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!

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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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A Weekend in Dublin

A Weekend in Dublin

So I had the chance to spend a weekend in Dublin last week to watch my friend run a half-marathon. It’s always nice to go back to a city you’ve already been to. You don’t feel pressured to do all the touristy things and can relax a bit. Sometimes you even see things you’ve never seen before!

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This is Sam. She’s a beast. She ran a half marathon AND dropped her time.

My friend started her race REALLY early, so we walked to the starting line and then I started walking to the finish so I could get there before she finished. Along the way I got some pretty amazing sites of the morning along the River Liffey.

The race ended in Phoenix Park which was an area of Dublin I hadn’t been to before. It was really lovely with large green areas and beautiful flower beds.

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The rest of our weekend was mostly about food and good beer! We went to the oldest

2017-08-12 14.32.11pub in Ireland which is called the Brazen Head. We also got some amazing Shepherd’s pie at a pub called the Hairy Lemon. We mostly went for the name but the food turned out to be amazing! As was the Irish Coffee. We also found a really quiet, small craft beer bar right across the street from City Hall called the Underdog. If you’re ever in Dublin, check it out!

 

Almost too soon, it was time to head back to Glasgow and back to writing our dissertations. We made one final stop at the Cake Cafe off of Camden street before catching the bus to the airport. I really glad to make it to this cafe because I tried to with my parents back in April but it had been closed for Easter weekend! It was well worth the wait though, I had the most amazing granola.

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Until next time Ireland! I can’t wait to be back and see more of the countryside.

A Bute Excursion

A Bute Excursion

Our friend’s birthday was in June and we were struggling to think of somewhere fun, but affordable to go to. We decided that a day out to one of the Isles would be a great day trip! We left early in the morning to start our long trip to the Isle of Bute. First we took a train from Glasgow to Wemyss Bay

The morning seemed a bit dreary, but we persevered! We then took a ferry from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. Unfortunately it was so windy and rainy on the ferry that I didn’t manage to get any good pictures! Once we got into town, we took a walk around the castle and through the village. We walked all the way up a hill to get a good view of the island.

Our walk left us quite famished so we stopped in town to get the BEST FISH AND CHIPS EVER. But seriously it was so good. Amazing the difference when they use fresh fish! As we were sitting outside eating, the sun suddenly decided to come out! We grabbed an open top bus tour that took us all around the island. We saw some amazing sights!

After the tour, we settled in at a small brewery to have a pint before heading back home. All in all, it was a great way to celebrate a birthday!

April Travels, Pt.2

April Travels, Pt.2

Okay okay I know it’s way past April now, but I’ve had a lot to do! Between all of this traveling, I’ve been writing a dissertation (in case anyone forgot that I was actually going to school, not just exploring the UK). BUT although it’s several months later, I just wanted to post a couple of fun things I did at the end of April!

I had a few days after my parents left to catch my breath before my next visitor came: my boyfriend. Since it was his first time in Scotland, we spent a lot more time exploring Glasgow and I got to show him all of my favorite hangouts. We also took two small trips, one weekend in Edinburgh and then a day trip to the Lochs.

We had a blast in Edinburgh, especially because the weather was amazing. Since I had

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the BF insisted on this pic of  out of place artillery
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Insider’s view of the Castle

just been there two weeks before with my parents, I became our amateur tour guide. I took us all around my favorite spots around the city telling him some of the quirky stories about Edinburgh that I’ve learned over the past year. One of the best things about our first day in Edinburgh was that we scored FREE tickets to the Castle! We hadn’t intended to go inside because it’s a bit pricey, but we just got as close as we could when this lady (MVP of the trip) asked if we wanted her extra tickets. Um heck yes! SOOO we got to spend the afternoon exploring the Castle and getting awesome views of the city. Also the Castle sports some pretty awesome museums. Definitely worth a visit.

The next day we explored a bit further outside of the city which meant we did a TON of walking. We got up early(ish) and heading out to find a full Scottish breakfast because we needed our strength for the day! Our first task: to climb Arthur’s seat. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day for the hike. It never ceases to amaze me how gorgeous Scotland is when the sun finally comes out!

We climbed back down the far side of the hill and walking through the small town of Duddingston, taking a small break at the wildlife reserve. There were a bunch of wild birds, like grouse, ducks and swans (I kept my eyes on the swans; those guys are shady).

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Dean Village

Then we walked back towards Edinburgh University and along Lothian road. I had read about the village of Dean in some travel blogs about Edinburgh and wanted to see the little town for myself. So we continued to walk that was until we reached the river Leith. The town was beautiful as promised and we took the Leith walkway until we reached Stockbridge. By this point, coffee and ice cream was much needed. After resting, we continued towards New Town, stopping along the way to see statues and houses of famous scientists. Finally we ended our long day with pleasant stroll through the Princes Street Gardens and went off to have a much deserved dinner and rest at my favorite Edinburgh restaurant, The Hanging Bat (honestly it’s awesome, mostly because it has a ton of beer on tap!)

On our last day in Edinburgh, we started out with the best breakfast at Cafe Class. Seriously it was incredible. Then we moseyed through the city for one last look around. We looked went down to Holyrood Palace and walked back up behind the Royal Mile,

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Awesome view from one of the cemeteries

checking out some of the old cemeteries along. Probably sounds strange, but we’ve always had a weird fascination with cemeteries especially here in Scotland because they have such huge gravestones and mausoleums. Finally it was time to head back to Glasgow.

We spent the rest of the week checking out all of the museums, breweries, and sites that Glasgow has to offer. The BF particularly like the Necropolis, except for the part where it started hailing. The days went by way too fast, but we had something fun planned for his last day in Scotland. We booked a small bus tour that went up through Loch Lomond National Park, Inveray,  Oban, Glencoe and various castles along the way. We saw so many amazing places along the way. We were both so glad to have gotten a little taste of the highlands.

 

At the very end of the day, just when we were starting to get sad that our time together was almost up, we saw the most amazing rainbow outside. It was just a perfect little reminder of how happy our trip had been. I’m so lucky to have gotten time, as short as it was, with my partner in crime.

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Scottish History at Bannockburn

So it’s the first of March and I can’t believe that by the end of this month I will be finished with my postgraduate classes! This semester has been incredibly busy, hence the lack of blog posts about fun things. I have one class plus rollover assignments from last semester (long story), a work placement twice a week, and then volunteering on the side, in addition to getting started on my dissertation. So I’ve been a pretty busy gal juggling all of those! On the bright side, I really enjoy the variety in my schedule and the different people I get to meet. My work placement is working with business archives, which is something completely new to me! But I’m learning some pretty helpful skills with digitization, cataloging, and archival research. I’m also volunteering with an archaeological society in a small town outside of Glasgow. I’ve been helping the volunteers to repackage and catalogue their HUGE collection of Roman artifacts that have been gathered over a number of years going field surveying. It completely blows my mind that people are able to just go walking in their backyards and find ancient artifacts. So different from the archaeological record. And yes people, the Romans did make it as far as Scotland. They actually went beyond Hadrian’s Wall and built another wall along the central belt in Scotland and called it the Antonine Wall. Yay for history lessons!

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Since we’re on the topic of history lessons, I wanna tell you about my fun day trip to the site of the Battle of Bannockburn. If you have no idea idea what (or where) Bannockburn is, that’s completely okay because I wasn’t sure either. I only signed up for the trip as a chance to get out of Glasgow for the day and see a heritage site. Thankfully my Scottish friends helpfully enlightened me on some Scottish history. So Bannockburn is the site of the pivotal battle for Scottish Independence in 1314 when Robert the Bruce defeated English lead by King Edward II near Stirling castle. It’s not Braveheart, my friends were quick to mention. A good movie, though it’s just three hours of historic inaccuracies. So sorry, no William Wallace at Bannockburn.

The visitor center sits on the campsite of the Scottish warriors, not actually on the battlefield because, truthfully, they aren’t exactly sure where it all went down, though they have rough estimates. The visitor center for the Battle of Bannockburn Experience is a really unique, high-tech way of presenting history to visitors. The main attraction is an in-depth 3-D movie experience that takes you through the key figures and weaponry and war tactics utilized at the battle. Then you move into the battle room where you watch the battle from a bird’s eye view, with a staff member energetically narrative. Then comes the fun part: you are split into two groups, the Scots and the English, and get to face off in battle! The point isn’t to reenact the actual battle, but rather to work as a team to move your armies against the other team to defend Stirling Castle. This part was actually a lot of fun and thankfully my team (the Scots) came out victorious, almost just barely. After a while in the dark room of the 3-D experience, we took some time to look at replicas of medieval weapons and clothing. I, of course, had to get decked out in full garb. I even put on a chain mail shirt, though I definitely needed help. That thing was easily 30 pounds!

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Finally, after a long day, we were able to head outside to get a view of the Robert the Bruce statue and ceremonial area. It was gloriously sunny out, though a wee bit chilly. All in all, my trip to Bannockburn was really fun and I learned a lot! It also got my travel bug itching to see more of Scotland!

Bonus: yesterday was Marti Gras, or as the Brits call it Pancake Tuesday! Pancakes here are kinda gross. They sell them premade in stores and they are usually eaten with lemon juice and butter. ick. But my friends and I managed to find American pancakes at a little New York-style cafe. And of course we had to wash them done with milkshakes. I think pancake day is my new favorite tradition!

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4 Cities, 7 Days

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.

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Back view of Hallgrímskirkja
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Inside of the church
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Famous Church in the center of town
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View from the top of the church
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Dusk in the harbor
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Christmas inside Harpa concert hall
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Architecture in the concert hall

 

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!20161227_000859701_ios