Wednesday, November 26, 2008

We Naively Traveled to Europe and Thought Everything Would Be In English

Well, it has been a whole week since the beginning of our trip to mainland Europe and there is quite a bit to fill you in on. We took the bus to the airport on Wednesday to catch our flight to Amsterdam. The flight was fine and only about an hour long (I was asleep but this is what I was told). When we arrived our initial task was to make it to Amsterdam Central Station via the train from the airport. Once we finally figured out the machine to buy tickets (we went to the tourist information desk twice) we caught the train and actually got off at the right stop... despite the fact that we don't read any Dutch. Then we had to find our hostel. Now that was an adventure. After roughly 40 minutes of confusion and map deciphering we found the Amigo Hotel. Once we dropped our stuff off we left to go out on the town. We indulged in the Amsterdam lifestyle (Red Light District NOT included) and it was quite a lovely evening.

The next morning was rough but we grudgingly roused ourselves from the warm beds - the extremely loud construction outside the window helped - and went to our first "official" tourist location: the Anne Frank Museum/House. It was extremely moving. There were tons of original items (including her diary) from her house and the inside had been restored to look like it was when Anne was there except without the furniture, which is the way Otto Frank had wanted it to be. Then it was off the the Amsterdam History Museum which I really don't remember much about which means it probably wasn't that remarkable. I do remember that the number of canals increased as Amsterdam became a huge port city. After some lunch (and an accidental walk through the Red Light District - the women stand in the windows, scantily clad, displaying what they've got to offer and red lights light their rooms), we were off to the Rijksmuseum which houses some of Amsterdam's greatest artistic treasures including Rembrandt's The Night Watch and some Vermeer. They also had the newest piece by Damien Hirst - an skull covered in 8,601 diamonds and it's called "For the Love of God." Maybe I just don't understand modern art but I feel like this might be just a little bit pretentious. Still it was really cool to see especially because the display was in a room that was completely dark with the only light shining on the diamond speckled skull. Next up was the Van Gogh Museum which houses some 200 paintings of Van Gogh's and also has numerous sketches and other works. We saw one of the famous sunflower pictures, two of his self-portraits and many, many more incredible pieces. After this long haul through four museums we decided we'd do a boat tour through the canals because the little pass card we bought got us a free one (it also got us into all the museums for free. We added it up and discovered we saved nearly 20 Euro or about $28). I'll admit, I fell asleep almost immediately after the boat began moving and got in an hour long nap. I'm kind of sad I missed the canal scenery but I got some much needed rest. We had a hearty dinner and then we went back to the hostel and went to bed. The next morning we went to the Jewish History Museum which had some really great contemporary art about Israel and Palestine and Jews in the modern world (Mollie - this would have been GREAT for Jew class last semester). It also had some really amazing artifacts and objects from Amsterdam Jews over the past hundred years or so. We had some lunch and then made our way to the train station to make our way to Brussels, Belgium! Here are some Amsterdam pictures. None of the museums allowed pictures so all I have are scenic pictures of this great city in the Netherlands.

The outside of Anne Frank's house. Obviously, it didn't look like this when she lived there but the inside has been restored to look more like it was when the Franks were hiding there.

One of many, many canals. This is basically Amsterdam scenery in a nutshell.

The Royal Palace in Dam Square.

Extremely phallic looking National Monument in Dam Square.

The Heineken Brewery. We didn't go in but we passed by!

Amsterdam was all dressed up for Christmas!

The train ride from Brussels was only about three hours so we got a little napping in while we traveled. We opted for a cab to our hostel because it was bitterly cold, snowing a bit and we had no idea where we were on the map. Despite the fact that we spoke no French our cabbie attempted to give us advice about the city and kept saying "Bush out! Yay Obama!" Our hostel was trendy and huge. We had a little dinner and then went back to the hostel and hung out in the bar that was on main level and then got some shut eye. The next day we started probably a bit earlier than we needed. We saw the Congress Column also known as the Monument to the Unknown Soldier. Then we happened upon the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral. It was beautiful and absolutely huge. Then we walked on and found a little square where we bought our first Belgian waffles! They were so delicious and to top off an already great morning it started to snow! We finally found the main square where the Grand Place (not Grand Palace as I kept calling it), which is basically the town hall, and the Brussels Historical Museum, which was not too terribly exciting, are located. Within an hour of being at the square, we saw two weddings take place! We also watched the construction of a massive nativity set and the set up of an enormous tree. We decided we needed to see the icon of Brussels: Manneken Pis. Yes, its a little statue of a boy peeing and its a fountain. The Belgians are obsessed with him - he has over 700 costumes that they actually dress him in! I think the appeal is in the fact that know one knows exactly where he came from or when he arrived. Since we had basically seen everything we wanted we opted for some shopping and Maggie and Kara went a little crazy and got their noses pierced! We turned in very early after dinner because we had to get up really early to catch our flight (that was almost a disaster which I will not recount because it basically consists of us wandering around Brussels at 6 am not knowing what the heck we were doing). We finally got back to Edinburgh and I must say, I can't believe we did it! I mean, we made it and had a great time without killing one another despite the fact that we probably wanted to a few times. But it's excusable because traveling is so stressful. But we're still friends and love one another, so its wonderful. What follows are the Brussels pictures.

Congress Column/the Monument of the Unknown Soldier.

St. Michel and St. Gudula Cathedral.

Inside the Cathedral.

Stacey, Kara and me in the snow in Brussels, Belgium. Did you know it's the UN's capital? Because it is.

Me and my first Belgian waffle. That look is because I was experiencing deliciousness beyond words.

Manneken Pis. Yep, that's it and yes, he is in one of his 700 costumes.

Kara and Maggie's new nose piercings! I don't know if you can really see them but they're there I swear!

I will write some more later but I'm very tired. Overall, the trip was spectacular and I had a blast... What a trip.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Impending Invasion

Alright. So for the next few days I will be in mainland Europe. I know - AWESOME! I'm trying to contain my excitement so you should too. The four of us embark on our invasion tomorrow. We are going to Amsterdam, Netherlands first. We're staying there for a few days and then move on to Brussels, Belgium. This trip is going to be incredible. I know this because we are going to make this trip incredible - it has no choice but to succumb to our will. It will be epic and fabulous. Basically, because I'll be gone for nearly five days, I'll be MIA when it comes to my email, facebook, skype and this blog. When I get back I promise to post loads of pictures (perhaps I will devote one post solely to pictures and use the other for the actual entry... sorry that was too much information for you all). Europe better watch out because the Americans are invading very soon. I hope they've braced themselves for what is going to be one crazy adventure.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Harry Potter (NOT Daniel Radcliffe) Shops in York

It has been a week and one day since the presidential election and I still get giddy when I think about it. I think I've watched about 100 youtube videos of Barack Obama and probably about 100 more about him. It is becoming a little bit weird and I feel like I should stop or I will be veering further and further from giddiness and coming closer and closer to an unhealthy obsession. Since I didn't show you exactly what was going on election night for me here in Edinburgh, I decided to post some choice pictures below.

This was the first party, well actually the only party, that we went to. I was trying to capture just how many people were there. It was very warm from all the body heat and pent up emotion. Also, the party actually managed to exceed the capacity of the pub/restaurant. CRAZY!

Maggie and her patriotic hair. I used my former cheerleader skills to tie those stellar bows.

Stacey and the miracle laptop that kept us posted on election results while we were queuing/in line.

This past weekend we went to York, England and it was pretty great. It was sponsored by Butler but we didn't have a set agenda or anything set in stone (except for the free dinners they provided at some really nice restaurants). On Friday Stacey, Kara and I caught the train to York at about 10 am. We got into York around 12:30 pm and soon realized that we had no idea what we were supposed to do because none of us had checked our email for instructions. So we called some other people to: a) find out where our hotel was b) what the name of the hotel was and c) find out where our free dinners were. Once we gathered all the information we decided it was time for a nice lunch. We ate at this little pub called Lendal Cellars. Apparently the cellar is/was on the land of a friary/monastery during the 13th century. I don't know if it was a cellar during that time but it was, at some point, owned by the Lord Mayor and he kept all his booze there. I think it was converted into a bar sometime in the 18th century. We then made our way to the hotel and, of course, we got lost along the way. Once we got there, we settled in and I discovered, to my great delight, that my roommate was not on the trip. After Maggie arrived (she booked her ticket well before us and, therefore, had a totally different travel schedule) we made our way into the city center where we window shopped and then slipped into a pub for some hot cocoa and tourist planning before going to dinner. Dinner was delicious and we thought we might go to the movies afterward (because no one really felt like partying it up). Unfortunately the new James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, was all sold out and we just went back to the hotel and watched a movie on TV. I never realized how truly cheesy Armageddon is.

Saturday we decided to do a whirlwind of touristy stuff. First we went on a boat ride down the Ouse River (pronounced like "ooze") which runs through York. We learned that York often floods meaning that river rises several feet. Did you know it is still legal to shoot a Scotsman with bow and arrow in York if he's within the city walls after dark? Guy Fawkes, the infamous man who plotted to blow up Parliament on November 5, 1604, was from York. After the boat tour (which was grand but quite chilly) we made our way to the Castle Museum which stands in the place where York Castle used to be and has a huge amount of information about the history of York. They even have a life-size replica a main road in York from the mid-19th century! It was fabulous. We ended up spending a lot of time in the Castle Museum even though I don't remember much about it besides the York replica. We decided lunch was necessary and settled on a place we dubbed "The Leaky Cauldron" even though its real names was Gert & Henry's. This house turned restaurant is extremely old. The floor slanted significantly and everything was creaky and magnificent. I loved it. Next we went to an area called The Shambles. It is a very old, narrow street with very old buildings (some dating back from the 1300s!). The bottom floors were/are where the shops were/are and the upper stories as the place where the shop owners lived (I'm not sure if that's the case today). The best thing about York, in my opinion, is that the whole city has an aura of either Harry Potter or Shakespeare - and I LOVE both. Some of the upper stories of the building are so old that the lean in towards the street! No wonder The Shambles is the place where they shot Diagon Alley for the Harry Potter films!!! It practically screams MAGIC!

Next stop was York Minster, though I kept calling it Westminster, which boasts that it is the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe (apparently the Germans out did the Brits with their cathedral at Cologne). We climbed up the tower, an extremely tiring 300 steps, and got a gorgeous view of York. I walked around the church itself while the other girls went to underneath to the crypt part or something. While I wandered and took an obnoxious amount of photos, a choir began to sing. I saw a lot of people crowding around looking in on the choir. They were even taking pictures. So I decided to go over and see what all the fuss was about. Lo and behold there was a BOYS CHOIR practicing for mass later that night! I got extremely excited and snapped about 10 pictures before settling myself down to listen to their ethereal little voices reverberate off the walls of the cathedral. It was truly amazing and moving. We finally departed and made our way to dinner at this place called ASK. This restaurant used to be assembly rooms for York where big meetings, socials and balls were held! The link gives you a good view of the restaurant - it was great! After a delightful dinner we went on a ghost tour because York is supposedly haunted with hoards of ghosts. Not all of the stories were very scary but they were all allegedly true and it was dark, cold and rainy outside so it really helped set a creepy atmosphere. After our haunting tour we went to the movies and actually got in to see Quantum of Solace. It was good but not as good as Casino Royale. But I'm not complaining. Who doesn't love watching two hours of Daniel Craig?

Sunday was pretty uneventful. We basically just went shopping. Maggie left us pretty early on because her train left at a decent hour (ours didn't leave until 8:30 that night!). So we had a lot of time to kill. We booked our hostels for our trip to Amsterdam and Brussels (we opted not to go to Germany because we thought we might be stretching ourselves too thin) and saw another movie. This time we saw Easy Virtue. Clearly it was a play that had been made into a film because everything was very dramatic and over exaggerated. Also, Jessica Biel was in it and she was not exactly my idea of a forward-thinking 1920s race car driver. We did some homework and then we got on our train back to Edinburgh. It was good to be back. Here are some pictures from York!

The Shambles aka DIAGON ALLEY!!! York is very busy and touristy... in case you couldn't tell from the picture.

Inside Gert & Henry's or The Leaky Cauldron as we kept calling it. The room is actually slanted that's not my shabby photography skills.

Front of York Minster.

View of York Minster from halfway up our tremendously difficult climb up the tower.

Inside York Minster.

Gorgeous stained glass windows of York Minster.

BOYS CHOIR!!! This basically made the entire day worthwhile!

Yay! More boys choir! Their voices were so angelic. I could have listened for hours.

More York Minster.

This week has been pretty uneventful because weeks 7 and 8 in the school year are the when the most essays and assignments are due. Basically its crunch time for a lot of people. I don't have a ton of stuff due but I definitely have some work that needs to be completed. Saturday is our lone night out. We're going to The Tron to see our favorite band in Edinburgh. It will be fabulous. Next week we leave for Amsterdam on Wednesday. I'm so excited! We're going to see Anne Frank's house and we're going to the Red Light District (just to look - no worries) and then Brussels is going to be great. We're banking on our first excursion to mainland Europe as a group being an extremely memorable one... I'm sure it will be.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Well first I would like to say... WE DID IT!!! WE ELECTED BARACK OBAMA AS OUR 44TH PRESIDENT!!! I cannot express the joy and love I feel for the US of A right now. I've been feeling extremely patriotic and proud. Sometimes I'm tempted to go up to random people and say, "Hey, I'm American and we just had one of the most historic elections in the history of this world. I voted for the guy who won." Thankfully I've suppressed that urge and still seem like a rational, normal person.

Perhaps I should tell you about the events that took place in my life on that historic night that was November 4, 2008. I was pretty anxious all day and that's saying something because I woke up around 9 a.m. which is about 3 a.m. Central time - that means I waited a few hours for most polls to even open. But even after polls open, you really can't find anything out until they close. I swear all the anticipation almost gave me a heart attack. I was so fidgety and jittery all day. I couldn't concentrate on anything - all I could think about was the election. Finally the first polls on the east coast closed at 11 p.m. Edinburgh time. We had gone to one of the election parties being thrown in a pub close to the University's student union. We watched and cheered for Obama until around midnight and the went to stand in line for the other election party (because the pub closed at 1 a.m. and the other party was going until 3 a.m.). We stood in line for nearly two hours but kept updated via Stacey's laptop (which miraculously got internet and we were able to stream live broadcast from MSNBC until her battery died) and phone calls from my dad and mom. While in line I was interviewed by someone making a documentary about the election. For anyone in Cleveland or near there, the film is being shown at the Cleveland Film Festival so keep an eye out. We were denied entry because the doors closed at 2 a.m. (we were literally 5 people away from getting into the building). So we ran back to my friend's flat to watch it on her laptop (courtesy of MSNBC). We chatted, watched, waited and maybe dozed off a bit until the fire alarm went off in the apartment complex around 4:30 a.m. We endured the cold air of early morning Edinburgh until about 5 a.m. and just as we rushed into Stacey's room to get the results they declared Barack Obama as the President-elect of the United States of America. We cheered, cried and finally breathed easily as we watched John McCain graciously concede and Barack Obama address an enormous crowd in Chicago. I am so proud that I was a part of this moment in history. It was a hugely momentous day and I cannot believe we were there to witness it all. How incredible is it that almost 45 years after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, we have an African-American president? Is it not amazing that about 50 years ago we were a segregated country? Yes, racism still exists and we still have quite a ways to go before race is no longer an "issue" (I hate using that word to describe it but its the best one I can think of). But "We Shall Overcome." Yes We Can and, to some extent, Yes We Did.

Wednesday was a rough day because I didn't get to sleep until almost 6 a.m. that morning. I grudgingly went through the motions. I got my hair cut in the afternoon and I'm not sure I like it that much. I think it makes me look like I'm on the way to a PTA meeting. At least its all one color now. We had our potluck and I decided to bring stuffing. It was okay but not delicious. Later that night (which was Guy Fawkes Day/Night) we walked up to "The Crags" of Arthur's Seat and watched hoards of people shooting off fireworks. We even saw some people carrying torches - real torches, not flashlights (because Brits call flashlights "torches"). I pretended like the fireworks were in celebration of Obama's victory. I went to bed early. Today was my American History 2 lecturer's last lecture in that class that he's been teaching for 37 years. The lecture hall was packed and we gave him a standing ovation at the end of class. He was talking about the election results at the beginning of class and mentioned that when he was at school in the US during the 60s he was involved "in a small way" in the Civil Rights Movement. He said he never thought he would live to see the day an African-American become president. Alan Day is his name and he's incredible - definitely the best lecturer I've ever had the pleasure of having.

Tomorrow I am leaving for York, England and will be there for the weekend. Its another trip orgainzed by Butler so there will be a hoards of Americans invading England. I hope the city is prepared. Alright... this is completely random and unrelated to anything else I've written but I'm going to tell you anyway. Today I got a compliment on my eyebrows. Yes, my eyebrows. The woman told me they were a very nice shape and asked if I plucked them. I never realized people noticed your eyebrows unless you had a unibrow or looked like Groucho Marx. It made me feel good even though it was a very weird thing for this woman to notice.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


TODAY IS THE DAY! IT IS FINALLY HERE! Today is the end of all that relentless campaigning from both parties that has been going on for almost two years! I really cannot believe it. I want you all to go out and VOTE! I would be lying if I said I didn't care who you voted for so... I won't (*cough*vote Obama *cough*). This really is a hugely historical election that we all should participate in. Voting is what America is all about and why it is the greatest country on Earth (sorry to those non-Americans). We pride ourselves on freedom, choice and opportunity - so take advantage of it! VOTE!

Monday, November 3, 2008

What Exactly Qualifies As A "Fall Food?"

I have exciting news: I'm going to Holland, Belgium and Germany all in one weekend! Not this weekend (actually this weekend we're going to York, England) but the weekend before Thanksgiving (November 19-23) a few of my friends and I will be in mainland Europe! So exciting! Most of us only have lectures on Wednesday and Thursday, myself included, so we're just going to copy the notes from some fellow classmates once we get back. I just booked my tickets to and from and I am thrilled to actually have confirmed plans. We would like to do a bit more traveling after classes end and before we come home (we'd have about 2 weeks). I only have essays so I actually don't have to sit for any exams. My plan is to finish my essays before December 5th and spend the rest of my time backpacking (more or less) through Europe. YAY!

Well, now that I've got that out of my system I can update you on the goings-on since last Wednesday. I finally recovered from that dreadful sinus infection thanks to the amazing national health care here. This meant I could function like a normal human being and not a walking zombie by Thursday. We (meaning me and my closest friends here in Edinburgh) have started having potlucks every Wednesday so that's what I did that night. This week we're doing fall themed foods and I have no idea what to bring - chili, cornbread and pumpkin bread have already been taken. If any of you have any good ideas let me know. I'm not sure if you're aware but this Wednesday is Guy Fawkes Day and I guess its a tradition to climb up Arthur's Seat - these high hills in the middle of Edinburgh that have been made into a park (click the link for wonderful wikipedia information on it) - and shoot off fireworks and basically go a little crazy. I'm really looking forward to it even though it will be freezing.

Last Thursday we went to a friend's birthday ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee, in case you forgot) and it was very, very fun. I learned a few Scottish dances and made of fool of myself but so did everyone else so it was a-okay. Friday was Halloween and I dressed as an obnoxious American tourist. I feel that night was an extreme success because I received several smiles and a few giggles once people realized what I was. Halloween was not very crazy because we left the party relatively early and instead went back to my friend's flat and chatted until 3 am. Saturday I stayed in bed pretty much all day because my heater did not come on once. Sunday I went to the library to warm my body to a normal temperature (because my heater still hadn't come on) and to do some work. That night I went with my friends to see the Film Society's screening of "The Orphanage." If you like scary movies then see this. If you're like me and don't enjoy them then you really shouldn't see it. I had a really hard time getting to sleep that night. Today was just like most of my other Mondays. Tonight we went to a pub quiz that we thought was American-themed (because of the elections) but we were sadly mistaken. We came in second to last which is worst than last place because at least last place gets a prize.

A really great picture of Maggie (in the green skirt) getting spun at the ceilidh. The birthday boy is on the left in the crown. There are no pictures of me dancing because we all ended up dancing and there was no one to take pictures! I also took a video of this dance which I'll try to post soon.

My beautiful friends on Halloween. Maggie was a fairy, Kara was "under the weather" and Stacey was the Pink Panther even though everyone just thought she was a pink cat.

Me in full tourist mode. You can't see it but my fanny pack says "I (heart) USA." I also had high white socks I was wearing to complete the look.

Tomorrow, as you all know very well, is the long awaited election. I. AM. SO. NERVOUS! Yes, nervous/excited/anxious. I'm going to wear my new "Scotland for Obama" t-shirt and I'm buying red, white and blue ribbons for to put in our hair for the election party tomorrow night. You all MUST go vote! If you don't vote then you can't complain and, more importantly, if you don't vote you'll never know if you could have tipped the scales in your candidate's favor (who I'm hoping is Obama for all of you). So VOTE! I will also remind you tomorrow... just in case you forget.