Friday, September 30, 2011

Portobello Beach

Note: I forgot my camera today so I'm going to borrow other people's pictures!

Edinburgh might be on the water, but I never expected to enjoy a day at the beach. Luckily, a heat wave is hitting the UK. This is not the unbearable DC heat wave I am used to, but an Indian summer which means sun and breeze and shorts (though the Brits all wear tights under their shorts). Unluckily, it's ending soon.

Still, Molly, Alexander, Lane, Ben, and I headed to the beach to take advantage of the summer while it's here. Portobello is a suburb of the city and we were able to catch a bus outside David Horn and take it there. It's about 20 minutes past Leith, where I visited last Friday. 

First, we got got sandwiches and fish and ships on the main street and then headed in the direction of the water. It turned out there were real chippys (real fish and chips shops) on the water so the boys regretted getting their fish earlier. We settled down on the sand to enjoy our picnic.

This is a picture Alexander took:

It was about 70 degrees F, which meant it was gorgeous outside. People were swimming and playing on the beach. After eating, Molly, Lane, and I waded in the water. 

A picture from Molly's camera:

Little children and dogs were playing in the water. This is a picture Ben took:

After we put our shoes back on our sandy feet, the guys said they wanted to walk home. It was about 3 miles, so we decided to race: bus versus walking. The guys actually won by about ten minutes (I attribute this to an unplanned bus transfer). 

Maybe I'll have pictures of snow to post soon! Hopefully, not too soon...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

David Horn (My Accommodation)

I've mentioned David Horn a few times, but I haven't described the house I'm living in. When i had to request accommodations in March or April, I didn't know much about the city or campus. I chose David Horn as my top choice and got a spot in May.

Google Street View of David Horn

It was a little difficult to figure out how to get here from the airport, because it's actually 5 rowhouses pushed together and you can only enter from the center one. Inside the center one is a living room (common room), and beyond that is 3 kitchens and 2 dining rooms. There's also one laundry room. I live on the second floor of one of the houses at the end. I was in shock at how big my room was when I first got here, especially compared to how small some people's are. There's no standardization of rooms at all, and I ended up with one of the biggest, if not the biggest singles. A big part of that is how high the ceiling is. When I tried to take a picture, it was impossible to get both the floor and the ceiling in the frame. 

Every room comes with a desk (actually 2 desks), a wash basin, a twin bed, a wardrobe, a bedside table, a lamp, a set of shelves, and a phone which give you an internet connection. The rooms are either white or a peach that turns pink in the sun.

The view from the doorway:

The beds here are super short! My bed:

My wardrobe:

My HUGE window:

The tool to draw my curtains since the window is twice as tall as me:

The view from my window:

My shelves:

My wash basin:

I really love my room, but I have one small complaint. The hot and cold faucets are separate. When I complained about this to an English student, they said that was normal. 

Me: What if you want warm water?
English student: Use the hot faucet until it gets too hot.
Me: And cool water?
English student: Use the cold faucet until it gets too cold.

Unfortunately, it gets too hot or too cold in about ten seconds.

Gratuitous Castle Post

I finally got to go inside Edinburgh Castle yesterday! The castle looms over the city, a fortress that has been around for hundreds of years, growing slowly over that time. The most intimidating part of the castle? The entrance fee. It's £15 for adults. Conveniently, the University of Edinburgh Historical Society has a £4 membership fee and free admission to the castle on certain days in the semester. So yesterday, Molly and I decided to take advantage of that.

Yesterday (Wednesday) and today have been amazing as far as weather. People are walking around in shorts and I've had my bedroom window wide open in hopes of getting a small breeze. For lunch, Molly, Hillary, and I went to a bakery a few blocks away and bought meat pies and pastries for a couple pounds each. We ate them in the Meadows and soaked up as much sun as we could.

Then Molly and I headed to the castle. It's at the end of Royal Mile, so not too far from campus. As soon as we got there, we took the obligatory we're visiting a castle pictures:

As we waited for the History Society officers, a group of small children taking a tour of the castle walked by. The best part? They all had on adorable little crowns. We wanted a picture so I pretended to take a picture of Molly:

Once inside, I went camera crazy, taking over 50 pictures in about 2.5 hours. 

The castle is built on a hill and, in a way, built into the hill. All around, you can see parts of the hill.

A lot of canons are set up around the castle. One we saw later was Mons Meg.

A lot of the castle was museums: the Scottish War Museum, the Prisoners of War Museum, the Military Prison Museum, etc. My favorite part was the crown jewels, but no pictures were allowed. They had the history of coronations in Scotland. The exhibit says that the original stone used for coronation (the Stone of Scone) was stolen by Edward I, who invaded Scotland. He then took the stone and built upon it the Coronation Chair used by all English monarchs since. However, I went home and looked this up and Wikipedia actually lists this as a theory, while the Scottish Historical Trust exhibit described it as a true story. The exhibit did have old English song lyrics that described the chair as "built upon the scone."

Outside of St. Mary's Chapel was a view of the soldier's dog cemetery:

Me outside the Scottish War Memorial:

The most castle-y part of the Castle was David's Tower, which was the original part. It was really fun to explore the different sites, and hopefully I'll go back to see the castle gardens soon.

Loch Lomond

The International Student Centre at Edinburgh runs trips around Scotland every Saturday. I missed the first trip to St. Andrew's, but I got a ticket for Loch Lomond and went on September 24th. 

230 international students left from campus at 9am on coach buses. It was a 2 hour bus ride and we went straight to the boat when we got there. Matt, Katie, and I went on a 1 hour boat cruise. Loch Lomond is the largest fresh body of water in Great Britain (aka the biggest lake). The cruise was great, but I was really disappointed because we saw so little of the lake. Still, the view was amazing.

A lot of the lake homes have been restored and turned in to hotels. This is a hotel where U2 and Michael Jackson have stayed:

Me during the cruise:

After the cruise, we went to a fish and chips place grabbed take away lunch. When I asked for a fork for my chili and chips, they gave me this:


Chip forks are kindof impossible to use, so most people just use their hands for the fish and chips take away.

After lunch, we started walking on the path around the lake, which goes up to the castle. Balloch Castle isn't very exciting as far as castles go, but it was the first one I saw up close. 

The next thing we walked by on our hike was a playground. We realized how much cooler Scottish playgrounds are than American ones. Rope and tire swings, mini-trampolines, and more!

The hike was uphill for the rest of the way, but worth it. It was very similar to forest scenery in the Northeast US:

It was really great to see the Scottish countryside, but I wish I had seen more of Loch Lomond. To give you an example of how little I saw, there are over 30 islands on the Loch, but I only saw one. Hopefully, I'll get to see more lochs soon!


Last Friday, September 23rd, Matt, Lane, and I decided to check out Leith, the port neighborhood in Edinburgh. Part of the appeal was that we could take a bus and just spend the day there. Leith is the port district and is mainly an immigrant community. When there, we figured that it was mostly Polish, Chinese, and Indian immigrants. 

A lot of the buses go to Leith Walk so we got on the number 7 at 11am. About halfway to Leith, we realized that we had no idea where to get off. It became apparent when we got to Leith Walk street and we hopped off. We weren't really sure what to do there, but we asked two policemen and they pointed us in the direction of the Royal Yacht. 

On the way there, we saw some parts of Leith.

Leith Walk:

A mural depicting the community:

Leith School for the Arts:

We thought we were heading in the right direction, but we ended up at Ocean Terminal Mall. We were pretty confused, but saw a tourist sign for the Royal Yacht Britannia inside. We thought that was where you bought tickets, but it turned out that you actual enter the Yacht from the mall. Once we got our tickets, we walked through an exhibit about the history of royal yachts. The first one was given to the royal family in the 1500s by the Dutch. Up until 2006, the British Royal Family had their own yacht, mainly used for recreation (though the Britannia was also used for one or two rescue missions). Britannia was commissioned during George VI's reign, but was not finished until after his death. Elizabeth II took an annual cruise to the Western Islands and called Britannia the only place she could relax.

Me on the top level:

The audio tour was fascinating because it discussed the different design elements specific to the royal family. For example, the windows are above head level on the queen and prince's quarters to avoid an accidental glimpse inside. Oddly, there is only one double bed on board and it's in the honeymoon suite. It was brought on board by Prince Charles for his honeymoon with Diana. We didn't get to see the VIP suite, but that's where Bill Clinton and other guests have stayed.

Matt, me, and Lane by the Bloodhound (the royal raceboat):

After the tour, we went off in hunt of fish and chips. Since we were so close to the Royal Yacht, most of the places we came upon were tourist traps. We finally found a decently priced place and had delicious fried cod and chips and peas.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not a huge fish fan. But after trying haggis, I figure I should I give fish and chips a chance. I loved them, but was challenged with the serving size--which is pretty much always enormous.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Today marks the second week of classes, so I figured I should probably write about them.

Last Monday, I only had one lecture--Scotland: Society and Politics. I went to met my friend Matt in the lecture hall in Appleton Hall, but the teacher never arrived. One student stood up and said the class would start on Thursday. We believed and decided to enjoy our day off, but it turned out he was referring to a different course entirely. I would later find out that the International Students Office had different information than the rest of the university.

The next day, I woke up very ill. Nevertheless, I dragged myself to my morning seminar. I had the Politics of British Public Services, a fourth years honours course. I was having trouble focusing during the lecture, but the material was very interesting. The idea is to differentiate between public and private spheres and how different political parties have approached public services and government spending in the United Kingdom, including England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

I managed to eat some lunch even though I was hungry, but I was really happy to drink a huge bottle of water before I headed to my next class, Contemporary Feminist Debates. At this point in the day, I was feeling horrible. I barely got through the 3 hour lecture, which included pop culture videos on feminism. There was some cultural confusion on my part when the teacher kept referring to Ali G as black, because was wearing bling and trackies. 

After class, I got a hot drink and waited in line for an hour and a half with Matt and Liz. We got tickets from the International Student Center to go to Loch Lomond, the largest fresh body of water in Great Britain (there will be another post about this!).

Finally, we walked home and I was in my room by seven. I had the chills at this point so I covered myself in socks, boot liners, four layers of clothing, a hat, a scarf, and mittens. I woke up burning but still cold and took my temperature, which was over 100F! Everyone else in my dorm had been sick, but no one had a fever. I took a fever reducer and crawled back in to bed and put my hat on again, hoping the fever would break. I slept all of the next day (Wednesday) and felt significantly better by Wednesday evening.

Thursday, Matt and I went to the correct lecture hall for our Scotland class. The lecturer was great! We learned about Scottish political history and were really looking forward to the course. Unfortunately, the lecturer today was not up to par and spent 50 minutes defining nation, state, and society. But I'll definitely come away from this semester knowing a lot about Scottish and British politics (and the difference between the two)!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

S Club 3

The final Fresher's event was obviously the one I was the most excited about: S Club 3. From 1998 to 2003, S Club 7 (which became just S Club in 2002) was a British pop group with their own American TV show. Jo, Bradley, and Paul recently reunited as S Club 3 to do a reunion tour, mostly stopping at small UK colleges to perform for nostalgic fans. This past Saturday, they played at "The Big Cheese" at Potterow, one of Edinburgh's student unions. My friends and I arrived early to line up. We met other visiting students, two Americans and a Canadian, in line who we found out we had mutual friends with. One of the girls actually went to Stuyvesant High School in New York City, TJ's rival, so we were able to bond about intense high school experiences at a magnet school for science.

We got inside "the Venue" (it was actually called the Venue) by 9:30pm, but S Club 3 wasn't coming on until midnight. We filled the first two hours with casual drinking and dancing, but things started getting intense a little after 11pm. We had managed to get to the second row and were determined to hold our ground. But the crowd was made up mostly of drunk freshman girls trying to push their way to the front, not caring who they knocked over the process. We tried to hold on to each other in an attempt to keep them from squeezing between us, but in the process I fell over at one point (big surprise), Lorrie had beer dumped all over her, and most of us were bruised. At nearly midnight, almost all of our group decided it wasn't worth it and headed to the back of the venue, where there was space to move around. Matt and I firmly held our ground.

S Club 3 came out a little after midnight and immediately launched into S Club Party. They actually seemed surprised to have such a large and excited crowd--they kept asking, "You all still like us?" They quickly went through all the songs people knew in under half an hour (all lip synching) and then Paul attempted some solo material. That's when we finally escaped.

I'm not sure I would ever fight that much to stay at the front again, but it was really fun to see a band that I loved at ten years old.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Literary Pub Crawl

Lorrie and I finally managed to get tickets for something we wanted on Friday. But that meant getting to Teviot by 8:15am, or leaving David Horn at 8am. Once we had tickets to the Book Lovers Tour we got breakfast and went back home, where we took a long nap. After dinner, we headed to Teviot, where Fresher's guides took us to the Royal Mile to meet the real tour guide (I was very thankful to hear we had a professional guide)

The guide, Allan Foster, introduced himself as, not a tour guide, but a writer. He had written a book on the best literary pubs in Edinburgh a few years ago and started giving tours to promote it. The tour was a really fun mix of literary history and Scottish folk music at the pubs. 

The first pub we went to was the Royal Oak, Ian Rankin's favorite pub. Rankin has used it in his books. There was a folk duo. They were excited to see a group of students and did an eclectic mix of folk and top 40. 

We went by the original medical school, where Arthur Conan Doyle first created Holmes and Watson. Then by the infirmary where Robert Louis Stevenson first met the man who inspired Longjohn Silver and J.M. Barrie came up with the idea for Wendy. The medical buildings were also the literal inspiration for Stevenson's "Body Snatchers."

Then we stopped outside Hispaniola. Until a few years ago it was Rutherford's, a pub once frequented by Doyle, Barrie, and, especially, Stevenson. An Italian restaurant has taken over, but the owner has attempted to make it an homage to Stevenson by naming it after the pirate ship and giving it Disney-esque decor. 

Remember how I posted about the birthplace of Harry Potter? Here is another cafe that can claim a similar fame. At the time of her writing, the cafe belonged to her brother-in-law, which meant she could write there for as long as she liked.

The next cafe we stopped at was Captain's, where the folk music starts at 9 or 10. A poet named McGonagall actually died next door. Interestingly enough, this is across the corner from where Rowling was writing and it is where she got the name for Professor McGonagall. 

There was a lot of other literary history that I loved, but far too much to write about! This was definitely the highlight of my week.

Sold Out...Again and Again

On Tuesday, most of the visiting students went to a mandatory meeting while the freshers headed to the introduction to their school. The visiting students filled a huge lecture hall. One of the administrators asked us if we were from different countries and kept listing ones with more and more students until she reached the US, and we filled more than half the auditorium. There were also a good number of students from Canada. We got a speech on culture adjustment so that we would be more prepared for the British grading system and style of lecturing. 

After that, we tried to get tickets for a castle tour, at which point we found out they were sold out at 9:30am, as were all the tours for the day. This was when we realized that our Fresher's pass might not be worth what we paid. We spent the afternoon at the Scottish National Museum. Though some buildings, like the castle, are expensive, all the museums are free. The museum was fantastic, perfect for a history nerd. 

Later, we headed back to Teviot for another pub quiz. This one was run by the radio station and had 9 rounds. We did a lot better, but were still stumped by specific British pop culture and history. We were in 3rd place after the 6th round, but fell to 5th by the end. I actually thought it was better that way, as the prize for 3rd was a Roger Moore blowup doll. 

Thursday, we got to the box office before 9am in hopes of getting tickets for the Zoo or the Historical Celtic Tour of Edinburgh. Alas, they were both gone by 9:15am. Instead we tried the Historical Tour of the University. Unfortunately, that was a wash as the fresher's guides (students) had not been given the material ahead of time and barely knew what was going on. Instead, we checked out the library, which has much better study space than Georgetown. 

We wandered up the main road until we reached the Royal Mile. This is where all the government buildings are and it's very tourist-y. The buildings are gorgeous there. 

There are lots of really fun street performers:

And tourist trap restaurants:

St. Giles' Cathedral:

There was one street performer who got us to stop and kept trying to build up a crowd. He spent most of his time talking though. One of his ploys was to get us to clap so more people would come over. Too bad for him, we didn't clap that loudly. So he told us to stop clapping like Scots watching golf and to clap like Americans! Which requires us to yell WOO very loudly. 

Beyond the Royal Mile is Princes Street, which is even more tourist-y, but also beautiful buildings (and a huge monument to Sir Walter Scott). 

Even though we weren't able to get into many Fresher's events, we got a feel for the city and saw a lot of it.