travel

Second Time’s the Charm in Edinburgh

Hello! I am finally back to sharing more about my trip!

My second major stop on my tour this summer was the beautiful Edinburgh. I was thrilled to make Scotland the first place I traveled for the start of my solo tour because, as many of you probably know, Scotland holds a special place in my heart. I studied abroad at the University of Glasgow, and so Scotland feels like a second home to me. And it is also the country where I, one day, plan to live.

And I sort of needed to start in a place I was comfortable with because I needed that confidence booster to stop letting everyone’s comments from back home get to me. And this really ended up being the perfect way to handle things.

Edinburgh (pronounced Eden-bra) is such a handsome, historical, and hilly city. And unlike many other parts of Scotland, you will actually be able to understand the English spoken here!

Similar to Ireland, this area of Scotland is a great place for new travelers, because culturally, things are not so different from those back in America, and as a very tourist geared city, you will always be able to find many comforts from home.

Top tourist attractions include hiking up to Arthur’s seat, visiting Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny both in the castle, the monuments on Calton Hill, the famous Greyfriars Kirkyard, and more! There are such diverse attractions in this city to appeal to athletes, historians, the royal family fans, foodies, and those who love to shop––all within walking distance of one another!

Navigation around the city is a breeze with the city compact enough that I was able to walk everywhere I wanted to go, even to the hiking trails, but the hills and stairs can be quite exhausting. (Learn from my mistakes: pack plenty of food and water in your day pack before trying to conquer Arthur’s seat.) Public transportation is available to and from the airport and runs 24/7 with tickets available to purchase at the bus terminal at the airport. It was super convenient purchasing my ticket ahead of time, so I could just board the bus when I was ready to leave.

As a part of the UK, Scotland’s currency is the Pound sterling (£) which is generally, consistently, stronger than the USD. So the prices in the store are not the prices that it would actually cost to an American, when every £1 would cost about $1.31. (And it is not always fun doing that math on the fly. I managed with help from a conversion app.)

And this is sort of the basics of what travelers should know and what they will learn during their time here.

Sightseeing over the summer was an incredible experience, and one that I cannot wait to repeat in the future.

My last visit to Edinburgh was during all of the excitement of the Christmas markets during the height of the holiday shopping season (and the low point on the thermometer). But I was also exploring with my flatmates after living with them for a whole semester.

So my visit in June was very different. Still pretty cold, even relative to Ireland, but much quieter and at much more of a relaxed pace, thanks to not needing to rush to catch a train at the end of the day. I very much enjoyed getting to explore another city in Scotland at my own pace with an itinerary that I did not have to compromise with anyone. I got to wake up early and take a full day to tour the Edinburgh Castle spending hours wandering the halls, walk all the way down the royal mile to see the Queen’s Gallery and stop in for a cup of tea, wherever I pleased.

The most rewarding part of my trip was getting to finally explore the Edinburgh Castle, something that I put off for most of my study abroad, until I returned to America without ever seeing it, so this was something that was at the very top of my list of things I needed to do before returning home.

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The Entrance to the Edinburgh Castle on a gloomy Scottish day

And after doing much research, I made my way up to the castle early in the morning to make sure I could get a ticket, and I had my student ID handy, like I did for most of my trip, to make sure that I could get all of the student discounts on all of my museum visits. Especially since, at this point, I did not know how far I would need to make my money stretch. And solo visits to the museums, I feel, are so much more rewarding than going with someone, or with a group of people. I was able to take it all in, and at my own pace. Things like waiting on a line to see the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny (used at the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1953), would probably not be something that I would subject others to doing, but it was something that I felt was worth the wait. And what a breathtaking site (even if photos were not allowed).

And if anyone is interested in a brief history of these Honours of Scotland, the Visit Scotland website is a perfect help. 

Some other highlights from the castle were taste-testing Scottish Whiskey right on the grounds, which was incredible, btw, and even visiting St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, that remains from the 12th Century. It is such a small building with small windows (a late add on) which is probably the reason for lasting so long.

And a stay in Scotland in never complete without visiting a historical site while there is a wedding going on. I will never forget the feeling of awe (and jealousy) in seeing couples get married in the most beautiful places, which are during this trip to the Edinburgh Castle, to later on in my trip where I almost accidentally interrupted a wedding procession in Cinque Terre, to all of the weddings we passed in Glasgow at my university or at Oran Mor––the church/bar on the way to my university. They were the most incredible, and accidental events I have stumbled on and ones that inspire my own future wedding plans––hope my future husband is on board.

Another major highlight of my trip, was the day I spend hiking up to Arthur’s seat, an ancient volcano visible even from the city center. (Which actually just went up in a blaze two days ago, so I hope that everything will be okay there!) The hike lead to extraordinary views of the city, especially because I just happened to go on a clear day, and I was able to meet some of my fellow hikers at the top of the hills who helped me take some of my favorite pictures from my trip.

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Standing before the Great Arthur’s Seat

The very same day, before or after my hike (I forget the order), I also was able to visit and sit in on some Parliament discussions, as I just happened to be passing by while it was in session.

And another highlight, that I won’t go into too much detail about because I have written much about it in the past, was my visit to Greyfriars Kirkyard, most recently known to house the inspiration to JK Rowling’s character names, but it is also well known for Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier who guarded the grave of his owner for 14 years in the kirkyard, and who now can be seen in the statue in front of the entrance.

Aside from all of my sightseeing, perhaps the most memorable part of my visit to Edinburgh is all of the incredible friends that I made there.

I met up with an Australian lady from Girls Love Travel Facebook group at a cafe in town, and learned all about her life, and how she is on her year abroad, looking for work and to travel. Then in my hostel, I made so many friends from Canada, Columbia, and Germany who would all meet down at the hostel pub to share travel stories from like-minded travelers and drink together. And discuss Harry Potter, too! And my very last night in Scotland (for this trip) we all went on a pub crawl together and had a blast before I made my way to the airport, headed for Italy.

My next stop: Bologna.

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book review

Throwback: Laguna Cove Review

I am trying to get into the groove of writing book reviews, and as I figure it out for my recent reads, I have been looking back at my old writing. (Aided by my current room decluttering.)

So I thought that today’s post would be a perfect time to share some of my old book reviews. So we can laugh together.

AKA The “Independent Reading Summer Worksheet”

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So today’s book reflection will be on Alyson Noel’s Laguna Cove,  which is in part thanks to my ‘summer reads’ phase when I was obsessed with all of the beachy romances and would get stacks of books by the same authors out from my library at a time.

Since then, my writing tastes have evolved towards messier and less contemporary stuff. And now I can’t get enough of fantasy books. (Although I still struggle with any time travel books.)

And boy this is also a reflection of myself, too. Thank god my writing has improved.

Anyway, let me share a brief (and current) summary of this book.

Laguna Cove, published in 2006, takes place in Laguna Beach, California, where a bunch of teenagers spend all of their free time on the beach hanging out and surfing, and just soaking up the sun. Anne is the new girl who moves cross country to live with her dad after her parents split up, and she is forced to deal with all of these changes at once, while learning the dynamic of a new school and new peers. Something really upsetting is that Anne had to give up being the captain of the diving team back home with the new move.

The real drama, though, is between Anne and Ellie over popularity and the cutest guy in school…Chris. Ellie is jealous and worried about Anne taking over her friends and her life that she lashes out at Anne. Anne learns to surf and dates Chris. Things get ugly. Everyone picks sides.

And like my original review says, the ending is left open ended…nothing is really concluded. From a quick search of other reviews, many readers feel the same way. That the ending sort of jipped us.

So with that, I would like to share some of my old review of this book. Here are some of the more notable questions and answers.

First:

Identify the AUTHOR. Provide jacket information (if it’s available.) What genre does the author usually adhere to? Have you read anything else by the author? How big an undertaking was the book? (How many pages? How accessible or dense was the author’s language?)

And my 2010 response:

Alyson Noel is the author who writes fictional books about teenage girls lives. I have not read her other books, but I plan to in the future. The book was 216 pages and became a little confusing at times because the phrases the characters use are from California and I am not familiar with it.

My 2019 thoughts are much different. I am trying to prevent myself from editing all of my old writing, but I am laughing. “I am not familiar” with the California phrases is my absolute favorite part, because really? This is coming from the same person who went on to live in Glasgow. Where people are much harder to understand than California. I think that I must have mentioned this to answer how accessible the book was, but present day Samantha would have a very different interpretation of this question, and a very different answer, too. I also think that it is so funny that the school bolded author, as if us 9th graders could not read and understand the whole question and we just needed a snippet.

Another of my favorite questions and answers is this one:

Is there anything special or noteworthy about the author’s handling of CHARACTERIZATION?

And my short response:

The characterization was good, but nothing special.

Bahaha.

How did I go from this to becoming an English major, I have no idea.

Like, okay, maybe I simply wasn’t understanding the deeper interpretations of the author question, but this is really funny. Like, zero effort.

I didn’t even explain, just a no. Maybe I was rushing to finish this? Maybe I was writing it the period before it was due. Maybe I meant to get back and finish this question? I guess we will never know if this came out of laziness, procrastination, or what.

And for the epic conclusion:

COMPARE or CONTRAST the book with a book that you’re read before, or a movie you’ve seen, or a short story, or a dramatic production. Or was the book a completely original experience?

And my 9th grade answer:

This book for me was a completely original experience. The way the characters interacted and the problems they faced was all new to me. The way the whole town spends their time at the beach and that surfing is the center of their lives is very strange to me.

Okay, so I want to try and defend this answer here. But first, I purposely kept in the spelling and grammar errors in the question and answer. Just so you know, current me recognizes those errors.

Now, in my defense, maybe this was the first book in this genre that I have actually read. And this is also from a time where I wasn’t exposed to the internet much. I don’t even think I had my own computer or anything more than a flip phone. And I didn’t watch any of those surfing movies?

Still, I could have compared it to Twilight, for crying out loud. For being completely opposite books, for dealing with problems from the sunny summer versus the school year in rainy Forks, Washington.

And yet, here we are. I could not think of anything to compare or contrast. And now that is my favorite thing to do. Talk about #transformationtuesday .

It is also important to note that I read a lot of books from this subsection of YA contemporary beach romance books, there must have been something drawing me into them. And yet I still only gave it two stars. I was a really tough critic, and for a book that I selected on my own, and for an independent summer reading assignment, no less.

And this is the part of me that I still identify with.  

writing

New Writing Space

Hi all,

I know that it has been a while since I have posted about my trip, and I am really sorry, I have a bunch of half written blog posts waiting for me. But this is honestly how I live my life, leaving a bunch of projects half done, as emphasized by the half finished Harry Potter puzzle that I moved off of my desk chair to give me space to sit down and share about my newest project (that I may never finish either). But I am very excited and optimistic that I will set out and do what I mean to this time.

Drumroll please.

Creating my very own writing space.

 

Yay.

I wish I actually got some pictures of the chaos from the very beginning…with my tearing up my brother’s room for the start to emptying out his dresser, to dragging it across the house (all by myself) to then getting stuck right before the stairs into my room.

My mom came home for that part, and she was furious.

But eventually, with help from my cousin and sister and then later my mom, too, we successfully switched dressers, so I could fit my clothes under my bed and have my desk next to the window…where I will feel less claustrophobic and therefore more inspired to write at my desk in my room.

Day 1: I am writing at my desk.

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We had a couple of casualties during this move. My brother’s casualties actually.

-His ceramic dragon that was hanging on his wall.

-His lego star wars AT-ST walker lost a few pieces in it’s fall from the shelf (I am a star wars fan but not going to lie…I had to look up that name)

-And, in a recent discovery, his door knob.

We are still not sure how we are going to break the news to him yet. Luckily for us, I am pretty sure he doesn’t read my blog.

Update: I messaged him on Snapchat. He has not reacted yet.

Update 2: He responded with the laughing/crying face. So all is good.

And like the rest of my life’s projects, this one has yet to be completed. Not pictured in the photo above is the pile of sweaters that I knocked off of my desk chair, nor the pile of clothes that I cannot fit into my new dresser. Turns out, my brother’s is smaller than mine was, and now I do not know what to do.

I have been watching some of the Marie Kondo show on Netflix, and was able to eliminate some things from my room, by exactly what she says, keep what “sparks joy” but it isn’t enough yet. Maybe I need to do another round? I wish I had the confidence of the woman who was clearing out her deceased husband’s clothes.

Baby steps, though.

The good news is that the big furniture is in place.

And that I actually completed a blog post.

The next thing on my To Do list is to read Outlander. And that way I can then go to the Outlander book club at my local library. (Which I really want to do.)

Stay tuned to see if I remain this motivated to hit my goal of one post per week.

And how do you all hit your goals? What motivates you? A gingerbread scented candle? A fresh cup of tea or coffee? A new desk location?

writing

It is Almost Time for NaNoWriMo

So November is coming, which means the start of another NaNoWriMo! And I am so excited and motivated this year to finally write an entire first draft of my novel.

If any of you have no clue what I am talking about, and think I just hit the keyboard with that weird string of letters…let me break it down for you.

Na: National

No: Novel

Wri: Writing

Mo: Month

NaNo is an organization that encourages people to write their entire first draft of their novel (50,000-60,000 words) within the month of November. And it is an organization that has been near and dear to my heart for the past five years, because it has lead me to a community of like-minded people at a time when I was really lost at the beginning of my studies. As silly and dramatic as it sounds, getting involved in a writing community has helped me discover and chase my writing dreams, no matter how impossible they will be.

You can check out NaNo’s website if you want to learn all about it, participate in it, or just have a clue about what the heck I am doing with my time!

Or if you would rather hear about NaNo in my own words, I even wrote an article describing the process for my college’s paper that you can check out here. 

But the reason I am writing this in a blog is because this year I am a serious participant. Before now, I was only writing for fun. I would join in on word sprints with some of my favorite authors on Twitter, frequently update my word count in between classes or my work schedule. I was never really concerned about doing more than just getting words on paper in my free time.

And now, things are different. My workload is light (aka still job hunting). I have no more classes (at the moment) that I need to focus on and write papers for. I have had a summer of adventures, meeting all new people from all different sorts of backgrounds in new environments, and unforgettable experiences that I would like to translate into some stories. And I want to continue my momentum from the summer to chase my dreams. So becoming a published author won’t happen if I don’t first put in the time and write the first draft.

And to prove how serious I am this year, I am going to share some of my story details on my blog…and that way all of my followers can hold me accountable and push me when I start running out of steam halfway through the month. Or even only a couple of days in.

This year I am working on a fantasy novel (and remember this is just a very rough draft that is all subject to change because I will probably hate it).

And my title is…

Drumroll please.

Heroic Night.

Totally lame, I know. I had some help from a fantasy title generator. And hopefully it will evolve when I have more written.  But I need a place to start.

Once I actually begin my writing (that will count towards my word count goals) November 1st, this story will be about adventure, romance, action, and drama––all of my favorite topics. And I am hear to write the book that I would want to read, so let’s see how this goes.

nano-challenge

So far, I have some basic characteristics for my characters:

Heroine is a doer, headstrong, solo traveler, independent, and questions everything around her.

Hero is fearless and reckless, lives without consequences.

A setting:

Medieval Fantasy World

Maybe the rest will come to me once I finally begin writing. Like their names maybe? Fingers crossed.

What I have so far may sound familiar to some of you, who have listened to me ramble on about my favorite series, because that author, Sarah J. Maas and Jane Austen (who are my two favorite authors) are my inspiration for my own writing. And at the moment, my genre probably comes from the TOG reread I have been participating in, in preparation for the final book release in a few days.

If you are interested in keeping up with my progress, and in holding me accountable, you can view my daily word count stats here. 

In addition, I could use some more writing buddies! So please share if you are participating, too, and we can push each other!

I’ll leave you with a small excerpt:

“And just before I curl up on my couch with my latest book, is there a firm and quiet knock on my door.

Not unusual for this time of day, just before everyone has made it home for dinner, the sun only just beginning it’s descent. But it was the actual knock that made her suspicious. Her friends yell through the door or barge in. Her neighbors are more hesitant to knock at all, and usually pair it with a chirped hello before barging in.”

Ok, now I am going back to my writing cave to start plotting. Wish me luck and no writer’s block! 

travel, writing

Travel is Good for the Soul

Sadly, all good things must come to a close.

But I feel that my trip was exactly the soul-searching opportunity that I needed. Not to be totally dramatic, but I feel like I have a direction in life again and goals that I am working towards both in my career and personal life.

And I am so looking forward to being reunited with all of the incredible & amazing people who I have met along my own journey.

Thank you to everyone I met for everything that you taught me––from the little things like “the restaurant around the corner has really good dumplings” to the helpful advice that saved me a lot of stress for the entirety of my trip (the GoEuro app) to just simply hearing people’s different world views. I don’t know if I can really put into words the impact that everyone I have met along the way has had on my life, but all I can say is that I will forever love meeting new people from all over the world and becoming more open-minded, culturally aware, and all of the other great things that come from conversing with other travelers.

  • I received cooking lessons from a new Polish friend in my hostel kitchen in Salzburg.
  • Cultural lessons from a Parisian woman whose parents are from Tunisia and Morocco over dinner in Dubrovnik.
  • Dining (and wedding) etiquette from my best friends in Italy.
  • Tours of all different cities and castles, cooking lessons, gardening lessons, and even apartment hunting from my cousin in Germany.
  • The world cup excitement from every European person from bus drivers, to bartenders, to people I passed along the street.

I became more outgoing––able to hold a conversation, ask anyone for directions, or to ask someone to take a picture for me or with me. I learned how to navigate any city’s public transportation (though I still get lost with public busses) and cultural differences or at least where to learn if I couldn’t figure it out on my own.

I also learned a lot about the things that I should and should not have packed. Good news is anything that I forgot at home, I would have been able to buy in almost any city that I visited. Bad news is I way, way, overpacked. And even though it was a small carry-on bag, there were some clothing items that I still didn’t even wear.

The unnecessary items:

  • I had 3 UK adaptors and only 1 European adaptor. And even though I did not know if I was going to make it back to the UK before the end of my trip, I could have sent some of those home with my family. I learned you only need 1 adaptor for each type of outlet. And if you forget one, they are pretty cheap to buy. I spent way more time using my European adaptor and really just carried the other ones around from city to city.
  • Also related to chargers, I brought 2 portable chargers with me. I only really used the more powerful one––which saved me many times during my trip because it was able to recharge my phone 3-4 times. And it was so convenient in my hostels when I didn’t want to leave my phone across the room charging––I only had to leave my portable charger there and then in the morning I could charge my phone while I got started with my day.

The extra items:

  • My clothes. And yes, it is true that you don’t know what types of clothes you will need when you don’t even have a solid plan for where the day will take you, but no matter how long you are traveling for, you won’t need more than a week’s worth of clothes. I didn’t need more than a couple of shorts, a couple of pants, a few shirts, a sweater, sweatshirt, hat, and scarf. Everything that can be worn together and layered. I even made a friend who actually only brought 2 pairs of shorts…and then he lost one of them. I also regretted bringing so much because then I couldn’t justify getting the latest European fashion if it couldn’t fit into my bag.
  • Also (and I fear I may get some heat for this one) I brought way too many toiletries. I had some packages of sunblock, shampoo, and even an extra soap bar that I did not touch at all. I had a shampoo bar that my sister got it for me as an early birthday present––an organic and eco friendly shampoo bar, like the ones that seem to be so popular at Lush, but this one is from her environmental school’s craft fair––which was/is a very long lasting product and I still came home with a big chunk of that left over as well. My very long winded point here is to pack the very bare essentials. Because when you run out (which you will want to happen) you could always purchase more almost anywhere you go. I did chose to forgo the conditioner, though, and that was a good decision that I just had to deal without that luxury for a couple of months.

And now for the big question: Would you do this again? Hell yeah! Now that I have done it once, I know for a fact I can handle this kind of crazy, tiring, invigorating, spontaneous, (insert any more adjectives) travel. And that I love it.

I am not sure where exactly my next journey will take place (South America and Southeast Asia are both at the top of my list) but I am excited and looking forward to all of what is to come.

And now that I am home, I will go back and complete my blog posts for every city that I visited. So stay tuned…

 

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My visit to the Salzburg Castle.

(You never know how good someone is at photography until it is too late––notice the woman’s finger in the corner. LOL!)