28 January 2009

Today I nearly asphyxiated myself on fumes from nail polish (mainly due to lack of any air circulation in my room). The sad part was that I didn't know why I was feeling so ill until about ten minutes later as I lay in my bed, resigning myself to the fact that I was clearly dying.

And now I've burned my innards and, quite possibly, my soul with hot tea.

I am a mess.

Oh well...off to Oxford tomorrow!

27 January 2009

Apparently it is snowing hard at home. In fact, my father (and if she were around, my mother) just informed me that there is about two inches of accumulation.

I'm jealous. More so because of the fact that St. Mary's got off school. In the three years that I've attended SMCM, we've gotten off school once. That was when there was supposed to be a massive ice storm (which never happened). Unfortunately, I had pulled an all-nighter to perfect my 15 page history midterm paper that was originally due that day and had to go to work at 7:30am because I was considered essential staff. As it was a Friday, I only missed the one class anyways, which, had it not been cancelled, would have consisted of just handing in the midterm. So, really, the snow day was an inconvenience.

It would have been nice if they had cancelled class during the hurricane in first year. But that would have made too much sense. No, better to let us trek to class in our sodden jeans and flip flops, dodging flying branches and falling trees.


It was positively balmy in Edinburgh today. I went running in shorts and a sweatshirt. I'm in training for the Bupa Great Run in Edinburgh on May 3rd. It is a 10k where the proceeds go to fund Alzheimer's research. I'm not the greatest runner, but I can run 7 miles for a good cause.

23 January 2009

A Few Things

I am in a very introspective mood as of late, especially when it comes to determining my future goals and plans. I stand at a cross-roads of my life. The decisions that I make in these next few months will determine my entire future (or at least my immediate future). At the moment, no decision will be the wrong one; however, each one will result in a different outcome. To know this is both thrilling and terrifying. I would expound further upon this, but the words that have been ending up on the page seem wrong and lacking the proper gravity for such a topic. And so I shall leave it at this.

Way to be cryptic Rebecca.

Since the purpose of this blog is not to be an emo-kid and soul-search, but rather to inform everyone on the daily happenings of my life whilst abroad, I shall stick to the topic at hand and catch everyone up on what I've been doing this past week.

Monday marked the beginning of the second week of classes. and was the first time that it snowed here in Edinburgh since my arrival. Quite pretty, even if it didn't stick on the ground. In 'Popular Religion', I closed off the class with my riveting (albeit short due to the relative lack of available material) on medieval belief in vampires and how the church took an essentially pagan belief and transformed it to fit into its newly fashioned concept of 'purgatory'. Next week we are discussing the cults of saints with a special focus on St. Guinefort. Now, I have yet to read much on St. Guinefort but, from what I understand, he was a dog who was locally venerated as a saint by the French people after miracles were performed at his gravesite. I don't know about all of that, but it sounds quite interesting. We shall see. Monday night was the Retrospect editors/History Society committee dinner. We met for pre-drinks at Reverie (a converted gentlemen's club) and had dinner at Positano's. Not only was the company pleasant, but the food was excellent (and cheap!) as well. Quite lovely indeed. I have never drunk so much wine in my life (and I hate wine).

Tuesday was spent going to Medieval Europe lecture (kingship), running, and then going to Medieval Europe tutorial. It was weird to sit in Dr. Brown's office for a tutorial with nine other people rather than one-on-one as is typical of the Oxford system. I am not quite sure that I liked it. And I didn't have to write a paper for the tutorial either. It all seems a bit like slacking off of work to me, but then again, what do I really know? Apparently, this system works.

On Wednesday, I didn't have classes, so I went up to Princes' Street and examined the shop offerings. A bit too fancy and expensive for my tastes. But in Edinburgh, even more so than Oxford, everyone dresses up on a regular basis. Wearing jeans and a nice top is considered slumming it and people will give you dirty looks. Therefore, I regularly receive looks of 'what ARE you wearing?' on a daily basis. After shopping, I walked down from North Bridge all the way to Newington Rd in order to pick up my State Department package from the post office. I have absolutely no idea why they delivered it to that one, as there is a post office much, much closer to where I live. But at least it provided me with a nice walk. Afterwards, I went running in the meadows, came back, showered, and read for Thursday's classes.

Thursday turned out rather horribly. I woke up late and only just arrived to my Medieval Europe lecture on time. As it turned out, it was on chivalry and therefore a repeat of an entire class from last semester. 'The Blessed Union' immediately followed and I spent two hours listening to my teacher defend James VI/I against the various criticisms about him. It was interesting but I have to admit that after a certain point I really did not care why he had a dreadful fear of crowds, or why he chose to spend most of his time hunting. On Thursday night, I missed both the Retrospect meeting and pub crawl because I wrote down the wrong time for the meeting as 7:30 instea of 6:30. I was incredibly upset when I realized my error as I had been looking forward to both events all week, but such is life.

Friday was spent roaming around St. Andrew's square/Princes' Street/Leith district north of Calton Hill. Today I intend to run up to Holyrood Park and then climb to Arthur's Seat again. It's quite sunny at the moment, so I suppose that I should start before the unpredictable Scottish weather decides to let it snow.

This week?
Mon: Popular religion
Tues: Medieval Europe lecture, Medieval Europe tutorial
Thurs: Medieval Europe lecture, The Blessed Union seminar, OXFORD

It is 5:20 AM here and I am still up. Why? Oh, it is an interesting story, let me tell you. Unfortunately, this will have to wait until later on today when I am actually capable of lucid writing.

22 January 2009

I'll update one of these days (and finish my controversial post from last time). This is just to let my MUM (See? I am specifically mentioning you!) and Dad know that I am alive and have not done something completely foolish like climb up Arthur's Seat at night/in the rain/when it is snowing which, apparently, some people seem to believe I would do. I won't name any names, but they know who they are.

18 January 2009

Plans for the upcoming days: (More for my own purposes than anyone else's)

Monday, 19 Jan.:
11:10-1:00: Popular Religion seminar
-Find books for Blessed Union seminar and Medieval Europe tutorial
8:00: Retrospect dinner

Tuesday, 20 Jan: (INAUGURATION DAY!!!!)
10:00-10:50: Medieval Europe lecture
3:15-4:15: Medieval Europe tutorial
4:15-7:45: Obama Inauguration party at the International Student Centre
-finish preparing for Blessed Union seminar, start reading for 3rd week Popular Religion

Wednesday, 21 Jan.:
-Prince's street excursion
-get most of 3rd week reading done
-work on SMP/internship/grad school stuff
7:30: Whisky society tasting at Teviot dining room

Thursday, 22 Jan:
10:00-10:50: Medieval Europe lecture
11:10-1:00: Blessed Union seminar
6:30: Retrospect meeting
7:30: History Society pub crawl

Friday, 23 Jan: (Depending on whether or not I have to go to London to get fingerprinted)
-finish 3rd week reading
-work on grad school/internship stuff

Saturday, 24 Jan:
-Arthur's seat and/or Edinburgh Castle

Sunday, 25 Jan:
-start 4th week reading
-SMP stuff

Monday, 26 Jan:
11:10-1:00: Popular Religion seminar
-4th week reading

Tuesday, 27 Jan:
10:00-10:50: Medieval Europe lecture
3:15-4:15: Medieval Europe tutorial

Wednesday, 28 Jan:
-4th week reading

Thursday, 29 Jan:
10:00-10:50: Medieval Europe lecture
11:10-1:00: Blessed Union seminar
1:30: Head to Edinburgh Airport

17 January 2009

Here are the links to the first pictures to emerge from Edinburgh:

Life in the Wild North:


After waking at the rather appalling time of noon (I haven't slept this late in ages!), I ate a hurried breakfast/lunch and started on the trek to the Royal Mile and then to Arthur's Seat. It was the first time that I have ventured onto the Royal Mile for any extended period time of since senior year of High School. Not much has changed. Jury's Inn is still down Chalmer's Close, as is the creepy tea shop.

As opposed to the freezing weather that had descended upon Washington D.C., Edinburgh was experiencing something of a warm front and I was quite comfortable in my light jacket. And so, armed with my camera and a pair of tennis shoes that barely maintain traction on the pavement, I set off for what I thought would be a leisurely stroll up to Arthur's Seat (the main peak of the seven hills in Holyrood Park). There are apparently two paths to the summit that one can take from the car park near Holyrood Palace. One is a shallow ascent on a paved path and is rather short. The other rises quite radically from the get-go and is the longer of the two pathes. Being the type who likes a bit of a challenge, I decided to choose the latter path. Incidentally, this is the path that my father and I attempted when we were in Edinburgh in 2005. Back then, however, I was not in as good as shape as I am now and had to stop quite frequently. In the end, we got about 1/5th of the way to Arthur's Seat, realized that the sun was setting, and turned back.

Luckily, my habit of running almost every day ovr the past year (that certain people have considered obsessive) meant that I only had to stop every once in a while, and only then to take pictures of the beautiful view. Still, it was not as easy as I thought it was going to be and, I'll admit, I was a bit put off by the signs warning of potential boulders falling from the cliffs looming above. Now, my father and I stopped once you round the first major bend of the Salisbury crags (the cliffs) where the path levels out. However, I proceeded further, down the path into the valley between the smaller hills and the very large hill that makes up Arthur's Seat. Here the path becomes almost vertical and you have to ascend a series of rocks that make up the stairs upwards. It was at this point, when I noticed that my fellow climbers were wearing hiking boots and backpacking sacks, that I realized this climb might be a bit more than I bargained for.

I pressed onwards with only one or two minor slips along the way(quite the achievement considering my lack of appropriate footwear). At the top of the ridge, the path disappeared and the winds picked up to a ferocious level. I followed a woman who was wearing boots with spikes (a serious climber) along a path that continued upwards to a hill where the grass had been so buffeted by the winds that it grew sideways along the ground and formed a matted, cushiony surface. Several couples (for climbing Arthur's Seat seems to be a popular past-time for those with a significant other. I suppose this serves as insurance that someone will attempt to rescue you should the winds push you off the side of the cliffs.) took the opportunity to rest by laying on the grass. I don't know how they could stand the winds!

Arriving at base of the final outcropping of rocks that make up Arthur's Seats, I realized that I could not see an immediate path up to the summit. And so I made the rather...not-so-wise decison to scale up a small crevasse to the top, a picture of which is posted immediately below. (Yup, I climbed up that in my street sneakers. I felt very much like Bear Grylls.)

Once on top of the summit, I realized that the superb view was very much worth the bruised hands and knees. I was able to snap a few pictures before the violent winds started to knock me over and my panic levels rose significantly.

And so it was time to make the descent, a process that I had thought would be considerably easier than the ascent. How wrong I was! As it turns out, I had to shimmy back down the crevasse (mostly by sitting on the rocks and praying to god that my foot did not slip at an inopportune time) and then began the task of slowly inching my way down the rocks of the hill. Now, these rocks had been quite climable on the way up. But the lack of suitable grip on the soles of my sneakers coupled with the mud that covered the rocks meant that each step could potentially result in my slipping and falling. Luckily, I did not have any significant spills during this part of the trip, although there were several frightening close-calls.

Deciding that I had had enough adventure for one day, I opted to choose the shorter route to the bottom (the other possible path that I could have taken at the very beginning). Unfortunately, this path proved to be much muddier and, therefore, more perilous than my previous path. I literally slid down the steeper parts of the descent. Frankly, I am still surprised that I managed to escape unscathed. It was a bit like skiing and an experience that I am not keen on repeating any time soon. However, it was a great experience and I am looking forward to climbing to Arthur's Seat again this weekend, albeit equipped with more appropriate footwear.

16 January 2009

So...I'm now a co-editor for the Academic section of Edinburgh University's History Journal Retrospect.

15 January 2009

Just because I'm losing, doesn't mean I'm lost

After a horrible Tuesday night, in which I ended up sobbing on the phone (Skype) to my father for absolutely no reason at all, I've had a rather pleasant couple of days. I think the cause of my anxiety on Tuesday was that I've realized just how large a university Edinburgh is (25,000 students). Coming from St. Mary's (1,800 students) and CMRS (42 students), it is a bit of a shock to the system. Oxford University has about 20,000 students, but they are seperated into the much more manageable colleges, the largest of which has roughly 700 students. So, yes, I am a bit overwhelmed and Tuesday just happened to be a bad night.

Yesterday, I had no classes at all, which is quite nice since it will provide me with an entire day to spend at the library or preparing my essays (whose deadlines are shockingly close). I went to the sports club fair at Pleasance. Now that is a gym! State-of-the-art in every way, I was amazed by what I saw. St. Mary's gym is nice, but this one makes it look downright dirty. I am still considering whether or not the 60 pound membership is worth it, but will probably end up getting one and going every single day. It is simply too nice not to. The sports fair was pathetically small and some of the organizations were a bit disorganized in their lack of information provided. I looked into joining the Boat Club, but the commitment level required would have meant that I would not be able to travel on the weekends and would have to give up my research trip during spring break (not to mention spending an exorbant amount on a new uni/kit). So...no rowing this semester. I suppose that I will just have to continue ruining what is left of my knees with running.

From 10 to 10:50 this morning, I had my Medieval Europe lecture, the topic of which was the advantageous developments that took place in the later middle ages. Apparently, the classes on Friday are not required and are more like 'helpful information' sessions. This Friday's session is on essay-writing. As I am fairly confident in my essay-writing abilities, and have been assured by my DoS that the essay expectations are the same as at Oxford, I will not be going. Since I also had my other seminar class, The Blessed Union, right after Medieval, I am finished classes for the week. The Blessed Union class has fifteen students and is going to be held seminar-style. The professor is also a graduate of Oxford (Do I see a potential second recommendation source? Hell yes!) and...interesting. She hates the Tudors with a passion (so evidenced in her statements that HEnry VIII was a "gigantic meglomaniac murderous bastard" and Elizabeth "simply couldn't be bothered to marry anyone she considered 'less' than herself".) and, quite possibly, the English nation as a whole. In fact, I've never met a teacher so openly biased. However, at least she admits it. Still, it looks like it will be an interesting class.

Afterward, I went to the Re-freshers' Fair at Potterow (one of the many student union buildings). It was quite a change from Oxford freshers' fair, which took place in the absolutely amazing Examination Schools on High. Still, I signed up for Whisky Society, Politics Society, and the International Relations Forum. If those don't manage to keep me busy then I don't know what will.

13 January 2009

I have been chosen as an alternate for the Department of State's summer 2009 internship program. Considering that I applied last year and was rejected, this is an honor. Hopefully something will come from it. If not, at least I know that I was good enough to be an alternate. Perhaps next year I will be good enough to actually get into the program.

I went running today for the first time since I arrived in Edinburgh. It is nice because I am literally right across from Edinburgh's version of Central Park (albeit a much smaller version). It's not as scenic as Christ Church, and is much more crowded, but the paths are nice. I like.

Plans for the rest of the week:
Wed: Attend the Uni's sports fair and decide whether or not I want to sell my soul to the boat club.

Thurs: (10-10:50) Medieval Europe 2; (11:10-1:00) Uniting of the Kingdoms seminar. Attend the Uni's re-fresher's fair and sign up for clubs. 6:30: History journal meeting at Frankenstein's on George IV Bridge.

Fri: (10-10:50) Medieval Europe 2

Sat: Climb to Arthur's Seat (Initially this was only if it was sunny, but I figured it would be an experience to do it in the rain. So...)

11 January 2009

"Welcome to Scotland. Birthplace of the Enlightenment."

Such was my introduction to Scotland at the Edinburgh Airport as I stepped off the plane from London. I think this is a bit misleading for the average tourist and should say instead 'Welcome to Scotland. Home of killer winds and schizophrenic weather.' But what do I know about strategic marketing?

I landed in Edinburgh around 12:30 on the 9th, took the Airlink bus to the city centre (Waverly bridge) for 3 pounds (which was in itself quite amazing to me, as tickets from Heathrow to Oxford city centre were 18 pounds). I whipped out my directions and started the trek up to the Castle Rock Hostel. Things were progressing well until I got to step three on my directions, which said to proceed up the News Steps. Well, these steps turn out to be 10 flight of narrow, winding steps leading up to the Royal Mile. I would have to climb these carrying my 10 kilo backpack, 19 kilo duffel bag, and 22 kilo suitcase. I had made it up three flights when some construction workers coming down the other side stopped and offered to help. Luckily, I was able to push aside my pride and accepted their offer. It probably would have taken me twenty minutes to get up the steps without them. Afterwards, I lugged my baggage up towards Edinburgh Castle, took a left on Johnston Terrace, and found the Castle Rock Hostel.

The hostel itself was enormous. I checked in, placed my large bag in the luggage room, and then relaxed in the Posh Lounge while I waited for my bed to be cleaned. In addition to the Posh Lounge, the bottom floor of the hostel contained a kitchen, Fun Lounge (boasting a pool table, jukebox, many couches, and TV), and an internet room (with two computers). An hour after arrival I was assigned to the 'Mr. Men' room, a 14 bed mixed dormitory that, while I was there, was home for four Aussies and three other Americans. It is always a bit awkward entering into the hostel environment as there are some people who want to talk to you and hear your life story, while there are others who would rather not interact with anyone at all. The Aussies and I exchanged pleasantries, but the other Americans were rather standoffish and decided that they would much rather discuss how wasted they were going to get that night.

By this point I had been up for over 24 hours and was starting to lose my grip reality (as evidenced by the fact that I was barely able to construct a grammtically correct email to my parents to let them know that I had arrived safe and sound) so I retired to bed. The entire building had no central heating and the one radiator in the room was on the opposite side of the room from me, but I was so tired that I really didn't notice how cold it was. I was rudely awoken at 530am by one of the Aussies who had stumbled in drunk and realized that she had a train to catch in 45 minutes. She proceeded to be as loud as possible in packing and managed to wake everyone in our room up. After she had left, I lay in bed until 9, hoping that I would be able to fall asleep again. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and so I packed my things up, sent a couple of emails, found out that I have been chosen as an alternate for the Department of State's summer internship program, and checked out.

According to mapquest, 23 Warrender Park Crescent (the office for the Resident Assistants) was 1.4 miles from the hostel. An easy walk or so I thought. Unfortunately, this distance combined with steeps hills, several wrong turns, and almost 100 lbs of luggage meant that it turned into the walk from hell. By the time I made it to Warrender Park Crescent, I thought that I was going to have to go to the hospital to get my back re-aligned.

After checking-in, the RA took me to my flat at 102 Warrender Park Road, one street over from the Crescent and approximately 1 mile away from the city centre. The building contains 12 flats (I think?) and mine is on the second floor. It is quite nice. We have a kitchen, two bathrooms, and five study-bedrooms. Mine is at the very end of the corridor, has two windows, four mirrors, a wardrobe, a desk, a bookshelf, a set of dresser drawers, a bed, and a bedside table. The only downside is that the bed is right next to the windows and, as the building is quite old, subsequently is exposed to the frigid air that is let in through the window cracks. In addition, the radiator is at the opposite end of the room and operates on an energy-saving timer. In order to get it to operate, you have to push a button underneath the desk, upon which the radiator will turn on and emit heat for about 20 minutes. Unfortunately, this is quite inconvenient at night when I refuse to get up every 20 minutes to turn on the heat.

(As the semester has started and I have no inspiration at the moment, this bulleted list detailing the rest of my time will have to suffice.)
Rest of Saturday:
- Met flatmates, who are all very nice. One is Scottish and a first-year. Two are from the Arcadia program and arrived this semester. And the other is from Texas and has been here since September.
- Bought new cell phone since the last one was in the stolen purse.
- Subway for dinner. (Horrible, I know, but I just wasn't feeling up to cooking that night.)

- Went to orientation for three hours, which consisted of listening a representative rattle off facts about the Uni and the city, taking a guided tour of some of the Uni buildings from a student (very similar to the one that I was given in Oxford, except the guide was not nearly as attractive and very few pubs were pointed out on the way), and then eating the free lunch. Afterwards, I couldn't take any more of the orientation, especially since the rest of the afternoon was to be spent in the lecture theatre listening to the various health and sports representatives give their speeches.
- Went to Blackwells and bought two books that are going to be useful. (It was a wee bit sad going to Blackwells since it is not nearly as big as the one on Broad in Oxford and, obviously, not the original one.) Got stuck in the hurricane-force winds that decided to descend on the city.

-Went to my first class, 'Popular Religion in England, 1000-1500'. It is going to be a seminar-style class and has about ten students. It meets two hours a week on Mondays and looks like it will be quite interesting. Next week I have to give a presentation on ghosts and vampires in the Middle Ages since the theme is the survival of paganism into the Middle Ages. Week three is saints and pilgrimages. Fascinating.
- Matriculated at Old College. I now have an official Uni student card. This may not seem that exciting, but considering that at Oxford all I got was a blank white card that let me into St. Peter's and my oddly coloured Bod card (which was lost in the stolen purse), this was quite a significant event for me. All I have to do is apply to get a new Bod card when I'm in Oxford so that I can finish my SMP research during my three-week long spring break in April.
- Checked out books from the library, which is located in a converted parking garage. It was incredibly strange to leave a library with books because at Oxford we weren't able to take books from St. Peter's or the History Faculty and no one is allowed to remove books from the Bodleian. Unfortunately, the library apparently sensed my hesitation and the alarms decided to go off whenever I tried to leave with all of my books. The security guard librarians (who has ever heard of such a thing?) had to help me walk them through one by one so that they wouldn't set off the alarms. Ugh. I think I'd rather just sit at the library and read the books for all the trouble that was.
-Went to the Opal Lounge with my flat mates for their re-freshers' week rave. Unfortunately, everyone was dressed really posh in their going-out clothes and I was dressed for the rave in a t-shirt and jeans. But next time I will be prepared. It was also my first time taking a cab in Edinburgh. In fact, it was weird to be in a city where I needed to take a cab at all.

- Attended my lecture class 'Medieval Europe 2', which meets for fifty minutes three times a week (T-Th-F), although sometimes the third meeting is replaced by a tutorial. Apparently, the tutorials here are not one-on-one as they are in Oxford, rather they are with nine or ten other students. I'm not a huge fan of that idea, but we shall see how it turns out. The class is basically a repeat of the integral course that I took back at Oxford, but the prof seems nice (he teaches the Popular Religion course as well).
- Met with my Director of Studies. We mainly chatted about the differences between Oxford and Edinburgh, since he not only was at Wolfson but also taught for a spell at the University. It was quite nice. And he reckons that if I manage to get a first, having Oxford and Edinburgh on my CV will secure me a place at Oxford for grad school. Oh well, I can dream, can't I?

07 January 2009

1 day left and things are finally falling into place.

My blog updates might be sporadic from now until next week as it is doubtful that I will have wireless at the hostel upon my arrival on the 9th and it will take me a bit to set up my room after move-in on the 10th. The 11th is the orientation for new international students and classes start up on the 12th. Still, I will try to post at least once to let everyone know that I arrived safely.

If you care to write to me, my address in Edinburgh is as follows:

Rebecca Kaisler
Flat 7, 102 Warrender Park Road
Edinburgh, EH9 1DN