Friday, January 31, 2014

Stonehaven

What I learned outside of the classroom of Thursday:

  1. Optional, but "encouraged," Shakespeare screenings are so not worth waking up for. 
  2. Getting bus sick is a thing and it's not particularly enjoyable. 
  3. North Americans are rad (and this in no way diminishes the rad-ness of people from other continents that I've met).
  4. Even the best Fish&Chips in Scotland can't beat a good chicken strip. 
  5. Hail down, hoods up, that's the way we like to hike. 
  6. Hiking to castles makes the end structure that much sweeter. 
  7. You'd think castle ruins are uninhabitable, but then you'd see a rat scurry across a crumbling bedroom. 
  8. When you're locked inside a castle and it's quickly getting darker, answering questions from a faceless boy who may or may not be trying to flirt is the last thing you want to do. 
  9. I think we have a 5th sense. It's like ESPN or something. We can tell exactly when a bus is going to leave a station and arrive mere minutes before the imminent departure time. 
  10. My opinion of humanity as a whole just keeps getting better. 
I compiled the sparknotes version for those of you who need to dash off, but I will fill in any questions you have in the following paragraphs. Could be worth sticking around for.
Every Thursday I have an "encouraged, but not compulsory" Shakespeare screening from 9-12 for the specific play discussed during lecture and tutorial. This was week 3 of class and since I hadn't attended a single one yet, I decided I should make an appearance, no matter how brief. Bad move. I couldn't stop watching the clock. I had made plans with a few other girls to venture to Stonehaven on the 10:40 bus so as soon as the clock struck 10AM (okay, 9:59), I gathered my coat and my crossword puzzle and hit the bricks. Or the cobblestones in Scotland's case. Our group included three Americans, Terisa, Rachel, and myself, and three Canadians, Nat, Hannah, and Meghan. We met outside of my screening building and boarded the 77x bus bound for Stonehaven and Aberdeen with a few stops along the way.
It was during this lengthy (1.5 hour) bus ride that I started feeling rather hot. Nat accused me of early onset menopause as I removed my coat, and later, my scarf. It wasn't enough. I lifted my hair off of my neck and tried to not look out the window as the waves of nausea spilled over me. Uh oh. I quickly unzipped my backpack and located an airsickness bag I had stolen from a flight on the way over. I clutched the bag in my left hand as I put pressure on my right wrist and focused on the only remotely stationary element in the bus: the ceiling. I gradually started to feel better and didn't need to use my handy barf bag. Win! I was never more excited to exit a bus and inhaled gulps of crisp air while we searched for the infamous Sandy's Fish&Chips restaurant.
Nat's keen eyesight snagged the tiny sign and we followed the signs upstairs to a completely empty restaurant. Huh. Strange. I contemplated ordering the fish&chips in order to have the authentic UK experience, but since I was operating on an iffy stomach I opted for the grilled chicken strips and chips. Rachel was actually the only one in our group who ordered the traditional meal!
After lunch we followed the signs for the 2.5 mile castle walk and ended up along the coast. The hike was absolutely stunning. The distance fell away under my boots as we scaled hills, experienced the sea breeze, and watched sheep out to pasture. Maybe a mile or so away from Donnatur Castle I turned toward the sea to take a picture and my face was immediately pummeled with tiny sharp particles. Confused, I turned away and back again, thinking a gust of wind had blown dirt in my face. Nope, the particles continued to rain down and we figured out we were caught in hail storm. The pebbles of ice were tiny, but packed a stinging punch on our cheeks as we pressed onward to the castle.
Half of our group decided to fork over the 6 pound castle entry fee (places without student discounts automatically go on my shit list #sorrynotsorry) so Nat, Hannah, and I entered the seaside fortress. 
The grounds were mesmerizing. Ruined stone buildings dotted bright green grass and the North Sea waves sang in the distance. I'm thinking I need a new ringtone. After peering into every nook and cranny, screaming about bold royal rats, and taking pictures from every angle, we headed back down the direction we had come to exit the castle. One problem: the door was locked. We were stuck in Donnatur castle. Normally, this wouldn't be such a problem for a princess like me. Spending the night in a castle built in the 16th century would be quite an experience. But not many of the rooms had roofs, and the ones that did also had rats. I like sleepovers, but not when my bedmates have tails. I thought quickly to my snack stash and realized one small bag of baked potato chips wouldn't go far among three people. I jostled the lock and called "hello!?" I was answered by a voice on the other side, "hello?" He told me the door was padlocked from the outside and asked if I was really locked inside of the castle. I assured him we were as locked as possible and he asked for my name and where I was from. Excuse me? How is that going to unlock this door? I reluctantly replied "Taylor, America" and he told him and his friends were from a European city I couldn't and still can't pronounce. He offered to call the castle for me since our phones are only WiFi capable. No luck. In the meantime, Nat and Hannah had retreated back up the stairs in order to find the ticket lady. Her backpack still sat in her booth so we assumed she had to be around somewhere. They returned victorious and we were ushered outside just as our three rescuers hung up the phone. We thanked them profusely and went to find the other half of our group. 
They had met up with an older gentleman who was carrying a picture of his sick friend around Scotland and taking pictures of it with landmarks and people he meets. We asked about his friend and he told us he was in a hospital in Chicago and wasn't doing very well. Hannah and I posed with the picture and I felt honored to be a part of something so very good. What an inspiring project. 
I almost forgot my freezing toes and rumbling stomach as we walked up to the bus stop, catching the 4 PM bus with 3 minutes to spare. The next one wouldn't have come around until 5 PM. I'm telling you, it's a 5th sense. 
I've been living outside of America for 4 weeks now. I don't know about the rest of you, but the time has absolutely flown by. In this short time span I've seen 6 castles, become a kitchen genius, and met lifelong international friends. A Very Lucky Girl is celebrating this milestone on Sunday afternoon with McDonald's. Chicken nuggets...I'm coming for ya. 

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