Too Busy For My Own Good

The Eddies open for The UK SUBS

The Eddies open for The UK SUBS

Hey Space Cadets! Well I have some good news and some bad news; the good news is I have just gotten back from an amazing trip to Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye and will be going on another trip to Edinburgh this coming weekend! The bad news is I haven’t finished my London posts nor have had the time to write anything new (on account of school catching up with me). I promise to have the final entry of my trip to London this week and to have Loch Ness and Skye by the beginning of next. In the meantime here’s some video of a couple of punk concerts I went to while over here! the first is from a UK SUBS gig I saw the second week I was in Dundee. One of the opening acts was a local band P.P.C. who played a phenomenal set! the sound doesnt do them justice! the second and third are from “From the Jam”; made up of original Jam mambers Bruce Foxton (bass) and Rick Buckler (Drums) with Russell Hastings on guitar and vocals. The night I saw them, the original drummer was ill so the drummer from Big Country joined in to back them up. The Jam were not your typical punk band and blended elements of R&B and old school ’60s rock and roll to ignite a movement known as “Mod Revival”. I’ll be seeing their ex-lead singer Paul Weller later on this month and will do a full concert review!

I hope this satisfies the hungry masses for now! Again sorry about the delay; but I promise to be squared away by the end of the week!

P.P.C.

From the Jam

From The Jam (Better version courtesy of daisydundee)

Entry 7: London Part I- written 10/27/09

When one thinks of London, they think of red, double-decker busses, Big Ben and friendly Bobbies going “pip pip” and “cheerio”. But these caricatures pale in comparison to actually experiencing this vibrant city first hand. To arrive at King’s Cross station at 9 pm after a 6 hour train ride, navigating the streets at night to find a hostel with only a cell phone for a map, climbing the top of St. Pauls Cathedral and having an order of rice with chicken and fish at a Chinese restaurant is to truly understand London in all of her complexity, spectacle and diversity. My adventure in London will stay with me not just for the rest of this trip, but for the rest of my life.

A large amount of time and planning went into scheduling our trip to London; starting with our “travel meeting” our first week in Scotland. A proper date had to be picked, a hostel booked and train tickets bought. The fall semester at University of Dundee does not have a designated vacation break like the spring term; but it does have a “Reading Week” that allows students a chance to catch up on readings and assignments. This break is not the same for everyone and falls on separate dates depending on what school you belong to (for instance School of Humanities Reading Week falls on the week of 19th October). We decided during our travel meeting that this would be the best date for those who wished to go for the trip and to ensure that the trip would not interfere with our studies, we decided to leave Wednesday the 21st, October and return Sunday the 25th; giving us enough time to hand in assignments at the start of the week and returning before class on Monday. We were going to be travelling in a small group which made planning and travel easy to coordinate. Julie, Jen, Laura and bought our train tickets together as well as a four bed hostel; ensuring safety and security.

When looking up hostels (especially in London), you want to ensure that the one you plan on booking is: safe, close to transportation and attractions. We used hostelworld.com to aid us in our search for the right hostel. This database provides a listing of hostels around the world with customer reviews, prices and booking schedules. First off, do not pick a hostel based on their website photos; which can be misleading and inaccurate. Instead give yourself the time to read the customer reviews with an objective eye. I stress objectivity because many of the negative reviews were written by people who had clearly never lived in a hostel before; complaining the beds were too hard and the showers were too small. Do not expect a hostel to be a hotel, a hostel is meant purely as a place to come back to at the end of a day’s travelling and nothing more. Concern yourself with questions such as “how clean is it?”, “Does it have indoor plumbing and heating?”, “is there a safe place to put my belongings?”, “how far to the nearest bus, train and underground depot?” and “is the price worth it?”. The hostel we booked was “Smart Russell Square” at 71 Guilford Street near Kings Cross Train Station and the Russell Square Underground. Our four night stay would cost about £100.00 which included a room for four with two bunk beds and a sink, showers with separate stalls, laundry facilities (paid for separately) and lockers (for an extra £1.50 a night). The hostel had everything we needed: Bed, plumbing, heating and location. In fact we were not too far away from the Charles Dickens House and British Museum; we now felt comfortable with our choice in hostel, but now that accommodations had been settled, the question of what attractions to see came up.

London has a wide variety of museums, landmarks and attractions, but with only 4 days to spend and limited funds we had to choose wisely. After doing some research, Julie came across a website advertising a “London Pass”; a card that lets you into over 55 attractions free and discounts at up to 64 stores and restaurants. The pass can be pre-ordered to be used for a day to up to a week for a nominal fee. As we were arriving Wednesday night and leaving Sunday afternoon, we chose the 3 day London Pass; which cost £56.00. For those who also wish to not pay full price on travel in and around the city, there is an upgraded pass that includes discounts for busses and tube trains; albeit at a steeper price. After ordering the passes, we set about creating an itinerary for places we wished to see. We decided on 10-12 destinations (which included the Tower of London, The Globe Theatre, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Benjamin Franklin’s House; all free with the London Pass). After creating the list, I looked up opening/closing times, special events and seasonal hours of the main places we wished to see; giving us the chance to plan out our days when before our arrival. With the Hostel booked, the train tickets in our pockets and London Passes only needing to be picked up at the nearest London tourist office, we were ready to head south of the border into England!

It was a cold and drizzly day Wednesday 21st October; certainly not perfect travelling weather. I had spent most of the morning putting my room in order, getting the last of my packing done and even getting a haircut. Several weeks prior I had bought a backpack from Mountain Warehouse near Wellgate in Dundee. The volume measured 50 liters and only cost £45.00; a good price considering it was marked down from £70. Mountain Warehouse also gives discounts after the first purchase of up to 10% so not only is there a wide variety of camping and backpacking equipment, but they come at a price cheaper than some of the other stores in Dundee. I figured 50 liters would be enough to get me through 4 days travelling; but to make sure, I only packed the bare minimum of essentials so as to make room for any souvenirs I was to pick up on our trip. These essentials included 4 t-shirts, 4 pairs of socks and boxers, a bath towel, a washcloth, 1 pair of pajamas, and a cosmetics bag that included a travel bottle of shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant and comb. I also brought band-aids, ant-acid and cold medicine just in case of myself or someone taking ill. As an extra security measure; because as the cliché goes it is better to be safe than sorry, I placed luggage padlocks on the zippers that could only be opened by key. I would be wearing the same jeans and sweatshirt for the next several days and was willing to put up with it so much as it saved space in my backpack and thus be less cumbersome moving to and from the train.

Our tickets said we would be leaving on the 2:17 out of Dundee for Edinburgh; switching to another train bound for London. The trip would take about 6 hours, with us arriving at our destination by 8 or 9pm. ScotRail is very reliable and our transport arrived on time and with our seats reserved, calmly sat down and awaited the slight jerk of the train moving underway. The ride to Edinburgh was pretty fast; we arrived in an hour and a half and had 10-15 minutes to have a quick break before getting on the next train; which arrived on time at 4-4:15. Again we sat down and waited for the next long leg of our journey.

After almost two hours on the rails, we were getting pretty hungry; luckily the train came equipped with a café-bar that served sandwiches, coffee, tea and alcohol (paid separately). The food was decent; I had a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, water and a muffin (costing a little over £6.00) and was enough to fill me up for the rest of the night. It was at this point I really felt like the rail cards and train tickets had paid off. It was a real improvement from the bus rides we took in the past; not only was the journey smooth and fast, we also got luxuries that a bus could not accommodate for (aside from the odd restroom).Our friend Andy (who decided to join us last minute) was at that very moment in the middle of an epic 14 hour bus ride from Dundee to London (seeing it as a cheaper option), and the trip soon became an ad-hoc “Consumer’s Report” experiment in transportation. As we let our food settle I took a last glimpse at Scotland as we crossed the border into England.

Suddenly a voice on the intercom “Attention, café-bah now open in cah K”. The strange accent amused all of us; in the time we’ve spent in Dundee we had come across few English people, and those we met sounded nothing like the nasally “posh”; snobbish, accent talking to us at that moment. It was clear to us now that we had to deal with another culture; completely different from the one we’ve been living with for the past month and a half and welcomed the challenge with enthusiasm as we comically joked about walking up to someone and saying “ ‘Ello Guvna!”. We had officially made it across into England at Berwick-Upon-Tweed in northernmost England/southernmost Scotland and soon made it through Newcastle, Doncaster, York and made it into King’s Cross shortly after 9 pm; shortly after Andy’s bus pulled into the terminal. We jumped off the train, backpacks in hand and no clue where to go next. It was nighttime, we were in a crowded train station and no map whatsoever, it was time to collect our thoughts and strategize where to go next.

My first thoughts went to money. Although Scotland accepts English pounds, England (with the exception of certain stores) does not accept Scottish money; ergo the necessity to find a cash point (or “hole in the wall”) was vital; especially if we were to pay for the hostel that night with enough left over for travel expenses. After grabbing cash, we next needed to figure out how to get to the hostel. Jen and Julie both had the street addresses written down and; luckily for me, my phone had Google Maps.

After typing in the start and end points, we began our journey out into the streets of London.
We wandered around confused and frustrated for a good half hour. The map clearly showed an almost straight line from the station to the hostel; with the exception of one curve. But this turn was unknown to us because Google only bothers to mention major street names. I decided it be best to ask for directions to our destination. People in London are very friendly and if you have a problem with directions, they will be more than willing to help. We found a couple whilst walking around Russell Square (which was near the hostel to begin with). They took us from there and walked with us all the way to Guilford Street, talking to us all the while about America. We finally made it to our hostel; which was in a converted flat of apartments, and subsequently checked in shortly after we met Andy in the downstairs lounge. Our room was decent size and the matched the description and pictures on the website. The mattresses felt like rocks and the pillows I likened to plastic bags stuffed with newspaper; but what do you expect, it is a hostel and you won’t be spending your entire day indoors. I then took a shower in one of the public stalls. To save water and heating bills, the owners decided to use push buttons that you have to press and hold for the duration of time you needed to shower; at first I found this frustrating, but by the last day I had become accustomed to the awkward set-up. After getting our things in order, we tucked ourselves in for what would be a trial of our mental stamina.

The next morning we woke up at 8am; groggy, tired but excited to get our first daylight glimpse of London. After a quick breakfast we made our way to the Russell Square Tube Station that would take us to the nearest tourist office at Piccadilly Circus. Unlike New York City, the subway (or Tube) in London is very easy to navigate and after a day of travelling on it even someone as directionless as me was able to figure out how to navigate the London Underground. It is also extremely cheap to use; in fact if you arrive at the station around 9:30 am, you can purchase an “All Day Pass” for £5.60 which allows unlimited access to the Tube without paying for tickets! One of the strange things about the London Underground is that compared to New York City, it is very clean and doesn’t have the litter and graffiti you would find else ware. Instead you see beautifully tiled walls; and in some stations, flat screen projections. The one thing we universally disliked about the tube was that there was A LOT of stairs; most of them spiral, which gave us quite a workout jumping from one train to another. By the end of our trip we all assumed that we had burned off all of the calories we’ve consumed since arriving in the UK! When we exited Piccadilly station and entered London in a bask of light! All around us we saw the famed double-decker red buses, the small black livery cabs and grand Victorian buildings that look just as magnificent as they did when first built. We all looked at each other and just said “I can’t believe we’re here!”

After we grabbed our passes we decided to make The Tower of London our first stop of the day. We used the Tube for our transportation for the entire trip not only because it was cheap, but also because the stations were located near the sites we wanted to see; Tower Hill for example is located directly across from the Tower of London. We got in with ease using our London Passes and were happy to find out that we also gained access to a new exibet on the arms and armor of King Henry VIII. As we came closer to this imposing fortress, we were entering the hub of London’s history; this being one of the oldest structures in this historic city. It is unclear when the first structure was first built; excavations suggest the earliest was around the time of Roman Occupation. The River Thames offered the perfect location to transport goods from east to west and the fish that thrived there a ready source of food. The White Tower was the first permanent fortification; built shortly after the Norman conquest of 1066. The structure was intended to keep the populace of London at bay as William the Conqueror ascended the throne previously occupied by the Saxon King Harold. As time passed, additional towers, walls and buildings were added around the perimeter of the White Tower; turning the area into a fortified city within a city. Throughout the centuries, the tower has been used to fulfill many vital roles; such as mint, armory, barracks, royal palace and even a zoo, but none has been so celebrated as its role as prison and place of torture.

The first prisoner at the tower was Ranulf Flambard; Bishop of Durham, who was held captive in the tower in 1100 for extortion, however he later escaped and lived out the rest of his life in France. Other more famous prisoners included Sir Walter Raleigh (who established the failed English colony of Roanoke in present day North Carolina), Thomas Moore, Anne Boleyn and Guy Fawkes among others. We were able to tour one of the buildings used to house prisoners and one does not need to look far inside to come up close with history. Many of the prisoners spent months, years; and in some cases their life, locked away in cells such as the one near the Beauchamp Tower. To pass the time away as well as leave a lasting memorial to themselves, prisoners carved their names, messages, coats of arms and decorative designs on the interior wall. These carvings still survive today and it is amazing that after centuries many of the carvings are still legible and clear as they were written. The tower has also been a place of execution for a select few; the majority occurring at Tower Hill just outside the walls. Private executions were reserved for nobility and those who were close to the King or Queen. For example, the execution of Anne Boleyn was ordered by Henry VIII to be carried out within the walls of the castle; showing her respect as well as preventing her from becoming a martyr via public execution. There is a memorial outside the chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincular dedicated to those who died within the walls of the tower that is near the spot where private executions were held. However the tower served as more than a prison and the Royal Jewel House is proof of this.

I cannot begin to describe to you how awe inspiring it was to see the crowned jewels of England. With each reigning monarch, a new crown or scepter has been designed and crafted by skilled artisans. Many of the crowns, scepters and orbs featured one-of-a kind objects such as the Culinan Diamond that adorns St. Edwards Scepter. The diamond is a hefty 503 carats and weighs 106 grams and until 1985 was considered the largest cut diamond. That year the golden jubilee diamond was discovered and weighed in at 545 carats and 109 grams. Both are housed in the jewel house today. Other items include a gold coronation spoon dating back to the 12th century (making it one of the earliest pieces on display) and the crown and coronation robes (woven with gold thread) of Queen Elizabeth II. The golden light of the room left all of us speechless; I still could not imagine how much time and effort went into the creation of each piece of jewelry, they were true works of art. But the before being a prison or a jewel house, the tower was first and foremost, a fortress.

This year marks a significant event in the history of Britain; for 500 years ago, King Henry VIII ascended the throne to become one of the most powerful and forward thinking monarchs England ever produced. To celebrate this historic event, the Tower housed a collection of arms and armor belonging to this larger than life king. Not only does the exhibit show every piece of armor owned by Henry VIII, but also sets it up in chronological order; whereby one can see the evolution of arms and armor as Henry’s physical health changed. One of the most impressive pieces of armor was not even complete! Towards the end of his life, Henry commissioned a German armorer to create a fanciful suit that demonstrated his status and money. However the only piece that survived was a magnificent helmet shaped like a grotesque head, with horns, glasses and grinning smile. It was so lifelike, I felt as though it was human. The arms and weapons on display at the Tower of London are true works of art. Even if you don’t find military history fascinating, a stroll through the White Tower is a must!

After spending three hours at the Tower, we strolled to the nearby Tower Bridge with its trademark drawbridge as well as the battleship HMS Belfast. The area surrounding the Tower is filled with history and one does not necessarily need to pay an admittance fee to visit all of the sites. Across the river in Southwark we found the ruins of a 12-16th century manor house as well as Saint Mary’s church (dating to the 13th century). We also saw a replica of the Golden Hinde (the flagship of Sir Francis Drake; who in the late 1500’s was the first man to successfully circumnavigate the globe as well as help defeat the Spanish Armada which threatened England in 1588). However for all of our travels it was getting late and we wanted to visit one more site before calling it a night. That’s when we saw the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral from the south end of the Millennium Bridge.

The year 1666 was not a particularly good year for London; as the previous year plague had killed off a large amount of the population and one year later a fire started in a bakery swept many of London’s old timber built buildings away. One structure that was hit particularly bad was St. Paul’s Cathedral; which burned to the ground. With the once tallest steeple in England turned to dust, a new church was to be built that would overshadow anything that existed their previous. Sir Christopher Wren was a scientist, architect and Renaissance man. His forward thinking concept for the new St. Paul’s was radical in that where as previous churches were constructed in the form of the cross with the steeple either fore or aft of the structure, Wren’s design would be rectangular with a dome at its center and the steeple to the western wing of the church. What Wren had hoped was to use the dome to transmit natural white light and transmit it throughout the structure; his inspiration taken from the workings of a microscope. Although his idea was controversial, the end result was magnificent!

The cathedral can be seen from quite a ways away and walking up to it inspires you with the ingenuity of those who built such a grand structure. This was the building that had survived four centuries and two world wars (the second war resulting in a famous picture of the cathedral surviving the flames of the Blitz). When you walk in, you are surrounded by sculptures and memorials of some of England’s greatest heroes and figures; including Horatio Nelson and the Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon in the early 19th century. The dome is intricately painted and decorated with gold leaf and naturally we were tempted to climb all the way to the top.

This feat was daunting in and of itself because not only were there a lot of stairs but (like the tube stations), they were circular staircases. We first climbed to the Stone Gallery; which gives you a better view of the ceiling decoration. Note, this is not for the faint of heart or those fearful of heights. I was getting dizzy just by looking across the gallery to the other side, but on a personal note, although I was scared, I never felt so close to God. We continued up to the top of the cathedral which required more steps and this time they were narrow and appeared rickety in places. I (with my heavy backpack) had the scenario of me falling to my death every five seconds, but by the time we reached the top and went outside, I knew it was worth it. From the top of St. Pauls you get the most magnificent view of London in all of its glory. It boggles the mind that people living in an age without the high-powered cranes ; that now rise out of the streets of London to build ultra modern skyscrapers and knowledge of high strength steel could build such a structure that so modern and sophisticated. However after 10 minutes of wind beating our faces and with the sky getting darker, we decided it was time to ascend from heaven back down to earth and the subterranean world of the crypt.

The Crypt at St. Pauls contains many of England’s greatest figures of note; however the highlight of this trip was seeing the tombs of Horatio Nelson and the Duke of Wellington; who rose from humble backgrounds to become two of the greatest military heroes of their time. Nelson had defeated the larger navies of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France; once in 1798 in Egypt (known as the Battle of the Nile) and again at Trafalgar in 1805; where Nelson lost his life. Nelson is best remembered for his undaunted bravery in the face of combat and patriotic zeal for his country. Having lost an eye and an arm in battle, Nelson had proven himself to be an able and intrepid young officer that raised the Royal Navy from the ignamony of the American Revolution to success and glory in the Napoleonic Wars.
Whereas Nelson was a victor on the seas, Wellington weakened Napoleon’s forces on land. After successfully leading the allied forces of Britain, Portugal and Spain in the Penninsula of Spain from 1807-1813, Wellington earned the title of “the Spanish Ulcer” by Napoleon himself; as Wellington’s successes drew more troops away from Napoleon fighting in eastern Europe. When Napoleon returned from exile in 1815, the leaders of Europe turned to Wellington (Tzar Alexander of Russia stating “it is now up to you to save the world”). With that Wellington fought and won one final battle against Napoleon at Waterloo (a battle which has been known as one of the most important battles ever fought as it changed the map of Europe for over 100 years). After the Napoleonic Wars, Wellington became a governor of the Tower of London and made significant improvements to its defences and established military men in the position of Yeoman Wardens (the famous “Beefeaters”). Later in life he became an advisor to Queen Victoria and held various posts until his death in the mid 19th century. I have studied as much as I could on these two men and their remarkable lives fascinated me when I was in middle and high school. To be so close to them, to see their tombs, brought everything full circle for me as a scholar and historian.

We ended our day by going to “Ye Olde London” a pub down the road from St. Pauls. I had a Welsh Rarebit on Toast with bacon and a Pint of Fuller’s London’s Pride; as London as pub food can get. It was one of the most satisfying meals I’ve ever had, mainly because of the amount of activity we packed into one day and; in a way, was a celebration of us making it this far. The next day would certainly not disappoint!

useful links:

http://www.hostelworld.com/

http://www.londonpass.com/

London Slideshow

Entry 6: The Train Kept A’ Rollin’ Part III- written 10/27/09

This is the final entry for transport until we plan our flight to Dublin. London would take up too much room and requires a second entry which I will get around to after I get some extra time this week. nothing exciting here but very informative if you plan on traveling here!

Buses are inexpensive, efficient and easily accesable, but for a slightly higher fee, trains can deliver a faster, more comfortable and enjoyable experience. Before my trip, I was determined to cut costs wherever possible; choosing the cheaper Megabus route over the train when we planned short day trips. However after several uncomfortable and nerve-wracking bus trips and a personal revelation ignited by one of my flatmates soon changed my mind.

Since our arrival in Dundee, my friends and I had used the bus as a cheap way to travel for short trips in and around Angus and Fife. For the most part, one does not need to switch buses to get to their destination, and if you are making a trip last minute, you can easily hop on a bus at the nearest stop. More importantly, if registered far enough in advance, two bus tickets can cost between £10-20 in total; whereas a train can double that price to £30-40. This aside, personal experience with the UK bus system gained over the course of a month radically changed my perception.

First and foremost, riding a bus in the UK is not the same as riding one in the US. Although the buses might be the same double wide, 50-80 seater gas-guzzlers one finds with Megabus and Greyhound, you get two different travel experiences. American roads and highways (paved and built in the 1950’s; the golden age of the automobile) can easily handle buses of this size; whereas roads in the United Kingdom (as advanced as they were in the 18th and 19th century) are unable to cope with vehicles of this size. With every ride I took, the same scenario: big bus needs to make a turn from a main highway to a side road. Doing this requires a lot of coordination from the driver who has to make a turn so tight it can be considered a danger to pedestrians. I’ve seen many bystanders on a street corner come inches away from impact as the bus would; inadvertently, clip the sidewalk. There is also the stops (of which there are many). Picture yourself on a highway at cruising speed and then turning off at every exit down a winding road and stopping to pick up another passenger, then getting back onto the main road and repeating the process again. This occurs anywhere between 10-25 minutes and can be exceedingly annoying and nerve-wracking. Finally there are the traffic issues which are always an inconvenience. By the end of my first month overseas; and reaching the moment when we needed to book transport for London, I had reached an Impasse: dare I book an expensive, yet comfortable and fast trip on a train, or risk taking a cheap 14 hour bus ride from Dundee to London?

My knowledge of the UK rail system was limited to website ticket estimates and the seemingly naïve view that “if it’s a train it will get there faster but for a more expensive price”. My flatmate Sydney on the other hand had travelled throughout the UK prior to the start of the semester and suggested that a “Rail Card” was the best way to get cheap train tickets. Essentially a rail card is like a membership card for train travel. For £26.00, you can get a card that takes off 30% of the regular ticket price for a year. Best of all they have one specifically for students which gives additional discounts to students.
That week, Jen, Julie, Laura and I walked to the train station; passport sized photos for our rail cards in hand to fill out applications for the cards. The station freely hands out forms which we completed before making our way to the front desk where we held up a line of 20 or more impatient people as the attendant filed our cards and booked our tickets for London. In the end our tickets cost £37.00; which was only £10.00 over the price of the card. Booking the rail pass had already paid for itself and we could benefit from it for the rest of our stay! Excited about our new passes, we decided to try them out before the big trip and decided to go to a local destination.

We had passed Perth on our previous bus trip to Stirling. Although it did not appear to have much, the architecture of the buildings, the Blackwatch Museum, Scone Castle and the possibility to visit a local whisky distillery were enough to make the small town a destination worth seeing. The trip was going to be for one day and would give us enough experience with the train to get an idea of the service and comfort we would be expecting in our later travels. We had a group of 11 as well; making the journey all the more interesting. Unlike the London tickets, we bought ours for Perth on the day we were leaving. With the passes our tickets cost £4.50; without a little over £6. The train arrived on time and we took our seats in coach. The seats were comfortable and there were even booths with tables available for people who were lucky to get those assigned seats. For the rest of us there were drop down snack trays. There was also a snack cart that travelled back and forth that sold everything from sweets to red wine. Our train pulled into Perth 20 minutes after we left Dundee. It was almost identical to the experience of flying on a plane, except you get to see the countryside, it earned my seal of approval and I remember saying to myself “Wow, I love trains!”

The rest of our trip was uneventful. Since we had planned the trip last minute, we didn’t take into account that the museum would be closed on Saturday and that by the time our bus arrived at Scone, the last tour of the day was nearly over. However seeing the palace where the kings and queens of Scotland were crowned and wandering around the beautiful town of Perth made the journey worthwhile. Most importantly we now considered ourselves prepared for the trip we had been waiting for; 4 days and 4 nights in London, and what a trip it was going to be!

Useful Links:
http://www.scotrail.co.uk/
http://www.railcard.co.uk/

Home of the Blackwatch Museum, Perth, UK

Home of the Blackwatch Museum, Perth, UK

Royal Palace where Scotland's monarchs were crowned

Royal Palace where Scotland's monarchs were crowned

Entry 5: The Train Kept A Rollin’ Part II- written: 10/20/09

In my last post, I had mentioned planning trips on your own in Scotland; which gives you a lot of freedom as to what you can do; but there are other alternatives that take the hassle out of coordinating busses and trains and will even save you money! International Programs, International Café and different clubs (or “Societies”) also sponsor sightseeing trips in and around Scotland and the United Kingdom.

Like New Paltz, Dundee has an International Programs center located on campus that helps cater to the needs of foreign students who either have a hard time adjusting or wish to find out more about things to do and see during their academic stay at the university. After attending an international student mixer at The Union, we were told by the program heads that there was a sponsored trip to Arbroath Abbey and Glamis Castle; followed by an afternoon tea at the home of one of the university professors. The trip cost only £10.00 for the bus and admission into both attractions; which saved plenty of money for grabbing lunch and a couple of souvenirs! The only setback with the system is it was done on a “First Come, First Serve” basis; meaning that if you didn’t get your tickets early, you would have to be put on the waiting list if someone happened to cancel. Luckily for us we got our tickets in time and had a wonderful time out!

Our first stop was Arbroath Abbey; where in 1320, 100 Scottish nobles signed “The Declaration of Arbroath”, which established Scotland as a nation independent from England. This was the culmination of William Wallace’s and Robert the Bruce’s battles against the English at Stirling Bridge and Falkirk. The Abbey was first founded in 1178 by a religious order known as the “Tironesians”. The striking red color of the abbey and its outbuildings is a result of the use of red sandstone; fairly common in the Northeast of Scotland. The Abbey was used until the Reformation when the last abbot of the church; Cardinal Beaton, succeeded to the rank of Archbishop of St. Andrews in 1522 where in 1546 he was murdered by local nobles after burning a popular reformer at near the castle grounds. What remains is the shell of the cathedral, an enclosed area where the monks put on their ceremonial robes, the cloisters and Abbot’s House. The tour was excellent and despite years ofweathering, many of the original carvings and details can still be seen in the ancient walls of this hallowed site in Scottish history. What I found most amazing was the fact that the feet to the large support columns that held the large roof of the Cathedral were still visible and; by climbing up the bell tower above the entrance gate, can imagine what this spectacular church would have looked like in its heyday.

From St. Andrews we travelled to Glamis Castle; a 11th century estate that was the home to many of the great Lairds of Scotland as well as the birthplace of Queen Elizabeth II. Sitting in the picturesque countryside of Forfar, Glamis looks like a fairytale castle with tall rounded towers and Italian gardens. Inside a series of secret passages leading to dank armories, opulent dining rooms and gilded bedrooms guides the visitor and does not cease to disappoint. My favorite part about Glamis was the fact that I got to see and hear about people I was learning about in my Scottish History course! It was helpful in that I now had an image of who these people were and the lifestyles they led. I highly recommend going here!

Before leaving for our next stop, we sat down to have a quick bite to eat; and this is when I met my good friend Haggis. First off, I wasn’t intending on trying haggis at Glamis; as I had already packed a bag lunch and wanted to have it at a traditional pub. However, because Jen had ordered it, tried it, decided it wasn’t for her (I can’t understand why) and I decided to try it. Haggis is essentially a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs minced with onions and various spices and cooked in sheep’s stomach for 3 hours. When done properly it resembles meatloaf and has a nice flavor to it; but again it isn’t for everyone. In retrospect, I don’t see what all the fuss is over this dish and made me wonder about some of the foods we consider “delicious” in the United States. Hot Dogs for example are nothing but “Meat Slurry” stuffed in a pig’s intestine; which doesn’t sound appetizing in the least bit. If you ever find yourself in Scotland and are offered Haggis, ask for a small piece and see if you like it; it’s at least worth a try!

Our final stop took us to the home of one of the professor’s at Dundee several minutes from Glamis where we were given homemade cookies and tea. It was somewhat strange to visit a stranger’s home; especially with 50 other students! But our hosts informed us that if we wished to visit with a local family for dinner or a day out, we could do so through the International Programs office. The idea intrigued me and I am currently thinking of signing up for the host family program in the near future. It is a good way to learn about the local culture, family life and where the best places to eat, shop and visit are. From tea, we went directly to Dundee and arrived at 6 pm. Considering the bus left the University at 10 am, we had a pretty busy day, but for my travelling companions and I, it was far from over!

The university is not the only place that offers group trips at cheap rates. International Café; located at St. John’s Church Hall off Blackness Road, not only gives international students a chance to interact and make connections with locals, it also hosts a variety of events and trips geared towards making foreign students feel at home and welcome. After we got back to our flat, my friends and I went to the St. Johns where we heard of a trip to Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye from November 6-8 for internationals was being planned by the church and café. Although the trip would cost us £50.00, it would include transportation, a weekend stay at Ratagan Hostel near Loch Ness, and meals at the Hostel. Overall it was a good deal and we’re looking forward to visiting two areas of Scotland known for their beauty and folklore. However if you wish to visit sites that cater to your special interests, there is another option available.

As I mentioned in another post, the campus is host to a variety of clubs and associations that range from rucksaking (backpacking) to Forensic Anthropology to History etc. Many sponsor trips to areas throughout Scotland and the UK for members to participate in. For example, if you are the type that is into hiking and seeing the beauty of natural Scotland, the Rucksack Club is for you; but if you prefer seeing castles and historic sites, History Society would be better suited. I joined History Society after hearing my professor mention it in class and saying how several trips to Edinburgh, St. Andrews and possibly Fort George or Culloden Battlefield had been done by the society in the past. Intrigued I signed up for the society and within days got my first invitation to a trip to Falkland Palace and St. Andrew’s Castle. It would be a great opportunity to meet other people with similar academic and career goals, as well as visit some wonderful historic sites.

For the amount of things we were going to see, the trip was relatively cheap. For the bus and Falkland Palace, the total came to £15.00 and we gained free admission into St. Andrews Castle (normally costing around £5.00). Our bus left Dundee at 10am and by 10:30 we had arrived at Falkland Palace in Fife. First built in the 14th century, Falkland went from private home to royal hunting lodge over the course of a century. Here many of Scotland’s most notable monarchs stayed as they travelled throughout the realm (most notably Mary, Queen of Scots, James I (IV), Charles I and Charles II). The Royal apartments of the palace were sadly destroyed by fire in the 1650’s, however the Gatekeeper’s house (converted into royal living space), the Chapel Royal, kitchens and gardens have survived to give one an idea of the opulence and grandeur of the Scottish Royal court. Every room is a treasure and the staff help guide you through the long and interesting history of this residence which is still owned by the crown. My personal favorite of the palace was the library; containing wall to wall books in a room where you can imagine a rich laird curling up in front of the fire with a good read after walking through the secret bookshelf passageway. Also notice the ceilings which have been painted with the coats of arms of the previous gate keepers and the copy of Mary Queen of Scots death mask hanging above one of the bedrooms. There is so much to see at Falkland you will not be disappointed!
Shortly after leaving Falkland, we visited St. Andrews Castle. I didn’t see the inside the first time I visited, however this time I was in for a real surprise! The visitor’s center tells the story of the construction of the castle and abbey from the 12th century to the Reformation and mannequins hiding behind blind spots in the exhibit make the story of St. Andrews come to life and very entertaining. We then got to go in the castle ruins; which I likened to a “Playground for Historians”. You could climb up towers, go over draw bridges and visit dungeons. One of the more memorable experiences of St. Andrews Castle was crawling through the mine and counter-mine dug by the attackers and defenders of the castle during a siege in the middle ages. When attackers hoped to undermine the castle to weaken the structure of the walls; causing them to collapse, the defenders heard their picking and digging from within the castle and began to dig a counter-mine in order to attack them before their plan could be completed. Both groups eventually met; resulting in hand to hand fighting, the defenders emerging victorious. When you visit the mine, you cannot imagine what these soldiers went through. The floors being 3.5 feet wide and about 4 foot in height, it would be very awkward to do any sort of fighting in such cramped quarters. It gives you a true appreciation for what these men went through and it is a must if you plan to visit! After returning to campus around 4:30, we went to a pub for drinks and chatted about upcoming programs and trips. It was a very productive and enjoyable day!

Joining a club, visiting the International Office and International Café are three great ways to see Scotland without needing to worry about booking tickets and hostels. Most importantly they get you to socialize and meet different people; which are a vital part of the experience of being a study abroad student! All of these trips involved busses, but there are other means of seeing Scotland without the discomfort of travelling down a winding road in a small bus. In my next post I’ll be discussing visiting the UK by rail!

Falkland Palace and St. Andrew\’s Castle

Useful Links:
International Office (Dundee)
(http://www.dundee.ac.uk/international/)
International Café
(http://www.friendsinternational-dundee.org.uk/pages/dundint.htm)

Entry 4: The Train Kept A Rollin’ Part I-written 10/9/09

From the moment I got accepted to Scotland; there was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be traveling. Being able to explore first hand many of the places I had read about in books and learned of in countless history lectures was a goal of mine and one of the main reasons for studying abroad. It’s quite one thing to look at a photograph of Stirling Castle where the kings and queens of Scotland dined and ruled or Arbroath Abbey when in 1320, Scotland’s equivalent of “The Declaration of Independence” was signed; but quite another to be there first hand, in the actual dining halls, palace rooms and cloisters-feeling the weathered stones and admiring the beauty of a room that has seen some of the most pivotal moments of a nation’s history played out within its walls.

Traveling through Scotland and the United Kingdom requires a great deal of planning and coordination; spontaneity is a liability but patience is an asset. At home we’re used to busses running regular hours 24 hours a day or have the luxury of owning a car or some knowledge of how to get from one place to another; so in the United States we can in essence-travel anywhere, anytime we want. However in the United Kingdom, this model is flipped on its head. For example, you don’t have a car or license, the busses may run at different hours depending on the schedule for that day and unless you’ve been to Scotland previously and studied plenty of road maps before arrival; you will have only the vaguest idea of where your destination is. However if you make a list of the places you want to visit and research local bus and train stations and airports, you can enjoy your travels in comfort and ease.

Being a city, Dundee has easy access to transportation; the local bus and train stations are close to campus (roughly a 20 minute walk) and run services to towns and cities throughout Scotland, Wales and England. The bus station runs services from Dundee to Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London; as well as smaller towns and villages such as St. Andrews. Scheduling a bus trip depends on the length of the journey. For example, one of the first trips we took was to St. Andrews; a town roughly 30 minutes from Dundee known for the University of Saint Andrews and it’s world renowned golf courses. Our Scottish friend Liam; a friend of Andy and Katie’s who had studied in the United States, was kind enough to show us around our first week in Scotland. The trip required little planning on our parts as it was done during orientation week and the bus from Dundee to St. Andrews was a regular “hop on/hop off” that ran at regular intervals. We bought the tickets on the bus; which only cost us 3.75 GBP (5-6 USD) but we needed exact change in order to purchase them. It took us a half hour to reach our destination; however it was a fairly easy ride with no bumps or problems to complain. With Liam as our tour guide we got to see some wonderful sites without spending a pound!

Our first stop was the legendary St. Andrew’s Castle. First constructed in the 12th Century C.E, it was home of the Bishops and Cardinals of nearby St. Andrew’s Cathedral until the 16th Century. Sitting on the eastern coast of Scotland, St. Andrews was a thriving port for trade with Scandinavia and continental Europe. The closeness of the castle and cathedral to the coast demonstrate their pre-eminence of the Catholic Church and their political and monetary power. During the Reformation, St. Andrews was embroiled in religious upheaval as Scottish Reformer George Wishart was imprisoned at the Castle of St. Andrews shortly before he was burned at the stake near the castle gates. For his part in the imprisonment and execution of Wishart, Cardinal Beaton (the current resident of the castle), was murdered by the local lairds who stormed the castle through guile. The Castle and Cathedral would eventually continue to be maintained but by the late 17th century had fallen into ruin and were abandoned. Today one can still visit the castle and cathedral (which has since been turned into a cemetery and a host to 18th and 19th century graves). The Castle does give regular tours between 5 and 6 GBP but we walked around it and took pictures. You can still admire the battlements and stonework from a distance and the interpretive signs give you a good idea of the importance of the Castle to the region and to history. The Cathedral is free but closes at dusk. Many of the columns and arches still survive and the hollowness rendered by the ruins give it and the Castle an eerie but magical look at dusk.

We spent the rest of the evening walking along the cobblestone streets and admiring the old walls and buildings. Before leaving we went to a local “Chip Shop” where I got an order of Fish and Chips with “IRN-BRU”; an orange soft drink that tastes like a cross between cream and orange soda. The fish was loaded with salt, vinegar and breadcrumbs. The shop was like visiting a small burger shop so the food was cheap and fast. We then got on the bus and headed back to Dundee; arriving shortly before 8pm. Our first trip was a success; we got a small taste of the bus service and travelled outside the borders of the city and campus, but we had bigger travel plans which required more than exact change and free time to spend.

Inspired by our first trip out; we decided to call a meeting the following week to discuss travel plans and arrange reservations for busses, planes, trains and hostels. Aside from several smaller trips in and around Dundee (including Stirling, Broughty Castle and Discovery Point), some of us were going to Italy, Denmark, Paris, London and Dublin. First we agreed that if there was a trip we all wished to take, we would do it together as travelling in a large group would be safe, fun and cheap if we all pitched in on expenses. We also had to look through our class schedules to ensure none of our travel dates interfered with assignments and exams. Our first major trip would be to London: October 22nd to the 25, followed by Edinburgh: November 12-15 and Dublin and Paris towards the end of the semester in December.

After deciding where we wanted to go, we next had to book transportation and a hostel. As I mentioned before, there is a bus station that runs out of Dundee, but booking bus tickets can be a stressful experience. For the trip to St. Andrews, we only needed a basic bus that ran on a daily cycle; however for intercity travel to Edinburgh, Aberdeen or Glasgow, a large coach bus is needed. Booking for an “Inter-City” or “Mega-Bus” should be done at least a week in advance, otherwise the bus could fill up or you will have to pay high ticket costs. I found this out the hard way when planning our first trip to Stirling to see the site of the famous Battle of Stirling and Stirling Castle. Several days before I noticed that the price of a ticket from Dundee to Stirling was 4.50 GBP, and the return trip to be 5.50 GBP. Not a bad deal, but I decided to wait till the next day when we had enough people confirmed for the trip. That day I noticed ticket prices went up considerably to 6-7 GBP and I decided we re-schedule for the next week and book the tickets that day. We used www.megabus.com to get our tickets and by using a debit or credit card, you can get your tickets electronically within minutes of booking. The total cost of the tickets was 10.50 GBP and for that we got a large coach bus with padded seating for a comfortable ride. We were ready then for our first planned trip in the UK.

The bus ride was nerve-wracking to say the least. The fact that you’re in a foreign country does not help as you don’t know where the bus is going (ours was to make stops at Perth and several smaller towns before we reached our destination) and the small roads we travelled through seemed too small to fit a single car. An hour and a half later we reached Stirling. I planned the trip so we got tickets for the 9:30 bus from Dundee so we could arrive at our destination by 11:00. Julie and I booked our tickets just before the bus filled up, leaving the rest of our party to choose the 10:30 bus. While waiting for the rest of our group to arrive, we set about exploring the town and visiting Stirling Bridge. The Battle of Stirling has been forever immortalized in the movie “Braveheart” where William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson) utter’s his famous speech ending in the dramatic battle cry of “Freedom!” However the movie could not be further from the truth; in fact in the movie, there is no Stirling Bridge. But in 1297, William Wallace did fight in the battle which resulted in the routing of a large force of English soldiers led by Edward I, leading to the creation of the nation of Scotland. Nearby lies the Wallace Monument; this rises out of the ground and is visible from the surrounding countryside. Inside is an interpretive center that talks about the life and death of William Wallace as well as the Battle of Stirling. Unfortunately we were unable to go as time constraints and walking distance dictated we schedule a separate trip. In the meantime we met up with our group who had just arrived and had McDonald’s for lunch.

I know what you’re thinking “Does it taste the same as home?” and the answer is no. Government imposed dietary regulations have resulted in smaller hamburgers, fries and soft drinks. To put this in perspective, what we in the US would consider a “small” is a UK “medium”. The beef and chicken are raised in the UK as well so the meat is not from the same cows that are raised in the United States. Also because of exchange rates, a Macdonald’s medium double cheeseburger, fries and a coke in the UK costs around 7-8 US dollars. It wasn’t very filling and for the same price you can go to a traditional Scottish pub and order something unique to the area that is also filling (more on that in my next posting). After lunch we began our trek uphill to the site of Stirling Castle; one of the most extensive and beautiful castles in Scotland. Built around 1107, the castle was strategically built on a large plateau overlooking the town of Stirling. This strategic location made it an important asset to the Scots during their war for independence. Both the Battles of Stirling (1297) and Bannockburn (1314) would not have occurred if Stirling Castle had not been built. The Castle has also played host to many famous Scottish Royals; including Alexander I, James V and Mary Queen of Scots. The Castle was added onto well into the early 18th century and was used as a fortress and barracks for the 93rd Sutherland Highlander Regiment until the 1890’s. The Castle was amazing in that the various halls, chapels and palaces made one feel like they were in a medieval maze. It was easy to get lost when focusing on the gargoyles outside the Royal Palace, the intricately weaved textiles hanging in the Chapel Royale or gazing at the lush green Scottish countryside from the 18th century battlements. We spent at least 2 hours wandering around the castle grounds and could have easily spent more as there was also the Duke of Argyll’s lodging and a textile demonstration, but we wanted to see one last thing before leaving. Towards the center of town lies the “Old Stirling Town Jail”; a relic from the Victorian Age that gives a glimpse into what it was like to be a prisoner in Scotland during the mid 19th century. The Jail is well preserved and the creepy noises of miserable prisoners given off by the surround sound system made the tour all the more impressive. Our guide was an actor of the highest character and extremely talented. Within minutes he switched roles from hangman, to warden, to prison guard and prison escapee without losing his audience; keeping us well entertained with a mix of melodrama and historic fact. The cells also contained life-like mannequins of prisoners that demonstrated daily life in the prison; such as getting inspected by the doctor, doing punishment and getting into fights. The tour was 20 minutes in length and a wonderful way to cap off the day. The site also gives ghost tours every Friday night at 8pm given by the same gentleman, we will certainly go back to Stirling again. We got a quick coffee before heading back on the bus home which arrived in Dundee by 6:30 PM.

Overall our trip was a success and cheap considering the amount of things we were able to do. The bus was 10.50 GBP, Stirling Castle was 9.50 GBP, and the Jail gave a special concession for students which amounted to 4.30 GBP. Feeling more confident we awaited our next trip to Glamis Castle and Arbroath Abbey, more on that in Part II of my Travel Log!

Stirling Trip Slideshow

Entry 3: In the Crowd-written 9/28/09

We all remember our first college party, the feeling of anticipation hoping to make new friends while enjoying the evening as we look ourselves over in the mirror hoping to give off a good first impression. Now fast-forward a year or so, your socializing gets you a throng of friends and you’ve gone to ‘80’s Night enough times to know every song by heart and you never go alone, but suddenly you are dropped someplace entirely new, with a different culture, people and none of your friends to give you that extra boost of confidence. Meeting new people in Scotland your first time abroad might at first appear challenging, but as long as you be yourself, be confident and are willing to try new things, you can make the transition into the Dundee social scene easy and fun!

When I first arrived in Scotland, I was lucky enough to be traveling with a small group of friends already; and after making more at the airport I realized that meeting people and making connections wasn’t so hard to do. We were going through the same experience of being in a foreign country for three months to a year and something as simple as that is enough to form friendships that not only last the time abroad but forever. Within minutes we were trading contact information and our flat addresses so we knew where we all lived until our computers and international cell phones were set up. No matter who or where you are, having several friends (or even just one good friend) can be enough to make you feel more at home.

As we are centrally located on campus and therefore the most convenient to get to, the flat Sydney, Julie, Lauren and I are living in has become the “de-facto” meeting place if we decide to go out to a pub or club, have a group dinner, travel meeting or just hang out. In fact we have so many people over and get along so well, we have been called “The Cool Flat” by our next door neighbors.
In order to survive mentally and physically abroad, you have to learn to work together. After our first exciting, yet un-nerving night in Scotland, we realized that if we acted more as a team and less as individuals, we could make our lives more comforting and our stay in Dundee exciting and fun. For example, when shopping for our flat we try to go out in either a pair or group. I grocery shop with my other flat mate as we both eat the same foods; so when we do visit the supermarket we buy for the both of us and we each pay half. This not only saves us money, but ensures we don’t buy so much food as to take up space in our refrigerator or cause it to spoil. Likewise with cleaning essentials for our bathrooms and kitchen, we agree to share so we save money individually while helping out the flat as a whole.

The buddy system also works if one or both us is having problems either adjusting to life overseas or with school. Talking about your personal feelings with someone who you can relate to helps and gives a much needed confidence boost. This boost comes in handy especially when you go out to the student night club (or Union). At The Union, you will come face to face with students from around Scotland and the world at large. Everyone flocks to the Union throughout the day as its restaurants and sports bars give the ideal place for students to congregate and unwind from a hard day’s studies. During “Fresher’s Week”; a week long orientation session, the Union is filled to maximum capacity with students socializing in 4 separate bars and dancing the night away at “Mono”; the basement dance club. Speaking as someone who (despite similar experiences at home and a senior in college) felt like a stranger in a strange land, the prospect of going to The Union at first appeared daunting and made me feel like a freshman all over again. Luckily my friends were going as well and in that respect I didn’t feel so bad and just focused on enjoying myself and having fun. The club was loud and packed with people, and I still found it hard to start a conversation with anyone. However some of the people I did approach were very friendly and curious about where I came from, what my “Study” (or major) was, and if I enjoyed Dundee. It was strange being the center of attention all of a sudden, but when you’re the foreigner I suppose everyone is curious to hear your opinions and thoughts. I told them what British television shows i watch and what bands i listen to (most either British or Scottish in origin). It was strange as when I responded to the same questions at home I got quizzical looks and had to explain the band or premise of the show. Here everyone knew what I was talking about, and in thus it was comforting to talk to someone who could relate, despite the fact they were from another country. I finally knew what it must be like to be a study abroad student at New Paltz, some of them were in my classes last semester and I often wondered what it must be like for them to adjust to life in America; this time the roles were reversed.

After my first several nights at the Union, I was still having growing pains but slowly got more confident. Despite the accents, the slang and style of dress, Scottish students are the same as American’s when it comes to socializing with others, if you have enough confidence to walk up to someone, introduce yourself and start a conversation, you will make many friends here. In fact I’ve made a couple of friends just by doing laundry, standing in line at the student run convenience store, and waiting for class. Never underestimate the power of your own self-worth.

However if you are still having trouble meeting people, Dundee offers a variety of clubs and organizations that conform to everyone’s interests. There is an activities fair during Fresher’s Week in which one can join whatever club or sport piques their interest. For example there is a Forensic Anthropology Club, Psychology Club, Music Club, Gaming Club and LGSBT organization in addition to a variety of other groups. These clubs meet regularly and sponsor field trips, dinners, dances and events in which one will get to meet other people with a common interest. My fellow abroad students and I joined several (including The International Students Association and Peer Connections).

The latter group I highly recommend. Peer Connections is run through the International Programs Office at University of Dundee and is a discussion group made of students from around the UK and other countries and helps first year internationals get acclimated to life in Dundee while giving them a place to socialize with other students from around the world. The first time we went to a Peer Connections meeting, my friends and I took two students from Switzerland, one from Lithuania and one from Scotland out to a pub for dinner and then to The Union for drinks and dancing; needless to say they have become regulars at our flat and are the newest members to our “Family”.

As I look back at almost a month abroad, I realize how far I’ve come since those first exciting steps into Edinburgh Airport. Making a fair amount of friends from all over the world and taking part in campus activities has made me feel more than just a student from New York studying in Scotland; I finally feel a part of the campus at Dundee, meeting fellow students for tea at Costa or dinner at a local pub and taking trips with my friends to the many historic castles and sites that dot the area surrounding Dundee and Scotland as a whole. I consider myself no longer a student of SUNY New Paltz, but instead a student at The University of Dundee. If this is what anthropologists have warned against (i.e. “Going Native”) then I fear I have become their most wanted man.

Entry 2: Private Hell-written 9/21/09

Studying in another country for a year (or even a semester) can build character quickly. When abroad you are taken from your warm, safe home and are suddenly dropped in a country with a different set of cultural and educational values. The first week of my stay in Dundee has been nothing but an exercise in learning how to deal with real world problems and overcoming obstacles over 3,000 miles away from home.

Life Lesson I: Patience is a Virtue

My life lesson began almost as soon as I walked into my room. It was the first night I would be staying in Scotland and I was excited to show off the new room to a couple of my friends. We were planning on going into town to dine at one of the Scottish pubs we had seen when we first got off the bus and were meeting at my Flat before heading out. I had just to lock the key to my door and a night of taking in our new surroundings could begin. However after turning the key to lock I noticed the door didn’t close shut at all and to make things worse, the key was stuck in the tumbler. With a door that could easily be pushed open and my key now embedded in the door like “the sword in the stone” , I knew tonight’s plans were going to have to be put on hold. With that I picked up the phone and dialed maintenance. Dundee has an emergency phone line that is open 24/7 in case something should arise (such as a fire, injury, leak and being locked out). The maintenance crew arrived within 15 minutes and looked at my door; after a couple of minutes of trying to pry it out with a pair of needle nosed pliers, they decided to call the local locksmith. By this point it was 10:30 at night, I had been up for almost 24 hours and had yet to take a shower, I certainly didn’t look or feel ready to take on a pub crawl. However I still had to eagerly await the locksmith and that was torture in the cruelest sense.

Our group also felt the same and we decided to hang around the flat till late before everyone went back to their residences to get a well deserved sleep. I on the other hand continued to stand watch over my broken door like a guard at Buckingham Palace. Finally by 11:30 pm, the locksmith arrived and quickly set about trying to get the key dislodged. It turned out the only logical thing to do was to break the lock completely and remove the key that way. As the situation appeared to get bleaker and bleaker, I attempted to look on the bright side of an otherwise annoying and random event. First of all; I wasn’t locked out of the room, nor locked in, I could still get in or out. Second, the locksmith was pretty friendly and I attempted to pick up some Scottish slang from hearing him curse and try to describe to me why the lock “is all pear shaped”. At a quarter to twelve the lock was finally snapped and my key removed. As he had no exact replacement of the lock, he instead gave me a different lock with a special key before saying that he would “do his best to find a proper replacement for the dodgy one”. I thanked him for his help and finally for the first time since leaving home took well deserved shower and fell asleep; thankful that my door had been fixed and hopefully be the first and last of my problems; but it wasn’t.

Life Lesson II: The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

The next several days passed uneventfully. I went shopping in the “Wellgate” (a large mall to the east of campus on the High Street) in order to get some essentials, socialized at some of the local clubs and pubs in and around campus and bought tickets to see “The Jam”; one of my favorite bands. After a couple of days of doing this, the money I had converted at the airport was wearing thin and it was time to use the new Debit card I ordered from my local bank.

I was at first slightly worried that it might not go through as the bank that issued it only had branches in the mid-Hudson Valley and was not Federal. But noticing the MasterCard emblem and the fact there was a picture of a globe on the background gave me a slight confidence it would go through no problem. I tried to put the pin number in 3 times (thinking I had accidently typed it the wrong each time). On the 4th and last time, I struck out “Invalid Pin: Card Witheld By Bank” flashed the screen; and with that I heard the shredder within the machine swallow my only means of getting money. My heart dropped, my face paled and my knees buckled. Now I was in another country; far from home, with no bank account and only 80 Pound Stirling (roughly $160.00) in my pocket. This wasn’t as simple a problem to fix as my lock; this would require some real coordination between me and my parents.
I called home immediately after my card was swallowed; you can’t even begin to imagine how you have surreal the conversation was; “Hi mom! Oh yeah I’m fine, well actually the reason I’m calling is because my debit card got swallowed!” I was hoping that the “I’m doing well” would negate the latter part of the message, how naïve was I? We had planned for everything months in advance; we got the debit card thinking it could be used overseas and that would be my main means of getting money for travel and essential items, neither my parents nor I expected this to happen. What I got in response was “I’ll get your father”.

We worked on forming an ad-hoc “Plan B” for getting money until I could either set up a bank account with “Clydesdale Bank”; a bank located near the college that offers bank accounts for students at the University or have my parents sign for a new credit and debit card in my name and ship it to me. Luckily for me there was a Western Union station in a consignment shop not too far from campus where I could accept money orders from home. After finding out from Clydesdale that they would be unable to set up an account with me for another several weeks, I chose the latter route of Western Union money transfers; despite the fact they would charge an additional $50.00 for every order I put in. In the mean time, my parents helped set me up with a new debit card and credit card from home, and they would be sending them as soon as they arrived in the mail.

Once again, I re-assessed my situation. I was in a real bind this time; losing all of my money was one of my biggest fears before leaving the United States. Lucky for me I had two of the best parents in the world who I gave my personal information to ahead of time so they could establish a card and account for me. I also still had 80 pounds; 25 of which I spent on a printer so I could forgo paying a print quota at the library and write papers from the comfort of my room. Third; and most important in my mind, I had tickets to see one of my all time favorite rock bands! I had gone through another test of fire and came out unscathed; but I still wasn’t done.

Life Lesson III: Don’t Stop Believing

We’ve all been sick before. Living with several other people in a confined space has a way of spreading all sorts of nasty germs and diseases and we have all done the occasional phone call (or even travel) home where we can imagine ourselves in our warm beds with mom or dad making hot soup to make us feel better. But when living  in another country, you’re physically and mentally bombarded with emotions you never thought you had and “to be homesick” takes on a whole new meaning and relevance.

As my first week in Scotland drew to a close, I was feeling on top of my game. Not only had I survived the flight over, my lock being broken and my debit card getting eaten, I was making many new friends and was taking in the scenery of my new surroundings. Some of my flatmates; as well as Jen however, were going through various stages of getting sick. They all had the same basic symptoms one would expect; cough, sore throat, runny nose etc; but nothing out of the ordinary. I was almost too confident in my immune system as I interacted with my flatmates and Jen without keeping a distance. By Thursday the 10th of September however, I was feeling pretty sick. I was too sick to really get out of my flat and didn’t go out with my friends that night; thinking that rest and the Tylenol Severe Cold I had packed before leaving would do me good and by the weekend I would be much better.
Friday came and I was sicker than usual, worse still I was going out that night to see a punk concert with some of my friends. We got there at 8 pm; as the tickets said but the show didn’t start for another hour and a half. My flatmate Julie was also very ill and could only stay until the end of the first act. I thought of doing the same but I was determined to see the show through and enjoy every minute of it! For the rest of the night I forgot about being sick and head banged the rest of the evening away; it was my high point for the week.

My low point came the next day. I was achy, feverish, sore and tired. Worst of all, the medicine I brought from home wasn’t working and I was ready to give up. Instead I made the most of the situation and wrote in my journal and watched some British Television on “Youtube”. Sunday came and went as I was still sick and in a vain attempt to prove to myself I wasn’t too bad; cleaned my room and bathroom, but in the end I got worse and Monday would bring the first day of class. Most of the week to follow was a blur of head congestion and fatigue. Something had to be done.

Registering for a doctor (or “General Practitioner”) should be one of the first things you should do upon arrival in Dundee. There are several choices for you to pick and all are within distance of your flat. The “Fresher’s” page on the University of Dundee website has a list of Doctors (or “General Practitioner’s”) you can register for (http://www.dundee.ac.uk/freshers2009/living_in_dundee/gp_surgeries.htm).
Using the list, I went to Tay Court Surgery to register. The whole process took only 15 minutes and as long as you are a student with the university they will treat you the same as a citizen of the United Kingdom. Several days after registering I was almost out of medication and I wasn’t feeling any better. Assuming I had a sinus infection, I made an appointment with Tay Court.

Dealing with a Practitioner in the UK is slightly different than dealing with a US doctor. For instance there is a certain protocol that must be followed. When I called Thursday (September 17) to see a doctor; I had to give my contact information and had to wait for the nurse to contact me when she got through the previous calls. When she did call, I told her my symptoms after which she told me since they were “flu like”, I was to go through a special back entrance to the office so as to not contaminate other patients and practitioners and I was to arrive at 5:25. The outbreak of Swine Flu in the United Kingdom has caused General Practioners and hospitals to adopt this policy and it is common practice to have two separate entranceways. After arriving at the rear entrance, I was greeted by a nurse wearing full scrubs and a face mask; who pointed out which room to use. The room was a typical of one you would see at your neighborhood doctors, but as I was being treated as someone with Swine Flu, the room was covered in protective paper and I was given a mask. The doctor followed soon after and checked my throat and sinus area; giving me the “head punch” test to see if it hurt. Turns out I didn’t have Swine Flu but an a bad sinus infection; although the doctor was never convinced in the first place that I had Swine Flu at all. He jotted down a prescription for anti-biotic and told me to hurry as all the stores close at 6:00 pm. The whole checkup took 5 minutes and did not cost anything. The only thing I would pay for would be the medication which came out to 4 pounds (8 US dollars).

There are several pharmacies in Dundee, but the one most people go to is Boots, which is like a CVS or Walgreen’s. Whereas most pharmacists close before 5:30, Boots is open till 6 and I was able to get the prescription filled with no hassle. Boots also offers coupons and discounts on its items and is the cheapest to get medication.

I finally made it back to my flat, medication in hand and secluded myself for the next several days. That night I was able to talk to my parents for the first time since getting sick. The first week away from home was easy for me as I was so engrossed with my new surroundings and socializing, I even made the statement that “I could live here if I wanted”. Being sick made me realize at this point that I wished to be home in my bed surrounded by family; and the hulusitory nightmares and feverish symptoms did not help me settle into Scottish life any better. Hearing my mother’s voice over the phone made me miss home even more and there was nothing more I wanted (and I’m not afraid to admit this) was a hug from her. We talked for an hour about my day and what happened to me that week. We had communicated through e-mail once a day and talked on Skype or on the phone several times a week but this time was different. This time I really missed home.

It was at this point I realized how lucky I was to have made such good friends. All of my flat mates helped me in their own way to get me on the mend. Julie, Sydney and Lauren made dinner or did my grocery shopping and Jen checked me every day and fixed dinner as well. What void was missing from home still existed, but had shrunk because of the hard work and patience of my friends. I really couldn’t have been able to get through that week without them.

As of today (September 21), I am feeling much better and ready to continue with my courses. I also received my credit and debit cards today as well and am now financially prepared to travel and take care of unexpected problems. What I’ve learned in the first week and a half towers over anything I picked up in school. I asked in my application to Dundee that I wished to learn just as much about myself as I wanted to learn about the past. What did I learn exactly? First of all, I learned I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. I (with a little help) solved all of my problems and more importantly, solved them in a country I had never set foot on before. If I can do it in Scotland, I can certainly do it in the United States. Another lesson I learned: everything gets fixed, it’s just a matter of how. If you find yourself in a similar situation at home or abroad, remember to think positively and be patient. Being angry and frustrated solves nothing whereas a cool head and even temper will. Finally; and most importantly, never lose touch with home. An e-mail a day or a talking on Skype or the phone for a minimum of an hour with friends and family will help ease you into your new life abroad. Talking to someone from home will help add normality to your routine and home won’t seem so far away.
I learned a lot in my first week and a half abroad and I doubt that this will be the end of it. But as things are for the moment, I am planning a few trips, aspiring to meet my professor’s highest expectations and enjoying every day I wake up to a new day filled with endless possibilities.

Entry 1: Leaving on a Jet Plane-written 9/11/09

From the moment before I got on the plane to class matriculation, my first week abroad has been nothing but a learning experience I will never forget! When my two travelling partners and I were waiting for our flight to board, I kept running the same mantra in my head: “I can’t believe we’re doing this, I can’t believe we’re doing this”. It was almost like a dream. One minute you’re in the comfort of your home watching a documentary on the History of Scotland on T.V. looking at the castles and landscape saying to yourself “I wish I could be there” and in the next sitting in an airport terminal with a group of strangers eagerly awaiting that intercom call “Flight 96 to Edinburgh now boarding”. It was almost too surreal for words and I had to take several minutes to myself to get adjusted to the situation I had gotten myself into.

The first hurdle we had to cross was when our terminal had been switched last minute on account of a flight for Madrid leaving later than expected. Luckily enough the directions at the airport were clear enough that we knew where to go and have time to spare to collect ourselves for the trip yet to come. Before we knew it the time had arrived. At 8:00 PM we were told that our flight was boarding. The three of us raced slowly got in line with the rest of the passengers for the flight and we headed down the short corridor towards the waiting plane. On board we took our seats and settled in for a long flight. We were expected to arrive in Edinburgh by 7:30 AM the next day. Before taking off we overheard another passenger behind us talking about the University and it turned out to be an abroad student from North Carolina named Andy. Who would imagine running into someone from a different state going to the same university abroad and sitting right in front of them? The coincidence was almost too strange but now we added a fourth person to our abroad group.

Before we knew it we were taxiing onto the runway and preparing for take-off. The plane picked up speed going faster and faster until the front angled diagonally and the massive structure lifted off the ground. From the window I saw lights and buildings getting smaller and smaller; less familiar and more distant than they were before. The flight staff then served dinner and turned on the in-flight entertainment; so as to create a sense of normalcy, as we travelled further north-east towards Labrador and then east where we would reach our final destination of Edinburgh. I was too tired and exhausted to eat my order of micro-waved chicken and rice; opting for some television to take my mind off of the journey ahead.

One of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do was to fall asleep on an airplane. For all the courtesy of the flight crew and capability of the pilot, it is of my opinion that the airlines have a vendetta against tall people. The” pillow” we were given felt like a bag of cotton stuffing and did as much good on my lower back as it did my head and it certainly did not help that I was anxious about arriving in Scotland and taking a first glimpse at the landscape of my new temporary home. In my half dreaming, half waking consciousness I turned to my one companion in order to make an attempt at conversation. I remember at one point asking if the light on the end of the wing was the rising sun; much to my embarrassment and both of our amusement. I then turned around, closed my eyes and attempted to go back to sleep. By the next time I’d wake, it would be daylight and we would be an hour and a half away from Edinburgh.

I groggily awoke from my uneasy sleep to the sight of clouds outside my window. It looked almost like we were flying on top of a white quilt that enveloped the plane. We had our breakfast and before I knew it we were 45 minutes away from the airport. As the minutes ticked away, we began to come closer to the Scottish coast. It was a spectacular site, the likes of which I could never imagine nor forget. Green fields checker boarded with oblong plowed fields; whose boundaries were loosely outlined with stone walls and the only sign of habitation a minuscule farm house. Getting closer to Edinburgh we saw evidence of suburbs and old neighborhoods made of builds built several centuries ago but still being used by the newest of a series of owners; and just when we thought it couldn’t get more spectacular, a rainbow overhead. It was a truly glorious welcome into this amazing country. By Sunday September 5th at 7:30 AM, I was in another country, over 3,000 miles away from home and quite tired. We made our way through customs and grabbed our bags. Under the weight of our luggage we slowly made our way to the meet and greet service Dundee had sent to meet study abroad students.

The bus wasn’t due to arrive until 10:30 am so we had roughly three hours to collect ourselves. I grabbed my toothbrush and toothpaste out of my carry-on and decided to “freshen up” the best way I can. While the rest of our party grabbed breakfast, caught some sleep or wrote their thoughts down to paper. Soon we were greeted by other study abroad students. One was Katie (a classmate of Andy’s) and Sydney; who turned out to be one of my “flat mates”, from Canada. For six individuals who had just gone through jet lag and culture shock (no Coke-Cola does not taste the same as it does in the United States), we were extremely talkative; sharing stories of who we were, what we are doing and where we were going. What we didn’t know was when we were leaving the airport.

Then the time came as our school representative greeted us and took us to the bus that would in turn take us to Dundee. The airport at Edinburgh acted as a sort of “decompression room”, where we were not allowed in or out and we collectively imagined what the outside world would look like once we left the front doors. Then it hit me; “I don’t think we’re in New York anymore”. To a casual observer, Scotland may not appear strange; the people mainly speak English, live in homes complete with indoor plumbing, heating and electricity and have televisions, radios and computers. However once you get passed the surface, you realize there are very distinct and recognizable examples of how people talk and behave. The first thing I noticed was the way people drove. I know that although this may sound stereotypical and almost cliche’, the fact that people drove on the opposite side of the road from the way Americans drive the first visually recognizable difference after walking out of the airport. Once we were all seated on the bus I got an audio queue that we were in a completely different country; namely the thick Scottish brogue our bus driver spoke in. Traveling through the countryside he would point out “Coos” and “Hooses” (Cows and Houses) that would pass our windows, we all turned towards each other quizzically and muttered at the same time “I don’t know what he’s saying”. Despite these differences, there was enough similarities in the lush green Scottish countryside to remind me of home. The rolling hills and expansive farmland was not too different than that which surrounded me in New Paltz and in this I found comfort until we made it to the campus at Dundee.

Dundee is fourth largest city in Scotland with a population of over 140,000 inhabitants. Dundee has also shared the title of “The Sunniest City in Scotland” and “The City of Discovery” as many advances in the fields of science and biomedicine have been made there. The city is also known for its ship building industry and thriving port located on the River Tay; on the northeastern coast of Scotland, just below the Kingdom of Fife. One of the more famous contributions Dundee has made to the history of Science and shipbuilding is the ship RSS Discovery; which carried Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his expedition of arctic adventurers to the Antarctic during the 1901 “British National Antarctic Expedition”. The ship is now berthed in Dundee where it now resides as a museum and tourist attraction.

Another tourist attraction; and probably the most defining feature of the city, is “The Law Hil”. This “hill” is in reality a basalt plug of an extinct volcano and measures approximately 571 feet. This hill has a long history of settlement dating back to the Iron Age Pictish tribes, to Roman settlers. In 1992, a monument dedicated to the fallen heroes of World Wars I and II was constructed at the peak of and can be prominently seen from the University of Dundee Campus.

Founded in 1881, the University of Dundee is best known for its schools of Medecine, Law and Dentistry; however the main campus at the city’s west end also houses the Duncan of Jordanstone school of Art and Design and thus has a flourishing Art and Life Sciences Program.

The Dorm (or “Flat”) where I would be living in (Belmont Flats), is located in the northwestern part of campus off of Old Hawkhill, which is near the Student Union (a three story multipurpose night club and event center created for the students), the Library and Chaplaincy center. The flats vary on amenities based on price and location; Belmont being on the center of campus was one of the best flats to choose as it had six separate bedrooms with a personal bathroom (including sink, toilet and shower) and internet. There is also a common room complete with working kitchen and living space. Our bus stopped at the “Sanctuary Building”, where we picked up the keys to our rooms. Each key chain comes equipped with a plastic “fob” or scanner key that lets you into the lobby of the residence, a flat key; which opens the main door to the flat you are staying in, a room key that is used to access and lock your bedroom, and a cub board key that opens your own personal cub board in the kitchen. The key chain also has a small purple token that can be used to get a discount on the local bus (or “trolley”) that takes you to the supermarket in the center of town. The helpful university staff helped us with our bags and we got on the elevator; who greeted us with the sterness of Super-Nanny “Doors Opening, Doors Closing, Fifth Floor”. I had no idea elevators talked until now!

Sydney and I finally reached our flat on the top floor of Belmont Flats and began the long process of settling in. we first wandered around the kitchen and common room like puppies being brought into a new home (and looking at all of the weird electrical sockets). Then we opened the doors to our rooms and marveled at the view! I could see the Dundee Law from mine and a beautiful panorama of the city and Sydney’s opened towards campus and the rising sun. Having our own bathrooms was also a novelty; especially for Jen and I for even in SUNY New Paltz as nice as the dorms and rooms may be, bathrooms and showers are a shared affair; both of us found it strange to finally have one to ourselves. As I put my clothes away and my bedding down, I sat up on my bed admiring the view of the setting sun as it went over a somewhat cloudy sky and hearing the ambient noise of people going about their lives as normal. Unbeknown-st to them of the amazing journey Jen, Laura, Andy and I had all just taken. I shut my eyes slightly to let the moment sink in and opened them once more, saying to myself: “I think I’m going to like being an American in Scotland”.

Epilogue to Day 1:

Since moving into our flat, Sydney and I were joined by three more girls: Julie (from Chicago), Cho (from China) and Lauren (from Scotland). Our flat was recently rounded out by the arrival of a study abroad student from the Netherlands. Jen (living in Seabraes Flats with similar accommodations) has several roommates from Scotland, France and Germany. Laura (who lives in Tay Mills with Andy whom we met on the plane) rooms with a girl from Lithuania and several other flat mates from the UK. Katie (also living in Belmont Flats) has roommates from Scotland, the UK and Ireland. Finally we met another student from the United States; Ashley who lives in the flat next to ours. This will certainly be a VERY international experience!