The Christmas market in Edinburgh opened November 20 and runs to the beginning of January. The Edinburgh Christmas market is a mix of everything. It has food and treats, crafts, winter products, rides, gifts, decorations for the holidays, cultural items, rides (they have reindeer land and a Santa’s village for kids), and a Christmas tree lot. The market is outside and it has stalls that line up and down the street. The one in Edinburgh is located on Princes Street (the main shopping street). There are three tiers as the street overlooks Princes Street Gardens. You start at the top and whine your way around to descend into the gardens to reach the other booths. The Christmas markets are a lot of fun and it is tempting to go crazy buying gifts so be careful and I would recommend only bringing cash that you are willing to spend and leaving everything else at your home/apartment/hotel.

I love the Edinburgh Christmas market but it is fun being able to see others. I was able to see the Paris Christmas market being set up, and I saw a small one in Amsterdam, and this weekend I will be able to see the main one in Rome, but if you really want to see a traditional one go to Germany where they started. Each Christmas market is unique and diverse; the goods they sell vary on the country’s culture and heritage, so I am grateful to be lucky enough to see multiple Christmas Markets.

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Helpful Hint: When you go to a Christmas market walk through it first before purchasing anything. Many stalls sell similar items and prices and quality may vary so hunt out what you really want and what has the best deals before spending your money. Also remember the Pound and Euro are doing better than the dollar so watch your spending!

Paris Attacks, Friday the 13th 2015

On Friday night, the 13th of November, the world trembled. One of the most horrific terrorist attacks to occur in Europe transpired, and many were killed, injured, and/or traumatized. People around the world have pulled together to pray and show their support to the victims and those affected.

I feel that so much has happened in Paris that it is best to split my blog entries into two parts. Part one will detail the events of Friday night and the weekend from my view, having been in Paris at the time, and give advice to those who ever find themselves in such a situation. Part two will cover my time in Paris, all the places I went and how we celebrated my friend’s birthday.

I arrived in Paris on Thursday night for a weekend trip with my friends from Edinburgh University. With no idea of the storm that was to follow.

Friday  

At 9:00pm we left the Louvre to go to dinner. The first attack at the football (soccer) stadium occurred at 9:20. We were in transit to dinner at the and had no idea what terror was occurring a few miles away. We had dinner in ignorant bliss to the horrific acts that occurring. We had taken an Uber from the Louvre to dinner and after grabbed the metro to Camborne, the station by the flat we were staying in. We entered the flat around 11pm, and once our phones were connected to Wi-Fi we got a message asking if we were okay. Curious we turned on the television and suddenly we saw multiple reports of explosions and shootings in central Paris. Immediately we got in contact with our parents to inform them we were okay and then called the emergency line for IFSA Butler to inform them that we were safe inside our flat. That night we stayed up until 3am keeping track of all the latest reports and staying in constant contact with someone at home or Scotland. What was once a fun Friday full with a full day of tourist activities had turned into a long night of watching the city around us descend into chaos.

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Saturday we stayed inside. We left once in the morning to get food from a nearby grocery store and again at night to catch a glimpse of the dark Eiffel Tower. It was almost like a relaxing, laid back Saturday spent at home, except we were in Paris. On the way to the Eiffel Tower we were stopped by a French family who warned us not to get any closer. The police had been blocking off streets and patrolling areas which could be targeted, were targeted, or seen as a risk. (In general it is not a great idea to go into heavily policed areas when tensions are running high.) Avoiding the area, we walked a bit further so we could see the Tower, but at a safe distance.

Sunday and Monday Travel

Sunday was beautiful. We went out in hopes that some museums and shops would be open. Unfortunately, most were still closed, but we did get to walk around Paris on a beautiful day. The shops that were opened had heightened security. They had roped lines for entering the doors, so security could do bag checks. They even checked bags leaving the premises.

Part of the heightened security was more police patrol, curfews, and closed borders. Our air line and Air B&B accommodation offered free rescheduling and free accommodation for any extra days if our flight was rescheduled.  At that moment the only way to leave was by airplane, and that meant everything was exceedingly slow. For out flight on Monday morning, we arrived at the airport two hours early, but with slow road ways and long, chaotic lines for border control and security we missed our flight. The next flight out was at 3:55, so we spent the majority of our Monday languishing at the airport.IMG_4172

If you ever find yourself in a high tension/risk situation when visiting a country here is some advice that you should follow:

  1. Shelter-in-place for at least the next 24-hours or until the government/security officials permits movement around the city.
  2. Avoid any unnecessary travel.
  3. If you do leave your accommodations, avoid large gatherings and crowded areas.
  4. Avoid protests and demonstrations.
  5. If you see suspicious activity, packages, or if something just doesn’t seem right, notify authorities.
  6. Register with the U.S. Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
  7. Call the equivalent of 911 in case of emergency.
  8. Keep updated with the news and media covering the city, so you stay aware of the situation.
  9. Contact family, friends, and whoever is keeping track of you at your university (be it a provider like IFSA, the international office, or a family you are staying with). Also give them updates of how you are faring and the situation.
  10. Follow the laws of the country you are in and be cautious.

Some of the advice was given to us and some is just common sense but it is important and played a large part in how safe I felt during my time in Paris.

 

Just another Manic Workday

Lately everyday has been a bit more stressful and hectic. I have not really left my room since it seems like Halloween, and I feel like all I do is live in a box and stare at a computer screen… But that is now all at an end! Here there are IMG_3479only two grades for each class, and I have just finished all of the three papers for them. All that is left is finals, but for now I can relax and enjoy myself.

While I was writing my papers I would need to take breaks, but I couldn’t go too far or I knew that I would just put off work to have fun. This led to a lot of baking. The item of the week was lemon crumble cookies. Baking is a great stress reliever, and I get something very tasty at the end. Thank you Pinterest, for helping me to survive midterms with my mind still intact and able to function.

 

 

Now to catch up on everything that I haven’t had the time to write about.

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Halloween!!!

I love holidays, and it was a lot of fun being able to experience a holiday in a new place where things are done a little differently. Halloween here is more focused on the scary aspect. My friends and I were origionally going to be dressed as holidays, I was Easter, but that plan fell through. It turned out as the skeletons and ghouls and one living girl that is stuck with them (me). My friends did a really good job on their makeup. They even freaked me out a little.

After getting ready we headed down to Grassmarket to watch the Fire Festival. It is a bunch of volunteers who dress up to celebrate the pagan rituals held on Samhain. It is hard to describe how they acted because it is something that you would only really read about in a fantasy book or see in a movie. Some danced and played like children in the street with no care to personal space. Others walked in a stately manor looking above all the rest, and then there was an army like atmosphere as they came down the street banging on drums with stoic faces. There was fire, dancing, and some acted out battle. It was really interesting to watch, but like I said it is hard to describe (probably because it was hard to understand exactly what I was seeing).

IMG_3512Sorry this is a short one, but this weekend I am heading off to Paris and it is time for me to leave!

 

Helpful Hint: When celebrating a holiday somewhere new, do research on their customs, you do not want to offend anyone.