THERE'S AN ANDREW IN ST. ANDREWS

Scotsman Sir Alexander Gray once wrote : "This is my country / The land that begat me / These windy spaces / Are surely my own. / And those who toil here / In the sweat of their faces / Are flesh of my flesh / And bone of my bone" (from "Scotland"). My hope is that these adventures (as well as the ones left unmentioned in my blog) can help cement a similar kind of love and enduring connection to this country. Yet, such an effort is reciprocal: I have to surrender to this new reality in order to become a part of it. Cheers to becoming part of this "flesh" and keeping Scotland in "bones" forever!

On Sunday I managed to delay my revising for a trip to Dundee to watch Dundee United host Celtic in the last Scottish Premiere League match of the season. Highlights include the four goals we saw (all against Dundee…who we should have been rooting for), the macaroni pies sold at the concessions area for only two pounds, our friend Rickie (who, though a seventy year-old Scottish man, boogied every time music came on the loudspeaker), the location of our seats, and Dundee United’s trot around the field after the match to thank the crowd for a wonderful season.

Is there a better way to procrastinate?

P.S. - Just finished my last exam, and it was bittersweet to say the least. It marked the academic conclusion of my semester as a St. Andrews student.  

It didn’t take long for me to realize that one of the most attractive things about Scottish culture is that, put simply, THEY TRUST PEOPLE. In St. Andrews, students never hesitate to leave their belongings unattended if they need to use the toilet or buy some food. People stash their wet umbrellas in bins at the door, not thinking twice about a potential umbrella-thief who lurks around the corner (silly, I know…but why don’t we do the same in the States?). Upon finishing a meal, you often are asked to go up the bar /counter to pay, which makes a potential “dine-and-dash” exit that much more possible.

Yet, these instances hardly compare to those we experienced up at the Orkney Islands this past week. Tourist season had not yet come upon the Orkney mainland (the locals say that, since the weather remains temperamental for most of the year, they don’t expect visitors until late June), which could be part of it, but I was AMAZED at how trustworthy and hospitable the Orcardians were during our trip. Take the following examples as indication:

1.) A placard in our hostel suggested that if we didn’t get around to seeing the owners anytime during our visit, we could slip the balance we owed in an envelope and leave it in our room for them to collect. 

2.) If you aren’t at a designated bus stop but know the route that the coach travels, you can simply hail the bus as it approaches at it will pick you up (no questions asked). The same is true with the bus destinations: if there isn’t a stop close to where you’d like to get off, tell the driver your place-of-interest and they’ll let you off as close as possible to it.

3.) Here’s the kicker. Let’s say that you’re confident you will have plenty of time to reach the ferry terminal to leave for mainland Scotland, get lost on the two-mile walk over there, wander into a dark industrial complex looking for a way out, bust over a fence and run through a field praying that you don’t miss the boat, and sprint along the road as you here the ferry’s engine power up. A car will turn around for you, offer a ride, and get you to where you need to be without asking for anything in return. (I can’t say that this was purely hypothetical).

Anyways, I managed to snap almost 500 photos during our three-day adventure. I hope you enjoy the ones I decided to upload here.

Again, this post must be brief (as studying beckons), but I did want to share some photos from my lovely trip to London. I should start by saying that I originally had no plans to visit London; for whatever reason, the city has never had much appeal to me. But after much convincing from a friend, I gave in (and I’m tremendously glad that I did so).

In traditional London fashion, I wanted to post a black-and-white version of my photos. While there are countless moments that I have chosen not to share photographs of here, there are also several experiences that I never got a chance to capture on camera. On Saturday night, I went to the most memorable live concert of my life. In an old pub where U2 played their first London gig (it’s called Hope and Anchor…and it is rumored that they only played in front of NINE lucky attendees), Melissa and I watched, among several other mediocre up-and-coming bands, a group of old-time purists who rocked the stage unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The frontman looked like he was sixty or so, but he certainly surprised us. If you’re interested, check out the band here: http://www.goodbyemoneypenny.com/.  

That’s all for now. I hope you enjoy!

There’s nothing quite like running into the North Sea in such a circumstance as the St. Andrews May Dip: tired beyond belief (with a three-hour exam earlier that day…I had also been awake for 20 hours straight), the sun slowly rising at 4:25 am behind purplish clouds, without clothing, and joined by 2000 or so of your peers. Though I didn’t take the picture above, it speaks to how this tradition is simply one giant paradox, blending the numbing serenity of the East Sands at dawn with a crazy outdoor party.
Thanks to all who made the plunge something I will never forget. 

There’s nothing quite like running into the North Sea in such a circumstance as the St. Andrews May Dip: tired beyond belief (with a three-hour exam earlier that day…I had also been awake for 20 hours straight), the sun slowly rising at 4:25 am behind purplish clouds, without clothing, and joined by 2000 or so of your peers. Though I didn’t take the picture above, it speaks to how this tradition is simply one giant paradox, blending the numbing serenity of the East Sands at dawn with a crazy outdoor party.

Thanks to all who made the plunge something I will never forget. 

This past weekend brought me to Fort William with Breakaway Society do some hiking in the famed Scottish Highlands. What better way to climb my first “munro” (what the Scottish term any mountain over 3000 feet) than going all out: BEN NEVIS (the tallest peak in all the UK). Though the trail itself was rather well-manicured (tourists frequent the mountain and attempt to climb it in their tennis shoes), the hike itself was specular. As you’ll see in my pictures, once you hit the snow-line, it feels as if you could be anywhere (Everest anyone?)

On Sunday, we finished off our trip with a nice wander through the windy valley of Glen Nevis. I got a couple lovely shots of some spring run-off, and also managed to fit some sheep into the mix. 

That’s all for now (I need to get back to studying for exams). 

Figure this: the national animal of Scotland is a unicorn.

Why chose to “mythical”, dare I say “nonexistent”, creature as their mascot of choice? Well, because for all we know, they could easily have roamed the grassy glens and rigid crags of the magnificent…ISLE OF SKYE.

This weekend’s excursion to the Scottish Highlands brought with it a kind of magic, a mystique that was both novel and authentic. You get the sense that Glencoe (the most recent James Bond film shot several sequences here), the Spean Bridge (the water underneath is rumored to make you eternally beautiful if you wash your face with it), Ellean Donan Castle (a 13th century fortress that is one of the most photogenic places in Scotland), the Old Man of Storr (a hike to the top will leave you breathless, for more reasons than one), Culloden (a battlefield that marks the gruesome slaughter of Highlands by English swords), and even good ol’ Portree (the “capital” town of Skye) all revel in this enchantment. 

I finally got a taste of the Scotland that everyone knows, but few get to experience. I hope this selection of photos not only helps to bring my travels to life, but also passes on some of the magic of this place to you. 

Well, besides doing some traditional Scottish dancing in the 13th century ruins of St. Andrews castle and testing out my new (and first) suit at the Albany Park ball, I managed to participate in a bit of a cultural exchange and celebrate spring at the Holi Festival of Colors.

Holi is a Hindu practice that, among other things, marks the coming of spring. You’ll see that the weather couldn’t have been more fitting for such an occasion. 

Also, watch for Melissa and I around the 47-second mark… 

PS - in case you were wondering (like I was after receiving an email from a professor of mine), the names of all four seasons are NOT capitalized unless they used in conjunction with a proper noun [i.e. Spring semester]). 

Not only a fond memory from the weekend, but one of the most genuine Scottish experiences I’ve encountered thus far: the Fife Coastal Path. We walked eight miles, from St. Andrews Cathedral to the small village of Kingsbarns, and had a tremendous time. This was the kind of scenery I dreamt about before getting here. 

Behold, another late post. Since returning from a lovely week in Switzerland with my friend Bridget and her family (who live on Lake Zurich in a small town called Oberrieden), I’ve been hitting the books so hard that I forgot about this blog. With my most recent essay finished, it’s time to recap my time in the land of train travel and chocolate. 

The shades of gray (count them…there might be 50) popping up in most all of the above pictures are not an artistic statement; let’s just say that the weather was so bad that there were times when we wished that we’d rather be in Scotland. It was interesting to see how dependent we, as travelers, were on the weather. Many of our plans, along with our explorative spirits, were spoiled by the rain / snow mix that never seemed to let up.

Nevertheless, Bridget’s family did there best to make my trip a memorable one. We were able to take a number of day trips, though with the rain continuously pelting us, I didn’t take photos at all of the locations. Some of these adventures include a stroll up and down the cobblestoned streets of Colmar (a tiny village in France), window-shopping and a pint in Lucerne, wandering aimlessly around Zurich, waving to the black Madonna at the church in Einsiedeln, and meeting a psychology professor / collaborator / mentor of mine in Bern. 

But more importantly was the time I spend getting to know the family I stayed with. There’s something to be said about spending your holiday at a HOME (as I’ve mentioned in a previous post), a place where you have the luxury of making your own schedule and to do as little as you want. Apartment living here at St. Andrews can seem posh at times, but I didn’t know how much I was craving the comfort and familiarity of family life until I was thrown into it again. And I couldn’t have asked for more wonderful hosts.