Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Freaking beautiful Highlands

I was trying to think of a better name for this post, but just look at these pictures and you'll understand why I couldn't. It's seriously amazing.
Skye Bridge with Isle of Sky in the background
Drive from Sterling to Mallaig 
Drive from Sterling to Mallaig
Fort William
On the way to Mallaig
on the way to Mallaig
On the way to Mallaig
On the way to Mallaig
the Atlantic Ocean 
Eilean Donan
on the drive home 
And this is just the abridged version. Let's just say between Italy, Edinburgh, and the Highlands, I had to buy an extra memory card for my camera.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

driving on the left

For my final hurrah in Scotland, Shahida and I decided to do something neither of us had done before: a Road trip in the UK. Of course we'd both been on road trips before, but in the good ol' US of A as well as Sweden (and basically anywhere that's not a crazy British place) we like to drive on the right side of the road... So together, with the emotional support of Simon, we rented a car with the driver's side on the right and drove for 3 days on the left side of the road. 

Now, the actual driving on the left isn't really a problem. you get used to that almost immediately (just be sure to stay on the correct side when you're in... say... a parking lot... oops). We would always remind each other which side to be on when turning though, just for a little extra help: "turn into the far lane!" for right turns, and "stay on the left!" for left turns. 

For me, though, the real challenge was sitting on the right side of the car. It's very strange how much your spatial reasoning is disrupted when all the sudden you have to learn to account for half the car being to your left instead of your right. When you focus on the road, you have no idea where you should be sitting in the lane to make sure your car is centered. This resulted in Shahida and I continuously driving too far to the left (which was especially unfortunate when there was a high curb). 

We also established that it's terrifying to be a passenger on the left side. It really feels like you're going to hit everything that's even remotely close to the road. This lead to a lot of terror-inducing gasping. 

But we made it there and back unscathed with only one flat tire (but more on that later). We even managed to conquer the single lane windy roads, master roundabouts (driving clockwise, mind you!), and enjoy some scenery along the way! 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

would you like a spot of tea?

Afternoon tea has pretty much become mandatory for Shahida and I when I'm in Edinburgh. We love to scope out new places and rate all parts of the experience. And yes, there are many things to consider when rating an afternoon tea experience, but here are a few of the important ones:

1. Atmosphere
where are you dinning? In a fancy hotel restaurant, in a cozy coffe shop, or in the museum of modern art cafe? There are many different places to enjoy your afternoon tea, so make sure you find the one that is right for you! 

2. Presentation
As any competition show on Food Network will remind you: presentation is key. How does your display of tea and treats look? Appetizing? Any extra touches? Anything as awesome as these tea cozies? 

3. The food
oh yes, afternoon tea is not just a nice tea and crumpets shared with the queen while doting on her yorkies. It involves an array of sweet and savory treats alike to be enjoyed over the course of the tea. Standards include egg sandwiches and scones, among many others.

4. The Tea
Last but definitely not least - the tea - the namesake of the whole event plays a largely important role. In my day-to-day tea endeavors I don't venture far from my standard Earl Grey. When it comes to afternoon tea, though, there is no way to not try some of the exciting new flavors they've got out there! So no matter what you may stick to regularly, when it's time for afternoon tea, don't be afraid to get a little adventurous!

So needless to say, afternoon tea was the first thing Shahida and I did when I arrived this summer. And I'd have to say, it was one of our best overall experiences to date! 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Rose Street

So after my little hiccup in the Mallorca airport, I arrived safely in Edinburgh with Shahida! As you may have noticed (and noticed and noticed), I visit Edinburgh quite a bit. It has a lot to do with the people I get to see, but over all the visits, I've grown to really fall in love with the city too (oh who am I kidding, it was love at first sight). So I have a pretty set routine when I'm there, regarding what I do when Shahida has to work. Go to the city, walk around the Royal Mile and find a good cafe on the old side of town. 

This trip, however, I decided to broaden my horizons a little bit and actually ended up spending most of my time on the other side of princes street in the new city on a cozy little street called Rose Street

What's special about Rose Street? Well it's basically a long street of pubs and restaurants. Most famous for the oldest pub in the city as well as many pubs that were frequented by the famous literary big names to come out of Edinburgh. For me, it was the perfect resting place to enjoy a seat, a pint, and some free wifi after a few hours of roaming the city. 

If you ever find yourself in Edinburgh - which everyone at some point should definitely find themselves in Edinburgh - you can't miss an afternoon, or better yet, a night out on Rose Street

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

how not to get deported

If they make one thing abundantly clear at Fulbright orientation, it is that you can not overstay your visa. The thing is, when you enter the EU as a US citizen, you get an automatic 90 days to stay, travel, visit, etc. If you stay beyond that (say, for 2 years), you have to have a visa. But more likely than not, your visa will have an expiration date on it - the day your job, education, internship, etc. ends, and on that day you have to leave. Not just the country, but also not the entire EU, you just have to make it out of the countries that make up the Schengen Zone (basically continental, western Europe). 

They always stress the fact that you have to leave by the day your visa expires. Even one day after and you could be in serious trouble. Of course, I've also had plenty of friends who've over stayed their visas by quite a bit and had no problems. So basically, it's all hit or miss, but when push comes to shove, you're not really allowed to. 

Even though my visa expired on July 6, but I was determined to hold on to Europe till the bitter end (I didn't move home until 3 days before the semester began), my plan was to escape to Shahida in Scotland then return to Germany as a "tourist." The plan was to fly straight from Italy to Edinburgh on what I dubbed "deportation day" (no really, it was labeled in my calendar). Not returning completely home after a visa expires, though an accepted method, is still frowned upon. However, when I saw that flights the day after deportation day were about 30€ cheaper, I decided one day couldn't hurt - especially not leaving from Italy, they're really lax people, right?

What I didn't take into consideration was that I'd have to make it through 2 airports on the hopes that no one noticed/cared, as I had a layover in Mallorca. I figured they'd be just as relaxed as the Italians, being a nice vacation Island and all... also, my visa was all in German, and even though dates are in numbers, I was hoping coming across words like "Aufenthaltstitel" and "Aufenthaltserlaubnis" would scare them away from really checking. 

Things I didn't take into consideration: when you fly Ryan Air, regardless of the fact that you're traveling within the EU (where they don't normally check passports), if you're not an EU citizen, you have to have your passport checked. Also, German words don't scare the people of Mallorca as that is the main travel destination for vacationing Germans. So much so that it's often referred to as the 17th German state. 

So when I arrived in Mallorca with 2 hours less than intended because of a last minute rescheduling (thanks, Ryan Air), I was already flustered about missing my next flight to Edinburgh. So I ran to passport check, and that's where the shit hit the fan. 

It was one of those situations when they asked me if I was in the EU as a resident, where I didn't know if a simple "no" would be a quick get away or a sure fire ticket to trouble. I'm still not entirely convinced this was the right decision, but having never been asked that question before at the Ryan Air passport check, I panicked and opted for honesty - "Yes, the visa's in the back" - Hoping they wouldn't really look at the date, or figure that it was just one day so who cares. But when I saw her start counting the days on her fingers and I immediately knew I had picked the wrong answer.

"This expired yesterday." Not even a question. 3 words. And then the worst case scenarios started flashing before my eyes:

Calling Shahida from the US telling her I had been redirected from Edinburgh because of an over-stayed visa
Calling my mom from the Atlanta airport. Surprise! 
Having to pay exorbitant fees.
Being black listed by the EU from ever returning. 
Something involving a plot very likely to appear on Locked Up Abroad

At this point, I decided honesty had failed me and started going for anything that sounded good "I'm flying straight back to the US from Edinburgh! I got a connecting flight from there because it was cheaper! I'm going to miss my flight (which was kind of true)." Whatever conversation occurred between us next is all a blur by this point, the next thing I really remember: she discusses the situation in Spanish with her coworker, stamps my ticket as being checked, and without another word sends me on my way. 

For all I know, she stamped my ticket with "detain this person upon arrival," but nonetheless I ran to my gate with an overwhelming sense of relief. Now I just had to make it through the real passport control in Mallorca, arrival passport check in Scotland, leaving Scotland and arriving in Germany.

And I did make it, never to be almost detained for breaking international law again. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

my 2nd favorite holiday ever

Since we are very quickly approaching my favorite Holiday ever, I thought I should back track (or fast forward from the Italy posting?) a couple weeks to my second favorite: Halloween! After two years of appreciating the slowly growing German Halloween but always longing for a little something more, I was glad to finally get the chance to celebrate a good ol' Murikan Halloween! 

I, of course, repurposed an old German costume (from Karneval, as you may recall). 

And while I was worried the heavy German theme would not carry over into American culture very well, I ended up being the hit of town. Well, at least in my eyes! But despite the many comments on got on my look, it's still the home-made/witty/hilarious costumes that I like best
yes, his back feet did roll. It was impressive.
This guy was probably over 10 feet tall
lolz, assholes. get it?
But probably my favorite part of Halloween spending it with my biffle Jess! I don't know how it happened, but many years ago Halloween became our holiday, and whenever we're in the same country together, you better believe we will be taking Halloween for all it's worth!

Friday, November 16, 2012


If you're in Italy, don't worry about paying ridiculously high prices for bottled water. Instead, bring your own bottle and fill up at the one of many ANY fountain in Italy. Because yes, they are all (mostly...) safe drinking water. 

If it's in the Vatican, does that automatically make it holy water?
Please be prepared for bottle leakage. I suggest having bandaid's on hand. Not terribly effective, but you can still pretend. 

Of course, not ALL fountains in Italy are drinking water.... 

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