Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas in Scotland

This year, I spent my first Christmas away from home and family.  Flights back to CA were just too expensive.  So, not wanting to be depressing and stay in student housing, my friend Rohit and I decided to take a trip up north and spend Christmas in Scotland.

Scotland is by far one of the most beautiful places I've had the pleasure of visiting.  Edinburgh beats Glasgow in my opinion (basically because it's old and fabulous, and has lots of photo opportunities), and the Highlands are pretty enough to make you weep.  We landed in Edinburgh and stayed at a pretty awesome youth hostel (who pays for hotels when you can get by cheaply at a hostel?) called Castle Rock.  It's literally right by Edinburgh Castle.  Our flight was at 7 am from Stanstead, which means we had to leave London at 3:30 am to catch a coach from Victoria to the airport.  All in all it means we pulled an all-nighter, and I was so tired the next day.  But, we couldn't check in to our rooms until 2 pm, so we had to drop off our luggage and go exploring.

Isn't the lighting here amazing?  No photoshop needed.

My favorite part of our trip was touring the Highlands!  We booked one of the mini bus tours through Rabbie's, and I'd definitely recommend their company.  Our tour guide, Kevin, was totally awesome and knew so much about the history of the places we visited, which included:
  • Callander
  • Fort William
  • For Augustus and Loch Ness
  • Rannoch Moor
  • Glencoe
The Highlands were covered in snow, but we got lucky because the sky was so clear on the day we went.  The sun made the snow look like diamonds!  It also gave things a bit of a tungsten hue, but oh well, it was beautiful anyway!

One of my favorite things about traveling is meeting new people, and I love meeting kindred spirits, even if our paths only cross briefly. It just makes the journey that much more fun!  Our hostel had a big Christmas lunch for the travelers who stayed through the holiday, and on Christmas Eve, Rohit and I stopped in to St. Giles' Cathedral for early mass.  I'm not a religious person, but it was actually really nice, and I even knew some of the songs!  Then, we even managed to find an internet cafe across town that was open late on Christmas Eve so that i could skype with my parents.

 For what it was, I had a great Christmas! Thanks, people of the world!

Now I'm back in London writing papers.  How depressing!  Just kidding, I'm actually having a bit of fun with my essay about Laurence Olivier's Hamlet.  Yeow, yeow!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Brilliant Weekend in Cornwall

On the weekend of November 19 I went on my HOST visit to Cornwall.  The train journey from London Paddington took about 5 hours, winding through the forest and hills beyond Devon to the very southwestern tip of England.  There I discovered enchantment.

{Day 1}

I was met at the station in a little village called St Erth by my hosts Bob and Michele, an older couple who live in a lovely late Victorian home that was once a doctor's house at the turn of the century.  I dropped my things off in my room (which was lovely and very comfortable with a big doube bed) and went downstairs for tea and scones, and found out that Bob and Michele had the whole weekend planned out for me.  It was great, because my primary reason for doing a HOST visit was to experience a bit of British culture outside of London and university.

St Michael's Mount
 The first thing we did was take a drive along the coast (I specified that if possible, I'd love to see the ocean, because I miss it).  We meandered through small fishing villages, the larger town of Penzance, and up to Land's End, the western-most tip of England.  Along the way they showed me St Michael's Mount (an island in the English Channel with a castle on the top that can only be reached by foot via a causeway when the tide is out.  It mirrors exactly Mont St-Michel in Normandy, France. They also showed me a local hot-spot, the Minack Theatre.  The Minack was built by a lady named Rowena Cade who envisioned a theatre carved out of the side of the Cornish cliffs.  She got her wish.  Visitors can see live theatre performed with the Atlantic Ocean for a backdrop.  I saw it by moonlight, and can only imagine the brilliance in the daytime.  Our last stop was Land's End where we enjoyed a drink at the Lad's End Hotel bar.  Apparently it's a hot spot for summer holidays, but in the winter Land's End is somewhat destitute and very quiet except for the roar of the sea below the cliffs.

On the way back to the house, Bob and Michele took me to a themed restaurant called the Meade House in Newlyn, the town where Michele was born.  This restaurant specializes in traditional Cornish meade (a drink made from barley and honey that is very sweet and tastes not unlike cough syrup) and food you eat with your hands.  It was delicious and reminded me a bit of Medieval Times in Buena Park, CA, only without the jousting arena and stadium seating.

{Day 2} 

I woke up early on Saturday.  Michele had breakfast all ready for me.  Scones, fresh pineapple, cereal and tea.   Then we went down to the local farmer's market.  In a village as small as St Erth, the farmer's market was literally a room in the town church where locals sell fresh veggies, meat, and handmade crafts.  One lady was selling the mos amazing and strange-looking cabbage I'd ever seen.


look at this cabbage!
st erth church
in the bird bath
We went back to the house and Michele taught me how to make an authentic Cornish pasty, which is basically a rolled out square of dough (flaky, like Pillsbury biscuits)  filled with beef, onions, turnips, and sliced potatoes.  I added some double Gloucester for good measure because I love cheese.  It's then baked in the oven for an hour and presto, you have a hearty and delicious meal!  Michele told me that traditionally, one end of the pasty would be filled with veggies and meat, and the other end would be filled with something sweet, so that the miners who ate them would have a complete meal and dessert in one pie.  Clever!

i loved the decore of bob and michele's home.  so quaint!

making pasties
In the afternoon, we went to St Ives, a resort and popular surfing spot.  It was beautiful!  Then to a little town called Hayle.  Cornwall is so photogenic.

by the sea
st ives harbour
the waterfront
Later that evening, Bob and Michele took me to the city of Truro.  It's the only legit city in Cornwall, and it's classified as such because it has a cathedral.  We attended a concert by the Truro Cathedral Boys' Choir and a quartet called Blake.  I have no idea why they're called Blake since no one in the group is actually named Blake.  It's one of life's great mysteries.

{Day 3}

Day 3 was my last and favorite of the trip.  Bob and Michele took me to north Cornwall to see the ruins of Tintagel Castle.  If you're a fan of Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, this is where King Arthur was allegedly born.  It's a place I've always wanted to see and it was just as mystical and lovely as I'd ever hoped it would be!

outside looking in
tintagel castle ruins
Tintagel is a quaint little (and I mean little) village with a 13th century post office that has a stone roof.  It's a National Trust site and it's lovely.  You walk down the road past the Tintagel Arms pub, down a steep incline, and as you turn the corner, the cliffs open up and the blue sea is right there in front of you with the castle ruins on the cliffs above.  The cliffs are dotted with caves, one in particular is called Merlin's Cave.  To get to the actual castle (which was built in the 11th century by the Duke of Cornwall), you have to climb these rather perilous stone steps that are carved into the side of the cliffs.  It's quite a work out, but once you're up there the views were simple breathtaking.  I don't think the inhabitants of Tintagel Castle got many visitors, but at least they had some nice scenery to look at.

Afterword, we drove to a small town close by called Boscastle before heading back.  I caught the train at Bodmin, said goodbye to my amazing hosts, and headed back to foggy London.  It was a fantastic experience, and I'd definitely recommend going to Cornwall.  It's up on my list of "most beautiful places I've visited."