Expecting the Unexpected

It’s week two of twenty during my time abroad.  By now the jet lag has passed, but that does not mean that I may stop to rest.  No, no; the fact that orientation is over and my classes are set means that it is full speed ahead for my academics and my immersion here within the immediate future.  Now that the novelty of simply being across the Atlantic has begun to wear off, the light of possibility has broken over the crags of Holyrood and has officially swept me away within its clutches.  This is my home now, and while the area is still rife with tourist experiences and new things to do, it is nonetheless prudent that I find a way to get the most from this experience and integrate myself with the foreign world around me.  That being said, let’s get down to business.

I May Actually Be Channing Tatum

Here’s the thing … I am a sucker when it comes to impressive modern dance.  There is something just so inherently beautiful and fascinating to watch the human body in such inhuman motion.  Add some music in there and the show that it provides completely engulfs my psyche, for I just can’t get enough.  In fact, I regularly follow the World of Dance page on YouTube to catch some new routines and maybe get a glimpse of some of my favorite dancers: Fik Shun (Won So You Think You Can Dance), Dytto, and Amy Marie Gaertner.

Fik Shun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiqaqrHPixw

Dytto: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLWL-C4LALw

Amy Marie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5XTyXMy9B4

On top of all of that, I have a guilty pleasure in that I thoroughly enjoy the Step Up movies.  For those who don’t know, this is where Channing (and Jenna Dewan) Tatum got his start, and while the story isn’t particularly well received by critics, the dance scenes are always a sight to behold.

Step Up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OO1Hwv4re7A

Step Up 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLkDpkS2AJA

So what does this have to do with me, other than the fact that I pay attention to this stuff?  Well, I figured that if I wanted to really take a step outside my comfort zone, I might as well try something completely new.  Enter the Modern Dance Society, who just so happens to offer a couple modern dance classes on Friday evenings.

I had no idea what to expect from myself when I attended the first session this past week.  Hell, I didn’t even know what to wear let alone how my body would react to this new experience.  I settled on just my gym clothes and my hat, backwards of course, in honor of CT himself.  As it happened, I wasn’t going to be the only newbie at the event, as around 40-50 people showed up, most of us greener at this than a rookie crab fisherman on the Bering Sea.  I also was perfectly OK with the fact that I was one of the five guys in attendance.  Sadly, I didn’t have much time to mingle as the class jumped right into high gear, and for the next hour we managed to learn the choreography for up to the middle of the first chorus of ‘painkiller’ by Jason Derulo ft. Meghan Trainor.  I wouldn’t remember it all right now even if I tried to, but I will say this:  It was damn fun.  Despite that I have almost no experience, I was able to keep up and move my body in ways that I never would have thought to do so otherwise.  It was rough, and sloppy, but when the music finally stopped for the day I felt more invigorated than I had all day.  Endorphins flooded my body and I walked back to Hermit’s Croft with a big ol’ smile on my face.  Even the slice of pizza I grabbed from a road stand on the way home tasted much better than I expected it too.  Life was good.

Though there is a membership fee and a cost for the classes, I think I am going to stick with this.  Like Drumsoc, it was a fantastic way to unwind and relax, and if I can actually learn how to manipulate and control my body in new and different ways (and not look like the biggest poser in the club) then it will be a worthwhile experience.  If any of you have ever been remotely interested in dance, no matter what form, then I highly recommend you give it a shot.  You may embarrass yourself a bit, and you may not get all the moves right a way.  However, I promise you will have fun and feel better about yourself when you walk out than you did walking in, if but only for a moment.

A Royal Journey

The Royal Mile of Edinburgh is an old cobblestone road that extends from Edinburgh Castle all the way down to Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s residence when in Edinburgh.  As the name suggests, it stretches just over a mile from the top of the hill to the bottom; passing St. Giles Cathedral, Waverley Station, and numerous Scottish shops where you can find clan tartans, kilts, and plenty of whiskey.  The other day, I decided to explore the mile a bit, if but only to see what I could see.  While the tourist shops are interesting, they all have the exact same product, which I suppose is to be expected.  There were plentiful cafés to check out, but I wasn’t particularly hungry and trekked onward.  I did wander by St. Giles Cathedral, and stopped by the Heart of Midlothian, spitting in its center.  It sounds like a very disrespectful thing to do, but supposedly brings good luck.  Historically, the Heart lies directly outside the old prison entrance, and people used to spit in disdain with reference to the prison.  It was also a place of public execution, so I suppose being spat at is not the worst fate some of these folks had to face.  Add my saliva to the spittle that has come before mine I suppose.  When in Edinburgh …

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The Heart of Midlothian, outside St. Giles Cathedral
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Looking East down the Royal Mile, past the cobblestone

Since I was there, I hopped up the stairs into St. Giles Cathedral, and since I didn’t feel like paying £2 for a photo pass, I have no photos.  “But Cameron, just sneak one!”  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I probably could have.  But at the end of the day I realized that a picture alone does not do justice to the supreme feeling of awe that one is inspired with upon entrance to this place.  To really experience it, you just have to be here.  While it was a little disheartening to see a café and gift shop within the building, I still felt the ethereal silence press into my ears apart from hearing my own footsteps echo about the room as I walked about the tiled floor.   Admittedly, I cannot say that I am religious or spiritual, but I do have a deep respect for the history and architecture that these places put forth.  So, for a moment, I took a seat and allowed myself to take it all in.  For that moment nothing else mattered, and time seemed to be a foreign concept.  I was at peace, and for the first time in a long while I was able to let my mind and body take a second for themselves.

Reality eventually came creeping back, and with a clear head I quietly exited the Cathedral.   Across the way I came across the stature of David Hume, whose toe is also said to bring good luck when rubbed.  Of course I stopped by to do so, because, well, why not?

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The statue of the philosopher David Hume.  Notice how the toe has seen extensive wear from those who need a little bit of luck.

I walked up the street a few hundred steps and decided to do something that I had to cross off the bucket list – buy a true bottle of Scottish Whiskey.  I cannot recall the name of the store, or the name of the very helpful woman who helped me choose the bottle that I did, but I want it on record that I got advice from people who actually know their shit.  In any case, I settled on a bottle of The Balvenie, single malt, aged 12 years, 80 proof.

scotch

A hint of peach tingled my nose as I swirled a shot of this around in my hand.  Upon tasting, the spices packed into the liquid popped in my mouth, and while the alcohol provided a strong burn, I immediately “got” what Scotch is all about.  While I find that my tolerance for alcohol is going up (thank you, college), ten minutes after downing my drink I felt a slight lightheadedness and a warmth permeating my entire body.  This was not a buzz, this was something new.  Frankly, it was truly wonderful.  I am no connoisseur by any means, but I understand why some people are.  For the greenhorns, be wary, as scotch will hit you like a truck.  That being said, and once you get passed the coughing to damper the fire in your belly, it provides a feeling like no other.  So for those of age, I highly recommend you try some true scotch.  You won’t regret it.

Back to the story at hand though, I was not done wandering for the day, and I decided to take my adventure down Victoria Street, just off the upper part of the Mile.  Today, A winding little close, Victoria bends around down to Grassmarket square and Cowgate.  Grassmarket had pubs, Cowgate has clubs, and Victoria has both.  Home to Finnegan’s Wake, Espionage, and The Liquid Room, Victoria St. is not shy to show off its late night side.  But, it also has a tamer side as the bending rooftops play host to numerous shops that attract the eye and inspire the mind.  It was said that J.K. Rowling used this street as a reference when thinking up Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series.  After walking the street myself, I could see why she saw a little magic in the air.  You just do not know what to expect and could very easily get swept into the next shop that happens to catch your fancy.  While you won’t find Olivander’s or a Nimbus 2000, you may find other trinkets that do catch your eye.

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Victoria Street

One shop at the base of the street did manage to wrangle me in.  “The Knight’s Vault”, it was called.  Inside I found a small shop laden with a plethora of everything I dreamed about as a child.  Weapons.  Everywhere.  For only £89 I could bring home a replica of Narsil, Anduril, Orcrist, or Longclaw.  Props to you if you know these swords, as you’ll definitely get brownie points in my book.  Swords also weren’t the only thing this place specialized in though, as for a fee they could search your family name history and print it out on a decorative plaque for you for  only £30.  I chatted for a bit with the attendee, Charis, who ran the store.  The second very friendly Scot I met that day, she helped me look up both the Fraser and Pratt history (For free!  Thanks Charis!).  I was reserved about maybe making a purchase, but she told me they do deliver overseas… In the end I didn’t end up buying anything, but I do have Charis’ business card, so maybe if I have some money left over when I go home I might give her a call.

Deep Fried Mother Fuckin’ Mars Bar – ‘nuf said.

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11 out of 10, a must do/eat while in Scotland

My final bit of adventuring brought me from Grassmarket up back to where the U Edinburgh central campus lies.  As it was, I found the North entrance to Greyfriar’s Kirk, so I decided to take the shortcut through the graveyard.

If I have not mentioned it before, let me say it now.  This place is one of the most famous graveyards in all the world.  It is also one of the most haunted.  Here, Thomas Riddle lies (yes, THAT Tom Riddle a.k.a. He Who Must Not Be Named), Greyfriar’s Bobby waited over a decade for his owner to return, and George Mackenzie acts as one of the most active poltergeists in all the world.  So active in fact, that the area where his tomb lies is gated off.  Allegedly, people still experience paranormal experiences on a regular basis.  A link to a website describing the graveyard lies below.

Greyfriar’s Kirk:  http://www.scotlandmag.com/magazine/issue37/12008443.html

Since it so happens that I am a big fan of “Ghost Adventures”, the sun was below the horizon, and I was alone in the graveyard, I did something that I never thought I would do … I approached George Mackenzie’s Black Mausoleum.

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The way is shut.  It was made by those who are dead, and the dead keep it.  The way is shut.

I snapped the photo above, and could not move my feet closer to the doors.  I had heard the stories.  I have seen more paranormal shows than I can count.  Still, I was really fucking freaked out.  I don’t know if ghosts are real, or if paranormal events are actually legit, but I do know how I felt in this moment.  Nothing happened to me, and boy were my senses all acutely tuned to the door in front of my eyes, so I would have noticed something, anything, even.  All I felt was the night air blow around my body and my hairs stand on end and my spine quake with chills.  All I saw was the empty, black darkness behind the doors.  All I did was nothing, as my feet refused to move closer to the doors.  Had I been with other people, in daylight, I would have probably approached, and stuck my arm into the darkness.  Then, alone, I dared not move closer.  While I have never had a paranormal experience myself, I certainly felt that the space before me was not safe, and I was not welcome to approach.  I’m getting chills thinking about it now as I write this.  Perhaps, if and when I return to Greyfriar’s , I will muster the courage to expose myself to that which is beyond my capacity to understand.  As for this day of which I write, I slowly but surely backed away and quickly made for the exit to the Kirk.  Mentally, physically, and spiritually drained, I made for home, my Royal trek finally coming to an end.

Stirling Silver Milestone

One of the API excursions that my program offers was a trip to Stirling for the day to tour the town, the castle, and a few hidden gems here and there.  To my chagrin however, we were due to meet at Waverley Station at 8 a.m. to catch the bus that would take us to the Falkirk train station where we would board a train to take us to Stirling.  The reason for this is that apparently some of the trains shut down for repairs on Sundays and service is therefore limited.  Now, from my understanding the original bus that was supposed to take us to Falkirk broke down, and a new one was sent to pick up our group, plus quite a few other people.  It wasn’t a long delay, but it definitely wasn’t ideal.  So there we were, setting off across the suburbs of Edinburgh and into the countryside.  While it was a foggy day, I could still see far and wide as the rolling hills gave way to plowed earth and a few forested bits dispersed among the fields.  Moreover, I was a bit surprised just to see how many sheep dotted the landscape; little white puffs of fur all over the deep green pastures.  Back home cattle would be in their place, but for the entire journey I saw none of my familiar spotted friends, nor did I see swine nor chickens nor horses, just the sheep.  This story is not about farm animals though, so let’s press onward.

Since we were a little behind because of the bus, our API leader Tara admittedly uttered the words that all of us were anxious to hear: “Hmm … I think we miiiight miss our train”.  Great.  As it happened we pulled right into Falkirk station to see our train parked right on the platform, and as we got off the bus we heard the magic words that would inspire adrenaline to spike the heart rate of any human: “Run for it”.  So there I am, leading the pack, sprinting up and over the bridge that connected the two platforms, and almost eating shit on the stairway down the other side which I thought to have been a ramp.  Today, I can officially say that I have had a moment in my life where I am literally running after a train as it slowly pulls away from the station.  We had missed it by literally 60 seconds.  Had it been on the near platform we would have made it.  Had we had the original bus we would have made it.  Had I been Usain Bolt I probably could have made it.   But we didn’t, and we were stuck in Falkirk.  Luckily, it was only 45 minutes until the next train, and tickets are good for any train as long as it was on the same route.  So, with nothing better to do, we entered Falkirk.

A pleasant little town, Falkirk is.  Dead as it was, since it was Sunday and nothing opens before noon, it reminded me of Castleton to an extent.  Granted there were a few more shops, but it still had a rural feeling that could only remind me of back home.  We went into ASDA (the U.K. equivalent of Wal-Mart) and grabbed a quick snack before returning to Falkirk Station.  Along the way I chatted with Tara about the town, and she gave me a mini history lesson about the place.  Located at the junction of the Forth & Clyde and Union canals, the town was a place of heavy industry during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.  Today, it plays host as a crossroads in the middle of Scotland, and is home to the Falkirk Wheel, a large Ferris wheel that allows for a grand view of the landscape.  Here’s the link to the Wikipedia page for the town, should any of you be interested: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falkirk

Once we boarded the new train it took only about half an our to get to our primary destination, the city of Stirling.  Classic Scotland was the first thing to pop into my head, as the main shopping district winded around the base of the city up into the cobblestone walkways that make up the upper district, the old town.  At the “top of the toon” lies the main attraction, Stirling Castle.  From the plateau that constituted the entrance to the castle you could look out and see the plains and hills surrounding the city.  While the fog was thick that day, I could still just make out the Wallace monument, breaking the mist in out in the distance.

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The William Wallace monument within the city of Stirling
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I had heard of moss covered houses, but I had yet to see one for myself
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The cobblestone streets of the old town winded down into the contemporary part of the city
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Wallace Monument poked itself through the fog, as far away as it was
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The hills, shrouded by the fog, must be a grand sight to the fields below

Before we entered the Castle, I could only but look upon the site before me and not be reminded of Winterfell, house of the Starks from Game of Thrones, as it sat neatly perched on a hilltop, inviting all who dare try to breach its walls.

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Sadly, there was quite a bit of scaffolding to see
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Sir Wallace the Bruce, a true hero of Scotland

Inside, I quickly grew to appreciate the place.  Though not as grand as Edinburgh’s Castle, this one definitely felt much more intimate, and I relished in that fact.  The views from the castle walls, from the garden in particular, were grand as I could see all around the countryside.  Indoors, I bore witness to some of the famous carved wooden faces that used to decorate the halls.  I stood before a throne, and pictured myself upon it.  The great hall was also grand, and while I helped myself to the whiskey tasting that lay within I appreciated the vaulted ceiling and wondered what the place must’ve been like during a feast.  Within my head I could still see the large fireplaces burning, the smell of roasted pig and potatoes wafting into my sinuses.  If you have ever played or read the Witcher series, this place brought back the ambiance of Kaer Trolde and Kaer Morhen to my mind, and I felt at home between the ancient walls.

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The causeway leading to the main entrance and courtyard
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The entrance to the gardens
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The lone tree within the garden. Could not help but think of Minas Tirith
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The view from the gardens. What a view it was
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Supposedly a man dressed in a bird suit tried to fly from this ledge during the olden days. He broke his leg.
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The audience room
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These wooden faces used to line every hall within this place
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The ceiling of the great hall. Architecture porn.
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The great hall
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The royal chapel. I was the only one in the room at the time of this picture. My voice echoed quite nicely as I spoke to whomever from the past wanted to listen.

Before long, I found myself in a particularly secluded part of the castle.  Underneath the ground near the main gate I found a stairway that I could only guess as to what it descended to, so of course I eagerly descended to find a small barren room of stone, with some supports holding up the center.  A very small opening led into yet another room, and again I decided to press onward.  Ducking my head low, I crouch walked into a small space with only a faint amount of light coming from an outside window.  As I was within Greyfriar’s Kirk, I was completely alone.  The silence was deafening, and the thick stone around me isolated my body from the rest of the castle.  I do not know if Stirling Castle is considered to be haunted, but a similar feeling of extreme unease that I felt back at Greyfriar’s found its way back into my psyche.  Perhaps it was simply the dark, enclosed space, or perhaps it was just my mind overthinking the situation.  Whatever the case was, I only spent but a moment in the silence before deciding to walk out.  Frankly, there wasn’t anything to see down there, but I didn’t feel like getting slammed into the wall by an invisible force should it have come to pass.  Would’ve made a great story though.

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Down the Rabbit Hole

The last thing I have to note about the castle is the view beyond the North wall.  Scaling up a small knoll on the lower ramparts gave me quite a nice little view to the North and back down towards the main castle area.  What must’ve it been like to assault one of these things?  Completely terrifying I would imagine.  Nonetheless, they sure are pretty to look at, even during a state of war I would imagine.

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A hail of arrows would probably cut me down here
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Castles are quite literally small towns. It’s pretty darn impressive.

Leaving the castle, I stopped by the gift shop, where I found a Fraser clan tartan scarf to match my Grant one.  The family collection of neckwear is now complete!

By this point in the day, all of my API comrades had descended into the city, and I was left to wander about by my lonesome.  I did happen upon Bridie and Amanda, and together we stopped for a bite at the Weatherspoon Pub.  I also found the Stirling Mercat cross, one of 126 scattered about the country, used to mark the place where you could lawfully hold a market.  Quite a neat little idol if you ask me.  Here’s the Wiki page on them:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercat_cross

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Fun fact:  The national animal of Scotland is the Unicorn.  Everywhere you go you will see these mythical beasts in one form or another.

Alas, as much fun as I was having roaming the Stirling shopping district, it was indeed cold out, and the wind and rain had sapped my energy.  Though we could have stayed and taken a train back whenever we wished, I decided to meet back up with the group when we all had initially decided to leave together.  This time, we did not miss the train, and took it all the way back to Waverley Station itself.  I had quite a nice chat with my fellow API kin Ellie, Sarah, and Allison on the ride back, all while I slowly allowed myself to fall into the blissful comfort of the seat on the train.  We made it back to Edinburgh around 5:30, the city already in the oppressive darkness of night.  The darkness wasn’t enough to dampen my spirits though, and I made a nice home-cooked meal to end the day.  I also managed Facetime my folks for a bit, which was nice.  It felt good to see some familiar faces.

Food Network Send Help

Having a meal plan all throughout my college career has been a bit of a luxury.  I could eat all I wanted to whenever I felt like it, and as such it severely limited my exposure to the kitchen.  Thus, it was of little surprise to me that my apprehension spiked when I saw the words “self-catered” next to my accommodation information.  Other than eggs, toast, and some baked goods I had no experience cooking anything, let alone a full meal for myself.  As my day of departure approached, I continued to put off learning the basic fundamentals of cooking, and I left without even a bleak understanding of what I had to do to sustain myself.

Though I may not have much of a clue as to what I am doing, I am determined to save money and not eat out as much as I can.  After all, the best way to grow and learn is through some sort of conflict.  In this particular case, my conflict is with food itself, and in order to gain skills that will last me the rest of my life I will have to conquer my culinary foe.  So far, I have been relying on pre-cooked chicken and instant mashed potatoes to round out my dinner.  However, in the past few days I have been experimenting more with the concept of “boiling water”.  Actual boiled potatoes, and pasta, have been my diet for the past few days.  In fact, I recently accomplished my most sophisticated meal to date, which was simultaneously cooking some pasta sauce with some chicken while boiling pasta at the same time.  The more culinary adept who are reading this are surely rolling their eyes at my meager meals, but to me each one is a step in the right direction.

As much as I can I try to eat things that are going to properly fuel my body.  For breakfast I start with a protein shake and either some fruit, yogurt, cereal, or toast.  Lunch is always a mystery, as my class schedule doesn’t permit me to have a consistent time to sit down and eat.  While I try not to skip the midday meal, it is hard to do when I sometimes would rather study (or write a blog) in between my lectures and tutorials.  While Hermit’s Croft is a short walk home, going back just for a meal seems a little out of the way and unnecessary.  Moreover, the multitude of cafés on campus are convenient, but a tad pricy.  For while I have enough money to grab a bite should I wish, I’d rather save it for when I actually need to buy a meal on an excursion, food to bring home to my flat, or for when I decide to do some more traveling on my own.  That being said, it is very tempting to stop in at all the little restaurants that line the old town streets, as they are filled with all sorts of foreign cuisine.

Greek, Caribbean, South African, Italian, Chinese, Korean, Indian,North African, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Mexican, American, South American, and practically all other regions of the world are represented on the food scene here.  No matter where you walk there is always a joint that looks like is serves up some fantastic food sourced from a far away nation.  I have barely scratched the surface of any of these places, but the desire to do so is slowly (and literally I suppose) eating away at me.  But, as I mentioned, it would not be fiscally responsible to eat out as much as I could.  Of course, managing my wallet won’t stop me from going out on the town every now and then, so I am confident that I will sample some of the finest meals in little shops that Edinburgh has to offer.

I may have already found my favorite spot in the city though.  While Lawson and I were wandering down Rose St. (Parallel to Prince’s) we found a small little place that had the most beautiful sight right in the window – a massive trough of freshly roasted pulled pork.  My god, it was glorious.  The man and his son who ran the place were as friendly as could be, and chatted us up and inquired as to whether or not we had “fucked any of the local Scottish lasses yet” they served us some off the best hog that I have ever tasted in my entire life.  [Side note: I think I mentioned before that this blog was not going to necessarily be politically correct or pg.  If that is a problem for any of you, then you are reading the wrong blog]  I believe the name of this place to be “Pig in a Poke”, so if you are Rose St. let me tell you that I haven’t found a better, cheaper meal in the city as of yet.  Lawson would agree.  Sure as hell beats the chicken quesadillas and salads that I have been making for myself so far.  If this one place is any indication for the rest of the food scene here in the city, then I am in for a wonderfully delicious treat as I try to expand my horizons; both in the kitchen and on the culinary world around me.

This Isn’t Greece, Is It?

One of the most notable sites within the city of Edinburgh is Calton Hill.  Nestled on top one of the volcanic mounds that are scattered about the city, this place, while lower than Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat, I believe offers the best view.  Looking down upon new town and Prince’s Street, the Dugald Stewart Monument, the Nelson Monument, and the National Monument of Scotland are some of the most prominent and notable features that define the city of Edinburgh.

Calton Hill Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calton_Hill

My flatmate Lawson and I decided to go on a little trek up the famous hill, and after about a twenty minute walk we found ourselves at the foot of the site itself.  Briefly we stopped at the adjacent graveyard, where we found not only the monument honoring Scottish-American soldiers, but the grave-site of Mr. David Hume himself.  I was a bit surprised to see just how out of the way it actually was, but it was still a cool little moment nonetheless under the shadow of the nearby obelisk that marked the spot.

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The Political Martyr’s Monument eclipsing the midday sun.
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Found you Abe, you sly rascal you.
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Maybe not his actual resting place (I think it was somewhere nearby), but it was still an “oh, shit, look at that!” type of moment.
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Graveyards just have a certain feeling that you cannot get anywhere else, especially old ones.

From the graveyard, we walked up the small hill that led to the major monuments of the site.  From the Dugald Stewart monument many photographers have taken the skyline of the city.  Seriously do a quick image search of Edinburgh and I guarantee it pops up.  In any case, Lawson and I, the amateur photographers that we are, did our duty as non-natives and tried to grab shots of the scene.  Below are some of my favorites that you may have seen on my Instagram already *cough* cameron_pratt83 *cough*.

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Looking down Prince’s St.
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By far and away the most photographed spot in the city I would have to guess.  Having been there myself, I can definitely see why.
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Arthur’s Seat and the crags of Holyrood Park
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Being photogenic is not my specialty.
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Well, maybe I’m not too bad at it.

It was a truly wondrous sight.  The sun at its midday peak of just over the horizon line flooded the city with a glow that cut through the remnants of the morning fog.  Turning ’round, the National Monument of Scotland rose up before us.  Inscribed: “A Memorial to the Past and Incentive to the Future Heroism of the Men of Scotland”, the memorial, alas, was never finished due to a lack of funds.  Constructed in with the Parthenon in mind, the unfinished relic still stands out as one of the most prominent tourist destinations within the city of Edinburgh.  Lawson and I scaled onto it, hopping up ledges like the city killers we are (city killing is a term for scaling things that you may or may not be allowed to do so on).  From there, we had a small little photo shoot, which produced the title picture for the blog.  It’s one of my favorites of me from this trip so far, and Lawson did a great job of shooting it.

 

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Nicknamed “Edinburgh’s Folly”, the monument is still quite jaw dropping.
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Grecian architecture is something else, I tell you.
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I actually had to throw my bag up first and haul myself onto the monument.  Scuffed up my Carhartt’s a bit, but that’s why I brought them.
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While looking behind is nice sometimes, looking ahead is much more exciting on so many levels.

A must do while if you ever come to Edinburgh, Calton Hill blends a fresh view of the new town while rooted in a plateau wreathed in history.  Before I leave I definitely would like to scale it again and see once more one of the best urban views on this side of the world.  Until then though, I can see the monuments right from my street, and they continue to inspire me each time I look upon them.  Not a bad way to get to class.

Stepping Out and Standing Tall

Following our little adventure up Calton Hill, Lawson and I finally descended down into the main commercial hub of Edinburgh … Prince’s Street.  Names like Topshop, H&M, and House of Fraser dominated the surrounding walkways, and it was clear that this place was the destination for the contemporary buyer.  While we found the fantastic pork shop on the parallel Rose Street, the main hubub of mid-Saturday traffic was contained to the avenue below us.  Amidst stopping at places that struck our fancy, we managed to find the Orvis Edinburgh store.  For those that don’t know, I work at the flagship retail store for Orvis in Manchester, Vermont.  There’s a lot of good people there; stop on by and chat with them if you have the opportunity to do so!  I found it a little amusing that the shop was bite sized compared to the store I work at, but it was still nice to see a familiar setting so far from home.

Back on Prince’s Street, I searched for some new threads to compliment my lackluster wardrobe that I brought with me.  I managed to find a nice collared shirt at house of Fraser and a sweet pair of Adidas sweatpants at SportsDirect, but alas, I could not find a new pair of pants that I liked.  My main reservation was that instead of zippers here pants have buttons instead.  I don’t particularly care for that style even though it is the norm, but I suppose I will have to bite the bullet and suck it up if I want to wear clean clothes on a regular basis.

Speaking of style, that’s the one thing that continues to impress me about Europe, especially within an international city such as Edinburgh.  The plethora of races here is quite remarkable, and everyone not only looks different ethnically, but with how they present themselves as well.  If you took ten different people from this city and compared them to one another you would not find one speck of similarity between them.  Unique style dominates the culture here, and conformity is quite frankly ostracized.  Yes, brands like Adidas and Superdry are commonplace, but that doesn’t stop anyone from flaunting who they are.  Unlike the States, where trends dominate the social structure, here being yourself is not only encouraged, it’s common.  Really, it is pretty freaking awesome.  Going to a pub or club or even about campus and seeing everyone being comfortable in their own skin just simply isn’t found back home.  Moreover, the supermajority of people are in good physical shape, so perhaps that has something to do with everyone feeling good about their self-image.  Maybe it’s just the air they breathe, or the water they drink.  Whatever the case, people here genuinely appreciate others for who they are, and that’s pretty fucking cool.  I wouldn’t even know where to begin encouraging a culture like this in the U.S., but hell, I’ll give it a shot when I get home.  It’s worth it.

Seeing Red

Oh Espionage, you will forever be known as the first club I ever went to.  Following a night of pub hopping for the sake of pub hopping, the API crew found themselves on the bottom floor of a place dedicated to the honor of 007 himself, Bond, James Bond.  With five stories of bars and dance floors constituting the place, we made our way up to the second level where we managed to find a little niche corner for our group of about ten.  Lit my a massive red light, we quickly staked our claim in this little side area, and before long we were the only ones in the section, with full access to the couches and tables that made up our little haven of hedonism.  Some of us danced on the couches and swung ’round on the poles, but I sat out for that bit as visions of the Three Sisters table still lingered on my mind.  Before long one of the waitresses bought us over this massive fishbowl with 12 straws sticking out of it.  In our joyous state we had no idea why they were gifting this chalice of blue liquid to us, but it didn’t matter, for they said it was truly on the house.  Without a second thought, and assuming it was more festive spirits, we sucked it dry.  My “Oh Shit” moment of the night occurred as I realized I had no idea what I had just ingested, for the flavor had no immediate traces of alcohol that I could detect.  I took a deep breath and readied myself to sprint to the bathroom to force myself to vomit, just in case.  “Man”, I thought to myself, “You probably just got roofied by the club”.  Looking back, that would result in a lawsuit and a half for the place since drugging a dozen Americans probably wouldn’t go over too well with the press.  Still, I steadied myself and did a full body check to see how I was feeling.  What I felt was sober.  Then I realized what had happened.  The bar had tricked us into downing a bunch of Gatorade.  They must’ve saw our squad and thought we were going to be trouble, so they took steps to quiet us down.  More of my friends felt the similar effect of coming down, and we all rallied to just keep on dancing anyway.

At this point, it was approaching 1:30 in the morning, and some of the other patrons were getting somewhat fresh with my female friends.  “Dammit, I’m gonna have to hit someone”, I swore under my breath.  Luckily, all I had to do was put my arm up and tell this one guy to back up in my most masculine voice I could muster; luckily he got the message.  I’ve never been in an actual fight.  I never intend to.  But I value the safety and comfort of my friends pretty highly so if push came to shove, well, at least I was sober.

Shortly after this incident, we decided it was time to go.  Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast dancing and hanging out with my friends, but worrying that I might’ve gotten drugged and almost getting in a fight kinda put a damper on the experience as a whole.  Actually, it makes for a good story, so I suppose I’m not so upset.  I am a little upset with myself, as I promised to be a bit more careful with what I drink.  Granted, nothing happened to me this time, but I may not be so lucky in the future.  Lesson learned:  Always know what is in your drink.  Also, I don’t condone fighting, but here in Scotland it is legal to start a fight if you feel threatened or uncomfortable enough.  Had it came to it, I suppose I would have had to drop a drunk guy to protect my friends, but he saw reason even in his inebriated state.  Good for him.

At this point, I’m sure my parents and professors are face palming to no tomorrow, so let me say this:  I get it guys, I do.  But if I had to do everything the same, I would.  In one night, I learned that clubs are not to be taken lightly; that I should always be wary of drinks; and that I’m confident and capable of standing up to creeps.  Together, I feel like those are pretty important things to know.  While I’m bound to do plenty more stupid things in life, I think that’s the most effective way to learn; from my mistakes that is.  I’m not saying that I am going to go out and look for trouble, I’m simply saying that there is plenty to reflect on should something shitty happen to me.  So yeah, the first time at a club I danced my ass off, thought I got drugged and almost got in a fight.  You can’t learn about that side of life in a classroom or from YouTube.  I am still here though, and life is still good, so bring on the next adventure.

Here’s To You, Ben Brown

This is not necessarily a story per say, I just wanted to point out a person of inspiration who keeps me motivated to write my blog.  Ben Brown is a YouTube vlogger who travels about and does some cinematography work alongside his job logging his life.  Seeing him go on all his adventures makes me want to get out and see more of the world for what it is; every day feeling like a new adventures with new possibilities.  I also have a burning desire to go to South Africa, Dubai, and other regions of the world because I have seen just how incredible the experiences have been for him.  So here’s to you Ben.  You inspire me to keep logging my journey in as high a detail as I can, and I hope to follow in some of your footsteps as the days go on.

Ben Brown’s YouTube Channel:  https://www.youtube.com/user/benbrown100/videos

Burns Night

Robert Burns is the national poet of Scotland.  Most famously recognized for writing “For Auld Lang Syne”, he is something of a local legend around these parts.  His work championed him a leader of Romanticism, and it has been said that his writings have influenced many leaders of liberalism and socialism.  In any case, every 25th of January the country of Scotland celebrates this man’s birthday, and pubs all throughout the land serve up the classic dish of “Haggis, neeps, and tatties”.  Lawson and I decided to hit the town to see just what was up with this festive evening, and before long we found ourselves at this wonderful little pub called Greenmantle.

Just off of Nicholson Street, this place was quite cozy as there was only room for about a few dozen people.  Sadly, we had missed out on the serving hours for the classic dish of the night, but we did arrive just in time to witness the final performance of the bagpiper band that was playing for the night.  I tell you what, there really is nothing more enjoyable than listening to a true Scottish band on one of the more eventful nights of the year, especially when you have a Curious Brew in your hand.  I took the following video while of the event:

There was also this familiar signpost over the bar that I could only help but smile at:

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“To Alcohol!  The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems”.  – Homer J. Simpson  Growing up with The Simpsons has made me appreciate this small chalkboard so much.

Greenmantle started to clear out as the band finished their last song, so with nothing better to do Lawson and I decided to wander down to The Three Sisters as we figured that might have been where some of our API kin were also headed.  Along the way we just so happened to witness our first street fight.  Thankfully we were on the other side of the road, but that still didn’t drown out the vicious verbal assault of “DON’T EVER FUCKING TOUCH ME” as one drunken Scotsman threw another to the ground and slammed him into the side of the building.  I’m not sure if I remember seeing any fists thrown, but nonetheless we quickened our pace to our destination.

To our chagrin, Three Sisters was not hopping as we had expected it to be, but as it so happened we did manage to find some of our compatriots from API: Sarah, Emily, Allison, and another friend of ours, Jes.  Despite the fact that the place was rather dead the six of us nonetheless had a blast by simply hanging out, shooting the shit, and discovering the wonders that shots of Amaretto bring.  It was a legitimately fun time, and I don’t think at that moment I could have found some better company in all the city.  When it came time for us to leave, we talked about breakfast food on the way home, which sounded oh so good inside my foggy head.  While I may have missed out on a caleidh somewhere, having a good drink with some good friends always picks my spirits up more than a random social event ever could.  If nothing else, I am meeting some great people here, and that alone is something even Robert Burns himself could write some poetry to.

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The sheer amount of genuine happiness in this picture makes me happy.  Selfie cred has to go to Emily on this one.

Oh The Places You’ll (Want To) Go

Being abroad and living around a multitude of cultures is starting to make me realize that I truly know so little about the rest of the world.  I didn’t expect Edinburgh to be a hub of different ethnic groups and cultures, but I am glad that it is.  Slowly but surely, my eyes are opening to the potential  that exists in every nation and city across this small little planet of ours.  If I’m being honest, I think the travel bug is beginning to take hold, and luckily for me I have a lot of time while I am over here to do some traveling.  I won’t say now as to what I think my plans might be, but I will admit that the wheels have been put in motion to see some of the world beyond Scotland.  Now, I am by no means an expert on how to travel – hell I’ve never even stayed in a hostel before.  But it can’t be that hard, can it?  What better way to learn than by just going and figuring it out as you go?  In any event, I probably should put some more time into figuring out how I am going to survive when I go even further abroad, but I think I’ll save that story for another time.  If I wanted to, I could just tour around Scotland for the remnants of my time here, and yet … that just seems to easy.  At the end of the day, I suppose the gist of what I am trying to say is that I am beyond excited for what I think is to come in the near future.

Just Some Final Thoughts

Damn, I was not expecting to write this much for one post.  I just realized that cumulatively I will only have to write 8300 words total for all my assignments at U of E this semester.  I will bold and italicize that number word in this blog post alone.  In any event, I wanted to let you all know that now that classes have began in earnest, I may have to devote some more time to my studies instead up keeping the content level of these posts up.  Moreover, I think it is fair so say that many of the major introductory events have passed, so there may not be as much to write about.  I am only hypothesizing here, but I thought it might be an important observation.  That being said, I have no plans to neglect this blog, as it has been a joy to look back and reflect on everything that has happened to me thus far.  I love taking pictures.  I love telling stories.  It is work, though, and on this post alone I probably have put in about 5-7 hours of dedicated writing time.  I do not know what I would be doing otherwise though, so I guess it helps keep me busy during my free time, which is nice.  But, for this post though, I think I have exhausted all I wanted to say.  As always if you want to reach out and talk about my experiences in person please feel free to do so.  If you want a more personal, visual idea of my journey follow my Instagram, which is cameron_pratt83.  Thank you all for your continued support, and I’ll be back next Friday with another set of tales to tell.  Mar sin leat.

One thought on “Expecting the Unexpected

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