Sunday, April 3, 2016

Loch-This-Way. Talk-This-Way.

The Scottish Highlands are incredible.

Recently, I went on a weekend trip up to my University’s outdoor activity centre (and not center, by the way), sitting right on the waters of Loch Tay.  I didn’t know what to expect from the weekend except maybe some kayaking and a typical walk along the lake, but I was excited to get out of the city for a bit.

Well, we got out Friday night, and I soon learned I had been dead wrong in my expectations of an average place.  It was dark when we pulled up to the centre, but we could see the vast, black waters illuminated by the moon and stars, and two snowy peaks breaking into the dark sky across the loch.  You could tell in the quiet darkness already, this place was beautiful.

We woke up Saturday morning to breakfast in a window-walled room, with a 180 degree view of the loch and mountains.  The scenery, together with the full Scottish breakfast, quickly gave us energy for the day.

After breakfast we geared up for a 9 mile hike led by the centre’s guides.  We drove a couple miles and stopped at a simple dirt road, which we could see started through some trees.  I thought, “Cool, looks nice.”  A mile or two in, though, and we were following along the base of a small mountain, out of the trees, walking between flocks of sheep.  The weather was perfect – easily the best day of the semester, at 50 degrees and sunny.  More snowy peaks came into view, and some small streams ran across our trail.  The terrain rolled vibrant green and full of rocks... It was what you’d imagine of the highlands, but better.

My eyes were so busy looking out at the landscape that soon enough it was my legs that told me I was gaining elevation.  We were pushing onward up the glen, and the more we went up, the more snow there was on the ground.  As we made the final climb over the pass, some struggled to keep their feet on ice patches, while others left deep holes for footsteps.  Soon we were looking down from the top, though, relieving our eyes from the reflective sunlit snow to gaze at the familiar green again.  We had lunch by a frozen pond before heading down the other side, and I was astounded as always by how delicious a simple sandwich tastes after a trek in the sun.

Back at the centre that night, we had a full Burns Night celebration, with haggis for supper and a traditional ceilidh dance to top things off.  One of my favourite parts was the piper, Duncan, who had just returned from his bagpipe tour of Canada.  We had been warned that he was brilliant, but once again, my expectations were outdone. I’d never heard anyone shred, yes shred on the pipes like this man, his fingers blurring with motion like a kilted Jimi Hendrix.  This was the perfect end to a day in the highlands.

Sunday morning I went mountain biking along the lake, filling my lungs with the crisp morning air.  At one point, I came fast around a corner and startled a dozen cows that were chilling on the dirt road just 50 feet ahead.  They took off running in front of me, a blend of black, white, and red between two fields of grass.  I laughed and hit the brakes, and just as I slowed down I noticed standing stones in the mist-covered field to my left.  Here was a miniature Stonehenge (3000-4000 years old, I later found out) just sitting casually on this farm, casting long shadows in the morning light.

Looking back on that weekend now, I don’t know how I could have gotten any more of Scotland in two days.   As I reluctantly boarded the bus back to Edinburgh, I knew I had to return to the highlands this semester.  In the meantime, see a few photos from the weekend below, and check back in a few weeks for some travels even farther!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A Week in Central Europe

Hallo!  Me again.  Sorry that I haven't posted anything new in a couple weeks - I know you have been anxiously awaiting this moment.  But I hope you will excuse me, as I was off in central Europe for a week, and then catching up on classwork when I got back.  More specifically, I went to Poland, The Czech Republic, and Germany.  

In reparation for not posting sooner, I took a few photos in each city just for you.  See them below and, if any make you curious or happy or sick... or anything in between, I would love to hear it!  Feel free to use the comments section below.


The first city I went to with my friends Jake and Josh was Krakow, Poland.  Definitely the most foreign place I had ever been -  a gray, yet endearing old medieval city, with a sometimes rough appearance but an old-fashioned, kind interior.  The pierogis were scrumptious, the wodka strong, and the churches beautifully reverent.  A home to Jewish and Catholic culture, and the former home of St. John Paul II, I felt in the city's people a strong sense of tradition.

We also took a day trip from Krakow to Auschwitz, which was challenging and surreal, but an opportunity we were glad we took.  There, the biggest blessing for me was seeing the starvation cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe died, having offering his own life for another prisoner's.

A horse-drawn carriage in the largest medieval square in Europe

Finding color in a city of gray

Kazimierz Jewish District

Auschwitz II - Birkenau

The desolation of this place could not be captured


Our next stop for the week was quite a transition.  Prague, the capital of The Czech Republic, was easily the most colorful city I've ever seen, and perhaps the most beautiful.  Honestly, it was hard to put my camera away in this place, where every street was something to stop and admire.  A charming, slow-paced city with a magical, almost Disney feel to it - complete with the excessive number of visitors.  The first day it snowed and the second day was bright blue and clear.  Both were perfect, but you will see that most of my photos below are from the second.

Another great city square

The Vltava River, with the Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral to the right
The Charles Bridge
The Lennon Wall
Just a normal street in Prague
These trdelnik vendors were everywhere. I had a few too many of these pastries.

The Havelske Trziste Market
The Charles Bridge (and St. Vitus Cathedral) at night

Special thanks to my friend, the bubble street performer, for this one.


Finally, we ended the week in Berlin, where we met up with an old friend (see below).  Three days were not enough to see this booming city, but what we got to see and do were all a good time.  I especially enjoyed all of the architecture, and getting to use my elementary German in conversation.  The historical character of this place ran deep as well, not unlike the other cities.

The Reichstag parliament building

Museum Island

The Brandenburg Gate

The Berlin Cathedral and the Fernsehturm
Our last night of the trip, enjoying craft beer in Berlin

Well, I appreciate you making it this far in the long post!  That's all I got for now, though.  Stay tuned for more from Scotland, and maybe even some more trips coming up.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Temporary Home in Edinburgh

Hello again!  Today I'm going to share a bit about my first month in Edinburgh.  Hard to believe it's been over a month here, and that I'm exactly halfway through my lectures, but I guess time flies when you're having fun.

Edinburgh's been a great city so far. As the capital of Scotland, there's a lot going on and a lot of cool people from all over!  The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1582, is integrated into the city, with lecture halls and housing spread throughout.  To illustrate, some of my classes are 2 miles apart, and my nearest class is a mile from my dorm..  Which means I get to walk a lot more than I did on my small, enclosed university campus in the states (Though I try to catch buses when possible!).  

With 35,000 students, 15,000 of them from outside the UK, there are also a lot more strangers here at the University.  But everybody's pretty nice!  The Scotsmen, especially, are a friendly bunch.  And they also fit nearly all of the stereotypes that I expected to be inaccurate.  Men aren't ashamed of their kilts, haggis is served in every restaurant (and in every kind of dish), bagpipes can be heard from apartment windows, and the whisky flows like water.

Sunlight: Necessity or Luxury?
I'l be frank on this one - I miss the sun.  With clouds and rain being such common occurrences, I hardly get to see that great big ball in the sky anymore.  Sometimes a whole week passes by without the sight of it.

Surprisingly, however, the weather isn't that cold.  It likes to flirt with the freezing temperature, and some days can get miserable with the wind - sure.  But considering my current latitude near the arctic circle, I can't complain.  Apparently I have the ocean currents to thank for that relatively temperate climate!

Still, I can't escape some effects of being on top of the world.  Because of its latitude, even when the city is blessed with a *partly* cloudy day, it doesn't last long.  Days have been short.  And they were shortest at the beginning of the term, when the sun would peek out after 9 and start disappearing around 3 - never getting more than 40 degrees or so above the horizon.  

This has been tough as a San Diego native.  But every day gets a little longer, I plan to travel to warmer places, and by the end of the semester, Edinburgh will have a nice late night sun!

Meanwhile the Scottish scenery has not disappointed.  It's especially nice to have Holyrood Park as my backyard - a great old volcanic ridge and peak, jutting out right beside the city.  Lots of history there too - just centuries ago, it's where Scottish kings and queens grew up, prayed and played!  See some photos of it below (from two different walks).

All in all, I'm beginning to feel like a local in this place, and I'm quite alright with that.  Thanks for checkin' back, I'll post more soon!

Edinburgh Castle on the left.

We weren't the only ones with the idea of going up on a clear(ish) day.

Oh hey, welcome to my city.

Descending to the castle

Saturday, January 30, 2016

London Calling

Good afternoon from Edinburgh!
Today I am going to share an experience from earlier this month, and I hope you won't mind that it wasn't in Scotland.  See, I may be studying in Edinburgh (and attending classes here daily), but this is my first time in Europe and there's a ton of stuff I have wanted to see on this continent.  So, expect to see posts from even further abroad than I already am - my travels outside Edinburgh, outside Scotland, and eventually outside the UK.
The first of these travels I have to share is London, England.  I spent 3 days there, as a stopover on my way to Edinburgh.  It was my first experience of the UK, and of Europe in general, and though I was jet-lagged and luggage-bound, each day was full of activity.
Some recurring themes of the weekend were getting used to the new currency, having my first stay in a hostel, and enduring what seemed to be constant rain.
I got to do some incredible things, like seeing Shakespeare's As You Like It at the National Theatre, going on a 3 hour walking tour of the city, going on a pub crawl in historic Camden Town, eating some very British food, attending Mass at Westminster Cathedral, and exploring palaces, parks, cafes, monuments, & world famous stores on my own.
Some of these experiences are shown below (sorry for the poor quality - for the moment I can blame that on my phone!), though most are not.  Something about myself: I enjoy photography and I try to use it to capture moments and their respective sensations.  But I often prefer to simply enjoy a moment without taking pictures, either because doing so would lessen my own experience of it, or because a photo just wouldn't do the thing justice.
The last photos below are from my train ride to Edinburgh, which went along the east coast of Great Britain.  It was a chance to see a lot of the country and to rest before adventures started here at university.  Stay tuned to hear about some of those!