Monday, January 25, 2010

Newcastle Invasion!

I'm finally getting used to living here in Glasgow and life is starting to seem a little less like a long-term vacation. This past week classes really got into full swing. Homework is starting to be assigned, books are being read, and projects are being worked on. On Wednesday, I had my first group meeting for my entrepreneurship project. It was actually a hilarious meeting; my all boy group is turning out to be one of my favorite things here. The three engineering students have been friends for a while, so they all make fun of one another all the time. They've also started making fun of me and calling me "cheeky," which is their term for "smarty pants." In the meeting we talked about ideas for our project. In the end, the boys ended up liking my two ideas the best, so we're either going to be making "floppies," which are flats that roll up and fit in a girl's clutch so she doesn't have to walk forever in high heels, or we're going to be creating a service that brings towels and other necessities to international students who have just arrived at the university. I think we're going to do really well! We have another meeting planned this week and the boys want to do some "group bonding." I'm not sure what that entails, but I'll let you know.

Last week I did some more exploring of Glasgow. Heather, Sarah and I ended up in Merchant City and George Square looking at some absolutely incredible architecture. George Square, named for King George III, is the heart of the city. Most of the buildings in this area were built in the 1800s. The most beautiful building in the square is the Glasgow City Chambers, which is the headquarter of the Glasgow City Council. It was definitely influenced by Italian Renaissance architecture and has gorgeous sculptures all along the facade. Then we ended up doing a little bit of shopping, heading to Primark for some cheap bedding. I ended up getting a new duvet cover to replace the ugly, 80s duvet they give you in the dorms here. Now my room looks like I actually live here and is actually pretty cute, considering my new duvet cost only six pounds!

On Thursday, we all went to the Hive, the club at the GUU, again. We were originally supposed to go to an international society party called the UN Party, where you dress in your country's colors, but when the time came, we felt like the bar where their party was being hosted was too far away and decided to stay on campus instead. As usual, there was some great music and some very interesting people. I should also mention that all seven of us were dressed in our American gear -- head to toe red, white and blue -- so I'm sure we were standing out in the crowd. There were also boys dressed in those wrestling onesies. Not exactly something I'd consider club wear. But who was I to judge in my US attire?

We had another family dinner on Friday night. We are really starting to become like a family here -- it's really nice to truly like everyone I'm here with. I have gotten so lucky with this group of people. I really love all of them. But this time we invited three more people to join us: Briana, who goes to Providence, Jessica from Smith, and AJ from Villanova. We've all started to become good friends and it's good for the BC kids because we've been hanging out exclusively with each other pretty much for the past three weeks. Liam, Sarah, and I made delicious fajitas and "the family" sat around and talked for a few hours. After family dinner, we all headed to cheesy pop again. As usual, we absolutely loved it and danced until we could literally no longer walk.

In retrospect, dancing our butts off on Friday probably wasn't a great idea considering we had to be on a bus at 9 am on Saturday morning to head to Newcastle. Newcastle is about three hours from Glasgow, so the bus ride wasn't that long, but since we were all exhausted it seemed to take forever. We stopped in this little village called Gretna Green, which is famous for elopements. In England, the legal age to get married without your parents' consent is 21, but in Scotland, the legal age is 18. Since Gretna Green is close to the border of Scotland and England, those who couldn't legally get married in England would run away to Scotland and elope in Gretna Green. It really reminded me of the Disney World ride "It's a Small World," because the village looked so much like the scenery on that ride. When we finally got to Newcastle, we put all of our bags down and checked into our rooms for the night. Since it was just the seven girls, we all split into three rooms. Laura C and I were roommates, and apparently the International Society head thought that Laura and I were together together and kept apologizing for putting us in a room with a bunk bed instead of a full bed. I'm not sure why people keep mistaking me and Laura for lesbians, but it's been pretty funny.

After cleaning ourselves up a little, we got back on the bus and headed to Grey's Monument with the group. The monument was named after Charles Grey, who introduced the Great Reform Act of 1832 (a big deal in the UK). It's also close to a great shopping area of Newcastle, which, being girls, was obviously where we wanted to sightsee. We walked around the area and ended up in this HUGE shopping center near the University of Newcastle. They had some absolutely outrageous shopping and we found some great deals. I ended up buying these ridiculous shoes -- they are so high! -- that were originally 140 pounds marked down to $39. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to walk in them, but they will always remind me of Newcastle and its crazy style.

Shopping tired us out even more, but we had to head back to our rooms to get ready for dinner and a night out with the International Society. We took the metro back (we're really getting the hang of public transportation in the UK) and started the getting ready process, which didn't last very long because none of us had time or supplies to shower with. Laura and I were dancing around and doing our makeup when we heard a knock on our door. We thought it was Heather, who said she wanted to come up and use our face wash, but it ended up being this random boy (we thought he was just a stranger, but he was actually in our program) who asked if we wanted to come over and drink some vodka. Laura and I looked at each other, said thanks, but no thanks, and immediately locked the door. When we were finally ready (it really only took 20 minutes) we headed back to Grey's Monument to meet the rest of the International Society. Hojjat, the International Society head, took us all to this wonderful Persian restaurant. Most of the girls were a little bit hesitant about the food because they'd never had Iranian food before. I, on the other hand, was loving life because Rana and her mom have made me fall in love with Persian cooking. They had all of my favorites (none of which I know how to spell) but I have to admit that no one makes Persian food like Mommy Cooney.

When we were finished, everyone on the trip walked to Revolution, a bar that is housed in an old bank building. The inside of it is absolutely astonishing -- it has 22 foot ceilings, incredibly ornate woodwork, and these huge columns. It was definitely worth going to just to see the interior. Unfortunately, all of the drinks were extremely expensive, so all of us were hesitant to buy very many. The people watching in the bar was absolutely insane, though. Women in Newcastle dressed outrageously! Some of the outfits included a sequin bra with a mini skirt, see-through lace leggings with a thong and a tank top, and some of the shortest dresses I have ever seen. Top all of this off with two pounds of makeup and a giant poof of hair, and you've got the typical Newcastle club-going girl. The seven girls all felt underdressed and somewhat out of place in this scene, but we had fun laughing at the girls and talking to one another anyway.

The night continued at Madame Koo, an underground club next door to Revolution. This club refers to itself as a "hidden bar & sneaky disco," and was a great time. The DJ played all of our favorite songs -- including Lady Gaga -- and we had a fabulous time dancing with everyone. We headed home fairly early because all of us were practically on our deathbeds from dancing too many nights in a row.

On Sunday morning, we had to wake up at 9 am again to get back on the bus. The group decided that we wanted to make a few detours before heading back to Glasgow for good. First, the bus took us to the seaside, which was beautiful. We spent about a half hour at the beach, just walking around and taking pictures of the scenery.

Then we got back on the bus to take us to our next destination: Durham. Durham is a city in Northeast England and is most famous for the Durham Cathedral and the Durham Castle. We only had an hour and a half to explore, so we had to do it efficiently. We immediately started the walk to the castle and the cathedral, making it there with plenty of time to spare. The Durham Cathedral was ENORMOUS. The interior was ornate and beautiful as well, but they wouldn't let you take any photographs at all. I would usually try to sneak a few pictures without the flash, but they had all of these employees looking out for photo snipers like me, so that was pretty unfortunate. The castle was very cool, but the main highlight of my day was the fact that I was wearing Betsy's "It's not easy being a Princess" tee and got my picture taken in front of the castle.

We made it back to the bus and began the long journey home. Durham was about an hour out of the way, so we had a four hour bus ride back to Glasgow. Since the majority of us were grimy, smelly, and tired, the bus ride was not exactly enjoyable. When we finally made it home, Heather and I took the mile long walk back to our dorm, where I immediately hopped in the shower to get the sweat from the previous night's dancing off of my body. The rest of the night I relaxed, worked on cover letters for internships, and read for one of my classes. I would definitely say it was another successful weekend in the UK!

Today, I went to the gym for the first time since being here. I have to walk a mile to and from class every day, so I've been pretty laid back about actually hitting the gym. But after the weekend of gluttony in Newcastle, I decided it was time to try it out. I headed there around 4 pm and was so confused when I entered. The gym here has something like eight floors and is pretty complicated to maneuver. I finally found Laura C and she taught me the ways of the gym. I put my stuff in a locker and headed to the cardio center to get on the treadmill. After that, Sarah, Laura C and I all went to this Core Balls class. The gym classes here are apparently for "beginners" but I don't know what they're talking about when they say that. I literally thought I was going to die during the exercises this woman was making us do. I also fell off the exercise ball. Twice. If I can walk tomorrow, it will most definitely be a miracle. The girls are planning on going to a kickboxing class tomorrow. Hopefully I'll be able to move enough to do it with them!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Alba gu bràth!

I've only been here for two weeks, but I can already see why people say "Alba gu bràth!" or "Scotland forever!" The country is beautiful, the beer is good, and the people are nice. So far, my experience here has been absolutely wonderful.

Last week, I had a typical week of classes here. It was pretty laid back and enjoyable. The only stressful thing was picking groups during my Entrepreneurship class for our business plan project. Luckily, I'm a business student and apparently in this class business students were in high demand. As soon as I raised my hand, three fifth year engineering students grabbed me and adopted me into their group. It should be pretty interesting, since they're all boys and have never created a business or marketing plan before -- I'll keep you posted on this one.

On Thursday night, we went to our first student union event here at the Glasgow University Union (GUU). Every Thursday, students at "the Uni" go to the club at the GUU, called The Hive. We all met up at the student apartments and made the trek to the club with a bunch of the Lauras' roommates. When we got there, it was absolutely INSANE! Students were everywhere, just dancing, drinking, and partying. It was the most crowded place I've seen here yet -- and compared to the average club here on a Friday night, the cover to get in was incredibly cheap at only two pounds. At one point in the night, all of the girls actually got behind the DJ table and got to "spin" some of the songs. After a while, the DJ got pretty annoyed with us because we only wanted to hear Lady Gaga, which was apparently "not his style." We danced the night away to our favorite songs and woke up the next morning feeling like we had an intense workout the night before.

On Friday, we all met up for a late lunch and the girls decided to go shopping downtown at the City Centre. I'd been absolutely dying to go to one store and one store only: TopShop, which I've heard a lot about from my roommate Meghan. They had the cutest clothing -- I didn't do too much damage but did end up buying a pair of simple black pumps and a high-waisted skirt. Unfortunately, when I got home after TopShop, I got online to check my bank account and found that someone was dabbling in my bank account without my permission. Luckily I spotted the transaction immediately and had my credit card cancelled, but now I'm without my Bank of America card again!

While that afternoon wasn't the best, the night that followed definitely made up for it. After shopping, we had another family dinner, this time made by the girls (aka me, Sarah, and Laura). We made an incredible chicken parmesan with pasta and garlic bread -- so nice to have a home cooked meal every once in a while. After our dinner, we got ready to go out to our second student union event, this time at Queen Margaret Union (QMU). Each Friday, the QMU puts on a dance party called "Cheesy Pop" and plays only the cheesiest pop songs, like Hanson's Mmm Bop or Cotton Eyed Joe. We danced for hours upon hours, and I came home sweaty and tired -- another successful night.

On Saturday, we woke up moaning and groaning due to the pain in our bodies from our nights of dancing. Heather and I left our dorm around nine in the morning and headed to campus to meet the rest of the international students for a trip to Edinburgh put on by the International Society. This trip was absolutely amazing. The day was beautiful -- for once it wasn't raining or foggy, the sun was actually shining and it was warm enough to be comfortable. The seven of us started our trip in Edinburgh with a hike up to the Edinburgh Castle. We must have walked more than a mile of stairs, because when we got to the top I was sweating like a pig. The hike, however, was definitely worth it. The views from the castle were breathtaking. You could see all of Edinburgh! We toured the castle for a few hours, visiting the crown jewels, the prison of war, the war memorial, and some of the residential quarters of the castle.

Once we left the castle, we made the trip down the Royal Mile, which is the mile that stretches from Edinburgh Castle to Scottish Parliament. It's lined by shops of all kind selling every type of tartan you could ever imagine. They have kilts, tights, dresses, hats, shot glasses, flasks, boxers, and more in every plaid ever made. All the girls are determined to get a pair of plaid tights to bring home with us. Who knows, maybe I'll even get a kilt!

After walking the Royal Mile, we ended up at the Holyroodhouse Palace, the Queen of England's official residence in Scotland. I thought that Edinburgh Castle was very cool, but Holyroodhouse Palace blew the castle out of the water. Holyroodhouse was absolutely gorgeous and full of so much history. The rooms were all decorated with intricate plaster work and rich fabrics. I wish I could have taken pictures of the inside of the house -- it was so beautiful. That tour ended with a stop at the Holyrood Abbey, which was founded in the 12th century by King David I, who had a vision of a stag with a cross between its antlers in the very spot that the abbey was built. It collapsed in 1768, but the ruins are still standing.

When it was time to head back to the bus, we were all exhausted. None of us could bear the thought of walking even an inch more, let alone dancing the night away as we had done for the previous nights, so we each headed back to our dorms where we relaxed and fell asleep relatively early.

This Sunday has been very similar to last Sunday. That is, I've done absolutely nothing worth writing about. I'm actually still in my pajamas and it's nearly 6:30 here -- yikes! Good thing we've got plans to watch American football again. This time we're hoping not to be bothered by belligerent Glaswegians who want to dance in our faces, so we're going to a new place: Three Judges. This pub is very close to the university campus and hopefully won't be as much of a trek as the pub we went to last time. This coming week should be fairly relaxed though, now that I really have to get back in the swing of things with my classes. The one big thing on my plate this week is beginning to finalize spring break plans -- I've already got trips to London and Paris planned with my dad, but I want to make it to Rome, Florence, Prague, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Madrid, and somewhere in Ireland before the semester ends. I'll let you know my travel plans as soon as they're concrete!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Are those two together??

My week anniversary with Glasgow is tomorrow... and a lot has happened in this past week. The snow has started to melt, students have started to return from winter vacation, and classes have commenced (well, kind of). I'm beginning to get used to Glasgow and their more relaxed way of doing things, but I'm nowhere near fully adjusted yet. It still feels like I'm just on a little European vacation and that I'll be back at BC sometime in the near future.

Saturday we were all going to go out to brunch and then go to the museums. We did wake up a little after noon and went to brunch at our favorite spot by campus, Morton's, which is this cute cafe that we've come to claim as "our spot." After, we walked around and got Scottish cell phones so that we can easily be in contact with one another when we're in Scotland. My phone is a legitimate nugget Nokia -- kind of like the first cell phone I ever had but without the ugly fake denim cover I had in seventh grade. We signed up for super cheap plans where we just pay as we go, which is nice. After that, it was nearly 4 so Heather and I headed back to our dorm to get ready for the night.

After we got ready, we headed to the campus apartments where four of the seven of us live. The two boys made all of the girls a delicious dinner of chicken, pasta, salad, and garlic bread. We ate, drank, and talked for probably 2 hours before we headed to the International Society Ceilidh, a traditional Scottish/Gaelic social dance. We started our night off there, but quickly decided it wasn't the kind of night we were after. It was, after all, a Saturday night and we wanted to party! We headed to Ashton Lane again to the bars in that area, starting with Nude, where we enjoyed some Baby Woo Woo shots. Next we went to Radio, where we experimented with Shake & Bakes and Strawberry Mojitos. After a while at Nude and Radio, all we wanted to do was dance to some good music, so we walked over to Òran Mór, a bar/club that was once a church. We danced for probably three hours (we shut them down!) and until we could no longer walk because our bodies were so tired.

After our wild Saturday night, Sunday consisted mainly of me sleeping until one, laying in bed until four, and finally getting up only to shower and get ready to watch American football at a bar called Campus. After a stressful and exciting week of getting to know Glasgow, it was nice to just sit back, relax, and do something familiar to us as Americans -- watch football (and eat). We had this awesome back room to ourselves where the majority of the group mourned the Patriot's horrible loss. Somewhere in the middle of the game, however, we were joined by two older Glaswegians who were intoxicated beyond belief. One was old and balding and wouldn't stop gyrating to the music and the other was just really drunk. They started talking to the boys in our group about soccer and other stuff until one of the Lauras and I went to the bathroom together, when the non-gyrating one asked Liam if Laura and I were "together," as in a lesbian couple. Laura and I laughed this one off, until the Scottish guy interpreted this to mean that since we're not lesbians, we must be interested in him and tried to KISS ME! I gave him the cheek and ran away, a little scarred.

On Monday I was well rested (even though I should have had nightmares about the guy who tried to kiss me) and was ready to explore Glasgow some more. I didn't have class, so we all met up at Morton's for breakfast and then Heather, Sarah, and I decided to be extreme tourists and take pictures around our beautiful campus. We walked all over the university, taking pictures of the buildings, which were built in the 1800s. Then we walked through Kelvingrove Park to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, where we looked at Scottish Art exhibits for the rest of the afternoon before heading to a coffee shop to relax and reenergize. Later, all seven of us went to dinner with our study abroad coordinator, Kirstin. She gave us a lot of insight into the university, answered any questions we had, and also got us really excited: she's planning tons of trips and excursions for us during our time here!

Today I had my first class -- Organizational Behavior. It was really boring and kind of difficult to find. I was really nervous heading to my first class all alone, especially because I haven't had to do that at BC in a few years. At home, most of my classes are with one of my roommates or with people I've met before. Today I felt like a total loser because I had no idea what I was doing or who to sit with. I'm sure I'll make friends in the classes but the first day is always full of awkwardness. Thankfully the class didn't last very long, so all seven of us met up and decided to go downtown to look around. We finally experimented with the public transportation here and took a bus. It was fairly easy and we got off at the right stop, which was reassuring. We walked around on Buchanan Street, which is an upscale shopping area in Glasgow. We wandered in and out of stores but the main attraction for me was TopShop, a trendy clothing store only found in Europe and the UK. Unfortunately, by the time we reached that end of Buchanan Street, TopShop was closed for the evening! Such a disappointment. Then we all went out to dinner at this Chinese restaurant that had an all you can eat buffet. NEVER AGAIN is all I have to say about that experience. It was absolutely disgusting.

Tomorrow I have three classes: Managerial and Organizational Context, Entrepreneurship, and Exploring Scottish Culture. Hopefully these classes will be far more exciting and far less awkward than my class today. We will find out...

Friday, January 8, 2010

It's as cold as the South Pole!

I officially started my semester abroad when I left St. Louis on Monday. Traveling was fairly easy -- no delays or problems -- but I did pretty much sleep my way through the entire thing. I woke up on the last leg of my trip just in time to see the city of Glasgow from the plane. It looked like something out of a movie, with snow covered hills and fields. It was absolutely amazing. Unfortunately I was still semi-comatose and didn't think to take any photos. I finally got to Glasgow on Tuesday around 4 pm and easily found a taxi who knew right where to take me.

I got to my dorm (or flat, as they refer to it here) and was immediately greeted by a security guard closely resembling Mr. Bean. He took both of my bags, grabbed my keys, and led me to my flat. While the flats are pretty plain and boring, they are nice. I have a single and live in a flat with up to 12 other people. I've only met two, who are both freshman boys. This could get interesting.

No one was here on Tuesday night, so I just unpacked and passed out around 8. I woke up around 11 the next day (after not sleeping for half the night -- boo jetlag) and wandered around Glasgow by myself. It was an interesting walk and I definitely didn't go in the right direction. I walked around for about an hour, then found a small convenience store and got some new york bagel company bagels for breakfast -- they were the only thing I was familiar with! Then I came back to my room and took a nap.

My friend Heather got to Glasgow around 5 after a huge delay at Heathrow in London. Apparently the weather in the UK is the worst they've had in 47 years and no one here knows what to do. In Glasgow they don't really plow the streets and don't have enough salt to put down everywhere because they don't normally get snow. That night everyone here from Boston College (there are 7 of us: 5 girls and 2 boys) met up and went out to dinner at this cute restaurant called The Loft. It's a renovated movie theatre with delicious food at really inexpensive prices. I ate my heart out because a) Heather and I walked over a mile to meet everyone and b) I hadn't had anything of substance except my bagel since I'd arrived in Glasgow. It was great.

The next morning we had orientation at 9:30 -- kill myself. It was boring and pointless. They talked a lot about how this weather is as cold as the South Pole. I did learn that everything here is going to be very relaxed. In fact, although classes start Monday, we don't even register until Tuesday? It's going to be a very interesting semester. After orientation the seven of us from BC went out to dinner at Ketchup, a fun restaurant near The Loft and had big burgers and nachos. Then we headed to Vodka Wodka, a bar that we decided was a necessary detour simply because of its name. We probably drank too much here but continued on to Nude, a few doors down, to try some more drinks, like the "shake and bake" and "busting for a wee wee". Needless to say, I slept very well last night.

Today we had an amazing bus tour around Glasgow. We stopped at the Glasgow Cathedral, which was built in the 13th century. It had beautiful stained glass windows and what seemed like 5 million tombs inside. It was a really cool experience.

After we finished the tour, I went with the BC Girls, Heather, Sarah, Laura, and Laura, to get towels and blankets at this really cheap store called Primark. For the past week we've pretty much been showering and drying off with tshirts or bath wraps because towels were way too big to fit into our two suitcases. (I'd much rather bring another pair of shoes than something to dry myself off with, apparently.) We ended up in the City Centre, which was lit up with holiday lights and looked incredible. We had a gluttonous Italian dinner complete with cheesy bread and hot pasta to warm us up after a frigid walk. Although we were planning to go out tonight, we were all absolutely demolished from a busy week. We're planning to meet up tomorrow to explore Glasgow on our own, starting with the Art Museum. I'll keep you posted!