Bagpipes and kilts, hedges and stones

My first week in Scotland has come to a close. Even though it’s only been a week, I’ve been up to a crazy amount of things.

I’m not in Kansas anymore (June 13) 

This picture was taken when I was walking around our loch that's on campus.
This picture was taken when I was walking around our loch that’s on campus.

Immediately after I landed in Edinburgh, I was transported to Stirling, where my university is. It was about an hour drive in. After all the check-in procedures were all wrapped up, I unpacked and walked around campus. Saying that the campus is green is an understatement. My photos look doctored because of the incredible lushness of the plants.

Early that evening, we had an informal intro session in the castle on campus. (Yep. There’s a castle.) All 8 of us KU students got together with our professor and went over various things. After that intro session, we KU students and two other of our new found friends walked into a neighboring town to grab some dinner. Westerton Arms (the name of the pub) made a mean macaroni cheese dish.

Let’s get down to business (June 14)

Sunday was a bit more of an educational leaning day. For most of the day we had informational sessions, then went into town to buy some groceries and such. Going into Stirling that first day definitely scared me. There were 100+ of us scrambling around Sainsbury’s (the local grocery store chain) and the Thistle’s center (shopping mall in the city centre) trying to find what we needed. I remember thinking that there was no way in the world I was going to figure out the layout of Stirling.

When we got back, even though it was cold, I was a sweaty mess, so I took a shower. Now, normally I wouldn’t include something as trivial as a shower, but believe me, showering at the university is something unlike I’ve ever experienced. Scotland is very eco-friendly. There are recycling bins on nearly every street. When you go to the grocery store, they charge you 5 pence (8 cents) for each plastic bag that you use. Remember the BopIt? Well. Think of the shower having a big BopIt button on the wall, and if you don’t push it every 30 seconds, the water stops. It makes you think of how much water you actually use when you’re taking a shower, but when you just want to stand there and relax, it makes things difficult.

Later on that evening, we went out to celebrate Matt’s 21st birthday at Fubar (a club that had a terrible ambiance and was incredibly overpriced for serving mainly American alcohol). Regardless of how expensive it was, we all had a good time.

Classes, cemeteries and Journey (June 15)

My two classes began on Monday. My first class is about how the media has covered the Royal Family throughout the years. To me, this subject seems relatively interesting, but we didn’t quite get to that during our first meeting. We went through the entire Royal Family lineage. And that bored me (and the rest of my class) nearly back to sleep. My KU class was fairly simple that day. We just went over the basics, nothing too out of the ordinary.

No one really wanted to cook yet, so we went out for dinner. Jeanne, a student at Ohio University, met some locals at Fubar the night before who said Settle Inn was a great pub. We Americans didn’t realize not all pubs have food. Settle Inn? It’s one of those old, traditional pubs that just serves booze, but we didn’t know that until we walked in. The owner of the pub (at least that’s what I thought he was, anyway) was more than happy to give us a recommendation of where to eat– the Portcullis, just up the hill. He even called up there and had them get a table ready for us. That dinner was pretty darn good. Who knew the Scottish could make delicious lasagna?

This cemetery was amazing. Looking at all the history really blew my mind.
This cemetery was amazing. Looking at all the history really blew my mind.

We discovered that the Portcullis was right next to Stirling Castle and a really old, creepy cemetery. So, naturally, we all walked around, looking at the gravestones and admiring the beauty (typically you don’t associate graveyard with beauty, but I assure you, this one was). When we were done meandering around the castle grounds, we walked back down the hill to grab a drink at Settle Inn, to repay the owner for helping us out. Our one drink turned into a couple more and we ended up closing down the pub. (It closed at midnight. We weren’t out THAT late.)

It was open mic night at Settle Inn and my big mouth had to say that I knew how to sing. After relentless peer pressure from my friends (and Ole Miss Ryan saying he’d play the guitar with me), I went up and sang Don’t Stop Believing by Journey. There’s apparently a video somewhere. I haven’t watched it yet. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one from our group who went up and performed. KU Ryan told the host that our friend Johanna could, um, whistle in a peculiar fashion, so she ended up being called out without knowing what was going on.

After the pub closed, it was time to go home. It being after 11, the buses were no longer running and there were no cabs in sight, so we decided to walk home, with guidance of some locals. We, being dumb Americans, ended up getting lost and a walk that should have taken no more than 45 minutes took around an hour and a half. We made it back in one piece (except for the aching legs and sore feet).

Battle of the Bulge (June 16)

The second day of classes were a breeze, considering I only had one class. So that night, our International Summer School (ISS, not to be confused with ISIS) program held a Pub Quiz (very similar to trivia night) at a local restaurant– the Kilted Kangaroo. I played with different people. They were people I had only seen, not met. We were team The Brady Bunch… and we won. We only won bragging rights, but everyone who knows me knows that I really like winning, even if it doesn’t matter.

Many of the ISS students continued on with a pub crawl, but several of my friends and I didn’t really feel like spending any more money, so we went back to campus and played Go Fish. None of us remembered the rules. We played one round and we definitely messed up, so we turned to Heads Up (that game where you put your phone on your forehead, similar to CatchPhrase) and had a night chalk full of laughs. Pretty sure I haven’t laughed that hard since I was a kid who laughed at everything.

The Hive = Scotland’s version of the Hawk (June 17)

After our third day of classes were done, 10 of us in our little group took the train to Edinburgh to explore the nightlife. We stayed in St. Christopher’s hostel which was right near Edinburgh Waverley train station (the main station in Edinburgh). Eight of us stayed in one room, while two stayed in another. We met a girl from New Zealand who was traveling all over. She told us a horror story about the other guy (a 40-year-old man) who was staying in our room. Apparently he went out the night before, brought a girl back and well, I’m not going to go into any further details about that.

When we left, we were hungry, so we decided to try and find some place to eat. The first place that we went by was McDonald’s. I had the Chicken Selects, and they were 100 times better than the ones in America. MSGs are outlawed here, so that’s probably why.

The description on Spirytus Delikatesowy and Spirtytus Rektyfikowany scared me.
The description on Spirytus Delikatesowy and Spirtytus Rektyfikowany scared me.

The first bar we went to was called “Secret Arcade Vodka Bar.” It was most definitely secluded down an alley and up a flight or two of stairs. I tried their homemade Skittles vodka. (Marshawn Lynch would have gone wild.) It was pretty amazing. It was like I ate an entire packet of green Skittles. They had even crazier stuff, but there was no way I was actually going to try any of it.

When we left the vodka bar, we made our way to the Hive. The only way to explain it is Scotland’s version of the Hawk… just a lot bigger. It smelled just like the Hawk. The floors were sticky and gross like the Hawk. There were two versions of the Boom. (For those of you who have no idea what the Hawk is… it’s a gross college bar in Lawrence. ) Unlike the Hawk, there was a lady who had this crazy stash of random stuff in the bathroom. She took up an entire sink area with it. She had perfumes, gum, lotions… you name it. She handed everyone paper towels, even though there were automatic dryers right there. If you didn’t give her change, she got mad. It was really weird. Miraculously, we all stayed relatively close to one another and we didn’t lose anyone throughout the night.

I love Edinburgh… and I hate Edinburgh. (June 18)

I woke up at 8 a.m. Thursday morning. Surprisingly enough, my bed at the hostel was very comfortable. We were getting ready to tour Edinburgh, as was the rest of our ISS group. When everyone was ready, we headed for Edinburgh Castle. By the time we got there, we realized it was actually relatively expensive to get in there and we would have rather spent our money on something else.

We did many various things throughout the day. Right after the walk up to Edinburgh castle, we went on the Harry Potter walking tour. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is from Edinburgh and still lives there. Many of the places in Edinburgh are where she wrote the books and drew inspiration for her novels.

The view from the top of the
The view from the top of the National Museum of Scotland.

After that, we went to the National Museum of Scotland. There were many exhibits spanning all the different intellectual avenues. We spent a solid two hours there. My favorite thing about the museum was not an exhibit, but rather the view from the roof terrace. From up there, you could see everything. Edinburgh is one beautiful city, especially the city centre area.

The view from the top of the Scott Monument.
The view from the top of the Scott Monument.

When we left there, we went to go shopping… until we realized you could walk up to the top of the Scott Monument. We hiked the 287 narrow stairs (backpacks/duffle bags and all) to the tippy top. And we thought the view from the National Museum of Scotland was amazing. This left me speechless. It was honestly breathtaking. Everything looked so small and peaceful, but it was far from that. The city centre was huge and chaotic.

Then, everyone left. It was time for the ISS buses to go back to Stirling. I had accommodations through the night because I had an early flight that was leaving out of Edinburgh. So, I found a taxi, and made my way there.

Now, when I arrived, it was weird. (Little background information: AirBnB is a website where people rent out rooms in their houses or apartments for people to stay in. I booked a room near the airport in a lady’s house. All of her reviews were great, so I wasn’t nervous or anything.) Her husband had no idea I was coming and made everything very awkward and uncomfortable. I took a nap, because I really needed one, but when I woke up, he was still making things incredibly awkward and horribly uncomfortable. I really didn’t feel very safe. Not that he was going to do anything, I just had a sour feeling in my stomach, so I made up some story saying that I was going to walk around, maybe grab something to eat and I bolted.

I walked five miles, searching for a hotel, but they were all booked. Every single one I walked into was booked. I was getting extremely frustrated. My feet were starting to bleed. (I had walked 15 miles by that point in not so good walking shoes.) I wasn’t in the best part of Edinburgh. After a scary situation that will easily stay with me forever (I’d rather not talk about it), a police officer who helped get me out of aforementioned scary situation drove me around and helped me find a place to stay.

Merry Olde England (June 19)

My flight departed for Birmingham, England at 7:00 a.m. I was definitely ready to see a close friend of my dad’s. Mike has been like another uncle to me. He flew from England to Nebraska to watch me run at state my senior year, and then stayed for the following week to see me graduate. That was the last time I saw him. When I got off the plane, everything worked out really well. The second I walked into the terminal, I saw him. He had just walked in.

Have you really visited a country if you don't take a selfie with the welcome sign?
Have you really visited a country if you don’t take a selfie with the welcome sign?

We drove back to his home, I dropped my stuff off, and we were on the road again. We went to Ludlow, a quaint little village, where there’s a castle and the historic Feathers hotel. We walked around there for a bit, and then on a whim drove over to Wales because we were so close.

That night, we went to a local pub restaurant. I had the best burger I’ve had in a while paired with a Swedish mixed berry cider. After that we went to the pub that’s right across from Mike’s home for another drink and went off to bed. It had most definitely been a long day.

Rocks and stuff (June 20)

On Saturday, I saw lots and lots of old rocks, but I was extremely excited about it. By old rocks, I mean Stonehenge and Avebury Henge. Yep. I’m the type of girl who gets excited about old rocks. Color me easy to entertain. Mike and I spent most of our day driving around the English countryside getting there and getting back.

3 things I’ve learned/reaffirmed so far

1. I really should have brought another heavier jacket.

Five pictures I've been in since I've been here. These have been taken on all different days. In four of them I'm wearing the same jacket.
Five pictures I’ve been in since I’ve been here. These have been taken on all different days. In four of them I’m wearing the same jacket.

I’ve been wearing my OPA quarter zip over everything for a week now. I definitely underestimated how cold it is here in relation to what I’m used to. Yes, I’m showering. Yes, I’m wearing other clothes underneath. I look really silly because I look the same in every single picture I’m in. It’s on my to-do list to buy another heavy-ish jacket. I don’t want to look the same in every single picture I take on the trip.

2. The drinking age in America is far too high.

You can die for your country, get married, have kids, and smoke cigarettes all when you’re 18, but drinking? You have to wait until your 21. No one in the UK (who I’ve talked to, anyway) understands why America is different in this way. They all have told me, “that’s why your country has such an alcohol problem.” I couldn’t agree more.

3. It’s unbelievable pretty over here.

I’m sure I’ve said this at least 100 times per day, but man. It’s gorgeous here. I can’t get over the beauty of the three countries I’ve visited thus far. I’m sure my photos speak for themselves.

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