Thursday, June 28, 2007

Vacation is finally here.....

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I woke up really early this morning to head back to the dorm and finish grading student papers, return student papers, eat breakfast, pack all of my stuff, and say good-bye to my students and colleagues, all before 10:30 AM!
John was still in bed when I got back to Rebecca's flat, but we were soon headed out the door to explore the city. We began by walking up the Royal Mile, to our first stop, Edinburgh Castle (my second trip, but I didn't see it all the first time).

Here is a shot of some of the inner buildings of the castle.

This is the Great Hall, with its huge fireplace and impressive display of weapons and battle armor. We were able to view the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny -- both very impressive and no photos allowed. The Scottish crown jewels have a long history, and were hidden several times to protect them from being destroyed. The self-appointed protectors were quite successful. Read more about the Honours of Scotland here.

Our second stop was a tour of Mary King's Close. This place is billed as a "city beneath the city" and is a bit on the touristy side, but it was a pretty neat experience. You are not allowed to take pictures, and honestly it is not a picturesque kinda' place. One really has to go down into the houses where the lower classes of society lived over 400 years ago to be thankful for indoor plumbing, modern medicine and hygiene, and food preservation.

After this we met up with Rebecca and headed to dinner at her favorite vegetarian restaurant. More on that in the next post.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

John's Here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

John soaking up some rare Scottish sunshine in the garden at the new Scottish Parliament building.

John admiring the bike rack/sheds outside the dorms, Edinburgh University.

In honor of our youngest nephew.

A Daily Dose of Castle

June 21 – Summer Solstice

We had two castles on today’s agenda, so off we went to catch the train at Waverly Station (Platform 15). A quick 20 minute train ride brought us to the hamlet of Linlithgow, famous for Linlithgow Palace and St. Michael's Parish Church. Our first stop was the tourist information center…which didn’t open until 10:00 am (even thought the website said 9:30am, which I think is kinda’ late since many tourists like to get an early start…but I guess that is just the mulit-tasking, agenda-setting American in me!). We decided to skip on up to the Palace, the earliest construction dates to the 1400s (left -- entering the palace; right -- turret in northwest corner of palace, there are four in all). This castle was different from the other two in that it was square and contained an open courtyard with a large fountain (erected in the mid 1500s, the unicorn and mermaid are sculptures on the fountain). The views of the loch were breathtaking, even with cloud coverage.

After touring the castle for about an hour, I asked the castle staff about getting to our next destination, Blackness Castle. Contrary to the directions in the Historic Scotland pamphlets, traveling to this castle was not going to be straightforward, quick, or practical. The very nice staff at the Palace called around to taxi and bus services, but they were quickly eliminated as possibilities (too expensive, erratic service). We gave the class an hour to tour around the hamlet of Linlithgow and meet us back at the train station. The archaeology class had an afternoon appointment at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland that we could not be late for. Caren and I did a little shopping, a quick stop at a bakery (with prices a third of those in Edinburgh), and then back to the train station (which was not so easy to find, apparently in a typical British fashion -- although the Scots say they are Scottish, not British, and you would be wise not to confuse the two).

Once we got back to Edinburgh, my class and I headed off to the Elephants and Bagels for lunch. I chose this place because I thought it was where J. K. Rowling liked to hang out, but was informed by the very nice bagel mistress that she actually hung out at the Elephant House, their sister shop, in a different part of town. After eating my $6 bagel sandwich (3 GBP = $6 US, ouch!), we headed for the Royal Commission.

We were on time for our appointment at the RCAHMS (pictured at left in the John Sinclair House) and the staff there gave us a great tour of the facilities, their archives, maps, databases, what they do, why they do it, and how we can access their information. We were even given goodie bags of brochures and post cards. The students were impressed with the old and antique books that are available for research, and we were able to see unique photos of ancient monuments and archaeological sites. I can’t speak highly enough of the welcoming and enthusiastic attitude of the RCHAM staff.

Back at Turner House we all headed off for naps…we needed to be rested for the longest day of the year, which in Scotland is pretty darn long!

Caren and I decided to have a picnic dinner at the Royal Botanic Gardens because they were staying open late and having traditional Scottish music until 11:00 pm. It is really hard to feel sleepy when the sun doesn’t set until 10:30 pm, and then there is still a faint glow in the sky; it never truly gets dark.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Craigmillar Castle

On Wednesday (June 20), I had plans to take my class to the small village/Edinburgh suburb of Cramond with is on the shores of the Forth of Firth. However, we woke up to rain (surprise), and plans quickly changed. Caren planned to take her class to see Edinburgh Castle, so we decided to join them (see previous posts). By lunch time the sun had come out and the sky was filled with puffy white clouds. My class waited for the one o’clock cannon, then sought out lunch, to be followed by a trip to Holyrood Abbey.

Lunch was at a burger place on the Royal Mile called Wannaburger. The décor was simple modern and the burger options were numerous. Vegetarians (and our numbers are growing on this trip) were able to get a veggie burger fixed in any of 13 ways. I stuck with veggie burger with cheese, and it was HUGE! We were able to eat at the sidewalk tables, a rare treat in rainy Edinburgh.

After lunch we walked the entire Royal Mile until the terminus at the new Parliament Building and Holyrood Palace. There was some confusion on the abbey entrance, and plans once again changed. To get the most out of our newly purchased Explorer’s Passes (bought at Edinburgh Castle through Historic Scotland), we searched the maps for acceptable and nearby alternatives. Thus, we jumped a bus (several actually) to head out to Craigmillar Castle, which is located near the Royal Infirmary, in a not so nice part of town (which we didn’t find out until the next day, and that was fine with me – although the abrupt end of the sidewalk should have been a clue!).

Craigmillar Castle is quite different from Edinburgh Castle – the former is in ruins, the latter is a major tourist attraction. Craigmillar was more of a residence, where as Edinburgh was more of a fortress with numerous levels and cannons, and it still houses an active military unit (with quirky red feathers in their caps). Craigmillar is in the countryside with sweeping views of mountains to the west and south, Arthur’s Seat to the northwest, and the North Sea, to the north. Queen Mary of Scots sought peace and solitude here after witnessing the violent murder of her closest confidante and secretary. From the pictures you can see why she would come here. Edinburgh Castle is a powerful symbol of royal and military authority, with numerous levels and buildings, all seeming to have grown out of the extinct volcano they are sitting atop. Impressive.

The journey to Craigmillar was just as much fun as being at the ruins. I used the directions as described in the Historic Scotland brochure…”take any bus to the Royal Infirmary. Follow footpath to the castle.” Sounds straightforward, but I have learned on this trip that Scots give directions like American countryfolk (although I think we use more landmarks…turn right at the big oak, go aways…etc.). I choose to get us off at a stop on the #33 (bus that is) because I happened to see a sign that read “Craigmillar Castle ½) with an arrow. I thought “Good. Signage.” This is where the sidewalk ended and I must say it didn’t resemble Shel Silverstein’s musings at all!

We (which includes myself and 10 students) walked up the road (a slightly dangerous proposition considering that pedestrians do not have the right-of-way in Scotland), when I saw a signpost for the castle, and a small break in the fence…and the fabled footpath. So, off we go, climbing several stretches of increasingly steep hillside. Beautiful, yes, but I couldn’t help thinking “this better be worth it.” At one point, with no castle in sight, I was afraid my class might mutiny. At least the weather was perfect!

Anyway, here is our first glimpse of the castle, and we quickly realized we were in for a treat. Glimpsing the castle was one thing, getting into the castle was quite another. There was a fence surrounding the entire thing (along with near-waist high grass and cows), and no real entrance that we could see. One student went on a recon mission to the fence, but didn’t have too much information. So we all trooped through the tall grass (luckily Scotland has few snakes, only one that is poisonous which lives in the Highlands, far, far away from where we were), and climbed the fence (I like to think of this as “storming the castle”). We more or less had the place to ourselves on a day when the sky could not have been bluer, the breeze softer, and the mood happy and peaceful. This is one outing the eleven of us will not forget anytime soon.

Courtyard of the castle

More castle pics

My colleague, Caren, took some pretty fun pictures at Edinburgh Castle to share. Consider her a guest blogger!

The first three pictures are from Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh friends (from left to right):
Rebecca (friend from UK)

at the Meadow Bar

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Long days = full schedule!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

We woke up to rain and thunder (apparently a rarity here, but I have heard it on two different occasions now!), which put a damper on out plans to visit a quaint fishing village on the coast. We reorganized and decided to visit the Edinburgh Castle with the photojournalism class. Here is a mix of students (not all of them) waiting to go in the castle.

An immortal knight guarding the castle entry.

The castle houses a small city within its walls. These next two pictures are of the buildings w/in the castle.

Stained glass window in Royal apartments showing royal symbols. The Scottish version of the Royal coat of arms shows the lion of Scotland in the first and fourth quarters, with the French fleur de lis in the second (today the English lion is in the second). The harp of Ireland is in the third quarter. The shield is under the crown, and they are surrounded by a circle of thistles (the flower of Scotland).

Here is the modern coat of arms of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II:

Queen Mary (of Scots) chapel. This is now a shrine to her.

Stained glass window commemorating William Wallace in Queen Mary's Chapel.

A cannon's view of the city. This is a working castle, there are active military troops here, although I saw few of them. They fire a modern "cannon" off everyday at noon, and the Scots set their watches by this....we all did yesterday since we have spent the last week or so being +/- 10 minutes off from one another!

The castle was packed with people and the weather turned sunny and warm. It was a nice day to be out and about. I didn't even see all there was to see at the castle, it was too big and I wanted to take my class to another site...the ruins of Holyrood Abbey where Queen Mary of Scots was married (one of the times she was married). That didn't work out as planned, so I took my students on a jaunt around the city and ended up at a nearly left alone castle, Craigmillar Castle. But, more on that later. (it is now Thursday morning) I have to get to breakfast because we have to catch a train to see a palace and a castle this morning before a tour of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Mounments this afternoon!

Happy Longest Day of Summer!!!!!!!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Technical Difficulties

Ahhh, technical difficulties at home are one thing, abroad they are inevitable!

The difficulties were on two fronts: communications and technology.

The communications difficulties were partially due to my forgetfulness/laziness in either buying a new phone card or adding more minutes to the cell phone I am borrowing (topping up, as the Scots say). The third part of this woe....the wireless network was down here on campus until mid-morning. So, not internet service. I did, however, get a free 1.5 days of internet access for free to compensate. The manager on duty at Reception happens to be a computer geek (certified at that), and hooked me up.

The technology difficulties have to do with the voltage differences here. At home in the US the majority of our outlets are 110 v, with the few odd 220 v for big time appliances. Here in the UK, everything is 220 v, even my little electric tea kettle (no wonder the water boils in a second!).
I brought an adapter for my computer, as it is self converting (thank goodness, the older technology some kids brought is making weird humming noises, but not my fresh new Dell!). It did not even occur to me how I was going to charge my camera batteries (obviously I brought along the charger, but it is 110 volt). So, I borrowed Caren's converter and adapter, plugged in my charger and watched. The lights indicating charge came on for a few seconds then went out. I immediately turned off the outlet (each outlet has its own switch -- ubernifty). I smelled it, and it had a faint acrid smell -- I am hoping I didn't burn out the charger, but have no way of knowing that until I am back in the states -- mid-July. So, today I headed out to buy a new battery charger (after I took my students to the fabulous National Museum -- less than 10 years old and WOW! I can't wait to take John there!). I happened upon one at the Pound Saver (Pound being kin to our dollar, and the store is much like Big Lots!) for 7 GBP ($14), including 4 batteries. So they are charging now and we shall see how they do. Hopefully good enough to get me to Rome and back to London.

Of course I cannot download any pictures from my visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens yesterday (another fantastic place I am going to take John), so you will have to wait till the charge is done for more pics. Oh, the camera batteries decided to quit on my just as we got to the memorial to the Queen Mother -- a beautiful grotto decorated with shells and pinecones -- you will have to see the pics for yourself! The RB Gardens were so pretty, it made me think of all the people in my life that would truly enjoy visiting such a uniquely British place. I hope you will stop back for pictures later or tomorrow.

Now I am off for my afternoon tea, and to grade all those exams I gave last night. Grrr............ Oh well, it pays the bills right?!?


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Home, sweet Ikea, Home

The first thing that struck me when I checked into my dorm room (No. 110, Turner House, Pollock Halls), was how frightfully pink everything was; the walls, the bedding, underlain by a deep red carpet. Yeck! I turned the duvet over so the green side is up (currently my duvet is lilac). It helps!

The second thing that struck me was how efficiently the space was arranged. I honestly feel like I am living in an Ikea showroom.

I think this room is nearly as big as the one I shared my freshman year at FSU in Kellum Hall.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A picnic for one

It is so blustery today!!!!!! I went out to visit the offices of Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission for Antiquities and Historic Monuments (or something close to that) this morning, no easy feat considering the extremely windy conditions. I am trying to secure a tour of the latter, and received a bunch of information for my class from the former! Here are some pretty purple flowers I spied along the way.

I have to go back to the Royal Commission, as the fellow I need to speak with was out for lunch. So, I headed back to my room at Turner House (part of Pollock Halls), wind in my face, and decided to have a picnic in my room. Caren (the photojournalism professor) and I purchased some great Scottish cheddar cheese at the local Mark and Spencer's store, buy one get one, so about $4 for two large wedges of the stuff (you can see it on the left in the photo). There is a small pantry with a dorm-sized fridge and microwave -- good for those of us on a budget! We also purchased difft. flavors of crackers, today I had the sesame, poppy, and pumpkin seed crackers, so tasty (and were really cheap at 49 pence a pack -- about $1)! I also cut up an apple I filched from the cafeteria...well I had all intentions of eating it at breakfast yesterday, but was too full by the end. Better than tossing it in the trash! Oh, I also made a cup of fair trade black tea with milk (no sugar -- didn't have any). The dorm supplies the tea, sugar, milk, and hot water pot (wish they would fit in our outlets, I would bring one of these little suckers home!) -- all the teas and sugar are fair trade. Scotland is much "greener" than the US, really nice! Lots of the thrift stores I went to yesterday sold fair trade jewelry and bags -- at very reasonable prices.

For dessert I finished off this package of Caramel Shortcakes (I opened this yesterday, so not all 5 -- couldn't do that in one sitting!).

These heavenly delights have a graham cracker crust, a thick bit of caramel, with a nice topping of fantastic chocolate. They are just as good, if not better than smore's, plus you don't need a fire to get them! The package cost me 50 p (p = pence, so about $1). They were great with my tea.

Of course, I am walking at least four times as much as I do at home, so I am not too concerned with burning the calories, and I don't eat desserts all day long! For breakfast I had some fantastic porridge (oatmeal) to which I added a cut up apple and some sugar (no cinnamon around these parts). I also had a croissant, not bad, with strawberry jam. I am taking a daily multivitamin, so no worries on being malnourished as a vegetarian abroad. Actually, this town is really veggie friendly. The campus pub has a nice selection of veg. options, all noted with a (v) next to them. Last night I had a bowl of Sweet Potato and Corn Chowder with crackers. Really good stuff!

Tonight I will probably buy a sandwich or something as I am going out with my friend Rebecca to see a band she really likes (and of course about 5 of her friends are coming, too, two of whom I have already met...really nice folks).

Well I am off to brave the cold and try back at the Royal commission!

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Today I was able to sit and chat with my class about was nice, we actually had a discussion, the students really got into it, and the time went by really fast. We meet for 1.5 hours, then had a break for a few hours. Caren (the photojournalism professor) and I went and did a bit of thrift shopping, to ya' know, be amongst the people (she says with tongue-in-cheek). There are a whole bunch of them on one street, just one after the other. They were very clean, and full of thrifty things. I did buy 2 pairs of trousers (pants are tighty-whiteys or granny-panties) and a top. I optimisitcally brought 2 pairs of trousers, one capris, and one skirt. Well, the weather has been a might bit chilly since we got here, even the Scots say it is unseasonable. Seriously, the high today was 52 degrees F, with a brisk wind. It is now a bit drizzly. I don't mind the cool weather, it sure beats 90+ degrees, but it is about 15-20 degrees below the average. Anyway, no worries, right? I now have three very functional souvenirs!

Also today we took the combined classes to hear Professor Ian Ralston, Univ. of Edinburgh, speak. He took time out of his very busy schedule to give us an overview of Scottish prehistory. We spent a delightful 1.5-2 hours seeing pictures and taking notes in what is called the Old High School building. This building was the original Royal High School of Edinburgh, Sir Walter Scott was a student there in the 1820s, after which it was turned into the first Infirmary (hospital), and is now located at No. 12 Infirmary Street (although there is no street sign indicating the name, and no number on the building!).
Another interesting note about this building is that Dr. Lister, a surgeon made famous by his work with developing anesthesia (thank you, Dr. Lister), performed numerous surgeries there.

I think the students were impressed to know they were in a building with such history.
I didn't take any pictures of the building today, but will be back there on Monday, so will then, promise! I did, however, take a picture of the room with our classes in it waiting for the lecture to begin.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

King Arthur's Seat

King Arthur's Seat is the crowning glory of Edinburgh, as far as geological formations go. It rises some 800 ft. above sea level, is bordered by the North Sea and the city. My dorm room looks out to it.

We had class until about 4:45 pm, and then sent our students off to visit this rock. We we along as well, and let me tell you, it is every bit as tall and steep as it looks, I have the sore legs to prove it!

The pic. above is the view before we start our ascent.

Here is a panoramic view from the top. This is the North Sea. Sorry about the repeats in the pictures, blogger is annoying and won't let me do much with them.

Here is the view from the top, looking southwest. My dorm is visible from here.

Here is me standing on top! I know I will be going one more time at least (with John), and I hope we have enough time to explore more of it!

Well, that is all for now. My internet access runs out at midnight, in 15 minutes, and I have some grading to do before I turn it!