So the holidays have gotten me a bit behind! I’ve been done with my first semester for about a month now and I’m just now getting to updating the blog with my end of the year adventures!
After my last official day of class in the beginning of December, I began my crazy trip to experience Christmas in 4 different cities in 7 days.
Stop #1 – Glasgow, Scotland
First, of course, was Christmas in my new home of Glasgow. My last night in town, my friends and I ventured out to City Centre to visit the Christmas Markets in St. George and St. Enoch Squares and to see the light along Buchanan Street. With some mulled wine to keep us warm, we perused through the aisles of stalls selling candy, toys, and other holiday goodies. The lights along the shopping district on Buchanan street were really quite stunning. By the end of the evening, I was in the Christmas spirit and ready for my next adventure
Stop #2 – Reykjavik, Iceland
As a little Christmas present to myself, I decided to go to Iceland on my way home for the holidays. This trip was quite a leap of faith for myself since I had never traveled by myself before. By the end of my four days in Reykjavik, however, I was so glad that I went. I did a LOT of research before going so that I knew exactly where I was staying and what to do with my days. I ended up having a lot of fun on my own and ending up meeting some pretty cool people along the way. Although Reykjavik is pretty tiny as far as country capitals go, I always found something to do. Some of my favorite things were going to the local flea market where there are at least a hundred stalls selling everything from handmade sweaters to fermented shark meat (an Icelandic delicacy). I talked to so many people and learned how they made their crafts. One man talked to me for a while about how he carves jewelry and needles out of antler bone found on his farm. I also tasted lots of pastries and bought some amazing cinnamon scones. I even tried the fermented shark, although I don’t think I’ll be doing that again! It smelled and tasted like Clorox. Luckily right outside of the flea market was Reykjavik’s famous hot dog stand where I could eat something that smelled much more appealing. The specialty there was a hot dog with ‘everything’, which included two types of mustard, ketchup, crispy fired onions, raw onions, and a lamb-based hot dog. It was without a doubt the most delicious (and cheapest) meal I ate in Reykjavik and I’m not ashamed to say that I went back several times throughout the week.
Another of my favorite parts of the city was just walking around and exploring the sights, shops, and food. The weather was unseasonably warm during my visit (~40F) so spending the day outside wasn’t too unbearable. Whenever I got too cold, I just found a coffee shop to relax in. I loved that all of the coffee shops were laid back and encouraged you to stay as long as you wanted. Since it got dark by 330pm everyday, I did my exploring in the day light and then found a coffee shop to do homework in for the evening.
While I spent most of my time in the capital city, I splurged one day for a bus tour of the Golden Circle in the south of the country. This area is full of beautiful scenery formed by volcanic activity. It’s most famous for Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall in Icelandic) and its geysers. The first place we visited on the tour was Þingvellir National Park. This area is really interesting because of the tectonic activity. In this valley there is constant continental drift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. So basically in this national park the tectonic plates are pulling away from each other and new earth is being formed! Cool, right?! After the national park, we headed to the giant Golden Waterfall which was even bigger and more beautiful in person. Also right as we arrived at the waterfall, the skies cleared and the sun caused a double rainbow over the falls. It was an amazing site. Finally our last stop of the day was to see the geysers and hot springs. The volcanic activity in the area causes geysers that explode out of the earth every few minutes. There are also boiling springs of silica water that are so clear you can see over 30 feet deep! Plus they’re bright blue! But no swimming; the water is so hot that it would blister your skin in seconds. I was so glad that I treated myself to this bus tour. Any trip to Iceland is incomplete without going to the Golden Circle. Overall, I’m so glad I decided to travel on my own!
Stop #3 – Alexandria, VA
After my adventure in Scotland and Iceland, it was finally time to head back to the States. I was flying into Washington Dulles Airport to spend a few days in Alexandria, VA, where my other half had just moved to for work. It was so nice to finally be reunited after being apart for over 3 months. We spent a lovely weekend exploring Old Town Alexandria, which unfortunately I took no pictures of since it was dark and rainy the whole time! We did, however, have some of the best Irish food I’ve had in a while at Murphy’s Irish Pub. Mmmm shepherd’s pie…
Stop #4 – Pittsburgh, PA
Ah home sweet home. I never thought I would say I missed Pittsburgh, but truly I did. I think I missed the people more than anything. I’m so glad I was able to spend such a long time home with my family and was able to spend time with the people that matter to me. Unfortunately, my month home went too quickly and before I knew it, it was time to head back to Glasgow and start a new semester. It’s going to be a long 8 months, but I’ll have plenty to keep me busy!