Man it’s been a whirlwind the last couple of days. I’ll start with just after my last post. Last weds I managed to skip out on work for the afternoon (more or less with approval) and I decided to head to see Stirling Castle. I love how close everything here is, as it only took me 35 minutes on the train to get there, and was well worth the trip. First, let’s talk about European public transport…its unbelievable. I almost didn’t want to get off the train at the end of the trip. The whole thing cost me 7 pounds, there was drink/snack service equivalent to a good flight, comfortable seats, and a table to sit at. All of this for a 35 minute ride! Jumping the gun a bit I took the overnight bus to London Friday and then back on Sunday night. My flatmates all described how terrible the experience was, how small the bus and seats were, how much it smelled, and how long it would take. Wanna know what? It was better in every way than the greyhound bus I had to take home from college all 4 years I was there without a car.
Anyway, back to Stirling. Stirling castle is built on a site that has been used for a castle as early as the 11th century. It sits on the only major medieval north-south route in Scotland, commanding what was from roman times until the 1700s the only bridge across the River Forth. As such it has a huge amount of history and for much of Scotland’s past was the capital and seat of a monarch. The castle sits above a beautiful riverside town that I imagine would be a great place to retire to. The hills in this place are epic, worse than cardiac hill in Oakland, but it’s worth the climb. The castle is huge, with a gigantic cliff face on one side and the keep and massive castle wall on the other. In case you didn’t know I love all things medieval, in particular castles, so this place was a great experience for me. Take a look at the pictures up on facebook to fully appreciate what it looked like. Note: the big tower that you can see in the distance in many of the pictures is the William Wallace memorial, erected in Victorian times to honor the real William Wallace (not that crap Mel Gibson story, though it is a phenomenal movie) as he won his greatest battle on the field outside of Stirling castle. Stoner, Helter, and I visited that memorial on the last trip so when I get home I’ll dig up some pictures of it.
I skipped out of work again on Friday to head to Glasgow for the day. The only problem with being here during the school year instead of tourist-holiday season is that no one else has the time to just skip out for a day so I had to make this trip by myself. Glasgow is a very different city than Edinburgh. Where Edinburgh is a beautiful historic city that retains much of its history, Glasgow is an industrial capital, built in that way, and with many of its older buildings having been torn down at some point to make way for more industry. Apparently the town hit hard times when the shipping industry failed here some years ago and is slowly rebuilding. I took a bus tour of the city but definitely did not enjoy it as much as I have Edinburgh. I imagine it would be a great place to go out in on a Saturday night, as I’ve heard its where many of the young professionals live, but to visit I was glad I wasn’t there much longer than a day. However, I DID get to see some pretty amazing things while I was there. My first big stop was at the Hunterian Museum; made mainly from the collections of Dr. William Hunter. He lived in the 18th century and was one of the first great professors of anatomy and pathology. He also pioneered some of the techniques for preserving bodies and specimens, so people came from all over the world to see the collections of pathology that he had preserved. If you’re interested I posted many of the pictures, but if you haven’t been through anatomy lab then you probably shouldn’t look. I’ll get around to tagging what they are eventually. I finished up the day there at the Kelvingrove Art and Natural History Museum. The building is huge (see the big red building with the large harry potter style pillars) and contains more than I could probably see in an entire day. I stuck mostly to the art side as I have seen a million natural history museums and very few arts ones, and because the displays here were of art that I could actually appreciate. I have trouble with many modern art exhibits because not only do I not get them, I have trouble appreciating the skill it took to make the art. Most of the art at the Kelvingrove is in the form of paintings, with great descriptions of them beside so I actually got what the heck they were. I took pictures of all of the paintings I liked (still not sure if this was legal or not) and posted the descriptions with them. All in all a great day, but it had nothing on what was to come.
At 1030 pm on Friday night I hopped on the overnight bus to London to meet my friend Lizzie (a counselor at Camp Holiday Trails this summer, student at BC, and studying abroad in Bath). Someone else to actually travel with while I’m here? Result! It was an absolutely epic weekend. We started Saturday morning after checking into our hostel by heading to the centre of London to see the typical touristy things. Saw Westminster Abbey from the outside (weren’t paying to get in), Parliament from the outside (weren’t paying to get in), Big Ben from the outside (not even sure if we had to pay to get in, but the inside of a clock doesn’t interest us), Buckingham palace from the outside (seeing a pattern here), reenacted the scene from National Lampoon’s European vacation at least 8 times (look kids, Big Ben! Parliament! Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament…look kids…big…ben…parliament…). London is beautiful and I’m very glad I’ve gotten to see those parts of it. After lunch of traditional british fish and chips with a pint of real ale we headed off to the British Museum. Not much to say about this thing. Its huge, has some amazing exhibits of items extracted during the British Imperial expansion including a gigantic collection of Egyptian art and sarcophagi, and is probably one of the best museums in the world. I loved it, but let’s be honest, I was way more excited that we got to see Avenue Q that night with very steeply discounted tickets. Phenomenal musical even though the premise sounds a bit odd (it’s a spoof on sesame street, with the actors actually carrying puppets on stage) but its well done and with songs like “It sucks to be me” and “The internet is for porn” how can you go wrong? Loved it. We got up early on Sunday to get to the Tower of London when it opened. For those who don’t know the Tower is actually a full and proper castle still sitting in the middle of London (again, we have NOTHING like this in the states). It was the seat of power in England for much of its history, holding rulers such at Richard the Lionheart and Henry the VIII, and is still in very good condition. The castle is staffed by Yeoman Warders, persons who have spent at least 22 years in military service to England and historically were charged with guarding the castle and crown jewels but now serve as (very good, funny, well spoken, smart-ass) tour guides. Inside of the tower are the crown jewels (no pictures as that is DEFINLTEY illegal) containing the largest perfectly cut diamond of the highest clarity, an entire tower worth of Henry VIII’s armaments, and exhibits about the history of violence and hangings at the tower. I think we spent a solid 4.5 hours there and again could have spent more. The afternoon was spent at the Victoria and Albert Art museum and finishing off something we found called the Real Ale Trail. Basically there are groupings of bars in different areas of London that all participate in a program where if you have pints at each of 5 of the pubs then they’ll give you a free t-shirt. Yes it makes it an expensive, oversized t-shirt but it’s a good excuse/reward for trying local ales. We finished off Sunday night by going to see Stomp, again at a crazy discount price. I had seen it before in Pittsburgh but the show was almost 100% different so I was glad to see it again. I hoped on the overnight bus at 1130 pm, arrived back in Edinburgh at 8 am, and went straight to work.
How amazing is it that I am in a place where I can just head to London for the weekend? I love it here, but I miss all of you very much, so I hope you’ll be ready for my return in 2 weeks!