Plans for Spring Break

Today I leave for my extended vacation known here as “Easter Break.” The funny thing about this vacation is that there are no lectures or tutorials or anything when we get back, just our final exams in May. So while the official schedule says break ends on April 11th, we actually have a lot more free time. Some changes will be inevitable, but I’m sure I will return with a dirty bag and a full camera. The main worry at this point is watching the American dollar die against the Euro. As if the exchange rate in the UK wasn’t bad enough.

Here is a rough outline of my plans for the next couple weeks:

March 23rd: Fly from Edinburgh to Lisbon, Portugal.

March 23rd until March 31st: Stay in Lisbon in this rented flat with 6 other people.

March 31st until April 1st: On the way to Rome, stop in Barcelona for one crazy evening and continue on the second leg of the flight the next afternoon.

April 1st until April 4th: Rome, Italy. I’ll be staying with a friend’s family, which I’m sure will be an incredible time.

April 4th: Travel to Florence, Italy. Stay for a few nights.

Approximately April 6th: Continue to Venice, Italy and stay for a few nights.

Approximately April 8th: Take a long train to Budapest, Hungary for another few nights.

Around April 11th: Train to Prague, Czech Republic.

April 14th: Early morning flight back to London and a beautiful 4 hour train ride back to Edinburgh.

Another reason I’m so excited for the final leg of my journey is that the train company allowed me to enter “other” as my title for my ticket. Instead of choosing Mister, I opted for “Supreme Allied Commander.” Much to my delight, this title was accepted and now my ticket should reflect the change. Whenever I visit the website, I am greeted by this sight:

Well, that’s all for now, but hopefully I’ll have time to access my email during the trip. Hope everyone else is having a fun spring break.

Charlie Visits and a Loch Lomond Jaunt

Last week was a fantastic break from my routine because my good friend Charlie visited from London. Frankly, I was nervous he wouldn’t have a good time because he lives in London and decided to exclusively visit me in Edinburgh for his spring break. My fears were quickly put to rest as he seemed ecstatic to be seeing a new place and was stunned at how cheap things were compared to London. During one of my free days we had a whirlwind tour of the city. It started with another climb of Arthur’s Seat which turned into a battle with the wind. The weather was clear and seemed warm so we ventured out without coats. This was a poor decision as the angles of the climb turn the path into a wind tunnel. At one point up the climb Charlie attempted a steep angle and got trapped while the wind tore at his shirt and muffled his yells. We retreated and took a new direction, finding the summit just as bad as we feared. I can confidently say this was the strongest winds I have ever experienced and we had to lie flat in the goose-poop infested grass just to escape.

After our taxing climb we headed back into town and strolled along the Royal Mile. Our pace allowed us to stop in the Holyrood Palace entrance, the Parliament security checkpoint and the Kirk of the Canongate cemetery holding the remains of Adam Smith. It took us a long time to actually find his grave but in the mean time we found some interesting landmarks including one dedicated to the “Society of Coach Drivers in Canongate.” For lunch we dined in a little pub that served as Charlie’s first experience with haggis. Despite the cautious expression in the picture, he actually enjoyed it.

The great haggis debate.

After lunch we spent some time in the National Museum and joined some dancing children in watching the Millennium Clock ring in the hour. The rest of his visit proved less eventful but just as fun. We went out with my friends here and got to see other parts of the city. Unfortunately, Charlie had to leave early because that weekend I was going on a trip to Loch Lomond. We ran across town to catch his bus back to London and I packed and took a bus for the weekend later in the afternoon.

Loch Lomond is a beautiful place. However, it was not a beautiful weekend. It rained the entire time we were there and while we got to hike and try some Scottish activities, the fun was clearly dampened by the weather. I brought my camera but didn’t dare to bring it outside since downpours were so frequent. We did some hill-walking in an area called Drymen, which was somehow pronounced “German.” We were able to watch the historic routing of England by the Scottish rugby team in a local pub. I think us Americans were the most excited in this particular pub since it was the final game of the Six Nations rugby tournament and Scotland was dead last with no wins. On the last day we headed out to a somewhat cheesy activities fair. This included learning basic bag-piping, archery and the classic tossing of the caber. It was raining on us very hard for most of the time so spirits were quite low but it was a rare opportunity to throw a tree trunk (though the one we used was not as large as most photos found online). My attempt did not cause it to bounce and flip forwards as intended and I was advised to use “a wee bit more force next time.” After warming up on the bus we settled in for the trip back to Edinburgh, all in all it was a unique experience that I would recommend attempting in dryer conditions.

Visiting Glasgow and Seeing Nothing

Over this weekend I ended up going on a semi-spontaneous trip to Glasgow. I hesitate in using the word “trip” because I was there for less than 24 hours, which also explains why this almost photo-less entry will be extra dry. It started with a short and cheap bus trip to the city center late on Friday evening with 3 friends. Initially our evening consisted of wandering around looking for our hotel. For those of you unfamiliar with Glasgow’s reputation, it’s a sprawling city with a focus on industry and being generally gray at all times.

We arrived around 8 pm and followed vague compass-based directions to our beds for the evening. It took us over an hour and we got caught in a rain storm that briefly turned into hail. Finally, our destination was found, it was a hostel/hotel adjacent to a large football stadium for the Glasgow Warriors. We were right behind the field and had there been windows on that side of the building, it would have been a fantastic view. It’s also important to mention that there was a game going on while we looked for the hotel, so our wandering around was accompanied by occasional whoops and massive oooohs. According to their website, the game that night was a win, which would explain the happy crowds pouring out of the arena as we finally got into our rooms. We dried off and got ready to go out for the night, but spirits were low because we knew how far away we were from the city center and how rainy it still was. Eventually, we trekked out. After testing the waters in a club with 4 people on the dance floor, we found ourselves in the “Silk Club” that had a 3 pound cover despite the promotional card we were given promising free entry. This would set the tone for the evening. To get our money’s worth, or for some other reason that escaped me, we remained there until 4 am when it closed.

This is when things got interesting. As the crowds of scantily clad party goers spilled onto the streets, the calm night was pierced with drunken hollers. We quickly scampered to find a ride home, since the long walk seemed impossible. Our efforts to hail a cab failed. One cab driver slowed down to a drive-by speed and asked us where were going in the tone of voice of a someone afraid of getting caught. We explained where we were headed and he continued to coast by, finally after understanding (or not understanding) our destination, he sped off, sans customers. Maybe we didn’t understand the system in Glasgow, or maybe taxi drivers weren’t keen on driving to that part of town. We had no idea what to think. Our efforts to get a cab lead us zig-zagging through the downtown area and took the better part of an hour. During the course of our hopeless journey, we stopped at a chip-shop. I approached some inebriated individuals and asked the system to get a cab. “You’re American?! NO WAY,” was the response I got. They quickly formed a dance line and broke into song, “New York, New York!” When they finished, they patted me on the back, “Now you sing the Scottish national anthem!” Uh…I was trapped. “Sorry mates, I don’t know that tune.” Blasphemy! Instead of giving me a Glasgow Kiss that I had been expecting, they promptly broke into song again. This time, the owner of the store had enough of their singing and kicked all of us out.

Once on the street, they calmed down and I was able to get a phone number for a cab company. The representative I spoke to had neither heard of the street our hotel was on or even of the stadium for the Glasgow Warriors. “Are you going to somewhere remotely near Glasgow?” I responded, “We’ve walked there twice, how can a taxi not reach it?” I was on my own he assured me. Eventually we learned that all taxis go by a set location in downtown where party goers form a queue. We tracked down this queue and after discovering it numbered at least 200 people, we decided finally to walk. And so our long day ended with an even long walk home.

The next morning, we rose early considering our bedtime so we could check out of our rooms. We spent ages finding a place to have breakfast that wasn’t a Subway, gambling establishment or a shut down restaurant. We settled on a fancy Italian place that didn’t open until noon. After refueling, we checked out the large pedestrian avenue called Sauchiehall Street. It was at this point that I realized how much Glasgow reminded me of Santiago, Chile. Santiago is at least three times as large and has the benefit of beautiful mountains, but they both have a huge pedestrian street running through downtown that is chaotic and dirty. We stopped in a clothing store and I discovered that clothes here are actually dirt cheap. A friend of mine got a full suit for 25 pounds and I got some swim trunks that I needed for 2.50 and a lambs-wool sweater for 7 pounds. Another benifit of shopping here is that people are not all XXXLs like in the states. Multiple items in my size?!

Later in the day we stopped at a coffee shop to keep our energy up and meet a friend who goes to the Glasgow School of Art. It was here, in the most unlikely of settings, that the most interesting aspect of our travels occurred. A man who cleaned counters and emptied the trash approached us and asked us for a favor. He was wondering if we could edit a paper he was writing because his English wasn’t very good. Umm…sure, why not. He was elated and disappeared to get his essay. We weren’t really prepared for the 5 chapter tome he dropped on us, but we made our way through his draft with pens and coffee supplied by our new friend. It took us a long time to work through his paper because a lot of the tenses and words were confused or translated oddly, but we all felt productive helping him out. We later learned he was from the Ivory Coast and was getting his Master’s degree. It took us until closing time to finish, but he waited and thanked us dozens of times. It was tough to edit but overall an interesting and memorable experience.

From there, we were so tired we just went back to the bus terminal to catch a ride home. While this entry seems surprisingly negative, I had a good time and will definitely be returning to Glasgow. We never got to see any sites, the weather was terrible and our time was quite limited. Now I have returned to balmy Edinburgh and further work for my final 3 weeks of classes await.