Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Guinness and Leprechauns

Confession time. I didn't actually have any Guinness when I was in Dublin. 

Phew. Now that I have that off my chest, I'll continue...

The first thing I truly noticed in Ireland was, no lie, a rainbow. After we landed at Dublin Airport, I was too distracted by going through customs, getting Euros from an ATM and finding the Airlink bus into the city centre. So it really wasn't until I was on the coach that I truly got a look at Dublin. And the first thing I saw? A rainbow.

I mean really, seeing the largest, brightest rainbow I've ever seen--it looked like it was a neon light, contrastingly beautiful against the pale gray sky--in a country known for leprechauns. Can you get a better welcome?

I should have taken the rainbow more seriously because where there's a rainbow there's rain, right? And rain it did.

But back to the coach. We got off right down the street from our hostel (Abraham House) and got checked in. I have to say, Caledonian Backpackers, the hostel we stayed in when we went to Edinburgh, has definitely made my expectations impossibly high. (To read about our hostel in Edinburgh, click here. The hostel we stayed in in Dublin was nice--there were only 6 beds in out room, there was an en-suite bathroom and for the most part it was clean and hospitable  However, it just seemed like it needing something. Some pizzazz maybe, whimsy perhaps, or even just a touch of fun. Something.

After making our beds and getting our bearings, we decided to head out for dinner. With no particular place in mind we headed down to O'Connell St, a major road not far from our hostel. We walked for a while, finding nothing that interested us foodwise, but we did find a man doing chalk art. And not just any chalk art--art nouveau. It's not everyday you see a man on the ground drawing a Mucha print in chalk. As we stood there he began packing up his things--rolling up the paper he was drawing on, gathering his chalk--and we weren't sure why. The reason soon became clear, as I felt a splash of water on my neck. It was beginning to rain. I guess when you make your living doing art outside you make it your business to know when its going to rain.

So it started to rain, but still we powered on, looking for some food to satisfy our growling stomachs. The rain only proceeded to get harder and harder, but still we walked. We eventually gave up and decided to turn around and just eat at a pub down the street from our hostel.

In the end, it was a good decision with delicious food, but it got off to rough start. When we walked in, soaked through, we had no idea what was going on. There were no tables available so we were just standing there awkwardly, looking around for somewhere to sit. We did end up finding a strange and awkward half table slash ledge with stools. But after that, we had no idea what to do. At most pubs you order and pay at the bar, but this was a pub/restaurant with a specific restaurant room and there didn't seem to be any place at the bar to order.

We were able to snag a table of some people who were leaving and surmised that a waitress would come and take our order. At this point, I let out a sign of relief  The awkward had passed. I went on to order and have the best meal I'd had in a month and a half. It was roast chicken with mashed potatoes, stuffing, roast carrots and potatoes, all covered in gravy. I ate everything on my plate, and for those of you who know me, you know that that never happens. Like, ever. Especially not since we'd been here. I don't know if it's because I was starving from travelling all day, freezing from being in the rain, comforted by the familiarities of the food or if it was just a really great meal, but I can still remember how delicious and amazing it was.

It was back to the hostel after that to prepare for the next day. Unlike Edinburgh, we didn't really have much of a plan, and also unlike Edinburgh we didn't have Libby's iPhone maps to tell us where to go. Not a good combination. Especially since I, with no sense of direction whatsoever, ended up in charge of the map/figuring out how to get where we're going. I'm sure I put myself in this position because of my need to be in control. I think I did okay at it, but maybe Caitlin, Libby and Austin would say otherwise.

Because it was Sunday, we found a church nearby (St. Mary's Pro Cathedral) at which to go to mass (a Catholic church this time for Libby). I was already confused because I'd never been to a Catholic mass before, but you add in the fact that the priest spoke in an Irish accent very quickly and I basically had no idea what was going on. (Okay, that's an exaggeration, but I was pretty confused at some parts.) There was one instance during the "Prayers of Intention" when you are supposed to respond after every line and I had absolutely no idea what the response was. I kept trying to listen and figure it out but to no avail. I could hear/see Libby, Caitlin and Austin saying something but couldn't understand what they were saying either. Turns out my friends were just mumbling along because they had no idea either, not even Libby who is Catholic. So I felt a little better.

Now, Sunday morning it poured. My shoes were soaked in the fifteen minute walk to the church and my feet were freezing. When we went to Scotland I wore my boots but my feet hurt from all of the walking, so this time I decided to wear my Sperrys. They fare well in light rain but in the pouring rain they did not protect my feet from the wet at all.

We determined that pouring rain was not the best weather to do the free three-plus hour walking tour we were planning on embarking upon so instead we decided to do some indoor attractions.  We got to the museum area and had about half an hour until it opened at noon so we walked around for a bit.

We went to Merrion Square to see the Oscar Wilde Memorial Statue, which was honestly kind of creepy. The way he was lounging on the rock in his green evening jacket gave me a Hugh Hefner vibe. So not the best kind of vibe. But I will give the statue one thing--it stands out. Frequently statues of important people all look the same and are easily forgettable. It won't be easy to forget the Oscar Wilde statue.

By this point we'd killed enough time so we returned to the National Gallery of Ireland around 12:20. We were looking at the paintings when the strangest thing happened. At 12:52 they made an announcement: "The gallery is now closing. Please make your way to the exit and thank you for visiting with us." What? The gallery had only just opened. Why would you pay all of the employees and all of the other costs just to be open for less than an hour? I don't even know.

So, expelled from the National Gallery we had an hour until the National Museum of Ireland-Archaeology opened (remind me again why Sundays are always our main day on these trips?) So we had lunch and then explored the Archaeology museum.

A lot of it was typical museum stuff which was all well and good but there was one exhibit I found sickeningly fascinating. It was the Kingship and Sacrifice exhibit. In the sense of history I can deal with the idea that there were human sacrifices. But this was another story. When the people were killed in the human sacrifices, they were thrown into bogs. These bogs actually preserved the bodies, making their bodies partially intact. Some still have hair and you can still see the curilng of some of the bodies' toes. And keep in mind these bodies are from 400-200 BCE. The bodies also appear to be squashed as though crushed by a very heavy piece of machinery. It's hard to explain, but it was a little bit disturbing.

After the Archaeology museum we went to the National Leprechaun Museum where we learned all about different types of Irish folklore. It was different from what I was expected because it wasn't that gimmicky -there wasn't a lot of green and stereotypically Leprechaun paraphernalia (although we did get a picture with a Leprechaun).  A lot of the stories told were classic Irish folklore. Also, did you know it's very difficult to find Lucky Charms in Ireland? I guess this is just another example of us absorbing another country's traditions and ideas as our own.

Speaking of, a tour guide told us that it was actually Americans who made St Patricks Day what it is today. It used to be a holy day of prayer in Ireland but then they got wind of how we celebrate it, and then adopted our customs. So it could be argued that St Patricks Day as we know it is actually an American holiday. Our guide thanked us as Americans for St Paddys Day, so there you have it.

That night we had dinner in the Temple Bar area of Dublin and then went to a comedy show. Comedy Crunch is a free comedy show I read about on HostelWorld.com that boasts free ice cream. So really, how could we not go? I investigated a little further to ensure it was legit and wrote down the address. In reality, the show was not at the address provided so, soaking wet and freezing we were about to give up when we decided to wander down a random street and saw the Comedy Crunch logo. The show was actually in the basement of a pub. But I promise it was legit.

Sitting next to us was a most interesting couple. Already pissed at 9 on a Sunday, they didn't have much control over their mouths. We learned where they were from (Devin, England), why they were in Ireland (for a rugby match), where in America the woman had been (Denver, Colorado), how old the woman was turning in a few days (48) and much more. The man told us about his time in the Marines ("But you can't talk about that here" he said, leaning in) and the woman kept saying "My boyfriend is such a tart," apologetically. The woman had just enough time before the show started to give us an impassioned (drunk) speech about living life to the fullest "before you get old" (she was very sensitive about her age and that's why I was getting annoyed when the first comedian spend a long time calling her old, calling her granny and basically just being an asshole).

I was afraid I wouldn't get some of the jokes given the culture difference but it wasn't too difficult to understand. I didn't really like the first comedian because he was kind of mean in his comedy delivery, more so than I thought was necessary as I stated before. The second comedian was a bit more of a prop comedian and he was pretty funny and the third was okay but kind of forgettable. The fourth and final act was by far my favorite.

They were a duo, Totally Wired, the self-proclaimed least famous boyband in Ireland. They did musical comedy, which I love and were actually quite hilarious. After they learned how many Americans there were in attendance (at least 12 or so, and this wasn't a huge venue) they performed what they called "America's oldest folk son" which consisted of a Native American chant and a rousing "We were here first!" at the end. I was dying at this point. Although they were quite vulgar (but let's be real, what adult comedy show isn't?) I really enjoyed their act. After the show we walked close, quickly and carefully back to our hostel because it was almost midnight.

The next morning we did the first hour of the free tour we were going to do the day before. It was a much nicer day and the tour was actually really interesting. For me at least, it is difficult to pay attention during tours for long periods of time because I lose interest but our tour guide Cieran was very engaging and funny. As an independent worker earning only what he earns in tips, he made sure the the tour was engaging. One particularly interesting part was when he described all of the terrible things England did to Ireland then shrugged and said "You can't argue with history."

Also on the tour we met a young couple who asked where we were from. When Austin told them she was from NC, they asked where and we discovered that the live in Greensboro, only half an hour from where we all go to college in the States. Add in the fact that the man from the comedy show last night lived in Oxford until he went to Uni, and I realized just how small the world can be.

We had to leave the tour early to get lunch before our flight, but I wished we could have done the entire tour. We actually met Austy's friend Kaitlyn for lunch was was fun and she showed us around Trinity College (where she is studying this semester). It was much prettier in the sun (or rather, without the rain.).

I have to admit: although I enjoyed my time in Dublin, the trip didn't give me a very high opinion of Ireland or its people. For starters, it was very rainy or overcast most of the time we were there (though I suppose that is typical weather for this part of the world). The city also wasn't pretty like the other cities we've visited so far. It was newer looking, dirtier and just not as aesthetically appealing (but again, that could have been the rain). And then you have the people. Many people were very pleasant but there were a few that sullied my perception of the Irish. On Friday we were walking down the street when a guy, probably around our age, hit Austin in the face. For no reason. Other than the fact that he was drinking of course. I just... who does that? We also saw a woman hitting a man one night and there were a lot of angry people who verbally lashed out at cars, pedestrians, you name it.

So, all in all, not the best perception of Ireland on this trip, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I just need to visit a more rural (or at least less urban) part of Ireland. In the end though, it was a fun trip and I can check Ireland off my "Places to visit" list.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Leaving on a Jetplane

13 October, 2:30pm
As I write this, I am sitting at Gate 3 of the London Luton Airport, waiting for a plane that may never come.


They just announced that RyanAir fight FR338 to Dublin has been delayed indefinitely due to a technical fault to the aircraft. Our trip is obviously off to a great start.

I'll say it again: train travel is much better than plane travel. But I promise that this won't be another 1500 word praise of trains (read my post on our train trip to Scotland here). To explain how inconvenient flying can be though, let me take you back to this morning.

For starters, we're flying out of London Luton Airport, which is not especially convenient from Oxford. Our flight takes off at 3:15, gates closing at 2:45 and we've never been to the Luton airport before, so we weren't entirely sure what the process of checking in and going through security would be. There were two busses going from Oxford to Luton through National Express this morning. One leaving at 9:30 and getting in at 11:15 and one leaving at 11:30 and getting in at 1:45. We were afraid of missing our flight if we risked it with the 11:30 bus so, you guessed it, we arrived super early for our flight.

So, we found ourselves at an airport four hours before our flight, with two hours until we were able to check in. We were able to investigate where and how we needed to get our Passports checked and exactly what time we could check in. Even though we probably didn't need to get here this early (especially given our delayed flight) it did afford us the opportunity to be relaxed and not stress out about getting to the gate on time which knowing me, would have happened).

In the two hours we had to wait before checking in and going through security, we sat in the food court area (there was actually a lot of shopping and food locations before the departures area, which was quite unusual to me) and talking about our trip.

When it was time for us to check in, we walked to the RyanAir desk to find quite a long line. This was because only one desk was in operation for the Dublin flight, even though there were other people at the RyanAir desk who were assigned to other flights. In the fifteen minutes we stood in line I saw two people check in for one these other flights. Even when the guy running the Dublin check in was late and the other two ladies weren't doing anything they didn't help or fill in. I guess this a little bit of getting what you paid for when flying on cheap airlines like RyanAir.

The trip through security was uneventful. The queue moved quickly and the process was efficient. I got my 18mL over limit contact solution through which I was pleased with and I didn't have to take off my Sperrys (though Libby and Austy had to take off their boots). Getting through security was easy, which was a little bit disconcerting given how lenient/unconcerned they seemed to be--Austy got through with nail clippers and tweezers. But that might just be because US security is so intense and that's what I'm used to.

The first area we saw after we got through security looked like a mall--there were snack stores, restaurants, fashion shops, casinos and more. It was kinda crazy. However, we didn't want to linger so we decided to head to our gate, Gate 1.

We walked and walked and walk, further and further into the airport. Shops were few and there weren't many people around. We quickly discovered that Gate 1 is the farthest gate (another way RyanAir cuts prices, I'm sure. When we went down the stairs marked Gates 1-6 it was actually quite eerie. There was literally no one around as we walked. It was so quiet I could hear by footsteps. I've never experienced that in an airport before.

We got to the gate early, only to learn in 15 or so minutes that our flight was delayed indefinitely  (During this time, it also started pouring outside.) Question though: once our plane is ready, do I really want to get on a plane that was experiencing technical difficulties?

13 October, 4pm
Well, good news: our flight wasn't delayed long. At about 3pm (10 minutes before our flight was scheduled to leave) they announced that they were ready to start boarding. People (including myself) literally ran to get in line because there was no assigned seating.

We were actually able to board the plane very quickly by walking outside where, luckily, the rain had stopped. (My theory is that there wasn't actually any technical difficulties, they just didn't want us geting their plane soaked. But I digress.) I guess a covered walkaway is another thing surrendered in our cheap ticket.

Oh, another interesting thing I've noticed. On our ticket it says we're only allowed one piece of hand baggage including your handbag. I'm used to being allowed a handbag and another carry-on, but I thought this was just RyanAir being stingy. Nope, apparently that is actually Luton's policy. I found it to be a strange difference between US and British airports.

Anyway, our flight ended up beginning the taxiing process at 3:25 (and lift off was very speedy) so we were in air by 3:31, only 20 minute behind schedule. The flight is only 55 minutes long so we should be landing soon.

One other strange thing I've noticed about this flight is that even though it's less than an hour long, they are selling drinks, hot foot you can order and other snacks. This is similar to what they do on trains, so maybe that is what people expect when travelling Europe.

We just landed and I find it hard to believe we just flew to an other country in under an hour--less than it takes to fly from North Carolina to Maryland. It's amazing. Anyway, once we had landed a victorious hunting bugel played and we were welcomed into Ireland told we had arrived on time. How this is possible since we left 20 minutes late I'm not entirely sure, but apparently we did. Anyway, we touched down at 4:20 and it's now time to deplane.

13 October, 5pm
As I write this I am on the bus from the airport to the Dublin City Centre. Another annoying thing about plane travel--the airpots are frequently located outside of the actual city. We had to board a bus for a € 10return fare for our 30 minute ride into the city. If we were travelling by train we would've gotten off right in the city. Just saying.

Backtracking--we were once more let off the plane directly onto the tarmac. Embarrassingly enough, every time I enter/exit the plane via a staircase onto the tarmac I always feel like I'm either about to get on the Titanic. Or that I'm the President. This time was no different.

We got to customs, where the Non-EU line was super short, so we were pretty pleased with that. We got through customs and visited an ATM (at which I was given 2 €50 notes, which was pretty annoying because I don't always like paying for things with 50s. But, oh well.

We're getting into the City Centre, so I'll leave you now. I'm excited to see what Dublin has in store for me.

15 October, 5pm
The Dublin Airport experience was much easier than our Luton experience. For starters, it was so easy to get to the airport with continuous buses running between the city and the airport. We arrived a little over 2 hrs before our flight and got our passports checked. Security didn't move quite as wuickly as at Luton but it still didn't take too long. Although seriously, how are people so unprepared when going through security. The whole time you wait in line you read all the signs that tell you what you can and cannot take through, that you should take your coat and boots of, that you need to take your laptop out of your bag and that you should remove anything from your person that might set off the metal detectors. It's not that difficult. But still, people walk up to the conveyor with their coats on, change in their pockets and confused as all else. The lady in front of me set off the metal detector and was confused as to why. I'll tell you: because she was wearing 2 inch thick gold bangles on her wrist. I mean, come on!

The real annoyance came when we looked at the Departures board to see that our gate wouldn't be posted until 3:45, half an hour before boarding begins. o we had to hang around the shopping area for a while before we could even figure out where we should go.

At 3:45 we saw that we had to be at Gate 105 (approximately 15 minutes away, the board said ) in 30 minutes for boarding. I just don't understand why they had to wait to tell us the gate. Don't they want us early or at least on time? When we got to the gate, there were a lot of people already there, so they must have known where to go--perhaps RyanAir's gates are always in teh same area and they already knew where that was.

Another nice thing was that Dublin Airpot had free, no-strings-attached, easily accessible WiFi which I appreciated so that I could catch up on my email. usually is seems like airport WiFi comes with many catches so I was glad that Dublin was feeling WiFi generous.

We're on the plane, getting ready for take off and I snagged a window seat, so I've gotta go...

October 15, 6:30pm
We are now siting once more in the Luton airport, ending our trip as it began--having to wait 2 hrs because the bus has an annoying schedule that does not coincide with our flight. We actually got here just in time for the earlier coach, but we didn't want to risk it, especially if our flight was late, so we booked the later coach. The reason we could have actually made the first coach is because we didn't actually have to go through customs. I'm not sure way--we had to when we arrived at Dublin Airport, but for some reason we didn't to here. And I had accounted for customs when determining what coach we should take. I feel bad, since I'm the one who decided which coach totake, that everyone had to wait 2 hrs, but I tend to be over cautions when booking things.

The good news is that I got to have Yam Yam, the Asian Noodle restaurant I was eyeing on Saturday when we were here, so I'm pretty happy about that.  I did have an interesting conversation with the woman at the counter:
Woman: Did you have a nice weekend?
Me: Yeah, I just got off a flight from Dublin.
Woman: Oh okay. Are you just in England for a trip, or...
Me: I'm actually studying in Oxford. I was just in Ireland for the weekend.
Woman: Oh, well it must have been nice to be home for a few days. 
Wait what? She thought I was Irish? Didn't see that one coming.

October 15, 10pm 

Just got back to Flat K1, happy to to be home but glad that we were able to spend the weekend in Dublin. 

Check back in a few days for a post about what I actually did in Ireland!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Hello my beautiful blog readers. I thought I'd share with you some of my favorite British videos that I've been shown since I got here. Enjoy!

I Think You'll Find That's Legal Tender

I did actually use some Scottish money in England, but they didn't seem to care. Maybe because I'm American and not Scottish. 

Best Marketing Ever 

Warning: This song will get stuck in your head. 

Yes, They're Speaking English

I dare you to understand everything they're saying on the first go. 


It actually took them a while to figure out who this dog it. At first they thought his name was Benton, but then discovered his name is Fenton. This video made headlines everywhere when it appeared last year.

Double English, Or Double Scottish 

This one gets me every time. Both David Tennant and Catherine Tate are on Doctor Who so there are a few Doctor Who jokes, but I think you'll find it funny even if you don't know anything about Doctor Who,

Hope you all enjoyed these videos as I did. Which one was your favorite?

Cheers, Amy.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Parental Pub Crawl

This weekend my parents were in Oxford visiting and took me and my flatmates out for dinner on Friday night. It turned out to be quite the pub crawl. And I promise it gets good near the end.

On Friday we decided to try to get dinner in Headington because we'd just come from the City Centre and we didn't want to pay another £1.90pp to take the bus into Oxford. The Britannia is actually quite close to the guest house my parents were staying in, so we decided that would be the best place since they were severely jet-lagged and wanted to have an early night. We got there first we found a table. At first I thought there was going to be no way we'd all be able to sit together because there were a lot of people there. But then it seemed like we were able to find more and more seating areas. This pub was actually huge. I did not expect it to be so big. So we were able to find two tables we could push together and it seemed like a great atmosphere for my parents and John and Maureen to get to know my flatmates.

After finding a table we ordered drinks and opened a tab. My parents accidentally ordered a cider, which they hated. Luckily when Caitlin, Austin and Libby arrived, Libby liked ciders so it didn't go to waste.  The menu actually looked really good so I was pretty excited for my steak. My Mom and Dad had ordered (after exclaiming that they hate how pubs eat--since you have to order at the bar) and we went up to order after them. When we were ordering though they told us that it would be an hour before they would even be able to start making food. At our confused faces, the woman explained that someone accidentally hit the emergency gas button so everything in the kitchen shut down and they had to wait for it to all heat up again.

Question though. How does one accidentally hit a giant red button used to shut off gas in an emergency situation. Sounds like someone just didn't want to cook, so they decided to instigate a break. Because they wouldn't be able to even start cooking for another hour, and they already had food backed up, they decided to go somewhere else.

The Red Mullions Guest House suggested the Black Boy (named after a horse, apparently) in their  welcome guide, so we decided to go there. It's on Old High Street in Headington, and we had absolutely no idea where it was. And of course it had started to rain. We find Old High Street and ask somebody who confirms we're walking in the right direction. And we're super confused, because we were walking through a residential neighborhood  We were making jokes about how they probably don't get any business since it's in such a random location. Man were we wrong. We couldn't even eat there because it was "all booked." I put that in quotations because there were so many open tables. A little perplexed and getting really hungry we began the walk back to the main road.

Next to the Britannia is a pub called The Royal Standard and we were desperate enough that we just decided to go there for want of wandering around more. The moment we walked in you could tell this wasn't the best place. Two steps in the door and I could already smell stale beer. There are a few people standing around the bar and a few in some chairs having drinks, but no one else dining. It was obviously a bar that served food as opposed to a restaurant pub. But we were starving, so it would have to do.

We had to order quickly because we were coming upon the time they stop serving food. Libby, Caitlin, Austin and I ordered a pitcher of a vodka-based cocktail called Fruit Salad with Melon Midori, Blue Curacao and orange juice in it. It was a really strange green color (probably from the Midori) and it pretty much just tasted like orange juice. Like I'm really doubting there was even an alcohol in it.

The food was okay, not excellent, but it sufficed and we had a nice time (due to the company not really the atmosphere). John and Maureen, the couple my parents frequently travel with are really good family friends (John is my dad's freshman year roommate at VMI so he's one of my dad's oldest friends) and its always a fun time when they are around.

It was what happened after we had finished eating that made this night so memorable.

It all started as our focus was drawn to two guys, for these purposes Green Shirt and Orange Shirt arguing. Apparently Libby had been observing them for a while, as they argued but it wasn't until they loudly determined they should "talk about this outside" that we really consciously noticed them. We were planning to leave soon, so John joked "Maybe we should take the side tour" and we all chuckled, unaware how real it was about to get.

After we'd paid our tab, they came back into the pub and all of a sudden, it was no longer just a heated conversation. They're screaming at each other words I don't understand, but I'm pretty sure I heard the words "I am not old" from Orange Shirt. Then, they began talking with their fists. Green Shirt, clearly the younger, taller and larger man shoves Orange Shirt and eventually his hands find his throat. Seeing both of Green's hands clasped around Orange's neck, I was shocked.

Unaware of what to do. Should I sit, should I stand, should I leave?

Faster than I can follow, Orange is on the ground an Green wails on him. Punching him, hitting him, getting worse and worse. Next thing I know, Orange Shirt has become No Shirt, as Green Shirt rips it off his body. I didn't even know a person could actually rip a cotton-blend shirt off a person's body like that. Not at a seam but right down the middle of his chest. Orange/No Shirt manages to stand up and they continue to shove and end up moving closer to our table. Hands return to throat, and down they go again. They're bumping into tables and chairs, coming dangerously close.

Now I really don't know what to do. As a chronic worrier, I've become concerned for my safety. And it seems my Dad is as well. I book it out of there and my Dad encourages it. Caitlin said that as they moved closer to our table, she just looked at my Dad, having no clue what to do, and he just said "Leave" and she, along with the rest of us, did not think twice.

At this point, I'm on the sidewalk and can't see very much at all. I'm not sure which one, but I know that one of them was banging the other's head into the ground. And I'm told that when he stood up his entire face was covered in blood. At some point, Orange picks up a chair and is getting ready to hit Green Shirt with it. At this point, John intervenes saying "Hey, stop" knowing that if he hit him with the chair, some serious damage will be caused. John said later that he almost felt bad because it took away Orange's upper hand, allowing Green to begin clobbering him.

I obviously don't remember all that much, and they say that a witness's memory is frequently clouded by what they think happened and what they would expect to happen in this situation. For example, I was under the impression that it was the younger guy (Green Shirt) who was doing most of the beating and had the upper hand the entire time over the older Orange Shirt. This was clearly some previous misconceptions about age and also that the guy who provoked it was Green Shirt so I, in my mind, took the side of Orange because he was the victim in my mind. So I probably automatically assumed that it was Green who had the chair, and who was banging Orange's head into the ground. But like I said, I'm not sure who had the bloody face and who was the cause of it.

What I do remember vividly is that the male bartender, a guy around our age, was standing, watching the fight and smirking. Smirking. I could not believe it. I understand that it can be dangerous to try to interrupt the fight but you shouldn't just be smirking. It wasn't until the female bartender nudged him that he went to get someone and do something about the men beating each other right in front him. I think the cook came out to break them up, and it was over before we left.

As we walked home, we were all a little shell shocked. None of us flatmates had ever seen a barfight before. About 10 minutes as we got to Pullens Lane we saw two ambulances whiz past. We don't know for sure, but think it was for the Royal Standard.

All I know is that I don't want this to become a royal standard for our evenings out. It's a great story to tell, but not one I'd like to witness firsthand again.

After an eventful Friday, my parents wanted to find a nice place to eat dinner on Saturday that was a step up from the pervious night. We ended up at the Red Lion, a really cool pub in the city centre. It was really busy when we got there, but they said we could get drinks and sit on the patio and they would let us know in about an hour when a table became available.

John ordered drinks for everyone, including shots for him and I (my parents and their friends are pretty shocked and amazed that I'm consuming any alcohol because I'm not much of a drinker) and enjoyed the beautiful night, and only 20 or so minutes later we were told there was a big table in the bar where we could sit if we wanted to. It was actually a great place to sit because we could enjoy the music and the atmosphere and the table had just been delivered that day.

Photo cred: Red Lion
This place was so cool. As you can see in the picture they put furs on a lot of the The picture to the right is actually the location where we sat, although the table we were at was a higher table with stools. In the right of the picture you can see this glass room where a group was celebrating something (they were drinking champagne and were there for a long time). And the bathroom, which was actually huge, I was shocked, has all of the stall doors decorated with images of the spines of classic Penguin books. Everything about this place, decor, the set up, the loo, the storage of wine and everything else was calculated to convey their brand. As a Strategic Communication student who does a lot of work with branding, this place was genius. It isn't often you see a place that is so detail oriented toward their brand and message.

Altogether, two very different experiences, each interesting in their own right, but I would definitely choose the second night, an evening with my family and my friends in a fun, relaxed environment, any time.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Goodbye, K1

October 15
Although a little wary at first, the flat that I have lived in for the past month and a half has ended up treating me well. Until we discovered the mold of course. Apparently its in the structure of the building and there needs to be some major repairs made. So, High Point is moving out of Block K and into Block F.

I'm trying to be optimistic about all of this--it is, after all, supposed to a nicer block with recently renovated flats--but the annoyance of having to move flats in the middle of the week is kind of bringing me down.

My parents are coming to visit in a few days, and the last thing I wanted to do in preparing for them to come was move. I had planned on getting ahead on any schoolwork I have this week before they arrive so that I would have time to spend with them when they are here. But now I have to add moving all my things to another flat and organizing them in a moderately presentable way to the list of things I have to do before my parents arrive. So yes, I guess you could say I'm annoyed.

I do, however, appreciate the speed at which this was all worked out. A lot of the developments actually occurred while we were in Ireland this past weekend, and we actually only found out about it while checking Facebook at the airport this evening. So now there's to be a lot of packing in the next few days, but at least we will be living in a mold free flat.

So, like I said. I'm trying to be optimistic.

16 October
I've just heard that our flat is ready for us to move into. So I guess that's what I'll be doing this evening.

Apparently we are living with the Warden, which hopefully will not present any kind of problem. Likely this warden will have their own thing going on so we might not even really see them that much (our friend Beth lives with the warden in her building and says that she doesn't really ever see her). However, this does mean that I no longer have a gigantic room. In K1 I lived in a massive room that apparently used to be the living room. It was annoying because I was downstairs and sometimes missed out on the conversations that were occurring with my flatmates. Multiple times they came downstairs ready to leave for the grocery store, and I had no idea we were even going at all. So I guess this is a blessing because I'll now be right near them and no longer excluded in what we call "Social Siberia". However, I had gotten used to having a large room. I know I didn't really need it and I didn't really use the extra space, but it was still nice. So that's a bit of a bummer, but oh well. It can't be avoided.

Also, it appears as though I'll be moving into Room D. Once again, I haven't told y'all about Room D yet, but we have this ongoing joke in our flat that whenever anything goes wrong, it's Roommate D's fault. This isn't because we are terrible people who are picking on the poor person who lives in Room D, but rather it's empty, so it's easy to blame something on an imaginary person. Long story short, Roommate D was the K1 scapegoat, and now it looks like that'll be me? I have a feeling this joke is taking a terrible turn.

17 October
I'm officially all moved into Flat F14. The name doesn't have quite the same ring to it as K1, but I guess it'll do. Although it was annoying to have to pack up all of my stuff, I think the move was a positive. Or at least I keep telling myself that to get through the annoyance. But I'm exaggerating  Let's be real, I don't even have that much stuff since I had to fly by plane to get here, so it really only took me 4 trips to get all of my stuff the few hundred yards from K Block to F Block. I pretty much just piled things into my large rolling suitcase, rolled it down the hills, lugged it up some stairs, keyed into F14, dumped everything on the ground, took my suitcase back to K1 and repeated the process.

So, as you can imagine, once I got all of my stuff into F14 I looked at everything thrown all over my room and proceeded to surf the internet instead of putting anything away. I did end up getting all of my clothes away, most of my books and random possessions in drawers and my bed made (though, smart person that I am, actually did that last) but at the moment my shoes are still all over my floor and my desk is covered in pens and knick knacks. But I should be done soon.

Our new flat is actually really nice. They just finished renovating it so our kitchen is actually beautiful (except for some unfortunate cabinets, so I can't imagine how amazing the kitchen will be next semester once they've finished the cabinets). It has a brand new faux-wood floor and the set up of the kitchen/living room is much better than our flat it Block K. And the curtains are much better. In our old flat, they looked like bad Western motel curtains and now they're actually quite lovely. The way the coffee table and living room chairs are set up makes it look more like a contained space to hang out in than the awkward chairs against the wall in our Flat K block as you can see in this picture.
                                Old Kitchen in K1:                      New Kitchen in F14:

I'm now located next to Caitlin and across the hall from Libby and Austin so that is awesome, and we have a sink in our room! This is a major upgrade, so we are all pretty pleased. As I said earlier, I now have a normal sized room but the normal sized rooms in F are bigger than the normal sized rooms in F, so it's not too bad. The super huge room in K was actually kinda awkward because I had nothing to fill the space and I quite like the coziness of my room. (But isn't that what people say to make themselves feel better about their tiny apartments?)

Old Bedroom in K1:

New Bedroom in F14:

I have a little more storage space which is nice, though I'm currently storing my shoes under the sink (and I have a feeling that's not really where they belong), but hey, that's where they fit. We also have cabinets above our armoire but I'm not really tall enough to reach them, so I can only really keep things that I'll never use there. Like extra sheets and towels and things.

As I said earlier, we are living with the Warden (sort of like an RA here, for my American readers), but from what I've gathered, she has her own kitchen in her room, which explains why there wasn't any food in the kitchen fridge and nothing in the trash or recycling bins. I think the only thing we really share with her is the toilet and bathroom (unless she has those as well, but I don't think she does). But we now have two shower rooms, so that is awesome. She seems quite nice and helpful, so I think living with her will work out fine.

So, in the end, our new flat is definitely an upgrade and I think that the inconvenience of having to move everything will be outweighed by the awesomeness of living in a much nicer flat.

So, thank you, mold? Well, maybe I wouldn't go that far...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

English Sunshine

I have to admit, the weather here hasn't been what I was expecting.

Let's be real. Everyone has an image of English weather in their heads: cold, rainy, dreary, depressing... you get the picture. And that was what I was expecting, though from doing some research I did know that it wouldn't actually get that cold. (I mean, obviously it will be cold but not really much colder than it will be in the States during the time I am here. England's coldest months are January and February so thankfully we will avoid them).

I was actually under the impression that rather than being colder here than America, it will just get colder sooner. And perhaps that's true but it hasn't really happened yet.

I absolutely hate being cold, so I usually wear more layers or heavier coats than I need to. If we're going somewhere and no one else it wearing a jacket, I'll still bring one, and probably end up carrying it all day. It's not so much that I get any colder than anyone else, but rather that I'm paranoid.

Then we also have the fact that our flat is located at the bottom of a hill surrounded by trees so when I step outside to gauge the weather, I also think it is relatively chilly so I grab a blazer, or a heavier jacket if I deem it necessary. I then walk up the hill (which can heat up your body anyway) and then get to the main road where the sun is shining and it feels multiple degrees warmer. So I always end up taking off my jacket. It's actually amazing how much warmer it is on the main road than down by our flat. You wouldn't think that they were only a 10 minutes walk away from each other.

There also really haven't been very many absolutely rainy days so far.. I would say that it rains pretty much every day here, but not always for very long and it can be absolutely beautiful later on. I have only really had the occasion to wear my yellow raincoat a few times, and have only worn my colorful polka-dotted rain boots once since I've been here, so I might send them home with my parents when they come. We have had a few very rainy days in which all you want to do is snuggle in your bed and drink Hot Cocoa. Luckily, these have fallen on weekends typically, so I haven't had to leave my flat during the rain.

So, thus far I think we've been pretty lucky with the weather. And the fact that we're in England and I was expecting such dreariness makes the beautiful days all the more enjoyable because they come as a surprise. And really, we've actually seen a lot of sunshine. Certainly much more than I was expecting.

So most of the time here as autumn has begun, I haven't really needed any of my warm jackets or clothes. A shirt or jumper and blazer has sufficed. There was actually one instance a few weeks ago in which I went into the City Centre with Caitlin and I was wearing a short sleeved dress with tights and I had a cotton blazer with me. It was actually a beautiful day and most people in town weren't wearing any coats--some were even wearing shorts-- and I didn't want to put my jacket on because a) I want to blend with all of the British people and b) I wanted to enjoy this day for what it was. It's not often in October that you can really walk around in short sleeves without a jacket on and I wanted to take advantage of that.

So when my mom asked me what sort of coats she and my dad should bring when they come visit me in a few days, I told her that I haven't really worn heavy coats at all, and that I barely ever wear my heavier autumn coat and I let her do with that information as she would like.

But then, after talking with Dr. Schweitzer about when her family came to visit, it has occurred to me that part of the reason I haven't felt that cold here is because I have become acclimated to British weather. So now I'm kind of afraid that my parents will come and be cold because they need heavier jackets. But I'm sure my Mom will bring a heavy enough coat because she is always prepared, so I'm not too worried.

But if you see my parents wandering around Oxford absolutely freezing... it's definitely not my fault.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

You're A Wizard, Amy...

...said no Hogwarts professor, ever.

I finally got to go to the Harry Potter Studio Tour last week. I wouldn't say I came to England just because of Harry Potter, but...

All joking aside, I've been looking forward to this for a while (conceptually since I heard about it last year, and realistically since we booked our tickets a few weeks ago).

The Harry Potter Studio reaffirmed something that I already knew: Harry Potter is magical. Simple as that.

But it actually also gave me some mind-blowing insight into all of the time and energy that went into every single Harry Potter film: set design, costume design, creature design, prop gathering... The number of details considered for every single scene is incredible. In order to give you an idea of the gazillions of things we saw on the Harry Potter tour, I have created a Harry Potter Studio Tour A to Z. And let me tell you, for a number of these I had two or three options; there were just so many amazing things about this tour.

Harry Potter Studio Tour A to Z

A Albus Dumbledore's Office
B Butterbeer (Yum!)
C Cupboard Under the Stairs
D Diagon Alley
E Erised, Mirror of
F Flying on a Broomstick (with a Green Screen)
G Gryffindor Common Room & Boy's Dormitory
H Hogwarts Entrance Hall
I Invisibility Cloak
J J & K Sound Stages (Named After JK Rowling)
K Knight Bus
L Levitating Candles in the Great Hall
M Magic is Might Statue at the Ministry of  Magic 
N Neville's Badass Cardigan
O Ollivanders Wand Shop (and Lots of Wands)
P Privet Drive
Q Quidditch Equipment
R Robes of Every House
S Sirius Black's Motorbike
T "The stories we love best do live in us forever, so 
      whether you come back by page or by the 
      big screen, Hogwarts will always welcome 
      you home."- JK Rowling
U Umbridge's Office
V Voldemort's Grave
W Weasley's Wizard Wheezes 
X Xenophilias Lovegood's Quibbler Printing Press 
Y Yule Ball
Z Zonko's Joke Shop (and Other Wizard Stores)

As you can tell, I saw a lot of things. Every time we stepped into another section of the soundstage, my expectations were exceeded. I was literally blown away by all the sets and props I got to see.

Let me back up.

Leading up to the tour I kept referring to it as "the best day of my life." Everyone thought I was joking. I wasn't.

After watching the welcome video an employee said "who is unhealthily excited for this?" I raised my hand with some others. Everyone laughed good-naturedly. I was serious.

Harry Potter was such an important part of my childhood. So knowing that I was at the location that JK Rowling's magic was brought to life? A little overwhelming. (And by a little, I mean a lot).

As we walked from set to set I couldn't believe my eyes. Look one way and you can see the boy's dormitory where Matt Lewis, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliff filmed scenes for 10 years. Look another direction and there's the Christmas sweaters Mrs. Weasley made for Harry and Ron. Walk a few steps and you are in Dumbledore's Office, and a few more you're in line to fly a boomstick. We could try Butterbeer as if we were Hogwarts students and take pictures outside a giant model of the castle.

So yeah, I'd say it was a good day.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

London Town

On Friday, we took a trip to London for the Harry Potter Studio Tour (fair warning, this post isn't actually going to talk about Harry Potter--you'll have to wait a few days for that one. Don't say I didn't warn you.) Anyway, contrary to most people's belief based on how people talk about the Harry Potter Studio Tour, it isn't actually in central London. Leavesden Studio is actually located in Watford, a little less than 20 miles outside of central London.

We decided to spend some time in London before we went to our tour. We arrived at London Paddington at 10:30am with the knowledge that we would need to be at London Euston to catch our train to Watford Junction (for the Harry Potter tour) at 1:30. With three hours to eat lunch and make our way to London Euston (a 45 minute walk) we decided to explore the area on foot for a while. There really isn't much near London Paddington Station (annoyingly, since it is the station that the train from England comes into) but one big attraction is nearby--Hyde Park. Now, why we decided, on a day when we were going to have to walk 2.5 miles through London from one rail station to another, to go to a park that whose main appeal is walking I'm not entirely sure. I mean, it was extremely enjoyable, but it was like walking on walking on walking.

Anyway, we entered Hyde Park at the Victoria Gate, with absolutely no idea about where in Hyde Park we should go and how to get there. I'm going to be honest with you, I kind of thought we'd walk into Hyde and it would be really obvious where we should go and what we should see. I guess I never thought about the fact that Hyde Park is just that--a park and that means it is large and filled with grassy lawns and walking paths.

And while I'm being real, I'll just admit that my first glance at Hyde Park was not impressive at all. I couldn't help be think "We walked all the way here, for this?" This is because we entered at a car entrance so basically all I could see was roads and a few small walking paths. Add to that the fact that what grass there was was basically just mud. There were workers trying to get rid of the mud, but it wasn't really working too well. I don't know this for sure, but I think these workers were still doing damage control from the 2012 London Olympics and that this mud was a result of increased foot traffic from the live viewing site at Hyde Park.

As we continued to walk, however, I began to appreciate Hyde Park more and more. We decided to walk down to the Serpentine River and then back up through Kensington Gardens to the Italian Garden Fountain. Once away from the car traffic, Hyde Park really is a great refuse from the city. Replacing the cars, loud forceful words and general bustle of the city is the serenity of nature. I know this sounds incredibly cheesy and cliche, but I truly do believe every word I write of it. I find it so intriguing to be in the middle of a city, surrounded by streets and traffic but to be able to escape from it by walking only a matter of minutes into a Royal Park.

When we finally got down to the Serpentine Lake, I realized that the walk was definitly worth it. I felt like I was in a fairy tale, or Disney World or something like that. Standing there, looking out at the water, I could hear the faint sounds of people ordering drinks at a small shop nearby, the whizzing of people riding by on a bike and the general mutterings of those around me. It was, surprisingly, a very sunny day and the sun was reflecting off the water, shimmering and sparkling. Ducks and swans floated past and I just felt... calm. This has become a trend in my blogging I find, pointing out how calm I feel in different places I visit. But I think that's because being in England I am just trying to see everything I can and things still feel foreign, so when I find a place I feel truly calm and serene, I like to pause and let it soak in.

We then walked through Kensington Gardens to get to the Italian Garden. The Italian Garden was beautiful not just because of the physical beauty (which was bountiful, with fountains and white stone) but also the meaning behind the garden. Prince Albert had it constructed for Queen Victoria as a testament to their love.  My friend Austin and I decided that this would be perfect place to be proposed to. Or married. Or both. Or, I don't know, just having a bench dedicated there in my honor. Anything having to do with this garden would be considered romantic.

After Hyde Park, we started the rather long trek to the London Euston station. We did, however, stop off to visit The World's Most Famous Address. No, not Downing Street, 221b Baker Street. I was really excited about visit Sherlock Holmes's fictional address because I find the Sherlock Holmes stories fascinating. When you think about how popular crime dramas and crime novels are today, you have to realize how ahead of his time Arthur Conan Doyle was. Although the Sherlock Holmes Museum claim the address 221b Baker, it's actually located around 235 Baker Street. However, 221 did not exist when Doyle wrote about it, and the actual 221b is an office space so the fake 221b is about as close as we'll get.

Although there is a museum there, we didn't have time to go in, but there was a gift shop (shocker) where they sold all kinds of Sherlock related things. Can't miss an opportunity to capitalize on someone else's genius, right?  I purchased a button for my bag. They also had these business card with a map to the museum on the back, but the front looked like an actual Sherlock Holmes business card. This was a really cool (and free) souvenir.

It was then off to lunch and then the train station to the Harry Potter Studio Tour. We found the station without any troubles and got the tour on time. After the tour we took the train back to London, had lunch in the train station (Burger King, actually) and then set off to figure out how to take the tube back to London Paddington. Now, Euston and Paddington are connected, but in a really roundabout way (going all the way around Zone 1 even though they're only about 2.5 miles apart) making the journey 40 minutes.

To avoid this time waster, we decided to discover how best to get to Paddington by switching lines at another tube station. We found a route we thought would work and went to purchase tickets. Of course the ticket machines we go to don't accept our American debit/cards and don't take cash, so we have to wait in line to buy tickets from a ticket window. As annoying as it seemed, it was actually a blessing in disguise. The very nice woman behind the counter showed us the proper way to get to Paddington which was good because something tells me our route wouldn't have worked out too well. And her route got us to Paddington in more than enough time to catch the train we wanted to take so this was an instance in which it was good we didn't decide to be super independent and figure it out on our own.

 I think this is where most people's confusion/frustration with the Tube comes from--they try to figure things out on their own while at the same time are unable to understand the symbols or traffic patterns. In the end, it's just easier to stop and ask for help every once in a while. I do have one major bone to pick with the Tube--£4.30 for a single trip only 2 miles away? Really? On the DC metro I can get from outside the city into the heart of DC for less than that. With a fixed rate, I guess Tube travel is best for longer distances to make your money worth it, or if you have an Oyster card. We know that now, and will adjust accordingly for the future. We got back to our flat by 10pm exhausted from an awesome day in London. Below are some more pictures from my time in London:

And check back soon for my post about the Harry Potter Studio Tour!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sorry (Said in a British Accent)

I'm so sorry that my blog posts have been a little MIA lately. Classes have started and I've been doing all the crazy reading and preparing for assessments and such. Also, I'm taking a travel writing class in which I have to keep another blog about my time here in England. I will be keeping this blog up, using some of the things I post on my other blog as well as content written just for this blog.

This second blog is written for class and contains a lot more description and reflection about the things I'm doing and experiencing. But I will warn you--the posts are almost always over a thousand words, usually much more, so read at your own risk (what can I say, I tend to write as much as I talk).

In this blog you'll find more detailed posts about my travels including train travel, the hostel in Scotland, a rant or two and more.

If you'd like to take a look, go ahead: www.acstravelfirsts.blogspot.co.uk

I'll be posting to this blog about London very soon, and another about the Harry Potter tour in a few days so be on the lookout for that!

Hope everyone is enjoying the beginning of autumn x

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Scotch Whiskey and Elephants

I love trains. If I've learned anything from this trip to Scotland it's that. For starters, they're so easy. As long as you have a ticket already, you just show up and hop right onto the train--no baggage check, no TSA, not even a ticket desk. They handle all of the time consuming administrative stuff--ticket checking, emergency information and announcements--after the train has left the station and your journey has begun. So much better than going through security and getting to the airport eons in advance. Also, my friends and I have a BritRail pass that allow us 8 days of unlimited travel within Great Britain (Scotland, Wales and England) so we don't even have to buy tickets.

But anyways, our six hour train trip to Edinburgh, Scotland was very calming and I found myself journaling for much of it. I will admit that everytime the man came by with the cart of food, I wanted him to say "Anything from the trolley dears?" but alas, I'm not Harry Potter and our train was not bound for Hogwarts. A girl can dream though, right? (And actually, JK Rowling based Hogwarts on a school in Edinburgh, so close enough, really. But more on JK Rowling later.)

We got to Edinburgh on Saturday in one piece, which we were all pretty pleased with as this was our first out of country trip. We arrived around 2PM and checked into our hostel, which was called the Caledonian Backpackers. Libby had actually stayed there in June when she visited Scotland, and it was really nice--much nicer than I was expecting, so I was pleasantly surprised. The bed was comfortable, there was WiFi everywhere and there was a bar/lounge area to hang out in. And free breakfast, which was awesome as well.

But back to Saturday. We had a list of things we wanted to do in Edinburgh, and one of those things was the Royal Botanical Gardens. Saturday was a really beautiful day, and it was supposed to rain the next day, so we decided to go the gardens on Saturday because let's be real, gardens in the rain would not be any fun at all. The Botanical Gardens were breathtaking--much cooler than I was expecting. To start, they are massive! There are so many parts and different types of plants and shrubbery. My favorite part was definitely the Queen Mother Garden, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth's mother. She was actually Scottish and there was a very interesting structure lined on the inside with sea shells at the back of the garden. The picture to the right is of me, Caitlin and Austin in that structure.

The walk to the Royal Botanic Gardens was pretty long, tiring and hard on our feet, so we were starving by the time we got back to our hostel. We ended up eating at Wannaburger, an extremely Americanized burger joint next to our hostel. They actually listed fries as fries on the menu (as opposed to chips), had as a drink option "American Style Lemonade" and even had on the menu "American Pancakes" complete with maple syrup. I was beginning to wonder if they even knew what maple syrup was here, so it was reassuring to know that they've at least heard of it. The meal was delicious, but that might have been because we were famished.

The next day we got an early start because we had so much we wanted to do. We started the day with a Choral Matins service at St John's Episcopal Church which, very conveniently, was practically across the street from our hostel. It was a very beautiful Morning Prayer service filled with music. It's amazing how the local neighborhood church in the UK can be so beautiful. The architecture looked a lot like the cathedrals of Salisbury and Chartres that we study in art classes. I unfortunately couldn't get more than this one picture before I had to put my camera away. But it really was a beautiful church.

Then it was off to the National Museum of Scotland, which had literally so much to see you could spend days in there. We learned a little about Scottish history, saw a T-rex and visited an exhibition about changing technological fads. Truly, this museum covers anything and everything.

After that we had lunch at the Elephant House. I don't know how they were able to collect so much elephant related decorations, books nicknacks! This is also where JK Rowling famously wrote the first Harry Potter book on a napkin. It's become almost a pilgrimage for Harry Potter fans to go the Elephant House and write on the wall of the bathroom. Literally the entire wall of the bathroom is covered in messages like the one below. I even added my own message, but that's for me to know, and you to only find out if you visit the Elephant House and investigate for yourself.
I actually learned that JK Rowling based Hogwarts on a local school in Edinburgh (so, that makes Edinburgh Hogsmeade and the train I took the Hogwarts Express, right?) She would look out the window of the Elephant House at George Heriot School and write all about the majesty and beauty of Hogwarts. It's impossible to go to the Elephant House without feeling awestruck and a little bit inspired. 

After lunch we went to the Scotch Whiskey Experience. Why we decided to do this, I'm not entirely sure, but it actually was really interesting. And I learned that Whiskey is pretty terrible, even if it costs $200 a bottle. I also learned all about how whiskey is made, the different types of whiskey based on in what part of Scotland they are made (apparently some taste slightly fruity and some taste like vanilla but I don't think these supposed tastes actually exist) and then we got to try some whiskey. I tried the Speyside variety (the one that was supposed to be fruit-esq) and it was actually terrible. Like seriously, so bad. Throat burning, face twisting, cough inducing bad. Don't let the smile on my face in the picture to the left fool you, trying the actual whiskey was not enjoyable. After trying it, I just really wanted some water, which they had pitchers of. But I didn't have a glass to use, because there was still whiskey in my glass. So I downed my glass of whiskey (just as bad the second time) and got myself some water. Only after I killed the glass did Libby inform me that there was a bucket you could pour it in if you didn't want any more. Good looking out Libby (not). 

Another really interesting thing was the room we tried our whiskey in which was covered floor to ceiling with bottles of whiskey. None of them have ever been opened, but a number are less than full because the whiskey evaporates with time, which I thought was really interesting. The picture to the right is of the oldest bottles in the collection (c. 1897 and 1904) and as you can see, a lot of whiskey has evaporated. That just blows my mind. Basically, if this collection exists for another 500 years, it will be just a collection of empty bottles. Crazy. 

After the Scotch Whiskey Experience we went to Camera Obscura, a museum of optical illusions. What has really interesting about Camera Obscura was the actual camera obscura--a dark room at the top of the building that, using lenses and mirrors, allows the operator to reflect onto a screen what is going on outside. This particular camera obscura showed the Edinburgh skyline and it was really beautiful. The rest of the museum was really fun too, including holographs, visual illusions, shadow pictures and more. It was a silly follow up to the more grown up whiskey tour.

By the time we were done at the Camera Obscura, it was nearly 5 so we headed back to the hostel via a park running parallel to Princes Street which was really pretty because it was extremely nice out at that moment. We rested at the hostel for a while before going to lunch at a pub called the Amber Rose. I had a delicious pepper and lemon chicken from the Pub Favorites menu. Although this doesn't seem that adventurous, for me it was and I was glad I tried it.

The next day was devoted to traveling back to Oxford and we actually traveled along the coast for a while which was cool and extremely beautiful. Sometimes I forget we're on a massive island!

So, Edinburgh was an immense success--I nice blend of adventure, beauty, fun and history. Below is a slideshow of some of my favorite pictures. Enjoy!