Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Great Blog Update of 2011

I've missed you! It has been a CRAZY few weeks here in Auld Reekie (and beyond!) and I have been sorting through hundreds of pictures for you! Grab a mug of Hot Toddy and cuddle up to read this excessively eventful blog post!

1) I have visited Glasgow for the International Bag Piping Championships! After a sleepy early morning train, we wandered about Old Town Glasgow (as we had failed to look up directions) until we caught the faint sound of bagpipes in the distance. We followed the sound until it became a droning thunder -- we had arrived at the Championships!

Beyond bagpipes and drum lines, we also enjoyed Highland Dancing (bouncy ballet), drum major competitions (flinging batons around while wearing a kilt), Highland Games (big men in kilts! big men in kilts lifting logs, throwing rocks, and literally flipping timber!), and Scottish lamb "stovie" (lamb and potato stew). We visited The People Palace Museum of Glasgow, and learned of the town's ties with military history and economic downturns. After the bagpiper winners were announced and many kilted men were seen sobbing for joy, we took a late train "home" to Edinburgh. :)

2) I have visited the Edinburgh Castle! Friend Victoria and I took many many photos of each other from the gorgeous views on the castle walls, and combed through the extensive military museums housed inside. My two favorites: An exhibit about the modern day bag pipe band of the Scottish "cavalry", who achieved the number one album in Britain that they recorded while in Iraq; Doors from 1700s POW prisons, where imprisoned American Revolutionaries had left carvings of early American flags on the doors!

After a good five hours in Castle Edinburgh, I bought a pot of tea and wrote in my journal until they kicked me out. A beautiful end to a beautiful day.

3) I have seen much theater! The next few days was a run of incredible shows, from an avante garde Polish influenced piece, to a mind-blowing show about America and its capitalistic drive. In another show, we all sat in a tent on couch cushions on the floor and tossed props to the actors! My creative theater genes are being well expressed here - I have even shed a tear or two. :,)

4) I have eaten much food! Back to the Elephant House to enjoy coffee where Jo wrote Harry; my first full Scottish breakfast (haggis is yummy yet mysterious); and most importantly Kristina and I made apple-sage-lamb PIE! Jealous?!

5) I have hiked Arthur's Seat! This is the tallest point of the Salisbury Crags I hiked earlier this month! Friends Mark, Kristina and I prepared for our hike with pastries from Pie Maker then headed out. We stopped at the ruins of a 15th century chapel, which Mark climbed (I merely posed with it). The hike was short and steep, with an extensive panoramic view of Edinburgh, the sea, surrounding suburbs and farm lands. We were fortunate enough to see the naturalistic beauty of rain clouds drifting across the city and water. Then we were unfortunate enough to be caught in it on our way down. A wonderfully wet and satisfying day, followed by a strong cup of cocoa.

6) I have walked along the Eastern Coasts of Scotland! It was the number one highlight of my trip so far. Friends Veronica, Shelbyrae, and I somewhat spontaneously took a train out of Edinburgh Friday afternoon, to travel to a coastal walking trail we'd found in a hiking book. We rode the train to Berwick-Upon-Tweed (which was actually across the border into England - who would've guessed?), took the bus to Eyemouth, then (after stocking up with award winning Mackay's Strawberry ice cream!) walked along the coast, through farm lands, pebble beaches, and fishing villages. We enjoyed the quintessential Scottish views -- from water-pounded cliffs, to thistle brambles, to farmers bringing their dogs for a walk. I felt so incredibly lucky to be there.

We ended up in the charming minute town of St Abb's. After much confusion and consultation with a newly-retired English teacher, we realized we were actually 2 miles short of our goal of St Abb's Head (strange Scottish naming system...)! The kind English teacher actually gave us a ride to the location (don't worry mom, I was ready to leap out of the car at the slightest sense of danger!), then back to Eyemouth. Veronica, Shelbyrae, and I enjoyed Indian curry for dinner, then caught a bus back to Berwick-Upon-Tweed, and finally a train home to Edinburgh. I'll never forget the experience.

7) I have visited Loch Ness! Early Saturday morning we hopped aboard another Haggis Tour Bus. During our trip through the scenic Highlands, our Tour Guide Greg chatted in an un-intelligible Scottish accent through the microphone, much to the confusion of ourselves and the Japanese students. The crowded conditions of the bus was made completely worth it thanks to the vast greenery, hills, valleys, and moors we saw on our two day journey through the High Lands.

That night we stayed in a Bed & Breakfast on the shores of Loch Ness! I stayed in "The Oaklands," where Mrs. Oakland greeted us with a menu choice for the next morning's eatings (I resisted to checking "yes" to all 21 possible items) and with a key to our darling bedrooms! Friend Bobbin and I stayed in a double room, complete with its own bathroom, coffee maker, DVD player, soft bathrobes, wall stitchings, owl figurines, and cushy comforters!

We all met up to walk around the tiny tourist town, and somewhat randomly happened upon "Crofts Rare Breeds Farm" (which was completely devoid of humans but brimming with pygmy goats and Highland Cows!). We followed our Scottish animal investigation with dinner at a lovely pub in town (I opted for the traditional "macaroni and cheese" -- mmm). The other girls at my B&B finished the night with all of us in our bathrobes, complimentary cocoa in hand, with Harry Potter 4 on the DVD player.

The next morning after an ASTOUNDINGLY filling breakfast, we all were whisked away on the bus to Ben Nevis (the tallest and most cloud covered mountain in Scotland), the valley of Glencoe (where they filmed scenes for HP4!!), and the oldest working whiskey distillery in Scotland. During the distillery tour, I definitely discovered that I do NOT like whiskey, but enjoy whiskey flavored chocolate!

We finished the day with a long stop at the William Wallace (star of Braveheart) monument, and two hours in traffic back to Edinburgh. Not a single Nessie sighting, but plenty of incredible experience to make up for it. :)

8) This week I've kept busy with shows, class (yes, we do indeed have class!), and plenty of Edinburgh museums! Tomorrow is at last the Military Tattoo (where should I get it, Aunt Peggy??) and a Thursday filled of 4 plays. The 4th show is a six hour theatrical experience that begins at midnight, and finishes with breakfast around six AM. Hooray! Then come the last days of class, another day trip planned this Saturday, the final weekend, and then off to York/Ireland. Here's hoping for another blog post before then!

9) Miss you!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Day in the Life of Molly the Edinburgh Adventurer!

It's been a sleepy week of more coffee shops, more rainy Edinburgh wandering (I've been soaked umpteenth times!), and more THEATER! Eleven Fringe shows to date -- two good and nine mediocre so far. Look for a future blog post of my favorites. For now I will give you a Day in the life of Molly, the Edinburgh Adventurer.

1) Wake up to Roommate Kristina's kind voice: "Molly... class in 15 minutes!" Bolt out of bed, to the bathroom, teeth half-brushed -- then remember that class in downstairs in the living room. Do not change out of pajamas.

2) Prepare a delicious breakfast of Chocolate Weetabix, a pint glass of tea, and yoghurt (it's how they spell in here).

3) Curl up on the couch for class! The drama professor has a pleasantly loud voice -- advantageous for avoiding nodding off. Enjoy chocolate weetabix. Listen to lecture about the actor's plot-denial-guilt triangle, and plot-character relationship. Play the part of "Lulu" in a read aloud of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party. Enjoy drama professor's rendition of a Cockney accent. Finish tea as class ends.

4) Venture out of 59 Frederick to lunch at Piemaker with Roommate Kristina. Enjoy a "bridie" -- 65 pence pasty filled with liquidated pork and beef. Note to self: buy the 95 pence pasty next time.

5) Split an Americano with Roommate Kristina at "The Black Medicine" coffee shop, yet another cafe apparently frequented by JK Rowling when writing HP1. Write bits of blog and essay (yes, there is schoolwork on this study abroad!!). Decide to call coffee "black medicine" from this point on.

6) Arrive just in time for "The Selfish Gene: the first BioMusical!" Discover it is an awkwardly sung version of Richard Dawkin's book on evolution. Decide to write own BioMusical, to be better acted, sung, written, and directed. It will be the perfect combination of theater and science!

7) Sneak in a brief visit to the National Museum of Scotland. Wander through Scotland's history, beginning on floor 1 with prehistoric whiskey distilleries and weapons, but only getting as far as floor 4, with the first mechanized plaid tartan (kilt) weaver. Leave the 1900s and floors 5-7 for another day -- it's free!

8) Join the rest of the class for a lecture-disguised-as-a-show directed by John Malkovich. Be lulled into a short nap by performer's beautiful British voice. John Malkovich is MIA. Appreciate the gorgeous venue -- an ancient converted church complete with pews. Appreciate the nap, as well as the bits of poetry that slipped through the haze.

9) Ponder the poetry during a dinner of British curry! It is delicious, westernized, student discounted vegetarian curry -- worth the three pounds, and the trip to the UK.

10) When walking around the Royal Mile (Hogsmeade) toward Edinburgh Castle, come across a small preview of The Military Tattoo. Fireworks soar above Hogsmeade, and a smattering of kilted-soldiers wander by. Wait with German tourists for more visuals -- grow impatient and meet friends at a live music pub nearby. Dance until exhausted.

11) Return home, exhausted, raincovered, and with a Scottish tune in your head. Sleep until morning, and repeat for three more weeks.

12) Miss you. :)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The plays have begun!

So far I have seen tooth pulled out, viewed a teensy bit of nudity, enjoyed Shakespearean & Chaucer improv, taken a lesson from a mass-murdering pianist in the Museum of Anatomy, and been lead out of a deathtrap rocket by a Russian man in his underwear. No, I have not suddenly started taking drugs -- this is Fringe theater!!

1) While I haven't had an incredible "MIND-BLOWING THEATER" moment yet, I've greatly appreciated the alternative forms of performance. My favorite was the killer pianist piece, where we were led into different sets at the University of Edinburgh Medical school. At one point we were in cots as the frightened conservetoire children while the pianist walked about us with surgical tools, and the final scene was in the Museum of Anatomy with giant dinosaur bones overhead.

2) The haunted tour was quite fun -- nothing too spooky, but Greyfriar's Graveyard was very picturesque in the midnight mist. Our tour wandered around catacombs that housed all of Edinburgh's poor and squalor for centuries, as our tourguide told ghost stories.

3) In between shows, I stopped by the Museum of Writers -- mainly glorifying Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and (my favorite) Robert Louis Stevenson. It was nestled in a 17th century townhouse, and my favorite part was the nook upstairs for writers to curl up and do their craft. I sat and tried my hand at some poetry -- my, am I rusty!

4) Food update -- chips (french fries) and curry sauce, black pepper sausage, pudding-cup style chocolate trifle, and TONS of tea! It's not quite Italian gelato and buffalo mozzarella, but that might not keep me from packing on a few Scottish pounds. :)

5) Highlight of Saturday was an Ireland versus Scotland rugby game! Scotland won, with a score in the last four minutes of the game. The game started with fireworks and bagpipes, before descending into the organized chaos of rugby. For those of you who don't know, rugby is football for real men -- no padding, no clock stopping, and constant endurance! (I was happy to watch from the sidelines.) Post-game we missed the bus stop and ended up walking all the way home in the pouring rain. :)

6) Saturday night was topped off by a "view points" workshop taught by our TA, which was an extremely fun acting exercise of running around, impulse, dancing, and yoga-esque movement. I loved it! It's crazy to me that I have this experience as a part of my education -- I keep wondering about how I can incorporate it into biology!!

7) Sleepy day here -- rainy, with another view points workshop tonight. I may coffee shop and write for a bit. :) More plays, maybe some hiking, and the Edinburgh castle on the books for the week! I still can't believe I'm here!

8) Miss you.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Adventures Galore!

I've had an adventure and a half since last the last post! More Scotland, more Harry Potter, and more ART! I've walked through the Scottish Highlands, talked with a living avante garde theater legend (who looked exactly like Bilbo), and most importantly, watched Braveheart.

Miss you all so much from home. Wish you could be here to walk the Edinburgh Castle Terrace with me, and eat baked potatoes from the Hottest Tatties in town fastfood place!

1) On Sunday, we took a daylong tour from Haggis Adventure Tours that brought us from the William Wallace monument, to Loch Lomond, lunch at the quaint town of Aberfoyle, through the Scottish Highlands, and to the medieval Duone Castle. We proudly drove through mist covered highlands in a bus that claimed Scotland's wild and sexy origins. Our brave tourguide/bus driver Daniel gave us a wild and sexy rendition of Scottish history, as he drove us through winding mist covered Scottish hill sides and mountains. The rain gave beautiful ambience, and the tour was topped off brilliantly by a viewing of Braveheart we held back at the apartment (you may be surprised, but that movie is surprisingly historically inaccurate!!).

2) In Aberfoyle, I met a very friendly kitty! After worrying it would give me scabies, I named it Wallace.

3) The best part of the tour was the medieval Duone Castle, which not only was the Monty Python and the Holy Grail castle, but allowed you to go up the tiny winding staircases of the turrets, and explore the well, kitchen, great hall, bed rooms, and lavatory! It was my absolutely favorite of the trip so far -- touching and learning about the everyday life of the medieval Scots.

4) We had our second class Monday, which consisted of Oedipus story analysis (great tips on plot mapping!). After class, we took a trip to Craigscrook castle, an old countryside retreat of writers such as Alfred Tennyson, Charles Dickens, George Elliot, and Sir Walter Scott. Today it is an office for Scottish arts councils, and we listened to an extensive lecture by Sir Richard DeMarco, an eighty year old hobbit-esque legend of the avante garde performance world. Through the rambling, odd references, and negative feelings toward computer scientists, he inspired me to always give art an important place in my life. Writing, here I come!

5) Today we ventured back to the Elephant House for coffee and cake. This time, I noticed in the bathroom notes written in all languages to JK Rowling, thanking her for their childhood, declaring themselves a Ravenclaw, or offering themselves up to Ron Weasley. I didn't have a pen, so I must go back to leave a note myself. :)

6) After a walk through the Museum of Childhood (which was filled with Victorian toys, play sets, and a rather creepy doll room that I unfortunately walked in alone), we decided the Elephant Room could only be followed by a viewing of Harry Potter 7p2 in a BRITISH THEATER! There's not a bad seat in the house, with the front row back 20 feet, and at least 4 feet between seats. Beforehand, many warnings of "strobe lights!" and "we are night-vision filming throughout the movie, so DON'T RECORD IT" clarified the Britishness of the theater.

7) Today was a class day (we went from modern, to post-modern, to Dada, to Fluxus, to post-post-modern, to dualism! hooray!), then I ran some errands and then adventured to not one but TWO libraries! One for old books, one for borrowing -- but I got two cards (free souvies!) and more shortbread books!

8) My adventures for the daylight hours ended on Calton Hill -- where I sat surrounded by monuments with a view of the whole city, and wrote my travel journal. :)

9) This evening we have a Haunted Tour, where we venture to a graveyard and then beneath the streets of Edinburgh to catacombs that held many victims of the plague (it's supposed to be super spooky -- wish you were here!!). Plays start tomorrow and Friday, maybe an Ireland v Scotland rugby game on Saturday, and a Viewpoints of Movement Acting Workshop on Saturday (taught by our TA -- for beginners, thank goodness!). I love vacation -- I mean education!

10) Miss you. ;)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hiking, Royals, and Mashers - Oh my!

I've had a busy two days since my last post! Turns out the Fringe Festival doesn't begin until next Thursday, so I've lots of time on our hands to explore/eat/explore/nap/explore and repeat! We had our first class yesterday, and my frantic last minute skimming of Aristotle's The Poetics proved unneccessary -- our "Quiz" was discussion based (I think I'm going to like to coursework required). Wonderful, extensive ramblings by teacher and student will abound.

I also bought tickets to the Military Tattoo! I'll be the only one going up to see the 'pipes, so I will bring a blanket. :)

1) Hiking the Salisbury Crags! The sun broke through the rain, and roommate Kristina and I set out yesterday after class to adventure up the most Scottish looking crags I have ever seen. Seriously, of all the "I'm in Braveheart!" moments, this was the best. Besides an incredible view of the city and the wharf, we could see rolling hills and crags behind us, with even a ruin or two nestled amongst them. I felt like I should've brought my kilt. :)

2) We saw paparazzi! The crowded a sidewalk for Princess Anne's daughter's wedding reception - sorry dad/peggy, I didn't join them to grab a photo too!

3) My wee feet are getting tired with exploring! Every day I've taken long walks to discover the city -- Edinburgh is filled with winding cobblestone streets, imposing identical townhouses, and pubs pubs pubs. And if it's not a pub, it looks like it should be a pub! Even the convenience stores are housed in darling old timey storefronts.

4) Today we visited a Farmers Market on Castle Terrace -- Kristina and I bought a beef pasty for lunch tomorrow (day trip to Loch Lomond!), tasty berries, rye bread, and lamb stew meat all under the visage of Edinburgh Castle! Nearby was a graveyard with gravestones from all the way back in the 17th century. The tiny lifespans made me very happy to be in the 21st century!

5) Food thus far: It's no Italy, but it's all quite new! I've had the customary sausage and mash (at a place that served "Mum's Cooking" - it looks kind of like poo on a plate but tasted much better), as well as crumpets, haggis sausage, and TONS o' tea (my favorite!!). Kristina and I made lamb stew tonight, and I bought "the Home Book of Scottish Cookery" at a used bookshop today! Now I will know how to cook things like haddock and, hooray!!!

6) At the same used book shop I searched through old Scottish cookbooks and copied down 5 Shortbread recipes to try. I will report on how they work later, once I do the math to convert everything to grams! They use rice flour and cornmeal a lot I noticed -- what do you think mom (mum)? :)

7) I think my poor jet-lagged body is asking for a night in tonight. Lots of soup, reading, and sleep ahead of me. Hope all is well at home. :)

8) Miss you!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

24 Hours in Scotland!

It's been my first full day in Edinburgh!! I've learned so much already, and haven't seen a single play yet. The city is so incredible, it'll be amazing to see it busting with +250,000 people here to see the Fringe Festival! There are so many different festivals going on (music, book, jazz) that I think they are really organizing a Festival Festival. :)

1) My Journey: I made it safely across the Atlantic, and ate cute, but horrible tasting British Airways food! I was incredibly lucky, and TWO seats next to me were empty! I curled up and enjoyed a wonderful 5 hours of airplane sleep. Heathrow was fairly simple to navigate (although all drinking fountains seem to be absent in Europe, so I was sorely partched) and they served us chocolate cookies on the commuter flight to Edinburgh!

2) The apartment is GORGEOUS! Three flights, with windy staircases, a little dining room, cute kitchen, and high ceilinged living room. Here is our room! I met most of the neighbors as I was arriving -- none of the doors were marked, so in my sleep/food deprived state and quest to get into our flat, I knocked on all of them as I was arriving...).

3) An hour in, I went out exploring (other kids were "tired" from their flights). It was gorgeous sunshine, and a few minutes after wandering through Princes Street Gardens (gorgeous fields, in view of the Edinburgh Castle, with a clock made of flowers!), I heard my first bagpiper. Guess what he was playing? THE THEME FROM FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS. I even got a photo of the two of us (he's tiny in the background). Best welcome that Edinburgh could have given me. :)

4) Today we visited a street packed with shops called the Royal Mile (Hogsmeade) and visited Edinburgh Castle (Hogwarts)! Outside the Castle (Hogwarts) is a huge stadium (for Quidditch) where they perform the Military Tattoo. Edinburgh is the Harry Potter World for Reals, and I expect Hagrid to push his way through the crowd at any moment. We even visited the Elephant House, a cafe where JK Rowling wrote HP1. Definitely going back there to start my great novel!

5) They let you have library cards even if you're not Scottish!! I am going to get one to the Royal Scottish Library, where we visited today. The place is incredible, with fourteen million books, aging back from the 1600s. The floor you walk in is technically the 11th floor, with ten stories built beneath it to house the books. Library card = awesome souvenir (for free!)! :)

5) Found a few Scotsmen with rockhard abs! Andrew might have some competition. ;)

6) There is so much to do! Hike this huge crag where you can see all the city, go to a mound with great monuments, go to the castle, tons of free museums, and especially PLAYS! We might plan a Glasglow trip as well. :) I can't believe I'm back in Europe!

7) Miss you. :)