Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Archers

Britain has been a warring nation for hundreds, thousands, of years. You only need walk down the street for ten minutes in Stirling to see a castle, war monument, and scene of an epic battle. Because of this, aspects of fighting and war have been diffused into British culture. For instance, the archers.

In the US, the lift of a middle finger is worth a thousand words. Across the pond, you lift two. To hold a bow, you need your pointer and your middle finger. So, when the enemy captured a bowman, they would cut those two fingers off so that they were a useless opponent. At the end of a battle, therefore, the bowman would lift those two fingers to show that they had won, and were still a threat to be reckoned with. It was, if you will, a true "F you" moment.

I had hoped that I wouldn't have any need for this gesture while studying abroad. I just wanted to drink tea and eat scones and listen to Enya. Yesterday morning, though, my inner archer emerged.

I was on my morning run. The sun was shining, I had just put together a new workout playlist and the world was a good place! There weren't many people around, since it was still a bit early, so the gentleman up ahead stood out to me immediately. He seemed harmless...he was wearing a tweed cap after all! I will not include here the words he spoke to me as I ran past. I have been yelled at by men before, and us girls just know that we have to grin and bear it, and chalk it up to low self-esteem or something on their parts. The things that came out of this man's mouth though, were beyond anything I have ever experienced before. They were disgustingly crude, and I would classify it as a verbal assault. So, how to give this man a piece of my mind without actually stopping to engage him? Thank you archers :)

I don't fling up my middle finger (or two fingers) lightly. I think there are many other ways people can express themselves without using profane words or gestures. However, there is a time and a place. And this was the time and the place.

As I ran past, he looked shocked and offended. I suppose I was an unlikely candidate with my bright pink sweatshirt and long blonde ponytail. But you know what they say...don't dish it out if you can't take it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Business As Usual!

I haven't posted anything on my blog for a while, because things have been pretty standard! All of our bank accounts are definitely hurting at this point during the study abroad experience, so traveling around is a little bit limited. But, I found out yesterday that Elena, my friend from Germany who I met up with in Brussels at the beginning of this whole adventure, is going to come visit me for a few days at the end of May! I'm really excited about that - it's always fun to show people around, and it will be great to be able to spend some time together again! Just a few days after she leaves I'll be off to Norway and then Italy, and then back to Pullman!

I have a little bit over a month left in Scotland, and before I leave there are a few things that need to be checked off my list: Trying the Scottish Subway sandwich flavors, going back to St. Andrews to play mini golf, going back to Oban and getting fish and chips again, spending another day in Edinburgh and going back to the Elephant House, enjoying ciders and black while I still can, and of course going back to Chico's Indian take-away as much as possible! I'm sure I will think of more things to add to that list as I go, but that's what I've got so far :)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Back To Basics

Tonight Grace is coming over, and we're going to cook a meal that our host mom made for us when we first got to Stirling! That experience is actually what brought us together, because we had to sleep in the same bed, which at the time I wasn't thrilled about. Now I'm so happy that it happened :)

It seriously feels like a lifetime ago that we got into Stirling. I suppose, in a way, it was a life ago, because my life in Scotland can hardly be categorized along with the rest of what I've done. It is so weird to think that in a little less eight weeks, I will be getting on a plane to leave. On the one hand, I am SO excited to see my family and friends again, be in a familiar place, go to the store in the middle of the night if I want to, have good service at restaurants...but on the other hand I will also miss things about Scotland. How easy it is to take the train somewhere, how it's not weird to drink gallons of tea in one sitting, Chico's: the awesome Indian take-away place, cider and black...

Cooking this meal from the early Scotland days makes me realize how much fun I have had here so far :) I've got to make the most of the next eight weeks!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Isle of Skye

Imagine massive hills and valleys, like you normally see around rivers and streams. Now, picture that continuing for miles and miles...towering hills and low swampy marshes for as far as the eye can see. Add a little bit of eerie mist to that, and you have the Highlands of Scotland.

This picture is the best I can do illustrate the scenery, but it still just doesn't capture it. 

 The tour of the Isle of Skye this past weekend was amazing. On the first day, we went straight to Talisker distillery. It's good to do the most important stuff first! Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures during the tour, but it was really cool to see all of the massive vats, and learn about the Scotch making process. It definitely made me wonder how people discovered how to make the stuff! We were allowed to have a wee taste (or a wee dram as they say here), and I was actually surprised to kind of like it. I don't think it would be my drink of choice still, but I can understand why people would like it now, whereas before it was beyond my comprehension. Scotland is rubbing off on me it appears!

The next stop was Dunvegan Castle, where we ate lunch and explored. I was disappointed that it was raining, because the gardens looked really beautiful. The rain did let up though, and long enough for us to take a walk down to Coral Sands beach! I think that walk may have been my favorite part of the entire trip, because it was so much fun to be able to walk through the land we had been seeing from the coach (or bus). I was just glad to have worn my wellies!

The end view was Coral Sands beach. You can't see in the picture, but that isn't traditional sand on the beach; it's comprised of millions of pieces of coral and shell.

On the walk down - you can see Dunvegan Bay behind me:

Coral Sands Beach:

Our last stop of the day was at Kilt Rock, where huge columns of dolerite have made a sort of kilt-like pattern in the rock. The cliffs were amazing, and from the viewpoint, the only thing separating you from a very, very steep drop was a little handrail! This had a very dizzying affect on me...you don't often expect to look down and realize that you are three inches from falling off a massive cliff!

Kilt Rock:

View to the other direction of the awesome, in the true sense of the word, coastline:

The next day we worked our way back down through the Highlands from the Isle of Skye back to Stirling.

After a short stop in the darling fishing village of Plockton, we made our way to Eilean Donan Castle. Right on the water, this castle offered breathtaking views of the loch. Plus, one of the castle guides let us take pictures with a Claymore, which was the general highlight of the trip! Unfortunately a fire alarm kept us from seeing most of the castle, which I think was a ploy to direct us all to the gift shop ;)

We stopped very briefly in Fort Augustus and Glencoe on the final piece of the drive, but since we were a bit behind schedule, we just got a small taste of both places.

I really have to say that even though the castles are cool, of course, the real highlight of the trip was driving through the Highlands. They really are impressive. Unfortunately, taking the train through doesn't really show you very well, because of where the rail has to be placed, but driving through you can see how endless these huge hills are.

Driving through at twilight, you look out at misty and dark marshlands that send prickles down your spine. This is where, according to Scottish folklore, the banshees will fall upon lost travelers who see a light in the distance and follow it to their death.

Sound at all familiar? I kept thinking that the marshlands really reminded me of the marshes before Mordor in Lord of the Rings. Maybe I'm still in a LOTR state of mind after the Cotswolds, but it's fun to imagine what could have inspired writers, and if you are looking for an eerie place, this is it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

And Then The Rain Caught Us

It is our last day in the Cotswolds, and our last day of spring break. Amanda and I are sitting in our adorable bed and breakfast, our wet clothes drying across various surfaces of the room. The rain is splashing against the window panes, and now that we're warm inside, its gentle sounds are homey and comforting.

We got some sunshine this morning, so we were able to take one last tour of Chipping Campden and look into a few different shops that we hadn't had the chance to peek into before. Then we came back to the bed and breakfast so I could have some lunch, and Amanda could have another cream tea. At that point in time, it was still looking pretty nice, and while there were a few clouds in the sky, they didn't look too foreboding, and some sun even poked through every once in a while. So, being optimistic, Amanda and I decided to try one last walk to the nearby town Broadway.

We might have made it to our destination if we hadn't taken a two mile diversion by accident...oops! Half an hour later, we excitedly found our way back to where we were supposed to be, and just like clockwork, the rain started. So, feeling a little defeated, we headed back to town and just barely beat the worst of the rain.

I really don't think we can complain though, because we decided to do spring break in England, and today was our only day of rain. I'm going to count us pretty lucky! So now, we really have no choice but to make a pot of tea, lay back, and spend some quality time reading before we are called back to school!

Tomorrow, we have the trek back up to Stirling, which I cannot say I'm excited for. We don't go through London this time though; we catch a train in Bristol which takes us directly to Glasgow, which will be a lot better I think. They say it's snowing up there, and so we are just crossing our fingers that the public transportation doesn't get bogged down.

Wish us luck!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Spring Break: The Cotswolds

Hello from the beautiful cotswolds! After two days here, I am totally in love. Everyone seems so relaxed...there are more tea shops than there are people to fill them! So far, if there was a place in the UK where I would want to live, this would it. A life filled with walking and scones.

Amanda and I left Bath yesterday morning, and went to the Palm Sunday service in the Bath Abbey. It was a really nice service, and of course, a beautiful church. Unfortunately, since our train left at 10:45, we had to miss communion. But don't worry dad, we stayed through the sermon!

Two crowded train rides later (we had to stand, because there was no room to sit), we arrived in Moreton-in-Marsh, and caught a taxi to Chipping Campden. Our taxi driver was a hilarious man who was eager to tell us all about the region, and informed Amanda and I that in the Cotswolds, you just need to lay back, relax, and stop making schedules.

When we got to our bed and breakfast, we took the taxi driver's words to heart, and sat down for a cream tea (Our bed and breakfast is also a tea room). Let me tell you. We ate the most AMAZING scones in the entire world. I have eaten my fair share of scones, but these are a force to be reckoned with. It was all we could do to not order another round, and instead go out and explore the little town.

Chipping Campden used to be a bustling market town, and the market hall is still standing! It was built in 1627, and the timbers inside are original!

We took our time walking through the town to get to the church, and when we got there, we were greeted by a nice old man who told us that it was his first day on the job helping visitors. He was full of really interesting information though (And he kept checking his notes to make sure it was all true haha!). He informed us that the twelve lime trees lining the path up to the church represent the twelve disciples, and that the church was called a "wool church", because it was completely financed by the wool industry! They're not totally sure when the church was built, but there is a stone carving above the church doors (which are original) of two people, and based on the hairstyles, they were able to guess that the church was built in the 13th century!

After seeing the church, we headed back to the bed and breakfast for some much needed relaxation. Me with Game of Thrones, Amanda with Pride And Prejudice (i.e. a nap). Then off to dinner at the nearby pub to end our first day in the Cotswolds!

This morning, we woke up to an amazing breakfast! Amanda had pancakes with lemon and sugar, which apparently is customary here, and I had porridge, which tasted just like when my dad makes it at home :)

Then we took off for a hike from the town Stow-On-The-Wold to another town, Bourton-On-The-Water. Everyone told us that it was a clear path, and that we wouldn't get lost. About five minutes into the walk though, Amanda and I looked at each other and realized that we had no idea where we were going. Luckily, an older couple was walking down the hill behind us, and when we asked if they knew the way, they said they were doing the walk too, and they were from Bourton! So we followed them the whole way, which I might add, is not a well marked path. It's random, through cow and sheep fields. If it hadn't been our luck to run into them, there is absolutely no way we would have reached our destination!

The walk was absolutely beautiful.

Coming down into Lower Slaughter:

Between Lower Slaughter and Bourton-On-The-Water:


After touring Bourton-On-The-Water, which is an adorable little tourist town with a MILLION ice cream places, we caught the bus back to Stow-On-The-Wold. Here, we found the door which is said to have inspired J.R. Tolkien when he wrote about the door to Moria. My inner nerd was extremely excited!!

Of course, upon our return to Chipping Campden, Amanda and I enjoyed another round of cream tea. Who could resist those delicious scones? Tomorrow we are planning to have a relaxed day in the town, looking into the various different antique and cute specialty shops, drinking tea...let's be honest - eating more scones. Should be fun!