Friday, May 27, 2011

Dim the Lights

I've desperately missed having a television. I hadn't realized how often I turned it on for background while cooking or puttering around until I didn't have one anymore. Unfortunately, my limited bank account didn't offer up the funds for both a new television and the tv license here (seriously, I still don't understand why I have to purchase a license in addition to the tv here just to watch...).

Which means, I have to stream it. Or find more creative ways of getting my television that only involves me and my laptop. Or a friend's laptop, if there are more than one of us since I have a small screen on mine.

The poor grad student's home theatre.

Luckily, the internet provides options not just for shows where I am (how much do I love Doctor Who? I'm still hoping to walk down the street and find a TARDIS chilling somewhere) but also for shows I miss at home. Such as Justified, which my friend Sarah and I make an event out of.

Well, as much of an event as you can make out of such an... impressive... home theatre system...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When in Doubt, Add Butter. And Bacon.

All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast.
~John Gunther

I'm not a breakfast person.

I take that back -- I love breakfast, but I am a confirmed night owl and I just am rarely up early enough to make a difference between breakfast and lunch. And I'm not usually hungry right after I wake up, so maximizing sleep before rushing out the door to work when I was working make breakfast near an impossibility.

But today, today I celebrate. For the past few weeks, I've had the darnedest time sleeping. When I get stressed, sleep eludes me, and then I'm up in the middle of the night and it's so quiet and calm, it's a shame to waste that island of calm in the middle of the storm with sleep, so everything gets off kilter and I feel even worse. And I don't get hungry. So sleep and hunger goes... not a sustainable method of living, huh?

But last night, I slept. 7.5 hours of blissful sleep -- while it was dark. At a normal sleep time. Of course, that means I woke up at 6:30 this morning, which oy, who's up at 6:30? My flatmate, but I digress. On the other hand, we have such thin walls, and she has such a pleasant alarm...

But I was up after sleeping and I decided -- I want breakfast. But not cold cereal and milk 'borrowed' from my flatmates. No, I want breakfast.

I want eggs cooked in real butter. I want bacon cooked to crispy -- or as close as I can get to crispy with the thicker cut bacon here. Seriously, streaky bacon is close to American bacon, but still cut too thick. And I want grits, that lovely taste of home. A croissant to mop up the runny egg and a delivery system for more butter.

Oh, and tea with a splash of milk. Hey, I'm in the UK -- I've developed a few British habits after all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

50 Questions Meme, Part 4

Next installment of the 50 Questions That Will Free Your Mind (questions 10-13)

10. Are you more worried about doing things right, or doing the right things?
11. You’re having lunch with three people you respect and admire. They all start criticizing a close friend of yours, not knowing she is your friend. The criticism is distasteful and unjustified. What do you do?
12. If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?
13. Would you break the law to save a loved one?

Friday, May 6, 2011


Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
~Berthold Auerbach

The St Andrews Chorus is a lovely refuge on Friday nights. No matter how bad or stressful or long the week has been, Friday night I get to sing. And I've realized it's something my soul desperately needs.

And many times I'll wonder what would've happened and what direction I would've gone if I'd studied music and tried to go professional. Different roads and all.

But this semester we are doing Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius. It's rare that we come on a piece that I haven't at least heard of in passing, but this was a new one on me. And I've determined from the recordings that I've been able to find that it's much more popular in Britain and Australia as a performance piece than in the US. Which is a shame -- the work is intricate and powerful and one that is worth a listen if people get the chance.

Break in Younger Hall, waiting for the rehearsal to start back up.

And tomorrow we'll perform it. Saturday afternoon is blocked off for the dress rehearsal and Saturday night is performance.

I love performance.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinco de Mayo

One of the banes of my existence has been the lack of good Mexican food here in St Andrews. And I feel like I can use that to speak for the UK in general. If you want Indian, the UK is great. Apparently Mexico is too far away (and what with it never being colonized by the Brits) to get good (or even adequate) Mexican food here.

But, with it being Cinco de Mayo, the most American of Mexican holidays, many of us here take it upon ourselves to do the best we can and recreate the flavors so many of us Americans are craving.

It's funny what you miss when you're half way around the world, isn't it?

Sarah and Kate making food. Mmm, homemade guacamole...

Guacamole, nachos, shrimp, black beans that were finishing up on the stove so not in the picture, and the always classic Cinco de Mayo staple -- Corona. The classiest of beers.

The bright idea to make churros. It's apparently a three person job to fill the ziploc aka piping bag.

They didn't come out quite churro shaped... but still tasty.

I could've eaten an entire bowl of Kate's guacamole. Seriously, just give me a spoon and I'd be set.

Actually, maybe I should just make that for dinner tomorrow night. No shame in doing that if no one's watching, right?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May Dip

One of the traditions here at St Andrews is the May Dip. At dawn on the morning of 1 May, students gather on a beach and run out into the North Sea. They've usually stayed up the night before, bonfires on the beach, and then stripping down and running into very cold water.

Some say it's in honour of John Honey who over a hundred years ago dove into the sea to rescue five persons who would've drowned after their boat capsized out at sea. Others say that it's the only way to remove the curse placed on undergrads if they step on the cursed PH stones on North Street. Others just think that it's a really good idea.

My intention was to stay up to do it. The reality was that I had climbed a mountain the day before and I was TIRED.

So, instead of 4:30am when everyone else was doing it, my friend Kate and I decided to wait till the more sane hour of 7am to go down to East Sands and walk into the sea. Sure, it wasn't technically right, but... sleep was good.

North Sea from East Sands on May Day.

Looking out towards the town and the Fife Coastal Path.

And honestly, I think this view was better. The sun was brilliant overhead, even at 7am. It amazes me how early the sun rises here now that we're on summer time. The water sparkled like crystal, the beach was empty save for the few other people who were doing the same thing we were, and we got the experience of the North Sea in May.

Which, if you couldn't guess, is... COLD. Seriously, there needs to be a better word than cold because it was further than cold. And I've been polar bearing in the Chesapeake Bay in December. That was cold. This was COLD. I got into the water up to mid-calf before the cold burned so much that I had to get out. I don't know how some of my friends dove in head first at 4am, although I'm gathering that alcohol, lack of sleep, and peer pressure all played pretty significant roles in that decision.

Me? I think I'll appreciate the uncrowded beach and the sunshine in my own version of the tradition.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Breakaway: Schiehallion

It's amazing how quickly this year has gone by. I hadn't realized just how quickly it was going until I realized that this was going to be my last trip with Breakaway -- really? The last one already?

Usually we split into three or four groups to go on differing level walks (from low level strolls focusing more on distance to high levels helping people bag munros). For our last walk, we all do the same one and reach the top together. Well, together within 10 or so minutes of each other -- someone has to bring up the caboose and I'll be honest, that seems to be my coveted position many days! But that's okay -- slow and steady, right? I'm usually much more of a distance person than a height person, but I'll accept the challenge.

For the last walk, the tradition is to scale Schiehallion, a munro in Perth and Kinross, because while challenging, it can be done by people of varying skill and it's a straightforward walk so almost no chance of someone getting lost if they fall behind.

A munro is a mountain in Scotland over 3000ft (914.4m). There are 283 munros in Scotland and they are named after Sir Hugo Munro, who first cataloged them. It's a popular goal for hikers to 'bag' or climb all the munros in Scotland.

Schiehallion is a munro at 3547ft (1083m).

Schiehallion is located in the area of Perth and Kinross and is considered the centre of Scotland, as well as holding its own place in history:
Schiehallion's symmetrical shape earned it a place in scientific history and discovery in the late 18th century. In 1774 the Rev Neville Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal, camped out there collecting data, with the aid of a plumb line and the stars, on the gravitational pull of the mountain. 237 measurements were taken from two stations, still discernible, on the N and S of the hill. The calculated weight of the earth was substantially correct. At the end of the season a highly successful party was held in which the surveyors' bothy burned down! Charles Hutton, during his work on the survey data, devised the concept of contour lines, so important for modern hillwalkers.

--From the John Muir Trust website, maintainers of East Schiehallion

Halfway up Schiehallion, overlooking Loch Rannoch and Rannoch Moor. And about the place where I'm wondering what the hell I've gotten myself into climbing this thing.

It's like climbing a giant cairn, it's so rocky. But I'm within sight of the top... I think. Each time I thought I was, I'd crest the peak and oh look, another stretch to go. It was a tease.

But good things come to those who persevere! From the summit of Schiehallion, and my first officially bagged munro.

Coming down seemed even steeper than going up, but instead of rocks we get an entire mountainside of heather. In about a month, this entire view will be purple.

As the last official Breakaway walk of the year, we set up camp in a sheep pasture to cook out. And I know that I should be concerned while eating lamb burgers in a sheep pasture but... I'm secure in my place on the food chain. And lamb burgers are delicious.

From there it was another 5km down the road into the next town, Kinloch Rannoch, where the bus was picking us up. By that point we were all exhausted, and I was thankful that I'd been able to borrow some sun block from one of the other girls -- with that much sunshine, and as the first really sunny walk of the year, there were more than a few splashes of red on people's faces. And I've got a stripe of red on the back of my neck from where I didn't quite get the most sunblock.

It's odd to think that was my last walk with the group. I started out the year popping into the general informational meeting because it sounded interesting and hiking was never something I'd really done before (other than the one odd hill in Iceland and meandering a bit outside back home). It sounded new and a good excuse to see more of Scotland. Turns out that fresh air is really good for my soul, and while claiming my one bagged munro isn't that impressive in the grand scheme of hillwalkers, it's a big deal for this hiking newbie. And I'm going to wear it with pride.

And now I want to do another one.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Happy Wedding Day, Wills and Kate

Happy Wedding Day for the Royalists out there, and Happy Extra Day Off for Your May Day Weekend for the Republicans.

I went over to Rachel's to watch the wedding with her flatmate Sorcha and a couple other of their friends. Man, I miss having a television. But considering my other option was to stream it on my laptop (since I didn't get a ticket to the breakfast going on in St Salvator's Quad), I'll walk the 20 minutes to their flat.

Wills whispering to his bride, 'You look beautiful'.

Walking out of Westminster Abbey.

First official kiss for TRH the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Of course, as if there was any doubt, the whole thing was beautiful (well, except for Princess Beatrice's hat/headpiece -- what on earth was that antler looking thing?) Her dress was gorgeous -- how much did I love those lace sleeves? -- and the best part was they actually seemed to be happy. They seemed to genuinely both want to be there, and genuinely happy to be there with each other. Which I think comes from them waiting, getting to know each other, being older than 20... You know, silly little things like that.

And as one of the significant locals in their love story, St Andrews was once again swamped with press. And with 6,000 people vying for the 1,500 breakfast seats to watch the livestream of the wedding on the big screen in the quad, after 1pm, they opened up the quad to everyone in town to come, listen to pipers, mingle and enjoy a beautiful day.

Mingling in the Quad.

Students and townspeople decked out in their tiaras, Union Jacks, and other assorted finery to pose for the cameras of the various news stations alternating broadcasts.

I somehow ended up in the circle for one of the BBC broadcasts with who I was told was one of the Radio One DJs... apparently for an event this big, you pull out all of your BBC employees and put them to work, normally on tv or not!

Masks were also a popular accessory -- one's the real Queen and one's a fake, can you tell which one?

As an American, I find the pomp and circumstance entertaining and so distinctly British. There is no direct correlation to something American. If they were celebrities of some ilk, they'd be trying to keep cameras away from their wedding. If they were elected officials, they would probably be too worried about election cycles to do a big wedding, and we more than likely wouldn't care. But here's someone who was given a public role by circumstance of birth, by fate. Americans don't care much for 'fate' -- but we do like a good party, and a good party with British accents, all the better.

And now the sky is darkening for that rain that's been threatened all week, but at least the festivities went on without a cloud -- at least here in St Andrews. London had a few clouds, but again, at least no rain.

And to the newlywed couple? I wish you nothing but happiness. Goodness knows your family is due for some.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sky on Fire

One of my favorite things to do (especially when I need to take a breather from whatever is stressing me out at the moment) is to go out and wander around town at sunset. Which, to my delight, is getting later and later as we slowly make our way towards summer. As of right now, sunset is around 8:50pm and quickly making its way later.

I needed some fresh air, so I made my way down to West Sands, the beach next to the Old Course on the west end of town. Not to be confused with East Sands... unsurprisingly, the beach next to the harbour on the east side of town.

I like names that make sense.

For anyone who's seen Chariots of Fire, this is the beach where they filmed the beach running scene at the beginning of the movie. I haven't seen the movie, but that's what the little plaque at the end of the road tells me.

And in celebration of that fact, the town is hosing Chariots 2011, a 5K run in May to celebrate both the 30th anniversary of the movie and to raise money for Sue Ryder, a hospice charity. Run along the beach, dress in all white, splash around in the water, and get a t-shirt.

For some reason, especially as I sit here and stuff my face full of gummy bears from the easter basket my parents sent to me from across the pond, I'm considering doing this. Mainly for the t-shirt. I do love a good t-shirt. It's been a long time since I ran, but it's only 5K. It's a good excuse to get outside and enjoy some sunshine. And did I mention I get a t-shirt?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wedding Windows

Man, April has just gone by in a flash. The semester ending and papers and proposals due... ugh, don't even want to think about that for a moment. Why did I want to go back to school, again?

But, at least I'm in a cute little town that's pulling out all the stops for the weekend. See, there's this small matter of a second bank holiday this Friday celebrating some two crazy kids getting married or something.

With the Royal Wedding on Friday, the town is basking in its role as part of the love story. And as any small town can attest, you don't let an opportunity to be on the national stage go to waste -- no no, you gussy up to put on your freshest face.

The merchants' association in town decided to have a little window competition, so most of the store fronts in St Andrews are decorated with their best wedding celebration decorations. You can't walk ten feet without running into Union Jack bunting, or a cut out of the happy couple, or Wills and Kate cupcakes. Which I just think is kind of fun.

Clinton Cards, for if you want your own Wills and Kate bunting.

Wills and Kate cupcake, anyone? Yes... I'm probably going to buy one. Cause it'll be delicious.

Faremore Interiors, for a more tasteful explosion of Brittania.

Sue Ryder Care charity shop, with its second hand unique celebration pieces.

Waterstones, with all of your Wills and Kate books, including but not limited to paper dolls of the happy couple.

Bonkers, for... well, anything with a Union Jack on it.

Simply Scotland, putting up its best wedding dress flair.

Even the optician is looking forward to the wedding 'spectacle'. I love a pun!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Royal Romance

This has been going around my Facebook, and it just makes me smile. It's the male a cappella group here at St Andrews, The Other Guys, and their parody of Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance' in honor of a certain soon-to-be-royal alumna.

One, I'm a sucker for well-sung a capella. Two, it's witty. Three, if you've never been to St Andrews, you can see the pretty ancient little town I call home at the moment.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Vacation's Over

Chris-Anne hopped the bus back to Edinburgh this afternoon. Her flight back to the States is at 7am tomorrow morning, so it made more sense for her to stay in Edinburgh tonight than to try and figure out how to get out of St Andrews at 4am. Something about liking sleep... I know, crazy.

So her pallet is rolled up, blankets are folded, and her little nest is gone. The floor is clear again and I don't have to worry about falling over her as I try to open the door while she's asleep.

It's not a lot of space in my room, but it sure feels a bit big and empty right now.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Did You See Nessie?

Short answer -- no. But that doesn't mean that our visit up to Loch Ness was any less awesome.

For our last day in Inverness, I wanted to up over to the loch and see both the water and the castle. Our train tickets home weren't until almost 5pm, so we had plenty of time. So Chris-Anne and I (and a new friend we met at the hostel, Rachel, who was traveling by herself so we invited her to tag along with us for the day) headed up to Urquhart Castle up on Loch Ness to get our daily castle fix.

The fog had rolled in over the loch overnight, which only added to the mystery and age of the place. For anyone who's imagining Scotland from movies or classy paperback novels, I'm pretty sure this is what you're imagining.

Urquhart Castle, through the fog.

Chris-Anne searching out through the fog... and probably climbing on something she should be climbing on. Doesn't she know that's not a 500 year old step stool?

We explored the castle while we were waiting for the fog to burn off with the sunshine. Loch Ness was lovely with the fog, but I wanted a clear picture down the water.

Loch Ness, with the fog slowly burning off.

It took a couple of hours, but the fog finally burned off and we were able to get our clearer pictures -- even if the fog did add a certain romance to the area.

So, with our craving for pictures sated, we had about an hour before we had to catch the bus back to Inverness. Since there is a footpath that follows the road, we decided to walk the 30 minutes down to the village of Drumnadrochit and catch the bus from there. It was a nice walk (something that I love) and a good chance for Chris-Anne to get pictures of all the new and fluffy lambs in the pastures by the road.

It's always funny the things that tourists want to take pictures of. For someone who grew up in the city (that would be Chris-Anne -- my hometown is just that, a town, but it was more likely to see a soybean field than a sheep pasture) the sight of sheep all over the place is cause for pictures and poses and 'look at the fluffy little sheep!' Good times, good walk, and good sheep.

When we got to Drumnadrochit, we skipped the Nessie exhibits and grabbed a drink to sit at a park bench outside the post office which doubled as the bus stop. As an addition, we didn't just get drinks, but a show as well.

A piper was playing in the park, which just added to the atmosphere. I've decided that I need to learn how to play bagpipes -- or at least just play them once -- before I head back to the states. I'm musical, I can pick it up. Just show the fingering and I'm good to go.

After that, we headed back to Inverness, said goodbye to Rachel, and headed back to the train station to hop the train back to St Andrews. And as we couldn't have a day without a travel mishap, the train was only delayed a little bit coming out of Inverness. Something about a mix-up with the track. Par for the course.

We'd thought about hitting the town when we got back to St Andrews, but by the time we got in, all we could think about was dinner and bed. Chris-Anne to her pallet on the floor, and me to my cheap, single, uncomfortable mattress. But... that mattress is mine, and after sleeping on a top bunk for days, boy did it feel good.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Elgin Cathedral

The second half of the day, after visiting Culloden, was spent hopping on a bus to a neighboring town to visit cathedral ruins that got Chris-Anne all excited in the brochure. Like I've said before, we're suckers for ruins -- castles and cathedrals.

So, after eating a quick lunch at Culloden, we returned to Inverness in time to catch the bus 90 min out to Elgin. Well, it should've only taken 90 minutes. Instead we got stuck on what was either road construction or someone thinking it would be absolutely hilarious to bring traffic to a standstill in Nairn. We sat there for so long, someone got off the bus in frustration to walk to their destination. Which, heck, for as long as we were sitting there could've been Aberdeen for all I know. They would've gotten there before we got to Elgin.

But we did eventually get to Elgin, and found the cathedral ruins that we were searching for.

What we didn't expect was that there would be a wedding going on. Or at least the after photos and lingering of a wedding. The docent said that they were finishing up and we could go in and take pictures, but for some reason Chris-Anne doesn't cherish the thought of being random people in the background of people's wedding photos. I said that it was a risk they ran having pictures taken outside in a public place.

Genteel southern manners won out, so we went to walk around a local park for a half an hour while we waited for them to finish taking pictures and leave the ruins.

But, by the time we got back, the sun and the shadows were in an even better position for taking pictures, so we all won out in the end.

Elgin Cathedral, from Historic Scotland:
Elgin Cathedral is one of Scotland’s most beautiful medieval buildings.

The cathedral was the ecclesiastical centre, the spiritual heart, of the diocese of Moray. The bishop’s cathedra, or seat, was not always at Elgin – it had previously been at nearby Kinneddar, Birnie and Spynie – but once it was transferred to Elgin around 1224, it remained there until the Protestant Reformation of 1560 effectively left the cathedral redundant.

Elgin cathedral is affectionately known as the ‘Lantern of the North’. From the time of its construction in the first half of the 13th century, through to the time of its demise at the Reformation in 1560, this monumentally impressive building dominated the flat and fertile Laich of Moray. The proud boast by one of its former bishops, Alexander Bur (1362–97), that his cathedral was ‘the ornament of the realm, the glory of the kingdom’ is certainly borne out by a visit to this beautiful site.

It really is a beautiful ruin, and I can only imagine what it looked like when it was complete. We climbed the stairs in the tower -- the narrow, winding, narrow... did I mention narrow? -- stairs to get that previous shot (half way up) and some from the top. Which, truthfully, I like the angle on this one better. Narrow stairs do not put me at ease with my slight claustrophobia, but I'm a trooper.

The sun at that time of day was just gorgeous, and only gave the ruins a more ancient and romantic feel. Totally worth the excursion out of town to find them.

And worth watching the 'incident' go down at the bus station as we were waiting to hop back on to Inverness. The 'incident' is what we're taking to calling watching three drunk 20somethings (it was only 6pm, mind you) attempt to board a bus, cause a ruckus, get thrown off, spit on a driver, and threaten the station manager before stumbling off. Hey kids, if you're going to do stupid things that technically count as assault, don't do it in an area completely surrounded by CCTV cameras. I've had more interesting public transit stories with Chris-Anne these past two weeks than in my entire other time in Scotland combined. I do hope they get the jerk who was causing trouble, though.

But with that behind us, we caught the bus back to Inverness and headed back down to the banks of the River Ness in the city centre to watch the sunset. The glorious purples in the sky were too good to miss out on.