Before I share the tale of my fun-filled Scottish adventure, I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that I have been in Ireland for just about one month now!! Where did the time go?! We already have our first IFSA-Butler weekend starting tomorrow, and the other trips are right around the corner. Time most definitely flies when you’re having fun, avoiding homework, constantly socializing, and getting very little sleep.
Two Saturdays ago, I went to St. George’s Market with Cassie and Natasha, two of the other IFSA group members. It’s probably a good thing that we went close to closing time because we could have easily spent hours there, spending all of our money on food. The market is like a cross between a farmer’s market and a craft show, which are two of my favorite things. (Mom, you’d love it too!) The hall is packed with vendors ranging from fish sellers, to clothing booths, to lollipop makers. I was so excited to come across a booth that just sold vegetarian food!
TANGENT: When we first arrived in Belfast, I was a little nervous that my meat-free options would be limited, but so far, every restaurant and café has been super accommodating. Maggie Mays even has a vegetarian menu that I plan to work my way through! Tesco also labels everything if it’s “suitable for vegetarians” which is really helpful and makes grocery shopping a lot easier.
As I was saying… after circling the stalls at least two and a half times, we finally decided to divide and conquer, conquer our lunch that is. I ordered the macaroni and cheese from the vegetarian booth and it was the best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had. My mouth is actually drooling thinking about it right now. It was cheesy, but not too cheesy, the noodles were just the right texture, and there were even vegetables mixed in. Oh, and it came with a side of buttered bread. To top it all off, I bought a hunk of chocolate-orange fudge that was supposed to last me a few days. I finished it in a few hours.
Ok, I just used 182 words to describe the food I ate last Saturday…. There is a connection between the macaroni and cheese and Scotland, I promise!
While we were devouring our delicious food and listening to the live music in the center of the market, Cassie looked up from her plate and asked Natasha and I, “do you want to go to Scotland next weekend?”
Ummm… Yes!!! Within a matter of seconds, Natasha, Cassie, and I decided to plan our first solo trip to another country. By the end of the day we added Jenny and Brooke to our travel group, and by Tuesday, we booked our ferry and bus tickets, as well as our hostel. Four days later, we arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland and embarked on a whirlwind 48-hour adventure.
I’ve been using the word adventure a lot in my posts, but I honestly can’t think of another way to describe this whole study abroad experience. When I updated my Facebook profile picture earlier today, I captioned it with a quote from Helen Keller, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
Everything about studying abroad is new and exciting, and for me, that is the ultimate adventure. It was so obvious that we were tourists in Scotland because we were simply in awe of our new surroundings, and we practically shouted it from the rooftops. Every little thing was new and exciting, from the food we ate, to the crispness of the air.
I’ve been on a ferry before, but this ferry wasn’t like the one on the Long Island Sound, this ferry crossed a border between two countries! This ferry was like a mini cruise ship, complete with a restaurant, shop, and even cabins with beds!
I have never stayed in a hostel before, and I have definitely stayed in more comfortable accommodations, but it was still exciting to spend the night in a room filled with 3 bunkbeds, 1 of which housed a stranger. The thrill of the independence that came along with checking into a hostel without my parents, or booking the ferry tickets on my own was enough of an adventure for me! BUT, the adventures didn’t end there!
Helen Keller’s quote can pretty much summarize our trip. There was not a moment when we did “nothing.” Sleeping doesn’t even count because we barely did any of that.
The hostel offered free walking tours, so bright and early Saturday morning we began Expedition Edinburgh. (It should be noted that the forecast wasn’t consulted prior to booking the trip, so some of us were not as prepared for the snow as we could have been. Ahem… me… i.e., I left my trusty Bean Boots in Belfast)
Our tour was led by a wonderful Scotsman named Greg, who reminded me a lot of Merida’s father in Disney’s Brave. Even though his stories and accent were captivating, the five of us made the educated decision to leave the tour halfway through and seek shelter in a pub. We watched the snow fall while cradling warm cups of coffee and hot chocolate and learning what authentic haggis is, and then watching Cassie enjoy said haggis.
After our lunch, we continued to explore the Royal Mile and made our way to the castle. Boy was that a sight to see. The castle resides on top of an extinct volcano and looms over the rest of the city. Within the castle walls are multiple museums that share the history of the prisoners, soldiers, and royalty who spent time on the grounds. At night, we went on a ghost tour of the underground vaults in Old Town. Not naming names or anything, but a few of us were a little freaked out… Afterwards, we ended up at a club and proceeded to dance the night away!
We returned to the hostel in the wee hours of the morning and only got a few hours asleep before our final adventure, hiking Arthur’s Seat. Even though I go to school in Vermont, I can count the number of hikes I’ve been on with one hand. On any other vacation, I probably wouldn’t go on a hike, but when you’re abroad, nothing is off limits. Sunday was the perfect day; the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and the air was fresh. The whole walk up to the summit was spent admiring the breathtaking views of the city below us and the surrounding water. Mountains in the distance were dusted with snow, and the hills below were as green as can be. The pictures barely do the view justice, but you can take my word for it. It was gorgeous up there!
Every time I needed to take a break and catch my breath for a second on the walk up, I called it a “picture break,” and took out my phone to take some pictures of the view. While looking through my phone, I realized that I never actually took any photos on the way up the mountain. When I stopped walking, I simply turned around and took a moment to take it all in. I want to do that frequently while abroad, just pause, take a deep breath, and look around at my surroundings. By June, I’ll probably have a suitcases full of souvenirs, and a Facebook album of photos, but what I’ll treasure most are these moments, the ones where I stop for a moment and remember why I’m here, what I’m doing, and how much fun I’m having (which is a lot by the way).