One backpack. Two (full) days. Three nights.
See ya’ll on the other side!
Edinburgh may be the primary site of my Study Abroad explorations, but it certainly won’t be the only place! In a mere 10 days, my flatmate Abby and i will be off to Amsterdam for a long weekend of Van Gogh paintings and canal rides. Amsterdam’s been on my top 10 list for a long while (the Van Gogh thing, again) and to think i’ll be jetsetting off so soon is kind of unfathomable.
But the country i’m presently living in also has its own unbridled landscapes and mysteries to explore. To help focus my travels while in Scotland outside of Edinburgh, i’ve crafted a bucket list of the top 6 things i want to explore and see!
1. See the cathedral ruins at St. Andrews. (Completed 19 January 2013)
2. Venture to the Isle of Skye. (Completed 26 April 2013)
4. Visit Loch Lomond with the song of the same name stuck in my head.
6. Go to smaller Scottish town/city (like Perth) and take a quiet day outside the city.
Naturally, there are lots of other sites i’d dream of seeing – Loch Ness, for example. But in the interest of making this a list of things that are most likely to happen, i’ve confined it to these six things. Here’s to making them happen!
Friends who know Scotland: anything else that should be on this list? What’s your favorite place/thing to do in this country?
current jam: ‘where the boat leaves from’ zac brown band.
best thing: chinese new year at the flat!
In the knowledge that Edinburgh is the second-most frequented tourist destination in the UK, before coming i started to think about what i wanted to do for fun in my five months here. Three guidebooks later, i began to compile a list.
But then, to my book-loving-heart’s-only-mild-shock, guidebooks were not enough. I arrived and suddenly Edinburgh’s vitality and quirk was everywhere, so the list started growing. What had once been ten things turned into twenty. Friends who had studies here, new friends who matriculate here currently, and people from all around have been giving me such delightful tidbits on the hidden treasures encased in this city. (And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of my Scotland Outside-of-Edinburgh Bucket List!)
So here, with no further ado, i give you the ever-elongating Edinburgh Bucket List! (Italicized means completed, and i’ll add links to blog posts about completed tasks as i go along!)
The Edinburgh Bucket List:
1. Stroll along Princes Street; purchase cheesy souvenir.
2. Buy and wear a kilt.
3. Take the ferry to Incholm Abbey.
4. Explore Leith and Crammond Village, the seashore side of Edinburgh.
5. Go to the National Museum of Scotland!
6. Visit and listen at St Giles Cathedral.
7. Do the Literary Pub Crawl!
8. Go to the Writer’s Museum.
12. Go to the Modern Art Gallery
15. Picnic on Arthur’s Seat!
16. Go to Holyrood Abbey.
17. Picnic in Princes Street Park!
18. Eat fish & chips at a local chippery.
19. Try Haggis (it was awful!)
20. Go Ceilidh dancing, preferably in new kilt.
22. When missing home, eat at that mysterious KFC on Nicolson Street!
23. Splurge and eat a nice place tucked away on the Royal Mile or some fancy equivalent (like The Witchery).
24. Take high tea.
As it stands, i’ve done 9 of my 24 things. Not a bad start since today marks one month since i left the United States!
So to friends who live or have lived in Edinburgh: what else needs to be on this list? Any great pubs or bands or sites that made your time tremendously unique?
Be sure to stay tuned for my Scotland Bucket List, which shall be published tomorrow!
current jam: the new dj earworm mix!
best thing: 28 days.
Edward Tufte says maps are metaphors. I’m no infometrics whiz, but i like this idea – if, for no other reason, than my affinity for maps. Splayed across my wall before me is a map of Edinburgh i peeled out of my guidebook. Adjacent to it is a map of Durham, North Carolina that i plucked from a visitor’s desk downtown. Though these maps are from far-away places, the greens couldn’t be of a more identical hue.
I love this metaphor within a metaphor: a town that is known to me and a town that is new are not so very different that they are required to clash. Durham’s streets are reminders of the world that has nurtured me, and Edinburgh’s closes and squares nurtures the at-times-overwhelming feeling of falling in love with a new world.
Yet falling in love with a new place means i need to share this love with the people who make up the home in the map of my heart. I sometimes fear my noticing of the very-matched greens will be a noticing only for me. That while this world i’m coming to know in Edinburgh is vast and exciting and beautiful, it starts to make my own dot on the globe all the farther from the world i knew.
This fear, though, was deeply assuaged this past weekend: i had the delight of sharing my budding romance with Edinburgh with one of my dearest, dearest friends – Nora!
As she is also studying abroad in the UK, Nora and i threw together a weekend excursion about the city on a whim – a marvelous, serendipitous, and delicious whim. Because i’ve been so focused on making myself feel at home in Edinburgh, i haven’t necessarily done all the typical tourist-y things one might explore on holiday. Having a guest, though, was the perfect excuse to give myself full permission to go light on the schoolwork and heavy on learning all the reasons you should holiday in Edinburgh.
And easily ranked in the top ten reasons to visit Edinburgh would be the food! Thus, this is the first of two blog posts chronicling our weekend together. And it’s all about the food. (Don’t worry, the latter will be about the actual tourist-y things we did!)
Our gastronomical tour began with the comfort food haven, Mums. “Top nosh at half the cost,” according to the website, Mums boasts of a vibrant and edgy charm: they’re home-cooked comfort mixed with urban attitude. I mean, the mac & cheese has a spice kick to it and comes with chips!* Who doesn’t love drowning in cheese and carbs? Their food is locally sourced, their service impeccable, and the deal incomparable to anywhere else. Eating there with Nora was my first time, but it will so most definitely not be my last.
Having sated our need for traditional fare, the next evening’s meal was one reminiscent of home: Southwestern American cuisine. Living in North Carolina for so long spoiled me, with taco stands and sit-down Mexican restaurants on every block. So to tend to my poor, burrito-deprived needs, we ventured to the local Tex-Mex joint: Illegal Jack’s. It was all i wanted and more, guacamole included.
Our final dinner was at a place i’ve frequented before: 10 to 10 In Delhi, a Halal Indian restaurant with excellent chicken roti and even better student deals. If you’re looking to stretch your pounds, three quid will get you a belly-stretching meal here. We particularly loved the pretty tapestries stretched across the ceiling and the cozy couches!
Easily the best place we visited, though, was no foreigner to me: The Elephant House Café.
I met Nora in the fall of our first year at Mount Holyoke. She was wearing a Hogwarts crest t-shirt, it was love at first sight, and the rest (as they say) was Hogwarts, A History. Nora and i are no strangers to Harry Potter-themed adventures; in the winter of the subsequent year, we attended the Brooklyn Yule Ball together. On the last day of finals. In Christmas-themed ball gowns. We’d skipped dinner in an effort to catch the last train into the city, downing rolls of bread and Dr. Pepper’s in a convenience store outside the venue as substitutes.
There aren’t many people you can romp about New York City in a gold petticoat with, but Nora has always been an exceptionally genuine and beautifully adventurous friend.
I remember gleefully turning to her, as Harry and the Potters crashed and roared over their keyboard and guitar on stage. “I’m so tired, but i am having so much fun!“she mouthed over the din. It was a magical moment to share with a dear friend then, and it was just as magical to share the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” with her this weekend over elephant-shaped shortbread and excellent cups of tea.
We were sure to leave our own note in the bathroom – signed, as ever, with our nicknames for each other: Padfoot & Prongs.
Feeling known is an immense gift. I feel known by this city – but part of this feeling known comes from sharing it with an old friend. Nora and i have a history of adventures (gastronomical and literary alike!) and to make this weekend a part of that map of stories was such a treasure. My green maps still match, and the loves in my life make the most beautiful harmonies when sung together.
current jam: ’good morning sunshine’ alex day.
best thing: a beautiful place to be with friends.
p.s. you can always find my reviews of restaurants and attractions on my tripadvisor profile!
*for friends in the states: chips = french fries, just in case your daily dose of the BBC hadn’t kept you abreast of British slang!
Life in Edinburgh is, at last, normalizing.
My morning routine of brewing a cup of Earl Grey in enough time for it to cool into a drinkable liquid is coming to feel more and more like my favorite sweatshirt. The tear in the cuff is where i last left it. It may take a minute or two to warm me up in the chilly Scottish morning, but when the warmth arrives it feels known.
But with the routine comes the knowledge that this routine is different than any other i’ve known.
Being far from home is no stranger to me; i go to school some 900 miles from Carolina comfort. I lived in Uganda for some three months. Sleep-away summer camp was an expectancy from the age of eleven. I have been blessed with opportunities to grow and explore far from the nest. Homesickness, then, is not a new phenomenon to me – and i must say, this has been the easiest adjustment to being away i’ve ever had. My living situation is supreme, i’m making real friends, and i am madly in love with Edinburgh. Even the weather (most days).
Yet no matter how prepped and rehearsed my dealing-with-homesickness treatment may be, 4000 miles is a vast distance. Sometimes, it feels like nothing at all – like at any moment, i could hop on a bike and be back in time for Hannah’s Second Helping Fried Chicken. But some days, when the rain seeps into the crevices between bones and the winter feels unyielding, it just sucks. No matter how beautiful the city, how enchanting the experience. Yesterday was one of those days.
At my pre-departure orientation whilst still at Mount Holyoke, the global learning folks shared with us this graphic:
While, obviously, adjustment is different for each, i found then and find now there to be a lot of truth in this curve. My adjustment to Uganda was easily filled with this many troughs and crests (tropical illnesses are no bueno for the needle-phobe, being in South Sudan for independence day ranks in top ten life experiences). So far, my time in Edinburgh has been tremendously a mountaintop – and it is continuing to be. Every day i find something new to revel in. Coffee with new friends. A piggy-bank shaped like the red letterboxes lining the city streets. Mastering my own guacamole recipe.
I have to make the conscious choice, then, to seek out the growth. And the thing about growing things is this: pruning is required. Sometimes, to reach the sunshine and boundless sky, i have to clear out the weeds. I’m learning all over again how to feel the growing pains and channel them into something beautiful. So i don my rain boots, plug in my headphones, and take a walk. Remind myself, even on rain-slicked cobblestones, why i fell in love with this city to begin with. Why i call traveling my first passion. I choose to take pride in my knowledge of the winding streets. Take delight in the wonder of how small and big this world is all at once. Revel in making a routine, and come to my new home to a steaming cup of Earl Grey.
And then my roots are a little deeper, my arms stretched a little wider, and the rain makes all things grow.
current jam: ‘live & die’ the avett brothers.
best thing: padfoot.
What i lack in Southern charm, my mother makes up for with every sultry ya’ll she smooths out of her mouth like butter. When she cooks, our table is swimming in vats of her fried miracle meat masterpiece she’s fondly named “Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ Chicken.” A friend of hers recounted their initial introduction, enumerating specifically that she was wearing her perfect pearls strung around her neck. My roommate frequently remarks that my ability to curl anyone’s hair (no matter the thinness or resistance to hairspray) is my Southern Superpower. I’m always quick to share it’s a superpower i inherited from my South Carolinian mother.
But easily, one of the most Southern things i have inherited from my mother (particularities with hot curlers aside) is an abundant love for steamed white rice.
She is the master of rice. Nowhere else have i had rice that compares – not the kitchens of Mount Holyoke, not the restaurants in Uganda, nor the meals consumed at friends’ homes. My mother’s rice is the kind of food i cling to as a measure of perfection. While some rice dishes may rank on a scale of goodness, none have ever paralleled Hannah’s Second Helpin’ rice concoction.
Part of what makes her rice so delicious is the particularity with which she makes it. In the unending panicked phone calls i’ve made to her asking for cooking advice (including, once, from Uganda) she’s quick to reiterate: rice is very, very precise.
“Don’t be sloppy with your measuring cup,” she shows me in my umpteenth lesson, bending down to be on eye level with the red dashes marking ounces and liters. Often as she does this, there is a persistently misbehaving strand of brown hair (curled, of course) that she tucks primly behind an ear.”You have to make sure it is exactly 3 cups of water.”
Over the phone, she reminds me the name for the recipe: 3-2-1 Rice. Precision in name, precision in numbers. 3 cups of water, 2 cups of rice, 1 teaspoon of salt. For the longest time, i couldn’t remember whether the three was for the grains or the water. Naturally, a few pots have turned a delicate shade of brownish-black as a result of my imprecision.
Living in Massachusetts for two and a half years now has been brilliant. I’m even growing to like snow. Living there has also been a lesson in just how Southern i am – even if i’ve spent the better part of my early adulthood in denial. Sure, i don’t own anything Carhart and will never suggest a BBQ joint for lunch. But i have a strong affinity for pearl earrings and i brew my own sweet tea (à la my mother’s recipe). The longer i live in New England, the more i come to make peace with – and embrace – the roots i have in Carolina country. The salience of my differences among my peers has been a wonderful part of this path of discovery.
And in five days, i begin the next big cross-cultural expedition to Scotland.
As i frantically decide between which map of Durham, NC to bring and put on my wall, i can’t help but think about how much more i’m going to learn abroad. I intend to try Haggis, explore the bowels of Edinburgh castle, breakfast at the Elephant House Café. I hope to grow in my sense of a globalized identity and engage critically with my own assumptions.
Learning who you are while abroad is a messy process. There’s plenty of journaling and contemplating and weepy phone calls ahead. Nothing is precise about identity, i think. But that’s also the adventure of it; for every homesick day i’ll have, assuredly there will be wildly wonderful moments where i can scarcely believe the world unfolding around me. For me, the most important thing right now is to focus on making those moments meaningful by being present in the moment.
And when the days are so messy and i feel so foreign and disembodied, i’ll go home by making a bowl of rice. In all the messiness, there is still the precision of her 3-2-1 Rice Recipe. (Hopefully, i can even find that calm without burning the pot.) And the thing is, rice is still rice even when you’re 3,700 miles away from the woman who makes it best in the whole world.
current jam: ‘toes’ zac brown band
best thing: hanging paintings.
The last paper has been turned in, my hands washed with unnerving, maniacal glee (a ritual after every exam). My room is in an explosive state of disarray. There are socks to coax from the far corners of the closet, mugs of long-gone coffee to be scrubbed, and a car waiting to be stuffed with my material life.
It’s the end of another semester, and at the same time the beginning of the next big whirlwind adventure. The cliché of every door closing meaning only a window need be opened for a fresh breeze is apt, if expected. I’m having a weird sense of preemptive déja-vù: as i shove a pair of jeans into an oversize, obnoxious pink crate, i feel a prickling thought that these jeans will be carefully folded within a tattered suitcase in less than a month’s time. I’m making mental lists of which hats are best for wet-cold weather. The tabs in my Lonely Planet guidebook are accumulating. There are running playlists in the back of everything that (stereotypically) feature either bagpipes or lyrics about 500 miles. Or both.
I’m so excited. I really, really am. At the realization that The Elephant House Café is less than a quarter of a mile from my flat, i shrieked (sorry quiet hours, i just couldn’t help it (also also, this is where JK Rowling wrote large portions of Harry Potter for people who do not professionally live online)). It just all seems so unreal, so far from the tangible packing lists cluttering my desk right now. Seeping, ever so slowly, into the corners of my finals-frizzled brain is knowing i am leaving the country for the most substantive time yet. But emphasis on the lethargically. And still, all i can fret over is what to get my brother for Christmas.
So i have 27 days. 27 days spent listening to terrible Christmas music and wearing wonky, homemade scarves. 27 days that will accumulate well over a 1000 miles to fall down at my own door in the semi-annual drive from New England to North Carolina. 27 days of blustery bliss and blistering farewells. 27 days to plot ways to run into JK Rowling at the local grocer.
27 days to beckon in the next adventure, and say fond see-you-laters to my two stateside homes.
At the helm of a particularly grueling day, i looked over my plate of perogies for dinner talking with my dear friend Olivia. After a staff meeting, we were sharing our woes over struggling to find presence in our days despite unending to-do lists. Olivia is the kind of friend whom i can always find new avenues of conversation with – what a gift of a friend. But that night i was somewhat preoccupied at first with stabbing at a perogie with too much force, knuckles whitening at the thought of the boxes as yet unchecked by 7 PM.
And then, with a steam-blowing sigh, Olivia said to me: “There was something you said to me at the start of the semester i think of all the time.”
Spreading from the corner of her mouth was the smile that made me sure we’d be friends when we met last year. My curiosity now thoroughly pricked, i rummaged in my head for what potential piece of wisdom i could have possibly given her. I was coming up short when she revealed the words i’d so conveniently forgotten:
“You said: tomorrow will come. And it will. I think about that all the time.”
For a bite into cheesy potato goodness, i was stunned. I said that? Damn. I need to be writing these things down more.
I chose, then, to smile at the recollection of words i had – frankly – forgotten. Our conversation rolled on, and i was almost too foolish to believe that would be the last to-remember phrase of the night.
She told me how she had also, within the same week of my apparent doling out of wisdom, had a meeting with her advisor. She had enumerated how excited she was for the coming fall and that she wanted to make this year a great year.
He then said to her, “make today a great day, because they only come one at a time.”
Make today great, because they only come one at a time.
I inhaled deeply, both the words and the smell of my last perogie, basking in the simple wisdom. Olivia and i shared a look of knowing, knowing that in our too-many-classes lives and overbooked work schedules, this is precisely what we needed to hear.
I’ve been trying to channel this into my life in the everyday. Looking at what needs to be done today, rather than trying to tick off boxes in my to-do list notebook for the whole week on Monday. Asking J three things he’s grateful for every day, and asking myself the same. Looking for small things that carry large weights of happiness, blessing, privilege, wonder. Trying to be still, be present. Tomorrow will come, but i don’t need to worry about tomorrow when focused on today.
And while i know it’s far easier to say such things than to live them, i’m working on it. Making today great is a self-help project i can get on board with (so to speak) because the commitment is to today. Not tomorrow. Not next month. Not for the next year. Today. Everyday is today, but they only come one at a time.
I’m making today great by taking time to rest, and not apologizing for it.
What will you do?
current jam: ‘love is easy’ cover by carrie hope fletcher & the vamps
best thing: 4 days. 4 days. 4 days. 4 days.
Throughout the course of my two decades on earth (how trite) i’ve had an innumerable list of life ambitions. When i was seven, i dreamed of nothing more than a career as a dolphin trainer who worked as an author/singer/inventor on the side. I even had an old refrigerator box in my room that i used to collect tools to use for “inventing;” a favorite creation were DIY roller-skates (tennis shoes with matchbox cars taped to the bottoms).
I grew older, and though my interest in marine life abated, the desire to write and make music did not. Middle school was filled with dreams of the Big Stage and worrying over training bras. That is, until the African Highway Project in Mrs. Bade’s 7th-grade-social-studies class. In studying a myriad of different countries that comprised the vast continent, and speaking with several Peace Corps volunteers who came to share their experiences, i caught a bug. Maybe the virus had been planted when i went to San Francisco with my dad and grandma at the age of nine. Or maybe my transient life lived in eight states prior to the age of six infected me from infancy.
Whatever the source, by the time i left Culbreth Middle School behind me i wanted to live in Africa. Particularly, i wanted to go to Mali (that’s where the cute Peace Corps volunteer had lived. Naturally, it became my favorite yet-visited destination).
At the age of fourteen, my passport was stamped for the first time. I was Africa-bound, on a pilgrimage that would teach me two countries (Rwanda and Uganda) could not be more different from one another. That “Africa” is a very, very big place and i was madly in love with a very, very beautiful place called Uganda. I never made it to Mali, because cute-Peace-Corps-person aside, i’d been called elsewhere.
If the infection was dormant before, it was in raging contagion now. Four years and three more countries later, this blog was born and my bags were packed for ten weeks of calling Uganda home.
It’s been a year and half since that incredible summer, and over a year since i was privileged and blessed enough to travel abroad. But i’ve caught a virus i think will last my life long: i need to see. I live for bruising suitcases with exuberant boardings of planes. I’ve wanted to study abroad again, this time academically, for a long while.
And yesterday i got the jubilant news that i have, officially, been accepted to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland for the spring semester!
Between now and my departure in January there are Visa applications to endure, Lonely Planet guidebooks to be earmarked, and painful goodbyes to withstand. The excitement of the impending adventure is overwhelming – grueling paperwork and all.
Fourteen-year-old me would have thought i was going to make a career out of traveling, living like this. Part of that girl is still very much alive in me. But for this semester, i aspire to take off the capital-F Future questions off the table for a little while. I intend to explore, and to let the excitement of exploration be enough. I intend to grow, pains of it and all, and i intend to embrace the change.
Right now, though, i’m just ecstatic. I can’t wait to share the photographs i’ll take, basked in nerdy wonderment, at The Elephant House Café (JK Rowling! Sat there! While writing THE BOOK!). I’m certain i’ll start slipping up and unconsciously imitate a Scottish accent (coming off as a total fake, i’m aware). I’m beside myself at the thought of learning and living in a new city with train tickets across the UK. But most of all, right now, i’m excited to share this news with all of you!
current jam: ‘then i met you’ the proclaimers
best thing: um, SCOTLAND.
Today was Mount Hoyloke’s 175th Mountain Day – a cherished tradition wherein the bells are tolled one hundred times at 7 am and the community takes the day to clamber up the ridges of our namesake. None but the President of the College’s office know when the day will fall, so there’s been expected anxiety and predictions made working our way up to this brisk, falling-leaves-dappled day!
I climbed the mountain with two of my darlings here at school, Carter & Kate! We were well bundled in our New England layers as we started the (paved) portion of the trail. When we embarked upon the actual (non-paved rocky terrain) trail, clambering over roots and stones alike, my wheezing asthmatic lungs were definitely struggling with the blustery air. Kate & Carter were champs about stopping every couple of minutes and letting me pump some oxygen back into my system. But! It was a prime time to capture some cute photos!
The trees were a vision of fall, their leaves gradients of bursting orange and sing-song yellow. Though this was certainly later in the year than i’d hoped for Mountain Day, the splendor of Massachusetts in her peak season makes it impossible to say the wait wasn’t worth it!
After half an hour of lung-pumping and trail-traversing, we reached the summit, delighting in the view of the Pioneer Valley stretched deep beneath us.
The best part of the day, however, is that there is ice cream at the top served to you by the fabulous staff of Mount Holyoke and the President herself, Lynn Pasquerella. All that sweat-working-up and inhaler-employing was so worth it for this delectabel treat!
Our bellies sated, we began the trek back down the mountain to bask in the rest of our free afternoons. I decided then to truly take the day for myself, writing this blog post (ahem) instead of studying for my Islam midterm on Monday. Let’s hope the magic of mountain day is one of longevity and fortitude when writing about hajj!
current jam: ‘lover’s eyes’ mumford & sons.
best thing: j on a plane, bound for me!