travel

Adventures in the UK

My last hurrah of the semester was a trip to the UK. My trip included London and three different cities in Scotland. I stayed in each country for about three days and four nights, and was lucky enough to have friends to stay with in both places.

I stayed with Tara and Katherine in London. They are both in my sorority and were studying abroad in London for the semester. Katherine was actually only there for one of the nights I was there, so she let me take her bedroom while she was gone. Because I haven’t had a room to myself this entire semester, it felt as if I was staying in a luxury hotel. I even got my own bathroom!

My first full day there, Friday, I went to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, which is just outside of London. For any of you who know me well, you know that this was an absolute dream come true. My Harry Potter love knows no bounds. I’ve also always been a bit of a nerd with discovering behind-the-scenes secrets about movies, and the making of movies really fascinates me. So basically this tour was two of my absolute favorite things in life wrapped into one amazing experience.

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Outside the Harry Potter Studios!

The tour was almost completely self-guided, starting out by walking into the Great Hall. It was set up exactly how they used it when filming. The only thing missing was the magical star-lit ceiling, which they explained had to be added in with special effects (of course I knew that must have been the case, but even so, it is crazy how different it looks without the ceiling). The rest of the tour consisted in walking up to different sets like the Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledore’s Office, Hagrid’s Hut and The Burrow, all of which were decorated exactly as they had been in the movies, complete with dummies of each character positioned as if they were performing a scene.

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At the entrance to Dumbledore’s office

One of my favorite parts was an un-exceptional looking cork board, that when I went closer was covered in photos of different animals. They were all of the “animal actors” that had been used in the movies, from Crookshanks (Hermione’s cat) to Hedwig (Harry’s owl) to all of the different dogs that had played Fang (Hagrid’s dog). Each animal had a notecard with a description of their personality, which films they had been featured in, and funny facts about them. There was also a TV with a video (videos were playing next to a lot of the sets), explaining the process of training the animals. It’s crazy to think about how much time and effort must have gone in just to get Hedwig to fly and land on Harry’s shoulder.

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The animal actors

On Saturday morning, Tara took me to Portebello Market which is located in Notting Hill, where a lot of famous people have lived, and where a lot of movies take place. The market was huge, complete with everything from clothes to ceramics to every type of food imaginable. We ended up eating kebabs, and delicious pastries for dessert.

After the market I headed to my walking tour. My tour guide was Australian, but moved to London a few years ago and loves giving tours. He was eager to point out all of the Australian things in the city like the Australia House, which coincidentally was used as Gringotts Bank in the Harry Potter movies.

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Australia House aka Gringotts Bank

The rest of the tour covered a lot of the oldest parts of London, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. The tour guide was very knowledgeable about all of the history behind each sight, and I definitely feel like I learned a lot about the city. On Staurday Tara took me to all of the major places that I hadn’t seen on my tour, including London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and St. James Park. One of the the things I liked best about London was that although it is a huge city and has that big city feel, it is also very beautiful, with plenty of parks and antique architecture.

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Tower Bridge
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London Eye

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see a musical while I was there. I really wanted to see Once, but I guess that just gives me an excuse to go back to London some day! Monday morning I headed out fairly early to the airport to catch a flight to Edinburgh, followed by a few hours on a train to get to Aberdeen, where Rowan goes to school. Even just from looking out of the window of the train, I was taken by how beautiful and green Scotland is, and couldn’t wait to explore.

Rowan met me at the train station, and we headed to her apartment for a little while before going to meet some of her friends at a restaurant for dinner. It was great to finally meet her friends. She had told me so many stories about them that I already felt like I knew them all! The next day Rowan had class, so I decided to explore a bit on my own. I went to the Botanical Gardens, which were gorgeous! People gave me some strange looks for taking so many pictures, but I didn’t even care.

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Botanical Gardens

After walking around the gardens for a bit and enjoying the sunny weather (which would soon disappear), I headed to St. Machar’s Cathedral. At this point I have lost track of the number of cathedrals I have seen while traveling, but it’s a lot. I still enjoy visiting them though, because I feel like I should appreciate them before I head back to the United States.

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St. Machar’s Cathedral

That night Rowan’s friends came over to her apartment for “Mexican Food Night.” Because we are both missing the taste of Mexican food, and because  her friends weren’t really familiar with Mexican food as they are not from the U.S., we decided it would be fun to cook some food to educate them on how delicious it is, and to satisfy our cravings. We made chicken enchiladas and tortilla soup, which turned out great! And when I say we, I really mean Rowan, she deserves all the credit for cooking. It was definitely nice to taste my favorite cuisine after months of living without it.

Wednesday we began exploring. We took a train to Edinburgh for the day, which was a really cool city. We began our day at a coffee shop to eat a bit of lunch and drink some coffee. The cafe had a very Austin-y feel, so we both felt very at home there. We then headed up to the castle, but ended up just taking pictures as far as we could go without paying, since you had to pay an arm and a leg to go inside. We then stumbled upon a kilt factory, which led to many laughs. There was a little photography station set up where you could pay to dress up in an ancient Scottish costume and get your pictures taken. Though we were extremely tempted to experience it, we settled for just looking at all of the pictures they had displayed, which were priceless.

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Me and Rowan at the Edinburgh Castle
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Some of the classy photos

We ended the day at the Scottish National Gallery, the national art museum, which includes Scottish and international art from the beginning of the Renaissance up to the start of the 20th century. After the gallery we had a little bit of extra time before our train back to Aberdeen, so we actually went bad to the same coffee shop for “Luxury Hot Chocolate” and a piece of cake. And yes, it was just as delicious as it sounds. 

The next day, Thursday, was when the real adventure happened. We took a short train ride to Stonehaven, a tiny town whose two big claims to fame are the castle and deep fried mars bars. They also have a great ice cream shop, which we went to. You can either get ice cream with or without “the toppings.” Instead of choosing one or two toppings, they put a whole bunch of things on your ice cream if you ask for the toppings, including marshmallows, a piece of waffle cone, and assorted hard candies. It was amazing to say the least.

We then made the long hike up to the castle, which starts out completely up hill but gets easier as you go. We again wimped out and decided not to pay to go all the way inside, because we figured the inside basically looks the same as the outside. After looking around a bit, we decided to take an adventure and walk down to the beach area. We found a few caves, and at one point we paved our own path down the mountainside, to get down to the water, later seeing that there was a clear path that we had missed. I only slipped and fell three times, which sadly is pretty good for me. Anyone who saw us probably laughed. We must have looked pretty ridiculous galavanting through the Scottish countryside.

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Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven
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One of the caves we found

Unfortunately Friday rolled around too soon, and I had to begin my journey back to Spain in the early afternoon. I went back the way I came, which was longer because I had to go back to Edinburgh by train, fly to London, then fly to Seville. By the time I arrived back in Seville I was exhausted, but I would do it all over again if I got the chance. I absolutely loved London and Aberdeen/Edinburgh/Stonehaven. London was the perfect blend of historical and fun, and Scotland was just as I had imagined it would be, from the beautiful green countryside to the kilt factory.

Although I am sad that my travels have come to an end, I am glad I ended my semester there. It was a great end to a wonderful semester filled with travel adventures. This is normally when I preview where I will be heading next for my next blog post, so it is really weird to not have another trip! I can’t believe I only have one week left in Spain. The semester really did fly by! I will probably write a wrap-up blog filled with feelings and stuff at some point this week, so keep your eyes pealed for that. But right now I need to study for finals, so I don’t have time for emotions.

Thanks for reading my blog, and I hope you enjoyed hearing about my experience as much as I enjoyed living it! And for those of you considering studying abroad: do it! It will be challenging at times, but completely worth it.

Bye for now,

Shelly

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