Sunday, November 25, 2012

Edinburgh: Weeks 9-11

WOW. I cannot believe I have been here for three months already. Here we are nearing the end of November, and I have no idea where the time has gone. Eleven weeks in and things are just crazy busy! If I am not writing papers, I am reading books (upon books upon books upon books) or attending class or buying Christmas presents or registering for courses for my spring 2013 semester (back at Mount Holyoke, what?!) or catching up on much-needed sleep or maintaining and preserving what shreds of my sanity I still have left. I have not travelled quite as much lately, though my six-day trip to London commences this Thursday, and it is shaping up to be awesome. I am so excited!

I just wanted to take the time to write a bit about the fun things I have done over the past three weeks. While I have spent the majority of my time studying, eating, and sleeping, I have managed to sneak myself a few hours to explore and enjoy this beautiful city.

Monday, November 5th was Guy Fawkes Day, which commemorates the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. I had no idea how big of a celebration it is here in Edinburgh! I suppose it makes sense, however, since Scotland is part of Great Britain and all that jazz. Anyway, on Monday night, my friends Anna and Rachel and I journeyed to Calton Hill to watch the fireworks displays. The walk was quite far from our flat, and the steep climb up to the Hill itself is rather dangerous in the dark, but the views were completely worth it. Edinburgh looked SO BEAUTIFUL at night. And it seemed as though the entire city was out and about in celebration! I have never seen the streets so crowded and so full of life. The buildings were all illuminated with Christmas lights (not to be outshone, Jenners was bright pink) and the air smelled like food and cold and alcohol--but in the most delicious way. There were hordes of us piled at the top of Calton Hill to take in the fireworks, and there seemed to be displays occurring in all directions. You could even make out hundreds of itty-bitty specs of light on Arthur's Seat, where celebrations were also taking place! The fireworks were sub-par at best, with the exception of a few amazing ones from a bystander who set them off in his hands!! But it was the general experience that I will cherish. The city has never felt so alive.

Rachel and Anna with their sparklers.

On Sunday, November 11th, I went to a national rugby match: Scotland vs. New Zealand. It was AMAZING!!!! First of all, Murrayfield Stadium is HUGE, and this particular match was sold out, so the crowds were enormous. I made some new friends, Angela from Tennessee and Katherine from Canada (and Rachel and Marylou, though I don't remember where they are from). Our seats were pretty high up in the second tier of the stadium, but we could see the match really well. And what a match it was! New Zealand is the best rugby team in the world, and it has never lost a match to Scotland. This match was no exception--New Zealand won, 49-22. But at least it wasn't a complete shut-out. Seriously, the match was amazing and I really love rugby so it was truly an unbelievable experience! New Zealand did the "Haka" at the beginning of the match, too--it is an ancestral war cry and dance of the Maori cultural tradition. It was really cool to watch. Also! I felt kind of smart because I actually knew everything that was happening during the match, and I ended up being the one explaining the rules of rugby to the others. Never thought that person would be me! During halftime, the Scottish members of the British 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Teams came out and circled the pitch, which I thought was really neat. Scotland has SO MUCH PRIDE and it was on full display at the match. I am so lucky to have had this experience!

 Outside of the stadium.
With my friend Angela.
Ran into my friend Charles at the game-- what a coincidence!

 New Zealand performing the "Haka."
On Monday, November 19th, I rewarded myself for having survived ten days' straight worth of essay writing (three different essays, 27 pages total, you get the rather unpleasant idea). Emily and I went to our first ever Scottish ceilidh (pronounced "kay-lee"), which is a Scottish social featuring live Celtic music and a number of really, really cool traditional Scottish dances. (See the picture of us pre-ceilidh, all dressed up, at the top of the post!) The dances involve a lot of partner work, a lot of stomping and clapping, a lot of spinning around and holding hands and ducking under people and over others. We had an absolute blast. I think it might have been the most fun I've had since I got here. It put a HUGE smile on my face at a time when I really needed one.

This past Wednesday (November 21st), I went with my friends George, Jonas, and Sophie to explore a bit of Edinburgh, both old and new. We visited the Palace of Holyroodhouse (more commonly known as Holyrood Palace) first, which sits on the opposite end of the Royal Mile from the Castle. Holyrood is where the Royal Family stays whenever they visit Scotland, and it is also the setting for state ceremonies and other important functions. The majority of the current building dates back to the seventeenth-century, though parts remain from as early as the 1500s, including the ruins of Holyrood Abbey and the palace's northwest tower. The palace is absolutely beautiful both inside and out. We made our way through the restored parts of the Palace's interior, and I fell in absolute love. The tapestries, the rich fabrics, the beautiful chairs and all of the portraits, the crown moldings that are more intricate than any others I have ever seen, the queen's bedchamber with its ornate canopy bed--HOLY MOLY CAN YOU SAY DECADENCE?? (Unfortunately, photography is not allowed within the Palace, though a Google search will produce a number of impressive photos.) And the grounds are beautiful, as is the old Abbey. There are views of Arthur's Seat from so many windows of the Palace, as well. What a wonderful place it must have been to live (and to vacation now!). I definitely enjoyed Holyrood more than any of the castles I have visited during my time here, perhaps because of the fact that so much of the original furniture is still intact, which makes it much easier (and more fun!) to imagine what life must have been like all those centuries ago.

With (from left) Sophie, Jonas, and George.
Exploring the ruins of Holyrood Abbey.

Our second stop of the day was the Scottish Parliament, which is kind of ridiculously awesome. The building is located right across the street from Holyrood Palace. Scotland used to have its own parliament, dating back as early as the thirteenth century. The Acts of Union of 1707 saw the end of the original Scottish Parliament; it forced Scottish Parliament to merge with the Parliaments of England and Great Britain. However, in 1997, Scotland approved a referendum that, through the Scotland Act of 1998, restored the Scottish Parliament to its former glory. In 2004, the new parliament building was finally finished. It cost £431 million to complete, which is roughly equivalent to $688 million! The project ended up being about 30 times over budget...whoops. But it is really, really cool. The Scottish Parliament Building was designed by Enric Miralles, and it features very contemporary designs: steel, cement, and bamboo comprise the majority of both the exterior and interior of the building. Everything is sustainable. When viewed from above, the building looks like a bunch of leaves or waterdrops interconnected. I don't really know how else to explain it other than to say that it is kind of just really, really awesome, and far better seen in person.

The majority of the Scottish Parliament Building is visible in this photograph. The complex is HUGE and features views of Arthur's Seat (to the left, out of the view of the camera lens) and Calton Hill behind it.
(This is the only photo I did
not take.)

This past weekend I finished my Christmas shopping and spent some quality time with friends. Tomorrow marks my last week of classes--thank goodness! I must admit I have tired of them and am ready for a well-deserved break. I leave for London on Thursday with my friends Ahlam and Victoria, and we have a very packed schedule for the six days we'll be in the city. Hopefully I won't be too burnt out when I return on December 4th, since I commence my 15-day exam essay-writing extravaganza (or catastrophe, you choose) the following day. Yuck! I'll hopefully post about London once I've completed all of my essays...unless I die during the writing process, which is entirely possible given the sheer enormity of the work ahead of me. Ah well.

Until then, take care of yourselves! And, as always, thanks for coming along with me on this journey.


  1. How on earth did I miss that you're now in the UK?

    It's been too long since last I checked. Glad you're enjoying bonnie Scotland though: beautiful, isn't it?