Very Factual Information About Edinburgh

One of the best parts about working in international education is that any time I travel, I’m honestly expanding my resume (you can bet that I have a section on “international travel and work experience”). The bonus of working on a study abroad program? Excursions with the students! I’ve already been on a few (notably to Bath & Stonehenge and Dover), but the first weekend in November took me on my first overnight excursion with this group, and my first time to our neighbor to the north: Edinburgh, Scotland!

Aside from the complete stress leading up to and encompassing the weekend, what with planning the logistics for 60+ students and then ensuring their health and safety the entire weekend, I ADORED Edinburgh! I was even bold enough to declare that I like it more than London. My flabbergasted students pointed out, reasonably, that I had only been in the city for 36 hours compared to an overall total of about a year in London (taking every trip into account). Sure, sure, go ahead and use logic. I maintain that I prefer exciting, mid-sized cities to the super-large cities: see my love of DC and Boston, compared to NYC. Still a great place, but not necessarily perfect for me. And so, Boston:NYC::Edinburgh:London. (Yep, I just went there).

My weekend in Edinburgh was largely spent wandering around and soaking in the gorgeous weather (so lucky!) while keeping my heart rate under control wondering what the students were currently doing. I did a lovely hike to Arthur’s Seat and a visit to Edinburgh Castle, but besides that I was mostly compiling a complete dossier on Edinburgh. You’re welcome.

My conclusions:

Scottish accents sounds fake

Every single time I heard someone speaking in a Scottish accent, I scoffed and thought confidently, “All right, buddy. Who do you think you are, Shrek?”

Haggis doesn’t taste badly, but it’s not the MOST delicious thing in the world

I can hear you already: “Whaaaaaaa?? Kristen tried HAGGIS?”

Yes, friends, she did. For the less-informed-about-random-Scottish-foods, the interwebs defines haggis as such:

Haggis [contains] sheep’s pluck (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours

I know. YUM!

I was determined to be adventurous and give it a go. When in Scotland, amirite?

However, I am a bit of a squeamish eater – I’m the girl who has a well defined “food face.” See below for an example memorably captured by Jenny. Note I am eating a delicious piece of pasta and am not actually repulsed by it – for some reason any time I eat anything, I look inexplicably sad.

In deference to the Face, I decided to do the baby version of haggis in the form of haggis quesadillas! Armed with the knowledge of a well-reviewed place, I journeyed out Saturday night with some pals and dove in to a sheep’s stomach in the best way possible: covered with melted cheese.

The product:

Essentially, the haggis quesadilla was like any generic minced meat (it thankfully did not come in a sheep’s stomach), but it tastes… different.

Now that I think about it, this is fairly similar to my Food Face, only the “THIS IS REALLY HOT” version.

Verdict: It tasted okay – I got through most of my meal – but it wasn’t the best. It tasted very spicy (flavorful, not necessarily hot, minus the initial temperature). But something about it was a little off… it was also a bit gritty to the taste.

No need to worry – we had ordered enough other food items to feed, well, four hungry people.

As previously discussed: If you do a hike with me, I WILL suggest turning back 200m from the end

And the most important thing to know about Edinburgh:

Any city that welcomes me with blue skies, beautiful views, and great pubs is good in my books

Good weather aside, this is simply a gorgeous and brilliant city and I pray to the spirit of William Wallace that I will be back!

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Kristen’s Exercise Series: Hiking in the UK

I readily admit I am not the world’s most outdoorsy person. I keep convincing myself I enjoy hiking (although I mostly enjoy it when it is called “a long ramble outside in nature”), but then I am completely unprepared for what is before me.

The benefit of so many comical mistakes? I’ve realized exactly what kind of hiking partner I am. And now, for those looking to get as little meaningful exercise as possible while feeling lost 67% of the time – but damn well fed – look no further than the next edition in my exercise series, describing what to expect when hiking with me!

What to Expect #1: I will walk confidently along, convincing you I have a “pretty good” idea of what I am doing, and end up on the completely wrong path.

This was painfully evident a few years ago when I hiked the “Bronte moors” in Yorkshire with my partners-in-crime, Jenny and Molly. I had procured a map from the visitor’s center and was positive we were on the right path. Sure, it described it was a “well-defined” path, but what we were following was reasonably well defined. That’s such an iffy statement anyway.

Fast forward half an hour, and we’re fording creeks (honestly – my friend slipped and got her whole right shoes covered in mud) and literally cutting through private property. 


It’s about when we have to clamber over a wall using a fairly unsafe ladder than I reluctantly agree that something doesn’t feel right. Turns out when they say “well-defined,” they MEAN well-defined. Also turns out we had been walking approximately 50 feet to the right of the correct path the entire time. Whoops.

Along those lines…

What to Expect #2: You will probably have to ford a couple of creeks, scramble up some rocks, and hoist yourself up a hill using the grass – and prayer – as handholds.

After the comedy of errors in Yorkshire a few years ago, I thought I had learned my lesson. Turns out that wasn’t so – when I decided to go on a hike to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh with literally no knowledge besides the vague understanding that the “easier path is around the back of the hill and the hard one in the middle,” I thought it would be fine. Of course this was assuming I was someone else, because I ended up taking a few of my students on a complete wild goose chase that had us tromping through ankle-high grass, scaling a 90 degree grassy inclined using grass as a handhold, and – I’m not lying about this – bouldering up the side of a cliff. Thank god I made them sign a liability waiver. (As a side note, I was the one who had to put it together and think about what dangers lie in wait in Edinburgh, and I settled on, “Danger from slipping on historical cobblestone.” Who needs a lawyer when you have me?!).

Even though I was the one setting the ridiculous path, I usually lagged behind everyone else, resulting in a lot of unattractive pictures of me trying to catch up. I feebly protested it was because I have “older legs” than the rest of them, but the Cadbury Creme Eggs probably have more to do with it.

What to Expect #3: I will want to turn back 200m from the end, suggesting, “We’ve seen it, do we really need to climb it?”

I like to think this is now a fun tradition with me. It started in Haworth (the Yorkshire moors). After a grueling 8 mile hike (half of which was on the wrong path) in the fog and rain, my friends and I were within site of the pinnacle of the hike – “Heathcliff’s House,” or Emily Bronte’s inspiration for it in Wuthering Heights. Noting it was at the top of the hill – but very much within a 3 minute walk – I immediately suggest, “Well, I’m good. Shall we go back?”

Thankfully I have friends who push me along and force me to go to iconic sites I will probably never see again… and I get the chance to do the fistpump of victory. Or the “praise Jesus face” of victory.

Obviously I didn’t learn my lesson, because I did the same thing in Dover, and obviously the same again in Edinburgh. I think I waited until around 10.45am to start suggesting, “Shall we go to lunch?” I almost didn’t make it to the very peak of Arthur’s Seat – I had JUST slumped down on the grassy hilltop next to it and started to gnaw into my apple when those pesky students peer pressured me. Hence the face.

But, I grudgingly stood up, shoved the apple in my mouth to hold while I rock-climbed up the side of a cliff (clearly the most safe route) and made it to the top of that city. By god, I did!

In all of these difficulties, the most important thing to know about me as a hiking buddy:

What to Expect #4: I will have snacks.
It’s a fairly well-known fact amongst my friends that without constant feedings I tend to get… challenging. Some say cranky. Some may even say harsher words than that. I just like to think that I am a grazer and do best with constant food intake throughout the day. With that knowledge, I tend to pack my pockets like I am about to be donating food to the food kitchen. My pockets prior to Yorkshire looked like I had a baby.

Obviously nothing changed for Edinburgh. Early in the hike one of my students asked what was in my surprisingly heavy tote bag I was carrying. My response: “Oh, you know, a notebook, a book (just in case I get bored in the middle of the hike, apparently), a water bottle, an apple, a granola bar, another type of granola bar…” Apparently they don’t think ahead like I do, because they were flabbergasted at the amount I was packin’ for an hour-long hike. I do have a Master’s degree, though, so clearly I am smarter than they are.

So what have we learned? As a hiker, I’m not the greatest. I complain, I get lost, I peer-pressure you into giving up.

But what is the benefit? The simple views of nature. The beautiful expanses over the town.

And more importantly, the food.