Time…where does it all go? I swear I had just updated this blog when I turn around and have missed another week and a half. My apologies to those of you who have been anxiously awaiting another update. Here we go!
I won’t delve into the details of my life two weeks ago, suffice to say that I spent the majority of it being studious. This is, after all, a study abroad trip, and a rigorous one at that. We have two smaller papers and a large ‘dissertation’ - which is equivalent to a term paper/large research project in America - which we need to turn in by the end of the summer, so I’ve been trying to take advantage of down time.
One of the highlights of the week was a tour of Westminster Palace (where Parliament meets) on Friday morning. It was a great tour filled with facts and anecdotes, most of which I no longer remember. One curious factoid I learned was the expression ‘it’s in the bag’ has its origins in Parliament. It used to be the case that constituents who had a complaint submitted it in writing, and the constituent’s MP put the complaint in a bag that hangs on the back of the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Commons. Thus, if the constituent wanted to check on the status of said complaint, the MP would tell them “it’s in the bag”.
Saturday a couple of us headed out to Camden Town to check out the market there. I was blown away by the scope and scale of the market - you can find almost anything there and it stretches for blocks upon blocks. We mostly browsed, but I do plan on going back and picking up a few unique things for my apartment back home. I also had the best fish and chips yet there at a little stand called ‘Camden Lock Fish and Chips’. Six pound fifty (roughly $10) bought a massive take away box of fish and fries that was worth every penny.
Monday was Memorial Day in America and a bank holiday in the UK. We didn’t have class or work, so we took advantage of the time off by visiting Covent Garden. The experience was similar to Camden Town in that there were large public markets open, but it was much more posh. At one point we stumbled upon a string quartet playing for a crowd of outdoor diners. We wandered for most of the day, at one point stopping for food at Cafe Pasta (bad name, great Italian food) - two courses for seven pound fifty (a steal in London). After a brief rest-up at the flat, we ventured forth for some live entertainment. We found ourselves at “Blues Bar,” a small hole-in-the-wall type establishment that has some of the best live blues and jazz I’ve ever heard. It was an amazing time - I’m sure I’ll be back.
On Tuesday we boarded a train at 9:30 for the journey to Edinburgh, Scotland. There isn’t much to report about it other than trying to sleep on this train was next to impossible - I’d much rather take the leg room on a discount airline then the leg room on this train. I muddled through, and we arrived in early afternoon. Straight to the hotel, a quick bite, and then off to a lecture at the European Union office.
Edinburgh is a charming town of one million on the coast of the North Sea. It is the seat of the Scottish Parliament, and is absolutely steeped in history. From the various kings that called Edinburgh home, to the failed expeditions to start a colony in Panama (which the Scots are curiously proud of), to the various thinkers and writers who’ve been inspired by the city (think Adam Smith and JK Rowling). Three days in this city is not nearly enough to see everything of historical significance.
Wednesday was dedicated to lectures on various aspects of Scottish political, legal, and economic topics, the details of which I won’t bore you with. Much more interesting was later in the day, when the flat mates and I decided to climb a volcano in the center of town (dormant…but a volcano none-the-less). Pictures to follow. Arthur’s Seat, as the volcano is affectionately known, is not particularly tall or steep; as far as ‘mountains’ go, it barely qualifies. What made the climb so memorable was how fiercely windy it was. At times one had to lean into the wind to keep from being knocked over, at others it was best to grab a hold of something solid. The view from the top was absolutely worth it. Again, pictures to follow. From the top one can see the entire city, from New Town close to the North Sea, to Old Town, the Royal Mile, and Edinburgh Castle, perched atop another dormant volcano, which was (and still is!) the seat of Scottish and English Royal power.
Thursday we spent time at the Scottish Parliament - we began by viewing a debating session (the topic was energy production and the environment…I think…), followed by a tour of the building by one of the Scottish MPs from the Labour Party. The building is very much a love it/hate it building, which cost a small fortune to build, following the devolution of power from Westminster under the Blair government. From the outside the building is an eyesore, a massive complex of uninviting gray concrete. Inside, the building is an impressive example of modern architecture. It is hard to describe in words. At times I felt I was in a ski lodge, at others in a modern office building, and still at others in some sort of posh restaurant. Its the type of building that is sort of disconcerting at first, but it grows on you.
Friday we set out to tour the town a little bit. We didn’t have much time before our train left for London. We sipped coffee at the Elephant House Cafe, where JK Rowling wrote some of the Harry Potter series. I am not a big fan of the books or the movies, though I am a huge fan of coffee in general, and cafes in specific, so I was more than content. We browsed through the news papers, reveled in the view of Edinburgh Castle, and tried haggis - which reminded me of a very rich meatloaf. After a while we wandered around the corner to an old cemetery where Ms. Rowling lifted a few of the names for her books. The cemetery had a certain historical gravity and solemnity to it - some of the graves date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Putting the years on the markers in the context of world history - particularly the grave I found from 1775 - really gives one a sobering perspective. We emerged from the graveyard to the Grass Market area, which is a large square in the middle of town, where we grabbed lunch (steak pie!), before wandering down the Royal Mile, and eventually back to the hotel and subsequently the train station. After the long journey back to London, I was happy enough to open the door to a freshly cleaned flat and relax.
I spent yesterday mostly aimless, though I did go for a long walk around our part of London, and tried my hand at making an alfredo sauce (which, if I do say so myself, was pretty darn good). I read a bit, made a few plans, and generally tried to avoid anything class related. I left all of that for today, where I am currently ‘working’ from the LSE library. After catching my breath from this marathon blog post, I plan on preparing for class tomorrow and work the rest of the week. “Real Life” in London, or as real as it gets on an amazing study abroad trip such as this, begins shortly.