Thursday, March 31, 2011

Visitor From Home

Being on spring break has been a lovely reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the regular semester -- even if I know it goes into hyperdrive as soon as we get back. But one of the best things about spring break?

A friend from home coming across the pond to visit!

My friend Chris-Anne decided to grace me with her presence as she's killing time before becoming a productive member of society again. And what better way to kill time than to come and visit bonnie Scotland? Nothing, I say. We need to figure out what's up for the rest of her visit, but today we wandered around St Andrews and I introduced her to my cute little burg.

The cute little burg that had been sunny and warm for the past 2 weeks straight. As soon as she lands? Cloudy, windy, rainy, and really really cold.

Did I mention windy?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Forward

The clocks moved yesterday here in the UK to British Summer Time. Usually I'm dreading moving to daylight savings (as we refer to it in the US) because it means I lose an hour of sleep. However, me not having any real set schedule, especially now that we're on spring break, means that that doesn't phase me at all.

On the contrary -- having the sun not start setting until quarter to 8 in the evening is now glorious. Such a reward for getting through winter and the sunset at quarter to 4.

So with it being a glorious day, I present more pictures of the beauty that is Scotland in the spring time.

Fun time change fact: Americans remember the time change by the saying 'Spring Forward, Fall Back' (moving the clocks ahead one hour at the start of Daylight Savings Time and the moving the clocks back one hour at the end, in reference to the seasons in which these time changes happen and using the seasons as verbs to indicate movement). This phrase causes great confusion to Brits and they looked at us like we're bonkers when we tried to explain it. The confusion comes from the fact that the season is referred to as Autumn here, and not Fall. So, you can't really 'Autumn Back'...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tastes Like Home

Ah, spring break. That glorious time where students forget that they have work due soon and pretend that they are carefree. I'm going to take a couple of days and pretend I'm carefree!

Part of that carefree needs to grab some motivation to go to the grocery store because I am quickly running out of food. In an attempt to once again put it off, it left me scrambling to figure out what I had to eat in this place. Which then I remembered... I'd been sent grits in a care package. I could make breakfast.

For those who are not from nor have visited the southern US, grits are basically coarsely ground corn that when combined with boiling water forms a thick porridge. And it is amazing.

So I had grits and toast and it was like I was tasting home at that moment. All I'd need is some country ham and if I closed my eyes, I'd think I was home!

But it was surprising to me that food made such a difference when dealing with a little homesickness. It's amazing what grits, or American lemonade, or a Reese's cup will do. I needed that little taste of home more than realized, and the smile that ended up on my face from that little bowl of grits? Well, the Tesco can wait one more day.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Walk In The Woods

It was another gorgeous day today -- really, I can see why people want to visit Scotland in the spring. If this is how it is now, I can only imagine it when May and June roll around. It's getting warmer, and it's finally sunnier. I never realized how much of an impact on mood and disposition the lack of sunlight has until I moved here. I have my room set up so that my bed faces the window to take full advantage of the burst of sunlight in the morning.

I may regret that once sunrise gets any earlier, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

After class today, and after lugging maybe 20 books from the library for my paper due this Friday, I needed some of that sunshine. The Lade Braes walk was so pretty when I last went on it that I figured I could take one of the side roads and see where they led.

So, I tried the Viaduct Walk off of the main Lade Braes trail, which was a lot shorter than I thought that it would be, leading as a cut off to The Cannongate, which is one of the roads here in St Andrews (which apparently also is the home of the St Andrews Botanical Gardens -- did not know we had botanical gardens. This must be investigated on another sunny day, as when I walked past it was already after 5pm). I figured, might as well walk down the road until I get to the point where I need to turn back and head home to beat sunset.

Ended up at Spinkie Den, which is at a cross with the Lade Braes walk, so I figured I might as well turn and just go back down the Lade Braes walk since it was such a gorgeous day.

Welcome Spring

Yesterday was the first day of spring, and it couldn't come soon enough. The days are getting longer, the sun seems to be out more and more each day (way to burst through the Scottish clouds, sun!), and the temperature seems to be creeping ever so slightly up. Today I was even a bit warm in my fleece. Tomorrow I may, gasp and astound, just wear a sweater. Love it.

And to welcome spring, there was a bonfire on the castle sands last night. A good chance to sit, chat with friends, welcome in the new season, and check out the awesome supermoon that was hanging over the horizon (because Astronomy is great, I don't care if that does make me a space geek).

It also gave everyone a chance to chuckle at me because no one realized just how much of a space geek I am. Yes, I had to point out the supermoon whenever anyone mentioned how big it seemed tonight. Of course, they also had a moment of 'how do the tides work?' since we were sitting on the beach. With me trying to bite my tongue, because they don't want the lecture -- until Rachel rolls her eyes and goes 'alright... Rebecca, how do tides work?' Again, not my fault I know thing *lol*

My epitaph will read "Rebecca... she knew things."

The pictures are dark, but then it was the middle of the night.

The moon coming up over St Andrews from the castle sands

The bonfire that brave souls were jumping over to cleanse negativity from the winter and start spring fresh

Me and Rachel chilling on the beach

Monday, March 21, 2011

Census 2011

The best way to know that a census is coming is whether or not I'll be in the area once the results matter. US Census 2010? Filled out the form a couple of months before I both moved out of that state and out of the country. So... wasn't really a concern if that area got more federal funding. And now what did I get through my door?

Apparently 2011 is Scotland's census time. And even as a student, we have to fill out the thing. Again, won't be here when the results matter, so... glad to know that you're counting me, Scottish government! Give Fife more money.

And the interesting part is that we don't just mail them in -- apparently we have to return the forms to the building manager. Which, for my building means the Residence Manager in one of the undergrad halls. Who have their office in the undergrad residence.

... which my card does not give me access to.

Thanks guys, for making me return a folder to a building that I can't enter and have to stand outside and wait for an unsuspecting first year to come out so I can go 'hey kid, I'm loitering outside your building, so let me in'.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

All The Little Houses

Another photo from my walk down Ladebraes Lane yesterday. Overlooking someone's little garden and across St Andrews. It's fascinating to me here how many buildings are in such a small space -- especially in a small town. St Andrews with its 16,000 is only a bit bigger than the town I grew up in, but it feels much more condensed here.

It's something I found odd, but now very charming, about the UK. Not everything faces the street. It's not always in neat little lines. I mean, I live in an alley behind a car park. Which, while it was a pain to figure out where my house was the first day here (yes, the cabbie and I drove around the block 3 times trying to figure out just where it all was and finally just dropped me off where I thought I might be... and it was closeish), now I kind of like it.

But the idea that something might be behind a building... that was foreign to me in September. Completely went against my very American idea of 'space, I need space, why are you all so close together?' Now? I expect that things are hidden away in nooks and crannies along the streets and it's fun to find those places.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lade Braes Walk

It was a gorgeous day today. And when I say gorgeous, I don't even mean 'gorgeous for Scotland'. No, no qualifier. Just gorgeous. And while I needed to get some reading done on Locke, it would've been a shame to spend the entire day inside. Instead I decided to enjoy a walk. And while out and about town, I saw one of the signs down one of the alleys that I walk past almost every day and don't usually give it a second thought.

Now, I'd heard of the Lade Braes walk, and that it was a pretty walk. But that was all that I knew. Well, it was a pretty day, and I was looking for a pretty walk, so that sounded like a good deal to me.

Whoever said that it was 'pretty' was using a serious understatement. First, for those who don't know the area, a little history lesson from the historical markers on the trail.

Years ago, a mill lade (stream) ran through St Andrews to the Priory. Built by monks, it provided water for households and power for watermills. The Walk follows the line of the lade which was piped and covered in stages between 1868 and 1893.

Today, it's a fine, varied walk along the braes (hillsides) of the lade from St Andrews to the open country of Craightoun Park. The two-mile route follows the Kinness Burn which fed the lade, but you can turn back into town at several points on the route and visit the Doocot or the Botanic Garden.

Tada, the Lade Braes walk. If you end up in St Andrews, it's a delightful stroll, and a surprisingly beautiful piece of forest and land that I wasn't expecting.

Ladebraes Lane, going behind South Street, before you cross Bridge Street into the walk proper. The wall to the right in addition to being the boundaries of the houses on the lane used to be part of the ancient defenses of St Andrews.

You walk and all of a sudden it opens up into the gloriously green park, complete with play area and football pitch. I had no idea this was out here.

Majority of the walk follows by this fantastic stream and the first buds of spring. There are already huge patches of daffodils just waiting to blossom. I'll be out in another week or so just to see the explosion of yellow sure to come.

More pretty path as you make it to one of the old watermills at the end of the walk.

Speak of the devil -- look, an old watermill! From the path it looks like it's open, or at least not fenced in. I'll have to explore that next time.

Proof of why it was a good day to be out -- you don't get that many gloriously blue skies in Scotland. Although I am getting spoiled hoping for Spring now...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Work It

When I say I'm going to the gym, I want people to assume it's because I'm totally into heath and keeping in shape and being the best me I can be, etc.

In reality? I'm a poor grad student, and I can't afford all of the luxuries I got used to by being a member of the working world. You know, luxuries such as soft toilet paper and television. Although I did find a solution to one of those problems. That solution was the University Sports Centre. All of the machines have televisions with a full cable package (not just the BBC) and the gym fee was cheaper than buying a tv and getting the tv license. I can go and watch live tv which I have desperately missed being a poor grad student in a foreign land and not feel so guilty for doing it because look! I'm running/jogging/... okay, walking at the same time! I'm doing something productive, not just vegging out in front of the tv.

Although the kicker in all of it? What do I like to watch on the weekends? High-minded drama? Informative documentary? News?

Oh no. As I exercise, I watch cooking shows. Specific Jamie's 30 Minute Meals, at the moment. I adore Jamie Oliver, and his 30 minute meals blow Rachel Ray out of the water. No shortening names to something cutesie, thank god.

So this is my workout confession. I go to the gym to watch cooking shows. And I have no shame. Although I DO have a great recipe for a Thai red curry with prawns and sugar snap peas now...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

In Bloom

When I bought the daffodils, they are all still in the bud, with only the hope that they'll bloom and I didn't waste £1 on blades of green. And if they do bloom, I don't know if they'll be yellow or white or the white ones with the super orange centers... I just didn't know.

They didn't keep me waiting long.

Again, like I said before, how anyone can frown while looking at daffodils is beyond me.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

I had my birthday earlier in the week. While some people enjoy a big blowout, celebrating for days on end or what have you, I prefer it more low key on the day. It might have something to do with the fact that each time I've tried to do something major ON my birthday, something wrong happens. Usually something very wrong. So, I've taken it as the universe's suggestion that it's cool to do something birthday related before or after the actual day, but on my birthday, just take to slow and relax.

So I did just that.

What did I do on my birthday? Well, I slept in. Then went and had tea with Rachel, as she was out and about in town. And because it was a gorgeous day, I decided to walk to Morrison's for the fresh air. It being my birthday, I needed to treat myself to something.

How about some daffodils? Nothing screams 'welcome Spring' like daffodils. They are hands down my favorite flower because they start to bloom around my birthday. And just look at them -- you can't frown with daffodils.

And I couldn't resist fuchsia chrysanthemums.

But maybe I should be at least a little productive with my day.

I know -- I'll do some laundry. Nothing screams birthday festivities like laundry. But, if I do laundry, I'll earn a snack, from...

The awesome birthday box of American candy goodness that my parents sent me. Including another amazing March tradition that I thought I was going to miss out on... Girl Scout cookies. Oh yes, they mailed me Tagalongs all the way from the States. And they taste so good.

And of course, during all of this, I have atop my head the decoration that splits this apart from any other normal grocery store/laundry/snack kind of day.

Well I had to have some sort of festive something, didn't I? Yet another wonder from the birthday box.

So it was a quiet day, albeit a slightly productive day. And now I'm another year older, and another year wiser apparently. And while people kept asking 'oh which birthday is it?' and I respond with a number higher than the 22 or 23 most of these kids around me have, as I inch closer to 30 I have to admit... I like the me at closer to 30 better than the me at closer to 22. I like my number, and I think it's pretty awesome.

Just like my headband.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spring Has Sprung

Spring isn't my favorite season (Fall holds that honor) but spring comes in a close second. I love to garden, and I love flowers, and the best part about my birthday being early in March is that it's at the same time that the flowers are just starting to peek out of the ground and spread a bit of color.

And while it's not terribly much warmer, the sun was out for most of the past few days making it at least feel brighter. And those happy little flowers from above made the walk to the Morrison's in the sunshine even brighter.

I didn't have anything I needed at the grocery store today, but it was a good destination for a walk out in the sunshine. I don't trust that the sun will stick around, so I best make the most of it while I can.

Not that I don't trust Scottish weather, but...

I may have to pick up some daffodils the next time I'm there, though. You can't have March without daffodils.

Royal Visit aka Guess Who Shook Hands With a Prince?

Busy week last week in St Andrews. For anyone following the news (or fascinated with all things royal, as my friends back in the States seem to be), Wills and Kate were to make a lovely visit back to St Andrews to kick off the 600th anniversary campaign, as William is the patron of the campaign.

This meant that the school and town needed to make appropriate security precautions. I did NOT realize that this meant that I would have to see K-9 units and mobile CCTV vans and cops on bikes all over town for an entire week, as well as entire buildings of classrooms shut down to clear out a week in advance.

Seriously, when Obama comes to a town there's less prep.

But it all culminated on Friday's visit, with a opening celebration at St Salvator's Quad. Which, as you might imagine of an ancient university is not a huge quad. So, there would be a ballot for the 300 student seats and 90 faculty/staff seats available.

Over 4,500 people applied for these tickets. That's over half the university population.

Bam! Look who ended up with one. Oh yeah. Along with regulations on dress code, since spelling it out for university students on what is and is not appropriate to be seen on tv in at a program with royals involved is common wherever you are.

And while photography was expressly forbidden (and I actually heeded this warning since, as a guest in this country, I'm a little less keen to bend rules than I am in the States -- I don't care to be tossed out of the country Fresh Prince style) I decided to just leave my camera at my flat. This will come back to bite me later in the story, btw. But if you'd like to see what went down, they have a video link up on the BBC News - Scotland page.

Now, this would've been just as cool, but they also blocked off all of North Street so that should Will and Kate wish to wander the street and say hi to the lowly folk, they could. People had been queuing up since 7am, which... I'm sorry, is a bit ridiculous. But then, this is coming from someone who had a ticket for a close seat.

When we were trying to exit the quad, I ended up following the crowd out of the wrong exit and got stuck in front of Younger Hall blocked in by barricades. Which was fine, I'd be able to eventually get out. So I positioned myself behind a bunch of adorable little school boys because they were short and it meant that I'd get to see what was going on, as I am in no ways tall.

I figured they would be walking down the other direction of the road because that's where people had been lining up. I'm foolish to discount the appeal of coming to talk to adorable 8 year old school boys. So of course, one Prince William makes his way to the school boys, which since I'm right there behind them, I get to shake his hand too. It was really nice -- he asked me what I was studying (International Relations) before the girls behind me jumped in with 'Biology!' and he kind of chuckled before saying we were brave for picking those courses and moving along down the line.

He's a lot taller than I thought he was *lol*

But of course, the kicker in all of this is that my camera was sitting on my bed the entire time. The cool thing happens, and my camera is sitting on my bed.

Now that we've shaken hands and are totally BFF, I'm going to insist on seeing a wedding invitation in the post.