Archive for November, 2009

st. andrews day

Hi. My name is Sarah Morris and I am an expert finder of free things to do in Edinburgh. Yesterday, I convinced Ali to become a tourist with me and go see the Bagpipes and Drums procession down the Royal Mile up to the Castle. There were 5 or 6 different groups of bagpipers and drummers that went up the Mile in waves, and after the last wave the whole crowd of onlookers followed the procession up to the Castle where all the groups ended with a rowdy rendition of Scotland the Brave. Mmmm I still haven’t gotten sick of that song yet. Then we perused the Christmas markets again… I think we should play a game to see who can find the tackiest hat. It’s obviously a game the Scots set up for us to play. Ali found this one. Any hat that looks like a monkey is eating your face is a must-have I think.

 St. Andrews Day did aid quite a bit as the free activity provider. It’s really the ideal holiday for students at university because we either don’t have class or can skip it and everyone else has to go to work/school while we go off and do free things all day. This morning, I made Ali wake up at the buttcrack of dawn (literally, sunrise is at 8:30 or something ridiculous like that) and she in turn made her flatmates wake up early as well and we all took the bus down to Edinburgh Zoo. ‘Cause it was free today!

 This is at the wolverine cage as we all looked for Hugh Jackman.

We did end up seeing some animals actually. Of course, the penguins…  always a crowd-pleaser. And hands down our favorite bit were the baboons. Look at the wee baby one!  

Later on, Ali and I kept the spirit of free going as we toured Edinburgh Castle. Normally, admission’s like £12, which is absolutley horrendous. We got there towards nightfall so it was really pretty with all the lights down below on Princes Street. We saw the Royal Crown Jewels of Scotland (ooohhh shiny things.), a really old chapel (like 12th century old), and the room where King James VI of Scotland was born. Literally. This was the spot where Queen Mary popped him out of her uterus on June 19, 1566.  Well, we guess. There was a stain, we guessed that was the spot. 

Finally, we ended the night with a fireworks show from the castle. Uh-maze-zing. Waayyy better than those dinky Guy Fawkes Day fireworks.

Oh man, I am so ready for New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh…


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After a couple days of absolute rubbish weather, yesterday was actually sunny and NOT raining… something we were extremely thankful for. Claire came in from Glasgow and we rushed off *starving* to Pizza Express, which is in fact quite a posh restaurant, despite the name. We each got a pizza (with my 2-for-1 voucher!) and had the most fabulous thanksgiving meal. Then we headed over to St. Giles’s Cathedral on the Royal Mile for the annual Norwegian Carol Concert. The cathedral setting with the choir and the organ and musicians with names like Ole Jacob and a message by Reverend Torbjørn made Claire and I really excited… especially when everyone in the congregation got to sing part of a carol in Norwegian! (even though Claire and I sucked it up and failed miserably at trying to suppress our laughter, the woman behind us was owning it.) 

Then it was off to the Christmas markets! We only hit the German market (which was a bit crap) but what we were really after was the glühwein and desserts.

Why would we be missing turkey and stuffing when we can load up on pizza, mulled wine, chocolate marshmellows and waffles?  And now at least it’s acceptable to start listening to Christmas music

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It was, in fact, the entire play acted out by transvestites.

(Ok, not real trannies, but still quite entertaining.)

All the girls were forced to sit on one side of the theatre, the boys on the other, and the actors had all switched gender roles and made the effort to sit in the audience and converse with us throughout the show. (Ali had to endure “Bianca” asking to paint her nails and marvel at her makeup mirror.) Plus we got free chocolate coins and biscuits! Success.

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Being woken up by the fire alarm for the fourth night in a row and having to stand outside in the cold was made more bearable tonight because of the girl in her pajamas playing this on the accordian.

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i read a whole book!

I decided to read this book.  9780061971297

Being the extremely frugal person that I am, I looked for used books on Amazon. Still, buying used was going to cost me a week’s worth of groceries. Low and behold, the only place where I could obtain a free copy was from the National Library of Scotland. I woke up this morning, stood in line at the library with the other go-getters with their laptops and notebooks at the bottom of the stairs until the ropes were unhooked at precisely 10 o’clock, and I laughed to myself as I walked slowly behind the mad dash of middle-aged gentlemen actually sprinting up the steps to the reading room. What the hell were they researching anyway? Had they all gone back to university during a midlife crisis? You’d never see students my age racing up the stairs to do research.

So with nothing but my locker key and my library card I went to the desk to obtain my book. When I opened it, I believe I was the first one after the person who put the barcode label on the inside cover to ever open it. It was just published this year, and I’m actually not quite sure why the National Library had this book among all the books from hundreds of years ago that you need to rest on foam shelves to read and use snake-like weights to keep the pages down. But I’m not complaining. I got the only free copy of this book in all of Edinburgh. And even though I had to read it sitting at a huge table in an uncomfortable desk chair, I did it. I read it all. All today. In two intervals (against my will) because I had to go home to eat. (You can’t check out books from the National Library. You have to read the books and take notes in the reading room. You must deprive yourself of food and water for the entire time it takes you to get your information. I am not able to last for more than 2 hours.)  For some reason I was absorbed in it. Please note, this never happens. Books don’t ever grasp me anymore like they used to, at least very rarely. But I didn’t want to stop reading. I had to though, or my stomach growls would have disturbed the unnecessarily excited middle-aged researchers.

I have been struggling with a lot of things since I moved here. More than I anticipated. I honestly anticipated no struggles. You’re laughing… but really. I thought I could delete my baggage like I delete files from my computer. But turns out, your mind doesn’t work like a recycle bin. Mostly, I’ve been trying to appreciate the world around me more by seeing everything as a gift to me. The scenery, the weather, the sunset… everything is a little gift for me from God. After reading this book, I’ve realized I’ve been making the world and the people in it characters in my own play. The people I pass on the street had no stories, they were simply people judging my clothing choices. The kids walking home from school in their plaid uniforms talking loudly and blocking the sidewalks were there to color my day. In fact, I am not the center of the universe. Each of these people are in their own worlds, and I am just a character in their play. I also realized I don’t look at people I pass in the street. For some odd reason, I don’t want them to wonder why I’m looking at them, so I don’t. But when I left the library today, I looked at each of their faces as I passed. The closer I came to passing them, the closer I could see their faces and the wrinkles and the glasses and the bald spots and the flushed cheeks. When I looked inside the buses at the people in their seats, I saw little visible inner dialogues floating above their heads. I tried to imagine just for the split seconds I saw each person what their world looked like at that moment. The toddler in the stroller underneath his blanket with one kicking, socked foot hanging out obviously was not as cold as the rest of us bundled in our scarves and coats. The schoolboy I heard outside the convenience shop asking his mates “Which one of us has the bigger television?” was trying to figure out how best to maximize his movie-viewing experience that afternoon. The little boy in his uniform shorts and knee socks adjusting his huge backpack was maybe thinking “I’m so cold, why didn’t I wear long pants today? I hope my mom has some hot tea and biscuits for me when I get home.” The baby hanging lifelessly in his mother’s arms with his eyes shut and his head bobbing along with her steps was like “Gahhhh, this is soooooo comfortable…”

It is so hard to be in tune with the world. It has been two months of me trying to be more in tune, and I’m still struggling. It helps to switch off the computer. That’s a big step. Praying helps, especially out loud, although not loud enough for the flatmates to hear and think I’m talking to myself. Another thing I got from the book today has to do with the issue of prayer. You know when you pray and pray and you don’t get an answer? And you get frustrated because there’s absolutely nothing? The answer is actually our longing for one.

‘Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one`s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.’ Mahatma Gandhi

I stepped out of the library and actually forgot where I was. But it was getting dark… at 3:30. So I walked over to the Meadows: my current favorite walk in Edinburgh. I’ve yet to feel anything other than happy and content when I walk through the Meadows. Today, despite the slushy grass and gloomy weather, there were footballers (soccer, you Americans) running about. One even stopped to check the bottom of his cleats, which I found quite funny seeing as how his entire body from the waist-down was splattered with mud.



I also struggle with the ability to find an outlet for the thoughts in my head. I thought about sketching, buying a sketchbook to sketch or write things in. But I couldn’t think what I would put in it. I’m creatively frustrated, yes, but not in a tortured artist kind of way. In a sketchbook or journal, only I would see it, and actually the second part of my struggle is wanting to share the things in my head with other people. It’s not enough for me just to get them out on a page. I want to tell people. I can’t write a book, so I guess this is why I have this blog. I’m actually angry at the fact that I have a blog most of the time because there’s no way any of you can actually understand what I see here everyday because you’re not here. I think you’ll judge me by the things I choose to show and write about. Well, tough. Judge me all you want, I’ve got a messload of thoughts in my head and they’re coming out. If I could write a book and know it would get published, then I’d do that. Then all the readers of it would be my faux-companions in my little Scottish adventure. But for now anyone who reads this is my faux-companion, because I can’t live here and experience things everyday like I do and not tell people about it. Until I become a starving, tortured artist, this is how I’m going to unload my head.

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I am in Scotland, and sometimes I forget that. Today I took a step to put an end to that nonsense… Castle fieldtrip! (Cue the bagpipes.)


                 (secret pathway to the castle)PB072134Copy of PB072146 

^ view from the castle ^




Ali’s sweet camera PB072145




                  castle sunset

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Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

PB052069…way to suck it up on the fireworks, Edinburgh. 

But no worries. I still fully appreciate Britain’s national holiday celebrating some guy’s plot to blow up parliament. Any excuse to build bonfires and break out the pyrotechnics.

So the hike up to Arthur’s Seat to watch the display was a bust, but my new friend Ali and I headed to the Forest Café to check out what free gig was going on tonight. (The Forest = free EVERYTHING… including yoga classes which were cancelled tonight. we drowned our sorrows in vegan chocolate cake from downstairs. very counter-productive.) We staked out a couch and ordered pita and hummus to go with our homemade concoction of elderberry organic soda and some vodka Ali was carrying around in her purse. We’re classy like that, I know.


Then we had a chat with a guy who sat with us who turned out to be the trumpet player in the band- folksy/bluesey/1950’s rock? It was quite entertaining actually… girls were dancing up by the stage, there was a little Bobby Dylan to be heard, some guy was playing a box? It wasn’t a box though, it was actually an instrument – as Trumpet Joe informed us- but we still thought it was a box.


Cheers to Guy Fawkes.

And cheers to hippies.

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Behold! Our Loch Ness monster pumpkin.

 And no, that is not a dorsal fin, it’s Nessie’s other arm. Carving pumpkins is hard.

 So I hopped it on over to Glasgow for the weekend. We toasted pumpkin seeds with Claire’s flatmates, contemplated the reason for crisps having flavors like steak ‘n onion, crunchy bacon and roasted chicken (why, Britain? why?) and agreed the crap market in Glasgow’s east end  is definitely not as good as the one in Romania. (Although I did buy a cheesy Scottish flag.  and it’s amazing.)

Sunday night, Claire took me to ‘the whisky bar’. Mental image: a dark room with long wooden benches and tables full of candles stuffed in old whisky bottles, packed with people with pints in their hands, old musicians in the corner like they’re just hanging out in someone’s living room singing songs and backing each other up with their violins, guitars, mandolins, cello, flute, kazoo, djembe, banjo… We thought the bagpiper was the best part until he leaned over and (from what I got from his Glaswegian mumblings) suggested with a smirk that we young ladies go out and find something more fun to do with our night (thanks, bagpiper…) We sang along when they asked everybody to join in and Claire complimented the banjo man (who looked like Santa) on his fantastic banjo skills. I informed the old guitar player sitting next to us (who had a ridiculous amount of pints in the course of the evening) that his version of ‘New Shoes’ was much better than Paulo Nutini’s. Also had my first dram of scotch whisky. Yessss.

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