Wednesday, 24 March 2010

How the Scots Came Before the Chicken and the Egg

This past weekend two roommates and myself took off for an adventure in Scotland. After a 4 1/2 hour train ride we walked to our hostel in Edinburgh with the 40 people we would be spending the next two days with and our Scottish kilt-wearing tour guide Willy. We were only able to spend half a day in Edinburgh, but it is a much cooler city then expected. After a walking tour we quickly discovered that the Scottish are obsessed with witches and ghosts. We also attempted to adjust to Willy's accent. In a past tour group Willy talked about the hanging of witches from a church. One of the tourists asked why they hung cheese from the side of a church. Naturally, after learning about the haunted streets of Edinburgh and having a fulfilling (non-traditional) Scottish dinner, we joined a late-night which walking tour. During the tour a wide-eyed Scottish woman told us several legends (?) of mysterious happenings on the streets of Edinburgh then took us to the underground vaults - which are only lit by very few candles - and told us about the ghosts that haunt them. Overall, we did not get to see much of Edinburgh and it is a city I would like to go back to at some point.

The next morning we left for the Highlands on our coach, which gave us all many chances to get to know each other better. We spent about half the day driving through the Highlands and at one point passed by one small, lone, white house between two peaks. Willy told us that a few years ago Bill gates wrote out a blank check to the man who lived in it. The man told Bill Gates he didn't have enough money. Our first stop was at the Stirling Castle. We did not get to spend too much time here but did get to adventure on our own around the grounds. We did learn about Willy's take on Braveheart and William Wallace who is not the real Braveheart (the King Robert the Bruce who just killed people to prove he could be King is). Our next stop was at the
Clansman Centre at the edge Loch Ness in Fort Augustus - supposedly one of the biggest towns in the Highlands (the joke is that it was really small) - and learned about the history of theClansman in the Highlands. Besides the actual traditional house, clothing, and weapon demonstration an interesting part of this specific historical site is the first place people who are making films about Scotland go to for facts. Madonna and Guy Ritchie also had them at their wedding reception doing demonstrations. Next we drove along Loch Ness - this is the one place I really wish we would have spend more time at -leading up to Inverness, the city we stayed at the second night. We ended up - after dealing with the hostel that lost of reservation (for 44 people) - at a pub with live music.

On our last day we went to the Culloden Battlefield where Willy led us off the path and marched us through the march-y, weed-y full-lengh of the battlefield. This would have been fine if he would have warned us. Many people were wearing light tennis shoes and even flats. And
most of us were on our last pair of socks. To sum this up, many people were very unhappy about this part of the weekend. After taking us back onto a path Willy talked about the battle (and added in his family connection) and basically said, at the end, that without this battle - which after a long confusing explanation seems like the Highlanders lost to the Brits and some of their own men (?) - the world would be completely different and we would all be speaking German. At this point in the weekend I decided not to ask questions. Our last stop before heading back to the train station was a bit of a nature walk but there was a path and waterfall involved so I loved it!

In general, I learned the Scottish are very proud of their history. VERY. I'm pretty sure they take credit for things that people do who have Scottish heritage but are not actually from Scotland. It was basically said a few times that without the Scots the world would not be where it is today. We also learned in class yesterday the one of the many delightful classmates we had the pleasure to go on the trip with feel in love with Willy. At the end of the day I solved the riddle, the Scots came first, and they would probably hear the tree fall even if they weren't in the forest. Other then that, the land is amazing and probably even more so in the summer. I have decided not to go on anymore tour groups. Not my thing.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Operation: Spaghetti

A little over a week ago I (along with four roommates and one boyfriend) got up at about 5 am and caught a plane to Venice to kick-off our mid-semester break. After arriving in Venice we had a bit of a journey to our B&B, which must have been difficult from the realization that almost no one speaks english in Italy. But we did learn how to use public transportation (in which paying seemed to be optional) very quickly. After getting to
the B&B, which was a short bus ride away from Venice yet in the middle of the Italy country side, we walked to our first, as well as a very important, Italian experience. Food. Basically, in Italy, every ristorante is like an overly decorated Italian themed restaurant in the US, but there is nothing wrong with the pizza-pasta-gilatto diet we went on for the week. We spent a day in Venice which included a water taxi to Murano - an island known for glass blowing - and Lido which is known for its topless beach, although being late almost March there were few people on the beach - most with jackets on. The next morning we took a train to Florence and almost immediately went to see The David, which was more amazing in person to see then I thought. The next day we decided to take a day trip to Pisa (we had heard something about a tower there that might lean or something) and walked around the college town. We were thinking you could no longer climb the tower but quickly realized this was not true and paid the €15 to do the once-in-a-liftetime Leaning Tower of Pisa climb. Later in the day, back in Florence, we hiked around MichaelAngelo square and back to our hostel - in which we were lucky to meet the owner, Giuseppe, who connected us to a very centrally located hostel in Rome. After arriving in Rome we walked about 10 minutes from our hostel to the Colosseum, where we learned that Romans are constantly trying to make money in anyway possible. Some men dressed as accent Romans started putting helmets on our heads and fake swords in our hands and, being the stereotypical oblivious Americans that we are, just started taking pictures with them. Turned out to be €5 each. The next morning we woke up really early to catch our tour bus to Naples and Pompeii. Naples, as we had been warned by a CAPA teacher and quickly found out on our own, is not really a hot tourist spot. Nor is it the type of place anyone would really want to vacation in. Unless you like dirty port cities run by the mafia. Luckily we did not stay there long and spent a few hours in Pompeii, which was really amazing to see. The next day, our last day, we spent walking around Rome, including a morning at Vatican City. We walked up 512 stairs to the top of the tallest dome in St. Peter's Cathedral and saw an amazing view of Rome. Overall, between the last day in Rome and our day in Pisa/Florence, we had worked off all of the spaghetti, pizza, and gilatto we had been eating all week. Almost. On the day we left it was pouring rain in Rome and when we arrived in London, up until right now, it has been blue skies.