Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring Break

I returned a few days ago from a country that I’ve always dreamed of visiting: Italy! Not sure if it was my lifelong love of Italian food, but for some reason ever since I was young I have wanted to go to Italy. And this spring break I was blessed enough to do so. There is just way too much to put in one blog post, so I’m just going to put some highlights. My friends Megan, Allison, Simone, Kenny and I set off for our adventure. We started with three days in Rome, caught an early morning bus to Siena, situated in the heart of Tuscany. There we stayed at an Italian villa about twenty minutes outside of the city for one night. The next morning we caught yet another bus to Florence where we spent two days. After Florence we took a train to Bologna, where we explored for the day and then hopped on our flight back to Edinburgh.


1. Pretty much everywhere you looked was something amazing..

Trevi Fountain


One of many awesome ceilingings in the Vatican

2. The Pizza

3. The great views


1. Our amazing villa and their fields. We really enjoyed playing cards and drinking our villa's own wine while watching the sunset.

Florence: I enjoyed just wandering around Florence and taking it in. We found a great little pastry shop way outside of the toursity area which was fun. The markets were also great, along with these things..

1. Ponte Vecchio Bridge

2. Gelato

3. Sunsets


1. View from the top of the tower we climbed

2. The unique character of the city.. a lot less touristy than the others

I loved this trip- I have nothing bad to say about it. I had an amazing group of friends to travel with, and we had our fill of incredible sights, sounds, and food of course!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Land of Leprechauns

Well I didn't make it to the leprechaun museum, but I did manage to see and learn a ton about the city of Dublin! Eight of us ventured off to Ireland last Thursday and stayed until Monday morning. After a 40 minute flight, we had made it. The first order of business was to get lunch because we were starving! Then we decided to find our hostel so we could put all of our stuff down. By stuff I mean everything I needed for four days in one backpack- I was impressed with myself! For 10 pounds a night, I didn't expect much from our hostel, The Bunk House. It wasn't located in the best part of Dublin, "the ghetto" as some coined it, but we had a fine stay! We stayed in a room with 8 bunk beds and an attached bathroom. Very simple but did the trick- and free breakfast in the morning so can't beat that.

So anyway, about Dublin. After unpacking, we went out to wander. It was a beautiful day. (U2 reference?) Anyway, it was. Dublin is split in half by the River Liffey, one side affectionately termed "the ghetto", and the other side the more posh area. The city was definitely more industrial and cosmopolitan than I had expected, definitely a completely different feel from Edinburgh. O'Connel Street is one of the main streets that has lots of shopping, restaurants, etc. We explored that for a bit, and stopped to look at the monuments (there were lots). We crossed over the bridge to the main tourist area called the Temple Bar District. Again, lots of shopping, pubs, etc. Also some pretty amazing buildings with awesome architecture. Trinity College, the Supreme Court, the National Bank, and some beautiful churches were among my favorites. That night we had dinner at a little pub tucked away that seemed to be filled with locals. It was great. After that we landed upon another seemingly local pub and had some drinks while serenaded by some great live music.

Friday we got up fairly early and walked to the Kilmainham Gaol Prison. The worker at the hostel told us it was too far to walk, he underestimated us. It was probably an hour and a half walk, but we enjoyed looking around and exploring along the way. Once we got to the prison, we went through security and then got to chat with some prisoners being held on death row. Just kidding. The prison is now a museum, no worries! The prison was built in 1796, but best known for imprisoning leaders of the various Irish rebellions against the English. 15 leaders of Easter Rising rebellion in 1916 were held and executed here- a major contributor to public support behind the rebellion that eventually led to Ireland's independence. We learned all of this on the tour- which was so great. I learned a lot about Irish history and got a good sense of the Irish people through it, and it was so interesting to get to tour the prison and hear some pretty crazy stories. Definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Next we decided to switch gears and tour the Guinness Factory. If you didn't know, Guinness was invented in and still brewed in Dublin. It's pretty impossible to miss when you're there- Guinness stuff is literally all over the city. The tour was pretty interesting- I was shocked to here that Guinness has been around since 1769. Arthur Guinness must have been a pretty funny/confident guy- he took out a 9,000 year lease for the brewery. The guys in our group definitely enjoyed the tour more, I was kind of amused by how epic Guinness tried to make everything sound. It's just a beer, right? Apparently not. At the end of the tour everyone gets a complimentary pint of Guinness from a bar on the top floor that has a great view of the city. Let's say I enjoyed the view more than the Guinness... got about 3/4 through it. That night we found another pub with live music and had a great night.

Saturday we went on a free walking tour through a company called New Europe. It runs on a tip only basis and usually is led by college students. It was awesome! We had a great tour guide and a group of about 30 people. It lasted for over three hours and we walked all around Dublin and learned about the history/culture/buildings etc. Very worth it. After the tour we grabbed lunch at a pub called O'Neills and relaxed for a bit. After lunch we ended up at St. Stephen's Green, a huge park. We were all a bit tired so just relaxed in the grass and listened to music. To save some money we decided to make our own dinner at the hostel. We made a gourmet dinner of pasta, garlic bread, and drinks. It was delicious and cost all about 4 euros! Quality. Per usual, we went to another pub for the rest of the night.

Sunday we decided to get out of the city and headed to a little fishing town called Howth. Probably my favorite day of the weekend. After a 30 minute train ride, we arrived in Howth. Right outside of the train station was a local market full of lots of people, food, and other random things. Of course we walked through it and collected all of the free food samples first. It was really fun to get to talk with some of the people working at the market and hear their stories. Next we walked out onto the pier and got a great view of the lighthouse and a small island off the coast. There were even seals! For lunch we had fish and chips - obligatory when you are in a fish town. And they were the best I've had! After lunch we started off on a hike we had been told about. It took us through a neighborhood obviously very well off, so it was fun to look at all the houses! Eventually we made it to the trail, and were treated to some amazing views at the end. We also came upon a golf course that was tucked away and a really pretty pathway through the woods. We finished up at Howth by walking through a different market, collecting free samples, and getting on the train.

In the name of saving money, we decided not to book a hostel for Sunday night since our flight was at 6 a.m. Good idea? It actually wasn't too bad, we hung around until about 1 am and then took a taxi to the airport. It was pretty amusing because we definitely weren't the first people to come up with the idea of sleeping in the airport. Everywhere we looked people were passed out, it was hard to come by a chair to sleep on but eventually McDonald's booths came through. McDonalds decided it would be a good idea to clean around 2:30, so we resorted to sleeping in a kids play pen. I actually got a few hours of sleep in somehow. We got on our flight and were home in no time. If it's any indication of how we looked when we got off the plane, one of the security guys said to us "Come on, cheer up guys". Once back, I proceeded to sleep from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, get dinner, and go back to sleep around 11 pm. I'm pretty caught up on sleep I'd say.

And that was Dublin. A great trip with great friends.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sunny Skies

Once again, apologies for such a delayed posting! The past few weeks have been great. Fairly low key compared to my first month or so, at least it feels that way. Two weekends ago I went to the Highlands for a church retreat with the church I've been going to here. About 30 students went and it was such a relaxed, nice weekend. We had two sessions a day with a speaker and the rest of the time was pretty much our own. We went for a hike, which was beautiful! It had snowed the night before so everything looked really nice. I also got to play soccer which felt really good. Lots of baked goods/coffee/tea were also consumed!

The time between the weekend and now has been pretty relaxed. Two friends (different from the birthday) visited last week so we went out quite a bit and I got to show them a lot of Edinburgh. I had an essay due last week, along with one this week, so I have also spent a bit of time in the library. Saturday we went to a place called Calton Hill right at the end of Princes Street (the main touristy street in Edinburgh). It was beautiful- after a short walk you get a great view of the city and there are some interesting things up there.

Partially completed Parthenon in memory of Scottish soldiers who died in the Napoleonic Wars.. Unfortunately the project ran out of money in 1829.

The weather has been absolutely perfect the past few days. Since Saturday, it's been near 50 and sunny each day. So nice and unexpected! I've really enjoyed being able to run outside and just sit outside in the sunshine. Sunday was a really relaxing day- after church some friends and I got coffee and sat in The Meadows (a big park) just because it was so nice out! Wednesday night I went to a friend's flat from church who invited a group of us over for dinner. So great! I've found that people here my age are much more proper than we are in the States! They seem to all be amazing cooks and love to entertain! We had a delicious dinner by candlelight!

Tomorrow is a big day- we leave for Dublin! Eight of us are going and we are so excited! Just packed my bag- only bringing my backpack, and somehow managed to fit everything. I'll be back on Monday, and will be sure to update the blog on all things Dublin!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Birthday Weekend!

Wow, sorry it has been so long! The past few weeks have been great- I'll try to recap. Two weekends ago a few of us did some obligatory touristy things- we went to see the Palace of Holyrood House and then the Scottish Parliament. The Palace is where the royalty has stayed whenever they come to Scotland, dating back hundreds of years. The Queen comes and stays there ever summer. It was beautiful and we got a great tour! What made it so interesting to me was that it is still in use. There were tons of original paintings and art work, and all the original royal furniture. Last year the Pope and the Queen exchanged gifts in one of the rooms we were in- pretty cool. Some drama also went down there- murders, etc. After that we walked across the street and took a tour of the Scottish Parliament building. Very interesting! The building is very modern and actually has a lot of controversy around it because most think that it is extremely ugly. I did too, but after hearing what the architect designed it to look like it made a little more sense!

The Palace

I'll fast forward through the week to my 21st birthday!!! Friday morning my friends Megan and Michelle who are studying in London got here! It was so nice to have friends from home with me over the birthday weekend! So Friday we walked around a bit, I showed them where I have classes and then some of the popular sights in Edinburgh. We sat for almost two hours in the Elephant House cafe (where JK Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter), oh and Megan and Michelle are obsessed with Harry Potter, so they were in their glory! The cafe has an amazing view of the castle and is just a relaxing spot to have lunch and coffee. After that we did some more walking around, and ended up later in the night at a friend's apartment who was having an early Valentine's Day party.

Saturday- the big day! Can't believe I'm 21! I started off the morning by opening some wonderful presents, and then Megan, Michelle, Litta, Allison, and I went to breakfast at Elephants and Bagels- yes another Elephant place. So far its the only place in Edinburgh I've seen that has bagels- and we've all been craving them. These were not just any bagels- they were amazing! I had an everything bagel with cream cheese, pesto and tomato. Definitely will be making that in the States. Also had a delicious mocha to start the morning right. After lunch Megan, Michelle and I were adventurous and hiked up Arthur's Seat. It was so beautiful- I loved it because when we started it was cloudy and overcast, but as we made our way up it got clearer and clearer, and by the time we were at the top it was all sun and blue sky. It was so peaceful and relaxing, we loved it! Following our hike, Megan and Michelle went and did a tour of the castle, and I stayed back and skyped with my parents!

Great breakfast!

Some shots from Arthur's Seat hike

Megan and Michelle!
They got back later on and after we were all cleaned up we headed out for the night. First stop was dinner at a pub called the Greenmantle with Litta and Allison. We had a great dinner and made it classy with some nice glasses of wine! Next stop was a lounge/fancy bar called 56 North where the rest of the crew met us. Sunday was my friend Stephen's birthday, so we planned the night as a joint celebration. We were at 56 North for quite a while and had a great time! Litta Allison and I split a pitcher of a delicious drink- not sure exactly what was in it, but lots of fruit! A nice birthday cocktail! When we were done there, we went to Three Sisters. Its a huge pub that has tons of picnic benches, huge tv screens, and food outside. Inside is great- several bars, dance floors, and places to sit if you want.. great atmosphere! It was ridiculously crowded when we got there- part of the reason was that there was a rugby match between Scotland and Wales earlier and the day so tons of fans were there to celebrate. (Scotland lost..sad) We stayed for about 2 hours and danced with the occasional break outside to get some air! Final stop was to pick up a bunch of pizzas (seems to be our tradition) and headed back to Allison's flat. After we had been eating pizza for a while, everyone surprised Stephen and I with a cake each! So delicious and so nice to have everyone sing happy birthday! By that time it was about 2:30, so we finished the cake and then headed home. All in all a fabulous 21st birthday!

Long Valley in Scotland

Some Welch friends...
Our group

Sunday we slept in pretty late and then did some last minute site seeing before Megan and Michelle got on their train. One of my best weekends here yet, it was so fun. This week has some events going on, but I'll update you on those in the next post!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

24 Hours of Adventure

Besides a two hour nap, I've been awake for well over 24 hours right now. That's a first- however it was 100% worth it. Last night was one of the best experiences of my life- an English Premier League Game- Sunderland v. Chelsea.

It was a pretty last minute decision to get tickets, but after doing so it couldn't have worked out better. Six of us took a 4:00 pm train to Sunderland yesterday. It took about two hours or so to get there. Upon arriving we had some time to kill, so we wandered around and got dinner at McDonalds. Now I've heard of the passion that people over here have for "football", but it was awesome to see a sea of red and white (Sunderland's colors) everywhere. After getting a Sunderland scarf and finishing dinner, we headed to the Sunderland's stadium, The Stadium of Light.

So I knew that we had pretty good tickets and I knew that we would be right behind the goal, but when we got to our seats I really couldn't believe it was real. We were the first row directly behind the goal, probably about 10 yards from the field. It was incredible. It was the nicest field I've ever seen and to be so close to it was awesome!

The game was equally as awesome. Sunderland was definitely the underdog, but they came out and scored in the first 4 minutes. Sunderland ended up losing the game 4-2 but it was so great to see that many goals! That kind of score doesn't happen very often. The skill of the players was amazing and it was so cool to be seeing guys that I have seen on TV before.

This isn't zoomed in... that's how close we were!

The atmosphere in the stadium was so fun as well. The fans are ruthless, and they aren't ashamed to say anything, run up and down the aisles, and kick things. They also had a bunch of chants which were entertaining.

As if the night couldn't have gotten any better, after leaving the stadium and wandering for awhile we accidentally came across where the players come out after the game. There was a big crowd, but somehow I managed my way to the front. Every few minutes a different player would come out and everyone would go crazy. I got two signatures and a bunch of pictures! Most were with Chelsea players because they were getting on their bus to go home. But, one of the best parts of the night was meeting Sunderland's goal keeper Craig Gordon. One of my friends who went with us has loved Gordon since he was young, so we knew a lot about him going in. He is from Scotland, plays for the Scottish National Team, and is one of the best keepers in the league- oh and his name is Gordon and that name seems to follow me everywhere! So somehow we managed to kind of corner him off, and my friend Kevin got his signature and talked to him for a while which was awesome for him. I proceeded to take off my coat and show him my sweatshirt (Gordon soccer) and said I go to a school named Gordon! I think he got a kick out of that and asked where it was, where we were from, etc. And we also got a picture! He was so so nice, especially after losing the game!

Ashley Cole of Chelsea.. we're friends


Gordon, Litta and I!

So that was amazing- the game was just perfect. Oh, so I didn't mention that at this point it was about 10:00 and our train wasn't until 7 am. No worries, we made out just fine. We found a small pizza place and had a late night snack, then proceeded to go to several different pubs and clubs, basically until each one closed. Oh, and at one of the pubs they were playing highlights from the game and we were on TV several times! The last pub we were at closed at 4, and we knew McDonald's opened again at 5 so for the hour in between we kind of just roamed around. It was crazy and unreal but fun! We ended up at McDonald's at 5 and sat and played cards/slept until about 6:30. After that we walked back to the train station and made it smoothly back to Edinburgh. I even made it in time for class, even though I was pretty delirious.

That's the story of my 24 hours. It was an incredible experience and now its time to sleep!