An Alp-tastic Weekend

An Alp-tastic Weekend


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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24 Hour Whirlwind: Getting to Glasgow

One of the most stressful parts of preparing to move abroad for a year was the packing and the actual travel! Suitcases and airports can be crazily overwhelming so I just wanted to go over a few things that I learned through my experience.

1) The Flight

Tickets to Europe can be EXPENSIVE. When I first started planning my trip, I had no idea how I was going to afford a $1000+ ONE WAY ticket. However, I managed to find a reasonably priced ticket just by going about my search a different way. First of all, I am a huge proponent of I’ve found that their prices are usually the best and their website is easy to navigate. They make it easy to fiddle with dates and times to find the best ticket for you. However, do be careful with Expedia. Before you book your ticket, make sure your Expedia account has all of your correct personal information. I found out the night before my flight that my information was incorrect and somehow my middle name was listed as my last name on my boarding pass. So no one every has to go through what I did to get the name changed, just double check your account info before booking.

When actually looking for tickets, I found that I was able to save hundreds of dollars just by looking at flying out of another airport. Although it can sometimes be more of a pain to make the drive to a further airport, the price difference in tickets can really be worth it! I found that instead of flying out of Pittsburgh International, flying out of Toronto airport was significantly cheaper and AirCanada runs a non-stop flight right into Glasgow. I was lucky enough to have my parents joining me for a week in Glasgow, so it was not much an issue for us to make the five-hour drive to Toronto. We even found an extremely cheap place to store the car for a week (under $50!!!) who also provided a complementary shuttle over to the airport. So moral of the story here, don’t feel locked in to flying out of your local airport. You might find a cheaper flight elsewhere, or even be able to build your own layover. So before I knew my parents would be joining me, I considered booking a cheap flight to Toronto and then another flight into Glasgow. Creating my own flight plan would have still be significantly cheaper. Being flexible could safe you quite a bit!

2) Packing

If there was one thing I was the most stressed about aside from leaving friends and family, it was the packing. I had no idea how to fit my life into two suitcases. It can be quite overwhelming, so here’s just a couple of tips for packing for Scotland in particular. You ABSOLUTELY need rain boots and a rain jacket. Don’t wait until you get there because chances are you’ll need them as soon as you arrive. However, do not try to shove those boots in your suitcase; they are way too heavy. You should definitely wear your rain boots to the airport. Not only is it an easy way to bring a heavy object without having to carry it, they also slip on and off easily for going through security. I also tried to wear my heaviest jacket and sweater to the airport to save space and weight in my suitcase(s). When I got too warm, I just tied them around my waist. I was also pretty grateful for this when it felt like subzero temperatures on the plan. Seriously though why is it always freezing on planes?? Okay moving on, also you should pack a change of clothes in your carry-on so you have something easily accessible to put on if you’re feeling grimy after the day (and night in our case) of traveling.

Okay so let’s talk about the suitcases. Remember, for the majority of airlines, your luggage can only weigh up to 50lbs, and trust me clothes can get heavy. You need to carefully consider what outfits you will be wearing. Try to pack versatile clothes that match with a lot of outfits. And no, you can’t bring 20 pairs of shoes. I tried to stick to shoes that were waterproof and good for walking. If they aren’t comfortable, leave them at home. One travel tip that really saved me while packing was rolling my clothes. I rolled everything from shirts to socks to underwear. It’s amazing how much space you can save that way. I also took small articles of clothing that I rolled (such as underwear, socks, and camis) and stuffed them into the shoes I packed. Shoes take up a lot of space, so why not fill them with stuff? This left me with a lot more room, although the shoes were pretty heavy!

Aside from clothes, there are a few things that you should be sure to bring and others that can stay at home. Most importantly, make sure you have all of your documents easily accessible and in your carry-on. I needed SO much documentation to support my student visa, so I found it better to put everything in a folder that I kept in my carry-on. And please, please, PLEASE, if you’re told to print paperwork and show it to the immigration officer, DO IT. While entering the UK, I was shocked at some of the students that only had their passports and none of the documentation the schools provide. Some things that you should leave at home are any personal hygiene product. I only brought travel sized shampoo, conditioner, etc. to get me through the first day or so. All of those products take up precious weight in your luggage and are all easy to purchase when you arrive. Also, don’t bother bringing electronics like a hair dryer or straightener. They won’t work here even on an adapter because of the voltage difference. I was able to find a cheap curling iron at Sally Beauty and a reasonable hair dryer at Boots Pharmacy once I got here. Also just food for thought, it rains almost everyday here, so hair dryers and curling irons/straighteners are pretty useless.

Finally, don’t forget to bring a little of home with you. I chose to stay in university accommodation, so my room is pretty stark. I printed out pictures of friends and family before I left so I had something to decorate my space. Being away from home is hard enough, so you need to find a way to make your dorm have a little slice of home.


Well that’s just a few things to keep in mind. Soon I’ll talk about my first impressions of Glasgow and what I’ve learned so far!