23 February 2011

Almost Heaven

I interrupt this normal, average Wednesday to tell you a REALLY COOL STORY.

I usually stay at my internship fairly late on Wednesdays - I tend to get home between 7 and 8 p.m. Tonight, I was heading back in the dark, when most people are eating dinner, and as I asked for Oli's ukulele tonight but have no carrying case, I was swinging it around a bit, eager to get home and play. I decided to go a bit out of my way and take the steps instead of climbing the more direct hill to my flat. As I approached the bottom of the stairs, I heard a most delightful sound that I soon found was a man sitting on the ground, huddled under a blanket and playing an Irish whistle. Thus, our story begins.

My usual policy toward street musicians/buskers and giving money is as such: if I...
a.) especially like their music,
b.) stop to watch at all,
c.) have money in my pocket or hand already, or
d.) can get money out in the time (between spotting/hearing them and passing them),
I give a few pence/cents. I know that that sounds like I throw a lot of money at people in the street, but quite honestly, none of the above circumstances fall into place very often. Tonight, however, the sounds of the flute carried down to my ears all the way back in the big open square at the foot of the steps, cheering me from the inside out. Despite the fact that I was carrying my bag and a ukulele, I fumbled around for some change deep in my pockets. By the time I got within a few feet of the man, I was ready with about 75p.

As I tossed it into the hat he had lain in front of him, he said, "Cheers!" and then, as he spotted the ukulele, asked, "Do you play that?" This led to a conversation about ukuleles, Irish whistles, our heritages, West Virginia, music, and homelessness that eventually wound its way back to John Denver. I turned to go up the steep stairs to my flat, filled with a warm, fuzzy feeling on the inside that had its roots in my connecting with a complete stranger, and the sounds of "Country Roads" led me home.

(I am so glad that I tossed those coins into that tiny knit hat.)

21 February 2011

Are you getting somewhere, or did you get lost in AMSTERDAM?

I've taken a line from one of my favorite bands, Guster, to title this post about my excursion last weekend. And, if you must know: yes, I did get lost in Amsterdam. (I found my way back, of course!)

I went with three other girls in my group - Annie, Diane, and Ellie - to Amsterdam for two and a half days. It was my first trip out of Scotland since I've been here, so it was very exciting. We flew on EasyJet, a budget airline that allows one piece of total baggage, so I took my camera bag and stuffed as much as I could around the camera, lenses, and batteries. We left EARLY Friday morning (and I mean early - I believe I got up in the vicinity of 4:30 to catch a 5:05 bus to the airport!) and arrived back in town around 6:00 Sunday evening. Though this was truly not very long and we really didn't spend a lot of time away, we packed as much in as possible, and I was tired into midweek.

We got into the city around 10 Friday morning and spent an hour or two navigating to city center and trying to figure out exactly where that was. Throughout the weekend, as I alluded to, navigation did prove to be somewhat difficult - and it's not just us! Downtown Amsterdam is basically arranged in a U-shape, and it has more canals than Venice (and the streets tend to follow the canals) - so, walking in a straight line would take you through numerous streets, but following a street, you were never exactly sure which direction you were headed - and you were constantly faced with bridges and canal houses! Landmarks exist but are elusive.

We spent most of Friday just walking around and getting a feel for the city. We had a great lunch in a cute little café, checked into our hotel (we definitely got what we paid for - and we didn't pay much - but it was clean!), and then headed to the Anne Frank House and museum in the afternoon. That was a better visit than I had expected - I knew that it was a "must-do" for a visit to the city, so I had always been set on going, but I didn't realize how realistic, informative, and poignant it would be. There's also a section of the museum that connects all of the experiences during WWII to today's infringements on human rights. I highly recommend a visit!

Saturday, we all woke up and a very satisfying complimentary buffet breakfast provided by the hotel. Annie and I then took a free walking tour led by the same company, NewEurope, that led the one that we took a week or so after we got to Edinburgh. I liked it even better than the one we took here, though! It was a bit rainy and cold that day, but Annie and I made sure that we dressed to stay warm and dry. We got to see a good portion of the city and visited many neighborhoods and historic sites over the 3+ hour tour. Again - highly recommended. And, um, did I mention that it's FREE?!

Annie and I promptly got lost after our tour. We knew where we were and where we were going (the Van Gogh museum!), but we started off in the wrong direction - and thus began our downfall. Finally, after about an hour of walking the wrong way, turning around, and going in a different wrong direction, I walked into a random store and asked a nice-looking man for directions. As it turns out, he's originally from San Francisco, and he is so nice that he printed out a color map for us and diagrammed our needed route! So, we were about an hour and a half late to meet Ellie, Diane, Nathan, and Caleb (the latter two are some of our other friends here - Nathan is in our, too, and we met Caleb at school) at the museum, but we did make it there safe and sound - sadly, with only about an hour to look around by the time we got through the admission line! The museum was great, nonetheless. We all went out to eat at the Hard Rock Café Amsterdam (I know...very Dutch) afterward.

Sunday, we woke up, had breakfast and then headed out for our last mad dash at souvenir-buying before taking a canal cruise that Annie had been pining for all weekend. Like so many things on this trip, this supposed tourist trap actually provided more educational experience than I had been expecting. After the 1+-hour cruise, we went to eat pancakes (this actually IS pretty Dutch.) Then, it was pretty much time to head to the train station and then onward to the airport...BUT I had been dying to go to the Houseboat Museum all weekend, so for about 30 minutes (it really is on a houseboat...so that was actually enough time), as the other three girls waited outside, I learned all about the history, design, maintenance, layout, and current state of houseboats, particularly those in Amsterdam. So cool!!

Overall, the trip was a great success, in my opinion. Some general observations that I made over the course of the trip:
-Bikes, bikes, everywhere! Namely because of the cost of parking, but also due to countless other benefits, this is the main mode of transportation for countless Amsterdam residents. I think it's really cool! People have devised great ways to also carry objects, kids, etc. - ingenious.
-There seem to be a lot of toy stores here. Maybe it's because Edinburgh has a supposedly low number of children, or maybe it's because I'm used to toy stores being either huge and standalone (like Toys R Us) or concentrated in one area (like malls), or maybe I'm just crazy...but I noticed three or four on Day 1.
-Maybe it's just the neighborhoods we walked in, but I also noticed an uncommonly high number of art galleries on the streets of Amsterdam. Neat! (And, on this same vein, there is some REALLY COOL graffiti all over the city, especially in the squatters' neighborhood - "Rent," much?!)
-I met a PITTSBURGHIAN guy outside the Anne Frank museum - he had a Penguins hat on, so I asked him where he was from - and it was, in fact, Pittsburgh! We were both on the move in opposite directions, so this was about the extent of our conversation. Still, I was very excited.
-As you might have guessed from the amount of canals and the fact that there is a museum dedicated to the subject: there are a LOT of houseboats in Amsterdam. I think the current count (and, sadly, this will never rise, as the city has put a freeze on plots) of families living in them is about 2,400 - though I seem to remember hearing 30,000 somewhere - maybe that's the number of people? Must be big families...or maybe I just wasn't listening...ANYWAY, I have always been intrigued by houseboats, and this city is simply a mecca for anyone even slightly interested - you will see them in all shapes, sizes, and decorating schemes up and down the many canals. Fascinating.

I'm working on either putting together a slideshow (kind of like the one that I made for Calton Hill...but probably much longer) or uploading all of my photos of this trip to a site that everyone can access, because I am finding it impossible to condense such a great weekend into a few uploaded photos. Be on the lookout!

Calton Hill

I took a few hours out of a fairly nice day a few weeks ago to visit Calton Hill, and I've delayed putting up this post because I've been trying to choose which pictures to include - there are so many great ones! Calton Hill is an especially beautiful and historic hill in Edinburgh that lends itself toward getting the city its nickname, "Athens of the North." There are a lot of monuments and great views up there. If it weren't for the near-constant, chilly wind, I would probably be making weekly visits - I would like to try to study up there sometime!

It's really not too far from here - it took me maybe ten or fifteen minutes to walk to the base. There are different paths one can take to climb up the hill, and the surface of the hill itself has different snaking paths and, of course, plenty of grassy space. You can see all of Edinburgh up there, depending on which way you turn. It's so peaceful!

I ended up deciding on no less than 31 pictures to include, so I made a slideshow. I hope it works!

Your pictures and fotos in a slideshow on MySpace, eBay, Facebook or your website!view all pictures of this slideshow

15 February 2011

Glossary, Vol. II

I think that I've collected enough foreign (or, well, they might as well be) words and phrases to warrant a second edition! Of course, I've probably forgotten to include some now that I am getting used to saying them...

Foreign Words
quid - slang for pounds, the currency used in the UK
chuffed - pleased
sultana - Alright, well, we technically do have these in the U.S...they're really just grapes, but they're a special kind of grape. The raisin form of the same name (confusing!) is used in SO MANY dishes here!

Slightly Different Usage
diary - agenda/planner
"Alright?" - "How are you?"
"Is that you?" - "Are you leaving?"
caster sugar - superfine sugar
icing sugar - powdered sugar
"Cheers!"* - "Thanks!"

Increased Usage
phone - (v.)

*=personal favorite

Check it out

I've been spending lots of time at work lately updating the Foodies magazine website (to which the title is a link.) On it, you'll find a link to Living Abroad magazine, which I also work on. I'll put this website in the Links sidebar, too! Enjoy!


January 28 - which reminds me that, WOW, time is absolutely flying by! It feels like last weekend! but, actually 3+ weeks have passed - I went to Stirling! You may have heard of it in reference to one of the following:

1. Stirling Castle - a free tour was included with the entrance fee; we also walked around to some places not on the tour. This was my first Scottish castle experience - how neat! The "castle" is more than just a building - it's really more like a village. Inside are residences, a church, giant halls, storage areas, dining facilities, you name it. I'm still getting used to just how OLD everything in Scotland is!

2. Battle of Stirling Bridge - we actually just rode by the real Stirling Bridge (no pictures, as I didn't have a decent view from the bus), but it's a pretty well-known piece of history.

3. William Wallace monument - this monument is actually outside Stirling proper. It can be seen from all over the city, though, because not only is it tall, but it's on top of a hill! We hiked all the way up this hill (very steep - lots of switchbacks) only to find that the tower part charged admission AND was only open for about 30 more minutes. Instead of going up, we took advantage of the views from the top of the hill.

These views were my favorite part of Stirling - like Edinburgh, the city is built on so many hills that it seems that wherever you turn, you're faced with a gorgeous vista. Whether we were at the castle, the monument, or just walking along, it was beautiful.

I went with a group of five other Furman girls. We left early in the morning and stayed until it got dark (about 4 or 5, haha). We saw all of the above things and just walked around a bit to get a feel for the city - it's much bigger than the location of my previous day trip, St. Andrews. There are quite a few similarities between the two, though: distance to Edinburgh, both have a university, small towns, etc.

We had a mediocre lunch at a cheap bar followed by delicious dessert next door. Another really enjoyable part for me was the actual train ride there and back - I stayed awake (unlike pretty much every other trip I take) and got to see some beautiful scenes of Scottish countryside.
(Had I actually fallen asleep, I might have been tricked into thinking our train had been re-routed to West Virginia!)

P. S. - This is how the sun was setting. That's Stirling Castle in the...erm...spotlight.

10 February 2011

Heads up

I'm leaving for a weekend in AMSTERDAM in a few hours! No time to write - but I'll definitely be updating on that and much more as soon as I can! Wish me luck!

07 February 2011

Where am I?

Here's the reason for my latest lack of blogging:


We've been assigned lots of reading and a short essay for our Scottish Enlightenment class - so, piling that on top of everything else (work, other classes, etc.), I've been spending just about all of my free time studying! Oh, and I went grocery shopping on Friday...I had no food.

Anyway, rest assured that many belated blogs are in the works! Don't fret...the paper's due tomorrow, so I'll be back soon. :)