***I had trouble putting pictures in, so I encourage you to check out my Netherlands album here and my Scotland one here***
So I haven't been my best this past month at updating you, but let me play a little catch up now. Right after my last post, I jetted off to London which only takes about 10 minutes because of the time difference! My first 3 nights I stayed with 2 Irish girls who right away gave me crumpets and tea (with milk of course). The next day I took my favorite free walking tour and saw all the essentials including Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey (although I never went in), St. James Palace where Henry the VIII lived, and the QUEEN! She was traveling in her coach back to the palace after giving a speech. That night I saw an improv comedy show with another Clark student and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was for a free show. I'm not sure if it was their charming British accents or just British humor in general, but I loved it enough to see another show a few nights later. Since most attractions were quite expensive, well really most things in London, especially since the pound to dollar is not a pretty conversion, I went to a lot of museums which are all free. While I was there I managed to hit the National Gallery (not a huge fan), the National Portrait Gallery (absolutely amazing), the Natural History Museum (dinosaurs never get old), the Victoria and Albert Museum (probably my favorite), and the British Museum. I also hit plenty of markets like the Old Spitalfields Market with antiques and vintage items, the Borough Market which provided TONS of free samples, and the Camden Market which was MASSIVE and similar to Greenich Village in New York City. I also took a fantastic tour of London's alternative culture, graffiti and street art. We even saw one of the artists working on a wall. The street art in really incredible and so many world renowned artists come to the walls of the East End and off of Brick Lane. In addition, to seeing London from East to West, I took a day trip to Cambridge. In Cambridge, I met up with a friend from high school who goes to the university and was able to take me through all the college yards and gardens. Despite the rainy weather and the cough I developed only while I was in London, the city absolutely stole my heart. I loved how quick the Tube was, the double-decker buses, and just being in a city that once ran an empire--but now it's just full of lovable scamps =)
Nonetheless I had to get back to the Netherlands for my last few weeks. After a day or so back, my parents arrived for their week long visit. Unfortunately, they picked the coldest and rainiest week and had to push through to make sure they still saw all the quintessential Dutch spots. They loved how unbelievably friendly the Dutch were at giving directions or satisfying my mom's need to talk to everyone, although when it came to biking, she found the Dutch to be far too aggressive to stay on the road. Together we journeyed north to see Alkmaar's cheese market, do a walking tour through the very historic Hoorn, and eat dinner in Haarlem. We also took a trip to Amsterdam to see the Jewish Museum (highly recommend) and Portuguese Synagogue followed by a canal tour. I tried to get my parents to go to a coffee shop which my Dad was quite excited about, but my Mom complained about her asthma and vetoed it. Since, I mostly cook for myself, it was quite nice eating out in Leiden's restaurants. While, I was sad to see them go after a week, I was also sad to see my computer and all of my stuff go to since I am now travelling and living out of my backpack.
After my parents left I wasn't alone for long, my friend Josh came to visit next. I gave him the full Leiden tour and we journeyed to the Hague. In the Hague, we went to see the Queen's palace, Parliament, the Peace Palace, and Madurodam which is an open air museum of small scale Dutch cities and interactive videos (it was like I was studying for my Dutch Culture exam). We also took the tram to the beach outside the Hague called Schvenigen and had some delicious Indonesian food for dinner. The next day we did a walking tour of Delft, climbed the New Kirk for some incredible views, and did a tour of the factory where they make Delft Blue wares. All in all a really lovely visit and a chance to get in some more places I had yet to see.
On my final week in the Netherlands, there was still so much more for me to do. I had two exams which I did okay on...I also made it to the Rijksmuseum for a bit (the fire alarm went off and shortened our visit), but I was still able to see some Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and so many other incredible Dutch artists. I managed to stop at the Anne Frank House as well and was really touched by how well it was organized and being in the same tiny attic that Anne hid out in. I also took a trip to Leylstad to visit my friend Judith's home and family, a city that has only existed for the past 60 years since it used to be underwater until they built lots of dikes. The city also has a lovely reserve next to it with tons of birds, deer, wild horses, and a beautiful landscape. Since I started dating a Dutch guy, Thomas, I even went to see a play entirely in Dutch that he was in. It's sad that aside from the synopsis that I read beforehand, I was not able to understand a word. On my last day inthe Netherlands, I got my vaccinations for Asia, took my last exam, and went to a concert in Amsterdam with Thomas and his friends (again I have never felt so short).
Leaving was bittersweet, but I was so excited to go to Scotland! I spent my first 3 days in Edinburgh couchsurfing with 3 Lithuanian students. The city is a mix of new and old architecture and is dominated by the Edinburgh Castle looming over the city. While in Edinburgh, I took another excellent free walking tour and learned a ton about Scotland's complex history. I also climbed Calton Hill and Arthur's Seat which are mountains right in Edinburgh that provided for some spectacular views. I got my fill of Harry Potter facts too having passed by the restaurant that J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter in and the cemetery that Rowling got inspiration for many names like Professor McGonagall and Tom Riddle (in London I stopped at Platform 9 3/4 and later in the Highlands I passed through Gilfinnan where Harry Potter's train went through in the movies). Edinburgh was the perfect mix of city, nature, and again terrific accents.
From Edinburgh I took a Megabus up to Inverness, one of the bigger cities in the north, but still very very small. After a stop there, I took a bus to the Invergarry Lodge where I have been spending my week. In exchange for doing the cleaning each morning, I have been able to stay at the hostel for free and explore the Highlands. On my first day I accidentally took a 6 hour hike around Loch Oich and interacted with far more people than sheep (the hills are covered in sheep, although I'm not sure if they are there to be sold, for wool, for haggis, or all of the above). Another day, I met a Dutch student hiking the Great Glen Way (from Fort William to Inverness) who was staying at my hostel. We continued on the next day together to explore Fort Augustus where I tried some fish and chips and to seek out the Loch Ness monster on Loch Ness ( I think Nessy is definitely in there!) My craziest day was when I decided to try out hitch hiking. I was trying to make my way to Fort William, but a Scottish musician picked me up and offered to take me to the coastal town of Malleig. From there I took a ferry to the Isle of Skye and was able to see the other smaller isles along the way. Once I arrived in Skye, I toured a small eco-campsite, saw some castle ruins, and walked along the coastline for quite some time before getting my next ride with an old man who facilitates marriages. I asked him how he could live out in the middle of nowhere and he told me that the last city he was in, Portree, with a population of 3,000 made him feel claustrophobic! The next ride was with a father and daughter. The daughter was only 16 and wrote and recorded her own CD (I suppose when she gets famous, I can remember the time I rode in her car). My last ride passed through some incredible scenery and another castle ruin from Kyle of Locash back to Invergarry. It was with a truck driver carrying a huge load of prawns and once I got used to the fishy smell we had a great time sharing travel stories. On my last day, I aimed to go to Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the United Kingdom, but misjudged just how far that was so instead I had a terrific hike along Loch Lochy (translating to Lake Lakey.. oy). As much as I have thoroughly enjoyed my very relaxing week in the middle of nowhere, I am ready to head down to Glasgow for 3 days!
From Glasgow I head to Italy for 3 weeks. If it wasn't for the allure of spaghetti and gelato over haggis and black pudding, leaving Scotland would be quite hard. Hopefully I'll be able to send another post out soon from there!