Sunday, September 1, 2013

Eat, Pray, Love Haggis

So, I lied.  Only about the last post being...the last post.  Everything else in this blog is completely true, because otherwise I wouldn't be a very good blogger, now would I?

I had to go over a Senior Checksheet with my advisor this week, which is just a magical sheet of paper that lets the Registrar know that you are planning on and will be able to graduate on time.  I went to the meeting and went over the classes I had to take next semester - only two, woohoo! - but I did it automatically.  I turned the Registrar's copy in without even thinking about the graduation that would follow nine months from now.  Later, I realized - I'm a senior in college now.  I'm going to be graduating college, and going off into the real world soon.  I remember sitting in my dorm freshman year the night after move-in, being awed and terrified of this college universe, and feeling like the next four years would last forever.  And while they have taken a significant amount of time (because three years can't fly by that quickly), they've still somehow passed me by without me ever noticing.  I was too busy focusing on the next assignment, the next test, the next class that I needed for my major.  I took it a day at a time, and by doing so I forgot to enjoy those days.  I can't help but sit back and regret some of my college life, in only that I didn't live as much as I'd wanted to.

Similarly, I'm sitting here thinking, 'Woah, I was in a different country a few months ago.  I spent five months there.  How did that happen?'  I'm still amazed by this fact, and I think I will be for a fair amount of time (until I travel somewhere else, that is).  But this differs in that I can remember time stretching out in front of me, with forever and a day until I had to go back home.  I took it each day at a time, but I loved every day.  I may not have been happy every day, or thought I loved it.  But thinking back, even to my first night (spent alone and upset in my room, wondering why I'd chosen to do something different instead of just staying at home like everybody else), I was already falling in love with Scotland.  My bus ride from the airport to the city alone showed that, as I couldn't help but stare, fascinated, out my window at all the little cottage-like houses passing by.  They were cute and rustic and so very British that I couldn't help but love them.  As intimidating and awe-inspiring as Edinburgh was when I first arrived, it was still so lovely that I knew I wouldn't be afraid of it forever.

I learned a lot while I was abroad, about the differences between American and Scottish culture, about my own viewpoint on politics and healthcare, about what Europe is really like beyond the beautiful pictures of historical monuments and ancient buildings, about living on my own and making a life, however brief, for myself in a new city.  But beyond that I learned how to enjoy myself, and to enjoy the life going on around me.  I took in every minute I spent in the Highlands, searing it into my brain so that I'd never forget how wordlessly wonderful it is.  Even the time I spent pouring over books and notes, trying to cram fact after fact into my brain, was worthwhile.  I enjoyed it, even if I definitely didn't realize it at the time.  And I've taken that lesson back with me.  This first week of the Fall semester has lasted forever to me.  I've been busy, and I've been stressed, and I've been so tired I could barely keep my eyes open.  But I still find myself in a weirdly good mood at the end of the day, and I never go to bed dreading the morning light.  I've only hit snooze once this entire week (which is impressive for me, infamous for sleeping at least half an hour past my alarm time via constant snooze-button-hitting) and even then I actually sat up in bed and tried to wake up instead of hiding back underneath my covers.  I wanted my time abroad to mean something, and I made it my goal to do everything I could while I was there so that, when I came home, I could reflect on it and think 'I did something this year.'

I remember sitting down halfway through the semester and realizing that I hadn't had a weekend free to just sleep in and laze around my flat since I'd arrived, and I was pleasantly surprised.  I finally had a weekend to sleep in, watch TV, and work on my essays, but I missed the activity.  I missed travelling.  After being back home and spending my time off from work and class sitting around the house or just going out with friends, I definitely miss the travel.  I miss the ability to hop on a bus and go into the Highlands for the day.  If anything, studying abroad has made me want to travel more.  Of course, I've always wanted to travel; but I didn't realize how wonderful it was until I'd experienced it semi-long term for myself.

My journey to Scotland and back certainly wasn't grand or majestic in any way, but it had its own charm and definitely its own lessons to teach.  Reading back through my posts, I wish I had taken more time to write down the little details of my time abroad if only so that everyone else reading this could learn with me.  But I have my memories, which are without a doubt some of the most precious things I brought back with me, and that will have to do.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

See You Later, Edinburgh

I can account for my lateness in this post through the fact that a week after I returned to the good old U.S. of A. I started my summer job and my summer class at almost the same time.  I have had little time to breath, let alone write anything beyond what my German summer class requires.  I wanted to write one more piece - a reflection on my experiences in Edinburgh, a way to let myself say goodbye to Scotland, and a way to even out my post count to 10.

Five months is a long time to spend away from home, especially one such as myself who has never gone beyond the east coast of the States by herself.  The vacations I've spent elsewhere have always been with family, so I was never alone, and I never had to completely rely on myself the way I did traveling to and from Scotland.  On that same note, I never had to worry about anyone other than myself.  My flight back home was as peaceful as it was saddening.  I arrived at the airport two hours before my flight's departure via a lovely cab ride through the city at 6:00 A.M.  The city was quiet, the only people awake on their way to work or school.  I've never considered myself a morning person by any means, but that morning was as content and peaceful for me as sitting with a good book and a warm cat to snuggle with is.  I was on my way home, to see all the people I'd been missing for five months - how could I not be happy?  But at the same time, I was upset that I had to leave the city I'd fallen in love with.  I suppose my subconscious reaction was to just accept it, and be content - otherwise, I probably would have been crying the whole trip back home, and even beyond into the next few days.

The flight was easy - I had a window seat and the middle seat was empty, so I had plenty of room to stretch out and obnoxiously take up more room than I'd paid for.  I watched three movies and dozed occasionally, making the seven hour flight much more bearable.  Getting through the airport in Newark was definitely the most stressful part of the journey - I had to go through immigration, then pick up both my huge check-in suitcases, take those through customs, get in line to put them back on my next flight, get through security, and find out my gate had been changed last minute.  But I made it to my gate, where I sat, breathed in a deep lungful of that noxious American air, and turned on my beautiful, beautiful cell phone for the first time in months.  I called my parents to check in and let them know I wasn't huddled in a corner somewhere having a panic attack, then send out a message to my friends and boyfriend - 'Back in the States!'  The fact that I could now message them with no problem made me giddy.

Soon enough, I was on my short, hour long flight to D.C.  where my father awaited me to bring me home.  My luggage was successfully obtained, my father found, and off I was back to my parents house.  My mother attacked me with hugs as soon as I walked in the door, the cats fled from me because they'd forgotten who I was, and I relished in the smell of home.  As strongly as I'd wanted to stay in Scotland while I was still there, I was so happy to be home that I could barely spare a thought to Edinburgh.

Now that I've been home for a while and have adjusted back to America, I've been thinking more about Edinburgh and the time I spent there.  I believe that the best quality I picked up during my semester abroad was true independence.  As an American college student going to school only an hour from my parents, I thought I was independent.  But once that safety blanket was taken away, I realized how unprepared I was.  I had to rely on my own money to feed myself, buy myself warmer clothes or new shoes, go out with my friends.  There were no more weekends spent visiting home, taking leftovers back to school to last me a few more days without groceries, no more weekly calls to mom and dad to check in and see what the family is up to.  I learned how to make my groceries last the longest, how to budget myself so that I could afford food for the week and a trip to the bar, how to spend my money wisely while traveling.  I traveled without family for the first time - I went to Rome for my spring break, and I didn't need to discuss the decision with my parents at all.  I conferred with my friends, we agreed on a day, time, and place to stay, and we went.  It was freedom, and I loved it.  Being back home, having to let my parents know where I'd be and why was difficult.  I made plans with friends, and then told my parents later.  I didn't ask them - I told them.

I was also struck with how easy it had been for me to get around in Edinburgh.  I walked everywhere.  The farthest I ever had to go was an hour away, but walking that was no problem - the city is beautiful, and I didn't mind walking.  If I really had to, I could take the bus system that ran everywhere throughout the city.  Back home, I have to drive everywhere - to visit my boyfriend, to hang out with my friends, to go see a movie, to go out to dinner.  I have to plan ahead of time now.  I can't just message a friend online and meet up with them twenty minutes later.

I enjoyed living in a city, but I missed the calm of my suburban home.  Fredericksburg is a city, but it is a quiet city, especially around campus.  I missed my job, and the people I work with.  I missed my friends, I missed my boyfriend.  Being home and seeing them all again is wonderful.  Of course, now I miss the friends I made while abroad, and I miss Edinburgh's campus, and I miss the castle and the Royal Mile.  It's kind of a lose-win situation.

If I've learned anything from my experiences abroad, it's that I really, really can't take stereotypes seriously anymore.  Of course when you think of Scotland you think of the bagpipes, the whiskey, the kilts.  You know that the country is more than that, but you don't really know.  You have this picture in your head that you can't really get rid of, no matter how much you tell yourself that a country is not what its stereotypes paint it to be.  I know that China is not all paper lamps and dragons and tea, but I won't really understand that until I visit the country.  I know that Germany is not all beer and liederhosen and schnitzel, but I couldn't really understand that until I spent two weeks there.  Rome is lovely in pictures, and has beautiful historical monuments, but it is also dirty, and busy, and insane like any other tourist-filled city.  I think that anyone who has never traveled outside their home country is truly missing out on an important part of living.  We like to think that we can relate to other countries just by being human, but a central part of how we act and feel is based around the culture we grew up in.  How can you really understand a culture unless you live in it?  I'm certainly not claiming to be a master of all things Scottish, because five months isn't enough to truly know what it is to be Scottish; but I like to think that I have a decent grasp of what it might mean to be Scottish.

I spent five months studying about the Scottish identity, and how literature and art have sought to express an identity separate from Great Britain, one that is purely Scottish.  I never thought before now to compare it to the way America is a nation of immigrants.  How can we be true "Americans" when our country is less than 300 years old?  What is a true "American" anyway?

Beyond the differences I noticed between home and Edinburgh, the similarities stood out to me.  People are people, no matter where you go; the culture may be different, but at the end of the day we're all just doing our best to live in a world that can be really hard to live in sometimes.

I like to think that my semester abroad changed me for the better in some way.  I asked my mother if I was different, and she said, "No, not really.  Just a little wiser, I think."  If that's the change I experience while I was abroad, then I'll take it.  I like the person I am, and I like the person Edinburgh made me into.  Maybe one day, after I'm finished with school, I can go back and visit Edinburgh.  I can walk the Royal Mile again, wander through the mesmerizing castle again, and take a trip out to the Highlands so I can be in awe all over again.  So, to Edinburgh, and the other countries I hope to one day visit, I say: This isn't really a goodbye; it's more of a 'see you later, alligator.'

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sweet, Sweet Freedom

I made a brief interlude between exams to go to London for the weekend (May 10 to May 12) with a friend of mine for the almost sole purpose of going on the Harry Potter Studio Tour.  We traveled by train early Friday morning and spent the afternoon exploring the Tate Modern Museum of Art with a quick visit to the Shakespeare Globe Theatre gift shop.  I don't really understand art in general, so the modern art museum was interesting but not terribly compelling.  One piece was just a mirror stuck on the wall.  How is that art?  Are we the subjects?  Is our reflection the true art?  I don't get it.

The Harry Potter tour was definitely the highlight of our trip.  I highly, highly recommend this tour to anyone who is a huge Harry Potter fan.  All the sets and costumes and make up and props are the actual pieces used in the movies.  Apparently, the beds in the boy's dormitory were made for eleven-year old boys, so as the actors grew they had to use intense angling to make it look like they still fit in the beds.  And Hermione's clothes are tiny - so tiny.  Emma Watson must be such a small person.  You can't tell on camera, but she's so tiny!  And Daniel Radcliffe is about my height, maybe a little taller.  I kept picturing him taller in my head.  The actors kind of fit the characters - Rupert Grint is tall, Daniel Radcliffe about average, and Emma Watson petite.  The model of Hogwarts that they used for the big, sweeping shots of the castle was a lot bigger than I thought it would be.  It has its own huge room, with a walkway going around it so you can see all the different angles.  That was definitely my favorite part of the tour - with the Harry Potter theme song playing over the speakers, I had some intense flashbacks to my childhood.

The Millennium Bridge

Globe Theatre

So tiny!

From the Ministry of Magic

Diagon Alley


We also made a stop at the London Aquarium after our morning tour.  Fish are always cool, and it was a good way to end a long day.


Overall, London was a good respite from exams, and I'm glad I went on the trip.  I'd like to visit again someday, if only to attend a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theatre - a dream come true for a literature nerd like me!

After May 14, I was free to explore Edinburgh to my heart's content.  I visited the Leith harbor with my friends, climbed Arthur's Seat two more times, went wandering on Calton Hill one afternoon, watched copious amounts of Doctor Who, drank far too much tea, visited the Writer's Museum, visited the National Museum, sat in a session of the Scottish Parliament, visited a farmer's market under the shadow of the castle, and spent much time with the friends of mine who were leaving earlier than me.

Arthur's Seat Round 2

Arthur's Seat Round 2

Arthur's Seat Round 2

Outside of the Scottish Parliament building

Farmer's Market!

Arthur's Seat Round 3

Arthur's Seat Round 3

Arthur's Seat Round 3

Arthur's Seat Round 3
As I pack up my things and prepare to leave Edinburgh on Friday, May 31st, I can't help but wonder if it will be just as strange re-adapting to an American lifestyle.  It  might take me a few days to look left then right before crossing the street, rather than the 'right then left' I've gotten used to.  I'm sure I'll be greatly appreciative of the 24/7 hours of a lot of stores back home - especially Walmart.  I've missed my 'one-stop-shopping' at Walmart.  It'll take me awhile to get used to the Virginia humidity again, after being in cold weather for five months straight.  The lack of Scottish accents and beautiful castles and mountains will be a loss, but I think I'll manage.  It's strange to think of leaving a place that has become my home and knowing that I won't be back for a long while.  UMW, should I ever desire to come back after graduating next summer, is only in Fredericksburg - even if I'm in another State, I won't have to go too far to visit.  Edinburgh is an ocean away, and who knows when I'll be able to afford a visit?  I wish I could split myself in half, so I could both stay here and return to the States.

Despite my mixed feelings, I am definitely excited to go home and see my family and friends again.  Two days from now, I'll be boarding my plane from Edinburgh to D.C., and well on my way home!

Monday, May 27, 2013

I Forgot About the 'Study' Part of 'Study Abroad'

I returned from Rome with twelve days until my first final exam.  My next exam wasn't until May 4th, and my last one was on May 14th.  I had plenty of time to study for them, and plenty of time to focus on each one.  This time gap was both a blessing and my downfall.  While I had plenty of time to study, I also had plenty of time to procrastinate and think 'there's always tomorrow,' until eventually I had no tomorrows left before the exam.  I studied much more for my exams here than I would have for my exams at home - mostly because for all of my classes, my exams counted for forty percent or more of my entire grade.  At home, I had tests, quizzes, homework, and participation to buffer my grade.  Here, all I had was my essay and my exam.

All of my exams were essay exams, and all of them had three questions for me to answer.  That meant a total of nine essays for my finals.  This terrified me.  Despite how accustomed I was to writing essays for my final exams (being an English major), this was different.  Each essay counted for more than any essay exam I'd written at home in my overall grade.  Many of my fellow American friends were unconcerned - they just had to pass their exams for a pass/fail grade.  My letter grades actually count, and so I was completely and utterly terrified of these exams.  If I failed any of my exams, I would be asked to return in August to re-sit them - and who can afford a second plane trip to Scotland just to sit an exam?  I definitely can't, and I wasn't planning on coming back to take an exam.

So I sat myself down to study.  I attempted to study at the library three times before I gave up that location.  Everybody was studying there, and the mass amount of people was distracting me.  I would have had to get up at 7 AM every morning to get the library just as it opened to get a good spot, and I wasn't that dedicated.  So I locked myself into my room for hours at a time, trying to focus.  My first exam was Celtic Civilization, a largely history based class.  My brain was not wired to memorize historical facts, so this was the most difficult of my exams.  Add in my lack of any previous knowledge of Celtic history, and I felt entirely overwhelmed by the material.  But I kept on it, and eventually I began to feel better.  Nerves still gripped uncomfortably at my heart, but I was determined to do well on these exams.

April 29th arrived, and I found myself at the exam hall - this one was in the front foyer of one of the academic buildings on George Square campus.  They had pushed all the furniture to the side and lined desks and chairs all along the room.  We were told to put our bags at the side of the hall, and to have only our student ID, pens, and a bottle of water at our desk.  I had flashbacks to my AP exams in high school.  Not since then had I been asked to leave my bag at the edge of the room, such a show of mistrust.  I understood completely - there were at least three different exams taking place at the same time in this room, which meant far too many people likely to cheat given the opportunity.  But I still felt intimidated.  It was far different from what I'd become accustomed to at UMW.

The exam was two hours, and I used almost every minute.  By the time it was over, I felt a weight lift off my chest - one down, two to go.  And this one hadn't been as painful as I'd thought it would be.  I felt confident that I'd done well.  And with the first one done, I was far less nervous about the second.  They were not as horrible and terrifying as I'd thought before.

I studied for my Visualising Scotland exam much the same way I'd studied for my Celtic Civilization course - copying my notes, over and over again.  The act of reading the words, hearing them in my head, and writing them down helped immensely in my studies.  May 4th came and went, and with it my second exam.  A different building, but the same layout - a huge room filled with rows and rows of desks and chairs, three different class's exams taking place at the same time.  This had been two hours long, with three essays to write, and easier than my first exam.  I breezed through it and joined my friends afterwards for a celebratory lunch at the student center - two down, one to go (for me - many of my friends had just begun their exams by the time I finished on May 14th).

Next was Scottish Literature - my strength, being an English major.  I'd read the books, I understood the themes - now I just had to do a little extra reading for the exam.  And I was immensely grateful for that extra reading come exam day - I used one of the books I'd read extensively on my exam.  This one was three hours long, with three essays to write, and I finished with half an hour to spare.  This extra time was spent looking over my essays, adding in bits I'd missed or felt needed to be said.  I'd promised myself when I started studying in April that I would not leave an exam early, no matter how quickly I finished writing.  Maybe I would remember something important about one of my answers as I left the exam hall, and then I would be kicking myself even after my grades came in.  So I sat until the examiner called time for the end of the exam, had all our booklets collected, and released us from the hall.

This experience definitely made me appreciate my classes at UMW.  The stress levels are definitely lower back home, so I'm not terribly concerned about being overworked my senior year of college.  If I can handle this semester, I think I can handle two more at UMW.

I was finished - no more exams, no more classes, no more educational responsibilities until my summer class began at UMW.  I was free to do whatever I wanted until May 31st, the day I'd fly home.  And I had plenty to keep me busy.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

When in Rome

Two of my friends and I decided that, being so close to Europe, we couldn't pass up the chance to visit Rome while we were here.  We made plans, booked flights, reserved a hostel, and set up our trip to Rome for the week of April 10 to April 17.  Finished with class and not yet worried about exams, we were in a perfect mindset to relax and enjoy our time on vacation.  Other people went to London, Amsterdam, Berlin - we went to the sunny world of Rome, Italy.

My one friend and I caught our flight early (and I mean, our plane left at 6:30 AM, so we had to be at the airport by 4 AM, and it took about 40 minutes to get to the airport, so basically I didn't sleep the night before) the morning of April 10th and met our other friend in Rome (she'd spent a few days in Paris before meeting us).  I boarded the plane in Edinburgh in jeans, hoodie, and rain jacket - a typical rainy day in Scotland - and emerged from my plane in Italy into sunshine and blue skies that I'd rarely felt or seen since I left America.  It was a lovely, wonderful, beautiful day to arrive in Italy, and I don't think it rained a single day we were there.  I wish I'd been able to bring the weather back with me - combine my love of perfect, 70 degree Farhenheit weather with my love of Edinburgh.

While this trip was not actually part of my studying abroad (in that it did not take place in Edinburgh or have anything to do with the university), I still feel that it was an important part of my study abroad experience.  I took a flight to Rome that was only three hours, and that was cheaper than any flight I'd taken between cities in the US.  I didn't have to take off my shoes to go through security at the airport. I understand the purposes of our extreme airport security in the US, but it was still a relief to have a fairly non-stressful experience going through an airport.  Rome is also an extremely different city than any I have been to in America, and not just because of its much longer and intensive history.  The streets around our hostel were small and cobblestone, you can't walk twenty minutes without running into something with historic value, the drivers are insane but very capable, not to mention the language difference.  How could I study so close to Europe and not venture into another country at least once?

Our first day was largely resting from our flights - it had been a long day already, and it was only mid-afternoon.  We all grabbed some rest at our hostel after lunch (read: I napped.  A lot.) and then searched out dinner at a small pizza place in the restaurant area of the city.  We picked our hostel well - it was right next to the huge restaurant area of the city, where both locals and tourists went in bulk.

Of course, the food in Rome is delicious - I will never have pizza or pasta or gelato as fresh and tasty as it was in Rome.  We avoided touristy restaurants as much as possible to get some of the true Italian flavor, and I think we succeeded to some extent.  At some points, though, all we wanted was food, and the closest place was the best place in our minds.

Roman Forum



Mount Vesuvius

Street in Pompeii


A cast of one of the people solidified in ash during the eruption
We hit all the big places - the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain, the Vatican Museums, St. Peter's Basilica, the Pantheon - as well as the Spanish Steps, Circus Maximus, and a day trip to Pompeii.  I have never seen so much history in one city.  We could barely walk twenty feet without running into something with some vague historical importance.  I've never had that problem at home, and it was fascinating - how can you live in a city with all this importance and glory, and yet think of it as just some commonplace thing?  I wonder if Italians just think of the Colosseum as a hindrance.  I've certainly become so used to the castle and Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh that they're just part of my daily life now.  I still wonder at them, but would I be so fascinated if I'd grown up in Edinburgh or Rome?  Of course, I live near Manassas and go to school in Fredericksburg, two of the biggest battle sites during the Civil War, and I don't think anything of it.  The reenactments are more irritating than anything else because I have to listen to loud, obnoxious gunshots all day long.  How can we take something with such historical importance, and treat it so nonchalantly?

Piazza Navona

Tiber River


St. Peter's Basilica

In any case, I've never seen anything was wonderful as Rome from the Colosseum, even in my historical hometown, and I greatly enjoyed my trip.  Most of all, I enjoyed the sunshine.  Edinburgh greeted our return with clouds, rain, and wind - typical Scottish morning.  I have to admit, though, that as much as I enjoyed Rome I still found myself missing my flat in Edinburgh - almost as much as I missed my bed at home when I first arrived in Scotland.  It's strange to think that a new place can turn into a home after only three and a half months, but I had become comfortable in Edinburgh's streets.  As I thought about my inevitable return back to the States, I found myself torn - I wanted to return home, but I didn't want to leave Edinburgh.  I guess it's the eternal dilemma for those who study abroad - torn between two homes.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


My sister arrived in Edinburgh on March 23rd with only a few bumps along the way.  Despite her flight delays because of bad, windy weather down in London, she managed to get here safe and sound.  It was interesting to see Edinburgh brand new again from someone else's point of view after having been here for almost four months already.  I was still getting used to a few things, but by this point I'd become so accustomed to living in Edinburgh that it felt like home.

We took a Highland tour the day after she got here with the Hairy Coo tour company.  It was a wonderful tour full of highland majesty and long-haired Highland cows.  Our first stop was at the loveliest rail bridge in the world: the Forth Bridge.  Despite having seen it twice already, it was still a sight to see.

We visited Doune Castle, which is where most of the Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie was filmed.  Appropriately, our tour guide offered us fake coconuts to use should we desire to recreate the horse riding scenes from the movie.  My sister and I chose a simple walk around the outside of the castle, as a tour inside required both money and time that we did not have.  As a fan of the film, I enjoyed even just standing in the spot outside where Arthur and his knights lost a verbal and mental battle with the French knight.  As others in our tour group gallivanted about the castle with fake coconuts, my sister and I posed for pictures in front of the castle.

The entrance to the castle

Doune Castle from the front
We made a stop at the Wallace Monument as well, situated on a tall hilltop overlooking the city of Stirling, so placed so that William Wallace can watch over this city he fought so hard to defend forever.  Telling the true story of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce is probably the favorite of Scottish tour guides - I heard it on every single tour I went on.  While Braveheart is an excellent movie in its own right, it has absolutely nothing on the real story.  I'd tell you the story here, but I feel I'd be doing it an injustice.  Also, there's nothing like having a Scotsman tell you the story from an honest, Scottish point of view while you stare out at the highland mountains passing by your bus window. (Also, I'm really lazy).

Stirling Castle from the Wallace Monument - an excellent view
Next we stopped for lunch in a small town called Callander, where I had the second best fish and chips I've ever had in the UK.  It was delightfully delicious, but I still argue that the fish caught, gutted, and prepared just moments before I stepped into the shop at Portree was the best I've ever had.

The next stop would have been farther north in the Highlands, but because of the harsh weather our tour guide felt it would be too dangerous to travel up that way.  We did end up at the highlight of our tour - the hairy coos.  Our tour guide handed out slices of bread for us to feed them, and as I watched their huge pink tongues snatching bread out of everybody's hands I fell in love.  Despite the slobber and the smell, they are lovely creatures.  I'm especially fond of the way their hair falls over their eyes like teenagers ridden with angst and writing sad poetry in their spare time.

Hamish, the most famous Highland Cow
We took another highland tour farther up to Loch Ness later in the week.  We were unfortunately limited to what we could do together, as I still had lectures and tutorials to attend.  Luckily, there's plenty in Edinburgh to do when visiting, and we spent a fair amount of time together when I wasn't in class.  Our next tour first took us to Glencoe, which was just as beautiful as the first time I saw it.

We made another stop at Inverlochy Castle, a lovely little castle that has unfortunately fallen into ruins.  But the ruins give it an air of mystery and offer a link to the past that you can't really get at well-kept castles like Stirling or Edinburgh.

Next was Loch Ness - my second time here - for lunch.  My sister and I grabbed a quick lunch in town and then spent a few minutes gazing out at the fog rolling over the loch towards us.  It definitely set off the aura of mystery that surrounds the loch.  There was no sign of Nessy this time (second strike - I guess she doesn't like me for some reason), but I still hold hope.  Maybe there's some prehistoric creature that occasionally visits Loch Ness and that's where all the sightings have come from.  Or maybe everyone who saw the monster were actually drunk on whisky - it's Scotland, it could go either way.  Despite the lack of a monster emerging from the depths, it was still a lovely day next to a beautiful lake.

Our next adventure was touring the Caledonian Brewery.  It was interesting to see the process that beer goes through to become the beloved alcoholic beverage we know, especially considering that I've never toured a brewery before nor do I have any knowledge of beer beyond it's alcohol content.  After the tour, we were offered free beer and free pies.  The beer was good, and the pies had an interesting taste.  We found out after eating our pies that they were, in fact, filled with haggis.  I unknowingly ate haggis, three months into my time in Scotland, and perhaps that was the best way to try it.  I don't know if I would have eaten it otherwise.  While I wasn't a big fan of it, I could see how people could like it.

The next day, our parents arrived in Edinburgh for their turn at a week adventuring with me.  The four of us spent our morning at Edinburgh Castle, and turned towards the Scotch Whiskey Experience tour of the making of scotch whiskey.  Another interesting tour, with an added taste testing at the end of the tour (my favorite part).  Could I replicate or repeat the process explained to me on the tour?  No, unfortunately, because my brain is not wired towards science and all that jazz.

The next day, my parents and I drove my sister to the airport and then departed off to Stirling for a tour of Stirling Castle.  It was an easy drive (despite the fact that my father was driving on the opposite side of the road, in a car with a stick shift on the opposite side he was used to), and we arrived early afternoon with plenty of time to spend in the castle.  Being Easter weekend, they had a good number of little events going on in the castle for children - firing mini crossbows in the queen's garden, hearing stories in the main hall, making cupcakes and other treats.  My parents seemed to enjoy the tour, and I will always enjoy seeing castles, even if I've visited them already.

The next day was a trip to St. Andrews to visit the golf course, castle, and cathedral.  My father is a big golf fan, so being able to walk on this huge golf course, in the country where golf originated, was a momentous occasion for him.  The castle is more of a ruin than the others we'd visited, but it was still lovely in its own way.  I personally enjoy looking at the castles that have fallen into ruin more than the ones that have been preserved and decorated as if in their prime.  Beyond the air of mystery around them, I see them as a link to the past that you can't get in a highly decorated castle.

I had lectures the next day (being a Monday), so my parents decided to explore the National Museum.  I've yet to wander this museum myself, but I've been told it's a wonderful museum, with three levels and copious amounts of things to see on each level.  Tuesday, my parents took a day trip to Loch Ness, which they enjoyed immensely and gave me a day to get my bearings - after spending almost two weeks doing tourist things, I was a bit tired out.

Wednesday, my parents toured the Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith while I was busy in class.  After being decommissioned, the yacht stays as a tourist attraction outside of the ocean terminal mall at the Leith harbor.  Another place I did not get a chance to visit, but from what I've heard is a lovely tour.  Afterwards, we took a tour of Holyrood Palace, the palace at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from the castle, and situated next to Arthur's Seat.  There was no photography allowed inside, but I managed to get some photos in the gardens of Arthur's Seat.

Thursday, my parents met me at the Elephant House for breakfast, the cafe that J.K. Rowling first began to write her Harry Potter series in.  I can completely understand why, after dining there several times.  The window looks out onto Edinburgh Castle, offering plenty of inspiration for a magical world of witchcraft and wizardry in an ancient castle.  Despite J.K. Rowling making it famous, it has good tea and coffee and a good number of options for breakfast or a small snack to go with your tea.  After my one lecture at noon, my parents and I headed to the Royal Botanic Gardens for the afternoon.  We toured the greenhouses, which offer a plethora of different plants in different climates.

The Elephant House

We met again for breakfast on Friday, and after my only and final lecture (for the entire semester - freedom at last!) we took a trip to the Edinburgh Zoo.  The panda viewings were unfortunately all booked, but we made due with seeing the other animals.  The penguins were adorable, although we didn't get to see the walk they are allowed to do around the zoo.  My favorite was the monkeys - I spent at least twenty minutes watching a group of them fight over a cardboard box.

Early Saturday morning, my parents boarded their plane back home.  I enjoyed having my family visit, and I definitely felt a pang of homesickness once they left.  I missed home, and I missed the comfort of everything that came with it.  But at the same time, I didn't want to leave Edinburgh.  This city has so much charm and history that my little college town back home can barely compare.  Fredericksburg may have been a battle site during the Civil War, but Edinburgh was around when the plague ran rampant through Europe.  I will never see a castle or an ancient cathedral in America, and those are likely the parts I will miss most about Scotland - the historical pieces of the city that offer a glimpse into a past I can barely even imagine living in.

Edinburgh also has a touch of the mystical to it, and walking down the Royal Mile can easily offer insight into Rowling's inspiration for her books.  The highlands, just a few hours outside Edinburgh, are explanation enough for the dark, gothic nature of Walter Scott's novels.  It is a city of writers, which I supposed makes it the perfect city for an aspiring novelist such as myself!

I had the rest of my time in Scotland to better explore this city, a grand total of eight weeks.  My spring break had begun, two weeks of no worries before Reading Week and exams came creeping up in May.  But before I began revising (studying) for my exams, I had another adventure to partake of: my spring break trip to Rome, Italy.