29 September 2006

Edinburgh - 24 September 2006

As I time this I am still suffering the consequences of my Edinburgh trip *hack hack* *cough cough*. Yup, as you can see from the picture on the right, my flatmates, myself, and some other friends decided to go to Edinburgh for the day and brave the Scottish rain. Though I will say, I far from regret going. It was a very fun trip, and Edinburgh - though something of a tourist trap - is a fascinating place. In fact, since it is only an hour's train ride (barring delays) from Glasgow, I am intent on going again during better weather. As it stands, I am thankful that the UK has some pretty potent cold medication available over the counter.

There is some confusion among the non-UK'ers of how to pronounce Edinburgh. Just for the record, I heard it pronounced Ed-in-ber-oh by the tour guide, and Ed-in-bro by the conductor of the train. I guess it largely depends on where you're from. As I mentioned, it is an easy hour's train ride. Once you get off the train at Waverly Station, you have immediate access to tour buses, and for around £10 can ride all four. We were actually able to do fragments of almost every one. Though the only one I liked was the green bus (Edinburgh Tours, I believe) because it had a real tour guide rather than a recording. You get a much better feel for the area when the guide can adlib, and can acknowledge that the heavy mist is obscuring your view of what she is talking about.

The part of Edinburgh that we visited is called the Old Town. It includes the Royal Mile, and Edinburgh Castle. The Royal Mile takes at least a day to see, so I only saw a fraction of it. It includes museums, churches, shops, and many other points of interest. Edinburgh Castle is up Castlehill at the head of the Royal Mile. The castle is an impressive place to visit, and could itself house a small town. It is primarily an outdoor destination, so I regret that I did not see nearly enough of it because at that point I was soaked. Some of the indoor sites, that I unfortunately didn't see, are the dungeons and the crown jewels. I did get to see the oldest part of the castle, which was Saint Margaret's Chapel. My only criticism of Edinburgh Castle is the very modern elements. It is feels like it is filled with shops and cafes, which makes it feel like more of a tourist trap than an historical site. However, that may just be the wet shoes and socks talking. After stopping at one of these cafes for coffee and a scone, we decided that Edinburgh Castle was best left for a return trip on a nicer day, and headed down into the Old Town of Edinburgh on the Royal Mile.

This part of Edinburgh is actually a city built on top of a city. During the 16th century Edinburgh's two main thoroughfares, High Street and Cowgate, were linked by a labyrinth of Closes and Wynds (narrow alleys) which often housed the poor people of Edinburgh. As the population boomed, new housing was built, and to provide safe passage for horse and carriage, massive North and South bridges were built. The South Bridge, originaly concieved of as a shopping street, contained a series of vaults. These approximately 120 vaults were used for storage and workshops for South Bridge businesses. However, rushed construction resulted in leaky vaults, and the idea was soon abandoned. Once the industrial revolution set in, the vaults became slums - offering squalid, dark, and wet accomodation to Edinburgh's poorest, as well as providing an anonymous hiding place for criminals to practice their trade.

During the 1800's, tons of rubble was dumped into the vaults, sealing them off. After being forgotten for over a century, the vaults were excavated starting in 1988. One of the many cellars and old wynds of Edinburgh can bee seen in the Tron Kirk, which is now an information centre. Marlin's Wynd (left) was buried along with the rest of the cellars and vaults of 16th century Edinburgh. The Tron Kirk was built over top of it. Legend has it that the builder of Marlin's Wynd was so proud of his work, he asked to be buried under it. His burial site has not yet been found though. Unlike the more dodgy wynds of the time, Marlin's Wynd residents were prosperous businessmen, lawyers, and surgeons.

Behind Marlin's Wynd and the Tron Kirk are the vaults of the South Bridge, in which you can partake in a haunted underground tour. This is something we all thought would be good fun, so we paid our £6.50 and off we went. I have to say that the tour guide was very very good at his job, because he had the whole lot of us going. First you walk into this squalid looking room referred to as an old student's residence. All the relevant "we're not responsible for what misfortune befalls you during this tour" warnings are given, and off you go... save for two people who chickened out in our group. Now, did they really chicken out? Or were they stooges? I'd have to take the tour again to figure that one out.

You are then lead into a claustrophobic passageway lit only by green light, with vaults leading off the sides. You are told about various apparitions witnessed in the passageways and vaults, some harmless, others malevolent. The passageways and the vaults are damp, and on a rainy day like this was you can hear the dripping of water. The guide then proceeds to talk about the dark and dangerous history of the vaults during their slum period - stories of squalid living, murder, mass deaths from plague and fire, and other disturbing stories of the short and painful journey that was life for a poor person at that time. All the while, the guide keeps tripping over things and making loud noises, readily admitting that he is a klutz, but relishing all the while that he is getting a rise out of you. Finally, in the darkest vault (with no light) the guide tells you a horrifying story about a room full of people cooked to death during an above ground fire that heated the vault to fatal temperatures.

So, are there ghosts? Well, I won't say. I can say that even without the showmanship the vaults that I saw were cold, dark, and uncomfortable. They would have been a wretched place to stay and, haunted or no, are a rather frightening place to be. Throughout the tour the adrenaline was certainly pumping, and we call clustered together anticipating that some spectre would come and ruffle our hair or pull at our pantlegs - or worse. At the same time though, it was the most fun I think I've had on a tour. I got a good healthy scare in a fascinating place, and got to hear some incredible legends. At the end of the tour, you get a free whiskey and a cookie. After we were out of the scary underground, my flatmate Lesley, who's respective arms we had mutual death grips on the entire time, thanked me for letting her hold on to my arm during the tour (we wound eachother up pretty good... so chalk one up for the power of group psychology there)... ha! I wouldn't have let go in a million years!

After the scary tour we took some tour buses around Edinburgh, and then took the train back home to Glasgow. Unforutnately, between the rain and the scary I didn't take too many pictures that day, but what I did take I've uploaded onto flickr. I'm already planning my next trip there, and would like to see Greyfriar's Bobby (the little dog who layed at his master's grave) and Edinburgh Medical College, the alma mater of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Maybe I'll even do a few more haunted tours... but only if I have a flatmate's arm to hold onto.

28 September 2006

Joke: The Pharmacist

Told to me by one of my flatmates.

This young man is invited by his girlfriend to supper to meet her family. In honour of this occasion, she announces to her boyfriend that they can make love for the first time that night. The young man is really very excited about this, it being his first time. He goes to the local chemist and asks the pharmacist there his advice. The pharmacist is very kind and detailed, and for an hour councils the young man on what to do, protection, etc. The pharmacist asks the young man whether he would like to buy a 3 pack, 10 pack, or family pack of condoms. The young man asks for a family pack, as he imagines - it being his first time - that he will be quite busy.

That evening the young man meets his girlfriend's family and sits down for supper, immediately volunteering to say grace. He sits with his head bowed in intense prayer for 5 minutes... 10 minutes... 20 minutes... until his girlfriend nudges him and says "I didn't know you were so religious." To which the young man replies..

"I didn't know your father was a pharmacist."

26 September 2006

Some Updates on University Life

I just got done posting about my sight seeing trips around Glasgow and Scotland. Sunday my flatmates and some other went to Edinburgh - which can either be pronounced Ed-in-ber-o or Ed-in-bro depending on who you are listening to. I'll post about that later. Suffice it to say for now I experienced true Scottish rain that day, and was completely drenched despite my waterproof jacket. A little hypothermia, as well as fun, was had by all.

An update on the Norwiegan guy: Turns out that was a mix up. He traveled up to our flat with one of our flatmates but was actually in the wrong block. He's now in his proper home in the block next to us. That room is still empty, and we are wondering if it will ever be filled.

Last but not least, today was my first day of school! It was introduction to the course and the laboratory. I will be in the lab daily, which is a little intimidating because that generally means I'll be turning in a report daily as well. The building I am in is a complete maze. It is over 100 years old, and a crazy mix of old, new and under construction. For the first little while I am going to have to arrive half an hour early just to figure out where I am supposed to be.

Tomorrow is more introduction, and continues on like that up until the end of the week. Then the real work starts!

Isle of Arran and Castle Brodick

On Saturday, September 23rd I took a trip to the Isle of Arran which was organized by the Chaplaincy. The Chaplaincy at Strathclyde helps run the Glasgow International Students Welcome Programme. I had to get up super early to take the bus to catch the ferry in Androssan.

From Androssan we crossed the Sound of Bute by ferry to the Isle of Arran. The island is the largest in the Firth of Clyde, and owned entirely by the Duke and Dutchess of Hamilton. When the Duke and Dutchess failed to have a male heir, the title was passed over to a distant relative, and the castle and island given to their daughter who married the Duke of Montrose. When the death duties became too much for the family after the death of the Duke and Dutchess, the castle was passed into the hands of the Scottish National Trust.

I have to admit to being a bit disappointed in Castle Brodick. The oldest part of the castle is mediaeval, but you only see the Victorian era apartment of the Duke and Dutchess. Plus, there's no photography allowed inside the castle, so the excitement of being able to share in the experience was completely lost. Though the inside of the castle that we did see is very beautiful.

For the rest of the day on Arran I spent my time simply wandering around. It was a little rainy for the first half of the day, but by afternoon it was warm enough to take my jacket off. I decided to go down the pedestrian paths into the village. After visiting Arran Aromatics (a soap factory/shop), Arran Brewery, and a few other shops, I tried to go back up the path I came and was stopped by a rather surly woman. Because my tour guides did not give us a ticket, I was not allowed to go back to the castle. Thankfully, another group of students (and Canadians as well) who did get tickets (because they went by train rather than the coach bus) vouched for me. At that point we were told that the path was closed due to flooding (I did notice some damage on the way down) and told the correct path to take.

I got to play tour guide next - as I got back to the castle I saw the remainder of the group headed down the same path. So I walked with them down the right path back to the village and hung around there again.

Arran Isle is very beautiful. It is green, with small mountains, and lots of sheep and cows. I want to go back to Arran (which is pretty simple by train and ferry) to see the rest of the island.

I met quite a lot of other students as well. I met Susie and Simon. Susie in on exchange from McGill University in Montreal, and Simon is from Hong Kong - they are both going to University of Glasgow. I also met a lady from Tennessee who is going to one of the colleges.

Again, I have taken a whole ton of pictures of Arran Isle, so pop on over to my flickr account to have a look.

The Necropolis

"The Glasgow Necropolis is a Victorian cemetery in Glasgow. It is situated on a hill above and to the east of Glasgow Cathedral (St. Mungo's Cathedral). Fifty thousand individuals have been buried in about 3,500 tombs.

It was conceived as a Père Lachaise for Glasgow, and subsequently established by the Merchants' House of Glasgow in 1831. Alexander Thomson designed a number of its tombs, and John Bryce and David Hamilton designed other architecture for the grounds.

The main entrance is approached by a bridge over what was then the Molendinar Burn. The bridge, which was designed by James Hamilton, was completed in 1833. It became known as the "Bridge of Sighs" because it was part of the route of funeral processions (the name is an allusion to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice).

The cemetery's paths meander uphill towards the summit, where a dominating statue of John Knox was erected in 1825. The Glasgow Necropolis was described by James Stevens Curl as "literally a city of the dead". - from Wikipedia

I've been to the Glasgow Necropolis twice now; once on my own and once walking with Lesley and Ellen (my two flatmates who are in my program). Although it is a cemetery, people use it for walking their dogs, jogging, etc. Actually, Lesley got attacked by a fair-sized terrier her first time out jogging there - she's alright, but she wound up climbing up on one of the graves to escape it in an ordeal that lasted a good twenty minutes or more.

It is fairly run down, with the mausoleums and crypts almost all desecrated. Many of the monuments have either fallen over of their own volition, been set down by the parks staff to prevent injury, or have been outright pushed over by vandals. However, there is a volunteer group assessing the necropolis with the aim of restoring it. They were formed only last year, so I imagine it will be some time before the place is fixed up. It is a massive cemetery as well. Although I've been in twice, I've only seen a fraction of it. The paths spiral up the hill, cut across eachother, and then track back downhill again. From the Bridge of Sighs you can either go straight up hill to the left, or go downhill to the right (passing behind a brewery) and track back up again.

The monument to John Knox is lit up at night, and can be seen from our flat window.

I've taken a ton of photos of the Necropolis, and they are over at my flickr account for you to enjoy.

22 September 2006

Glasgow Cathedral

I visited Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis today. I've uploaded a ton of pictures of the Cathedral to my flickr account, and I'll upload the ones of the Necropolis likely tonight if I'm not out too late.

The Glasgow Cathedral is unlike anything I've seen before. It really is breathtaking in terms of size and age - as well as beauty.

Here's some information on the Glasgow Cathedral from the leaflet I bought:

"The site has been held sacred for more than 1500 years. Here the cross was planted and the ground blessed for a Christian burial by St. Ninian [in 397]. The first stone built Cathedral was dedicated in 1136 in the presence of King David. In the Lower Church is the tomb of St. Mungo (or Kentigern) who died in 603.

"There are five major components to the Cathedral - the Nave [left] ... the Quire, the upper and Lower Chapter Houses, the Lower Church and the Blacader Aisle.

"The Cathedral has one of the finest collections of modern stained glass windows and nearly all have been installed since 1947...

"... [the] Lower Church with its many buttresses supports the Quire above...

"Over the junction with the transept, soars the 13th century tower with its spire, the only intact central tower on a great mediaeval church in Scotland...

"The large projection to the south is the Blacader Aisle, vaulted by Archbishop Blacader."

by The Society of Friends of Glasgow Cathedral

There is also a little graveyard beside the Cathedral with very very old graves in it. The graves are all flat and the entire yard is full. It gives a whole new and real meaning to walking over someone's grave.

Anyway, as usual a picture is worth 1000 words, so I'll leave it now to my Flickr account to pick up where I left off.


It's a boy!

We have a full house now! Yesterday a woman arrived from South Africa. And... gasp... a man from Norway. Haven't seen the guy yet but, as mom said, he's either died and gone to heaven or died and gone to hell.

Yesterday was our Orientation. Learned many new things... such as Scotland only has sun from 10 am to 3 pm during the winter. Yikes!

Been doing lots of shopping. The ladies have been contributing tons of stuff to the kitchen and to apartment life in general. I'm getting along very well with everyone. Soon this place will feel like home away from home.

Glasgow has no J-walking laws. But it is really worth your life to attempt to cross the street without a signal. Also, if you aren't careful walking down the side-walk, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to get wanged in the head with a bus side-mirror. Didn't happen to me yet... but did come close. Last year I was told a girl had her arm broken by one. You can also cross diagonally across the intersection on a walk signal... I'm not sure if that's official... but it certainly happens.

Oh, and I've been suffering from a bit of congestion and soreness in my throat. Not sure if it is environmental or a cold. But I've been popping Vitamin C and Zinc. It's school, so I'm bound to catch a bug eventually.

**UPDATE: Turns out the Norwiegan guy wound up in our flat by mistake. He was actually supposed to be in the next block over. Anyway, the room still stands empty.

20 September 2006

Greetings from Glasgow!

Hi everyone! I'm finally getting settled in to my residence. The picture to the left is what I see when I look out my livingroom window. In the foreground is the Provand's Lordship, Glasgow's oldest house built around 1471. Behind it is the Glasgow Cathedral.

My flat in residence is wonderful. We're on the top floor, and the lift (which unfortunately didn't work the first couple of days I was here) comes straight up into the flat (so to get to our floor you need a special key). I have a nice sized bedroom with a closet-sized bathroom with toilet, shower, and sink. But it's my bathroom!! There is also a large common kitchen and living room.

The flat houses 8 females - so far 6 have arrived. There are two from Bolivia, and one each from Alaska, India, and Greece, then me from Canada. All postgraduate students. So far, everyone is lovely. We've all been busy trying to settle in and get the supplies we need to make the flat feel like home. I imagine our final 2 flatmates will arrive this week.

I've been walking around alot. Most of the amenities are located via George Square. George Square - which you can see pictures of if you go to my Flickr page (link to the right) - is the reference point for just about everything. It has the Glasgow City Chambers, as well as the tourist information centre. Northwest of the University is a large shopping area called Buchanan Galleries, and to the south there is the St. Enoch Shopping Centre.

The Glaswegians are very very kind and helpful - though a little difficult to understand sometimes. There are around 1500 International students at Strathclyde University alone, and on top of that there is also the University of Glasgow as well as several colleges -- so a large, and somewhat lost, student population is the norm. I'm sure I'll get used to the accent and slang in time.

Anyway, there is so much to talk about, and my thoughts are very disorganized at this point. But it will all trickle-on gradually. Saturday I am going to the Isle of Arran to see castle Brodick. Today is International Students Orientation, and then a reception in the Student Union.

I've uploaded a large batch of photos to my Flickr account. You'll notice I have a bit of a strange name for my flickr account. It's a Doctor Who thing I used for my Yahoo ID for playing games... and I didn't see the sense in signing up for a new ID since I had one already. ;-) Anyway, pictures are worth a thousand words... so I'll direct you to those to do a little of the talking for me. :-)


15 September 2006

I have arrived!

So, it's been a whirwind 24 hours. But I am here at the hostel in Glasgow. Here's the blow by blow:

We got to Pearson Airport at around noon-ish Thursday. I can't say that I was in anyway calm, cool, or collected. But, family was there to calm me down. And Jason and Meghan showed up in plenty of time to see me off. (Jason: the back rub was much appreciated :-)) Narrowly missed Jeremy though, but was able to blow a kiss his way from the security line.

Security in T.O. was HELL. Crowded, not enough personel for the amount of people going through, etc.

The flight was kind of turbulent, and there was no movie because their brand new Panasonic in-flight entertainment system was on the fritz. But I have to say, although KLM (like most economy class airlines I would think) squeeze you in like sardines, they do have excellent service and are very kind. We even got hot cloths to freshen up with!

Amsterdam has a neat airport. It's only one terminal, and that terminal is massive. It's full of shops, and even a casino and museum! I think it took me 25 min to walk across the airport to my gate. I got myself some euro over there beacause the dry airliner air killed my throat and I needed some more water... $20 CDN = 10.09 euro. And water was 2.50 euro... ouch!

In Amsterdam the take off runway is a 25 minute taxi (on the plane) from the gate. At one point I thought we were going to drive to Glasgow! ;-)

Glasgow is huge. You do a loop around when you land, and it's very very big, but with lots of green-space. I was greeted after immigration by a student who got me a cab to the hostel at a reduced rate. The cab ride into the city was alot like taking the 401 in Ontario in terms of scenery and vegitation. But the city is very different from anything I've seen in Ontario. Ottawa might come close.

I got to the hostel too early. I got my room changed to a private room because I was so groggy that the thought of sharing with 14 others just wasn't sitting well. Still couldn't check in until 3pm so I called home to let all know I was well and sat in the lobby with my luggage. I fell asleep right in the EuroHostel lobby! Anyway, the front desk noticed and got me in my room early. So I was in by 1 pm and had a 5 hour nap. Can you believe that I actually fell asleep to bagpipes playing outside my window!? Crazy!

I've done some walking around Glasgow already. Got some nice pictures too. I'll put those up later... right now I'm on coin-operated internet. Had pizza for supper.

Tomorrow I get into residene, and can spend some more time exploring the city. It seems easy enough to get around by foot. The University is about 20 minutes walk from here. Though I'll likely take a cab again tomorrow because of the luggage.

Anyway, that's all for now. I'm going to go and watch tv and read up on the sights and sounds. :-)

07 September 2006

The countdown is on

So, the countdown is on for me to leave for Glasgow. 7 days pretty much right on the button. I would like to profusely apologize in advance to anyone I haven't been able to visit before I leave. Odds are I will not make it out of town (save for shopping in Lindsay with Mom) again until I go to the airport. I have abused my little brother's good nature enough by monopolizing his car for as long as I did. He has informed me under no uncertain circumstances that I am in his debt until informed otherwise.

I'm uploading some pictures of home in Canada onto my flickr account. I just want documented proof that I live a completely normal small-town life here in Canada, and that I am indeed an unassuming person... contrary to what some people would lead one to believe ;-). Nah, just want some pics to gaze at in case I get homesick for good ol' Minden.

Last of all, I gained another first-cousin-once-removed a week ago Wednesday. Saw pictures of baby Eli today, he looks just like his dad... which could be cause for concern (I'm just kidding of course). Anyway, congrats to Ryan and Tanya on a job well done.