Janus in Singapore: The Green City

March 22, 2017

Singapore is one of those cities that’s had many names over the years. Many of them sound quite cool at first, like the literary Javanese and Malay name for Singapore, “Temasek.” Disappointingly, however this turns out to be derived the Malay word for “Sea Town,” a fairly accurate but uninspiring name for a city. The opposite is true for how the Mongol Yuan Dynasty referred to Singapore in its records. When you hear the Chinese word “Longyamen,” I imagine that most people with no exposure to Mandarin would picture a bowl of soup, or some time meat bun. Longyamen actually means something like “Dragon Tooth Gate,” a much more creative name than “Sea Town,” and a name that I could imagine in a high fantasy novel. The name Singapore itself is derived from a word in Sanskrit that means “Lion City,” which is one of city’s many contemporary nicknames. It’s interesting, though, because unless my 7th grade biology professor lied to me, I’m certain there are no lions Asia (except maybe India?), not to mention Singapore. But it’s a fitting name, anyway.

The Supertrees in the Garden, in the middle of their special holiday light performance

The moniker I didn’t expect, though, was “The Green City.” When I think of a highly dense, urban area, green is probably one of the last adjectives that come to mind. I think of some of the most densely populated and urbanized places I’ve lived in my life – New York, Beijing, Manila – and I can think of pockets of gorgeous greenery, like New York’s Central or Prospect Parks, Beijing’s Temple of Heaven or Summer Palace, and Manila’s… nevermind. But outside of these special places, I don’t think of green, and a few tourist attractions hardly justify calling a city “green.” Before I did my research, I thought Singapore would be like these places. Not quite dirty like Manila, or overcrowded and full of strange smells like Beijing. More like New York, where it’s crowded enough but not terribly uncomfortable, where some some streets can get dirty and smelly at times, and some streets are dirty and smelly all the time. I pictured that like New York, Singapore would have a few tree-lined streets and the occasional small park, but for the most part would be more ‘concrete jungle’ than actual jungle. Especially when you think of the meteoric rise of its economy over the last century its land and natural resource constraints, the thought of Singapore putting such an emphasis on nature is unfathomable. You would think that to get where it is now, Singapore would need to make certain environmental sacrifices.

SMU’s Library, hidden in greenery

But somehow, the opposite has happened. Singapore has actually become greener as its population and economy grew. In 1980, Singapore’s green cover stood at 36%, but is at an impressive 47% today. That’s a figure that seems unbelievable at first – but once you walk through the streets of Singapore, it becomes clear that the nation has really placed nature near the top of its list of priorities. Even the busiest streets in the financial and commercial centers are full of vegetation, and most roofs are covered by either gardens or solar panels. One of the nation’s biggest initiatives is its rules regarding new developments – you have to replace any greenery you remove. Additionally, many sectors in Singapore have “green rating” requirements, which requires that buildings meet a certain environmental friendliness standard.

Another garden just outside the gardens – space is a premium near the Bay, as it’s one of the busiest parts of Singapore

The Gardens by the Bay, a nature park in Singapore right next to the heart of the city, and right next to the Marina Bay Sands, arguably Singapore’s most famous building, is the perfect symbol for the city’s progress. The central exhibit is a series of massive trees covered in steel rain collectors and solar panels. It was one of the first sights I got to see in Singapore, and also the most inspiring. Before I came here, I was always under the impression that economic development and urbanization are necessarily at odds with environmental protection, at least when you seek to maximize them. But Singapore disproves this idea. Singapore is indeed the greenest city in the world, but somehow all of its environmental protection is productive, too.

A view of the river running through the Gardens by the Bay


Clara in Italy: Le Celle (and light)

December 29, 2016

AKA he really should have been called St. Francis of CORTONA guys am I right (also I really like sunsets)

Basically, one thing I learned in Italy was that St. Francis of Assisi actually first set up in Cortona. His first monastery was established at Le Celle, just outside Cortona. You have to walk even further up the hill from where we were established, up to a different town called Torreone. It’s a very small town with a small coffee shop that serves GIANT COFFEES. Like, the size of your head. (If I’m being suuuuuuuper honest, the giant coffees are not… that… good………. but they’re giant, and that’s what matters.) Here’s a picture of the fountain just outside that for some reason I’ve always liked. Maybe it’s the lettering or something.

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Anyways, the view on the way to Le Celle is honestly pretty killer, as are most views in Cortona, but like. Especially, since we’re even higher than usual.

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But before I get too sidetracked, here it is. Le Celle!

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It’s quite a magical place. There’s a little waterfall and some lovely stone rooms.

I have to admit though, it really was a perfect day for lighting, especially for someone like me that likes darker photos and weird sunlight. And of course, being the nerd I am, I took a lot of pictures of the effects of light on things in the forest and scenery around Le Celle instead of a lot of the stuff inside Le Celle itself. The whole area is, as I said, quite magical.

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We actually didn’t spend nearly as much time as I wanted to spend there in all honesty, but it got dark really fast and also rather cold, but it meant that as we walked back towards the school, we had a great view of the sunset among all the black shadowed trees.

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We had been waiting (well, I guess I’d been) all semester to visit this place, so I’m glad I finally got to go at the end of the semester, though it wasn’t quite as long as I wanted it to be. Stay determined!

 

 

 


Tori in Spain: ¡Feliz Cumpleaños Yolanda!

December 5, 2016

The first time I walked into Iglesia Evangelica de Cristo Vive, I was greeted by a lady who talked a mile a minute and never stopped smiling. Although it was my second week and I was extremely overwhelmed by Spanish, she was patient, and we started to get to know each other. Yolanda and I chatted every week after church, our conversations always beginning with her scolding me for not arriving early enough to chat before church. “¿Por que tú siempre llegas tarde?” She later introduced me to her son Eker, who has become one of my closest friends in Madrid. He taught me how to salsa dance and came to Morocco with me… he is the best!

3 months later, my week would not be complete if I did not have a mínimum of 3 texts from Yolanda reminding me that God is in control and that she is praying that He will guide me. Last weekend, I had the privilege of celebrating Yolanda´s birthday at her brother´s mountain house in la Sierra de Madrid, and it was an incredible day.

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View from Eker’s uncle’s mountain house!

Me, Eker, Kristina, and Amalie arrived at 10am, and Yolanda was in the kitchen, making all sorts of things that smelled wonderful. We met Yolanda´s brother, and he gave us a tour of the house. It was the highest in the village, so it had an amazing view of the mountains and pueblo below. It was breathtaking. Two dogs ran around and a huge garden of veggies and fruits surrounded the house. Yolanda, being a typical Spanish woman, then began insisting we eat everything in the house… They do hospitality well here. We ate some integral cake and a platano pineapple drink that was super yummy, and then went off to explore the beautiful mountains.

Our quick hike turned into a 3 hours affair because we decided to forge our own path instead of following the trail. By decided, I mean we were forced to because none of us had any idea where we were (don´t tell Eker I said that, if he asks I had full confidence in his ability to get us home the whole time). We found a beautiful lake and some even more incredible views. I breathe easier in the mountains, and being surrounded by sunshine and trees was good for my soul.

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I’m in awe of this place!

The house in the mountains was a place of peace, and the tranquil atmosphere made the presence of God almost tangible. They use the house for lots of church retreats and dinners, and I can see why. It is a special place of rest and rejuvenation and recalibration of the heart. A rock lies outside the house that says “Jesus es el camino” in honor of Tio´s wife who died 6 years ago. It served as a beautiful reminder of the creator of the beauty and peace we experienced that day.

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When we returned from our hike, the feast began. Most of Eker´s family is Peruvian, and the relatives started rolling in to celebrate. We collected firewood for the wood burning stove outside, and Tio began cooking every type of meat imaginable. Even though it was her birthday, I am pretty sure she only left the kitchen to make sure everyone else was comfortable and having a good time. Her joy and energy are contagious, and her constant thankfulness to God a beautiful reminder of what is important, and what isn´t.

There were about 18 of us there to celebrate Yolanda, from age 12 to age 90. It was a really fun mix. Eker´s sisters absolutely blew me away, they were kind and beautiful and wise beyond their years. I am constantly in awe of their whole family. We feasted on lamb, AMAZING chorizo, pork ribs, yummy cilantro salad, and a delicious rice and chicken soup, while sipping pineapple wáter. It was one of the greatest meals of my life, and was followed by roasted SWEET POTATOS, platanos, platano bread, and an amazing dessert called leche asado (cooked milk). Every minute of the day I was in awe… it didn´t feel like real life.

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The whole fam!

The day ended with 3 content, sleepy girls trying to play UNO in a group of what felt like a gagillion Spanish speakers and understand their jokes. Most of the time, we just laughed along and played our cards, content to be with this amazing family, and so thankful to have gotten to spend such a special day with them. Yolanda and Eker, thank you! Being a part of your family this semester has been incredibly sweet. I will never forget you.


Naomi at Akita Week 12: 黒い舌

November 28, 2016

It was a beautiful day and I had an hour break before my next class so I decided to go on a walk. I’ve noticed we only get about two nice days per week here in Akita. The other days it’s either pouring rain, constantly pouring, or simply cloudy. I walked off campus, passing Banafi (the only convenience store for miles), and headed to a bridge that overlooked some rice fields. It took only about 5-10 minutes to walk to the bridge. I was listening to Chance and enjoying the cold wind hitting my face. While I was looking over the bridge I heard someone call my name. My friends Toshi and Ria were driving past me. Ria stuck her head out the window and kept yelling my name. Toshi messaged me immediately on LINE afterwards asking me how the weather was. It was a good way to start the week. I’m glad I ended up going on a walk because, as expected, it rained the next few days.

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Here’s a selfie I took on my walk. My friends always get mad at me for making this face: the Nomi face. I don’t like smiling in pictures so I always end up making this face. I would also like to mention my mom sent me that FILA sweater I’m wearing in the picture and I can’t emphasize how thankful I am. It’s only November and it’s already so cold here that you need all the sweaters you can get.

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After my walk, I still had time to spare so I went to the IT lab and kept Patrik some company. He goes there a lot since his laptop is broken. I know in the picture he’s obviously scrolling through YouTube but he was actually working on his five haikus for Japanese literature class. Listening to music inspired him to come up with some haikus. He wanted to write them in Japanese and translate them into English. I helped him with one of the haikus – the squid ink one, you can see it in the picture. I ate a squid ink riceball for the first time in Okinawa a while ago and wow, it was delicious. My tongue was super black afterwards. I told Patrik when we go this winter break that I would make sure he tries one. The other picture is of one of the haikus he came up with. I couldn’t stop laughing because I’m not kidding when I say Patrik has had a constant cold since he first got here. He gets sick all the time and carries nasal spray around him because his nose is never unstuffed. Poor guy. It makes for a great haiku though!

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Patrik and I went to the IT lab again to print out our third draft for the ポスター発表 (poster speech). At the end of the semester, all students in JPL300 have to give a 5-7 minute speech about anything they wish. I’m tremendously nervous for it because it’s just a lot to remember in just Japanese. I’m talking about Okinawa though so it should be fun! Anyways, I snapped this picture of a girl passed out at the computer – a good representation of the life of an AIU student. Just kidding, people here are so lively, full of energy and on top of their studies at the same time. It’s a wonderful community, really.

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I Facetimed Madison, my friend from UR, this week! I’m not good at keeping in contact but she is, thankfully. She messages me and makes sure we Facetime biweekly to update each other on our lives. She’s studying abroad in Madrid right now so the time difference isn’t too bad, only 8 hours. We give each other advice on our dilemmas, of course. Unfortunately, she’s studying abroad in Spain for the entire year so I don’t get to see her when I return back to Richmond this January BUT I might visit her in the summer and travel around Europe with her for a bit. I’m not sure though, it’s up in the air. I miss her!

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Annabelle and Isabella are both in JPL101 and they had to give a short speech in Japanese for class. They talked about their vacation to Korea this past summer. I listened to them and corrected them when they made a mistake. The participles threw them off a bit but they went over it about 5-10 times and had it all down by the end. Annabelle made a PowerPoint full of pictures from their vacation and it was fun to look through. They went to a Dog Café while they were in Korea and there was a picture of Annabelle with a huge smile spread across her face next to a pug. The pug looked terrified and its eyes looked like they were about to pop out of its head. It was wonderful.

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Oh man, don’t get me started on Japanese Reading class. I don’t remember if I have mentioned but with our JPL300 class we are able to take supplemental classes, such as reading and kanji – I’m in both. Well, for Reading class, we are assigned a reading per week and have to answer questions based on the reading. Recently, the readings have been getting increasingly hard with all of the vocabulary and grammar. This week we read a story about an old man calling for a priest, monk, and minister to pray for him before he passes so he can go to heaven. He gave each of them ¥10,000 ($100) to come and pray for him. However, before he dies, he asks each of them to place ¥2,000 ($20) in his coffin so he has money in heaven. At his funeral, the priest and minister each place the ¥2,000. The story ends with the monk taking the ¥4,000 from the coffin and placing a check inside for ¥6,000 ($60)….do you get it?

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Patrik and I took a while to finally understand the story. Our friend Sandy who is also in our class helped us translate it. When we finally understood what the monk had done we cried full of joy. Not really, but it felt like we were about to…we were so relieved to finally understand the story and answer the questions. Sandy, from Taiwan, comes to my LDIC sessions to improve her English so I’ve gotten close to her. She comes every week now and it’s great. I can tell she’s improving in her English and becoming more confident in speaking it!

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Michelle, another friend from Richmond, sent me a postcard this week. We wanted to be pen pals but after our first letters she stopped because she became too busy to write a letter. Instead she sent me this postcard, which is totally fine because I love postcards as well. She actually just started working at the gym on campus so I’m glad I still get to see her often despite her graduating this past year!

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We had another nice day this week so I asked Annabelle and Isabella to join me on a walk. My friend Isshin showed me this open space in the beginning of the semester so I decided to go there. The goofballs made me walk in the front just in case there were spider webs. I brought my camera with me and told them I would take photos of them. I guess they were so excited for a photo shoot that they even wore matching sweaters. I played some music from my iPhone and they just started doing random poses.


They did several cute poses, as you can see in the first picture. Isabella asked Annabelle if she could touch her toes for a picture and Annabelle couldn’t do it. She claimed to be inflexible and I kept telling her to straighten her legs for the picture. We all couldn’t stop laughing. Then, Isabella reached over and said, “Annabelle, I can touch your toes.” That’s when we all lost it. My stomach actually hurt from laughing so hard.

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My iPhone shut off because it was too cold outside so Isabella started playing music until her iPhone also shut off due to the cold. Annabelle pulled a weed from the ground and started playing with it so Isabella did the same. They both started practicing their dance for the dancing event next weekend. My mom and Tyler, my younger brother, are visiting next weekend so we’re all going to go and see them perform! We ended up walking back to campus as the sun was setting. We used the flashlight from Annabelle’s iPhone to make sure we wouldn’t walk into any spider webs and thorns. By the time we got to the cafeteria for dinner, our fingers were numb. We couldn’t even use our chopsticks correctly.

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I tried getting a nice picture of the sunset yesterday but my camera skills are lacking. I just wanted to say that a lot of us are starting to get upset knowing that the semester is coming to an end. After this weekend, we only have four weeks of classes left. It’s unbelievable how quickly the semester has gone. It feels like yesterday we were all meeting up at the beach, singing our hearts out at the karaoke place. Instead of getting upset over it, I’m going to enjoy the rest of the time I have here and make the best out of it.


Olivia in Scotland: Peace of Mind

November 14, 2016

Hello everyone!

It’s been a crazy week. This is what they call “essay completion week” here; I’m in two honors English seminars and the term essays for both seminars are due this coming Monday, so they cancel their seminar meetings for the week before the essays are due to give students time to work. Strangely enough, though, this is the first real assignment that has been due all semester for these classes. The academic system here seems to me like it’s actually structured to encourage procrastination—it allows students to not do too much work for all but a couple weeks of the semester and then work like mad those weeks if they choose to do so. It’s an odd system to me, but it’s a good thing to be prepared for if you’re thinking about studying abroad here.

Anyway, since it is essay completion week, I’ve temporarily lost nearly all sense of my normal schedule. I only had a few class meetings for my Scottish ethnology course this week, but I didn’t get to attend all of those because, on top of all the essay work, I’ve been sick. That means that a lot of this week has consisted of me staying in my flat, eating soup, drinking tea, and taking cold medicine, all while trying to gather research and write two huge English essays. A lot of students know that frustrating feeling when your body gives out on you just when you feel like you most need to be healthy so you can concentrate on your coursework; that’s certainly been the case for me. The emotional and physical stress I have been under and that sometimes comes with going abroad made it not too surprising to me that I got sick.

You could say that the mid-semester burnout has hit pretty hard.

Fortunately, as hard as it has been there have also been some bright spots in this week. A big one for me was a really simple moment I had on Tuesday when I went out to turn in a hard copy for another paper that was due this week. The University of Edinburgh has several campuses throughout the city, but all of my classes are at the George Square campus. The center of this campus is the George Square Gardens, a beautiful, fairly large city square around with tall trees, park benches, and a circular path with greenery in the middle. Normally I just walk around it to go between the buildings, but on Tuesday I kind of arbitrarily decided to walk through it. I immediately felt more peaceful. It had just rained (quite an ordinary state of matters in this city), and the smell of petrichor from earth calmed my nerves a bit from my hectic week. For me, nature always reminds me of God—it reminds me that I’m a part of something bigger, that someone created all of this, and that God is right here beside me if I seek Him. I really needed that reminder this Tuesday, what with the stress of essays, of being sick, and of the election back home. A simple walk through nature reminded me that life is bigger than my current circumstances and that, while it’s not easy, I’m not alone. No election or essay will ever alter the presence of God in my life.

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Sometimes you don’t know you need to walk through a square until you walk through a square 🙂 #citylife 

As I muddle through academic, physical, and emotional challenges, I’m so thankful for the people God has placed in my life to help me through. I continue to be surprised and touched each day by the support that my people here and at home have shown me. I’m thankful for coffee dates with new friends, small group meetings with my church, and friends who will pick me up a box of tissues when I need it. 🙂

And now I’m off to attempt to sing in a choir concert! Till next time!


Tori in Spain: Returning to Como

November 7, 2016
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Lake Como, Italy. 2016.

Italy may be my favorite country in the world. The summer after I graduated from high school, my best friend & I backpacked through this beautiful country for a month, and it changed my life in a lot of ways.

It was in Italy that I was away from home, on my own, for a month, for the first time. It was in Italy that I was first able to drink legally. It was in Italy that I had to figure out who I was when no one else was around to tell me what to be. It was in Italy that I made some really big mistakes that eventually taught me how to live for God instead of living to bolster my own ego and prove myself to others.

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Backpacking through Menaggio in the summer of 2014 with my best friend Claire & her sister Emily.

Italy taught me about the beauty of cultural difference, how to navigate conflict and disagreement, and how I prefer to travel. Italy taught me about how I am different than others and how that is okay. Italy prepared me to enter into college equipped with more knowledge of who I am and who I want to be.

The most beautiful place I visited in Italy was a town called Mennagio in Lago di Como. It is a small village nestled in the Alps on the shore of a big, beautiful, clear lake. The scenery is breathtaking. Every second feels like a movie because it is just that awe-inspiring. Last weekend, I had the privilege of returning to Mennaggio and staying in the same hostel I stayed at 2 and a half years earlier with my best friend from high school.

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Back at Ostello Menaggio 2.5 years later.

This village was where I made the biggest mistakes of my trip to Italy, and it was cool to return to such a crucial place in my story under such different pretenses. While I used to look back at the person who did those things in disgust, I can now see how the Lord was moving in my story and drawing my heart closer to Him in even my darkest moments. I do not feel the need to disassociate myself from the person who did those things, because they are beautiful proof of the story of redemption and healing that the Lord has been telling throughout my life. I was Tori then, and I am Tori now, and I will never be “good” on my own, but will always have a God who takes me as I am and loves me through the process of becoming.

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Little ‘ol me looking out at God’s breathtaking creation (2016)

It was fun to return to such an important and beautiful place and do things differently. I went with Kristina, my roommate at U of R, as well as Amalie, my roommate in Madrid, and three of our other good friends. We picnicked on the shore of the lake, went out to a nice Italian dinner, and hiked up to a church with a beautiful view of the city. Additionally, there was FALLLLLL in Como. The leaves were vibrant and the weather was crisp. I had been deeply missing North Carolina autumn, so this was a welcome change from the one day summer next day winter seasonal transition in Madrid.

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Picnic number 123912 of abroad!

One night we had drinks with some Australians that were staying at our hostel, and the wine made me “extra passionate” (Kristina’s words, not mine) about effective altruism, privilege, and human rights. Me and my new Australian friend fed off of each others comments and got fired up about social justice over wine. This is a hilarious contrast from the high school girl who didn’t know what a mature relationship with alcohol looked like when she arrived in Como 2.5 years earlier. Jesus is faithful.

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Lago di Como, Italy. 2014.


Olivia in Scotland: Not Throwing Away My Shot

November 4, 2016

Hello! Are you ready for a long post?

As you may remember, I spent a lot of the beginning of my time in the U.K. traveling back and forth between London and Edinburgh. Well, since then, I’ve stayed entirely in Scotland and explored more of this country. Let me tell you, it’s amazing. I did try to slow down a bit these past few weeks, but when I look back at all I did, I see that I’ve really still been going pretty nonstop. I guess that’s the nature of study abroad; I don’t want to throw away my shot to see as many of the sights of Scotland as I possibly can. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to in Scotland in October!

October 8th-9th: I traveled through the Highlands with a bunch of international students to the Isle of Skye! This was the most scenically stunning trip I have ever been on by far. I mean, just look at this:

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From the Old Man of Storr which we hiked up on Saturday. The view was absolutely incredible. 

On the way to Skye, we made a lot of stops to see the sights of the Highlands. One of these was Loch Lomond—yes, the one from the song you might have heard before (the “you take the high road and I’ll take the low road” one). From there, we rode through the Highlands (on the same road that James Bond drives on in the movie Skyfall) to Glencoe. This was the site of Scotland’s famous Glencoe Massacre, and for me, the misty mountains there still carry an air of mystery with a touch of the ominous. With its three mountains called the Three Sisters, it is a starkly beautiful place.

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You couldn’t see the tops of the mountains because of the mist and it was eerily cool. Also #spiderpride in Glencoe 

One cool thing I did happened when we stopped for lunch at Fort William. I actually ran around looking for graveyards. That probably sounds pretty weird, but my parents told me that I had ancestors who lived there way back when, so I decided to see if I could find any of them! I didn’t have much luck, but I did see some names on their World War I memorial who could be relatives of ours. That was still a pretty cool feeling.

I’ll mention one other stop we made on the way to Skye: Eilean Donan Castle. It’s located at a point where three lochs converge. We didn’t go inside the castle, but this is definitely among the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

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You might recognize this castle if you’ve seen the movie Made of Honor. It looks like something out of a fairy tale. 

Once we got to Skye, I had one of my favorite moments of the whole tour. We stayed in a hostel called Saucy Mary’s that had a bar in the bottom floor. In the bar that night, a band called Iron Midden played (yes, that was their real name). They were a traditional Scottish folk band and they were absolutely incredible. Here’s a sample of one of their songs.

The next day, we rode up to the North of the island, hiked the Old Man of Storr, ate fish and chips in Portree, and made a lot of other stops throughout the island before heading back to Edinburgh. Everywhere we went on this trip was just do beautiful. If you have the opportunity to do a tour like this, GO!

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“What are men to rocks and mountains?” -Jane Austen 

October 14th-15th: Because I was showing a friend around the city, I finally did some of the more touristy Edinburgh things that I hadn’t done yet! We went to Edinburgh Castle where we saw the Scottish crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny which was once the throne of the rulers of Scotland. We also walked along Princes Street where we saw the Scott Monument and walked up Calton Hill where we got a lovely view of the city, and the next morning we went up a bit of Arthur’s Seat for the sunrise.

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Arthur’s Seat(ish) at sunrise! (I say “ish” because we didn’t go up very high; that hill is steeeeep.)

In the middle of this, we also took a day trip north to the town of Cupar where we went to Cairnie Fruit Farm. It was fun being in a part of Scotland I had never seen before; there were lots of gentler hills rolling away for miles around. The fruit farm itself had trampolines, pedal-operated go-karts, a corn maze, and a yummy café, so my friends and I had a lovely time.

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Pumpkins + friends = a good day!

October 19th: I started making use of my Historic Scotland Membership by visiting nearby Craigmillar Castle with my friend Rachel. This trip illustrated one of my favorite things about Edinburgh—it’s a great city, but you don’t have to go very far until you reach nature again. Craigmillar Castle is only about a 20-minute bus ride away, yet it’s in the middle of open fields and has lots of trees around it. This castle is interesting because, although it’s a ruin and doesn’t look very big, there are a lot of twists and turns and it’s easy to get a little lost. Also, my friend Rachel and I found a room with amazing acoustics, so we had to try singing there.

 

October 21st-22nd: I went to a light show at the Royal Botanical Gardens on Friday night with some friends from my church. This was really unique and fun! It was actually more of a light-and-water show as they did things like this that combined the two with music:

Then on Saturday I visited the Scottish National Gallery of Art and went on the Potter Trail! Although it’s not as large as other national galleries, I really enjoyed the one here and its wide range of art. It was especially cool to see a few paintings of Edinburgh throughout the ages. Now, what is the Potter Trail, you might ask? Well, it’s a free walking tour that takes you to every location in the city that has something to do with Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling wrote much of the series here and got her inspiration from some of the things around her so there’s plenty to see. The highlight? The grave of a “Thomas Riddell,” the name inspiration for Tom Riddle, a.k.a. Lord Voldemort.

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I was pretty excited to be standing at Voldemort’s grave. #potterhead 

October 28th-30th: I traveled up to St Andrews to visit my friend Susy from Richmond. It’s only about an hour’s train ride away from Edinburgh. The small town atmosphere was a nice change from the city. We went to the East Sands Pier, saw the castle with its impressive siege mine and countermine (which we went down into, although it’s not for the claustrophobic), and went to the ruined cathedral and climbed its tower where you can look out over the town.  For such a placid, peaceful place, it actually has quite a bloody history.

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Bloody history or no, the view from the pier is beautiful!

We also went golfing at St Andrew’s world-famous Old Course! Well, not quite at the old course, more like right next to it. They have a putting green called the Himalayas where people who have no idea how to golf can go play mini golf for just a couple pounds, so it was perfect for us. Other than spending time with my sweet friend, my two favorite things about the trip were 1.) the Malteser hot chocolate that I bought at North Point, which is the café where Prince William and Kate used to meet for coffee when they attended the university, and 2.) this beautiful recreation of a movie scene that we caught on camera. We went to West Sands, the beach where the first scene from Chariots of Fire was filmed, and, well, you see what happened.

October 31st: A few friends and I took a road trip to Linlithgow to visit Linlithgow Palace and Blackness Castle. My favorite of these two was Linlithgow Palace. There’s a beautiful loch right next to it with all these little boats on it, and there was some beautiful fall foliage on the trees around it. I loved how the palace had lots of very large windows; the architects seemed to realize that they should just let the natural beauty of Linlithgow speak for itself.

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The view from one of the big windows! If you look closely, you can see some white stuff on the water- those are swans.

Lastly, we stopped by Blackness Castle. This one isn’t very large, but its location on the North Sea definitely made it a worthwhile stop for me.

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Blackness Castle with friends! It’s a beautiful spot.

So, that’s all the places I traveled to in the month of October! I’m in love with Scotland. I love the landscapes and the people and the history. I hope I get to explore it more and get to know Edinburgh better in the time I have left here.

Till next time! Slainte mhath! (That’s “cheers” in Gaelic.)


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