Photos: Edinburgh

So. Edinburgh. It’s the one place besides London I’ve most wanted to visit in Europe, and it took until the last week of my time here to finally make it.

I took the train in Wednesday morning (4 1/2 hours) and, after finding my hostel without getting lost for once, I headed down into Old Town Edinburgh to explore. Most of the big attractions in Edinburgh are along like two major streets, so it doesn’t take long to get to them all. I saw St. Giles Cathedral, the National Library, the Writers’ Museum, a really elaborate tartan-making exhibition/museum that I found inside a gift shop and finally Edinburgh Castle. Then I headed over to Princes Street, which has some beautiful gardens, the Scottish National Gallery, the Scott Monument and a lot of shopping.

I made it to the Elephant House for dinner, which is the cafe that J.K. Rowling made famous by writing the first Harry Potter in; unfortunately I ducked in right before the rain (on and off all day) became a downpour, and I was not the only one with that idea, so it was pretty packed. It was a lovely little place, though.

After that I saw Greyfriars Kirk and the various memorials put up for Greyfriars Bobby the dog, then sort of accidentally wandered into the main campus of the University of Edinburgh. I left there and eventually made it over to the pub that happened to serve as the starting point for the Edinburgh Literary Pub Crawl.

I went on one of these in Dublin and absolutely loved it, so when I noticed a sign for the Edinburgh one that morning, I knew I had to go. If you don’t remember, a literary pub crawl is a sort of combination moving theatre performance/guided tour focused on the city’s famous literary figures, which happens to stop periodically at pubs. The Edinburgh one was different from Dublin in that most of the writers they focused on were poets, so there was less theatre and more poetry recitation. Also all of the famous Scottish poets were known for writing in Scots, which is more or less incomprehensible and I refuse to acknowledge it as a real language. It was still really interesting, though, and I learned a ton about Scottish literature.

The second day was divided into two main adventures. First, I went to the National Museum of Scotland, and even just staying in the half devoted to actual Scottish history only made it through half of that in the three hours I was there. Then I wandered down to the Scottish Parliament, where they actually let visitors inside, and saw the palace next to it that the Queen never actually comes to but is still an official residence.

Then it was time for my second main adventure: climbing Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is the tallest of a group of hills in the centre of Edinburgh once formed by volcanos; I like to think of it as climbing a volcano. It takes about 45 minutes to get up there, and the view from the top is incredible. After I made it back down it was getting a little difficult to walk, so I just headed back to New Town to see a few sights (and accidentally ran into a political protest on the way) before taking the overnight bus back to London.

Edinburgh was a fun two-day trip, with less Harry Potter and more actual learning about Scottish history and literature than I was expecting. It was a lovely last trip to have, and I will definitely be coming back some day for the Fringe Festival, the one highlight of Edinburgh I unfortunately couldn’t be there for. Now, time for all the photos!

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Photos: Oxford

Oxford is actually a remarkably easy day trip from London, just ten pounds and one hour each way. There’s not a ton to do there besides look at pretty architecture and a bunch of free museums, but it made a good day trip. There’s also the one big highlight of the Great Hall of Christ Church College, aka the Hogwarts Great Hall, as well as a variety of places related to JRR Tolkien, Lewis Carroll and other famous English writers associated with Oxford. The city also has a lot of good shopping, though nothing I could afford. Again, a nice college town, but I’m glad I didn’t choose to study there over my lower quality but better located for adventures London uni.

Most of my photos come from museums, and it is quite likely I mixed up a college or two. Still, the pictures are nice. Enjoy!

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Photos: Amsterdam, Paris and Marseille

Hello everyone! I am back from my backpacking-across-Europe solo week, and on the whole, I’d say it was a success. I did manage to break the zipper on the only pair of shoes I brought the first night, and I had some inordinately rude hostel-mates (and got to experience the apparently quite common event of having someone have sex in your hostel room while you are also there), but other than that, I had a lot of fun. I didn’t even spend too much money!

Monday morning I flew into Amsterdam, then after making it to the central train station spent about an hour wandering around lost/exploring Amsterdam before making it to my hostel. Then I went to the main tourist strip, went to the Sex Museum (of course, it’s Amsterdam), a couple of shops and Dam Square before it went crazy for Queensday the next day. Next I headed over to the Anne Frank House (fascinating but rather miserably depressing) and on my way back to the center of town found a random Rembrandt art exhibition that I went through. Then I went on a canal cruise/tour to see the rest of the sites, had dinner, and headed back to the hostel. That night I went to an outdoor concert/festival thing I had seen setting up earlier in the day, which was pretty fun.

Tuesday was Queensday, and not just any Queensday. It was inauguration day for the new King Willem-Alexander, the first king the Netherlands has had in over a hundred years. It was a complete zoo out, and people were being really mean and pushy, but I still made it to Dam Square to see the new king and queen come out to meet their subjects. Then I spent quite a few hours just wandering–on Queensday, literally the entirety of Amsterdam becomes a giant street market where anyone can sell whatever they want on any street. It’s kind of epic. After getting suitably lost and walking way farther than I wanted to (while toting all of my luggage because I had checked out of the hostel already and the train station’s luggage lockers were closed for security reasons), I managed to find Vondel Park and then the Rijksmuseum, from which I have way too many photos. I went and watched a rather awful concert outside the Museumplein in which they seemed to only play American music in an attempt to rest my aching legs, then headed to the bus station for my overnight bus to Paris.

After a nap at the hostel and a free breakfast of unlimited croissants, French bread and hot chocolate (uh oh), I headed out for the day. May Day is essentially Labour Day for continental Europe, so not much indoor stuff was open. I went to Sacre Coeur and then took the train out to Versailles, where the gardens were still open and more than enough to look at on their own. I made it back to Paris, saw the Jardin du Luxembourg, found several famous churches while trying to locate a Metro station, and went back to the area near the hostel for dinner. By this point I had realised that continental Europe doesn’t really believe in vegetarians, and I needed to eat as much as I could whenever I could just to keep from passing out. It was an interesting change in how I approach food.

Thursday was the big tourist day in Paris. I took the metro down to the Arc de Triomphe, shopped my way down the Champs Elysees (and bought a new bikini!) and made it to the Louvre, where I spent most of the rest of the day. After that, I hit a few more odd palaces and monuments, waited for dark to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up, and went home for the evening.

Friday morning my adventure was the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the largest green area in Paris which has hundreds of famous people buried in it, including Moliere, Edith Piaf, Balzac and tons of others. The place is a complete maze, and you just pick up a map and find all the graves you can. Then I headed to the train station to get my TGV to Marseille, again spending way too long wandering around lost when my hostel was within sight of the train station, and headed down to the Vieux Port, the downtown area of Marseille. There was this big art installation thing that involved a lot of fire going on, and I took a lot of pictures. Then I headed home for the evening.

Saturday I took another train to Montpeller to visit my friend Julia who has been living there all year, and is actually leaving to go back to the States tomorrow. She showed me all the famous buildings and monuments, though I didn’t take any pictures, and then took me to a bunch of fantastic food places for crepes, gelato and real French macaroons. The place is gorgeous, a typical sleepy French town, though I think I’d go insane spending more than a couple of days there. But, to each their own. I took the train back to Marseille and decided to climb up to Notre Dame de la Garde, the cathedral at the highest point in Marseille. It took ages and was a real workout, but I got there right at sunset and the view is amazing.

Sunday I had planned to be my beach day, but of course, after two days of amazing weather, it was overcast all day. I wandered around town a bit more and then headed down to the beach anyway, though I didn’t spend too long there. But I made it to the beach in the south of France, waded in the ocean in my new bikini I bought in Paris and read for a little while. Then came the long trek back home to London.

I’m leaving London in barely more than two weeks, and it’s finally starting to sink in. My trip was rather nice and I am very happy to be heading home, but there’s still so much more to see! Still, a few more quick adventures and one exam, and I’ll be headed back home, the adventure over. It’s been one wild ride.

Update: Photos have now been captioned! Thank you for your patience.

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Photos: Berlin, Bruges and Paris

So, in the final segment of my catch-up post sequence, we have the Grand European Tour. Your typical nonstop, not nearly enough sleep, all the sightseeing sort of adventure.

We got off to a fantastic start on Monday when we missed our flight to Berlin–lesson learned, don’t trust cheap alarm clocks. Booked the next flight, got to Germany late afternoon rather than late morning, but everything was okay. And then we managed to get lost on the way to the hostel, despite the fact that the place is visible from the Bahn (subway) stop. Anyway, we went out to do a bit of sightseeing while there was still light and came across this fantastic market in Alexanderplatz–tons of food, lots of clothing vendors (largely selling winter hats, it was rather freezing), even a few carnival rides. We saw a few places in the dark and then headed to a traditional German beer hall for dinner. They even had a band playing German music, and there were a bunch of old people up there dancing and then they pulled up this group of awkward teenagers and it was adorable.

Tuesday was the big sightseeing day. We went back through the market at Alexanderplatz and bought ridiculous (fake-)furry German hats, then headed to the Berliner Dom, the big cathedral in Berlin. You can wander around the whole inside and take pictures, and then you get to climb all the way to the top of the dome to see Berlin from above. Then we wandered through ‘Museum Island’ and down to Brandenburg Gate, which used to be part of the Berlin Wall but is now a symbol of unity between East and West Berlin. Then we went to the Reichstag to stand in line for over an hour in the freezing cold to get a ticket to go inside for the next day, then another traditional German restaurant for dinner. By the way, ever wonder what traditional German vegetarian food is? Bread and cheese. And a lot of it. And occasionally sauerkraut, which isn’t bad if you only have a few bites. But mostly bread and cheese.

Wednesday we actually went up into the big glass dome in the Reichstag, to get an even better view of the city plus an audio tour that tells you a lot of the geographical history of the area. We saw the Holocaust Memorial and the Twin Cathedrals, headed over to Checkpoint Charlie (an old American spy meet-up at the edge of the American sector of Berlin) and ended with the old section of the Berlin Wall that’s still standing. They call it the East Side Gallery, and they’ve covered probably a mile of the wall with graffiti-style art portraying the end of the East-West separation and other contentious political issues. I have a ton of pictures from that. Then we ran (literally) back to the hostel and to the bus station to get on our overnight bus to Belgium.

(Note to everyone who has been traveling in Europe twenty or more years ago: Trains are not the best way to travel through Europe anymore. They’re very expensive, not particularly reliable and more of a huge pain than anything else. I know this is difficult to accept, but you don’t just get a railway pass and wander around anymore. The landscape has changed.)

We arrived in Brussels at about 5:30am Thursday morning and headed over to the hostel/hotel–there is much less of a distinction between the two in Continental Europe. The fabulous hotel staff let us into our room at 6am despite the fact that check-in time wasn’t until 3pm, so we got to shower and change before heading off on that day’s adventure: Bruges. It’s a little medieval town in Belgium, about an hour’s train ride from Brussels. It’s incredibly scenic, full of gorgeous cathedrals and other medieval architecture and has some of the best chocolate shops in Belgium. In other words, heaven. Lunch was real Belgian waffles and real Belgian fries, we went on a boat tour through the canals that surround the city to get to see even more and we ate ALL THE CHOCOLATE. Seriously, if you want to do week-after-Easter discount chocolate shopping right, go to Belgium. The highlight of Bruges is the Belfry, the town’s bell tower built in 1280 that you can climb the 366 narrow, treacherous steps up to the top of and see the whole town from above. Unfortunately, Bruges is one of those artsy little towns where everything closes at 5pm, so we didn’t get to do everything we wanted. Then it was dinner and back to Brussels for the night.

Friday morning began with the 8am bus to Paris. Of course it was late, and we spent quite a while looking for a place to store our bags for the day so we didn’t really get started until mid-afternoon. I did get real French crepes though, and then we went and saw Notre Dame, the flower and used-book markets along the Seine, the outside of the Louvre, the Champs-Elysees/Place de la Concorde and the Eiffel Tower. Someday when I have many, many hours to spare I will actually stand in line to go inside some of those places, but we hit all of the main stops for when you only have one afternoon to spend in Paris. Then it was dinner, another race back to the bus station and an incredibly miserable overnight bus back to London–customs at 3am and the ferry ride at 4am when there’s no heat and it’s Europe’s most bizarrely long winter ever is NOT a fun experience. Still, maybe someday I’ll go on the ferry when I’m not too cold and tired to appreciate it and I might actually enjoy it.

So there’s the recap. And here is all the photos, for your viewing pleasure:

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Photos: Assorted London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Stonehenge, Cardiff

And it’s photo time! Here are all of the pictures that were on my camera from before the grand European tour (see my next post). Events covered in this post:

-The London Chocolate Festival, in which I ate ALL the free samples and looked at adorable Easter-themed animals made of chocolate

-Trafalgar Square, because of the one time I happened to be there in daylight. I pass through there all the time, but rarely with both my camera and adequate lighting.

-Stratford-upon-Avon, aka Shakespeare’s birthplace. The Royal Shakespeare Company is based there, way out in the Midlands, and I went to see Hamlet. I was there too late in the day to go see any of the tourist attractions on the inside, but there are a fair number of photos of buildings. My review of the show is in my previous post.

-Stonehenge, which we drove out to the day after Stratford. We got lost, as expected. Less expected and mildly disappointing: how incredibly touristy they’ve made Stonehenge. You have to pay to get in, it’s surrounded by fences, and you can’t even get particularly close to it on the path they make you stay on–unless you pay for the 85-pound all-access tour, that is. One of my photos still has some of the fences in it. (Also: NEVER drive in London. EVER. It’s not worth it.)

-The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, generally known as one of the most bizarre collections of stuff thrown into a museum that you could think of. There are a lot of sculptures and architecture, various rooms about East Asian cultures, and an entire floor just about silver. Why not?

-Cardiff, Wales. Cardiff apparently only contains two real tourist attractions, Cardiff Castle and the Doctor Who Experience. You can guess which one I was more excited for. The DW Experience is this interactive tour-style thing they take you through, where you go on an adventure to save the Doctor, fly the TARDIS, get captured by Daleks, and the like. There are no pictures during that section, but then you get to go into a part where they just have tons and tons of replicas of TARDISes, characters, monsters, gadgets, anything you can think of. It’s a ton of fun, and I highly recommend it.

-The annual Oxford vs. Cambridge crew race down the Thames, in Hammersmith

Now here, have some photos!

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Photos: Dublin and Belfast

Dublin! Sorry for taking so long to post. I had a 4000-word history paper due today that has been eating my brain and I’ve only had time to do things on the internet since I finished. Anyway, Ireland was phenomenal. Even more cold and rainy than London, of course, but nothing to deter hardcore sightseeing and the like. I went with my friend Nic who is visiting me in London. A short recap of events:

We flew in Thursday night. By the time we had made it through customs and to the hostel, I was near passing out from hunger, so we just grabbed dinner and then chilled at the pub across the street from the hostel. Very homey feel, apparently very traditionally Irish.

Friday was the big sightseeing day. We hit the old library, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church, the River Liffey and Dublin Castle, among other things. We couldn’t go inside Dublin Castle because of something to do with the Ireland being in charge of the EU right now, which was a little annoying, but I still had lots of fun. Also there’s this really awkward thing in the churches where they put the very commercial-looking gift shops right in the middle of the church itself, surrounded by stained glass and sculptures and anything. I understand that it’s a tourist attraction and there’s no real other way to put it, but still. Then we went to Irish dancing which was largely just a bunch of really awkward tourists failing at line dancing. Plus a brief section on Irish clog-dancing and step-dancing, which I really want to learn.

That night, we went on the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, which almost deserves its own theatre review post. It’s a combination of Dublin city tour and site-specific walking theatre event, led by two actors who take you around the city and give you an extremely detailed and fascinating history of the famous Irish writers (Joyce, Wilde, Beckett, etc) and their relationship with various places in the city, both pubs and other, as you pass by them. They also perform several pieces of actual theatre, including the opening of Waiting for Godot and a scene from The Risen People. The acting was fantastic, and periodically when it gets too cold to stay outside, you get to go into the pubs that Joyce wrote about in Ulysses and order a pint. I would recommend this tour to anyone, whether you’re interested in the pubs at all or not. Highlight of the trip.

Saturday morning it was significantly more touristy when we went out. We went to the carnival, saw a crew race between Trinity and University College Dublin, and then got on a bus to Belfast. Things I learned on that bus trip: there is zero border control between Northern and Southern Ireland, and the Irish countryside is beautiful and full of sheep. We only went up to Belfast for one evening to visit an old friend of Nic’s, and didn’t see much more than their City Hall and the inside of a pub, but I learned a ton about the political climate of Northern Ireland right now, where you can casually mention the latest bombing yesterday, and say you want to move out before the next riot season. I was amazed. They claimed that most people living there didn’t really care about the independence issue and just wanted to get on with their lives, but that doesn’t protect them from the extremism that seems to pervade the entire city.

And then Sunday was St. Patrick’s Day. We spent a full three hours watching the parade, which had the most insane things in it. Most of my photos are from the parade, so take a look; I’m sure you’ll be just as baffled by it all as I was. We then went and saw a few places we hadn’t gotten to yet, including Trinity College, I went on an absurd carnival ride of doom and then we headed to the first of a long series of extremely packed pubs. It was St. Patrick’s Day, after all. And because we legitimately could not find a single hostel with an open space for that night, we just didn’t go home. Flew back to London early Monday morning, which would have worked perfectly except then the flight took off about 45 minutes late and I had to go straight from the airport to my lecture. I did make it in time, though, barely.

I’m so glad I had a chance to go, and I had a ton of fun seeing everything and being a hopefully not too obnoxious tourist. We did avoid wearing green the entire trip. Enjoy the pictures, there are a rather absurd amount of them.

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Photos: Glasgow

And finally, I have time to put up the photos from Glasgow.  It has just been such a crazy whirlwind week, I haven’t had the time to sit down and go through pictures until now.  So, here are my Glasgow adventures!

My friend Athena and I were originally supposed to travel with her flatmate and a few of the flatmate’s friends, but that kind of fell apart, so it turned into just the two of us instead.  We almost missed out shuttle to the airport, due to underestimating how slowly the District Line of the Tube moves during rush hour, but once we managed that part travel went fairly smoothly.  We flew to Glasgow in like an hour (flying seems to almost always be cheaper than taking the train these days), and our flight got in early so we got an earlier bus to the city so we got to the hostel at about 10pm instead of our expected midnight.  This hostel was fantastic–well-stocked kitchen, comfortable beds, clean sheets, friendly staff.  It had some iffy reviews so I was a little worried, but I don’t know what those people were complaining about.  The place was fine, and a really good price too.

It was also extraordinarily well located.  We decided once we got there to go out exploring for a little while, only to learn that Glasgow is apparently full of university students, and that our hostel was about two minutes away from the street that has all of the nightclubs on it.  I hadn’t expected to really go out at night while we were there at all, but we ended up going clubbing both Friday and Saturday nights, and it was a ton of fun (and for a tiny fraction of what it would have cost in London, too).

Saturday morning, we went out and explored downtown Glasgow.  We spent a lot of time in the Mitchell Library, which is gorgeous and a block away from the hostel.  Then we headed down the main stretch, which has a ton of shopping, and just explored.  There were a lot of street musicians out, about half of whom were bagpipers and half of whom were your traditional guitar/ukulele hipsters.  I would have taken more street musician photos, but a lot of them were actually pretty young kids playing bagpipes, which was adorable, but I kind of felt bad taking pictures of them.

We found Princes Square, which is a weirdly beautiful shopping center, and had ‘authentic Scottish food’ for lunch, apparently.  Then we went to the Lighthouse, which is a tall tower that apparently is mainly used for conferences but they let tourists climb to the top because it has a great view of all of Glasgow.  We wandered down to Glasgow Green, which is a large park with a lot of monuments in it, and found the People’s Palace (a museum), unfortunately right after it closed so we couldn’t go in.  By that point I was completely exhausted, so we made our way back through town to the hostel to rest up before going out again to a larger club that night.

Sunday consisted of some more serious shopping (I bought a pair of jeans and a pair of Converse, both of which I rather desperately needed), as well as some silly tourist shopping.  Plus an Indian buffet lunch (it’s the UK, there’s Indian food everywhere).  Then for lack of anything better to do, we wandered a bit off the main stretch and found the city centre, George Square, and the Gallery of Modern Art.  The art gallery was really interesting, but unfortunately we only saw half of it before we got kicked out so they could close–why must every museum close at 5pm?

Then we headed to the bus station, to the airport, took a plane back, and again got back early and got an earlier shuttle than planned and made it home well in time to watch the Superbowl.  I had a lot of fun this weekend, and though I wished we had managed to leave downtown Glasgow a little more to see more things, we did about all we could manage on limited transportation.  It was a nice little weekend trip, and I’ve decided I love Scotland now.  I can’t wait to go back to see Edinburgh.  For now, though, the next potential weekend trip appears to be Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day.  Should be interesting…

In other news, for the few of you who haven’t seen on facebook already, I am directing the play I wrote last summer (Shooting in the Dark) for the Queen Mary Theatre Company next month!  We get about three weeks of rehearsal time, and the show’s like an hour long, so I’m going to have a really intense next few weeks.  But still, I’m super excited.  I finally get to cast one of my shows and see it go up on a real stage (and a really nice one, too).  The show is sometime during the weekend of March 1-3.  Wish me luck!