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Archive for the ‘travel and lifestyle’ Category

This is the moment we have all be working towards for the past year, and slaving over for the past three months. Handing in our dissertations. Our finest work to date. The countless hours spent at the library with makeshift picnics and obnoxious whispering, the pretentious hours spent at Starbucks on our laptops sipping one grande latte for 5 hours just for the free internet all leading to this moment. This is it.

After cutting 7,000 words from my first draft I was still 3k over and after my meeting on Monday with my professor I had 3k to cut and 2 scenes to add by Friday’s deadline. Only I didn’t have until Friday as I learned DHT, where we were told to go to get our dissertations bound, would have a queue out the door and several hours long on Friday since all the Masters students have the same deadline. My new deadline was now wednesday.

After 2 all-nighters, I went to the library Wednesday morning to do one more read through before printing and binding. I’d be home free by 2 pm. Roxy and I got to the library at 10 am, exactly 8 1/2 hours later we left the library without our dissertations printed or bound, but done. And then it began; the seemingly easiest task in the world became my Everest.

Once at home Wednesday night, I printed out Kiki’s dissertation to hand in and started printing out my own, only I ran out of paper with 75 pages left to print on my second copy. It was 1 am at this point and I was going off of 4 hours of sleep in two days and copious amounts of caffeine. I would just go to Tescos in the morning and pick up more paper.

I showed up at Tescos at 7 am only to learn it doesn’t open until 8. No big deal, I just sat in Starbucks eyeing the door for the next hour. My foot tapping the chair next to me. Once I got the paper home I ran to the printer to finish my second copy. I wanted to by the time it opened at 8:30 to beat the queue. With 20 pages left to print, my printer ran out of ink. No big deal. I’ll take Kiki’s to get bound at DHT, refill my ink, go home, finish printing, and return to DHT. Easy enough. Or is it?!? Of course not, this is Scotland where annual events (i.e. Festival, dissertations) sneak up on the residents.

DHT is run by idiots. I have never seen slower, more unorganized people in my life. It was bad, even for Scottish standards. After waiting 45 minutes at DHT with a queue of only 10 people I finally got the 6 colored pages I needed printed after 3 attempts. 45 minutes after that the print guy came out and yelled “‘Walk of Shame’ you’re done,” in which I responded, “oh! That’s me!” Kiki, I started to rethink your title after that.

Once I got home I took out my fresh ink cartridge only to see it exploded. 20 minute walk back to the place to get it refilled and 20 minute back to my flat only to discover the ink still wasn’t working. When I returned to the ink shop for the third time the man told me to come back in 2 hours. It was now 1pm, if I picked up in two hours by the time it was bound the creative writing office would be closed. I rolled my eyes and clenched my teeth as I refused and asked for my money back. “Fine, I do it.” he told me. 10 minutes later it was fixed. 20 minutes later I was printing off my work when my parents skyped me to wish me luck only to have me hang up on them three times as I was too stressed to talk. By this time any sentimentality I held for turning in the dissertation was gone. I just wanted to get rid of the wretched thing. After I finally got my dissertation bound at a completely different print shop, one that completed the task in 5 minutes with a queue of 10 people, the creative writing office was closed for lunch. Thankfully, Colm, Lauren, and Rosie had lunch with me and walked with me to turn it in to guarantee no more snafus would follow me.

I went home only to realize I needed to do it all over again on Friday for Lindsay…

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After all of this time of Tom getting to see how I live, meet my family, and hear all of the wonderfully embarrassing stories of my life, even experiencing some of them (i.e. Getting stuck on the roof, being spotted naked by the tree cutters from my bedroom window, getting towed, etc.) I finally get my turn.

As I said goodbye to Joan and Peter I was given a run down on the proper pronunciation on all words english. Even though, Tom has always pronounced Shrewsbury as Shrewsbury, I learned from Peter it is actually supposed to be pronounced Shroosbury. Peter than went off on one of his many tangents of English history explaining the “proper” pronunciation of other commonly mispronounced words as Joan tried to get him off the subject. Loving every second of his explanation, watching as everyone was waiting him to finish, I finally interrupted not wanting to be late for the train.

My train traveling technique is to disregard where I am going and to look solely on the time then show up. This was working out great until I was on the train which was supposed to arrive at shrewsbury at 10:19 and I looked at my clock and it was 10:21. I texted Tom, asking if I missed my stop. He responded with, “I don’t know. Have you?” No worries, while I was busy working away on my dissertation on my computer I missed the fact that we were on a four minute delay. When I got off the train I couldn’t find Tom and texted him again, thinking he was playing a mean trick on me. Wrong again. He just didn’t realize I would be wearing heels – or at least what I consider to be heels, meaning two inch heels on my boots. No worries, I explained to him, Lindsay is just another soldier in the war of trying to make me a girl and they took up too much space in my bag anyway.

Tom’s house is awesome. It was so great to be around a busy home! With four boys running around, a dog and two cats there was always something going on. I loved it!! To be around a mom was even better! It made my home not seem so far away. Jo, Tom’s mom, was incredible and sweet and had the best accent ever.

On Tuesday, Tom and I climbed Haughmond Hill where I learned what nettles are and not in a nice way. “Watch out for the nettles,” Tom warned me. I had heard Joan mention nettles on our walk through the Heath so I decided I would ask Tom what Nettles were. He told me to touch one. Nervous, I carefully let my pointer finger graze the top of the plant. I looked up at him and said, “what? It’s soft.”

“Touch it again,” he told me. As I reached for the plant again Tom pushed my arm into the plant and I jumped up as the plant stung the sides of my arm. If I had the ability to scream I may have done so.

“Those are nettles,” he said walking on. “You’ll get  bumps from it.”

sad face for my arm

gross

Twenty minutes, sure enough, my arm looked diseased. What Tom failed to tell me was the remedy for the nettles sting is a small plant that grows next to it. Tricked again!

The view of Shrewsbury was great and reminded me a little bit of the drive to Athens. After we went to visit the quarry. The quarry was massive!

The view from Tom's camera phone because i'm an idiot and forgot my camera.

The quarry

Jo took us out to lunch at place in Battlefield (if any of the Noakes fam can correct this please do) where I had the best sandwich I have eaten the entire time I’ve been on this island. I mentioned I love the candy here and Double Decker’s are my favorite candy bar and Jo bought me an entire pack! Oh, moms! How I miss them. I honestly can not express how wonderful it was to be mothered for a couple of days. I will never take my mom for granted again. Tom and I stuck around Battlefield where we made friends/enemies with some goats.

Our new friends

Then I got to see the church where his parents were married. It was beautiful. It seemed to be the perfect set-up for a movie English wedding. After visiting Tom I can’t imagine why anyone would want to move to the states.

The church where Tom's parents got married

The church where Tom's parents got married

We went on a tour of Shrewsbury based on his mom’s reccommendations, most of which were places Tom didn’t know about even though he’s lived there his entire life. This made it more fun as he kept saying “oh, that’s probably what my mom was talking about,” “I never knew this was here,” etc. The town was more idyllic than I could have imagined. It was like a much, much classier version of Athens, reminding me of the small town Maggie and I stayed in when we visited Philadelphia. The buildings were old and leaning in towards each other. Flowers lined the roads hanging from the buildings or sitting out front in full bloom. Later we went to The Dingle (poor name choice in my opinion) which was a small garden hidden in the park.

The Dingle. Gorgeous!

HAHAHA! (is it inappropriate for me to think this is funny? probably)

As we all know, I don’t sleep. Well at least not much. So when I heard Murphy, the healthiest dog I have ever met, crying to be let out I went downstairs. I want to preface this with Murphy knows how to open up the kitchen door and when forgets to shut it, all you have to say is “door” and he goes back and shuts it. Apparently at night he lets the cats in and out of the kitchen door house so no one has to get up from their beds. Best trick ever. I don’t think he can open the door from the washroom to the outside, which has a cat door, and that’s why he cries. This is all beside the point. On Wednesday I woke up to let Murphy out and Boggle, the cat, left a present on the door mat. A dead mouse. This is why I don’t like cats. I don’t like dead mice. I like mouse traps where they kill the mice in secret and you never have to see it. If the door is closed to the trap that means it has a tenant and then you wait for your dad to come home and dispose of it. I leaned over the rug to the door handle and let Murphy out then spent ten minutes contemplating what I’m supposed to do with the dead mouse. I decided to leave it. I don’t like cats.

On Wednesday, Tom and I visited his grandma where she took us out for lunch with Phil and Steven. Tom’s grandma is sooo cute. She gave me a tour of her house which I fell in love with, showing me all the nicks and crannies, then took me to her garden where we picked strawberries and raspberries. She wanted me to have an authentic visit, knowing we don’t have the same sort of thing in the states. My favorite part was how she continued to call me “our American friend” which was hilarious.

It was a great trip! The only disappoint was being informed they bought a puppy then to learn they had to wait another week before they could pick him up. It’s all right because I got my doggy fill with Murphy who at 11 years old is at fit as Leary.

Murphy sleeping as awkwardly as Leary does

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My second (and last before returning home) trip to London was completely different from the first. It was as though I was visiting an entirely different city. Lindsay and I stayed with her aunt and uncle who live in Hamstead.

Our first night, Lindsay and I decided to get out our shopping urges by visiting the Topshop flagship store. Five floors of amazingness, plus a hair salon, a cupcake bar, an ice cream bar, and candy area. The place is enormous. The sale prices were still a bit to high for me so I just took in the craziness. When we got home, Joan, Lindsay’s Aunt, made a chicken for us. An actual chicken. In the oven waiting to be eaten. Amazing.

We ate dinner, drank some wine, and played scrabble. It was like a snapshot into my future  as an old maid…

Our night

Lindsay and I went to the Stables Market in Camden Town on Saturday. The market place is a ginormous maze of shops, stores, and kiosks alongside every type of food imaginable. A large portion of the shops occupy the old horse stalls and hospitable used for the horses that pulled distribution vans and barges along the canal. It reminded me of greenwich village in NYC but less spread out. Instead of covering a matter of city blocks and going out, it is more like a department store having different levels. I found two excellent buys – two dresses for 25 pounds. Those prices were way more my style. Now all I have to make sure to do is find space in my suitcases home for them.

After Camden, Lindsay and I walked along the canal then through Regents park where we stumbled upon a wedding…

The Wedding

and Ballroom dancing in the park.

We sat and watched the dancers for a bit falling in love with the different couples doing the cha-cha, the waltz, tango, and swing. We then ended the night going to see Wicked minus the 14 year-old chick who apparently doesn’t own a straightener and sat in front of me, I had a great time. We could not have planned the day better.

Sunday was the race day then celebrating our awesomeness with my first pints since before Barcelona at none-other than a Nicholson’s bar.

Monday, Joan took Lindsay, Frankie (Joan and Peter’s nephew?) and I on a tour of the Heath.

The Heath has a large home donated to the ground by the Guiness family. Yes, I mean the family which created the beer I love so much. The house is now a museum and cafe, where we stopped in for a refreshing drink.

            I am so glad I went back to London. I’m so glad I got to go with Lindsay as well seeing as our days of being minutes apart our numbered. I had a great time! I can’t wait to visit again, whenever that may be. I have only scratched the surface.

Cheers, Jess

p.s. realize not the most exciting post but it is the best i can do right now.

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0k – Queueing up for the race at 9:00 am which is to start at 9:30.

Our adrenaline is pumping. The excitement is building. When we look ahead of us all we can see is 20,000 runners ahead of us with no beginning in sight. We look back and it’s 20,000 runners behind us with no end in sight. Incredible!

0k continued… 

45 minutes later we are still waiting in a sea of now anxious runners, some of which are beginning to get claustrophobic. I should have known it wouldn’t start on time seeing as everything else on this island takes a lifetime but oh well. Finally a man’s voice can be heard on the microphone and everyone’s soft talking fades as they listen in only to hear him announce some woman whose name couldn’t be heard as 40,000 groans drowned out the speakers, it was like a school assembly for elementary school when everyone ignores the principal for the first ten minutes.

The chatter and complaining instantly stops at the first tune of the national anthem and begins again as the signal for the race goes off through the crowd countdown. Yes! Here we go this is it! Lindsay and I look to each other putting our headphones on and starting our iPods.

“Good luck, Jess.”

“You’re going to do great Lindsay!”

Twenty minutes later we were still walking together as we had yet to approach the starting line. Lindsay is getting hungry and I now need to use the bathroom. When we finally did reach the start we began our jog. We had decided we run together as long as we could and break off when necessary by waving the other person on. About 50 feet in Lindsay waved and I went on ahead.

1k 

Not prepared for the slow start as you try to weave through the people to find you pace I finally hit my stride which was definitely aided by fellow runners. I soon discover various runners in different costumes along the way but my favorite is definitely the one I sprinting by me at the 1k mark. My reaction went a little something like this,

“This is amazing! I’m running through the streets of London! Oh, there goes a man in a bay watch suit. Op, there are his ass cheeks.” I instantly know this is going to be fun. Later, I find out Lindsay was running after someone in a Ginger bread costume. Nice.

2k Follow that man

After becoming comfortable with my surrounding runners, having assesed the situation, I have successfully strategized my run. Chasing after attractive men. It’s perfect, they are in shape so I’m automatically running at a faster pace trying to stay with them and I get a little eye candy in the process. When I begin to lose momentum and they get further away I find a new man to follow. It’s perfect! I should run a 10k every week.

3k H20

As I’ve been running for less than ten minutes I opt out of this water and keep going. But enjoy watching the runners who are already chugging the water, dousing it on their head, then launching the waters like grenades over the heads of the other runners towards the grass.

4k Penis envy

As we approach the 5k the path begins to narrow. We are going to be running through a tunnel underneath a bridge forcing the limited space on the road to become even more limited. Frustrated with my slowing pace as everyone bumps into each other and blocks my path I run up on to the sidewalk hugging the road and leading into the tunnel. I look down to watch my footing as get on the sidewalk and notice its color is darker than the rest of the pavement. That’s odd because it has been a clear morning and there hasn’t been any rain. Once under the tunnel, I’m still focused on the pavement as it still appears to be wet. We’re under a tunnel! How can it be wet under the tunnel? BAM! I ran into the reason and his reason ran onto my foot. As I screamed “Oh, Sh…shoot.” (I said, shoot. I swear. I mean I don’t swear.) I finally looked up to see men lined up peeing on the walls of the tunnel. I’m more upset that I don’t get this luxury then the urine on my shoe. Not fair.

5k

I pass the 50p port-a-loos. No thank you. I’ll hold it.

6k

“Damn it, 4k to go. Don’t stop. Just power through. Stupid 10k. I should have trained more then I wouldn’t be feeling this. Maybe I went too fast out of the start.”  Just then “Shipping off to Boston” comes on my playlist. I run a bit harder and get caught fist pumping to the song by the spectators at the good bits. I put my arm down.

7k  Sightseeing

I’m running towards the London Eye over the bridge and towards Westminster Abbey. It is a beautiful clear day in London. The sight is breathtaking. The energy of the runners and the crowd is addicting.

8k

Rounding Big Ben onward to Tralfalgar square. I wish I would have remembered my camera and took pictures as I ran. I could have printed them out and called them art or just laughed at the blurry resolutions later.

9k

Men our continually popping up out of the bushes and rejoining the runners. Apparently the tunnel wasn’t the only place to nature.

10k

Done! I ran it in an hour and ten minutes. Not too shabby. I feel like I could have run another 5k but was glad to be done. It was an incredible experience and a great way to see London and to start bringing my year abroad chasing my dreams to a close. This is just the start of many goals for me to achieve.

Cheers, Jess

p.s. it was a great trip to London and I will try to blog throughout the week about all the awesome things Lindsay and I did, plus my visit in Shrewbury. It’s getting harder and harder to blog as my dissertation nears and my writing has been focused on that so i’m not making too many guarantees

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Lindsay and I left overcast, rainy, and windy Edinburgh for sunny Barcelona only to be greeted with overcast, rainy days. After Barcelona had two straight months of clear days and no rain it decided the best time to change this was the week we visited so our beach holiday became a cultural one (we have left with a new love for everything Guadi – especially La Sagrada Familia). Our trip was not short of it’s hitches but nothing a good sense of humor, good company, and sangria couldn’t fix. To give everyone a better idea of the commotion I’m setting this blog up for trip tips to follow when traveling.

1. Money

It is best not to wait until the last day to take out money from the bank to exchange at the post office, in case it happens to be some obscure United Kingdom holiday, such as . Also, if the bank is closed forcing you to go to the cash machine at 10 in the morning this would be a good sign notifying you it is a bank holiday and thus the post office will be closed so maybe you should wait to take out the money when you arrive where you are travelling. Not that I did this. Not that I ended up exchanging my money at some exchange place, therefore losing 20 euros in fees.

2. Airplane travel

It is best to avoid sitting by small children as they tend to cry for the entirety of the trip. Similarly, as we learned on the return flight, it is best not to travel with 15 12-year-old boys as this will be equally loud and even more so annoying. A good rule of thumb for this one is to look at the chaperones faces, if they look like the wished they’d done a better job of using birth control it is probably best to buy some nice drugs to knock you out for the flight. (or in Lindsay’s case be so incredibly sick you pass out without noticing the loudmouth, obnoxious teenagers)

3. Hostel living

When sleeping in a 16 person room in a hostel, do your best to not be one of the two only girls. This way when you wake up you won’t be gagging from the putrid smell of a boys hockey locker room, a dirty bar room floor, and a strip club all mixed into one.

Lindsay and I have decided, besides the chorus of snoring, our favorite night was when two of the boys came home drunk at 6 in the morning and had the following conversation.
Boy 1: Man I am so drunk.
Boy 2: Yeah, I know.
Boy 1: oh man, my bed’s all wet. Why’s my bed all wet?!
Boy 2: I don’t know
Boy 1: I’m thirsty. Give me the water.
Boy 2: you drank it all.
Boy 1: I’m thirsty. (pause) Why’s my bed wet?
Boy 2: there’s only a little left you drank it all

This went on for an unnecessary amount of time.

4. Breakfast

When breakfast is included in your hostel stay. Don’t get excited or factor this in as a benefit.

5. Cervesa

Ask how big “largo” really is…

These were as big as our heads. we were the only one to accidentally order them...awkward

6. Try not to get “Spring Breaked” from the beach

Lindsay and I got to enjoy one and half days of beach and sun. The first sunny day was on Wednesday. We were able to find a nice spot on the beach, lay out on our towels and enjoy the symphony of “massage-y, massage-y,” “aguas, cervesas, coke-a-cola,” “Mojitos,” of the vendors while enjoying the sounds of the waves crashing on shore. Or at least until some boys crashed the spot with a boom box playing rap music yelling sexual obsentities and derogatory terms onto the beach. Their comical conversations of not needing sunblock because they are “russian italians”, their waving down the vendors every two minutes for empanadas, cervesas, and mojitos, and sporting some new cornrows on their stark white scalps was fun for the first twenty minutes but died down soon after. The talk of the “bitches” they scored with, the “hot” clubs they went to, and the advice of avoiding the ever embarrassing “monica lewinsky” the locals play as a joke on tourists, eventually became a little too much. (I would describe what a monica lewinsky was if it was so inappropriate) Lindsay and I called it a day but were able to spend the rest of the evening laughing over their awesome conversations. (and for those of you who are wondering, they weren’t american! finally! they were, however, Canadian.)

7. To Catch a Thief

Become the stereotypical tourist before you exit the plane. Wear your backpack in front. Take a money belt. Don’t carry a purse. Don’t carry a wallet. Don’t use your phone. Don’t use anything nice. In fact leave anything valued over $30 at home (15 pounds for you U.K.ers)

Before every trip I’ve taken people have always warned me to watch out for thieves, pick-pocketers, and purse-snatchers. As in all large cities and holiday destinations they are more prevalent. Before Barcelona, Lindsay and I heard the same advice, even a few stories of people knowing people who had been robed, therefore we were definitely on our guard when we arrived but nothing prepared us for how true it was.
The street vendors and buskers were all aggressive, having no problem invading anyone’s personal space. The dozens of “massagey, massagey” ladies who roam the beach offering 10 minutes massages for 5 euros don’t take “no” for an answer but use it as a chance to change your mind. They often start rubbing your back or your legs trying to persuade you. The men on the streets selling flowers won’t turn and leave you alone after one “no” or even two. They will stand by you speaking broken english in attempts to sell a rose. So when we discovered how aggressive and non-discreet the thieves were, we weren’t surprised. 4 people in our hostel were robbed this past week. Me included.
Walking home early one morning with Lindsay, I had my purse wrapped around my wristed and clutched in my hand. A group of boys, fairly nicely dressed considering, came up behind Lindsay and I. They ripped my purse from my wrist. I, who for some reason still continues to think I can take anyone, took off running after them. My flip-flops flying in the air as I sprinted away in my dress, yelling obsentities to get my purse back. I caught up to them and grabbed at my purse as though it were a baton in track but still not strong enough was unable to keep a firm grip and fell forward. This did not stop me. I kept up with them until I almost reached them again. The culprit finally threw my purse down on the street. Thankfully, all they took was the cash, leaving me with all of my credit cards and identification.
Another person in my hostel was not as lucky and was unable to catch up with them, and another was scammed by one of the street dancers. Someone had an iPhone knocked from their hands as well.
(While I should have not have chased after my purse and I am lucky I didn’t get hurt, I couldn’t help but feel lucky not to have to be going through the pains of cancelling cards, finding money, and trying to get new i.d.’s.)

So what have we learned. Traveling in Barcelona is no joke.

8. Sunshine days

out in the sun as early as possible

If your last day in Barcelona is the sunniest and best day of the whole trip and you have 7 hours to kill before boarding your flight that does not mean you need to spend all 7 hours on the beach to make up for the previous cloudy days. If you do this, reapply sunblock. Thankfully, I am such a paranoid freak I reapplied like crazy. Some of us were not as lucky though.

I’m aware this post is not painting an awesome trip but it truly was. Even though it was not what was planned or anticipated Lindsay and I had a great time. We made some excellent new friends. We had a great time laughing at the comedy of errors of our trip. I Learned a new dutch sentence. We discovered how awesome Gaudi was. I was absolutely blown away by the enormity and amazingness of La Sagrada Familia. I do not have words to describe what an incredible magnificent catherdral it is and how lucky I am to have visited it. I believe everyone needs to make this trip solely for La Sagrada Familia.

gorgeous(having trouble posting pics of segrada so look for them on facebook)

This trip was stressful, however, so I’m happy to be home and back to work. Although with a few nights in at the hostel and some early mornings I was pretty productive for a holiday.

Cheers,

Jess

p.s. As usual I apologize for all typos and what not. I’m tired and wanted to get this up before diving back into my work tomorrow. P

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Well Colleen made it out to Edinburgh for me, but sadly Katie and Kellie were left behind in Ohio and while they were missed it did not stop us from having a good time.

Colleen came to visit at the worst and best time. The worst time because up until she arrived on Saturday I was stressed with work, getting my words in, and an all day event our tutors put on for my class bringing in people from all aspects of the literary world to talk with us. By the time I got to the airport on Saturday morning to meet Colleen I was beat and nervous she would want to just get to Lindsay’s flat and relax for a bit. Colleen had told me I didn’t need to meet her at the airport but just to let everyone know, if you are going to pay for a roundtrip ticket to visit me I will fork over the 6 pounds to greet you as you get off the plane. It is the very least I can do. The second I saw Colleen I forgot how tired and grumpy I was. I’m fairly certain our scene of reuniting could have played in the opening credits of “Love, Actually”
We weren’t on the Airlink, the bus to take us back to the city center, for two minutes before Colleen looked at me and said, “we should hike Arthur’s Seat today.”
That’s when I knew. This was going to be an awesome week and very busy! The first day Colleen arrived Scotland tricked her into think we have great weather with the sun out on a clear day.

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The winds were of course there but the sun made it all look so nice. The next three days were overcast, rain, and wind so  Colleen got to see the true Edinburgh. Arthur’s seat was an adventure in itself. And probably not the safest but with our “that looks dangerous. I’ll do it!” attitude we were good. The hike up takes about two hours, factor in the wind, and breaks to take pictures, and it’s an all day event, besides when you hike with me I make sure we get all the way to the top (insert sexual innuendos here). After standing a little too close to the edge and almost letting the large gusts of wind knock us off the extinct volcano we decided to sit for a bit and enjoy the weather and view.

30 seconds later, we decided to find the quickest way down Arthur’s seat to give us time to get home and get ready to go out. After watching an 80 year-old man step down a steep path to the bottom we opted to follow him. This was a mistake. That path was not safe, flashes of Colleen and I sliding off the edge and  spraining an ankle or breaking a leg flashed through my mind. As I sat down and scooted myself to the bottom of the path I couldn’t help but think that the old man must have been a retired Superman because he practically ran down the path. He didn’t even use the rock walls for support!

In the four days Colleen was here I had NEVER done so many tourist things. By ten o’clock each night we were both knackered and ready for bed. Aside from climbing Arthur’s seat we didn’t do anything I had already done. We went to the castle, this time actually going in. Don’t worry Brig we didn’t miss anything. The castle was not too impressive but glad I went.

Now, Holyrood Palace, I recommend to everyone. The palace was fantastic! Everything is so beautiful and there is so much to see. The audio tour was amazing! I don’t have words to describe how much i enjoyed this (especially in comparison to the castle). I should have taken Robin’s advice months ago.

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We also went to St. Andrews for a day with some of my friends. My friend, Lauren, went there for her undergrad and gave us the official unofficial tour. All of which was done in about three hours, giving us just enough time to grab a cheeky pint.
It was so great to have Colleen here, it was like a slice of home but it was bittersweet. Just when it became normal to have her here it was time for her to go. Saying good-bye was not easy (actually it kind of was because I was running out the door of our hotel room in Amsterdam after I accidentally overslept and was about to miss my flight but you know what I mean).
Although it is a huge bummer my parents had to postpone their trip and weren’t able to come this week, it just made Colleen’s visit more awesome. And now, if my parents can make it over later, I know exactly what fun touristy things to do with them and which ones to just leave them to do while I sneak off for a pint…

Cheers,

Jess

 

p.s. new computer and don’t know how to get the photos on this to work … so sorry

 

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Colleen and I journeyed to Amsterdam during her visit. It was the most amazing city! As I’ve been a wretched blogger I am just going to do a brief overview of the time spent in Amsterdam through a series of what we did and did not do. This will benefit any readers who’s attention span is as short as my own.

We did…go to the Keukenhof Gardens

We did not…get to see the tulips in full bloom as it was the last day of the season and most of them had been clipped however the ones that were there were gorgeous!

We did…take a lot of pictures of flowers

We did….go to the Red Light District

We did not…go to a sex show
We did…get propositioned to have sex with male and female prostitutes after going into every sex shop and eventually being recognized by the workers
We did…exercise our will power and turn them down, EVEN when they offered us safe sex. (Great selling points)
We did…watch a transaction go down between a woman in a window and a man on street, who started the conversation with “Are you good?” we had much respect for this as it is a valid question, we just figured what good prostitute wouldn’t lie?

Anne Frank Statue

We did….go to the Anne Frank House
We did not…purchase any souvenirs as it seemed odd
We did…think it was completely awesome and totally worth it. Recommend to all! Amazing!

Even the buildings don't know which way to go!

We did not…get lost. Who are we kidding? We got lost walking straight because oh yeah, none of the streets stay straight for long.
We did…figure out buying a map is no better than the free maps you can pick up anywhere.
We did not…admit to others when we were lost hence Colleen’s line of “I know where we are! Leidsplein!” she did not however, know how to get home from there.
We did…almost get run over by bikes, cars, boats, and pedestrians every five to ten minutes.
We did…go out drinking
We did not…order drinks appropriately as I discovered while talking to very nice Dutch man. Apparently no one orders pints, they all order half pints so that their drink stays cold until the last sip. I then spent the next ten minutes trying to gulp my pint down as fast as possible
We did…find a local bar
We did not…find the bar through the tourist book and out of respect for our new friends I will not say where it was because when they realized we weren’t Dutch (because we didn’t understand what they were saying) they freaked out. The conversation went like this:
Man: *says something in dutch*
Colleen and I stare at him for an awkward length of time
Me: Oh, we’re english. We don’t speak Dutch
Colleen: Oh my God, we blend in. They think we’re from here! Success!
Man: this is a dutch bar
Me and Colleen: Cool
Man: how did you find this bar?
Me: we were just walking and saw it
Man: what tourist book was it in?!
Me: it wasn’t in one.
Man: you have a tourist book though?
Me: yes but we were just walking and we found this. It wasn’t in the book.
Man: Just tell me which one.

people ignoring the sign and waiting in the queue when they don't have to be outside of the Van Gogh Museum

We did…go to the Van Gogh Museum
We did not…go to any other art museum
We did…LOVE the Van Gogh Museum

We did…learn all attractive men seem to live in Amsterdam. They are everywhere and they are gorgeous. Even better, for every 10 attractive males there is one female.
We did not…learn any dutch.
We did…say “Hallo” obnoxiously for about ten consecutive minutes every morning
We did…discover our hotel has thin walls and our neighbors seemed to be having much better morning than colleen and I. Now if only we could have figured out who they were at breakfast…

Our hotel in the museum district and right by the park. perfect!

I would like to end this blog with this final note. I LOVE AMSTERDAM. After spending a few days there I definitely fell in love with this city. Additionally, I have found myself daydreaming and fantasizing about…getting a bike. They are so cool! I want a bike so ridiculously bad now. And not just any bike, a fun, Amsterdamy bike. One with a neat lock on the back wheel with a fun color. And I want a cool basket on the front to put my stuff in, and one of those bags that drapes over the back tires to hold more of my stuff. I also want a seat cover to keep it dry when it rains and I lock it up outside. That is all. My blog on Colleen’s visit to Edinburgh will be next. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to keep my blog updated when I spend my days writing, so my apologies.

Cheers, Jess

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Courtesy of my parents and my sister I have been blessed with Starbucks e-gift cards which I can use here in Edinburgh. As I get a majority of my work done outside of my room, away from the distractions of the evil Facebook and the sidereel devil, they have equipped me with being able to go to Starbucks, get a tall skinny caramel latte and sip at it for five hours while I work. Each time the gift card runs out, I am thankful as I can now try a new, local place, and then I am sad as it limits my trips out of my flat to do work. With this Starbucks card comes certain knowledge though. While I can not vary my coffee houses I can vary the Starbucks locations. Over the past 5 months I have sipped my lattes in a number of Starbucks locations to find the one best suited for me according to my mood. I will now provide with a rundown of these Starbucks with…

My Guide to the Starbucks of Edinburgh

Starbucks in Morningside

–         A nice size Starbucks with various large windows. The music plays softly so as not to distract you from your work or conversation. A nice people-watching scenery. As it is in a predominantly residential area, it can be bombarded with baby carriers and small children, which can provide certain distractions. There are two elderly men who are regulars, whom I love. The one always sports a San Francisco hoodie , and they spend their time in quiet or ranting about this or that in politics. It tends to get overwhelmingly busy from about 10:30 to 11:30 then again at 1 and 3. There aren’t any study tables but a nice bar up against the front window you can work at while people watching.

Starbucks on Meadow Walk

Meadow Walk Starbucks


–         The Starbucks is basically all windows. Having all windows is awesome to see the sunshine and the people walking around, however the people-watching is limited to Meadow Walk or a brick wall. The music is also nice and soft in the main café area, but quite loud where the couches are (especially in the morning). I tend to bring my own headphones to try to zone it out but sometimes I can still hear the music of the café playing. The outlets for your computer are limited so recommend bringing mainly book/writing work when going to this location. It is also quite small, so you must get there early as well as being careful miss the afternoon rush of teeny-boppers from the school on Lauriston. If you come in the middle of it, leave and come back twenty minutes later. The annoyance and hassle are not worth it. The employees either don’t care or don’t notice if you bring in you own food which is a huge plus! They also do not have porridge to purchase or honey at this location. The sunshine makes up for most of the faults as well as it’s proximity to where I live.

Starbucks on Lauriston

–         Is really big but has few windows, which was awesome in the winter time when you just wanted to cozy up, but now with the sun shining not as much fun. It has comfy couches and chairs throughout instead of in just one area. There are a plethora of outlets and even study desks for students to utilize. Awesome! They provide a wider selection of food including porridge and honey. The music plays quite loud here ALL the time and has the down-fall of being bombarded by secondary school kids as well. Again best to just leave and come back during these swarms if you have not already purchased your stuff and found a seat. It’s proximity to where I live is also a huge benefit.

Starbucks on Lothian

–         This airs on the smaller side and is quite dark inside although has large windows throughout. It has a nice work cubby by the back window which is awesome. The view is nothing special and not the best location for people-watching. The music playing is never distracting and does not get attacked midday by the school kids. It also does not have porridge and some of the special cookies at the till the others provide although it does a have a wider variety of beverages in their cooler thing.

Starbucks on Princes Street

The view of the Castle through the great windows at Princes

–         My favorite Starbucks. It’s is a bit out of the way but definitely worth the hike. The door can be passed up as it is by construction and you must walk up the stairs but not hard to find. It has the best view ever! It overlooks Princes Street with a gorgeous view of the castle. The front has four massive bay windows to admire the beauty of Edinburgh by. The Starbucks is quite large and spacious. Various comfy chair and couch options set up throughout. Including study desks as ell and a small nook for those wanting a bit more seclusion. The music is played at the appropriate volume and there are outlets everywhere. It can get very busy but never out of hand as it does at Morningside and Meadow Walk. More tourists here than the other places (obviously) which can be annoying if you catch bits of their conversation but I find it quite amusing. You need the code to get into the bathroom but as long as you’ve bought something that shouldn’t be a problem. While I always buy something, I’ve found due to its size it would be quite easy to sneak without purchasing anything without them noticing.

Starbucks at George and Hanover

–         The downstairs is super small. Quiet music with various elderly visitors. The upstairs is more spacious but still on the smaller side. A nice place to sneak into during the day but not worth the extra walk/trip over. Again you need a code for the bathroom. I have yet to see a swarm of kids come in but the downstairs can get quite crowded with the queue which seems daunting but once you have your beverage if you go upstairs it is far less crowded. Most people are grabbing their drinks on the go.

Starbucks at Waterstones on Princes

–         I have only visited on one occasion. Offers the same benefit of the view of Princes Street and the castle at the windows although not as large as the ones at the actual Starbucks on princes. It is spread out but on the smaller side. It does offer two levels, giving it the appearance it is bigger than it actually is. No music which I find can be nice at times. Being surrounded by all the books is quite fun although its next to the Children’s section, not sure if this gets too noisy at times or not as I have only been there on one occasion. A completely different people watching area than all the other Starbucks provide and it’s fun to check out what people are reading and ordering to drink as almost everyone there has a book in hand. Would not recommend to go to for getting work done as there are no large tables available but reading I guess would be nice.

– I have visited both of the Starbucks on the Royal Mile but only for take-way so I didn’t feel I could write anything about these ones although I am sure they are quite touristy and will only get worse as the Festival approaches

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Alcohol. Yes. Fire. Yes. Nudity. Why not?

The Beltane Fire Festival was this past Saturday and in true Edinburgh hippy fashion it was celebrated at the top of Calton Hill with all the (fake) pagan fun. It is a Celtic fertility festival. The ritual is about the celebration of fertility of land and the animals practiced. Now it is basically an excuse for the hippies of Edinburgh, mainly students, to go up a hill, drink alcohol, play with fire, and get naked.

Enjoying the festivities

Rosie mentioned it in passing to Lauren and I and ten minutes later a plan and an evening was in the works. After reading the risk on the ticket – involves fire performance, uninhibited behavior, and semi-nudity; attendance at your own risk – my excitement only grew. Following the rules of the festival (no glass, drums, loud instruments, dogs or combustibles) we set off with Kiki, Colm, and a few extras to the hill.

The line to get up to the hill

The line to get into the festival was massive, with a prediction of 12,000 attendants. When we finally got there we did a wee once over of the set-up then found a nice spot to watch the sunset over Edinburgh while enjoying our beer. An hour later we were begging for the festivities to begin as we had not dressed entirely appropriate for a night out in the cold. All we could hope for was for them to starting lighting the fires.

When it did finally begin we forgot all about the cold as we made our way to see the torches. It was insane, 12,000 people all followed these specs of light like bugs to a zapper. The opening ceremonies consisted of lighting fire under the Athenian acropolis (intended to be a replica of the Parthenon but 200 years later still isn’t finished) followed by the Beltane performers scantily dressed and painted in reds and oranges to make their way to different areas of the hill with lit torches. When I say torches I mean legit torches, not how the English refer to flashlights as torches. As we came early we had a great spot for a majority of the show as we watched the performers dance around for an awkward amount of time without fire, then a nice amount of time with fire, and then began to take off some articles of clothing. Then they took off a little bit more. Lots of boobs and butt-cheeks. At one point they seemed to have created an orgy. Which for everyone, at least everyone not involved in the orgy, seemed quite uncomfortable.

No worries, after the orgy scene they went right into what everyone was waiting for – playing with fire! The second the fire tricks of juggling and twirling began so did the “oohs” and “aahs.”I know this was directed at the fire and not the nudity because many of the comments for the nudity such as “gross” or “show us more” stopped, along with some obnoxious American males sitting behind us.

Playing with fire...hopefully they are careful not to burn any of their exposed bits

Any thoughts of joining the nudity in any way shape or form were dashed by the frigid cold air, although attendants don’t normally get naked, it is mostly reserved for the performers. Dodged a bullet there. (I hear St. Andrew’s festivities are more broad to include everyone and more cold as they run into the water naked).

Any hopes of finding people we knew or them finding us were dashed when we realized how packed the hill was. After trips to the bathrooms we found ourselves still having trouble finding the people we left at our spot. Some of us, not mentioning name but rhymes with sholm and shessica, found the lines to the toilets too long. Too weak of a bladder to hold it we took to the hill! Right by the city observatory standing opposite of where all the fire fun was going on was a path. It split in two going in different directions around the observatory. Colm left me with the choice of where to go. I chose to go right. I chose wrong. We were instantly confronted with the back-ends of five men peeing. Clearly I had picked the boy’s bathroom side of the observatory. We quickly back tracked and went left where I found a nice bush while Colm ran interference for me. Once we managed to find our group again, we were up and running to follow the torches.

ohhhh pretty! (followed by "oh no is my hair burning again?")

The fire procession then moved from spot to spot ending with a giant bonfire that sent flakes of fire into the night sky. Another awesome sight which amusement lasted about ten seconds until we all realized we were standing down wind from the fire and our hair was burning.

Did I mention they sold mini torches to the drunks?

The night was a success. Fun, friends, and fire – I couldn’t ask for more. Oh, except a little nudity of course.

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Farmer's Market

People shopping at the Farmer's Market

I have discovered the farmer’s market and it is glorious. Last week Lindsay, Rosie, and I walked down to the base of Edinburgh Castle where the market is held. It is a small portion of tents lining the sidewalk but is has a lot to offer. Mistake number one was eating breakfast before heading out.

Edinburgh Castle from the Farmer's Market

Edinburgh Castle from the Farmer's Market

They have ostrich burgers, Angus beef burgers, fresh fish, fresh cheeses, organic vegetables but most importantly they have the Chocolate Tree ice cream stand. The Chocolate Tree has the best chocolate I have ever tasted in every combination possible including Chocolate Chili, which is also made into one of their delicious ice cream flavors. My mouth is watering as I type.

We had so much fun trying different dips and sauces, homemade jams, and bits of breads. After picking out some key fixings we decided to have a nice dinner together with all of our purchases – our favorite being sausage from Well Hung and Tender Beef.

Where we bought our sausage for dinner....hehehe

Can’t wait to go back this week and pick out some more delicious goodies!

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