wingardium leviosa

maybe i mentioned it and maybe i didn't (yes, i'm actually too lazy to look back 5 blog posts to check), but one of the many interesting facts i learned on my walking tour of edinburgh included that one of my favorite novel series was written. here comes the embarrassing part where i admit what series it is to those of you who didn't understand the title of this post: harry potter.

part of our tour was through one of the many famous graveyards of edinburgh - greyfriars.  of course greyfriars is well-known for many different reasons including a dog ghost and a violent poltergeist, but most important to this basically-still-a-tween girl were the names of several people buried in the graveyard.  sure, jk is a pretty creative lady i'm sure, but when it comes to character names many of these were actually borrowed from people who are buried in greyfriars.  pretty thrilling to see the grave of tom riddle, though i did feel kind of badly that the person buried there has no idea what their name represents to harry potter fans.

there was also a school just on the other side of the graveyard that was supposedly jk's inspiration for her description of hogwarts. c'mon ms. rowling, can't you come up with ANYTHING on your own?!

after my walking tour, i had to go visit the cafe where jk spent many afternoons writing what would eventually absorb several hours (sometimes days) of my early college life. hey, i was still technically a "young adult" at the time... 

the elephant house was a cute little cafe that looked like something out of the west village.  feeling inspired (and almost like a writer myself - i mean this is a blog after all...), i walked in planning to grab a seat and a latte.  one quick look at the obscene prices and that plan dissolved, but i still took a look around and had a moment to think "being here right now is cool."

and this is the end of the nerdiest blog post of all time.


taking arthur's seat

true to form, most of my time in ediburgh it was pretty gray and rainy.  i had been pretty good about waking up early and going for short runs around and slightly up some of the peaks just outside edinburgh, but i was barely willing to do that in the rain so i knew the probability of an actual hike was completely weather dependent.  when i woke up one morning to a beautiful sunny day, it was clearly the day to climb arthur's seat.  which is a peak in scotland and not anything to do with any men i may have met at the hostel. (perverts...)

wikipedia claims that arthur's seat is "relatively easy to climb" and it seemed pretty accurate judging by some of the outfits of others who shared my idea for a morning hike.  jean skirts, ballet flats, and even rain boots were ran rampant, so i figured my nikes and cotton layers would be just fine.  they probably would have been had i figured out before i started hiking that there was an easy path and a not so easy path.

see, i told you. skirts and ballet flats...

 maybe the first hint of "this isn't the easy route" would have been the jagged cliffs.
photo while considering turning back...

it took me about an hour an a half to make it all the way to the top, which of course included a few "scenic breaks" to eat my self-made-from-the-hostel-free-breakfast trail mix and drink water.  once i got to the top though, i could see all the jean skirts walking up a much easier path. so....next time i guess?

my incredibly practical outfit. i mean that scarf was NECESSARY.

i know it's "all about the journey, not the destination," but i was pretty pleased to finally make it to the top.  the panoramic views of the city were incredible, and incredibly hard to capture on film, but i still made an attempt.

panoramic view with a non-panoramic camera.

sittin' on arthur's seat!


loch ness

i didn't plan my trip to edinburgh very well,  but if i was going to stay in scotland for any period of time, i was definitely going to figure out how to get over to loch ness and visit the infamous lake monster, nessie.  this was not a small feat.  from edinburgh there were several day trips - "day" being the operative word as the entire tour there and back was planned at 12 hours.  luckily, haggis tours was at the top of the street from my hostel, so rolling out of bed for a 7:45 am bus departure wasn't an issue. (hey, i was on vacation. 7:45 is like 4:45 in real life time...)

i arrived bright and early and was greeted by a much smaller bus than i anticipated, operated by a driver who apparently felt that the best way to break the ice early in the morning was to tell dirty jokes.  i was immediately both literally and figuratively on board with haggis tours.

as luck would always have it, i got sat next to a smelly old man who took up an additional 1/4 of my seat on top of his own.  the good news was that apparently he didn't want to sit next to me either, as he practically begged people to switch with him until a girl named amanda offered to trade. maybe that was actually the bad news (why didn't he want to sit next to me?!).  amanda was about my age and from brazil and we ended up getting along really well, so the move was a good one.  plus, she kept answering for me at roll call, which was another bonus since i was probably too tired to respond myself.

just one more hurdle in the road before we made it to the boat for our lake tour.  there was a big car accident on the way, and we ended up having to turn the bus around completely to try another route.  sounds simple, but on the back muddy roads we were taking this turned into a 33-ish point turn event for our bus.  luckily a man who barely spoke english but claimed to understand what an "axel" was volunteered to direct us in completing this turn. moment 1 of a few where i wondered if maybe i might not make it home after this trip.

by the time we got to the boat, we had just enough time to grab our "lunch" that came with our tour and run to the boat.  quotation marks have never been more necessary here.  the brochure claimed a sandwich/bagged style lunch, which wasn't entirely a lie.  there were four options: ham and tomato, cheese and pickle, hummus and pepper, and egg and mayonnaise.  if these four sandwiches were presented in a line up, i'm 100% positive you wouldn't be able to identify one from the other, which was kind of unsettling given my new little healthy eating thing i had going on.  in this case, hunger won and i kept my eyes closed.

the boat trip was pretty simple - actually it was more like a booze cruise.  the boat sold very expensive local loch ness monster themed beers and m&ms.  we cruised around the lake and watched monitors that showed the depth of the lake and sensed any movement.

 kind of regretting not trying nessie's "monster mash."

 monitors showing the depth of the lake. excuse me - the loch.

cool kids at the back of the boat. teacher's pets up front.

much to my dismay, i only saw one nessie the whole trip...

 thank goodness she wasn't real.  i struggled enough just getting a shot of the fake monster...

so maybe i didn't see a monster, but the five year old child within felt pretty fulfilled at my attempt.

me at age 5. plus 22.


the good ship, jollyboat

as i mentioned before, i went to several different shows throughout the week during the fringe. each act was very different and interesting (sometimes "in its own way"), but it might be a little pretentious of me to write a full out review of each performance i saw. not to mention boring. so i'll try to pick out a few that were the most interesting.

at the tricity ukulele cabaret, one of the acts was a pair of brothers who used their ukuleles to perform a rap about the bible. obviously intrigued by this and after hearing they had a free show offering every afternoon, i decided to check them out the following day. they called their "band" jollyboat, and performed the same bible rap along with about 6 other songs about various random topics that spoke directly to my appreciation of awkward humor - a love song incorporating computer shorthand, a song about a guy who can't remember what he did on wednesday, and even a song they planned to use as the wining number for x factor. maybe it wasn't for everyone, but i found them hilarious and immediately became a jollyboat fan. which clearly meant i had to establish my dedication and started following them on twitter.

band of brothers. literally.

though the show was free, it wasn't surprising that the brothers offered ways to support their act at the end of the show. for 5£, you could get a cd of their "latest hits" or for 10£, you received a cd and a t-shirt with a line from their song about pirates. "i kissed a gull and i liked it."

unfortunately, having used up my cash to buy dinner before the show, i had neither on me. i did, however, out my name down to receive a link to their youtube page they are currently in the process of setting up.

i haven't yet received the email with the link, but in the meantime here's a little amateurish preview of their "art" so to speak: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OVz6z7722I&sns=em


adventures in veganism

so even though traveling is an amazing adventure, believe it or not every once in awhile a girl is bound to get bored. which is precisely what has lead me to start reading a long list of books i always wanted to read, books on my kindle recommendations, and even a few books i felt compelled to read purely because everyone else has read them. "skinny bitch" falls into category three.

i read "skinny bitch" just before my arrival in edinburgh, and while i wasn't completely convinced of everything in there, it certainly peaked my curiosity of being a vegan. i've never really been one of those people who cries over a burger thinking of the poor cow it once was. maybe it's a bit pessimistic, but i don't genuinely believe that one person's decisions (i.e. whether to eat meat or not) can have enough of an impact to affect something like the cruelty of animals in the meat production industry. yeah sure, many parts can make up a whole, but it wasn't enough of a reason for me to make such a major life adjustment.

reading further into things and learning about the health implications of the individual who consumes meat and other animal products, however, was impactful enough for me to want to make a change. not entirely selfish, the part about how feeding animals for production essentially helps cause works hunger helped too. i won't sit here on my high horse though and tell you why i decided to go vegan and why you should too. you can do the research if you choose, but this post is about how i did the impossible and delved into veganism during my trip to europe.

there were so many restaurants and shops available in edinburgh, it made the beginning of my journey on the vegan path seem much more manageable than i ever imagined. for breakfast i usually ate fruit, which was both healthy and cheap. a win-win in my book! lunch and dinner were a breeze, particularly after my discovery of vegan cream cheese, which i would argue is better than the real thing. for snacks i always kept nuts and dried fruit on hand. and maybe a vegan double chocolate chip cookie (now you can put aside all those thoughts about how being vegan is purely for weight loss..).

proof that "vegan" does not necessarily always mean "healthy." especially when it comes to me...

and yes, for those who are wondering, i am clearly getting enough protein in my diet as i'm about three months in now and never felt better. i have had small "cheats" here and there when options weren't available (the ashram) or when i REALLY wanted to experience something (paneer from mcdonald's in india), but overall it's been both a good and easy change for me. thankfully this decision happened after i left paris (wheels of brie galore), but soon up was my trip to another cheese/chocolate capital - switzerland. stay tuned...


as i mentioned before, my trip to edinburgh was a total whim. the fringe festival was on and it was easy for me to get to, so as jaded traveler as this sounds, i thought it was going to be purely a time filler between london and switzerland.

edinburgh did end up turning into an unexpected highlight of my entire trip.  even more unexpectedly was that my free walking tour at my hostel was primarily responsible for turning my perception of edinburgh on it's head.

free? i'm so in.

another piece in my series - "me holding a ticket stub."

i left the tour not only with a list of about 15 things i didn't know there was to do in edinburgh beforehand (mostly harry potter and cloned sheep related - stay tuned...), but also with some interesting facts about the history of scotland.

dolly, the first clone. also, very unrelated to this post.

one thing i learned was despite wearing skirts, the people of scotland are a rough bunch and took punishment for crime very seriously.  in the old days if someone was caught stealing, it wasn't uncommon for the perpetrator to have his ear nailed to a post in the middle of the town square.  if this wasn't humiliating/painful enough, the people of the town were then encouraged to come by and kick the criminal. as in you steal an apple, your ear gets nailed to a dirty wooden pole, and then random strangers come up and kick you in the shins. what could be worse?  well, if kicking wasn't your thing, the acceptable options for abuse were not limited - people could also "gardiloo" on the criminal.

"gardiloo" was the scottish attempt at saying "watch for the water" in french ("regard de l'eau"). a fancy term for a less than fancy act - as there were no toilets in edinburgh at the time, houses would typically use a communal bucket.  luckily, the main street in town was built on a slope running down to a lake, so at 10 am and 10 pm every day, the town had a regularly scheduled dump (literally), and as the contents of the house bucket were tossed out the window families yelled "gardiloo!"

criminal punishment in old ediburgh sounds to me like the beginning of a game of "would you rather."


life is a cabaret

i mentioned one of the reasons i headed over to edinburgh in the first place was to see the fringe festival. while there were actually apparently three festivals on at the time of my arrival, the fringe is an annual festival that attracts tourists from all over with comedy, plays, live music performances, poetry, and basically every other form of performance art you can think of. the acts are scattered throughout the week of the festival, with some acts repeating every day at the same time in the same venue. notoriety of each performance varies from david hasselhoff to two old retirees from cork, as does the price if each show you attend. while i couldn't quite afford the 40£ price tag for a talk with good ol' mitch buchanan (or the cost of dignity lost), there were many free acts listed for artists who are seeking publicity, so i didn't waste any time and decided to go see the return act of the tricity ukulele cabaret.

standard me-holding-my-ticket-to-something photo.

i wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but wasn't that pretty much why i was there in the first place? ok, that AND the fact that it was a free event. the show started at 9:30pm, which was the perfect amount of time for me to check into my hostel and rid myself of any "i'm too tired from traveling" excuses. the venue was in a pub that hosted many simultaneous acts in separate rooms, so i also managed to grab a "i need to wind down from travel exhaustion" beer.

as a woman in a floor length blue velvet dress with a ukulele headband holding together her up-do approached the mic, i knew i had made a good decision to attend. the tricity ukulele cabaret is one if the repeat acts that hosts five to six artists who request to perform a number on the ukulele. from the audience, three judges are selected and each act receives a 1-5 score based on their performance. the winner from the previous night not only wins the pride if being the best ukuleler (new word?), but they are also able to return the following night for a one-song performance of the host of a song on the subject of their choosing.

so, the first act of my performance was the winner from the previous night, who apparently requested that the host write a song about a drunk tap dancing penguin. to top things off, the winner was also dressed in a penguin suit and proceeded to tap dance on stage. drunk. so drunk in fact, that as she took an aggressive "first sip" of her beer during her dance, the beer overflowed out of the bottle into her mouth, which caused her to spray the entire front row with a lovely beer and saliva mixture. so basically, just like sea world: "if you are sitting in the front row, you may get wet."

the remaining acts were slightly more serious performances, including this amazing hippie woman with glittery leg warmers who sounded almost exactly like norah jones. she kind of cheated and played a banjo AND a ukulele (also glittery of course), but unfortunately she didn't win. despite bringing her "number one fan" to the stage (her 4 year old son), the prize went to some woman who performed a song about how she thought her baby wasn't hers when she had him (her baby is blond, she is asian).

clearly not the woman who sang about being asian.