Skye and Friends

Skye and friends.

It’s a warm Friday morning for the last day in March.  We are heading up to the mythical Isle of Skye.  The morning started with a few problems renting the cars but by 10 AM we were outside Warrender Park Crescent and ready to get a move on.  There were two cars, one with Tyler, D-Lu, and some new characters, Magnus and Daniel, two Danish friends of Tyler.  In the other car were Meg, Mags, Leo, and yours truly.  We had booked an Air B&B in a small town called Portree, but before we could get there we had to make the drive up.  We planned the route out so that we could stop by Loch Ness, and then after that, we would drive straight to Skye.

After we set off the cars got separated almost instantly.  As drove along the highway the land slowly transitioned into the highlands which will never cease to amaze.  Eventually, we took our pit-stop at another small village which had a castle.  The castle was out of view from the road, but we did stumble upon a cozy little path, inconspicuously behind a clothing store.  The path led along a river with moss covered trees and rocks all along the way.  The trail had a slight vertical incline and the river transitioned to sets of pools and cascading waterfalls.  After continuing up a ways an ancient looking bridge crossed over the water.  The dark stone of the bridge was covered in moss in such a way that made the bridge a natural part of the scenery.  Like it had been there for just as long as the river and the mountain.  Eventually, we decided it was time to turn around and continue on our journey north.  It’s funny how on that works on road trips, some of the best experiences are just things you stumble upon when you pull over.

We met up with the other car at a small restaurant right at the bank of the Loch Ness.  After a small lunch, we decided to something a little stupid. We decided to swim in Loch Ness.  The rest of the boys and me stripped down to our underwear and ran into the freezing cold waters of the north.  The winds had stirred up some strong waves in the loch and the shores were rocky and slippery.  I took a few steps into the water and eventually through away my inhibitions and dove head-on into the water.  Instantly the breath was sucked out of me and I had to come back up for air.  All the guys around me were struggling with the cold as well, but at the same time, we were all having a ball.  As dumb as it is the thrill of the cold was creating true bliss.  After a very short jaunt, we unanimously decided to exit the waters.  This, however, proved more of a challenge than we thought.  The rocky bottoms created an uneven surface and the waves kept knocking us over.  On top of this, the icy water had numbed our feet making it even harder to walk out.  Eventually, however, we emerged from the freezing depths, victorious.IMG_20170331_162442130_HDR

A few hours later we arrived, not without a few wrong turns, at our temporary house.  A cozy little place with views of the mountains and only a few minutes walk from the sea.  Portree is an old sea town that has in this modern era been converted into a vacation destination.  Although this does take away a bit of the charm that must once have existed, Portree still calls upon historic visions of the old hardy fishing town.

Since we got in after dark we couldn’t explore Skye at all, but we were able to make spaghetti and play drinking games.  Good times were had and friendships were strengthened, it was a good night.  We woke up early in the morning and our first stop along the way was Neist Point.  It had stellar views of the ends of the earth and I think photos are going to describe it a lot better than I could manage.IMG_20170401_142556066DSCN9756.JPG20170401_141827

Next, we headed to the Fairy Pools.  I consider the river itself a little underwhelming.  Pictures from there can look very cool but there isn’t much special about the pools and falls compared to other areas I’ve seen around Scotland.  But we would not be stopped, there was an imposing mountain, surrounded by gray clouds, with a savage crack down the center.  It was calling to be climbed.  We made it past the main path of the fairy pools and into a wet marshy area right underneath the slopes.  Upon reaching the base we started working our way up to the crack and although the slope was a quite steep we found out that inside the split of the mountain water flowed down from above.  We stood in appreciation for a minute and decided we would like to try and make it to the top.  Not knowing if this would actually be possible and without any real gear, we decided to make a go of it anyways.  Slowly we worked our way up, and as we climbed higher it looked like we might actually be able to reach the summit.  One problem, however, was the quickly setting sun, we only had about 2ish hours of light and so we set a time to turn around for certain.  The climb up was beautiful, with views of mountains and lochs all around.  We did, unfortunately, reach our time limit before we could get all the way up which did leave me a bit unsatisfied, but we did get way higher than I ever actually thought we would.  Even the views from the point we did reach were impressive,  the river scaled down to a small stream, hills blending into each other forming purple hills in the distance, we could even see an unknown loch once we were high enough shyly showing in-between the expanse of high ridges.20170401_164725

That night no one had very much energy at all and so we went to bed pretty quickly.  The next morning we got up pretty early, had a quick breakfast, and went out to probably the most famous spot in Skye, The Storr.  It’s this scenic hill with some really crazy rock formations that bogle the mind.  We concluded a really good weekend up there sitting underneath one of the largest standing rocks.  I tried to take a polaroid of that but it ended up coming out over exposed.  The moment was a good encapsulation of the whole weekend: friends, cool hiking, scenic views…Scotland.

I’m really happy with the friends I’ve made here.  It’s crazy to think that from all over the world we all met in Edinburgh, mostly by chance, and these are some of the best friends I’ve ever had.  It’s amazing that from so many different places we could bond so closely.

I feel like I’m not getting to the crux of the point.  I’m having trouble expressing how awesome it feels to go to all these new and interesting places with new and interesting friends that were all born thousands of miles away from me.  It doesn’t make sense that events could line up like this.  In a way, it’s everything I expected from studying abroad, but it’s also so much more.  So many of my views on life have been altered, and I feel like I have a lot better understanding of myself, the world, and the people around me.

I think Pascal puts it well:

When I consider the small span of my life absorbed in the eternity of all time, or the small part of space which I can touch or see engulfed by the infinite immensity of spaces that I know not and that know me not, I am frightened and astonished to see myself here instead of there … now instead of then.

But for now here is a good here and I can enjoy that.

This polaroid is on the way up to The Storr and the other is my failed attempt.  Neither are that good, I think the color polaroids are actually much cooler.

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Also, side note, I was just talking to James, discussing how I could properly bring the characters of this study abroad blog to life.  When out of the blue he calmly states, “Hold on” reaches down to his shoe sitting on the floor, picks it up bringing to next to his head like a cell phone and says, “Hello.” So there’s that.

Amsterdam

I’m out of date but I have been simultaneously busy and lazy and that makes it very unlikely for blogs to be written.  But let me tell you where I am now.  I’m in a little coffee shop called café Cockburn.  When I woke up this morning I thought I would be on a flight to Prague right now but me being me I actually booked my flight for tomorrow.  This is actually really nice because it means I have to time to write, and I can kid myself that I would write on the plane or when I got to Prague but I think it’s very unlikely that would have actually happened.  Now I have a chance to get my thoughts and adventurous from the last two weeks down and that feels really good.

Let’s take it back a bit.  It’s Friday, March 24th, and after writing a blog until 4 am I awoke 3 hours later and soon after that caught an Uber with my friends to the airport.  I had briefly been to Amsterdam before, on a layover, so I knew the basic layout of the airport and city.  I quickly met up with my other friend and we did some basic settling in.  After some different friends arrived (Yes there were a lot of people to keep track of) we went off to explore the city.  If I’m being honest, and I’m nothing if not honest, Amsterdam was fairly uneventful in the conventional sense.  I also would like to keep some of the events of that weekend to myself in the same regard as a Las Vegas experience.  There is, however, one thing I would like to talk about and that is: The Mystery of the Purmerend Air B&B.  Purmerend is a beautiful little town about 30 minutes north of Amsterdam and it’s much cheaper to stay there over the weekend than in Amsterdam.  Quick side note, don’t visit Amsterdam over a weekend unless you know you can get cheap hostel prices.  The hostels can push $60 or more for the cheapest rooms on weekends but drop significantly on weekdays.  The city is also fairly crowded so a weekday visit may also be more enjoyable anyways.  Regardless, I now present you,

The Mystery of the Purmerend Air B&B

In the quite town of Purmerend rests the weirdest establishment of temporary residence I have every slept in, in my life.  When I first got there it was late at night and I did not fully appreciate the weirdness but the next day it dawned on me.  The room we were staying in was set up like a hostel with 8 or so bunk beds set up throughout the room.  While the room was set up like a normal hostel, it was not designed like one.  The ceiling, while low, had multiple glass chandeliers hanging down.  In fact, some hung in such a way that an unwitting top bunker could sit up and hit their head on one if they weren’t careful.  Now we’ve all seen a tiled shower stall there’s nothing out of the ordinary there.  However, in my experience, I’ve never seen one where the toilet was also set up in the same space for the sake of convenience.  Now while this may have been nice, having a shower and bathroom in the same stall leads to the uncomfortable effect of the ground always being wet with a mystery liquid that is probably water but oh no what if it’s actually…. Anyways come nightfall we discovered that the building we were staying purposes other than housing young travelers.

While we were hanging out in our room that was upstairs we starting hearing what we thought was Mandarin singing coming from below.  This, being strange, and me and my friend James we decided to investigate.  Downstairs we went, casually passing a young Dutch lad of no more than 11 on the way down the stairs.  We reached a large set of closed double doors and the singing was apparent now.  Indeed there was Chinese karaoke going on in the room behind those doors.  Could we go in? That, of course, was the question.  But in our current state, we were scared and unsure of ourselves.  James finally gathered his courage and went to the door.  He opened it just a crack.  Then recoiled closed it quickly and knocked away my phone that I was using to film him. now I didn’t see but he was shaken by what he saw.  I can only recount what he told me afterwords.

“What did you see?” My friends and I asked when we were back in the room with everyone.  Slowly James looked up at us, his voice tremored, “I…I think I saw the Eye of Sauron.”

Now I have my doubts to the legitimacy of this claim, but of course, there is nothing I can do to truly confirm or deny it.

A little bit later in the night, we discovered another secret of the Air B&B.  Directly before the bathrooms, I mentioned earlier there is an unassuming door that actually leads to a small hallway-like room with a sink, dishwasher, and cloth washing machine.  Not only that, this room also had 3 airplane size bathroom shower combos as well.  I cannot stress how small this “room” was.  If I stretched both of my arms out I would be able to touch both walls.  The many doors to the bathrooms could not all be opened simultaneously as they would block each other.  Now, this room would be weird enough in its own right, but it also had a back door which leads onto the roof.  Outside there was a beautiful view of back alleys and lights and life.  It was surreal and inexplicable.  FIND a PICTURE.

Thus Ends:

The Mystery of the Purmerend Air B&B

Overall the Netherlands was really nice.  It actually reminded me a bit of the Midwest if the Midwest had canals everywhere.  The way the towns outside the major city are designed and interspersed with farmland almost makes it feel like home.  Of course, the little Viking children playing soccer outside the theater house that was showing a musical version of Pulp Fiction, adds that sense of Euro-ness that I do so enjoy.

A cat that we made friends with:20170325_181701

Me looking the coolest:20170326_174508

…..

Right now I’m actually in Frankfurt but I’m going to upload it from here and I’m hoping I get another one out asap.  I’m also really mad at myself because I have a really cool polaroid from this trip but I forgot it in Edinburgh and so I’ll have to wait 2 weeks before I can upload it.  Regardless, I’ll see you in Prague!

Existential Thoughts

I’m feeling anxious.  I was sitting in my kitchen and I was trying to work on thermodynamics.   I was really having trouble focusing so I went on a quick run to clear my head.  Instead, the run formed a question in my mind: who do I want to be?  Now that’s a tough question to have stuck in your head because the answer is very elusive. The answer is always changing so fast that it becomes difficult to ever truly pinpoint.  It’s like sailing for a destination but every time you calibrate your course all of the variables like the current and winds and even the stars have changed and now you have no idea if you’re still heading in the right direction.  And you want to stay on course so you need to recalibrate, but at the same time, there are other things that need to be attended to like managing leaks and making dinner and looking out for icebergs.  So you just have to trust that you are on the right course and hope you end up landing somewhere manageable.  But not only that.  We aren/\’t even sure which destination we want to sail to.  There are 50 different landings that could be amazing or horrible but we can only ever reach one.  So what the *Iowa State Say’s I Can’t Swear*  are you supposed to do?

Follow the paths of others?  That might put you in somewhat of the right place.  But our ships aren’t all built the same, and what if there is a better course that hasn’t been set yet, and truly where is the glory in following? True, the young must learn, and at times that means following, but that is only for short tracks of our journey.  In the end, the destination must be our own.

I have some ideas for who I want to be.  I want to be a person who is in shape and works out consistently, I want to be stronger than I am now, faster, more physically defined.  I want to be well-read in history, and classical literature, and contemporary works about climate and the economy and architecture.  I want to know how to play instruments, how to surf, how to weld.  I want to know how to convince people of facts and sometimes even my opinions.  I want to know how to get pretty and interesting girls to like me.  I want friends who are adventurous and spontaneous and caring.  I want to make a positive impact on the world while still enjoying life.  I want to improve my current skills and build new ones.  I can do a lot of these things, and maybe even all of them, but what’s the order.  How do I know what I have to do right now?  Do I really have to study thermodynamics tonight to become the kind of person I want to be?  Could I be spending my time more effectively?  No one knows the answer to that, and what’s even more frustrating is that I’m the only one with even an approximation for that answer.

What’s more confusing is that there are aspects of who I want to be that are contradictory.  Part of me wants to go to Seoul or Barcelona and teach English when I graduate.  Part of me wants to go get a stable engineering job and pay off my debts as quickly as possible.  Another part wants to continue my education and pursue a master’s degree.  Or I could find a research position I really like.  Or maybe I start a bookstore.   Or I could get hit by a car and none of hopes and dreams would matter.  Like thermodynamic properties, there are choices I have to make in life that are irreversible.  Every action I take increases the entropy of the universe just a little bit, and I will not get to go back and change it no matter what.

In a way that is beautiful.  I… we, must sail blindly to a destination that doesn’t even exist yet because it is a reality we are inadvertently and inescapably creating in the moment.  The decisions that we make every second determine the kind of life we are going to live and the kind of people we are going to become.  Every decision is like a ripple cast off by our bow in the ocean of our journey.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

I still don’t quite know the exact location I want to land, but looking back I do think I’ve been going in the right direction.  Studying abroad is really good for this.  It’s helped me put a lot of things into perspective and I’m sure it will continue to do so.  This is why I think studying abroad is so great.  If you are a student considering leaving your safe harbor, I say do it.  But no one can make that decision for you, you have to make the choice.

Sorry if this was a bit of a jarring blog post.  I know it’s definitely a different style than what I’ve been posting but this week was a lot more subdued and it had me thinking a lot about a lot of things.  I’m not sure if this will resonate with anyone but I hope it does.

One more quick story.  My Uncle Mark recently passed away.  The morning after I found out, for some reason, I decided to get up early and watch the sunrise.  If you know me getting up early is something I can almost never do.  Somehow I got up after four hours of sleep without any difficulty.  I looked outside and it was actually snowing, which is a very rare occurrence in Edinburgh.  I rushed outside and watched the sunrise over Arthur’s seat.  The sky lit up pink and yellow and reflected beautifully off the light layer of fresh snow.  I don’t know if that was my Uncle Mark or coincidence but it was a beautiful morning and I hope his soul finds peace.wp-1490327200830.png

The Highlands

I finally got up to the highlands! Twice in two weekends actually.  It was great to see my Grandparents last weekend, and then, this most recent weekend, I finally got to go hiking in the highlands with the Edinburgh hillwalking club.

I met my grandparents at the train station on Thursday night, the 2nd.  I went back with them to their hotel and then we got dinner after at this really good Mexican place off Prince’s street called Wahaca.  Apparently, it’s a chain but it’s the best Mexican I’ve had since I’ve been over here.  After classes on Friday, I took my grandparents on a walk around the town.  We hiked up parts of Arthur’s seat, and although we didn’t quite get to the top, the views are always stunning.  I also showed them around campus, some of my favorite streets and eventually Calton hill.

Of course, my grandparents continued to keep me well fed all they way along.  We called it a day after dinner and made it an early night because we were leaving for a tour up to Loch Ness early in the morning.

After a rainy early morning bike ride, I met up with my grandparents at their hotel.  I was running a few minutes late and worried I had missed the bus but my Grandpa knows me too well and had told me a time 30 minutes earlier so that I would actually show up on time.  Our tour bus driver was this cheeky Scottish man who really knew how to give a tour.  His voice mixed with the Highlands and the warmth of the bus had a certain lull that made intermittent naps along the way inevitable.  The drive up had some stunning views.  Driving through the highlands up to the Loch was beautiful and only made me more excited for the coming weekend when I would really be able to get out and explore it.  After arriving at Loch Ness we took a small boat tour and although we didn’t quite see Nessie it was still fun to be in the Highlands with my grandparents.

The next morning we went up to the Edinburgh Castle which was a first for me as well.  (Hot tip: wait for your grandparents to come to go to the museums that have entry fees.)  The castle was really cool and I would recommend the audio tour if you have the extra few pounds because it has a ton of really cool information about the castle’s history.  The picture of the stained glass is from the oldest building in Edinburgh, Saint Marget’s Chapel which dates back all the way to the 12th century.

After a few hours at the castle, we split up for a bit and then had one last meal out.  My Grandma got a taste of haggis for the first time, and we even got my Grandpa to take a bite.  It was amazing to get a visit from them and having them visit made me realize how much Edinburgh has become my home in the last few months.

Another week of school went by and I was able to successfully catch up in one of my classes which leaves only the beast of thermodynamics to be vanquished.  With any luck, I’ll be caught up this week and in a good place moving into the final weeks of learning.  I also got some good work done planning out the remainder of my trips which I’m very excited to talk about in the coming weeks.  Me and one of my Iowa State friends, Calum, also had a sweet run/climb up to Arthur’s seat on a day where the wind was so strong that I couldn’t help but howl back at the power of the hill.

The weekend finally came around which meant it was time for another adventure.  Some quick context on the hillwalking community in Scotland.  A Munro is a peak in Scotland over 3000 feet high, and there is a trend called Munro bagging in which walkers attempt to summit as many or all of the Monros.  There are 282.  It’s quite the challenge and my schedule for the weekend involved summiting two, I’ll figure out the other 280 later.

We left Friday afternoon and made it to the Glencoe Youth Hostel in time to get some gear and make some friends. I had signed up for this free training course with a really cool instructor, Nick.  We started off the morning at the base of Buachaille Etive Beag.  At the time it was too misty to see the peaks we would summit but here’s what it looked like after we came back down.wp-1489418007912.jpgAt the bottom, we started with some basic navigation training as well as learning how to properly read the map and calculate how long it would take to reach certain landmarks or forks in the path.  I was with 5 other hikers eager to learn more as well.  The goal was to follow the path up to a saddle in between two of the peaks that we wanted to summit.  Along the way to the top, we continued to learn more skills from Nick and eventually reached the saddle.  We huddled up for a quick lunch, and I mean really huddled.Hilltraining1Now it was time to really head up to a summit.  We had one more major training session, practicing ice axe arrests.  Ice axe arrests are what you are supposed to do if you find yourself sliding down the side of an icy mountainside towards possible death, so I’m glad I got to practice it a bit.  Also, it’s a ton of fun to pretend you’re sliding down a mountain.Hilltraining3

After this practice, we continued up and then across a snowy ridge towards our first peak: Stob Dubh.  We first walked up trough the deep snow to a sub-peak.  Once at the sub-peak, we continued across a ridge which was probably the most dangerous part, although the snow and difficulty are still far from anything to worry about.  We followed along the ridge for a few more minutes and finally, we made it to the summit!

The views were stellar and the sublime was real.  The Highland mists would come and go as quickly as the wind.  Every direction that I turned was an amazing view worthy of a romantic painting.  I had summited a Monroe.  I’m on my way to becoming a proper Scottish hillwalker.  Eventually, it was time to head back down across to the other side of the saddle and up to the second Munro, Stop Coire Raineach.  Descending was fairly easy as the wet snow allowed for a sort of clomping down, taking big steps into the snow so that you sink in and stabilize automatically.  By the time we got back down to the saddle it was really clearing up and so the walk up to the second peak was truly stunning with views of 3 different locks and countless mountains for miles.  Hilltraining6Hilltraining7

It was a wonderful day for hiking and for learning how to do it properly.  The next day was a much more mellow forest walk so it’s not really worth getting into detail about but it was still fun seeing the trees and moss of the highlands up close.  Overall it was a great weekend trip and I’m so happy I finally got to explore the highlands these last couple weeks.

Polaroid for this post is one of my favorites so far.  It’s one of Tyler and Daniel right outside our flat with the flash of the camera in the mirror.  So far I’ve found that polaroid works best with medium lighting in more close up shots.  When I take landscapes I think it’s almost impossible to keep the film from getting overexposed.  Anyways here it is.wp-1489535231417.jpg

Money Comes and Goes but Barcelona is Forever

Last week after Paris, I went to Barcelona.  Immediately upon arrival at the hostel, 360 Hostel Arts & Culture,  I was invited on a succession of walking tours.  The first a common one around the main parts of the city, and the second unforgettable one.  The second tour was a long trek up to this cool lookout called “El Bunkers.”  Considering the view, it’s fairly secluded.  After stopping for drinks and snacks (3 Euro wine anyone?) we arrived at the summit.  20170221_164854  You could see all of Barcelona and there was a gentle wind and there were happy people.  I got to the top and I remember the only bit of stress I felt was trying to quantify the beauty of the moment into something I could describe in a blog.  We climbed up to a low roof that had a perfect amount of space for the lot of us.  This was the most sun I’d felt in months and it was heartwarming, or maybe that was the bottle of wine.  Either way, as I laid back and tried to comprehend the sublime, I was at a loss.  We had been chilling on the top of the world for about 2 hours when the sun started to set over the mountains to the west.  It was a finale to an amazing day and a start to an amazing adventure in Barcelona.  17092770_10154120631031058_1516600367_o17092979_10154120634981058_309709469_oI want to try and focus my writing a bit more and go into detail on a few key events of my travels as opposed to just a summary of everything. So yes, I did see Sagrada Familia and the early works of Picasso and I drank sangria.  I also just spent a lot of time just wandering the city. But those are fun things to do, not to read about from a mediocre writer.  At the same time, these pictures are sick.

Sagrada Familia/Barcelona Cathedral:

17036756_10154120617291058_1887985238_oThe City:

Art in the street and muesum:

My next little story is not as much fun but I’m still grateful it happened in a weird sort of way.  I got pickpocketed.  I was walking home, at night, with my friend Caroline, when a young guy came up and asked for a light to which Caroline obliged.  At some point during this interaction, the man managed to slip his hand into my front pocket and steal my phone without me noticing.  We turned to walk away and got only a few steps before I checked my pockets and noticed my phone was gone.  I whirled around, the man was still standing there casually smoking but I saw him subtly move his arm back to another man passing by.  It was the whole setup like out of a movie.  Without really thinking I rushed the guy who now currently had my phone and grabbed him.  I started yelling for my phone back, not using the most polite language. They guy at first tried to deny it but I obviously knew he had it so I didn’t back down.  After a few more seconds he pulled my phone out of his pocket and handed it to me.  Then I just backed down and walked away.  I know I’m really lucky the two guys didn’t decide to just beat me up and take everything, but it was a split second decision and it worked out in the end.  Moral of the story: keep your hands in your pockets when you talk to strangers at 3 in the morning.  But seriously, if you go to Barcelona or any other areas where pickpockets abound, be careful these guys are good.

After many more adventures, I went to bed Friday night expecting to leave for the airport in the morning.  Somehow accidently my phone didn’t charge my phone overnight, it died, and I didn’t hear my alarm in the morning.  So after a stress full morning of rebooking a flight that now included an overnight layover, I wasn’t in the best mood.  After a small breakfast, I was kind of lost for what to do and eventually wandered out to the hostel patio.  Out on the patio sat Rhyse, the Welshiest Welsh guy I’ve ever met, and Sam, a free-spirited traveler who hops on the next coming train and goes wherever it takes him.  The Barcelonian sun was shining the warmest it had been since I had arrived and the company was good.  We laid back and talked about the times we had enjoyed and the magic of Barcelona.  My mood was coming around and when someone decided to buy a few beers and then Sam found a guitar and started singing as well.  I was still a bit upset about the cost of having to rebook when Rhyse said something I’ll never forget.  “Money comes and goes but Barcelona is forever.”  This really settled me, even though I had definitely messed up I still ended up with a few more hours in Barcelona.  The universe is kind of funny like that.  There are good and bad always, and the best we can really do is appreciate the good moments and in the end, it usually ends up alright.  20170225_143511I did make my rebooked flight and actually spent a few hours in Amsterdam on the layover which was pretty cool in itself.  No Polaroid this week but I think I have something better.  Walking out of a museum I met probably the best friend I’ve made abroad.  I don’t know his name but I know he’s a good boy. 20170224_191103

Work Hard Play Hard

Alright, so I know I’m late again but it’s been a whirlwind this past week and a half.  Last week was the first week where that pesky task called doing work really caught up to me.  I had to finish a Techniques of Management class project which took up most of my working hours and motivation.  I also had to catch up on Logic and Thermo because we had practice midterms in both of those classes as well.  On top of that, I also came down with a really rough cold and popped the back tire in my bike tripling my commute time. But I persevered,  I finished my project an hour before it was due and actually kind of knew what I was talking about on my practice tests.

Let’s talk about motivation while you are abroad.  It’s not that I don’t have motivation.  I’m motivated to do certain things, like explore the city, or make travel plans, or go to the club with my friends.  Does that count? Anyways, the motivation I’m lacking is more the kind you need for school.  And you might be thinking that I’m just a lazy sack, but a lot of the friends I’ve made that are way smarter and harder working back at their home universities are running into the same issue.  I don’t quite know what the solution is at this time, we tried to go to the library but shortly after we began studying I decided that learning basic tourist french was more important, and my friend Claire was happy to help (procrastinate) as well.  I’m still searching for a motivation solution, I’ll let you know if I find one.

So the week was a bit rough, but then Friday came.  I sadly had to miss my Friday morning lecture to catch my very early flight, and by 10:00 AM I was in Paris.  I figured out where I had to go on the metro and even successfully transferred stations.  I’ve actually taken the metro a lot while I’ve been here and it’s a good way to get around, plus I feel like it puts you in real Paris.  I got to my hostel around noon but check in didn’t start until 4.  So I stored my bag and set off to explore the immediate area.  The hostel is right at the base of the Sacre Coeur, which I had never really known about but it is incredible.  It sits atop a hill at one of the highest points in Paris, with a stunning view of the city.  The surrounding area is also filled with shops and markets, and architecture that just feels so…Paris.

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After checking in I took a quick nap and then walked down to the Louvre.  It was spectacular even just walking into the building.  The Louvre is free if you are under 25 on Fridays so I wanted to at least get a peak even though I planned to come back on Monday.  The artwork in there is stunning.  The thing that always blows my mind is the scale of the paintings and sculptures.  Some of them are truly massive with such simultaneous detail you can’t help but admire them.  One problem I had was that all the descriptions are in French which makes it hard to contextualize a lot of the art for a person, like me, with no background.  To solve this I decided to buy an audio guide for 5 euro when I went back on Monday.  It went in depth into the key works and really brought me into a few pieces.  I think my favorite has to be Liberty Leading the People.20170217_18570320170217_194801wp-1487628865347.jpg

The next day I took the metro to the Eiffel Tower.  Again, I was blown away by the scale.  Having seen the likes of the Sears tower all my life I really didn’t think I’d be too impressed but the tower stands out firmly against the backdrop of Paris.  I walked around the park and had a nice long sit on a bench.  I finally got up to walk to the Arc De Triomphe.  After another scenic walk through the city, I arrived at the largest traffic circle I’ve ever seen.  The Arc is pretty cool as well, and I think it would be very cool to go to the top, but the hour wait and 10 euro price tag didn’t float too well with me and I decided to skip it.20170218_154008

The next day I went to the catacombs.  I’ve seen my fair share of skulls in museums and such but nothing really prepares you for the scale of centuries worth of Parisian dead stacked up like a fruit stand.  There are walls of bones up past your head, and most of the time the collection of bones goes back farther than you can even see.  It was also really cool to just learn about how the catacombs came to be.  This is something I’ve noticed while traveling, I’m learning things I’ve always had the ability to learn but until I face them head on I never bothered.  Funny thing, learning makes traveling even more rewarding.

On my last day along with going to the Louvre again, I also visited Notre Dame.  It’s hard to image something that impressive being built 850 years ago but somehow the French figured it out.  I also didn’t know it was right along the river, so after seeing the chapel I took some time to sit and read, in pure tranquility, perched up on the stairway leading down to the river walkway.

The night life was also a ball of fun, mostly as a result of interesting people. The Hostel was full of friendly and interesting people, most of which were also traveling solo.  I met an Irishman who teaches in Korea, an American who teaches in Spain, A Canadian au pair in France, Syrian and Lybian refugees, truly making the most of life, and much more.  I love meeting people from all over the world, I really struggle to understand why people don’t like to meet people who are different from themselves.  Also I was able to see a free little indie rock show in this really cool bar with a balconey to watch as well as ground level.20170219_213438

There is one more person I had the pleasure of meeting.   A fellow American and I went over to the bar next door to the hostel on Saturday night.  While there we met some girls from the Netherlands who came to Paris for part of their french class, how crazy is that!  I really hit it off with one girl, Cato, and I only want to tell this story because I’ve never been so smooth in my life and I feel like I have to share.  So Cato and I had been talking for about an hour and were obviously into each other, compliments had been shared, it was going well.  At one point she tells me that her language is very difficult to learn.  I, of course, I ask to hear her say something in Dutch, but she doesn’t know what to say.  Thinking for a second I playfully suggest for her to say, ‘You’re a cute boy and I want to kiss you.’  In retort, she leans in and replies, ‘Je bent een leuke jongen en ik wil je kussen.’ That night, in Paris, the city of love, I had the pleasure of a small kiss from a beautiful girl from The Netherlands.  Cato left with her classmates at 10, but we had a good moment in time, and who knows maybe I’ll see her in Amsterdam.

I have to leave the hostel for Barcelona in about 5 hours but I know I have to get this done while Paris is still fresh.  I’m going to do my best to write about Barcelona right away as well so I might post twice this week.  Also, I know it’s cheesy but I couldn’t help but take a Polaroid of the Effiel Tower.

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Iceland and Cozy Moments

Hello, everyone.  I want to apologize for missing a week but when you book a last minute trip to Iceland your schedule tends to get a little messed up.  I also want to try posting these earlier in the week because a lot of cool stuff happens over the weekend that is really fun to talk about and I want it to be fresh in my mind.  I want to talk about two pretty fun times I had the last two weeks.  The first is a little party we had at our house and the second is obviously my trip to Iceland.

I’ve described before the flat I’m in before but as a reminder, there are just two apartments down here in the basement section.  This last weekend our neighbors decided to have a party down in their flat.  Naturally me and my roommates also invited a bunch of our friends.  The night was awesome.  Our whole group of friends all showed up at different times, but there was one point where we all accidentally ended up in a doorway together.  I’ve never felt so many smiles, hugs, and good vibes.  Tyler described it as an incredibly cozy moment, and that is a spot on description.  Eventually, we all ended up back in our flat just hanging out and having a really good time.  That’s when Mags took this picture that I really love.img_20170131_233916_763.jpg

That reminds me, I think it’s time for some introductions of my new friends.  Mags, as I mentioned earlier is the Chilean girl who makes fun of me for saying dude too much (she’s on the bottom left.  Meg (right above Mags on the left) is the Aussie who likes to party like she’s an Aussie.  Tyler is next to them towards the left, he’s one of my roommates and from Arizona.  Leo is next over, she’s German and it’s pretty fun to have her say normal German things in an angry voice.  Nathalia is my friend from high school near the top.  Then there is me looking good as always.  Next over is Dan who is Tyler’s friend from high school, also studying in Edinburgh.  Then Rachel who somehow managed to get a lei that night.  CJ is last and also missing is Corben who were visiting Tyler and Dan.  Also, James, my other roommate, is missing because he showed up later.

I don’t know how to describe it correctly but that night felt so great.  We had come from all over the world and made friends with each other.  It was such a lucky experience that we all got to have together and I think that’s a really special thing.

Anyways, after the weekend passed it was again time for class.  In one of my classes on Tuesday some of my other friends, Claire and Gavin, were talking about maybe going to Iceland that weekend.  I had heard really good things about Iceland and although it wasn’t on the top of my list when I came over here I decided to check it out.  We ended up buying tickets and then we left two days later.  I did end up having to skip some classes but at the end of the day, I think Iceland was worth it.

We got in at about 7:00 PM on Thursday with a northern lights tour scheduled for 9:00 PM that night, and we also had to pick up our rental car.  Lucky we made it to our hostel with about 5 minutes to spare before being picked up by the tour bus.  It took us about another hour and a half to pick up other tourists and then to get out far enough away from the city for it to be dark enough.  When we stopped there was a very faint trail of what looked like possibly the northern lights in the sky.  About 5 minutes later the sky lit up.  Green lights with slight purples mixed in danced across the entire sky.  It was one of the most incredible natural events I’ve ever witnessed.  For nature to possess such raw beauty is dumbfounding.  Here is a really cool picture but it still doesn’t give a bit of justice to what it was like to actually be there.  wp-1486559121876.jpg

And that was just the first night.  Friday followed with a trip out to a small town called Vic with many cool stops along the way.  The first stop was Seljalandsfoss a really cool set falls.  There is a main one everyone goes to which you can walk behind, but also down a path there is, in my humble opinion, an even cooler waterfall.  At first, it looks like a small brook flowing out of the mountain.  As you get closer you realize it flows from a large archway.  If you’re willing to walk through the brook you step into another world of water and rock all around.  The archway opens up into a cathedral of rock and water with another beautiful waterfall creating a small pool and flowing down and creating the brook we saw earlier.  wp-1486559125033.jpgwp-1486559122573.jpg

 

Then we went to a hot spring pool built in the 1920’s  called Seljavallalaug.  It was in one of the most scenic places I’ve ever seen.  It was a moment so beautiful that it almost feels like a dream.  The man who cleans the pool once a week came with his dog, and they both were incredibly friendly.  I don’t think I can do justice with words, just check out this view.

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It was almost night and storming by the time we got to the black sand beach.  The sand was pitch black and beautiful and the waves were crashing with more power than I’ve ever seen the ocean have.  Naturally, we tempted the undertow to chase us.  A wave crashed and then pulled back, we ran out saw another wave coming and then turned and ran.  We almost got away but the wave just nipped us.  It was such a beautiful moment as we smiled around at each other and looked up at the cliffs around us.  It was a great day.wp-1486559122160.jpg

One more point of note was the drive along the golden circle.  At one point we just stopped on the side of the road.  This view isn’t a park or special view of note, it’s just how Iceland looks naturally.img_6632wp-1486559121872.jpg

We also saw some geysers go off and another spectacular waterfall.

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Iceland was my first trip outside Scotland and it was a great first adventure.  The nature and people were great.  Seeing the northern lights is a once of a lifetime opportunity and I’ve never seen nature anything like this before.

It’s been a really great past few weeks.  Classes are starting to build up a bit and it’s hard to remember I also have to be studying here but I think I’ll be able to keep up pretty well.  I don’t have a polaroid for this week because I didn’t have room for it in my bags.  I took my thermodynamics book instead, pretty lame, I know, but I did actually manage to get some homework done in Iceland as well.  Untill next time!