To Close

So, I spent four months in Edinburgh, Scotland. I also visited Inverness, The Isle of Skye, Leven, Glen Coe, and many other corners of Scotland including the Highlands and three castles. I was also lucky enough to visit my Godfather, Nils, in Montmoreau-Saint-Cybard in France, as well as visiting London and my home town in Surrey. I was visited by close friends and I made new friends along the way. I drank a hot chocolate every day, and I got a job after realising a-hot-chocolate-a-day lifestyle wasn’t sustainable without extra funds. I learned how to prepare sushi and bubble tea, as well as how to understand all manner of accents as our restaurant was on a very busy road in Edinburgh. I learned my way around. I reclaimed my British-ness. I learned how to be a student in a different country, and I passed all of my exams. I missed everyone in the States very much, and now that I’m home, I miss Edinburgh very much. Thanks to mum and dad for supporting me through my semester abroad, and for also providing me with this book, even though the only time I could talk was at 7am New York Time. I couldn’t have done it without you! I absolutely loved being Emily in Edinburgh.

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Revisiting culture shock

Has the way you think of culture shock changed since the beginning of the course?

Absolutely! I had experienced culture shock when I moved to the U.S. in ninth grade, but as high school was a very structured environment and I was thrown into not only a new culture but a new curriculum, I had no choice but to get on with it or I’d fail everything. This time around, however, it’s not an entirely new culture, but it is much less of a structured environment for me. I have one or two classes per day, and the motivation to go to them is only intrinsic, there is no attendance taken and the classes are so large I would not be missed, and the lecture slides are posted online. So when I arrived this time I felt like I just wanted to hole up in my room and not leave. The shock was felt in ways that felt similar to depression, without the emotional strain. I just wanted to stay in my room and watch Netflix, something that brings me great comfort when I’m home. This is a stupid way to live, there is so much to do and see and being outside and in the new environment is what makes you settled.

Have you had any experiences that you would like to share and analyse that have further informed your understanding of your own cultural prejudices, expectations, and assumptions about the world?

Scotland deserves its independence, even though that’s personally not what I want. Scottish independence is not talked about where I’m from in England, growing up I barely knew anything about Scotland, only that I enjoyed visiting it in the summer. However, upon living in the capital of Scotland, Scottish independence is treated as seriously as Brexit, if not more. Brexit has basically swayed those that wanted to remain in the U.K. in the other direction, as now the benefits of doing so aren’t so great since we will no longer be part of the E.U. It’s a whole massive mess over here, Brexit shouldn’t be happening, it’s a very contentious issue. But had I not come here I would be very against Scotland leaving the U.K., without even entertaining their reasons for wanting to do so. I still don’t for entirely selfish reasons (I want to be able to return without having to get a visa) but I now believe that every nation has the right to leave if they wish, and as a non-Scottish person, that’s all my opinion should be.

If you are still at your study abroad site, please reflect on what you think going back will be like. How do you imagine reverse culture shock? What do you think your experience of it might be like?

Ugh, I’m not looking forward to it. I mean I am, so so looking forward to being home with my family, and back at Bing. I am so excited to be back in an environment in which I am so settled and so familiar with. This study abroad experience has been fantastic, but in many ways it was like starting at college all over again, and that is not the most fun experience. Making new friends, finding your way to class, etc., these are all ways in which I am settled at Bing and it can be tiresome to go through the “freshman” process again. But, in regards to reverse culture shock, I think it will be quite shocking. I will definitely feel like a stranger on campus (I know this because I visited before leaving for Scotland and I felt totally out of place) and everything will be very surreal I think. As it was odd to return to a “freshman” state, I think it will be equally odd to return to normal. Normal is not normal anymore, I am forever changed! But nevertheless I will have to return to my normal, a new normal, and it will feel weird. I’m going to really miss understanding the currency (I never really learned the coins in U.S. currency, I just know quarters) and all my favourite foods here (fish and chips, my favourite crisps, Cadbury chocolate, etc.). But I have understanding friends and family, they’ve heard all my culture shocked comments about the U.S. over the years so I’m sure they’ll find it entirely normal to be hearing them again.

Come up with your own tips, or warnings, for future students/visitors to your study abroad site.

  1. Don’t go with your phone provider’s “international plan”, that is a total rip off. As soon as you get here, walk into any supermarket and buy a sim card. They are literally £1. Top it up (put money on it), about £5, while you’re still at the supermarket. You can do this at the cashier when you buy it. Then go home, log into your new U.K. phone provider website, and pick a “pack”. These are 30 day plans, so you don’t have to sign any contract and you’re not on the hook for using it for a certain amount of time. I use a £15 per month “pack”, which gives me 2 GB of data a month, 1000 mins of phone call, and unlimited texts. There are options ranging from £5 a month to £30. This will be MUCH cheaper than using your international phone plan, and the service will be much better. Once you pop in the sim card to your phone, you will still have access to all your contacts and, if you have an iPhone, can Imessage them as normal as long as you’re on data or wifi without incurring any international charges. When you leave, just don’t buy another pack! The SIM card will work in the U.K. and Europe without any extra charges. One further option is to suspend your phone service at home. I use Verizon, and they allow you to suspend your phone number for 90 days, and you can pay $10 a month instead of the usual $40 (that’s my usual). So, you will have a U.K. number which will allow you to ring any number in the UK without any extra charge, and you can facetime and imesssage everyone at home to your hearts content with no extra charges (provided you have an iphone). No need for whatsapp or other third party messaging apps, and no stress.
  2. Make friends with your flatmates! Here, more often than not your friend group ends up being those you live with. Don’t hide away in your room or expect to meet people in classes, class is not a social space. Joining clubs is also a great idea as well, but don’t be caught off guard that they cost a pound or two to join, this is the same thing as Binghamton’s “activities fee”, except instead of paying $80 to service all clubs, you only pay a few pounds for those you actually want to join. Clubs here are very social, holding events at pubs once a week.
  3. Pub culture. Pubs are the casual social space here. Similar to a bar except they are nice places without a line of filth along the floor. More similar to bars are clubs. Pub culture is not something to miss out on! As I said clubs hold social events at pubs, don’t miss out on this, even if you don’t drink. Pubs have many non-alcoholic drink options and the point of a pub is to all be together, not to get smashed. So go! It’s a great place to have a chat, watch the game, or just relax with a book. Often pubs have quite good food as well, and for a good price. Pub is short for Public House, as everyone is welcome there and some pubs have a room or two for travellers upstairs.

Covering & Revealing Foreignness

How and why have you decided to ‘cover up’ the fact that you are not a ‘native’ of your host country?

Well, this is a very complex question for me to answer, because I’m not native, but I am, but I’m also not. I’m visiting Edinburgh from America, but I am from the U.K. originally, but England, not Scotland, which is a big difference. One way that I have “covered up” being American is by fully adopting my old English accent. This is easy to do as it naturally happens around English people (of which there are lots in Edinburgh, the most anglicised of the Scottish cities). Around Americans, my American accent flows without hindrance aside from words with long a’s, like talk or walk or dance where I do still say it the English way no matter what. So, when spending time with my American friends here in Edinburgh, I do speak very American, but while at work (I got a job as a cashier at a sushi place) all my co-workers are Scottish and English, as well as most of the customers, so I speak with a full English accent when there.

I don’t think that I do this fully to “cover up” being American, it is just what feels most comfortable to me. Whenever around English people, I am painfully conscious of when I say words with an American intonation, and vice versa, so I just stick to speaking like who I’m with, and I do this quite subconsciously. I did this while at home in the States too, my friends always say that I pick up my English accent immediately upon answering a phone call to my British father when I’m with them. I haven’t picked up a Scottish brogue, although I do (not at all convincingly, or even correctly) use the word “wee” quite often.

I try much harder with my outfits here than I do in the states. Clothing in the U.S. is focused on stylish-comfy-leisure wear, made more noticeable by the recent trend of athleisure clothing. Leggings and sweatshirts are completely normal to wear out of the house, sweatpants pass too if you’re off work, and pyjamas aren’t a rare sight on the weekends. Here, however, style is much less dictated by trends. You can wear whatever you want, as unique or weird as you like, but it has to look good. Leggings are much rarer, jeans, stylish trousers, or skirts and dresses are the usual. In the U.S., you’d almost be looked at as if you’re trying too hard if you wear a dress and heels to class, but here that is totally acceptable, you just have to be careful on the cobblestones! I knew this before coming here, and I packed accordingly. I only brought one pair of sweatpants for those days, and only to be worn inside (which I have stuck to!). I have cute heeled boots that I love wearing, and a lazy day for me is wearing a dress so that I don’t have to bother with squeezing into jeans! This is a part of daily life that I absolutely love, as when you look good, you feel good, and it gives me such a boost of confidence to wear a nice outfit. I think I am more productive when I wear a good outfit as well, as I’d rather be out in public being seen rather than go home and watch Netflix, my cute dress going unappreciated.

The one thing I do actually cover up actively is nothing to do with my American heritage (surprisingly), but actually my English! Scottish independence is a massive issue here at the moment and being English kind of makes me feel as though I’m in cahoots with the bad guys. Even worse, my hometown is in Surrey, a county bordering London where many “posh” and smarmy politicians live, and it has a reputation for being out of touch with the rest of the country. Three times when bringing up that I’m from Surrey, my accent is mimicked back to me (“oh, you’re from Surrey”)and it’s almost as if I’d been better of spouting my American accent.

How and why have you decided to ‘reveal’ the fact that you are not a ‘native’ of your host country?

 

I don’t really think I’ve done this, it’s quite obvious, no matter which accent comes out of my mouth, that I’m not Scottish, and Edinburgh is such an international city that being American, or English, is not very exciting at all. I’ve been quite shocked by how many Americans there are here, my local Tesco (supermarket) even has a little section dedicated to popcorn and other American snacks. I do miss buttered popcorn (they only do sweet or salted here, or caramelised) but aside from that, I don’t think I try to cover up or reveal very much of myself, as a large part of this experience for me has been becoming comfortable with exactly who I am.

P.S., I’m very sorry for the halt of these posts. School is actually quite difficult here and as much as I love writing these, I have to make sure I put the same amount of effort into school. Here are a few teaser pictures of blog posts to come (and come they will, I promise!)

 

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Glen Coe, Scotland

 

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Brantôme, France

 

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Scottish Culture: Ceilidhs and Thistles

The Ceilidh

– How would a person from your home country who encountered the practice, item you chose, likely interpret it?  How would this interpretation differ from someone in your host country?

 

Well, first off, chances are that an American would be unlikely to pronounce this word. It is actually pronounced like the name “Kayleigh”. A ceilidh is an event where traditional Scottish dances take place with large groups of people dancing in couples, triples, or quadruples follow a set of steps to traditional Scottish music.

 

 

– How does what you chose represent values in your host country?

 

A ceilidh is a very Scottish way to get together. It is a rambunctious dance, where the people don’t know what they’re doing either because they’ve never done one or they’re too drunk to understand the instructions. Ceilidhs were the original discos or nightclubs, they were a way for couples to get together and dance and be social. They are held in pubs (a Scots favourite place), or are a part of a ceremony, like prom or a wedding.

 

 

– What kinds of symbols might someone in your home country choose to represent similar values?

 

The only American equivalent I can think of are “hoe-downs” and country dances in the South. These seem quite fun, and I believe there is someone there yelling out the steps to you. Square dancing is done with a partner or in a foursome, so I think this is definitely the cowboy equivalent of a ceilidh.

 

 

– Why would someone from your home country find this thing difficult to interpret?

 

In the northeast, there isn’t anything I can think of that is similar to this. At prom, you just find a DJ, and the same at a wedding, with the exception of a father-daughter dance and the first dance of the couple. These are not communal dances though, and ceilidhs are supposed to take place with a large group of people.

 

– Would you say that these interpretations are due to different cultural values, rather than just individual differences in taste or style?  Explain.

 

I think there is much less of a “communal” culture in the states. Not only do ceilidhs not take place, but there are no pubs, short for public houses, and there aren’t any hostels that I’ve come across. People hang out in bars or in people’s homes, and hotels are much more a private affair. In the U.K., people frequent the same pub for years. However in the U.S., bars are a less local and more trendy affair, and young people want to visit the “in” bars, travelling to different towns and cities to do so, instead of sticking to their local bar. So yes, I think the values are different. There is less communal and local culture in the U.S. than there is in the U.K.

 

 

The Thistle

– How would a person from your home country who encountered the practice, item you chose, likely interpret it?  How would this interpretation differ from someone in your host country?

 

I think most Americans would be quite confused by this. The Thistle is Scotland’s National flower. It is also a prickly weed and invasive species. Americans often have quite grandiose ideas of national image and I think they might not understand the choice of the thistle for Scotland (nor the unicorn for that matter!)

 

– How does what you chose represent values in your host country?

 

The thistle holds quite a couple of cultural values. The Order of the Thistle is the highest chivalric order in Scotland, and second highest in the U.K., given out only by the Queen. Yes, the thistle is prickly and a weed, but it also blooms a vibrantly purple flower, and is one of the best flowers for bees in the U.K. Perhaps it displays Scotland as a strong, vibrant, and good nation, which I would be inclined to agree with. The thistle is a no-nonsense flower, quite fitting for the North.

 

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– What kinds of symbols might someone in your home country choose to represent similar values?

 

Well, in 1986 the U.S. designated the Rose as it’s national flower. This is England’s national flower, funnily enough. Though not a weed, it is prickly and beautiful as well.

 

– Would you say that these interpretations are due to different cultural values, rather than just individual differences in taste or style?  Explain.

 

I think cultural values have quite a bit to do with national flower choice, although I have no idea the reasoning behind the choice of Rose for the U.S. Both flowers are beautiful and dangerous, which I think both describes the U.S. and Scotland.

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Scottish Culture: Quidditch and Twitter

For this assignment, I decided to use a tweet with many Scottish phrases in it to best display Scottish tone, diction, and attitude. My chosen tweet:

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This tweet is relevant for a few reasons. It links to local Edinburgh culture with the mention of Edinburgh Uni’s Quidditch Team, but also to Scottish culture as this tweet is an example of “Scottish Twitter”, an unofficial but hilarious section of twitter occupied by Scottish people tweeting about funny things, using their slang, which the world loves. I came across this tweet in a Reddit thread I follow, called r/ScottishPeopleTwitter, where funny tweets from Scottish people are shared so that people all over the world can enjoy them, even if they don’t even have the Twitter App. The gist (and translation!) of the tweet is that the tweeter finds it amusing that 20-year-olds that could be studying medicine or law, spend a considerable amount of their downtime running around with brooms between their legs throwing balls at each other. The tweet is written in a mix of English and Scots, one of the official languages of Scotland. The Scots words used here are:

  • Oot
  • Tae
  • Aboot
  • Oan
  • Baws

Using a Scots to English dictionary, I’ll translate them. These are very common Scots words used in daily language in Scotland, mingled in with English. They are easy to understand because phonetically they sound quite similar to the English pronunciation of the word they mean (if you’re speaking English with a Scottish accent, that is!)

Oot: out. Beyond, outside. Compounds and phrases:

  • Ootin: an outing
  • Ooterlin: the weakling of a brood, the black sheep of a family, a reprobate.
  • Ooter: one who goes socialising.

Tae: to. Also, til. Compounds and phrases:

  • Intae: into
  • Taewart: toward(s)
  • Tippertaes: on tiptoes.

Aboot: Relating to, concerning. Compounds and phrases:

  • Oot aboot: outside
  • Up aboot: somewhere in or near
  • ‘Bootgates: going around, a roundabout way, a ruse, underhand means

Oan: on. Compounds and phrases:

  • An oan: and on, soon, in a little while
  • Oanwart: onward

Baws: balls. Compounds and phrases:

  • Bawbag: the scrotum. An annoying or irritating person.
  • Cannie baw: a sea urchin.
  • Gowfbaw: a golfball.

 

To some people reading Scottish tweets, they might think these Scots words are actually just misspellings, local “slang” pronunciations of English words. But Scottish twitter is actually a really cool way of keeping the Scots language alive and not just in Scotland, as Twitter is a global forum.

Edinburgh having a Quidditch team is not surprising to me, as J.K. Rowling wrote the early Harry Potter books in a few of the café’s next to the campus, some of which I study in! There are Harry Potter shops all over the city selling wizard robes, wands, spellbooks, uniforms, sweets, you name it. Edinburgh is an HP mad city, and Edinburgh actually has two Quidditch Teams, one of which (The Holyrood Hippogriffs) won the Quidditch Premier League this year, beating out the London Unspeakables and the Liverpuddly Cannons.

I think this tweet is a great example of Edinburgh culture and Scottish culture as it also displays the Scottish sense of humour well. Scots are first to make fun of themselves as well as everyone else, but they are fierce fighters if anyone else tried to.

Natural Edinburgh

Edinburgh sits on seven hills, and for much of the city, you either have a view of Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano, or Edinburgh Castle which sits on a massive piece of rock that juts out into the city. Both of these are symbolic of a violent past and a mass amount of power in a time gone by. The volcano, previously capable of erupting at any point, obviously held the constant threat of a painful death. The large geologic structure looks powerful, as mountains often instil a feeling of awe in us. The castle on the rock was a military fortress, very often attacked but very rarely won over by the attackers. It is also a beautiful, constant reminder of how strong the Scots are and have been through the ages. 

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These two features of the city really set the tone for what it means to be a Scot. There is quite a large feeling of importance and pride in Scottish people that is drawn from the past, as Scotland is not the seat of the capital of the U.K. and the Scottish National Party does not hold the most amount of seats in parliament. However, by visiting Scotland and speaking to Scots, you might think that it would! I think both Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh Castle are a constant reminder of the strength of the Scots and keep that strength alive.

I would say that the focus on conserving water is less focused on than reduction of waste is. There is an abundance of water in the U.K., many lakes and lochs (especially in Scotland) and you literally can never be more than 75 miles from the sea. However, the focus on conservation of resources, in general, is quite strong. In many coffee shops and cafes in Edinburgh, you will only get a discount if you use a reusable cup, and almost everyone has them. I have seen about 10x as many reusable cups than regular “to-go” paper cups. Also, plastic bags are 5p in all shops in Scotland, and it is more regular to see people walking with reusable cloth bags than plastic bags. 

Below are the reusable coffee cups that the university gave us for free!

As Edinburgh is a UNESCO world heritage site, old buildings are preserved and new buildings have to squeeze in where they can fit. Edinburgh filled up pretty fast and ran out of space in the 1800s, so there are already quite tall buildings from that time period, forget modern skyscrapers. My flat building was built in the 1800s! Because of this, roads tend to be quite sparsely laid out. I would wager that 80% of the time it is quicker to walk somewhere than drive, due to stop lights and roundabout routes that aren’t direct, due to all the old buildings and squares in the way. Personally, I’ve walked everywhere this past month, only having to take a cab to the hospital that was 2 miles away. There is nowhere that you can’t walk in Edinburgh, as Edinburgh was built well before cars. What’s also quite handy is that built into the buildings here are “closes” and “wynds”, basically little alleyways and steps between buildings so you don’t even have to use the roads that are there! These shortcuts make walking everywhere a lot quicker.

This is one such shortcut, a set of steps followed by another set of steps to the left of the phone boxes. Here is one such example where it’s clearly quicker to walk!

Recycling is highly utilised here, but more importantly, it is seen as not enough. The focus isn’t just on reducing waste and recycling the waste you do create, it’s just on cutting down on waste altogether. See my paragraph above about reusable items. In all the university buildings there are recycling bins sorted by type (aluminium, paper, plastic) and also a compost bin in all the university cafes and pubs.

I would assume that there are quite comprehensive laws about pollution here. I learned in one of my environmental courses here that the U.K. is actually on a downward trend for emitting greenhouse gases, but some of this is because we are not a production economy, but a service economy (meaning that we don’t make things here so we don’t pollute here). I haven’t noticed any pollution here, apart from the Edinburgh “smell”. It’s not as bad as it sounds, it’s only that there are so many distilleries here that Edinburgh has a distinct smell, from all the alcohol production! The air just smells a bit boozy. From a quick google search, I’ve found that Edinburgh does have “Low Emission Zones”:

Low Emission Zones (LEZs) are areas in town or city centres where the most polluting vehicles are banned from entering. They are one of the most effective ways to protect vulnerable people from dirty air and exist in over 200 cities across Europe.

People generally do prefer to bike rather than drive. If they can, of course. This is by no means to say that bikes outnumber cars here, but they certainly compete! The city has bike lanes all over, and a part of the campus has a bike lane running through it. There are so many bikes here that there are bike gangs, that steal bike parts and sell them on the bike black market!

There are lots of parks, an impressive amount for such a built-up city. They are called sometimes called gardens here. The most popular gardens are the Princes St Gardens in New Town that inhabit what used to be Edinburgh Castle’s moat, the George Square Gardens in the middle of the UoE campus. The two most popular parks are The Meadows, a large expanse of common just south of the campus, with long walking and biking trails, and Holyrood Park, better known as Arthur’s seat! There are also the Royal Botanic Gardens which are very popular. View of the Princes Street Gardens below.

My chosen symbol is the national animal of Scotland: the unicorn. This may seem like a silly choice, but the animal holds some powerful ideas in historical context. The U.K.’s royal coat of arms shows a lion on the left side of a shield, with a unicorn on the right. This shows the unification of Scotland and England, as the lion is England’s national animal. Sorry, Wales and Northern Ireland, your dragons and (had to google this, Northern Ireland doesn’t have a national animal!) weren’t important enough to be included it seems. However, interestingly and saucily enough, the unicorn is historically rumoured to be the only animal that could defeat a lion. This is the reason that it is Scotland’s national animal, as Scotland still wishes to be unconquered. This is reflected culturally across Scotland, as the SNP (Scotland National Party) hold the most seats in Scottish Parliament (their driving aim is Scottish independence), and as an English person myself with an unfortunately unmistakable accent, I can attest that there is still some light, and often jesty, animosity between the Scots and the English. In England, the union jack flies everywhere. So far, everywhere I have visited, only the Scottish flag flies. This includes all of the castles I have visited in Scotland. If the union jack does fly, the cross of St. Andrew is flown right next to it, unconventionally the same size.

This last image is unrelated, it’s just the most picture I’ve taken and I thought it might do nicely here. This is a view of New Town from a quiet spot off the Royal Mile. I took it on my evening walk today 🙂

Surprise birthday weekend in Inverness!

On Thursday night, just a few short hours before I was due to turn 20, Quentin and I had popped out to get some dessert. Chocolate bars and sweets in hand, we headed back to our flat. Upon our arrival, Quentin was unbagging our goodies and proclaimed, “these Crunchie bars are so good, I must get some more before we leave for Inverness.” Having not previously known where we were going on our secret trip tomorrow, I smiled and said: “before we leave for where??” Quentin apologised for ruining the surprise but I thought it was perfect. I now knew to pack more scarves and gloves!

Friday morning I opened cards and presents, and at 4:15pm we were standing on platform 11 of Edinburgh Waverly Station awaiting the arrival of our Virgin Train to take us to the Highlands! Quentin, an infrequent train traveller, asked me quietly if we needed to check in. We boarded, and I tucked into my Birthday McDonalds. I took many pictures on the train journey (as I was awake this time!) but unfortunately, the glare from the train window was too great for any of my photos to be post-able.

We pulled into Inverness railway station at 8pm, hungry and excited. The railway station is in the middle of Inverness, so upon stepping outside we were looking at regal buildings and this only furthered our excitement. We walked about 10 minutes to our hostel along the River Ness. Upon arrival, I thought we were in the wrong place. Quentin had not shared any details of our hostel with me in an effort to keep some surprise. I truly was convinced he had the wrong place. We had arrived on the steps of what looked like someone’s house, next to a hairdressers, with absolutely no sign indicating that there was any hostel in the general vicinity. Upon closer inspection, we found a laminated piece of paper that said, in broken English, that there might not be any staff in (?!) when we arrived, so please call this number and he will give us the code to get in. I was positive we were still in the wrong place, but Quentin rang and sure enough, whoever was on the other side of the phone was expecting us. We were given the code to get in, and upon stepping into the hallway I thought “oh no, we’re staying in someone’s house”. There was no reception, or even a desk. On the hallway wall, a key was taped with another laminated piece of paper and more broken English instructing us that we were in room four and how to get there. I poked my head round the corner and found a living room with some leaflets for touristy things (a good sign) and a communal kitchen. We went upstairs to find our room and found another surprise. Quentin had booked a private room, which we had both assumed would be a double bed, like in a hotel. However, when we unlocked the door, we had a private room alright, but it was two bunk beds! Oh well. We also noticed that no other lights were on in the three other rooms in the hostel, it looked like we were completely alone! There were no other guests nor any other staff present in the hostel. We unpacked our bags and headed out for some Birthday Fish and Chips. After scoffing that down in about four minutes, we went to bed, excited for the day ahead.

Saturday was extremely successful. We woke up in the morning and went straight to the Inverness Visitor Centre (old school right? What’s trip advisor?) to see if we could book anything that wasn’t sold out for the day. After dithering around and looking at leaflets for about ten minutes, neither of us had the courage to ask the man at the desk for any help, we both agreed to go find a local cafe with wifi and look this stuff up ourselves, on trip advisor. Pathetic, I know. We searched around Inverness Old Town for a bit, not having much success. The cafes we stumbled across were either too posh, not cafes but restaurants pretending to be cafes, or didn’t have wifi. We decided to give up and head towards the Cafe Nero we had seen on our way to the hostel last night. However, as we walked, a bit deflated, we spotted a little cafe called Blend! This cafe was small, but it did have wifi, the best hot chocolate I have ever had (and I have at least one hot chocolate per day), and an open table in the back. There was a beautiful mural on the wall, and the staff were really friendly. We settled in, opened our laptops, and got searching. We found three things of interest:

  1. Inverness Bike Tours
    • This was the no. 2 listed thing to do in Inverness. The bike tours offered a two-hour tour of all the places to see in and around Inverness, including a few things that were on our list!
  2. Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
    • You usually can’t go wrong with a good ole’ museum. Plus its free entry.
  3. Eden Court Theatre
    • This is a beautiful theatre in Inverness right on the River Ness, showing both theatrical performances as well as films. We noticed that this was the last night for a drama called A Frightened Lady, so we booked it!

The bike tour started at 1pm, and we were looking at it at 12pm. However, the website said to book 4 hours in advance. We rang anyway to see if we could hop on a tour last minute, and we were told yes, and to please be at the meeting point at ten to one. We arrived, and it turned out our tour guide Allison had left her phone at home and never gotten our message that we were coming. She was leaving to have lunch with her sons when we arrived, realised what had happened, and despite our protests rang her family to let them know she wouldn’t make lunch and said we would be able to have a tour after all!

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Our bicycles!
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The locations we visited on the bike tour
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The starting point of our tour, next to the River Ness.
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A quick snap of Inverness Castle while waiting for our tour guide to arrive.

Our tour guide, Allison, has been an Invernesian all her life and told us very interesting things about Inverness before we set off. For example, Inverness lost 80% of their male population to World War Two because Invernesians are very patriotic and all of them enlisted. So, the women who had overtaken their husband’s jobs while they were away got to keep them! Statistically, today, Inverness has more entrepreneurial women than any other Scottish city.

We set off on our tour, heading first to cross the River Ness on a suspension cycle bridge. The view from here was stunning.

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View of the River Ness, heading into the Ness Islands.

 

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Me, making an entrance, as per.

 

After crossing the bridge, we were now in the Ness Islands, where 200 years ago some Invernesian decided to plant trees from all over the world. The only ones that survived were the American ones, so there are 200-year-old Douglas Firs and one Redwood that have outlived many of the Scottish trees on the islands!

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Entering the Ness Islands

The Ness Islands were my favourite part of the tour. Autumn is upon us now, and watching the leaves fall while cycling through a tower of trees with River Ness on either side of us was just lovely.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we emerged from the islands to find ourselves at the entrance of the Inverness Botanic Gardens. Our tour guide explained that entrance was free, but the centre relied on donations, but not to worry, she had included the cost of a donation in the cost of the ticket and would make a donation for us and that she brings three tours here per day so they will definitely stay afloat. How lovely!

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The outdoor portions of the gardens.
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The beautiful tropical room

 

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Me and Quentin in the cacti room!

 

We were only allotted 15 minutes in the gardens, but were encouraged to visit again with more time to explore. We cycled onwards to the Caledonian Canal, a manmade canal that took 22 years to make, one of the most highly regarded engineering projects of the country. It was completed fifteen years before railways were built, making the canal obsolete. However it is still sailed on by travellers and tourists, and it is beautiful. It operates on a locks system, using gravity to raise and lower boats up and down a slope. I’m sure dad would have found this very interesting, but I was eating brambleberries the whole time and not really listening, so I have no pictures from it.
After the seeing the locks (and cycling down a really steep hill!) we ended up in the Merkinch nature reserve, which was absolutely beautiful. On one side of us was the Beauly Firth, and on the other were some herons hanging out in the grasses.

 

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We had to cross the train tracks to get to the nature reserve, legal in Scotland as long as you look and listen before crossing!

 

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Merkinch Nature Reserve. The little white specks are herons!

 

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The Beauly Firth. Nessie has been spotted here!

 

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Pulling over to learn about the herons and the nature reserve.

The views were so beautiful. So beautiful in fact, that I was too busy looking at them while cycling to see a pole in front of me to prevent motorcyclists coming down the path, and I crashed! It was all very embarrassing and actually kind of hurt, I have a sore cut on my hand. I broke the basket on my bike! I gave Allison an extra £10 at the end toward the cost of a new one. Yikes. We rode on to the Moray Firth, where unfortunately we did not spot any bottlenose dolphins. And finally, after a perfect two hours (apart from my collision) we rode back into Inverness town. Quentin managed to stay to the left the whole time, and remembered to use the left brake not the right!

After saying goodbye and thanks to Allison and promising to leave a TripAdvisor review, which Quentin has done! TripAdvisor Review Here. Allison only started these tours last summer, and her tours are not only no. 2 on the list of things to do in Inverness, but she has 139 five star reviews and only 1 other rating, which is four stars. So impressive!

My favourite line of Quentin’s review is:

“The trip through the Ness Islands was personally my favorite part, but the Botanic Gardens, and sightseeing locations (Merkinch Nature Preserve, Moray and Beauty Firth, etc…) are imbued with an isolated beauty only a local Invernesian would know where to find.”

Quentin is often scolded at university for using too much flowery language, but it’s something I love about his writing. Q also makes a really good point in his review, the whole cost of the tour with Allison was £21. A day bike rental from the public Inverness bikes is £20. So, essentially, that tour was a £1 tour, making it immensely worth the price.

We ended the tour around 3:30, giving us 1.5 hours to make the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery before it closed at 5! The entrance to the museum is right below Inverness Castle, aka my new crib.

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The museum was very sweet, detailing life in the Highlands through the ages, offering phrases such as “sorry I didn’t hear you, I was reading the newspaper” into Scots Gaelic (not sure how many of the Picts could use this as an excuse but ok), and my favourite exhibit, which offered a whole eight-foot tartan kilt, and six cartoon images showing you how to put it on. I’ll attach the picture of what it’s supposed to look like, next to what Quentin and I actually managed to pull off after 15 minutes of exasperation.

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Not too bad, but it IS supposed to stay together without me holding it together. Oh well.

We stopped into a Mcdonalds for the wifi to complete an assignment for school that was due the night before (oops). We then picked up a Chinese and took it back to the hostel to eat quickly before our play. The play was called the Case of the Frightened Lady and I’ll attach a link to the synopsis here. It was essentially a murder mystery, and it was mediocre the whole way through until the end when it all came together and we found out what had happened, and the last ten minutes were so exciting it made up for the rest of the play being slow. I love going to the theatre, so for me, the experience of getting little, overpriced ice creams and sitting in a beautiful theatre was enough, I could’ve watched anything and been happy. On the way home, we snapped this beautiful picture of the town of Inverness with the River Ness running through it.

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The next morning we had to check out by 10am. I unhappily dragged myself out of bed at 9:50 and threw my stuff together so we could leave on time without any late fees or anything like that. But it was all for nought, as yet again there was no staff in the hostel to scold us for a late departure. We left our keys in the door to our room and headed back to Blend for another amazing hot chocolate. We arrived with the intention of booking one more thing to do in Inverness, but upon arrival saw that they had the board game “Settlers of Catan”. Quentin made a beeline for it, and I grabbed Scrabble and another board game called “7-Wonders”, but these attempts were in vain. We were going to be playing Settlers of Catan. I got my hot chocolate, the world’s best hot chocolate, and we settled into a really fun game. I won the first time (I made Q swear that he didn’t let me in), and the second game was much more intense as we both had 9 points for a long stretch (you need 10 to win), but Quentin got there before I did and he was victorious.

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The mural at Blend. This is pretty much the whole cafe, it is very small, tucked away in a less frequented side street of Inverness Old Town.
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A close up of THE world’s best hot chocolate. Mini marshmallows are the best and I think they handmade their whipped cream.
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Quentin setting up the game that I won. Maybe the hot chocolate gave me superpowers.

As our game concluded, we saw that it was 1:15pm. We had anytime day tickets to Edinburgh from Inverness, and I knew that there was a train departing at 1:30pm. We both agreed that we had done everything we wanted to in Inverness and that we wouldn’t mind getting back to Edinburgh in good time to do some homework in our favourite cafe. So, we packed up the game, thanked the cafe, and headed to the railway station.

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Inverness railway station entrance.

On the train we found an online version of the Settlers of Catan and played against computers for two hours, enjoying a beautiful view out of the window. Filled with happiness and excitement to be back in a place that has really started to feel like home, we zipped back down from the Highlands.

P.S., here are some bloopers. Enjoy this series of pictures of me trying the hot chocolate. My face says it all.

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P.P.S., I have been listening to the same song pretty much the entire time I’ve been writing this blog post, Amie by Pure Prairie League. Feel free to give it a listen and we can be connected by song 🙂