Cleaning Up Some Old Junk – Weekend Trip To St. Andrews

Well, need I say more? It’s not quite junk, but I took this trip on January 26…..wow, I can’t believe it’s already April. My three-week spring break in Italy/Oxford is over, and I’m now starting to study for exams. Time flies so fast! Well anyway, without further ado, the pictures from St. Andrews. I’ll have pictures from my trip to the Isle of Skye up soon, and hopefully I can get a post about my piping in by the end of next week.

For reference, St. Andrews is here

It’s Been a While, Hasn’t It?

So remember when I said I was going to taper these posts down to once a week? I’ll give you a tip (I BROKE THAT PROMISE). Rather, I fulfilled my promise too much, in a way! Let me illustrate what is going to happen with this post:

Admittedly, this might take longer than one post....
Admittedly, this might take longer than one post….and yes, I did just spend 30 minutes drawing this in paint! Procrastination at its finest…

A good place to start would probably be my academics, and now is a great time to talk about them because I’m caught up with all my work for classes. Isn’t it beautiful when that happens.

As you all must know already, I’m studying at the University of Glasgow, which is located on top of a big-%#$ hill in the West End of  Glasgow. That must be why they call the neighborhood “Hillhead”. For reference it’s here. I’ll give you all the compulsory overdone photo of the tower of the main building (on a sunny day, to boot!).

If you think that I can take this nice of a picture, you probably couldn’t guess the age of my camera.

The workload pales in comparison to what I have at Maryland, but before everybody jumps and gets jealous, at least 60% of my grade in every class will be determined solely by the final exam. If you think about it, less work during the semester also means less study material; in fact, all we really have to study are lecture notes and past exams. Oh, and exams start about one week after spring break (woohoo…)!

Despite the workload being pretty light, I got caught in a pretty bad cycle of neglecting it, and almost giving up trying to catch up, but I made some major changes to my schedule mid-February, and I feel like my schoolwork is very manageable at this point. Again, let me give you a physicist’s simplification (I learned from the best, my grandfather!) of these changes in the form of another beautiful graphic:

Schedule Illustration

Well, maybe this is an overstatement, but I’ve been trying to go to the library for at least 3 hours a day for (almost!) every day of the week, and it’s worked for me!

As far as classes go, I am taking a course in second-semester organic chemistry, a course in statistics and design of experiments, and a course in modern (post-1750) history of Celtic nations, including Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. They’re all pretty enjoyable courses. Generally, we have a course head/organizer, 2 or more lecturers in each class who teach a specific topic in the course, and a tutor who leads the tutorials (what they call “discussions” or “recitations” here). For example, in statistics, we have a lecturer for analysis of paired data, a lecturer for hypothesis testing, and a tutor.

In addition, I’m also auditing a course offered by the National Piping Centre on the historical context of the bagipipes and Gaelic music traditions . I’ll expand on that in a later post, though! For now, I’ll give you this beautiful picture of the Piping Centre:

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I remember when I was a young lad taking a picture in front of this building with three piping friends. Seriously, that actually happened!

For organic chemistry, all of my lectures, labs, and tutorials are in this building:

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It’s called the Joseph Black building in honor of Joseph Black, a professor at the University in the 18th century and a famous chemist who did groundbreaking thermodynamics research of the specific heat (heat required to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of a certain substance by 1 degree Celsius) of various important metals and liquids and discovered the phenomenon of latent heat (heat required to change a substance from solid to liquid at its melting point) and carbon dioxide. For what it’s worth, he also was the mentor of James Watt, whose name is used as the SI unit for power (Watts). In any case, I think he wholly deserves to have this building named after him.

Chemistry labs are much different here than they are in Maryland. You have a 3-hour period for two days to complete a synthesis of a compound for your experiment, and afterwards, you write a full lab report detailing your procedure, yields, and how you identified your product(not doing it all in question format…welcome to the real world!). Every organic chemistry experiment is being performed in one of these two-day blocks, so it’s one lab technician serving 50 students in one huge laboratory and a demonstrator (similar to a lab TA) for each experiment, most of which are from continental Europe. It was quite hectic while I did it, and I’m thankful to say it’s over!

The lectures, however, are quite interesting, and I’m taking a real liking to organic chemistry as a whole (this is the point where you *gasp*). As far as industrial synthesis applications go, it’s kinda like solving a puzzle. You’re given certain ingredients or reagents, and you have to come up with an economical, safe, and relatively easy way to get from Compound A to Compound B, the product. It’s the basis for the production of any polymers (like plastics or kevlar), drugs, aerosols etc, so it’s an incredibly vital scientific field for the world as we know it, not to mention that it’s the basis for biochemistry, which is reason you exist and are sitting here reading my blog.

 

Moving on to statistics, it’s also a pretty interesting course. And the best part of it is that I’ve seen most of the material in AP Statistics, which I took my senior year of high school. Thanks, Mr. Hess! I have lectures almost every day of the week, a tutorial on Thursdays and a lab every other Friday where we basically take data from some mundane thing and analyze the data using methods and tests we’ve learned in lectures. For example, in the last lab, we have to guess the weight of 9 objects by feeling them in our hands and compare them to the true weight; the question in mind was whether our estimate could accurately predict the true weight (sounds like a case for linear regression to me!).

Oh, and my lectures are in the Maths building:

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This building is on University Gardens, which also happens to be where the music building (I set foot in it for the first time today. More on that in my next blog post) and the QMU (Queen Margaret Union, one of the two student unions in the university) are locatued.

My tutorials and labs are in the Boyd Orr building: 

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Boyd Orr was a Scottish doctor/teacher/researcher at the University of Glasgow in the mid-20th century who is most famous for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in nutrition (more specifically malnutrition, thus the Peace Prize).

My only complaint about the class would probably be that the lecturers are a bit stale in their teaching. All they ever do is just give you some equations and go through example after example, most of which are pretty boring and uninteresting, trying to teach you how to use the equations. I would have liked to know more about where these equations come from, but maybe I’m being too critical. It is a first year course, and it’s for non-engineers, so it’s not going to be quite as rigorous or applicable for me (sorry, business and economics majors!).

 

My Celtic Civilisation class is also in the Maths building, but the tutorials are on this quaint house at 3 University Gardens. Lectures are on Mondays and Tuesdays, and my tutorials are on Thursdays.

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I have to admit that it’s quite fun to get away from the rut of science and math and enjoy lectures that sound more like stories than a teacher regurgitating information from a packet or a textbook! The class gives a taste of all the major historic events and legislation in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales post-1750. Lately, we’ve been touching on the education system in each country and the decline of each’s native language (Scottish Gaelic, Irish, and Welsh, respectively) over this 200+ year people. I honestly have no complaints about this class at all; it’s generally very enjoyable!

So I think that will wrap it up for now, but I want to devote a post to what I’ve been doing with my bagpiping here. I have a LOT to talk about in that vein. At some point this week, I’ll also post the pictures from my weekend trip to St. Andrews, home of the very first golf course in Scotland (and one of the oldest universities in the world, but golf’s more important than that, right?!?). Oh, and did I mention I’m spending this weekend in Skye? I’m super excited for that, and you know that I’ll be playing my pipes on a mountaintop (or something of that nature). Here’s a little sneak peek of what’s to come next week:

Kelvingrove Park Bagpipes

Until next time, stay classy San Diego…or New Jersey, or New York, or Massachusetts, or Maryland, or…you get the point!

Oban and Isle of Seil Trip

Now I know this was two weekends ago, but it was still an awesome weekend trip. For reference, Oban and Seil are here, and here, respectively. (Google Maps) We also made stops at Loch Lomond and Dunstaffnage Castle.

Also, I just found a Youtube highlight video of the trip made by one of the students who went on it, so I’m plugging that here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8BLErvKhzE

Very briefly, these past two weeks, I had my first two piping lessons at the National Piping Centre (I’ll have to tell you all about that at some point) where I started to learn piobaireachd, the “classical music” of the bagpipes and fixed and adjusted my pipes to make them really start to sing!

I also took a trip last weekend to St. Andrews, home to the oldest University in Scotland and went to a concert for the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band (historically the Burgh of Govan Pipe Band, or Glasgow Police Pipe Band), the winningest pipe band in the history of band competitions. It is also of note that this was the last concert they would perform under their current name as the police force of Scotland will be nationalized in April. Their new name will be….(drum roll, please, Mitch!)…Greater Glasgow Police Scotland Pipe Band.

I’ll put the pictures up from St. Andrews soon, but for now, enjoy these!

Home Is Where the Heart Is

I know it’s been way too long since I made my last post and that I was going to talk about my classes (not to mention two weeks that I’ve neglected to tell you all about), but I feel there is something more pressing (do you see that sneaky pun?) and real to me at this point. I don’t want to make this a long post, so I’ll keep this as short and sweet as possible.

This past Friday, I went to a Burns Supper at the Queen Margaret Union, one of the two student unions on campus, with one of my friends here, Amy. I told myself when I arrived to Scotland that I had to attend a Burns Supper here because I would be missing out on the one back home. We arrived at the QMU on time, where we met up with some of Amy’s friends in the Scottish Literature Society who were also attending the Supper. They were all literature majors either in a program for Scottish Literature or joint English and Scottish Literature, and they were all Scottish. We started out talking about what we were studying, where we were from etc., and the conversation quickly evolved into a discussion about literature and movie adaptations, of which I have a cumulative knowledge of limx->∞[1/x] (zero for all the people scratching their heads!). The mere thought of discussing something so foreign and unfamiliar to me makes my stomach turn, so when I jumped into this, I couldn’t help but cordon myself off from the discussion. For the rest of the supper, I appeared nervous and almost uninterested even when the subject had changed to something like naming all fifty states of the United States or pointing out phrases Scottish people use like “keen beans!” (really eager and excited people).

The time came at the Supper to address the haggis, speak in immortal memory of Robert Burns, and address the lassies and laddies, and all I could think about through all of this was how much I wanted to be doing this at home in the company of my friends in RLPB. After the ceilidh that followed the Supper, I was walking back to my flat with Amy, and I told her that even though I felt out of place with literature majors, it was good that I was listening to topics that I never discuss, which was total bollocks (sorry if you’re reading this, Amy) because all I remember from that discussion was hearing something about Jane Austen novels (maybe Pride and Prejudice?).

What I’m trying to say here is that I’ve been afraid of the unfamiliar and unwilling to embrace it and seek it out ever since my second or third week here. It wasn’t just at the Burns night; it was when I was watching Maryland basketball games at 1 AM on Friday and Saturday nights (FYI, GMT is 5 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time). It was when I bought postcards at Loch Lomond and St. Andrews (I took a trip to Loch Lomond and the coastal fishing town of Oban last weekend, and I traveled to St. Andrews this weekend) to send home when I was already 1. keeping in touch with my parents and close friends over Skype regularly and 2. writing a blog for people at home who were curious about my life here. Most importantly, it was when I was alone in my room every day after classes and looking on Facebook for people from home to chat and catch up with when I could have been finding awesome things with my friends here.

What is home, though?

Home is where the heart is, and maybe the problem here is that my heart isn’t in Scotland yet and that it’s still in Maryland, New Jersey, somewhere else. I’d like to change that, because my life isn’t in Maryland or New Jersey now; it’s in Scotland, the destination I’d dreamed about since the day I stepped out of high school and into college. I’m not saying that I would like to cut off everybody from the other parts of my life and gallivant without bound or restraint. Rather, I’m saying that I need to put my heart into the life I’m leading now and devote time to the friends I have here so I can call this place home by the time I have to leave. Right now, I think this means taking a little break from the blog and just posting occasional photo albums (with my usual witty captions, of course!).

Oh, and by the way, I’m up to 789 words. Not quite what intended  for a “short and sweet” post, but I guess for a literature major, that’s a pretty short essay!

Home

Front entrance to home

Scoutin’ oot Glasgow

So I told you all this post would be about last Saturday, and it will, but I’ve done a lot of exploring Glasgow since, so I’ll just include that too. Isn’t it great when you’re behind on something and find a clever way to catch up?

Getting back to the story, last Saturday, I met up with two good family friends, Lili and Julie Bayer. Lili has been studying for her Masters degree in Eastern European Studies at the University of Oxford (yes, that old English university with the compulsory fancy academic dress) since last September, and Julie is in the same year as me at University of Maryland (she decided to visit Lili this month, coincidentally!). I only got a usable phone and reliable internet on Thursday, so coordinating this tough; I think we only made solid plans the day before!

In the morning, Lili and Julie took the ScotRail train from Edinburgh, where they were staying for a few days, to the Queen Street Station in Glasgow. Luckily for me, the Queen Street Station was very close to a subway station (which, by the way, is actually called a subway here! Scotland 1, England 0). Unfortunately, this was my first time taking the subway, and I actually got lost trying to find the station closest to me, Kelvinhall, which ironically is not that close!

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Nerd monologue: Did you know that you can get Google Street View images of places you want to show with GPS coordinates? You’ll be seeing more of these.

Their train was late to arrive to the station, so it equaled out for us. I hadn’t had breakfast so we sat down for a bit and talked about their trips to London and Edinburgh and my short stay here so far. We both agreed that Edinburgh is nicer and that everything was easier to access there (sorry, Glasgow!). It’s not really fair to compare them, though, since Edinburgh is a typical medieval European city (existing as a Royal Burgh since the12th century), which grew out from the center, usually a castle or fortress. Glasgow is a modern city, only having been a true city since the mid-19th century, and is planned like a modern city (spread-out and with a grid-like street structure).

We exited the station, and while we looked at our tourist map, a man came up to us and asked us where we were headed and proceeded to guide us to Buchanan Street, one of the main shopping destinations in the city. Typical Glaswegian hospitality at its best! We walked up Buchanan Street and stopped at the Royal Concert Hall. It’s a beautiful venue; I’ve actually been there before in 2010 to attend a concert with a world-class bagpipe band, St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band, from Ireland. Here are some pictures from outside and inside:

Julie and Me (and Donald Dewar, the first modern First Minister of Scotland)

Julie and Me (and Donald Dewar, the first modern First Minister of Scotland)

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Lili and me looking out at Buchanan Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Inside by the gift shop

Inside by the gift shop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While we were inside, I picked up a booklet for a major yearly event in Glasgow, Celtic Connections, a live concert series spanning half a month of all music Scottish, Irish and more. You can bet I’ll be getting tickets for one of these events!

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After the Royal Concert Hall, we took a walk down Sauchiehall Street, heading westward to my flat in the West End of Glasgow. We saw an American Candy store, which to our surprise, carried a lot of things we had never heard of. I’ve been back to Sauchiehall Street quite a bit since then, and when I was exploring more of Glasgow with my friend Chris this past Friday, I took this notable picture of the store:

Could these be some of the last Twinkies on Earth?

Could these be some of the last Twinkies on Earth? RIP Hostess (cue tears and somber violin solo).

As we walked back to my flat, we found these gems as well:

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You are all now aware of how it’s called in the U.K.

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I did a double-take the first time I saw this. Hope you do to. This is U.K. equivalent of “for rent”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A clock? A fountain? A phone booth? No, it’s a clophtain (all three combined)?

We finally got to my flat after about an hour. Honestly, I thought I was going to be showing Lili and Julie how bad my living conditions were, but instead, they showed me a bunch of things that were really nice about the flat. For example, they pointed out that I had a large desk, a nice common room with plush chairs, and two refrigerators. Perhaps I should be yet more thankful for what I have here, because aside from the obvious cleanliness issue, the flat, at its core, is a nice home. I will just have to work together with my flatmates over the next few weeks to dust it it off and let it shine.

Afterwards, we headed through Kelvingrove Park, the way I usually walk to the University (I didn’t know this at the time. Here are some pictures from the walk:
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You’ll notice that the same building appears in five of the six pictures. This is the Kelvingrove Art Museum; we decided to forgo seeing it in favor of exploring the University. There is yet a whole semester for me to go to it, so I wasn’t really disappointed. However, I was pretty freaked out when, while walking home from Kelvinhall station after “leaving” Julie and Lili (I can’t find the right word!) at Buchanan St. Station, I saw this:

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At first, I wasn’t sure whether Dracula had relocated to Scotland or the city was trying to spruce up the place, but either way, it looked like the set of a scary movie to me. It didn’t help that I heard screams and voices as I walked by the building. I later learned upon returning another day that people regularly held yoga classes in the foyer, which is much less creepy than what I originally was thinking!

After our tour in Glasgow, Julie and Lili traveled up to Loch Ness and then headed back to Edinburgh. >>Insert proof that Nessie exists here<<

I definitely want to travel to Oxford to visit Lili sometime this semester. Maybe I’ll get to eat in that fancy dining hall was talking to me about which, by the way, is the set for the filming of the Hogwarts dining room! I better get my academic dress ready!

Anyways, on Friday, I explored a little more of Glasgow while running errands with my friend Chris. We had just finished our first tutorial for Organic Chemistry, and I managed to catch this photo from the top of the Hill where the University resides:

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Please, for the love of God, stay out longer, Mr. Sun! It’s only noon!

Our first stop was the Bath St. shop of James Begg, THE premier maker of bagpipe bags in all of Scotland, to get seasoning (my bag was way overdue!). For all the non-pipers out there, if the bag for your pipes is made out of a natural porous material such as sheepskin (not the kind you’re all thinking about) or cowhide, then it is necessary to seal the inside with a solution called “bag seasoning”, which both keeps the bag airtight and wicks away moisture so that the reeds in the pipes stay relatively dry.

James Begg

Down the stairs and through the door, there you’ll find auld Jim Begg’s store.

After, this we proceeded to find the Glasgow School of Art, where Chris was going to have a class on Tuesday, but decided to stop at a bakery on Sauchiehall Street called “Bradfords” that sold bread and pastries. I ended up getting a loaf of brown bread and a bridie for only 2 pounds (which is really inexpensive), and figured out where I would be buying my bread for the next 5 months. We eventually found the School with some directions from the cashier at Bradford’s. We also got this amazing view from the top of Dalhousie Street:

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For our last stop, we went to pick up Chris’ tickets that he reserved for a couple of concerts. He follows a lot of newer musicians, mostly indie and alternative rock, I believe, so he found out about these tickets a while ago. The ticket store’s name was Arches, and not so surprisingly, it was located under the arch of Glasgow Central Station, pictured here:

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While we were walking around, we saw quite a few places of interest that we will explore in more detail later. Here are some more pictures of these places (have you been saturated with enough pictures and words yet? Good news, it’s almost over!):

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The Mitchell Library

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The M8 Motorway, second largest in all of the U.K., and it runs right through the centre of Glasgow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Escalators in Buchanan Galleries, the premier shopping mall in the Glasgow city centre.

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The Gallery of Modern Art (complete with monument to the Duke of Wellington with a traffic cone on his head)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Statue of Robert Peel, Prime Minister of U.K. from 1846-1851, credited for his vision of the modern police force in Britain. Located in George Square.

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Statue of James Watt (1736-1819), the inventor of the modern steam engine. The SI unit for power, “the Watt” is named after him. Located in George Square.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
As you can see, I’ve got quite a lot of sightseeing left to do over the semester! There’s so much to see in Scotland, let alone Glasgow! For my next post, I let my friend and fellow Highlander and bandsman in Rampant Lion Pipe Band, Tom Woolcott, pick the topic. And it will be about (drum roll please)……….what I’m doing in my classes and how I’m adjusting to the education system here!

Setting Up Shop

Well, it’s been a more than a week since I arrived in Scotland, and I’m terribly behind in my account of the past week (I’m only up to the third day, which was last Thursday, one week ago!). I think I will just forge ahead to something more broad and sweeping and less day-to-day, which is my adjustment to apartment and city life in Scotland. I have to say that this past week was a huge learning experience for; never did I ever have to worry about what mobile phone plan I had, what food I was buying and where I was buying it, how I was going to clean and fix things in my living space etc. This must be what it’s like to be an adult, and I’m not even married or worrying about kids yet! Oh deary me…

On Thursday, after our orientation at the University of Glasgow (how many orientations does it take to make a light bulb go off in a person’s head? Something like that…), the first thing we all immediately did was search for SIM cards and mobile phones. I went with a few other people to a store called Phones 4U, which offers a few different services and a wide range of phones. Of course, the guy who was helping me said, “Oh Lebara is the cheapest one, it’s only a £5 top-up SIM card (pay-as-you-go)!” and I couldn’t understand a word of what he said when I asked for a breakdown of this plan, so I just took it (it’s almost like the Glaswegian -resident of Glasgow- accent is a different language in it’s own right!). Little did I know that every text would cost me 12p and every minute would cost me 5p. You can guess how long this plan lasted me (6 days!). I ended up getting a pay-as-you-go SIM card from Three mobile yesterday which is infinitely better, will definitely last me a month and costs £10.

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Huh? You want me to do what to the APN settings?                   My savior!

After that disaster with the phone, I went shopping for linens, toiletries, and cleaning supplies on Sauchiehall Street in the City Centre, which is a nice brick street for pedestrians only with a bunch of your favorite retail stores including T.K. Maxx (yeah, that’s actually what they call it in the U.K.) and Boots (a common pharmacy and beauty shop). I only ended up getting maybe 20% of what I would actually need around a house, so over the past few days, I’ve been slowly building up my stock of cleaning supplies. You never really know what you need until you’re forced to get it for yourself!

On Friday, I went shopping for food for the first time. At first, I got bread, cold cuts, muesli (TBCITL, the best cereal in the land), milk, porridge, and Kraft Cheesy Pasta (that’s what they call Easy Mac here, or maybe Easy Mac is what they call Cheesy Pasta in America?). If that’s not the most nutritious part of the food pyramid, it’s certainly the cheapest full stomach! Regardless, I’ve been branching into the different blocks of the pyramid over the last week with vegetables and eggs for my not-so-famous omelettes (they’re the only real thing I can cook from scratch) and fruit juice. By the way, almost all the fruit juice in the U.K. is from concentrate, and it took me 5 days to realize that the “pressed” juice was the normal kind, but the milk tastes fantastic. And at the risk of starting to sound like a food blog (shout-out to my friend, Patrick Benton and his fabulous food blog), I’m going to stop this train of thought.

This is absolutely deserving of it’s own paragraph and certainly will take some adjustment on my part.

Figures that in Scotland this would be pub.

Figures that in Scotland this would be a pub…

Oddly enough, I had gone too far. I was a bit lost at this point in my travels to the National Piping Centre.

As you can see from my short album, the flat was not in the greatest condition when I came, but it’s livable at the very least now that the shower is unclogged! As a side note I made friends with one of my flatmates, Alejandro, very quickly; he is from Ecuador and is finishing up his MSE in Electronics and Control Systems this month. We talk almost daily and sometimes eat together; shame he’s leaving at the end of January! We are also planning to give the kitchen a touch-up this weekend, for a start!

One last thing for me, and I’ll wrap this up. It’s cloudy and damp in Glasgow, so when the sun comes out, you know that people (including me when I wake up!) are going to be in a good mood that day.

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I swear this was the hottest topic of conversation any time I talked to a friend from Arcadia that day. We’re so spoiled with sunlight in America (not really, they’re just deprived)!

For my next post, I’ll talk about my Saturday tour of Glasgow with my two good friends, Julie and Lili Bayer. Lili has been studying for her Masters degree in Eastern European Studies at the University of Oxford since last September.

I’ll end with this captioned picture of a statue on one of the bridges in Kelvingrove Park, where I walk everyday. Cheers!

Old Memories, New Memories

Moving on to my second day, over the course of the day, I almost felt as if I had never left Edinburgh two years ago. For those that don’t know, in the summer of 2010, I traveled over to Scotland for about a week with my high school marching band, the Governor Livingston Highlander Band. That was an amazing trip, but, alas, it was too short (and that’s why I’m back for more!). You can take a look at that trip at: http://www.highlanderband.org/scotland-2010/.

We all had a grueling 9 A.M. call time for our second round of Arcadia orientation, so, as expected, most of us ate breakfast at 8:45 (we’re college students who just stayed up for two days, what did they expect?), and we ended up leaving the restaurant the the Inn at 9:15. This round of orientation was no less important (the first one was about safety and adjusting to a new country), but perhaps a wee bit easier on the ears and the mind. We learned about education in Scotland both in its origins and in present day. Did you know that Scotland has one of the oldest and most established university systems in the world (since 1413 with the founding of St Andrews, which, by the way, is celebrating its 600th anniversary this year) and was one of the first countries to make education compulsory (in 1872)? Did I also mention that Adam Smith, James Watt, and Lord Kelvin are all graduates? Clearly, they’ve been doing something right! Although those facts were interesting, they probably have little relevance to our semester at Glasgow except for this gorgeous Gothic architecture (est. 1451, baby):

A bird would not want to land on one of those upside-down ice cream cones.

The more important information came thereafter. So all of our courses will pretty much be decided by one final exam or paper, and two weeks will be given to study before our finals which last from mid-April to mid-May. Oh, and spring break will be THREE WEEKS LONG (score!). To round out the orientation, the Deputy Head of Study Abroad Admissions at Glasgow, Mrs. Colette McGowan, came to the classroom and told us about many things that I probably should have payed attention to, but all I gained from it was that I needed to register on the Glasgow’s online student system and that the National Piping Centre is offering a course on bagpipes and their social and historical context in Scotland. Not a bad find at all!

For lunch, we ate at a pub near a place that is very near and dear to me. Anybody from the 2009-2010 Highlander Band should know that this street was where we stayed for the duration of our trip to Scotland.

THEN—————————————                      NOW——————————————————

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You can get a glimpse of the pub here:

 After the pub, we headed over to the National Museum of Scotland, which I’d already been to before. The good news was that we were given a private tour on the Industrial Revolution by a nice old gentleman by the name of Angus MacKay (note to pipers: look up Angus MacKay, first personal piper to the Sovereign) who gave new spice to the museum. He definitely was the right man for the job as his grandfather was a blacksmith in pre-Industrial Scotland, and his grandkids were using cellphones. Talk about a dramatic change over the course of one’s lifetime!

After the museum, we packed up and headed over to Glasgow (it’s only an hour away from Edinburgh, by the way). Picture below is the front of the Inn from the bus:

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We all checked into our flats (one-level multi-person apartments), and at this point, I realized that I hadn’t made dinner plans and that I didn’t know where specifically anybody was staying (isn’t being without a cell phone for two days great?). I had to keep watch out of my window until somebody I knew walked by. A lot of us ended up going to a nearby pub where we walked in and heard two musicians playing on the fiddle and mandolin. Apparently people regularly bring instruments to pubs and play them for fun, which is awesome, but not happening with my pipes (for now)! I had a hearty dinner of “bangers and mash”, which initially sounded to me like a hockey fight or something (yay for NHL being back, by the way!), but is actually sausage and mashed potatoes. It was such a nice atmosphere that we stayed out for about 3 hours!

And that was the second day.

For my next post, I’m going to put up an album with some pics of the apartment. All I have to say about that is prepare to be underwhelmed by the bathrooms; the shower was clogged, ’nuff said.

New Year, New Semester, New Country

What a week this has been! Who would have thought adjusting to another country could be so hard? Apparently I’m not very good at this “living” thing that people do.

Let me start with the flight over and my first day. I had a short and emotional goodbye with mom, dad, and Andrea at the airport, and in no time I was at the gate and taking off. On the plane, I realized that for the first time in my life, I was spending New Years Eve away from my family and by myself. It’s also of worth to note that it was the first (and hopefully the last) time I spent New Years Eve on a plane. I got a small glass of champagne from a flight attendant after the countdown, which probably shouldn’t have happened considering United Airlines operates under U.S. law, but it certainly served to help me reflect on the whirlwind of a year 2012 was for me. When I got off the plane at 7 A.M. local time in Edinburgh, I slowly began to realize that I wasn’t alone; 70% of the students studying in Glasgow through Arcadia University, our sponsor university, were on the same flight as me, and I didn’t even realize it! Even the other student from University of Maryland, Will, who I met last November, went under my radar for a large chunk of the flight.

The customs and immigration at the airport was one of the quickest and painless I’ve ever been through; after dealing with 3 other Arcadia students before me, the officer promptly approved my student visa after I started to rummage through my backpack for my acceptance letters. He didn’t even look at them! Hmm, that was dubious.

Almost everybody took buses to the inn (we stayed in Edinburgh for two days and situated ourselves in Glasgow on the second night), but being my stubborn self, I took the airport bus with the £3.50 I planned to use for the ride there. Unfortunately, the last station ended up being closed for construction, so I was dropped off in what was seemingly the middle of nowhere, a few blocks away from the last stop, which was already a good distance away from the inn! Luckily I had a map and I was not alone on the streets; a swarm of personnel in neon-green jackets were cleaning the streets from the Hogmanay (Scots for New Years Eve) celebration that had just taken place, and one lady pointed me in the right direction. I ended up 10 minutes behind the rest of the group, but at least I got to see some gems while walking through the damp and dark streets of Edinburgh including a view of Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle and St. Andrew Square from the North Bridge.

We all dropped our baggage in a small room on the inn as our actual rooms wouldn’t be ready until 2 P.M., and a few of us had breakfast at the restaurant there. There was Will, a girl from Texas named Sarah, a girl from Texas named Anissa, a guy from the Chicago Area named Jeremy, and me. Here, I had my first undoubtedly legal glass of champagne at 11 A.M. in the morning (off to an early start, eh?), and we all toasted to a new year, new semester, new country, and each other.

The breakfast did no good to wake us up, and when we went back to the lobby, we found a swath of Arcadia students napping on the sofas (there were only about fifteen of them, but use of the word “swath” was still necessary!). The rest of my little group also took a nap, but I decided to go to the baggage room and start practicing on my practice chanter. Not before long, another student walked into the room, eyes brimming with excitement; I had found another piper! His name was Jacob, and he was from Colorado.

We had a small bite to eat at a breakfast place for about an hour, and came back to find that our rooms were ready. Furthermore, we found out that we were sharing a room in the inn! It had a beautiful view of a few monuments and the city observatory. Here are some pics I hurriedly took:

First night in Scotland, both pipe cases included in the picture!

Room in Edinburgh, both pipe cases included in the picture!

A view from Jacob's and my room at the Inn
A view from Jacob’s and my room at the Inn

After we moved into the room, I caved in and took a 3-hour-long nap because the beds looked so inviting! I woke up at 4 P.M. to go with everybody to a grueling orientation at the Arcadia Centre in Edinburgh. At the orientation, we met our U.K. Arcadia staff, Hamish, Karen, John, and Emily. This was followed by dinner back at the Inn. After dinner, I started to keep track of my spending as recommended by Hamish and the rest of the staff. Just from my meals today, I began to see how truly expensive it would be to live in the U.K., especially when eating out! I followed with a beautiful 8.5 hours of sleep, and that’s how my first day went.

Clearly, there will be a lot for me to show you all in the coming months as demonstrated by my depiction of the first day! I will try and catch up to my present state as quickly as possible because I don’t enjoy writing about something that happened 5 days ago as much as you guys probably eventually won’t enjoy hearing about it. For now, I can say that life is still hectic with trying to set up my courses for the semester, clean and unpack into my room in my 5-person flat, and many more things.

My next post will be on my second day. Look out for it!

It’s Finally Here!

Hi all! I probably should have gotten to this inaugural post last night, but I got really caught up in making the darn blog look the way I wanted it (the inner designer in me, you could say).

Anyway, for almost all of you (sorry mom, had to single you out on this one!), this will be the gateway (window?) into my life over the next 5 months in Scotland, specifically Glasgow. I’m shooting to share something at least once a week. but I might notch the frequency up because I’m sure there will be a lot to talk about!

It’s almost one o’clock on December 31st, the day I embark on my adventure. As I’ve told many of you already, I’m both excited and nervous to go. Excited because this has been almost two years in the making and is finally coming to fruition, but nervous because for the first time in my life, I will truly be living on my own, not to mention in a different country! I’ll be on the plane in less than seven hours, so ready, excited, nervous or not, here I come, Scotland! Here’s to a great semester abroad!

Also, thanks to Dave Palladino for letting me use a portion of the Rampant Lion Pipe Band website for the blog!