Monday, May 14, 2012

When One Door Closes...

The last week of the program was just as filled as the rest of the semester. Tuesday night a group of us went to a Ceilidh dance at the University of Edinburgh's Bongo Club. Several of the dances were familiar from our first Ceilidh at the beginning of the semester and quite a few were new to me. It was a lot of fun and I'm glad I got to participate in a "real" Ceilidh during my time in Scotland.

On Wednesday I got my final dose of Edinburgh as Gabby and I spent the afternoon shopping. Thursday was spent cleaning the Palace. Everyone helped clean the kitchen areas, servery, and dining hall, then we split into our house jobs, so I helped clean the ballroom. After lunch we had the opportunity to see the attic of the Palace. It's very run down and we had to watch where we stepped, but it was cool to see the graffiti left by Polish WWII POW's on the walls. It was then onto cleaning our rooms and checking out. That night we had an end of semester/program party. We had a BBQ, took lots of pictures, and sat around visiting and laughing.

Friday morning saw 14 of us (and our luggage) packed into a van headed to the airport. As we drove through Dalkeith we waved to a lady in the "old folks home" who had been waiting for us to drive by so she could wave goodbye. At the airport it was time for the final goodbyes.

Our flights went safely. We were delayed for our first two take-offs, but they didn't effect our connecting flights. Because I was sick all week, the changing air pressure was not a friend. I made it home safely, however, and am so thankful for the experience I had. My semester really was life changing and I learned more than I thought I ever would. I gained knowledge, friends, and an appreciation and love for other cultures and countries. Now that this time abroad has come to end, the question becomes: Where will God take me next?

The Making of an Unforgettable Weekend

May 4-6, my last weekend in Europe. We made sure we made the most of our time and went out with a bang!

Friday, May 4 had been eagerly anticipated for a majority of the semester. This was the day Gabby, Courtney, Kathy, and I went to Watford, England to tour the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studios!! We flew into Luton, England and took a bus to Watford. After lunch we still had quite some time before our tour time, but we couldn't wait any longer and got on the shuttle bus early. 

Our shuttle bus to/from the Studios
After perusing the very extensive gift shop we got in line for the tour. We began the self-guided tour a little after 2pm and came to the end a little before 5:30pm. During the nearly 3.5 hours, we walked through the actual studios where the Harry Potter movies were filmed. We walked through the Great Hall and saw the sets for the Gryffindor Common Room and Boys Dormitory, Dumbledore's Office, the Weasley's kitchen, Diagon Alley, and so many more! The wigs and costumes used for various characters throughout the films were also on display. The magic behind visual and special effects was revealed as well as the extraordinarily creative efforts of the artists and designers. The tour culminated with a walk around the model of Hogwarts, used for wide exterior shots of the castle. We topped off our incredible day with an overnight stay in a hotel, not a youth hostel!

Saturday morning we took the train to Bath. Gabby, Courtney, and I first stopped at the Jane Austen Centre where we learned more about the famous author. We also saw some costumes used in the film adaptations of her novels. That afternoon we took a tour to Stonehenge and Lacock Village. The village of Lacock has been featured in several movies, namely Jane Austen adaptations and Harry Potter! After arriving back in Bath we took another train to Bristol where we stayed in a Bed and Breakfast.

Sunday was spent in the Bristol airport before flying back to Edinburgh. The weekend was filled with Harry Potter, Jane Austen, movies, and magic and I wouldn't have had my final weekend abroad any other way.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"My Heart is in the Highlands"

For our second and last extended travel weekend we took a house trip to the Highlands of Scotland. The Highlands are what most people think of when they think of Scotland: mountains, rugged, not very populated. After traveling this area for four days I know why Robert Burns wrote a poem confessing that his heart is in the highlands.

Gabby, Hannah M., and I at Glencoe

Our trip started with a short stop in Stirling to pick up our Scotland: Society and Globalization professor, who would be our "tour guide" for the weekend. It was then off to Doune Castle (where parts of Monty Python and the Holy Grail were filmed) before heading into the Highlands. We stopped in the beautiful Glencoe and had an opportunity to take a wee hike before we headed to our hostel. Our youth hostel was at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles. We explored the river at the base of the mountain before watching the sunset and calling it a night.

Glenfinnan Viaduct
 The next morning we were off to Glenfinnan to see the Glenfinnan Viaduct. The rail bridge is most known as the bridge that the Hogwarts Express travels on in the Harry Potter movies, especially the second one. Our next stop was Loch Ness! We took a cruise on the Loch and some students even took a dip in the freezing water! A quick stop at the Corrimony Chambered Cairn (an ancient Celtic burial site) was next. It was then time to explore Urquhart Castle in the snow and sleet. Urquhart Castle used to be quite an impressive castle on the banks of Loch Ness, but the owners blew it up so it wouldn't fall into the Jacobite's hands during the Jacobite Risings. Needless to the say, the castle is now in ruins. Our final stop for the day was our hostel in Inverness.
Wading in Loch Ness
Saturday morning saw us at Culloden Battlefield for a visit and tour. Culloden was the last battle fought on British soil and it was a kind of civil war. This blog is too short to go into the details behind the battle, but it was basically fought between the Jacobites and the British government. It was a rather horrific massacre with the Jacobites losing 1,500 lives and the British losing 50. After the battlefield we headed back into Inverness and had the afternoon to explore the "capital of the highlands." A group of us students took a walking tour of the city, then walked along the River Ness.  We ended our day listening to a live band in a traditional Scottish pub.

Sunday, our final day in the highlands. Fort George was our first stop. We walked around the fort, looked for dolphins in the Moray Firth, and I got seagull poop on my sleeve. I got ice cream at our next stop, Pitlochry, for a pick-me-up. Gabby and I tried our first taste of whisky after our tour of the Aberfeldy Distillery.


The Hermitage

Our final stop (and in my opinion, the most impressive stop of the day) was the Hermitage nature area. We walked through a forest of tall pine trees, along a river, until we came to spectacular waterfalls. We all enjoyed exploring and climbing on the rocks in the water. We only spent an hour there, but I could have easily stayed all day.

We then got stuck in construction traffic for roughly one hour before making it back home to Dalkeith House.

Visit from Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad came to visit me April 19-25. It was their first time overseas and Mom's first time flying. I enjoyed showing them around Dalkeith and Edinburgh and we had some fun adventures!

I met them at the airport just after noon on Thursday 19 April and we took the bus back to Dalkeith. That night was Host Family Quiz Night, so they got to meet my host parents and our team took second place! After a day of flying and being jet-lagged it was then off to bed for them.

Chelsea, Virgina, Steve, Mom, and Dad
Friday, we joined the rest of the house on a trip to Bowhill and Melrose. Bowhill Estate is the seat of the Buccleuch Family (if you remember, the Duke of Buccleuch owns Dalkeith House). A lot of the original furniture from Dalkeith House is now in Bowhill. After touring the Duke's Estate, we stopped at Melrose Abbey and explored the ruins. Our final stop was Scott's View, where we could see for miles and adore the Scottish landscape.

Scott's View

On Saturday we took a day tour to Loch Ness! We stopped in Dunkeld and drove into the Highlands before reaching Fort Augustus where we took a cruise on Loch Ness. We learned about the Loch itself and about good 'ole Nessie. We made a quick stop at Inverlochy Castle before driving through Glencoe, a beautiful mountainous region. It was such a beautiful day that we stopped in Glencoe to admire the scenery. We even got a picture with our tour guide, Duncan. We made another stop to see Hamish, the Highland Hairy Coo, and then a quick photo stop at Doune Castle before getting back to Edinburgh that night.

On Sunday, I unfortunately had to finish some homework, so Mom and Dad explored the 800 acres of Estate surrounding the Palace.

Monday was a full day in Edinburgh! Dad and I climbed to the top of the Scott Monument (287 steps) and got a 360 view of the city. The three of us then shopped our way to Edinburgh Castle. After exploring the Castle, it was off the Zoo! We of course saw lots of animals at the zoo, my favorites being zebras, a koala, and pandas! Edinburgh zoo just got two pandas in February and they are so popular we had to book a time slot to see them at least a day in advance.

I had to go to classes on Tuesday, so Mom and Dad went on their own into Edinburgh. They took a bus tour of some of the city highlights and visited the Royal Botanical Gardens. After supper, however, I met them at Mayson's, a traditional Scottish pub in Dalkeith.

Wednesday morning I went with them to the airport for their flight back home. The time they were here went by fast and it was sad to say goodbye, but in just a couple weeks I too will be leaving Scotland and meeting them in an airport again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Alnwick: A Magical Weekend

This weekend (April 14-15) we had an optional house trip to Alnwick. Alnwick is a small town in Northern England and home to Alnwick Castle aka "The Harry Potter Castle." Parts of the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed there. Considering how many people in the house love Harry Potter, I was surprised only 10 girls signed up to spend the night in the castle.

We took a train on Saturday morning and arrived at Hogwarts (Alnwick Castle) before 10am. After settling into our rooms, we had the rest of the weekend to explore the castle and town.

Barter Books

First we walked through the small town and visited the market before heading to Barter Books, one of the largest used bookstores in the UK, housed in an old train station.

Back at Hogwarts we took advantage of the "From Battle-Axes to Broomsticks" tour which pointed out all the places and scenes that were filmed at the castle. We also took our first flight on our broomsticks where Harry took his!

Broomstick Training

St. Cloud State has a study abroad program very similar to the WIS program and they stay in Alnwick Castle. We had a pizza party in their dining room and met some of the students. We finished off the night with a walk out into the pasture next to the castle in hopes of seeing some stars. The night was cloudy so we didn't see many stars, but we did get a great view of the castle lit up at night!

The next morning we got into the Alnwick Gardens for free and toured the poison garden (every plant in that area can harm, if not kill you), walked through the ornamental garden, and completed the bamboo maze. After lunch in one of the world's largest treehouses, Gabby, Courtney, and I explored the town a bit more before sadly heading to the train station to go back to Edinburgh.

Kathy, Courtney, Gabby, and I coming out of the Bamboo Maze

Sunday night, back in Dalkeith House, we held a talent show for some elderly and community members. I did not perform, but watched as other students entertained with some extraordinary talents! After the show, we roasted marshmallows in the dining hall fireplace and made s'mores for the elderly, who had never heard of them before! It was really neat to share some of our culture and sit and chat with them.

Easter Weekend

On Friday 6 April our British History class had a field trip to the National Museum of Scotland. After our tour and group work, Gabby, Courtney, and I headed across the street to Greyfriars cemetery. J.K. Rowling got some of her character names from tombstones in the cemetery. Also, on the other side of the cemetery is a private school that was the inspiration for Hogwarts.

Saturday saw a group of us WIS students at Murrayfield again for rugby! Edinburgh, Scotland took on Toulouse, France in the Heineken Cup Quarter Final. It was a very exciting game and this time the team from Scotland won! Edinburgh beat Toulouse 19-14 and will be going on to the Semi-finals!

Easter Sunday Gabby and I went to a service at Rosslyn Chapel. We arrived well before the service so we had time to tour the chapel for free. In size it is nearly opposite of all the other cathedrals and abbeys we have visited, but not in impressiveness. It is quite small, but the interior is stone and every surface is elaborately carved and engraved. After the service we met a woman who used to be a host mom for WIS students and she gave us a ride back to Dalkeith House!

Also happening this weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, was the Dalkeith Country Fair. Vendors, crafts, and activities were right in our front yard! It was like a mini-Renaissance Festival with jousting, falconry, archery, and hunting hounds.

Dalkeith Country Fair in front of Dalkeith House

It may not have been a traditional Easter weekend at home in the States, but it was great nonetheless!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Highlights of Paris: Part 2

Day Four: March 30, we took a tour of the Grand Masterpieces in the Louvre Museum. Our tour guide pointed out the Three Ladies of the Louvre: The Venus de Milo, Nike, and the Mona Lisa. We were glad we took a tour that highlighted the most famous works because if you were to look at each piece in the Louvre for 7 seconds, it would take you 80 years to see everything.

That night we took another New Europe Tour, this one of Montmarte, "the art capital of Paris." The tour started across from the famous Moulin Rouge. We saw where Van Gogh lived and Picasso worked. The highlight of the tour was Sacre Coeur, a Basilique overlooking all of Paris. When it was first built it was very controversial for several reasons, one being it's Romano-byzantine architecture, an usual mix-match of architectural styles. It combines, Gothic gargoyles, mosque-like domes,
Greek and Venician styles, among many others.

At the end of the tour we each received a free glass of wine.


Day Five: We strolled down the beautiful Avenue des Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. The Champs Elysees is Paris' premier shopping street with stores such as Louis Vuitton. We ended the day with a night cruise on the Bateaux-Mouches. We saw the City of Lights as we traveled on the River Seine. 

Day Six: Our final day in Paris was spent at Notre Dame. We walked through the Cathedral and ate a picnic lunch outside the masterpiece of Gothic architecture. It was then off to the airport for our journey back to Scotland.