Tuesday, November 30, 2010

St Andrew's Day

Happy St Andrew's Day, all.

30 Nov is the feast day for St Andrew, and as he's the patron saint of Scotland, his day is the Scottish national day as well. Legend has it that St Regulus (aka St Rule) crashed on the east coast of Scotland at Kilrymont. He was at that time in possession of the relic bones of St Andrew, one of the original disciples of Christ. Kilrymont was renamed St Andrews in the 10th century to honor St Andrew. Fun fact: The name St Andrews is not possessive (a mistake many people make in the beginning), but instead comes from the original Scots name for the saint, Androis.

Normally, many historical sites are open for free and it's also the graduation day here at the university for students who finished their dissertations in the summer (aka all of the MLitt students). Which means that this time next year, I should be wandering around in an awesome black robe and hood feeling all accomplished.

Usually it's bustling. However, with the great Snow Dumping of '10, as I've decided to start calling the weather, most of the country is screeching to a halt. Roads are ice, sidewalks are ice and slush, and snow and sleet keep falling from the sky. Making it really rather miserable. About a third of the shops in town were closed because people couldn't get into town to open them. The university gives 30 Nov as a day off anyway, but even if it wasn't, people would've had a snow day.

I wandered around a little, thankful for my buff because the wind... oh the wind just cuts across your face.

East Sands and the Pier at St Andrews Harbor

South Street, with the Christmas decorations and Saltire banners up

St Mary's Quad

Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm not a doctor and I don't know the technical terminology, but I do know that sunshine activates our happiness glands. -- Jessi Lane Adams

I woke up today to it still snowing hard, with alternates of sleet, and having picked up what I assume is the tail end of my flatmate's cold. All coupled together means that the only time I left the flat today was to go to get tissues and orange juice.

I'd hope to share pictures of St Andrews in snow, but seeing as how standing made me dizzy? I'll leave you with something sunny from a few days ago instead.

St Andrews Harbor at Sunset

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Let It Snow

Apparently we're in the middle of the worst snow here in the UK since 1993. Which I think was a pretty bad year in the States too, so... sweet. It is one of the benefits of being able to walk everywhere -- snow can't stop me.

But we'd planned a Breakaway trip up to Trossachs today, and we made it as far as 15 minutes down the road when the alert came over the bus radio. Perth was closed. Not just a road around Perth, oh no. The entirety of Perth was closed, which meant no way (correction, no clear and open way) up into the Highlands. Nothing. Scotland, for all intents and purposes, was pretty much shut down.

So, in an attempt to salvage our trip, we turned and made our way to the one place in Fife that we knew would be close enough to get to through the snow -- Falkland and Lomond Hills. Which was where we went a couple months ago, so of course one place that I'd already been, but it was better than nothing.

And covered in snow, the Falkland Estate has a very holiday card/Narnia aspect to it. It was cold, very cold, and giant snow turning into sleet for the day, but it was fantastic to get outside and trudge around in the snow. Now, all I needed was a sled and I would've been set.

Scottish roses, why are you still blooming through the snow?

Narnia, plain and simple.

I didn't get the build a snowman, but maybe tomorrow. The BBC says that we should expect a bit more snow, even here on the coast, so we'll see. As much as it makes a mess, I'm hoping that we do. I was out of town so I didn't get to see St Andrews covered in snow, so I'd like to see that.

And just for good measure, a picture that was supposed to be a pretty smiling picture, but a huge snowball dropped from the trees and bonked me in the head just before my friend clicked the picture. So, instead of me happy and pretty, you get side-eye and glaring at the snow. Not what I was intending, but it entertains me too much to delete. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

St Andrews Festival

The big thing this weekend has been the St Andrews Festival -- three day, town-wide festival celebrating the upcoming St Andrews Day. Food, celebration, fireworks... fantastic.

Which, my favorite had to be the torchlight procession down to the harbor to watch fireworks. Imagine hundreds of people lighting torches to march down the town streets, and a pipe band leading the way to the harbor. And in no small part slightly huddled together and close to the fires to keep warm (today was centering around -2C).

But the pay off for the freezing cold walk? This gorgeous scene.

And what good is a Scottish festival without the Saltire on fun things like balloons?

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Very British Thanksgiving

As my flatmates are all non-American, none of them had had the experience of the best of American holidays before -- Thanksgiving. A day where you celebrate food. (Regardless of original reasons behind the creation, nowadays we celebrate food. Gluttony, really, but let's just go with food)

So as a good American, I made Thanksgiving dinner for us. Which was a wonderful chance to one, bring out my inner Martha Stewart, and two, to have a nice meal, with all of us together, and let me enjoy a little bit of home here across the pond.

I tend to go with simple veggies and a rotisserie chicken (it was on sale -- turkey wasn't). Although it was funny wandering around St Andrews watching the Americans in town clamor through the Tesco looking for very American ingredients or trying to come up with a UK equivalent. At that point? Just realize you're not going to make it EXACTLY like it was at home. But that's part of the fun of it!

Anyway, I was a good day. Good food, good friends, and a touch of home. I hope everyone else had as good of a day!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Craft Time

It is cold. There's no two ways about it. It is cold here. The cold, the dark, and the silence. Well... not so much silence with everyone milling about in the cold and the dark, but lists are always better in threes.

I rarely check the weather here. I can tell you already what the weather is going to be in St Andrews -- cold, windy, drizzly at points during the day. No need for me to bother with checking the weather.

But my flatmate informs me yesterday that the weather map calls for snow chances all week. Now, this doesn't shock me too much as, like I said before, it's cold.

I don't think too much of it until I'm coming back with laundry and what does it look like outside?

Snow. Snow really coming down. Huge snowflakes really coming down.

Which then makes me want to do this.

I don't care if that makes me eight -- paper snowflakes! For the windows! What better cheap winter decoration is there? And for broke postgrads, there's nothing better than cheap. Or free, as the case may be, since the previous tenant left an entire ream of printer paper.

I know I jumped the gun putting things up before Thanksgiving but... they don't celebrate Thanksgiving here, so I'm going to conveniently ignore that rule!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Night is a world lit by itself. -- Antonio Porchia

We have seven weeks off between semesters because my program doesn't have exams. I'm very happy to be spending it somewhere other than here for the following reason...

The pictures below? Taken at 4:45pm. People aren't even off of work yet, stores aren't closed, and yet it's completely and utterly night. The sun starts setting at 3:30pm and is gone long before these pictures are taken. If this is November, I can only assume what December is like.

Monday, November 22, 2010

St Leonard's Dinner

It's thankless to be a postgrad, really. You look out your window to see undergrads running around outside, making fools of themselves (I'm looking at you, Raisin Weekend), while you're cooped up inside, reading book after book that only tangentially relates to your paper/discussion/dissertation in an attempt to not sound like a fool when someone questions you about your program.

However, this can all be fixed by the wonders of free food and wine.

One of the traditions of St Andrews is the St Leonard's Dinners. St Leonard's College is the postgrad college here at the University of St Andrews and once a semester the Provost will host a formal dinner for postgrads lucky enough to get a ticket.

And by lucky enough, I mean awake early enough on a Saturday morning to send an email at a specific time in the vain hopes of getting a ticket.

Which, because they had me at free, I was indeed one of them who got her stuff in on time to get a ticket to last Wednesday's dinner. A handful of us from IPT got tickets and while I've pretty much given up on the hope that more than three IPT students can get together and have a gathering with pleasant conversation (by which is mean the American Southern definition with everyone ignoring topics that are known to cause glowering across the table) it was a fun night. An excuse to get dressed up is always appreciated.

The IPT group after dinner.

Sadly, getting tickets to this dinner means that we aren't eligible for next semester's dinner, but they did mention something about a ball...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Black Isle Brewery

On our way back from Gairloch last weekend, we decided that it would be fun to stop by one of the breweries on the way home to take a tour. And why not -- never been to a brewery before. So we stopped by Black Isle Brewery just outside of Inverness for a bit of drinking and learning.

Of course we pick the one day where they aren't actually giving tours.

So everyone else is tasting some of the goods -- me, I don't particularly like beer. So I'm happy just to enjoy the time out of the van on our way home.

But as we get ready to leave, the owner comes out going 'Are you guys from St Andrews?'

Why yes, we are indeed university students there. How can we help you, Mr Owner?

Turns out that they want to expand into St Andrews and would love suggestions on pubs we enjoy that may be a good market for them. We'd get free beer in exchange for the suggestions.

University students + free = why, of course.

So, I ended up with a free bottle just for offering town information.

And you know what? For someone who really isn't a beer fan (at all), it wasn't that bad. Totally split it when I got home, because lord knows I couldn't drink it all myself, but what I had wasn't bad. Light. Organic. Good with pizza.

I do vote distillery next time, though.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Edinburgh Castle

Friday a couple of us decided that we wanted to get out of Dodge, so tossing a dart at the stack of bus schedules gives us the wonderful destination of Edinburgh. (Which would've been even better had we picked the right bus and hadn't had to stop at every. single. corner and old folks home on our way there -- what should've been 2 hrs took over 3).

We ended up at the Scottish National Gallery (yay, art) before heading back into the cold and realizing that I was the only one of us who'd dressed for the wind and the chill and the drizzle. It's cold, windy, and rainy in Scotlad? Gadzooks! Who'd have thought it?

But after searching for a Boots and finally finding my travel companion something warm, we make our way to my main point of the trip -- Edinburgh Castle. Because lord knows I love me a castle.

You can see the castle looming over the city from most anywhere, which I think is lovely. And I think I frustrated my friend because I refused to pull out a map -- you can see the bloody thing from anywhere. To get there, just walk up the hill and you'll get there. There's only so many places that it can be.

Which, of course, I was right. Walk up the hill and you get to the Royal Mile and then to the castle.

Inside the castle, in the square between the Great Hall and facing the tower housing the Crown Jewels and the Stone of Scone.

We ended up jumping into one of the little 20 minute guided tours to introduce us to the castle before being set off to explore ourselves. The tour guide was fantastic and funny -- he gave tours like I used to when I gave them, which means facts interspersed with jokes and exaggerations. Loved it. And he had a fantastic accent to boot, which just made it all the better. I'm assuming Glasgow since a good handful of his jokes involved Rangers and Celtic.

And once we left him, it was time to explore. I'm a sucker for pretty things, so of course I want to check out jewels. I kept trying to take a picture in the 'no pictures allowed' area but the docent wouldn't turn her back. Ever. Which... yeah, way to do your job, but still. It's not like I was planning on using flash!

And the view overlooking Edinburgh was breathtaking. Especially the hill in the distance, known as Arthur's Seat. Some people say it's in reference to King Arthur, but it's more than likely just a bastardization of the Gaelic name. Either way, on a pretty day I want to walk to the top of it.

Which would be the point where I say what's next and my friend goes 'um, I know I didn't tell you before, but I need to head back into town early...'

Thanks, man.

At least on the way back we got the correct bus.

Regardless, I can't wait to go back. Next on the list for Edinburgh, the Christmas Market and more roaming around.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Breakaway: Gairloch (Day 3)

Monday was our last day in Gairloch, and as much as I love St Andrews, I really did not want to leave. Coming home means having to deal with home things again (even if it's still Reading Week -- at least being out of town meant that I had the excuse not to do work).

So with everything packed into the cars, we set out for our last walk. We had the option of low-medium, low, or extremely low. Which elicited a chuckle from the group at breakfast, but a fair number of takers because we were all exhausted.

For those of us in the low group, we went back to Loch Maree to walk around the perimeter and just enjoy a nice, simple forest walk. The most we did was climb up a rocky hill to overlook the loch and one of the islands containing trees from the ancient Caldonian pine forests that used to cover Scotland.

Loch Maree and her pretty little waves.

From our lunch-ish perch overlooking the loch and the forests.

Parting shot of Loch Maree and Beinn Eighe and all of the wonderful places we'd been that weekend.

Which meant it was time to pile into the cars and head home, passing through more snow than is appropriate as we approached Pitlochry and stopping at a brewery with free tours -- and we picked the time they weren't actually running the tours. I voted to head to the distillery just up the road outside of Inverness because I like whiskey more than beer, but was outvoted by tired people. Silly tired people.

Now I'm ready to go back out. All I need to do is scrub the boots and the gaiters, and we're back in business.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Breakaway: Gairloch (Day 2)

Sunday in Gairloch was cold. Ridiculously cold. And windy. Did I mention cold and windy? I thought that I was going to be prepared for the wind in Scotland because I grew up on the water and we had wind and cold during the winter and that was quite normal. But there was nothing that prepared me for the way that this wind and cold cuts right through whatever you have on unless it is windproof. And even then, it's wily so it can find a way under the windproof garments.

I got talked into doing another low-medium walk even though my legs were still burning from the previous day with the promise that the one today would be more indicative of a traditional low-medium walk. Fine, it's cool. The burn will feel good.

I don't remember the actual name of where we went (which means I should probably pull out a map and figure it out -- all I remember is pulling off to the side of the road and going through a sheep gate, but that doesn't exactly narrow down the choices in Scotland, does it?) but it was a lovely long rocky path with small lochs and a valley... and a lot of mud. It had snowed a bit the night before and so now the ground was alternately solid and muddy. Lovely.

The forest path before we got up to the rocky hills.

Ah, here we go.

Make sure to add a stone to the cairn as you pass.

Again with the desperate and lonely beauty of the area.

At this point the path headed down to the valley and we were given a choice. We could all go down to the valley, or a few of us could break off and go cross country to circle back to the path. Considering that the valley walk was an extra 7km, and we'd been shaking with cold as we ate lunch, and the fact that I'm pretty sure my legs could get me down into the valley, but up was another deal all together...

I opted for cross country! Which was a bit more interesting than just staying on the path. It was more solitude with the five of us who broke off and a feeling of being out in the middle of the landscape alone.

It's an interesting feeling -- that feeling of being alone in a big, wide expanse. I'm sure that some people would find it incredibly uncomfortable, but I think it's liberating. Fresh air, a chance to clear the mind, and a chance to completely ignore any problems back home for a few glorious hours (or in this case for a few days). No iPod, no constant conversation... a rare opportunity to spend a little time alone with your thoughts as you walk.

It's... uncluttered, I guess is the best way to describe it. And there are far too few times when I feel uncluttered.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Icy to Dull the Pain, Hot to Relax It Away

Newest addition to the 'Things Rebecca Never Realized Didn't Exist Outside of the US' list: IcyHot.

My weekend hiking was wonderful, scenic, hilarious, and exhausting.

And it tore. up. my. thighs.

High steps up and down a mountain are tiring when you're actually in shape, and killer when you're in 'shape'. I keep thinking to myself 'oh, I'm totally in shape, I'm doing well' until I do something like this past weekend in Gairloch and realize that holy crap my shape is not actually shape.

It was a good thing that I didn't have anything planned for today because the thighs were not having it. So while out loud I'm going to blame my lazy day on the fact that I opened my blinds and found rain and clouds and wind and general dreariness, let's not fool ourselves and give credit to muscle aches where credit is due.

The solution to muscle aches when I was at home was the glory that is IcyHot. Why decide whether you want hot or cold when the miracle of modern chemistry allows you to have both? Apparently they haven't gotten on this train here in the UK because the 30 minutes today where I was outside of my flat consisted of me in the Boots staring at the aisle, looking back and forth between the hot and cold gels near the ibuprofen wondering 'but where's the IcyHot' or at least the UK equivalent of both in one tube. It doesn't exist. The girl at the till just shook her head as I'm coming up and setting down my goods and looking despondent. How was I supposed to choose between hot or cold when I'm used to having it all?

Cold won out. If I had to choose between yelping at the cold gel or the prickly red skin that comes with warming creams, I'll just yelp and get it done with.

Of course, this also means that I look absolutely ridiculous as I wander around my flat with a sweatshirt, thick wool socks... and shorts so that the gel can dry on my thighs without getting all over pants. Yes, I realize that I have one odd area exposed and that normal people in a cold flat in cold Scotland would have on proper trousers, but it's either be warm or be less sore. The sore is winning out at the moment.

Note to self: Next time someone asks what they can put in a care package... IcyHot.

Breakaway: Gairloch (Day 1)

So, over the weekend I headed up with Breakaway to the highlands, staying in Gairloch. Totally a last minute thing, as I was the person going 'please, please if you have an extra spot I'll totally keep it warm'. Cheers for one extra seatbelt. Friday through Monday hiking and generally enjoying the outdoors. As it's Reading Week this week, I needed to get out of town and this was just what I needed.

We stayed at Carn Dearg in Gairloch and it was absolutely gorgeous. The views from the front porch of the hostel were out of this world. And on a clear day, like we were lucky enough to have for the majority of our visit, you can see the Isle of Skye across the loch.

Sunrise from the front of the hostel.

The group tends to split and offer 3-4 walks of varying difficulty and length so that everyone can enjoy a day outside at their skill level. Me? I'm a low-medium. A good walk, a bit of height for the views.

So Saturday, those in my group headed out to Beinn Eighe and Loch Maree at the National Nature Reserve to do our walk. Gorgeous, stunning... and way more high steps and vertical movement than I thought I was signing up for. By the end of the walk I am exhausted and sore... and still thrilled for the view.

On our way up, overlooking more of Beinn Eighe and Loch Maree.

The desperately beautiful landscape as we get further up the range as it evens out for a bit.

The peaks got snow overnight, and the part of our group that wanted to make it up the munro got to play in the snow. I was fine just taking a picture.

Victorious as we get to our cairn at 550m (which is in another picture, but I like standing on the rock better) and decide that it's time for lunch before beginning our descent. Which, like the ascent, was steeper than I was anticipating.

And with it being steeper both up and down my legs are exhausted by the time we make it back down to Loch Maree. But, since we finished a bit earlier than anticipated, we decided to go check out part of the beach at Loch Gairloch that the low walking group did that day.

Sunset as we walk down to the beach. This has to be one of my favorite pictures I took all weekend.

The beach and the waves and the sunset -- couldn't get better.

Oh wait, climbing up to the cliffs to overlook the crashing waves does make it even better.

Stunning -- and the best part was that there were two more days of it!

And with it getting dark at 5pm, we head back to the hostel for dinner, which consisted of a really good curry that had actual spice to it. Shocker! Most of the food I've had in the UK has been pretty spice-less. Of course, the curry was also made by our Luxembourgish club president, so perhaps that made a difference? Regardless, delicious.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Creating Cozy

I live in university housing. As with any university housing it, in general, kind of sucks. On one hand, I live in a great location, in the middle of town close to everything. On the other hand, the house is old, the walls are paper thing, the single mattress is too big for the cot bed frame, and it shakes a bit when the wind blows.

And since it's Scotland, the wind blows a lot.

The bed is at least something I'm attempting to make better. The mattress is lumpy, and it's too big for the frame that we have (which leads to a very interesting time should anyone attempt to lean over to get something off of the floor or the bed side table -- you'd be surprised at the number of *thumps* I've heard with people falling out of bed because they think they have more bed than they actually do) and it just all around sucks. And my flat is cold. The radiator runs whenever it's on, hence why we have to sleep with the bathroom door closed, so I don't turn the one on in my room. So my room is cold.

But I found a solution.

Behold the fleecy underblanket. Now, my American friends, imagine a mattress pad but with fuzzy fleece on it to put under your sheets. It's amazing the difference £10 can make. It's like sleeping on a sheep! A warm, cozy, fuzzy sheep that helps you off to dream land. Don't want to turn on the radiator, or haven't bothered to buy a hot water bottle to cozy up with? No worries! The sheep sheet will make it all worthwhile.

Argos, you aren't Target, but you'll do and you make me happy. And the best part is I can reserve online and then you're ready for me in the store. I do miss wandering through aisles, but beggars can't be choosers, right?

*snuggles in for a warm night*

Monday, November 1, 2010

Breakaway: Lomond Hills

It's amazing what a good walk in the woods will do to clear your head -- one essay done and turned in this morning, and one to go.

The good walk in the woods was on Sunday. The university has a hillwalking club, Breakaway, and I thought it was a great way to see the countryside. Since I have no car and can't really get out and about on my own *lol* Anyway, full day of hillwalking and hiking and since this was the navigation trip, learning how to use a map and compass. Which is a good thing to learn and makes you feel incredibly self-sufficient.

We went to Lomond Hills which isn't too far from St Andrews. But it was open spaces and a gorgeous day -- seriously, we couldn't have asked for a prettier day -- and it was just what I needed to clear the stress out about these papers. We did both hills and I have no idea just how many kilometers we walked in around 6-7 hrs of walking around. But it was a lot, and boy did I feel it this morning. But you know what? It's a good sore.

I ended up with a slew of gorgeous pictures of this area and I'm ridiculously excited for the next walk. There's a weekend walk this weekend, but I'm not sure that's going to happen, even if I'd love going way up into the Highlands for the beginning of Reading Week.

But I digress, pictures...

Looking back at East Lomond, the first hill we'd already gotten to the top of and down, as we made our way to West Lomond.

Feeling pretty awesome standing in front of West Lomond as we approach. I wouldn't be this smiley halfwaup up when my calves were burning like fire.

The view from the top of West Lomond looking over Fife and gorgeous Scottish landscape. I love how farms make such a pretty patchwork from the sky. It was worth the hike.

Our friends as we walked through the area.

A look back as East Lomond in the distance as we walk through more of the area to check out the forest.

The forest where they have awesome things like waterfalls...

... and tree-lined paths that make you feel like you're in the middle of a Robert Frost poem.

Finding an adorable little organic cafe after we get out of the woods and find the road down towards the village.

And after a very long day of walking, finding our way into Falkland to catch the bus back home.