Sunday, October 14, 2012
Edinburgh: Weeks 2-5
A lot has happened over the course of the last four weeks. Courses have started and at this point are well underway. My first essay is due next Monday, and luckily I've managed to complete a somewhat satisfactory rough draft that hopefully I'll have finalized mid-week. No rest for the weary, though! I have two much longer essays due three weeks from tomorrow that I've no idea how to start, nor am I sure I've even read any material about which I'd like to write! But I can't deny that I am reading a lot; I'm averaging three to four books a week. I'd love to say that I'm enjoying all of the texts assigned in my courses, but that would be a lie. But I am liking some of the reading material.
My "Scottish Literature 2" course has me reading the most texts, yet has offered me the fewest enjoyable ones thus far (though I loved Swift's Gulliver's Travels!). My third-year seminar, "Sovereign Bodies: Tragedy" has a syllabus that offers a mix of plays from 1300-1625; we're reading quite a few Shakespeare plays and of course I am excited about those. Some of the other plays we're touching upon are excruciatingly difficult to understand (and even read), as many are written in very old forms of English. But the challenge is great! And I love, love, LOVE my "Edinburgh in Fiction" course, which has me reading books spanning the 1700s through the early 2000s, including crime fiction by Ian Rankin! So at least there's one course with which I can honestly say I'm in love. And the best part about my week is that I've no classes on Friday, affording me wonderful three-day weekends every week. I have SO much work here and very little free time to myself, but it's nice to carve out at least one day a weekend for some quality "me" time and dedicate it exclusively to exploring the city or doing a bit of travelling.
Speaking of travelling and exploring, I've done a fair bit of it since my last blog post. On September 22nd, I took a wonderful day trip with my friends Ahlam and Chloe to the charming little town of Balloch, which sits smack-dab on the shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland's largest loch. While the town of Balloch hasn't a ton to offer in the way of more commercialized endeavors, its marina is beautiful and I absolutely loved walking through Balloch Castle Country Park. The sprawling green lawns, diversity of trees (with which Ahlam was obsessed!), and views of the loch were absolutely amazing. Balloch Castle itself, which was originally built in 1238 but was replaced in 1808 with its current structure, was a bit disappointing, as it's been inactive for years and today is closed to the public. When viewed from the loch itself, however, the Castle seemed to shine in all its former resplendent glory. Or maybe I just love castles.
We meandered down the hill on the back side of the castle (you can see it in the picture above) and made our way to a lovely little dock area where, believe it or not, a triathlon was commencing! (This explained the confusion we had experienced earlier in our walk, when myriad runners kept passing us by in various states of dress/dryness.) The views from the dock were phenomenal. We could see the highlands rising up in the distance and I felt so incredibly small and unimportant. This is the first time that I've truly felt the beauty of Scotland thrust itself upon me with its greatness. I can't get over how beautiful it was! It was so beautiful. SO BEAUTIFUL.
The three of us ended up grabbing lunch at this cute little restaurant. We ordered Strongbow and delicious pot pies, but the best part of our meal was seriously the haggis. Ahlam and I ordered a slice of it because I've been wanting to try it since the moment I arrived in Scotland. IT WAS SO DELICIOUS. Chloe photographed the process and you can literally see the moment where we both think to ourselves "hmm, this is really good." We ended up not only finishing the haggis (Ahlam proudly posed for a celebratory photograph), but then licked the plate clean with our fingers. Yes. It was that good.
We concluded our day with a relaxing boat ride on Loch Lomond itself, which provided ample opportunities to take in the impossibly perfect views. The best part about Loch Lomond is that it actually lies on the Highland Boundary Fault that separates Scotland's highlands and lowlands, and you can see the fault as it cuts across the loch and the surrounding land. I was amazed by what I saw. If you go to see any loch in Scotland, pick this one. You seriously won't regret it. There are 30 islands on the loch, and they're all so cute and quaint. Some are even inhabited, though never by very many people. We also saw a wedding party posing for photographs on one of the loch's banks!
We concluded our trip with a group photo, though I should mention that the man who took it for us, while very polite and sweet, didn't really know what he was doing. Ah well!
I had plans for the following weekend to visiting the town of Stirling and to explore its famous castle. Unfortunately, the passing of my beautiful, wonderful cousin, Avalanna Routh, made this impossible, but I was fortunate and blessed enough to be able to come home for the funeral and be with my family for the better part of a week. Av was a beautiful, perfect, perfect little girl, and she is missed every day by those who love her very, very much.
Needless to say, adjusting back to life in Scotland has been tough, and I find it a bit more difficult to get myself "out there" and moving these days. I'm doing my best though! Last weekend, in an ode to MHC's Mountain Day, I hiked Arthur's Seat with Emily, Anarkalee, and my friend Mel (who managed it all in heeled boots!). The weather could not have been more ideal. I think it was the warmest that it's ever been since I first arrived at the beginning of September. The hike itself is actually not as easy-going as one might think, but the effort we exerted to reach the top was immediately worth it upon reaching the summit. WHAT A VIEW. This is the second time since I've been in Scotland where I've felt unbelievably small, and I love the reality check it provides. But mostly I just love soaking up the views. They're utterly incredible. We could see all of Edinburgh just laying there at our feet.
This past week has been very busy what with all the books I've had to read and the paper I took it upon myself to write a week in advance. I found some time for fun, too, though. On Tuesday night, to celebrate my friend Mel's birthday, we went to see Cameron Mackintosh's new production of "The Phantom of the Opera" at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Now, I have seen the movie before, and of course I know the music from the show, but I've never seen an actual performance of the show. IT WAS BRILLIANT. Absolutely breathtaking and mind-blowing. The woman playing Christine was totally not your normal "Christine" type, but she was beautiful and her singing divine. As for the man playing the Phantom - there is no adjective of which I know that can adequately describe how absolutely phenomenal he was. His voice, his acting, his stage presence, everything about him was (literally) pitch-perfect and he completely moved me. He also made me cry at the end. Also! We were seated about six rows from the stage, so we had great seats! The best part about them? We were situated pretty much right underneath the chandelier, and when it shattered at the end of Act I, actual pieces of the chandelier fell onto us. Mel had some in her hair. IT WAS SO COOL.
This past Friday, my friend Julia and I went to the Scottish National Gallery to see a temporary exhibit entitled "Symbolic Landscapes," featuring two beautiful works of Van Gogh's. So let's be honest, the only reason I went was basically just to see the pieces by Van Gogh. I would have eventually wandered my way into the SNG at some point this semester, but with a motivation as strong as my favorite painter's works being right at my fingertips, I couldn't resist. We also explored the Gallery's permanent collection, which has a number of beautiful (and huge!) impressionist pieces. Afterwards, we grabbed pizza at this tiny excuse for a pizza joint, and then bought ourselves red velvet cupcakes that were practically the size of our faces, but were so delicious. And later that afternoon I booked my train tickets to London with Ahlam! We're planning to go at the end of November. Now all we have to do is find a place to stay...
This weekend has been rather quiet otherwise, as I've spent most of it reading and writing. The upcoming weeks promise to be really great, though! I plan to visit the National Museum of Scotland this Friday and spend most of my day exploring it to my heart's content. And next Thursday, Mel and I are going to see "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Lyceum Theatre. It's my favorite Shakespeare comedy, and although I've seen it performed numerous times, I can't resist taking in another performance. Finally (and perhaps most importantly!), I am traveling to the Highlands at the end of the month with my friend Maria, and I could not be more excited about it!
My apologies for the length of this blog post. I seem to have difficulties writing often, which leads to marathon posts such as this one. But, as always, thank you for sticking with me.