An End and A Beginning

An End and A Beginning

As I write this, I’m sitting on a front porch in Virginia in the early morning with a cup of coffee. Jet lag is a pain. As I sit here, I can’t believe that my time in Glasgow has come to a close. The last few weeks felt like a race to end, but then the end came so quickly!

I’m so lucky because my last weekend in Scotland, my wonderful group of friends took a “Last Hurrah” trip into the Scottish Highlands and Isles. It was such an incredible trip! The base of our trip was that we wanted to take the Jacobite steam engine out of Fort William. If you don’t know, this steam engine is the one used in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express. It travels across the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was also featured in the HP films. This was super cool for me, not only being a huge HP nerd, but also because I always thought the beautiful scenery during the train scenes was CGI! But nope! That’s a real train and a real route through the Highlands.

So the journey starts in Fort William, so we had to take an early bus out of Glasgow to make it to this northern town. Fort William really is charming though. It sits at the foot of the Nevis mountain range and on the shores of Loch Linnhe. It is quite popular for hikers other outdoor sports! We stayed for a few hours in Fort William before taking heading to the train station for our journey.

I had never been on a steam engine before. It was so cool to hear the ‘Chug-a-chug’ of the engine as it plowed along and to smell the burning coals in the air. It felt like we had been transported back in time! Also the views along the way were incredible. I tried to take as many pictures as I could, but sometimes you just have to set the camera aside and enjoy the views. Crossing the viaduct was one of my favorite parts because it is such an ancient-looking piece of architecture and because so many hikers waved and took pictures as we went by!

 

The Jacobite Steam Engine travels all the way to the coastal town of Mallaig, which is was our home base for the weekend. Mallaig is a small fishing town and really picturesque. It is only a ferry ride away from the Isle of Skye and some smaller isles. Once we arrived, we took a short nature walk that gave us some incredible views of the docks and isles. We then got some AMAZING fish and chips and sat along the water to watch the sunset. All in all, it was a pretty incredible day.

 

The next day, we had quite an excursion planned. We got up super early to catch the ferry out to one of the smaller isles called Rúm. There’s only one ferry in the morning and one at night so we were working on a tight schedule! Rúm is a pretty small isle which only a few inhabitants. It’s beautiful landscapes though have made it popular with hikers who are willing to make the trek out to it. We spent the first part of the day getting familiar with the small town center where there is a general store, a post office, and a community center. The lady working the general store gave us some ideas for walks we could do. First we did a short nature walk around some of the farms which showed off the rugged mountains in the middle of the isle. Then we decided to take on a longer hike to the other side of the isle. The general store lady told us that there was a beautiful  sandy beach called Kilmorry that would be a perfect place to have a picnic and go swimming. It was 5 miles away, so we set off! The landscape along the hike was unbelievable. Despite how small the isle was, it has such a variable landscape. Along the hike we saw temperate rain forests, grassy farmland, sandy coasts, and rugged mountains.

 

The best part though was when we finally made it to the Kilmorry beach. I have never seen such a beautiful place in my life. And it was completely deserted. We had a blast on the beach for the afternoon. We brought a BBQ with us and had a small picnic. Then a few of the braver souls decided to go for a swim. It was freezing at first but warmed up pretty quickly in the sun.

 

We spent the rest of the day traveled back to our hostel in Mallaig and heading straight to bed after a day of hiking nearly 15 miles. The next morning it was time to pack up and take a train all the way back into Glasgow. We had to start saying goodbyes in Glasgow, but having had one last adventure together made it easier. Then, a few days later, it was time to board my flight to come back to the states.

Although this is the end for Learning Glasgow, it’s definitely not the end for Learning the World. I may have to settle down for a little while, but my year abroad was just the start of my adventures.

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An Alp-tastic Weekend

An Alp-tastic Weekend

IT’S DONE, IT’S DONE, MY DISSERTATION IS DONE!

Just like that months and months of hard work are over and I am officially finished with my master’s degree! To celebrate, I did one of my favorite things: a weekend trip!

My friend from college is doing an au pair program in the French Alps and I’ve been dying to go see her. With less than two weeks left before I go home for good, I took a long weekend to visit her. We had a blast! I got to see so many beautiful places and catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. What more could you want?!

My first stop on the trip was a 6-hour layover in Amsterdam. Since the layover was so long, I decided to check out the city for a little bit. It’s only about 12 minutes away by train and it’s super simple to get a ticket and get on board. I went pretty early in the day, so not a whole lot was open. But that was fine for me, I was more there for the sights anyway! I walked around for about 2.5 hours before heading back to the airport. If you ever have a long layover at Schiphol airport, I definitely recommend checking out the city!

After this quick jaunt, I took my second flight into Geneva, Switzerland. So my friend lives in France, but the airport in Geneva is much closer! She was wonderful enough to pick me up at the airport and then drive me to the small town of Échenevex, where her host family lives. I love when I get to visit people in other countries because you really get a much better experience and understanding of what live is actually like than when you only stay in cities. Also, I was in four different countries in one day! Crazy!

So for my first day, we went to a town about 45 minutes called Annecy. The drive was beautiful and I saw so many mountains! It was also funny because we had to drive through Switzerland to get to another town in France! Annecy was absolutely beautiful, I could see why it was one of my friend’s favorite places. It’s on a glacial lake in the Alps so the water is crystal clear. The Old Town has all the sights and feels of a classic French town. It was so lovely to get a real taste of France for the first time! We spent a lot of time walking around and then settled in on the lake with a pastry and a bottle of wine. Pure heaven.

The next day we stayed close to Échenevex and did a hike up a “small” foothill behind my friend’s house. (It still looked like a mountain to me!) It was a great hike and the view of the valley from the top was breathtaking. You could see the small French town, the city of Geneva, and the Alps including the massive peak of Mount Blanc. Despite getting a serious sunburn, I really loved this day!

IMG_2539 Finally, on my last day my friend took me around Geneva before dropping me off at the airport. She showed me the United Nations building, the huge water jet in Geneva Lake, and the Old Town. It was so nice to just wander around without a specific itinerary.

This was such a great weekend and I can’t thank my friend enough for having me for the weekend! You’re the best Linds!

Scotland in a Day

Scotland in a Day

So believe it or not, I’ve been in Scotland for almost a year and had never been to Loch Ness! Although Scotland is famous for its highland lochs (lakes), they can actually be quite difficult to get to without a car. Thankfully there are plenty of bus tours that take you from the main cities, like Glasgow or Edinburgh, to explore the Highlands! Two of my friends and I decided to splurge on Rabbie’s full-day tour of the Highlands which started in Glasgow and went all the way up to Loch Ness. It’s aptly called ‘Scotland in a Day’.

Now bus tours have their ups and down. There’s the convenience of not needing to worry about driving and directions, but you also have to abide by the driver’s timetable, which can be difficult. There were quite a few times when we wanted to stay longer in a certain place, but we were on a strict schedule! Overall, we enjoyed the tour and we really glad we were able to see some of the most famous Scottish locations.

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Loch Lomond on a grey morning 

Our day started out bright and early in Glasgow City Centre where we caught the tour bus at 7:45am. I will admit I was exactly awake at this point in the morning. Thankfully (for me anyway), our first stop was in a town called Tarbet on Loch Lomond where we got some coffee and snagged some early morning pictures of the Loch. Eve and I were able to see the hill where we did our first (and biggest) hillwalk in Luss way back in October!

It was still a bit gray and rainy when we reached our next  a brief photo stop at theRannoch Moor. Scotland is a really interesting place geographically because there is a fault line running through and the landscape changes quite suddenly as soon as you reach this point. Suddenly, there are rocky mounts and very few trees. The landscape becomes more rugged, but also more beautiful! The Rannoch Moor was an amazing place, with views of the mountain ranges and the glens and lochs.

We continued along our way to one of the most (in)famous and stunningly beautiful places in Scotland, Glencoe. Glencoe is nestled in a valley (glen) between huge mountains. Three of the mounts are known as the Three Sisters. Glencoe is one of the most beautiful places in Scotland, but it is also the site of a terrible tragedy in the late 1600’s. The story is long and complicated, as is much of Scotland’s past, but at Glencoe, clan turned upon clan, and over 80 members of the Clan MacDonald were killed by their guests from Clan Campbell. Despite happening over 300 years ago, the valley pass of Glencoe still holds a quieting sense of reverence for those that died.

We continued our trek north through Fort William and the Nevis range. Unfortunately, due to the rain and clouds, the peak of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountaintop, was hidden in the shadows. But nevertheless, we continued to see some amazing views along the lochs heading towards Loch Ness. We stopped in a town called Fort Augustus on the southern tip of Loch Ness to have a quick lunch break. We really really fascinated by the systems of locks which allows the Caledonia Canal to connect Loch Ness with Loch Oich. We even got to see the main bridge swing open so a boat could pass by!

Finally after lunch, it was time to head to our boat tour on Loch Ness! I was really excited about this part after hearing tales of Loch Ness for years. My favorite part about this Loch is the water. It look completely black! The color comes from the peat in soil, which gives it extremely low visibility. No wonder legends of a monster have endured for centuries! luckily for us, the most incredible of our boat tour was that the sun suddenly managed to break through! Scotland is always beautiful, but it practically glows when the sun is out.

All too soon, it was time to head out from Loch Ness. We drove through the quaint town of Inverness, but didn’t stop. This was the most northerly point on our trip and from there we started back down again. We drove through the beautiful Cairngorns National Park, but alas the rain returned and I couldn’t snag any pictures! Our final stop of the day was in a quaint town called Pitlochry. It was a cute town with shops and restaurants and seemed to be a popular stopping place before heading into the Highlands. We treated ourselves to some ice cream before continuing our final descent to Glasgow. We got back into town around 7:30. After nearly 12 hours, we really had seen Scotland in a day!

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