Posts tagged off campus
My 2013 fall break might be best described as “surreal.”
Surprisingly, that’s not (entirely) because I can’t believe that it was my last, but rather because of the freakishly summery weather that accompanied said “fall” break. With this past weekend’s temps hitting the mid-70s, I actually think it was warmer in Ithaca than back home in Volcano: and it’s October!
Since going home for a four day weekend is always out of the question for me, though, I did appreciate the balminess: it gave me a few beautiful days to visit some of Ithaca’s most autumnal attractions. Catching some quick glimpses of fall colors helped me forget that I was stuck in the middle of the summer that wouldn’t die (even as I overheated in my jacket and riding boots).
Before I graduate, I intend to visit every easily accessible waterfall in Ithaca. I’ve already crossed Taughannock off that list, so the logical next step was Robert Treman Park.
(Luckily enough, Treman is a state park, or I wouldn’t have had much of an adventure at all. Thanks a lot, government shutdown. )
Treman Park is home to Lucifer Falls, a waterfall that drops from a height of more one hundred feet above the gorge. During my visit, I naturally couldn’t get Pink Floyd’s Lucifer Sam out of my head, but in retrospect, I’m finding Chopin’s Nocturne in C Minor a little more fitting. Don’t the trills and triads remind you of a multi-tiered waterfall?
(Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is also a pretty nice Lucifer Falls piece.)
What makes the water here such a deep teal? The river inside the gorge was the same color as the rushing currents of Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa. I guess I really can’t leave Scotland behind, no matter where I am.
The walk from the park’s upper entrance to the falls and back was a little under a mile, I’d wager–but the frequent sets of steep stairs made the journey a bit more challenging.
The sequel to our falls adventure began with (second) breakfast at Waffle Frolic in. If you haven’t visited the Commons in a while (like me!), you’re in for a surprise–most of it is under construction.
Because this is Ithaca, though, the barriers around the construction have been transformed into a massive public art project, and its many murals include the charmingly rustic map of Middle-Earth we found across the street from the Seneca bus stop.
After an ample amount of both waffles and frolicking, we headed down Rt. 13 to the Ithaca Sound Maze, a corn maze stocked with a good handful of homemade instruments for visitors to play.
Since I’ve never visited a corn maze before (a pineapple maze is the best we can do in Hawai’i), I didn’t expect to be so excited by the novelty of wandering around and getting lost in a homegrown labyrinth. It was hard to not follow the example of the toddlers who ran frantically around each bend, laughing and leaving their slow parents to get lost somewhere among the ears.
The curious instruments, however, are what really make the Sound Maze an utterly fantastic day out. There are pots tuned to major triads to bang on, giant plastic buckets stacked together to form a wall of drums, and strange musical contraptions built out of bicycle wheels and a rainbow plastic tubes: all in all, definitely worth more than the $5 entrance fee.
Maybe I can satisfy my music-loving heart by opening my own maze somewhere across the country after I graduate?
(But a maze themed around vocalization instead of physical instruments, perhaps? So many possibilities!)
Note: Today marks the beginning of my new weekly series of music-themed posts. While I was in Scotland, I had no access to a piano, guitar, or choir, and therefore got my music fix from studying theory and, of course, listening, listening, and listening. As a result, I not only drastically improved my composing and arranging skills, but also increased my overall appreciation for the beautiful complexities of both contemporary and traditional music.
I still love my actual majors, of course, but I’d be lying that I said I didn’t scroll through this year’s upper-level music classes without some degree of envy!
I never was a big fan of trick-or-treating. As an easily frightened child with a penchant for ornate and ridiculously elegant Halloween costumes (all of which, I should note, were handmade by my extremely talented mother), the potent combination of other kids’ creepy getups and Volcano’s constant state of mud made me traditionally prefer giving out candy to visiting treat-seekers.
If the houses distributed free mini-concerts instead of fun-sized Snickers bars, though, I may have reconsidered.
Ithaca’s Porchfest is an annual community-wide music festival that takes place right outside musically-inclined residents’ houses. The “audience” strolls around in search of gathering crowds or the sound of joyful fiddling: because there are so many bands playing during each one-hour time slot, observers drop by performances at their leisure.
With local bands and an outdoor setting involved, it seems like I should’ve been writing happy blog posts about Porchfest long before my last year in Ithaca. Still, during the handful of hours that I spent down in Fall Creek this afternoon, I heard some great tunes and, most interestingly, learned the following random musical tidbits:
- Trumpets are, shockingly, not the root of all evil.
Yes, I love music, but that doesn’t mean I’m absolutely in love with every instrument imaginable. My favorite instruments (excluding the voice) are acoustic guitar and theremin. After that, the hierarchy gets a little bit messy, but I do know one thing for certain: trumpets are at the bottom of the barrel.
Granted, it’s usually not the trumpets themselves but their players’ tendency to go out of tune that’s at fault. And since trumpets are loud, brash, and often have the melody (sounds an awful lot like first sopranos, doesn’t it? (hey, I can say that because I’ve been a first soprano!))…well, when they go bad, they go bad. But today the trumpet section of the Ithaca College Wind Ensemble convinced me to give those blaring brasses a second chance! It did help that the group was performing a series of Broadway showstopper medleys, including sets from My Fair Lady and Les Mis.
When I was in high school, I only usually saw our wind ensemble right after I performed with the Chorale for the multi-ensemble semesterly concerts. I would creep up to the balcony, melting in my heavy black concert dress, and focus most of my attention on watching my band friends as closely as possible. The IC Wind Ensemble , on the other hand, performed in DeWitt Park, surrounded by a crowd of toe-tapping, engaged Ithacans, and this unusual venue gave the experience a completely different vibe.
- Covers are crowd-pleasers.
You’d think I’d already know the power of covers: after all, my beloved college a cappella style very rarely forays into the realm of original songs. Still, whenever I dredge up that old dream of becoming a professional musician, I always discount covers, worrying that my audience would hold me to the unreachable standards of the original artist.
My favorite group of all those I saw today was the charming duo of Gary and Leeann Reynolds, who appear to also go by “The Old Reyns.” Don’t get me wrong, I loved hearing traditional folk songs and original contemporary music, but when I first heard the familiar strains of “Happy Together” drifting down the street, I got as excited as I do when Pandora finally plays a song I don’t want to skip.
See, as long as the performers share the audience’s enthusiasm for the song–and the very upbeat and talented Old Reyns certainly did–that idea of comparison never even comes to mind. Instead of providing competition for the original singer, the cover becomes a testament of love to the audience: and, on a less sappy level, just a heck of a lot of fun.
- Music doesn’t end after college!
When I left high school, I was worried that I would stop playing piano and guitar as much as I did at home. Since I wasn’t taking lessons any more, how would I be able to prioritize time for music? It’s true that I don’t have the practice schedule as I did when I was younger, but the lack of such a strict structure actually makes me love playing piano even more.
Still, I continue to fret that once I graduate and leave my singing group behind, my musical ensemble days will be over. After all, how do Those Real Adults even have time to sing in a choir or perform in a band?
Though we as a society may envision the average hit musician as a hip (or hipster) young thing, Porchfest reminded me that (I do apologize for the upcoming cliche) music can be part of your life at any age. Today, I saw grandparents harmonizing with their teenage grandkids and elementary school kids covering the greatest hits of classic rock. The degree to which the performers–and the audience–celebrated music was so inspirational that I wish I could’ve spent all day meandering around the block and listening.
And yeah, okay, I also wished I had brought my electric keyboard to a porch of my own. (Is that enough to make me want to stay in Ithaca next year? That remains to be seen.)
Day 4 of the 2013 fall semester. Already I’ve spent more than six hours in class, and have resupplied thanks to a resource the locals call “Wegmans.” This “Ithaca” appears to suffer from a profound lack of pound-coins, Tesco Express, the phrase “Hiya,” and a widely available variety of Twinings brand fine teas.
Stability of situation still unknown.
Adjusting to life in Edinburgh was incredibly challenging. Conversely, re-adapting back to Cornell has been rather simple. I love filling my week with exciting courses and rejoicing about the relatively low cost of a semester’s worth of Zumba classes–not to mention being able to work and earn money without worrying about getting kicked out of the country.
Since I spent most of my time abroad exploring museums, monuments, and other stunning points of interest, I worried that Ithaca might seem boring upon my return: after all, the place hasn’t got a single thirteenth-century castle. However, after my first few action-packed weeks back on the Hill, I can safely say that there are still enough worthy Ithacan attractions to satisfy my need for exploration.
My first fall semester adventure began at Sapsucker Woods, home of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I’ve visited the visitor centre (and its completely rad sound lab filled with a veritable library of animal calls) a few times, but never journeyed into the woods themselves until last weekend.
Hey, freshmen–if your family comes to visit you for Parents’ Weekend, do ask them to bring you out to Sapsucker Woods. It’s a bit out of the way for a bus ride, but one quick car trip will give you access to a wonderful natural oasis that might distract your folks from the fact that you went three months without doing laundry or now sport a radically different haircut.
Now, long-time readers will know it’s almost impossible for me to post without mentioning a museum of some sort, so I’m happy to report that I finally accomplished one of the coolest items on my personal Cornell to-do list: a visit to the Museum of the Earth!
I’ve never quite grown out of my seven-year-old self’s dinosaur obsession. If second-grader Keely had ever traveled to Ithaca, she probably would’ve found the Museum of the Earth to be the most exciting place on Earth; I was impressed even as a college student.
The small but packed museum was established by the Paleontological Research Institution a decade ago, and its current collection boasts such exciting specimens as the Hyde Park mastodon. The galleries take visitors from the most recent Ice Age to the time of some of the earliest fossil records in the span of about forty minutes–in other words, a pretty exciting afternoon for fans of ammonoids or Dunkleosteus. Even if you’re not all that into old bones and plant impressions, there’s nothing like learning about the Permian Extinction to really make you appreciate your own (mass-catastrophe-free) life a little bit more.
The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, and its current feature, Raising the Dead: The Art of John Gurche, is possibly one of the most exciting exhibits I’ve ever seen (maybe even beating out Vikings! at the National Museum of Scotland). Gurche is a phenomenally skilled paleo-artist currently serving as the Museum’s artist-in-residence whose sculpture mainly recreates Australopithecus (a favorite of mine from Walking with Prehistoric Beasts) and other early hominids. He also provided artistic consultation for Jurassic Park, and produces terrifyingly detailed images of dinosaurs for everything from book covers to murals.
As much as I could stare at Gurche’s wild images of ancient beasts or follow every boardwalk through Sapsucker Woods all day, few off-campus retreats can beat a nice stroll around Beebe Lake. I do miss my Brave-inspired frolics up on Arthur’s Seat and in the Highlands, but Ithaca can be just as lovely too–and I don’t have to worry about the exchange rate.
I may not like pubs, ‘football’, or the cold, but there is one UK stereotype to which I am helplessly addicted: castles. Though I’ve visited ‘Iolani Palace and have some vague memories of a castle in Connecticut (Google informs me that it’s Gillette Castle I’m remembering), my fascination with ancient fortresses remained relatively latent until I came to Scotland.
After this weekend, my palace tally has increased to (a Tolkien-apropros) nine, and I plan to nearly double that before I leave at the end of May. Who wouldn’t want to explore ~15th century ruins for about the cost of frozen yoghurt, right? Even if all the masonry and empty moats start to look vaguely similar in a few weeks, I’m pretty sure I will never pass up a chance to see a castle.
I cross paths with Edinburgh Castle on a daily basis: it’s visible from Arthur’s Seat when I take walks, Princes Street when I’m shopping, and the top floor of David Hume Tower when I’m going to class. I was putting off the visit inside the castle for as long as I could, though–I’d been told by several sources that it wasn’t worth the hefty admission price. Still, since I believe in giving all castles a chance, I coughed up sixteen pounds and strode up the Royal Mile on a bright Saturday morning to see what all the fuss was about.
Well, like I said, I was warned.
In all fairness, I’m sure Edinburgh Castle would be amazing for military history buffs. There are several museums within the castle complex that chronicle the past few centuries of military activity in Scotland. Since guns, swords, and other instruments of war are rather my least favourite material objects, though, I wasn’t particularly moved. (I did learn one very fun fact: nineteenth-century soldiers were totally into needlepoint! The men were encouraged to take up handcrafts instead of spending all their free time drinking and gambling–and, for whatever reason, some did. Maybe I should try that technique on some college students I know…)
I hoped the interior of the castle itself would save my experience, but the restoration of the royal chambers didn’t impress, and the queue for the Crown Jewels was so claustrophobic and nightmarish that it made a trip to Disneyland in the middle of July with seven kids look comparatively relaxing.
Determined to improve the day’s castle sightings, I impulsively caught a train out of town to visit the stunning Linlithgow Palace. Unlike Edinburgh Castle, Linlithgow is no longer in use and is therefore considered a “ruin”–which basically means that children (and whimsical college bloggers) are free to explore its turrets and secret passages at their leisure. No guards, no queues, and certainly no awkwardly ‘conserved’ unicorn art objects.
If you’re a traveller just starting to get the hang of solo castle pilgrimages, I highly recommend Linlithgow as a first trip. The palace is about a three-minute walk from the train station, and the town itself is adorable and perfectly safe–nothing Glaswegian here!
Reaching Craigmillar Castle, my most recent conquest, is a bit more challenging. Craigmillar, located in the outskirts of Edinburgh proper, is best accessed via a ten-minuted bus ride to the Royal Infirmary from Old Town. After disembarking, intrepid tourists must sneak behind the University of Edinburgh’s School of Medicine to take a backstreet path up to Craigmillar Park, where the castle is surrounded by rolling fields which apparently contain an intriguingly named ‘Adventure Playground.’
Craigmillar’s halls and chambers were darker, smaller, and utterly more uncanny than Linlithgow. At the latter, I only feared a surprise attack from a small child pretending to slay dragons, while the former featured wild flocks of pigeons with no notion of fear. Still, the view of Arthur’s Seat–and from the one angle from which I had yet to see my favourite volcano, at that–was phenomenal!
Weirdly, I loved Linlithgow and Craigmillar because they were so unlike museums. Each room was labelled and dated with a simple plaque, but other than that, viewers were encouraged to discover the historical past through individual visual analysis and observation. Staring up at the random nooks in the stone walls, I could draw my own conclusions about how this building looked in its prime–which engaged me in a different way than reading or viewing a reconstruction.
Or that’s my professional justification, anyway. I really think I preferred them because I could put my hair in a vaguely Renaissance braid and dash up the spiral staircase pretending to be a rebellious princess on the run. Hey, everyone needs a break from the liminal weirdness of quasi-adult college life from time to time.
When I visited the Highlands in late January, I was astounded by how much the rolling hills reminded me of the Big Island. While land-locked Ithaca couldn’t be more different from Hawai’i, Scotland has just enough natural, coastal beauty–and even a(n extinct) volcano!–to keep me from missing my birthplace too much.
I only have one more week of classes left, so I’m particularly keen to discover some inexpensive, nearby travel destinations with which to occupy myself during the next month before exams begin. A visit to North Berwick (a charming seaside village that has more in common with Waikiki than Western Europe) is my new idea of a perfect day out!
North Berwick is home to the Scottish Seabird Centre, a thirteen-year-old conservation institution dedicated to sharing the lives of Scotland’s many puffins, gannets, and kittiwakes with birdwatchers of all ages. The Centre is a bit small for its admission price (especially for skint students–I think it would be a brilliant time for children!), but at least the money funds an excellent cause, right?
The town is also the birthplace of conservationist John Muir, and is conveniently located near Tantallon Castle: needless to say, I will undoubtedly be back! To any prospective Edinburgh study abroad student reading this blog post in the near or distant future, here’s a travel tip–you can catch the hourly train that runs from Edinburgh Waverley to North Berwick if you fancy a little adventure for little more than a tenner.
If you’d prefer to stick closer to home, the Royal Botanical Garden offers a voyage through almost every ecosystem imaginable: all accessible via a quick bus ride from the City Centre. Since I didn’t grow up in a world with snow, I’ve been noticing over the past few years that winter weather and the lack of green leaves really does make me feel incredibly depressed at times, and I think the RBG’s massive maze of interconnected, heated greenhouses is a good cure for anyone with the seasonal blues.
Although those greenhouses would be a treat even in the coldest of weather, springtime makes the exterior gardens particularly wonderful.
Since I’m the daughter of a botanist, I’m expected to have at least a working knowledge of native Hawaiian plants, and seeing some familiar hapu’u (tree ferns) and pukiawe (a…plant with berries? I don’t know the Mainland equivalent!) made me feel much more at home. Any fantastic plant collection would not be complete without a titan arum–but unlike Cornell’s corpse plant, which bloomed last spring, the RBG’s specimen remained flowerless. Honestly, I think seeing one blooming corpse plant during my lifetime is more than enough anyway.
Somehow in the midst of all these getaways, I’ve managed to officially register to write an honors thesis for my art history major next year! Time to start reading up on film theory and Latin American art…if I can manage to stay inside long enough to do research…
Frantic travel plans may, on occasion, transform the learned voyager into a simple mass of likes and dislikes. After a whirlwind weekend in London, I can confidently assert two such preferences:
I like tea and museums. I dislike the cold.
The train ride from Edinburgh to London passed thrillingly close to the coast, and as I watched the waves, I hoped the wind wouldn’t follow me across the border. Unfortunately, all of Britain is currently dominated by a little March cold snap–conveniently occurring during the one week this Hawai’i girl was most likely to be out and about.
Still, that’s what museums are for! Once I triumphed over the Tube system, it was fairly easy to ride from place to place with minimal exposure to the elements. (And what better remedy for those frigid dashes from underground station to attraction than a cuppa?)
Our London museum tour began with the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington–a visit we only made, I should say, due to a fortunate sighting of a subway advertisement!
The V&A focuses primarily on art and design, which, for my purposes, means lots of colour. Visitors are first greeted by a massive Dale Chihuly glasswork that dangles over the reception desk like some neon version of the chandelier from Phantom of the Opera. A blacklit discoteque-like gallery, on the other hand, houses elegant jewelry from the past few hundred years. My favourite display, however, had to be the towering rooms holding plaster reproductions of famous monuments and sculptural works–the institution was originally designed as a teaching museum, a fact which warmed my museum educator’s heart.
Our afternoon was supposed to include a visit to Baker Street and the Sherlock Holmes Museum, but the massive queue outside the attraction, combined with the miserable weather, drove us away faster than a sighting of a speckled band. I’m sure Sherlock will forgive me.
We decided to face the London fog the next day, and began our first more traditional (read: touristy) exploration of the city with a go ’round the London Eye. Although I dislike the crowds of the Westminister area, I am addicted to seeing cities from above, and the early hour ensured we bypassed most of the line.
Can you believe that the Eye is more than a decade old? I was shocked myself until I realized that I last visited London when I was thirteen: six long years ago. And this London Eye trip was probably my final one as a teenager…and as a college student…and…uh, let’s move on, shall we?
My advancing years are nothing compared to the ages of most objects at the British Museum. Like the Louvre, the British Museum was almost dangerously overwhelming in its scope, but we did manage to visit some of its greatest hits during an unfortunately short single afternoon. Although I pushed and shoved to see the Rosetta Stone with every other tourist, I found the collection of lintels featuring Lady Xok–pieces I cited in the paper that will form the basis for my honors thesis–most enthralling. Honorable mention goes to the library-like gallery devoted to the history of the museum, complete with a fake Rosetta Stone perfect for hands-on language learning!
If you thought I couldn’t possibly bear to spend three whole days looking at museums, please reconsider. Today was devoted to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, an architecturally gorgeous museum that somehow manages to hold even more gorgeous masterpieces within it.
Some fans come to London hoping to catch a glimpse of big BBC stars and return home without even a little Benedict Cumberbatch to show for their efforts. Since my celebrity crush is Jan van Eyck, I had slightly more luck–although the Gallery’s rules ensured that I couldn’t take any paparazzi pictures of the Arnolfini Portrait. I don’t know how I avoided bursting into tears when I saw Jan’s little potential self-portrait reflected in the Arnolfini mirror for the first time in person: I certainly won’t show such restraint if I ever see the Ghent altarpiece!
My brush with van Eyck makes me vaguely excited to return to Edinburgh & my Netherlandish art class tomorrow: but only vaguely. Once again, although I love Scotland, I’ve found myself wishing I were studying abroad in England instead. Is it simply a greener-grass situation? Perhaps I need to spend a comparable amount of time in England. For experimental purposes only. Obviously.
If spending hours shut up in a dorm room ever makes me feel stir-crazy back at Cornell, I typically grab my notebook or something to read and head down to Beebe Lake to remind myself that nature is actually a far better companion than the Internet. When I lived in Ithaca last summer for my internship, I became particularly fond of eating a lakeside lunch or just meandering along through shadier forested areas on sunny weekends. There’s really no better place (except, perhaps, a library) to fully appreciate the joys of being an introvert than in some variety of wilderness!
Our surprise snowstorm on Wednesday had me feeling a little sad (not to mention SAD), so I when I woke to clear blue skies today, I told myself that I would take full advantage of the lovely weather (though perhaps not as much as the native Edinburghers–who were wearing shorts and t-shirts–did). Even if it meant I had to climb a mountain.
Or, I should say, especially if I had to climb a mountain.
Remember my post about Arthur’s Seat a few weeks ago? In January, I compared the crags of Holyrood Park with snowy Ered Nimrais, and now they’re greener than the Shire. Can you believe that?
Holyrood Park is a quick ten minutes’ walk from my flat, and although I was a little apprehensive about going off to the hills on my own, I felt better when I noticed the stream of families, school-children, and charming elderly couples frolicking up the tamer trails on the Salisbury Crags.
Instead of looping around through the park to tackle Arthur’s Seat as I did last month, I decided to take the road that went “ever, ever on” to a different wee peak. King Arthur’s hallowed (and possibly mythical) remains might not lie under this little crag, but it sure looked amazing anyway.
Places like Glencoe and Glastonbury Tor were phenomenally gorgeous and significant and otherwise deserving of ridiculous adverbs and adjectives, but I almost couldn’t process that they were real: and, more importantly, that I was really there.
Holyrood Park, on the other hand, felt absolutely and authentically alive, and I look forward to getting to know it better. Perhaps I can ask my Gàidhlig teacher to teach me how to say “This place is beautiful”–maybe Scots Gaelic’s flowing, tonal sounds can address a landscape when English words fail.
On the subject of Gàidhlig: Mar sin Leibh (‘goodbye,’ or, technically, ‘like this you go’), everyone! Tomorrow’s episode of Castles with Keely will feature a guest appearance by Stirling Castle & the Wallace Monument (which freakily resembles the tower of Orthanc at Isengard (THE TOLKIEN REFERENCES WILL NEVER END), and then I’m off to Paris on Monday. Oh yes, you heard that correctly.
You know that feeling you get upon leaving the Cornell bubble and subsequently witnessing the glorious natural beauty off-campus? (Protip: if you want a watered-down version of this experience but don’t have a car/time, simply take a walk across the suspension bridge.)
Same thing happens here in Edinburgh. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still (somewhat) madly in love with the sweeping architecture of Old Town, the big-city stylings of New Town, and the glorious silhouette of Arthur’s Seat rising above both as the sun sets (at 4PM). It’s easy to forget, of course, that Edinburgh does not cover all of Scotland. It has to compete with the Highlands for that.
My friends and I may have splurged a bit on our bus tour of Glencoe, Loch Ness, and the Highlands in general last weekend, but it was worth every pound.
(If you don’t believe me yet, just scroll down!)
Our tour began after we stumbled through the empty town at 6:30AM to meet our group at Cafe Nerd–I mean, Cafe Nero–on the Royal Mile. Well-supplied with Nerd coffee (I, of course, had a raspberry ginseng infusion), the group boarded a Handi-Van-sized bus to the soothing music of what sounded like some kind of Enya mashup.
Two hours later, we’d traded snowless Edinburgh for a small village that pretty much looks like the Scottish version of Madison, Connecticut.
We drove on through the snowy landscape (passing such trivialities as the castle used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail) when, suddenly, we’d reached our second destination: Glencoe, the “most photographed glen in Scotland.”
Our amazing driver, Laura, treated us to the gripping and tragic tale of the MacDonalds and the Campbells–yet I was more entranced by her brief mention of the Picts, who considered the glen a place of sorrow because the mountains appeared to be weeping. (Here’s a little warning before we go any further: I have an amateur obsession with the Picts, so they’ll probably appear frequently in any blog posts from here on out).
Fun fact for the non-Keelys (a.k.a. Harry Potter fans of the world): one of the Glencoe mountains was apparently the former location of the movie version of Hagrid’s Hut, as well as the Forbidden Forest. I just can’t escape that series over here, can I?
I didn’t linger on that boy wizard for too long, of course, because the landscape up North is seriously the most Tolkienesque place I’ve ever seen.
Eventually, I grew restless with the unlimited supply of snowy mountains. You see, readers, I joined that trip with one secret goal in mind.
I was going to see the Loch Ness monster.
It pains me to say that my dreams did not come true. No serpentine head rose out of the water to smile at me in greeting. Okay, monster, I know it was pouring rain and probably negative one hundred degrees with the windchill off the lake, but, as Syndrome from The Incredibles would say…I AM YOUR BIGGEST FAN! How could you disappoint me like this?
To make up for his loch’s sheer lack of a monster, our boat guide was incredibly knowledgeable and merry, and even told us about the one time–in twelve years of sailing!–he saw something unexplainable in good ol’ Ness. Hey, if this guy really saw a six foot ‘hump’ once upon a loch, that’s enough evidence for me.
The best part of the tour, though, was entirely unexpected. Because we were so punctual throughout the morning, our group had enough time to check out Inverlochy Castle, a 13th-century ruin that is essentially the best place in the world for a castle nerd like me.
My conclusion? 5/5 stars for you, Highland eXperience. Would Highland again. But, erm, perhaps some tour company out there would be willing to comp me the admission cost? I will repay you by performing my own original Enya mashups throughout the ten hour drive! (Or, alternatively, I could repay you by only doing so for the first forty minutes. Make your choice.)
Getting to Edinburgh’s Surgeons’ Hall Museums is like traveling to Narnia–if you swapped the wardrobe for a creepy winding stair complete with cheerful signs encouraging visitors to continue against their better judgment, that is. Until we finally reached a glass door branded with a comforting TripAdvisor sticker, I was fairly convinced that my friend and I had been tragically deceived (possibly, we joked, in an attempt by sinister practitioners to collect more specimens for the collection).
Fortunately for us, the Surgeons’ Hall already has specimens in spades. Every great breakthrough and frightening snarl in the history of medicine lies preserved within its walls–from an ancient Egyptian mummy head (the head, guys, not the sarcophagus mask or anything less organic) to a plethora of examples of medical anomalies (most now treatable by modern medicine, thank goodness!) to…well, things that I’d rather not mention.
(Okay, so there was a pocketbook made out of the skin of murderer William Burke. Nightmare fuel indeed. Hey, surgeons, why would you sink to a killer’s own level by turning him into a wallet? More disturbingly, whose idea was it to literally engrave this dang thing with the eloquent label “Burke’s Skin Pocket Book”? Medical history is messed up.)
If skeletons, old-school orthodontic tools, and, you know, traumatizing pocketbooks aren’t your style, close your eyes and ask a less squeamish friend to kindly lead you through the halls to a very special exhibition about the relationship between Edinburgh native Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and one Joseph Bell, a man immortalized in literature (and sadly disappointing BBC miniseries (in Season 2, at least–sorry, fanboys/girls)) as Sherlock Holmes.
Some of Holmes’ less attractive traits, on the other hand, came from Conan Doyle’s daddy: Sherlock’s drug problems were likely a response to Charles Doyle’s alcoholism. Seeing the ways in which the curators pulled apart Doyle’s various influences was perhaps my favorite part of the exhibition (mostly because I’m sure anyone attempting to read my writing will easily find its influences in my life).
The most fantastic experience of the entire outing, however, arrived in the form of a charming gentleman who works at the museum (whether he was a docent, a security official, or some kind of combination thereof was unclear). After exchanging some good-natured quips and pleasantries with him at the reception desk, we encountered him once more in the galleries, asked him a few questions, and ended up with a lovely free tour.
No, calling it a ‘free tour’ doesn’t quite capture the magic. Before he began sharing pretty much everything about the objects on display, our guide leaded in confidentially over a glass table, his eyes proof that ‘merry’ is still a very useful adjective in the modern world.
“This hall is full of stories,” he solemnly informed us. “Would you like to hear some?”
I couldn’t have written him better myself.
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh’s Surgeons’ Hall Museums (yeah, I really just wanted to type out the full title) is located on Nicholson Street, near the University of Edinburgh’s “Old College.” Admission is £3 for students with valid identification. Also nearby is the Mosque Kitchen, otherwise known as literally the best & most cost-effective place for vegetarian food in Edinburgh. An enormous plate of yellow lentil dal and rice is also £3; samosas are 60p. This is important information, people.
Oh, and one more professional-looking italicized fun fact: Arthur Conan Doyle spent some time living in my very neighborhood in Edinburgh! No wonder I keep having the bizarre desire to turn the sitcom I’m writing into a mystery series.
What is Arthur’s Seat?
“…a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its great design.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
“Very steep and rocky.”
The Internet’s “WalkHighlands.Com”
“Freakin’ crazy, man.”
Someone Above Me on the Trail
Has reality left you really tired? Do you dream of a mythical world filled with danger, magic, randomly unhelpful eagles, and very few female characters with which young geek-girls can identify?
Well, what if I said you could live your dream? Spend a day in the books they call…
…’THE LORD OF THE RINGS’?
If you can’t afford that flight to New Zealand (probably because you spent too much on frequent viewings of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey over Christmas break), Edinburgh might just be your best bet. Climbing Arthur’s Seat, located in expansive Holyrood Park, is the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like a true member of the fellowship.
Which is to say it was accursedly icy and I thought I might slide right off the cliff before my second week of classes even started.
Here’s the thing they never tell you about study abroad back in the Shire, guys. It’s really tough to make friends, especially if you come from a program like Cornell’s that just throws you into the metaphorical pool without the fallback of an organized group. Lone wolf that I am, I wasn’t sure if attending this International Student Centre-sponsored walk without a buddy would really be fun (plus I’m barely a quarter through Christopher Brookmyre’s Not the End of the World and it’s a little difficult to stop).
Fate intervened ’round lunchtime when my flatmate mentioned that she was also going on the walk, so I decided to be brave and take that ring to Mordor, as they say. We met in front of the ISC on Edinburgh’s main George Square campus, and began a great procession through the town and over to Holyrood Park, (one of the supposed) home(s) of King Arthur’s legacy.
After a trip through the park, we meandered up a flight of at least sixty stairs to reach the beginning of the trailhead. (I say “meandered” because the icy road that was to follow would make the one hundred and sixty-one steps up the Cornell Clocktower look like nothing.)
Look, I may be the world’s most intensely introverted human being, but even I was impressed by the kindness and friendliness displayed by other international students. On my way up, I slipped on a patch of ice and might’ve started a domino chain down the mountain if the bloke behind me hadn’t caught me. Likewise, the descent found me similarly clumsy (and frankly terrified of falling to my death) so a pair of graduate students each offered me an arm and we made our way down as a trio.
I assure you–both in retrospect and in the moment–all the shenangians were certainly worth the stunning views.
All in all, it was a far more wonderful way to spend my afternoon than doing homework or watching awkward UK Netflix.
Especially when I happened to find an interesting trinket in the snow!
Hopefully the ISC’s next weekend excursion will involve an active volcano…