Reminders of Home

I can’t believe this past weekend was Remembrance Day! I really don’t know where the time has gone. I have just 4 short weeks of work left and just over a month until I am back home again! The last few weeks have been just as enjoyable as the rest of the trip. I’m starting to miss home a little bit, but I’ve been surrounded by some many Newfies lately, I barely feel like I’ve gone anywhere.

Helena came to visit for a few days last weekend. We spent the weekend exploring the city and did a fair amount of shopping! I visited St. Paul’s Cathedral last April, but I wasn’t able to go up to the top of the dome so Helena and I went back to St. Paul’s and climbed all 520 steps to the top! We walked first to the top of the interior of the dome, before walking up to the exterior of the dome and then finally up to the very top of the cathedral, which has one of the most amazing views of London!

View from St. Paul’s

After St. Paul’s, we spent the rest of the weekend eating and shopping! Philippa came out with us to go shopping in Camden Market and we met up with Lisa to shop for dresses for our engineering graduation on Oxford Street! The four of us met on Saturday evening for a very enjoyable night in Brick Lane and Shoreditch. We went searching for the best deal that we could find on Brick Lane and had the most delicious Indian food!

On Tuesday night I went to see Hey Rosetta! and was reminded of just how many Newfoundlanders are actually living in London and the surrounding area! In case you’ve never heard of Hey Rosetta!, they’re a local band from St. John’s that we’re all crazy about and that you should immediately look up! Danielle came in from Oxford to see the show and we met up with Lisa and Philippa and friends at the concert. Alex came along to hear Hey Rosetta! for the first time and was one of the few non-Canadians in the crowd. I’m pretty sure the entire group of people studying at Harlow showed up at the concert and we all managed to run into a least one friend from home that we didn’t know was going to be there! It was pretty easy to forget where I actually was when I was completely surrounded by Newfie and Canadian accents. As usual, Hey Rosetta! played a fantastic show!

Few Canadians (and Alex) at Hey Rosetta!

Danielle went back to Oxford after the concert, but she came out again on Saturday to spend the weekend. We went shopping at Portobello Market and did a lot of walking around London! We spent some time in Hyde Park, which looked incredibly nice with the red and yellow leaves still hanging from the trees. It was another shopping filled weekend and after attending the Remembrance Sunday service at my church, we did some serious Christmas shopping on Oxford Street! The Christmas lights have all been put up and it has been feeling very Christmas-y there lately.

Hyde Park with Danielle

I’m continuing the trend this weekend by heading off to the Netherlands for a few days to visit Helena! She lives in Leiden, which is a half hour train ride outside of Amsterdam, so we’re going to hop around to a few different cities and hopefully avoid all the rain Helena’s been telling me about. After that, I’m only in London for two more weekends before my Dad comes and we head off to Austria for some skiing! Hope everyone back home is doing well; see you all in a month!



Living out my childhood fantasies in Oxford

This past weekend, I took a short trip up to Oxford to catch up with my friend from home, Danielle, who is studying there. We hadn’t seen each other since last Christmas, so it was a little bit surreal that we got to hang out in England together! I took the train up to Oxford on Saturday morning; fortunately, the weather was nice to us and it was sunny all day (although it was very cold). We met up with a friend of Danielle’s at the Botanical Gardens. She also had a friend visiting, so it was the perfect day for some sightseeing around Oxford!

Botanical Gardens in Oxford

The  gardens were nice, but we were pretty cold by the end, so we decided to warm up and get some tea at a nearby pub, the Eagle and Child. It just so happens that the Eagle and Child is the same pub where JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis used to meet up when they were both living in Oxford! The pub has definitely embraced this fact and they had lots of little Lord of the Rings and Narnia trinkets around the pub. My favourite was a little Gollum figurine that hangs out on a shelf behind the bar.

A few Canadians hanging out in The Eagle & Child

In keeping with the fantasy novel theme, we decided to visit Christ Church, one of Oxford’s most famous colleges and more commonly known as a filming location for Harry Potter. When we got there we were disappointed to see that there was a long line of tourists to get in and a £7 entrance fee. Fortunately for us, Danielle and Rebecca are both Oxford students, so we got to skip all that and sneak in through a student entrance! I finally got to go in the formal hall at Christ Church, which is where the students eat, but also the Great Hall for the first several Harry Potter movies!

The Great Hall in Christ Church College

On Sunday, Danielle took me to a free brunch for grad students so that I could meet some of her friends, before exploring more of Oxford. We spent about an hour in Blackwells, the biggest bookstore I’ve ever been in! It’s like a library, but you can buy the books. They had 5 floors and every book you could ever imagine! We spent an hour just walking through the store, browsing all the different books they had. After that, we spent some time walking around, looking at different colleges. We popped into a museum to check out a chalkboard from one of Einstein’s lectures and we climbed to the top of St. Michael’s church tower, the oldest building in Oxford, built in 1050.

Blackwell’s Bookstore

We finished off the trip by attending Formal Hall at Danielle’s college – Worcester College (previously attended by Emma Watson!!). Formal Hall is a formal dinner that takes place in the dining hall several times a week and means that I got to live out my harry potter fantasy! The students all wear their formal robes and we were served a three course meal. There’s 3 long tables going down the hall and there’s a high table for professors at the top. It was the perfect way to end the weekend!

Danielle at her College

It was sad to say goodbye again, but fortunately Danielle is coming to London next week to see Hey Rosetta! and then she is going to come visit me again for a weekend! This weekend though, I’ll be hanging out with Helena!

Exploring Edinburgh

This past weekend, I met up with three of my friends from MUN in Edinburgh for a mini-break! Lisa and I travelled up from London, Helena flew in from Amsterdam, and Erin took the bus from Aberdeen. I loved exploring Edinburgh with these girls and we had a great time!

We kicked off the trip with a 3 hour walking tour around Edinburgh so that we could figure out what we wanted to see in the next few days. Our tour guide, Izzy, was incredible and spiced up what might have been a boring history lesson into an afternoon of hilarity! Lisa and I kept bursting out laughing at her references to “Ninja Scots”, who climbed the castle walls several centuries ago, and “Disco Dolly”, the first cloned sheep who now resides in the Museum of Scotland.

Izzy took us to St. Giles Cathedral and told us all about the gruesome public punishments that took place in the square. She took us to Edinburgh Castle and George Heriot’s School, which are thought to be inspirations for Hogwarts. She took us to the graveyard where Greyfriar’s Bobby is buried, the little dog who sat waiting on his owner’s grave for 14 years. And finally, she took us to Princes Street Gardens, which is now a beautiful garden, but was once used for sewage drainage and was known as the ‘Lake of poo’. It was definitely one of the funniest historical walking tours I’ve been on and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

View of Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street Garden

After the tour, Izzy managed to rope us into buying tickets for the nightly ghost tour and brought us to a pub where we could get a traditional Scottish meal. This means that I finally tried haggis, something I’ve managed to avoid up until now. Haggis is made of sheep’s liver, heart, and lungs, and is cooked in the sheep’s stomach. I was anticipating something really nasty, but if you don’t think too much about what you’re eating, it’s pretty good! Lisa had a quarter chicken stuffed with haggis, which was particularly tasty, and Helena kept it pretty tame with fish and chips.

Erin met up with us in the evening and we headed off on the ghost tour. Surprisingly, the ghost tour was pretty creepy! Our guide told us several old ghost tales, mixed with modern day stories about a real-life Scottish vampire. The tour ended in a mausoleum; by this point, Erin had definitely had enough of hanging out in graveyards, so we headed out to our favourite late night pub, the Bank Bar.

Stirling Castle (photo credit Lisa Burke)

On Saturday, we took a day trip out to Sterling Castle and Loch Lomond. We drove through the Scottish Lowlands to Stirling Castle, which is situated high atop a hill, looking out over the fields. It was still pretty early when we arrived and the fog had not quite lifted over the hills, so we had a great view from the castle! Looking out you can see a tower memorial for the great William Wallace. We stopped in a small village, Aberfoyle, for lunch and then we entered the Scottish Highlands and came to Loch Lomond.

By the time we arrived at Loch Lomond, we were all pretty giddy from our large lunch, so we missed the turnoff for the viewpoint on our way around the Loch. We found the end of the trail on our way back, so we walked up to the viewpoint, only to go in the wrong direction on the way back down! We ended up in the middle of the woods and after going halfway down (and realizing there was quite a steep slope between us and the bottom) it was too slippery to go back up, so we had to slip and slide our way down to the bottom! Lisa made sure to capture every moment for us though!

Loch Lomond (photo credit Lisa Burke)

On Sunday, we decided to make up for everything we’d eaten over the past few days by hiking to the top of Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano just outside of the city centre. For some reason we didn’t think it would be a very strenuous walk, so we didn’t really dress properly and we were all huffing and puffing by the time we reached the top! We frequently stopped to rest and ended up spending 10 minutes judging all the other people walking up, who were at least in worst shape then us. We didn’t realize we were doing this at first and had a bit of a laugh when we realized how ridiculous we were.

It was a pretty steep climb up, but the view at the top was totally worth it! You get a 360 view of the city and you can see all the way out to the ocean, which isn’t visible from the city centre. It was also the perfect day for a hike! It was pretty warm out, so we finished the hike with a little picnic outside a café (mostly because we were too cheap to pay the extra pound or two that it costs to eat in the café).

The top of Arthur’s Seat

Erin and Lisa left around suppertime on Sunday, but we made one last stop at the National Gallery before we parted ways. We figured it would be good to get a little bit of culture, but we ended up just challenging each other to see who could find the most ridiculous painting in the Gallery! Art lovers, beware. Helena and I finished off the day by gorging ourselves on pasta, pizza, and dessert at a restaurant near our hostel.

On our last day, we decided to check out the National Museum of Scotland and do a bit of shopping. The museum reminded me of the Natural History Museum in London. They have all kinds of great exhibits on Scotland, along with an animal exhibit and one on different cultures. We made sure that we got a picture with ‘Disco Dolly’, the museum’s famous resident! We finished off the trip with a bit of shopping and lunch at The Elephant House.

Having a moment with “Disco Dolly”

The Elephant House is a small café in the city centre that has become famous for being ‘the birthplace of Harry Potter’. Apparently JK Rowling used to write in the café when she lived in Edinburgh and first started writing Harry Potter. It has a fantastic view of Edinburgh Castle, which is one of the reasons it’s suspected that it might have been one of her inspirations for Hogwarts.

Surprisingly though, our favourite part of the café was the washroom. All of the walls have been covered over the years with messages to JK Rowling from all her Harry Potter fans! We must have spent a half an hour reading all the “thank-you’s” and Harry Potter quotes that people had left over the years. It made us incredibly happy to both leave our own messages to JK Rowling, thanking her for making our childhoods wonderful and for giving us such a magical world to grow up with!

Lunch at The Elephant House

In conclusion, it really was a wonderful trip and was made so much more wonderful by the amazing girls I got to experience it with! Scotland is very beautiful and I would definitely like to go back some day and explore more of the country. For now, I’m looking forward to the first weekend in November, when Helena comes to visit us in London and we get to do it all over again!

Love Maria