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The Tartan Stag

Time May 24th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

I’ve talked about The Tartan Stag once or twice on earlier posts. I have not talked about it enough. If you’re looking for something about the big sites in Edinburgh, the castle and the palace and all that, I direct you to the list of lovely other bloggers at the left of your screen. Don’t get me wrong. The big, fancy sites are great. But when I go back to Edinburgh, I’ll be going back for The Tartan Stag.

It was my friend Dan who found them, on the first day or so in our dorms. Dan, if you hadn’t been so exhausted from travelling that you went without food for eighteen hours, wandered hungrily into the streets and into the first cafe you saw, we might never have found the Stag. Points to you. Read More »


The Teapot Incident

Time May 16th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

Last blog, I informed you of a daring expedition to be undertaken by an intrepid teapot. The vessel was to embark on a day-by-day journey from door to door down the hallway, out and around the floor, and finally back to where it began. It was not to be seen in its movements. It was to report back daily.

It never made it back. It is unclear exactly what happened to the agent, whether it was abducted, destroyed, or met some other cruel fate on its perilous journey. At last report, it had made it to the halfway stage, having made several daring movements when no one was looking. At the time of its next movement, it had gone. As it had suffered several unscheduled movements at the hands of some other besides its courier, the absence was initially of no concern. However, a careful search of the floor yielded no clues as to the teapot’s whereabouts. After a period of forty-eight hours without contact, it was declared MIA. Read More »


Postcards and Teapot Plots

Time May 2nd, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | 1 Comment by

The Isle of Skye is a ridiculously good looking place. Seriously. If you told me its main export was postcards, I would believe you. All those pictures of rolling green hills and white, cloudy skies, and the sparkling sea and all that? It’s all real. And yes, it looks that good.

The wildest thing really was the weather. In the course of thirty minutes, it would go from clear skies to gray and snowy and then back to clear skies again. I am not exaggerating in any way. I have pictures on my phone to prove it. It was never a full whiteout or anything. But when you weren’t looking, little storms would sneak up behind you, start hailing miserably for a minute, and then innocently look the other way when you turned around to give it an accusatory look.

It was particularly interesting when we climbed the Old Man of Stor. It’s a mountain. Or the side of the mountain. Still not clear on that. Point is, it was probably a thirty or forty-five minute hike to the top, we spent maybe another thirty minutes up there, and then coming back down might have taken thirty, as well. So, all in all…hang on, doing math…an hour and a half to an hour and forty five. Less than two hours. In that time, the weather switched four times, from clear to snowy to clear to snowy to clear again. And there was another batch of dark clouds coming when we got on the bus. Read More »


God Help Me, I’m Going to Miss Haggis

Time April 13th, 2016 in College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

I don’t know when it happened, but they got me. Those Scots finally got me. I now officially enjoy a meal that consists of various sheep innards wrapped in other various sheep innards. I see haggis on my plate and think, “Oh, yum. Let’s eat that first.” I have tried hamburgers with haggis as a topping and found it delicious. I’m sitting here writing this in the morning before breakfast, and my stomach is growling at me to go find and eat some haggis. Read More »


The Easter Blog that has Nothing to do with Easter

Time March 28th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

Still here. Not dead. Just really busy.

It having been a full three weeks since the last entry, here’s the rundown for today’s catch-up blog:

  1. Homestay weekend
  2. Family visit
  3. Girlfriend visit
  4. Midterms
  5. Argyll Forest
  6. Tartan Stag (and Talisker the Kitten)

Please note that these events are not necessarily in chronological order, but rather in order of when they popped into my head. Anyway:

Read More »


I Swear I’m Almost Sorry this is Late

Time March 1st, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

I realized a bit late that I had not done my blog post for this week. And by this week, I mean last week, because even though I’m writing this on Saturday, I don’t think it will go out until Monday.

I’ve been a bit busy this week, dividing my time between writing essays and being sick (yes, still sick). I’ve also spent a fair amount of it being lazy, but normally I don’t have being sick on my plate, as well, so I can usually squeeze in some actual productivity between bouts of laziness. Read More »


Sick of Being Sick

Time February 17th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

This post is later than usual. I do not care. I am sick.

Before I go any further, I should probably warn you, my kind, innocent, oblivious reader, that I am currently quite frustrated. I am right now sitting on a hotel bed in London, but unable to go to awesome things like St. Paul’s Cathedral because my throat has been killing me for the past few days. Why does this matter for you? Because I have lost all human empathy. It’s gone. Poof. This cold, which has taken up seemingly permanent residence within my chest, has made me into a callow, coughing carapace, devoid of human warmth.

I am, in a word, grumpy.

It also matters for you because very little worth recording has actually happened in the last few days. My current plan for this entry is to rant in increasingly ridiculous ways about this cold. And probably not much else. So, as my last act as a compassionate human being, I advise you to leave if this does not sound like an interesting subject.

Normally, semester sicknesses come in waves. Normally, you get sick once at the end of the first month, and then once more around the third or fourth. This bout has blindsided me. I had hoped to get some real work done over the weekend, considering my plans to go to London. Work did not happen. Not enough, anyway.

And one would think that, after having sufficiently impeded my productivity, this early plague would have felt its job complete and left me to my own devices (after all, I am more than capable of shirking work on my own, thank you very much). But no! This was no ordinary, lackadaisical cold. This was an overachieving cold. This cold decided that a weekend’s worth of workless, wasted time was only the first of its duties. Had I been expecting clear sinuses when I got on my Monday morning train? Ho-ho! And had I hoped to fall asleep, wake up, eat food, or do things of any description without hacking enough to shame fur ball-spewing cats? This, too, proved beyond my fortunes, for my cold was–and is, as I write this–determined to prove itself a champion, a paradigm of parasites, a real role model for other colds. This cold is running the cold marathon: six days and counting.

The fever, at least, is gone. And in this, I take some grim satisfaction. For I know that the its passing indicates the (hopefully painful) obliteration of countless rhinoviruses.

Yes, I am feeling schadenfreude towards a cold. Shut up.

And I’m sure that some people might consider all this to be something of an overreaction to getting sick. Those people are right, but it’s all I had to write about. It was either this, or a meditation on the patch of white on my ceiling that’s slightly whiter than the rest of the ceiling. So you’re welcome. I spared you from a blog about watching paint dry.


Time You Will Never Get Back

Time February 8th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

It has come to my attention that there are people who actually read this blog.

Why? You do realize that it’s just me rambling on my laptop for a half-hour, don’t you? That you’d be far better off doing just about anything else with your lives? cIf you’re so inclined to read, why not something worthwhile? Maybe a good novel, the New York Times, or the nutrition facts on a water bottle? All contain more substantial, more life-informing content than what you are reading here.

See? You just spent a good few seconds reading all that. In that time, you could have gotten up, walked over to the microwave, and put in a packet of popcorn. It would have been popping right now, and in another minute or so you could have had popcorn. I assure you, that hypothetical popcorn would have been more edifying and edible than this blog.

You’re still there. At least, I’m assuming you’re still there. If you’re not, then you haven’t read far enough to contradict the statement that you’re still there. Thus, all things considered, I feel safe in asserting that you are, in fact, still there. But you shouldn’t be.

But fine. If you’re so insistent on wasting your time, I suppose I shall indulge you.

Thursday and Friday of last week were particularly eventful, in that events happened. Namely, I managed to make myself travel to Greyfriars Kirkyard and up to the top of Arthur’s Seat.

The former, for those who don’t know, is a graveyard. Or a churchyard, I suppose, “kirk” being an old Northern Britain term for “church.” But it’s a graveyard; there are dead people buried there. Among the more well known of Greyfriars’ long-dead are Thomas Riddell, inspiration for Harry Potter’s Tom Riddle. For many, his grave is the main attraction, and I find it quite amusing to consider that, every year, lots of people come to lay flowers in remembrance of a fictional character at the grave of a real man. I’m not really commenting on that, either way, I just find it interesting.

In addition, one of the more hilarious graves belongs to William McGonagall, who might (or might not, I don’t know) have been inspiration for the Hogwarts professor. To be accurate, the grave itself is not the hilarious part. Rather, I find it funny that, while the fictional character in this case is a steel-eyed transfiguration master, the real-life McGonagall is widely recognized as having been the single worst British poet in history.

Arthur’s Seat was less funny, but still quite enjoyable. I made the split-second decision after leaving class on Friday and realizing that if I sat down in my room, I would be unlikely to get up again except for dinner. If I had planned my spontaneity better, I would have picked a day with better weather. It was far from pouring, only a slight drizzle, but neither was it the warmest of days. Not to mention that the wind–which blows across Scotland with such force that a sail of great enough size might carry the whole country off into the Arctic Sea–was particularly fierce across the unguarded faces of the mountain. That’s not to say it was unpleasant. On the contrary, if I’m going to climb an extinct volcano, it seems appropriate that the elements should suit the occasion. But it was also cold.

Nevertheless, I climbed, conquered, and posted pictures to Facebook. And then, in another burst of ill-conceived spontaneity, I decided to take the hard way down.

Whereas the easy path up and down has steps, the hard way has, well, not steps. Sort of. Suffice to say, there were several points at which I had to sit down and scoot, rather than risk slipping on the drizzle-slicked stone. Not my brightest move. But I made it, so ha.

I also participated in the Murder Mystery Society’s weekend event (which was a murder mystery, in case that wasn’t clear). The host had constructed a theme based on role-playing board games, and my character ended up being Ardred, a fascinatingly stupid orc with a poor grasp of grammar. I spent most of the evening concocting complicated murder plots in simple, broken syntax. Sample utterances were “Ardred strong,” or “Ardred punch bad man,” or, when running for mayor in the game, “Ardred promise aggressive foreign policy.”

And with that, I come to another abrupt end. I really have nothing more to say, though I should probably apologize for the weird, old-fashioned sentence structure in this entry. I’ve just been reading Magnus Merriman for class, and I’m afraid it has infected my writing with a pretentious over-stylization for the next few hours, at least.


Shortbread, Shout-outs, and Short-term Memory Loss

Time February 3rd, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

I can’t remember the thing I was going to write about.

It was really funny, too. I thought of it last Thursday, or maybe Friday, and I thought, “Hahaha! That’s so ridiculously funny that I have to put it my next week’s blog lest I be smote by the gods of comedy for my negligence.” So I’m expecting hilarious thunderbolts to start dropping from the sky any minute now, because I can’t, for the life of me, remember what it was. Read More »


When You Sing “Rain, Rain, Go Away,” the Rain Goes to Scotland

Time January 25th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

So, week four. Things are moving quickly. It’s weird to think that my home institution just got back to school on the 19th. They’ve only had one week of classes, so far. Of course, they’ve probably already had more class hours than me (I only have three classes a week, if you haven’t read the last entry. At least I think it was the last entry. I can’t be bothered to check, and let’s be honest, can you be bothered, either?)

Meanwhile, my family back home is living under twenty inches of snow. Which might not be so Twilight Zone-ish if I weren’t talking about Richmond, Virginia. Yes, Richmond, Virginia is currently settled nice and cozy beneath over two feet of snow. I realize this has very little to do with Scotland, or with my being in Scotland, or with the various Scotland-oriented things I’m doing, but still. I cannot in good conscience neglect passing on information that can only indicate a coming apocalypse.

And apparently the same storm that brought Richmond its snow is crossing the Atlantic right now. It’s going to put the UK under about six inches…of rain. So it’s nice to know that some things never change.

In case you were not aware, it rains in Scotland. Quite a bit. Nothing torrential, usually. Just clouds spitting at you as you walk to class. There was one period without rain. Still cold, but a bit of sun and blue skies and all. That period lasted about thirty-six hours. Then it rained again. And in case you were wondering, yes, it is currently raining as I write this.

Ever sing the song, “Rain, rain, go away” as a kid? Ever wonder where it “goes away” to?

I caught my first Scottish cold, early last week. It’s like a normal cold, except Scottish, so your skin turns an odd shade of plaid, and whenever you sneeze, it sounds like bagpipes.

Some of that might not be true.

In other, less bleak news (although I actually like the rain, and the cold meant I got to sleep in a bit), I’m starting to get a handle on the “school” part of this whole study abroad thing. From what I gather, the secondary reading list is basically like a pool of suggested resources for essays and exams. They don’t seem to be as critical for routine class sessions. There’s a weekly “core” reading that we’ll almost certainly discuss in class, but it’s not huge. Enough to fill up the time to an extent, but not huge. So I’m feeling more confident on that front. Now I just have to figure out some way to get myself out of bed to do the work. But, eh, I’ll figure that out tomorrow.

Now it’s time for the first and (probably) last installment of How on Earth Do You Pronounce That? Scotland Edition.

Try to pronounce the following word:


You failed. How do I know? Because it’s pronounced “kaylee,” and no thinking person would look at that word and think that’s how it’s pronounced.

In any event, it’s a traditional Scottish dance party of sorts. A bunch of people get together wearing kilts, which I did not have, and perform a bunch of traditional Scottish dances, which I did not know. Fortunately, nobody else seemed to have much of an idea what they were doing, either. It was a blast. At one point, during the chaotic mess of a maneuver known as the “grand chain,” I suddenly found myself partnered with a slightly tipsy guy who, to my knowledge, had not been taking part in the dance to that point. Exchanging shrugs, we performed the next spin together, and I somehow ended up in the women’s line. That was about par for the course. Like I said, it was a blast.

I’m hungry, now, and don’t have a witty way to conclude this entry. So I’m going to dinner. Bye.


Monday, Murder, and Marginally Radioactive Rust

Time January 18th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

It’s Sunday, again. I’ve got class tomorrow. Huh.

That’s not to say that I didn’t expect I’d have class, here. I did realize it was a definitely possibility that I would have to attend classes while studying abroad.

What I didn’t expect was that I’d have only six hours of class time a week. I go to class on Monday from nine to eleven, on Thursday from nine to eleven, and on Friday from eleven to one.

Hence the “huh.” Because going to bed knowing that I’ll have to wake up for class tomorrow isn’t my normal routine at this point. Nor will it be my normal routine while I’m here. Class is actually a relatively rare thing.

But it’ll be happening tomorrow. So that means I’ll have to go to bed at a reasonable hour, or something. We’ll see. I really can’t say at the moment whether that will happen or not.

What I’m more worried about is whether I’ll be feeling well enough to go. I’m starting to come down with something, I think. And given that class is, as we’ve discussed, something of an oddity, it seems like it would be a real shame to miss it.

Actually, though, it’s kind of weird to think about. There are twelve weeks of instruction. Just twelve. Being sick for one of my classes means I’m missing a one-twelfth of my scheduled contact hours with the professor. That’s a pretty big hole in the semester, right there. Plus, being sick is no fun. Given the choice between being sick and being not sick, I would choose the latter at least nine times out of ten.

But you know what is fun? Actually…well, that was supposed to be a lead-in to the fact that I tried Irn Bru (Scotland’s unofficial national soft drink), but it was honestly just sort of meh. It tasted a bit like flat orange soda with an aftertaste of bubblegum. Not bad bubblegum, mind you. Definitely at least as good as Juicy Fruit. But still. Not what I’m looking for in my soft drink. Also, it’s orange. A strange shade of orange. Like…rust. Marginally radioactive rust. Just look it up, you’ll see.

Oh, and apparently, the way they formulate Irn Bru in Scotland doesn’t meet standards for the FDA in America. So the Irn Bru they have here is illegal in the US. Which is at least a little bit fun.

And where did I try this Irn Bru? (He said, segueing into something else). Why, at Murder Mystery Society!

Yes, Murder Mystery Society, where a bunch of goofball college students get together and play murder mystery games…. No, that’s pretty much it.

I mean, it’s a lot of fun. But it’s exactly what it sounds like. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play, given that I was too late to sign up for one of the parts, but I did get to go hang out/watch/make snide comments behind people’s back. And that was good, because I definitely needed something to do. Was just about mad from boredom.

So I watched a bunch of people prance around as Disney Villains for a few hours (that being this week’s theme), helped out the hosts a little bit, and then drank their Irn Bru. It was great.

Today, I had fencing. It was also great. They’re much better than me. I couldn’t ask for anything better.

Actually, though. I got to fence someone who competes in global championships. I don’t know what league, but still. It was amazing. She wiped the floor with me, obviously, but I’m looking forward to practicing around/squaring off against these people more. If I actually put some work into it, it’ll do wonders for my skills. Because, these people, they’re really good.

I mean, they’re also, like, nice and friendly and intelligent and good-looking and stuff. Which is cool, I suppose.

But yeah. They’re really good.



No, that’s it. I’ve got nothing more. Don’t you have anything else to do?



To do lists

Time January 11th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

I am in Scotland. No, really. And it’s pretty cool.

Well, it’s also cold, raining a lot, and I’ve spent the past few days listening to various people tell me the million things I need to do to get ready for classes to start. It’s all very helpful, but it’s still a lot. At the moment, my to-do list looks something like this:

  1. Speak with personal tutor to confirm attendance.
  2. Purchase bedding.
  3. Figure out how a duvet works.
  4. Figure out what a duvet is. 
  5. Figure out how to join clubs.
  6. Join clubs.
  7. Try not to get kicked out of clubs.
  8. Actually speak with someone who doesn’t go to my college back home.
  9. Write this blog.
  10. Setup meeting with Student Disabilities Center.
  11. Find Student Disabilities Center.
  12. Trek halfway across rainy city to Student Disabilities Center.
  13. Slay dragon guarding entrance to Student Disabilities Center.
  14. Return dragon’s head to personal tutor as proof of attendance.
  15. Eat.

And so forth. There’s more, but that’s the gist of it.

Eh, writing it all down, it doesn’t sound that bad. It’s just a lot to process, and not a lot of time to process it in. To be fair, IFSA-Butler’s been really helpful in helping us get a lot of this stuff out of the way, early. Deirdre, especially. I have no idea how she does it, but she knows everything about everyone in the program. (Seriously, if you’re reading this, and you’re going to be studying abroad through IFSA-Butler, go to Edinburgh. I’m sure those other places are nice and historic and all, but they don’t have Deirdre. The woman somehow manages to deal personally with over ninety students, very few of whom have even the faintest idea what they’re doing.)

On another, random note, I have now tasted haggis. It’s not bad, actually. I mean, not something I’ll be ordering every day, but still, not bad. About the consistency of ground beef, but a bit chewier. A bit more bitter, as well. For those of you who don’t know what haggis is, it’s basically various sheep viscera minced together on a plate. As in, heart, liver, lungs, with the stomach wrapped around it all. Yeah. That said, apparently it’s sometimes served with onions…I have not had it with onions.

In other news, the city of Edinburgh is shockingly gorgeous. We stayed the first few nights in a hotel, with a great view of the castle. You know, the two-thousand year old castle that’s just casually sitting up on the hill. Oh, and the Holyrood Palace. And the famous Royal Mile street. And the Scottish Parliament building. And Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano (which sits right outside my window). The pubs are nice, too.

I’ve been walking around with Dan (friend from home college) whenever we’ve had the freedom and the will to do so. So far, we’ve only been to the Holyrood Palace. It’s awesome and you should go right now. I don’t care that you’re in another country. Seriously, though, it’s got a lot of really cool stuff from way, way back when. The bedroom of Mary, Queen of Scots, classical swords, a skull of some famous dead guy whose name I can’t remember, portraits of monarchs going back to around 300 BC, classical swords, a cafe that serves really good hot chocolate, and classical swords. (I like fencing, remember?)

Anyway, I should really mention this one last thing for anyone who’s considering coming to Edinburgh but feels nervous about interacting with a new culture/people: go to The Tartan Stag. It’s a tiny little restaurant near Pollock Halls, and it’s run by the friendliest couple in the world. There are about five tables in this place, and it serves great breakfast. I hadn’t been sitting down for five minutes before they asked me how my Christmas was, and we started talking for the rest of the meal. I went on the second day after IFSA-Butler moved us into our campus accommodations, and I had been feeling a little stressed about how I was going to be social (which surprised me, because I’m usually brash and arrogant enough to feel at ease in almost any company). But I went to The Tartan Stag for breakfast and came out feeling like I could actually do this Scotland thing. I highly, highly recommend it if you feel uncertain about how to start talking with these strange foreigners.

I’ll get a picture of the place, as well as pictures of a bunch of other things. I still haven’t figured out how to put them up, yet. I’ll get on it right after I slay that stupid dragon.



Something about Haggis

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | 1 Comment by

It’s ten minutes to midnight, the day before I leave. I’m apparently awake enough to write this.

I supposed to be expecting something, aren’t I? I guess I forgot about that. Well, now’s as good a time as any, I suppose.

Haggis. I expect haggis. And kilts. I hereby expect those, too. Beyond that, well, I’m kinda blanking. I know this is supposed to be some giant, life-changing thing, and the last thing I want to do is sound cynical about it. I really am excited. I just don’t really know what I’m excited about, as it were. Not that haggis and kilts aren’t fascinating, but hell if I know what I’m going to see besides that.

I’m definitely excited, though. And so is my family. My little sister and her friends spent a good hour cutting out pictures and decorations for me to put on the bulletin board in my dorm. (They got really into it. I’m going to add a picture of it if I can ever figure out how this post editor thing works. If not, it’ll be in the next post). And the family as a whole went out to a really nice dinner, just because I’m leaving soon. It was great. Steak is tasty. We’ll have to see how haggis compares.

Come to think of it, maybe they’re a bit too excited that I’m going…

Well, in any event, I got everything packed. By which I mean mom got everything packed, while I stood by and watched.

Apparently I have a lot of sweaters.

And now for a random change of pace: I realize I don’t know quite what to expect from the Scottish academic system. I mean, I get the idea that it’s more self-taught than the US system, but how self-taught are we talking? Are they just giving us a reading list and telling us to come back at the end of the semester with a paper? Because that’s basically a semester-long vacation in Scotland with a bit of reading and a paper to write. I can do that.

(To be honest, I do expect it to be more rigorous than that, but I’d much rather blind myself with ignorance and fantasy until I arrive and can no longer leave. Until I’m physically trapped in Scotland, there’s still technically a chance that I could back out of this whole thing by, say, running screaming into the night never to return, or perhaps by committing a minor felony in order to get myself locked in a US jail cell until such time as no one wants to ship me off to Scotland anymore. So it’s fairly important that I intentionally underestimate Edinburgh’s academic rigor; it’s the only thing keeping me out of prison.)

Edinburgh has a fencing team. That might seem fairly random, but it’s quite exciting. I, for one, am of the opinion that there should generally be more fencing in everyday life. In fact, it has taken some self-restraint not to go back up to the paragraphs I’ve already written and insert little instances of fencing just to drive home the point that I think there should be more of it everywhere.

I suppose I should have prefaced that; I like fencing.

In all seriousness, though, it’s one of my few really concrete expectations. Hamilton (my home college) has a fencing club, and it’s good, but it’s entirely student run. That means no paid coaches, and Zach–who runs it–just about has to kill himself trying to fit in the practice sessions around his own schoolwork.

Freshmen, if you’re reading this–and you damn well better be–be nice to Zach. He’s running two of your clubs, now.

And for future reference, yes, my blogs are going to be exactly this rambly. Unless I’m really pleased with an essay I’ve written, in which case I might just post it in full. Is it obvious that the power’s going to my head?