Claudia: improvements, spontaneity, suggesting coconuts migrate, the best day of my life thus far, and Halloween

November 4, 2010

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the library lately, because I have two 3000 word essays due in the 3 weeks, a 2000 word essay due next week (but half of it is a transcription that I’ve got mostly done already), and a rather large portfolio for Archaeology due on 3 December. Heavy stuff, my friends. Surprised that I’ve already started working? Yeah, I am too. But let’s consider how in the Scottish uni system, my finals are worth 50-60% of my grade, and these essays are worth the rest. Can’t afford to have a bad day.

Now, on to the subject of this post: as my parents reminded me while I was having a Skype conversation with them last week, time is moving quickly. I haven’t done a lot of the things I planned to do (the question of whether I actually end up making it to Dublin is very much up in the air), and I don’t have that much time left in which to do them.

This brings me to a little bit of a sidebar: while I haven’t crossed a lot of things off of my list of things to do in Scotland, I think I’m becoming a much better and more interesting person while I am here. My life has lacked a lot of balance up until this point; I will simply waste days, scramble to do work, and rarely get out and do things, or if I do, I go crazy doing them. For the first several weeks I was here, I didn’t go out that much or make a lot of new friends, or really do much of anything (aside from my homestay and the Highlands) except go to my classes and hang out with some friends once in a while. While people were getting out around Scotland, and living it up in Edinburgh, I was just sort of adjusting and existing (not that I wasn’t having a good time). My thought process was that I had all the time in the world later in the semester to do things, but I didn’t really account for my essays or the sheer number of things I wanted to do.

Now, I’m learning to get my work done during the day (I pretty much live in the library), so I can go out with my friends at night. A bunch of kids from Hermit’s Croft have pretty much become regulars at the Montague, the pub across the street from our flat. It’s very cozy and friendly. We’re actually going to their pub quiz tonight, hooray! But I have also developed a really amazing close circle of friends from ClassicsSoc, and we go dancing sometimes, or just hang out around campus.

So, back to the point. Last week, my friends and I had tried to get these tickets from the International Student Center to go to Stirling, including entry to the castle, for £7 (such a good deal), but they sold out after only one of us had managed to get to the ticket counter and buy two tickets. So, we could either pay our own way to Stirling or not go. I considered not going, but then we were going to go to Perth and go to Scone Palace because it closes for the season on 31 October, and it’s supposed to be nice. However, one of our friends informed us that the ISC said that if we showed our student IDs at Stirling Castle while the ISC was there, we’d get in free, so Katherine (flatmate) and I decided to go to Stirling and meet up with some of our friends there. On Friday night, while we were looking at the guidebook for Scotland that my grandparents so kindly left behind for me, we discovered that there is a castle about 20 minutes by bus away from Stirling, in a village called Doune, that happens to be the castle used for filming nearly every castle scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail!!! Naturally, we just had to go, so we made plans to hit up Sterling, and then leave to go to Doune.

Again: I have been having trouble uploading photos to my blog, so here are links to photo albums:

We got to Stirling, split a tasty Cornish pasty, and then walked up to the castle, where it turned out that they would NOT let me in free with my ID, so I bought a Historic Scotland card at a steeply discounted rate (£25 woo!!) that I assume will pay for itself with visits to maybe 2 more sites, which is good because we’re going to Craigmillar Castle at some point in the near future. It turned out that our timing was not synchronous with my friends, so we went on a tour of the Earl of Argyll’s lodgings, which I expected would take about half an hour, but was incredibly wrong concerning this assumption.

You probably know how antsy I get about time (this was at 11:30, and we had to be on a bus by 1:55 or else our day would be entirely thrown off), and how much I have trouble paying attention to people for long periods of time, so I was pretty much freaking out when by noon, we had not even entered the lodgings, but had listened to the guy talking about every aspect of the outside of the building, up to the molding on the windows. But, there was no way out of the tour because there were security people by the courtyard gate and stuff. So, finally inside, the house was pretty cool, but the tour guide would NOT shut up. I had a frantic texting conversation with my friend Liz, who was at this point inside the castle, expressing my doubts that we’d find them in time to meet up, and also my fear that we would never get out of the townhome tour. Finally, it was over and Katherine and I ran up to the castle and found Liz in the Chapel Royal, which was beautiful. The building, which you can see in my album, didn’t really fit in… it was all fairytale building-y, as opposed to the imposing stone of the other buildings. It turned out that the palace itself is closed as they restore it to its original splendor, so I was pretty upset, but anyway, the castle was cool. There were really creepy fake people in the kitchens, but I got over it. The views of the surrounding countryside from the battlements and the outer courtyards were beautiful… stunningly so. Autumn here is just gorgeous, but this was nothing compared to the loveliness of Doune.

We caught our bus, which turned out to be way more expensive than we thought it would be (£6.70 each for a return ticket!!!), and enjoyed the ride through a rather rural area. We went over tiny stone bridges. Idyllic. The village of Doune itself was adorable, very small, and with a lot of wee boutiques, a number of which were of a bridal nature. We followed signs to the castle, and on the way there, we walked through a pasture that was the site of a wooden Roman fort (cool!), and then through the woods for a bit. This begins the part of my day that made it the best day of my life. The weather on this particular day was extremely gorgeous and perfect. Sunny, brisk, but not too cold, and the light was of that particular autumnal variety that leaves everything a little golden and makes me feel extremely happy.

We got to the castle itself, and I was just way more excited than I really should have been. The admission (covered by Historic Scotland) included an audio tour narrated by Terry Jones! It was pretty fab. Usually, I can’t stand audio tours (the attention problem), but I listened to absolutely everything because it was really interesting. Doune Castle is special because it hasn’t really been at all altered since the Medieval era. Also, the Duke of Albany, who owned the castle was pretty fascinating, and there’s just a ton of cool history that goes with it. Anyway, the audio tour went through the historical stuff, and then you could listen to all the Monty Python stuff after that. So, I took an excessive amount of pictures, and you might recognize parts of the castle from the movie. Their use of space to make sets for like, 5 different castles (I think?) was really creative.

Of course, I had to run around the Great Hall (where they filmed the Camelot scene) singing the Knights of the Round Table song, and Katherine and I pretended to have coconuts outside, so now I feel like my life is a little more complete. The cool thing about the Castle was that there was just a very little bit that was off limits, and otherwise, visitors are really free to wander wherever they want in whatever order they want to go. So, we spent a long time just checking out all the nooks and crannies of the castle. My observation: this particular castle had a ludicrous number of privies. I don’t think I would have liked walking around outside when they were in use…

So, from the top of the castle, we had noticed how breathtakingly scenic the surrounding area was, and decided to take a bit of a hike after the castle closed. It was still lovely, and approaching sunset, which made everything even more beautiful. So, we followed a few paths and the sound of some cows, until we ended up by the river and underneath the most yellow tree I have ever seen. Then we climbed down a precarious bank that seemed like it was really just a lot of moss, and decided it was probably a bad idea to be on it, and continued on our merry way. We saw people fishing, some dalmatians, and a family picking berries. It was like walking through a landscape painting. I have never felt so peaceful and relaxed in my life. I really can’t describe it, but it really was the best day ever. We had to hustle just a little at the end to catch our bus, but otherwise, so relaxing.

We got back to Stirling, timed SO perfectly to catch a train back to Edinburgh, and then got home and I sort of threw together a really bad costume to go to the Montague’s Halloween party with a bunch of my friends. If you showed up in “fancy dress,” you got a free glass of punch. Katherine and I had started watching an episode of “A Bit of Fry and Laurie,” when I realized that the party started at 8… not 9… so I hustled out to the Pub in flip flops and a white sheet with a yellow sheet over it (yes, in Scotland in October), hoping that somebody would declare my costume to be something. It was just vaguely biblical.

So, the weird thing about Great Britain: they set their clocks back on 31 October. I knew this, but I was still a little confused as some clocks weren’t set back, but my phone set itself back. What I’d like to know is how a lot of people I know managed to miss the fact that time was set back for at least TWO days. Seriously, on Tuesday morning, there were a ton of statuses on facebook like, “Showed up an hour early to my 9 am tutorial. GREAT.” HOW UNOBSERVANT CAN YOU BE?!?!?! Clocks were set back for like, a full 48 hours and you somehow managed not to notice?

Okay, done with that rant. On Halloween, I got some work done, chillaxed a bit, and went to find stuff to put finishing touches on my cheetah costume. I had a tunic from H&M that I’d bought on sale and decided it was entirely suitable for going out with my friends, and based my costume around that. I found some cheetah print trim and made ears on a headband, and then I did spots with black sparkly brown eyeliner. I think it looked pretty good!

I met up with my friends Amisha, Sarah, and Sophie from ClassicsSoc to go to a club called Cav. They were dressed as goths, and Amisha was really upset because her hair would NOT get messed up. Sarah looked the part incredibly well, especially after the addition of a leather jacket. So my costume didn’t really fit in, but that’s okay. We stopped at our friend Ben’s flat on the way over, to try and convince him to come with us, but he apparently hates Halloween more than any day of the year and said he needed to do more work for his Cicero class (ew), so we went on without him. Cav was such a good time. We hardly even had to queue, which was great. It was really, really crowded, but we found our own space for most of the night, and just had an enjoyable dancing time, until creepy guys started being creepy towards the end of the night, which ruined the mood a bit. So, when I got home, I was exhaussssssted.

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