25 October 2011

My Kind of Town

Well, I suppose this blog post is a bit overdue. When looking over the past year, I cannot believe how much I was able to fit in. The new stamps in my passport are invaluable. Dublin, Barcelona, Munich, Brussels, Amsterdam, Prague...I saw so much and am so grateful that I was able to do so much traveling, all while somehow finding time to finish my Master's degree.

I've been home for going on two months now, and I'm only just now feeling like I've settled back in. Although it was a bit of an adjustment, I am beyond thrilled to be home....despite my unemployment. I spend my days job searching, hoping for a job at a non-profit or university to fall into my lap. I've been hired as a sub at two different districts by me, but I'm really holding out for something permanent so I can have job security. Ahh well...

Not too much has been happening since I've been back, although Kari did come for a little visit. After showing her the thriving metropolis of Grayslake, we headed into the city to admire the beauty. We walked around State Street, headed over to the Bean and Millennium Park and ended the day with a visit to Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. I've lived near Chicago my entire life, but I couldn't help but have a zen moment when I was walking around. The city is just so beautiful! When standing by Buckingham and looking out over the skyline, I fully realized why I can home. I may miss Edinbugh, but Chicago is my home.
Kari and me on the steps of the Art Institute.
Sweet Home, Chicago!
Nerding out. HARD.
This past weekend I was finally able to go to Northwestern's homecoming. I missed it last year, obviously, so I was particularly excited. All of my college gals were there, so it felt like a big reunion. We had an amazing time and were able to fall back into our old ways, giggling uncontrollably and creating inside jokes that will last a lifetime. It was so good to see everyone, as it was the first big gathering since I've been back. (Scratch that - since I graduated!) Although we lost the football game, I managed to pull out a memorable few days. On Friday all of the alums headed to a mixer in Wrigleyville for a night of fun. Although we were made to wear name tags the entire night, we rectified the situation by stealing handfuls of glow sticks and conducting social experiments at the bar. Saturday was the football game, so everything we did led up to that. After tossing the football around at Chili Bowl and sitting on the lakefill, we got our tailgate on. Again, it was so nice to be able to enjoy a day of football. It was definitely something I missed when I was in Scotland. [Note: I particularly enjoyed the part of the weekend where I got to meet Seth Meyers. Don't worry, I didn't nerd out too hard. I kept my cool. My shaky, stammering cool.]
Networking like champs.
Being at the NU football game just felt right!
For now, that's about it. I'll just leave you all with a few thoughts that have been running through my head since I've been back:

-I run the constant risk of being hit by a car, as I keep looking right-left-right when I go to cross the street.
-Being trapped in my house all day is much more interesting than being stuck in my tiny, tiny room in Edinburgh. There are so many rooms to choose from! 447 feels like a palace.
-I have missed my enormous DVD collection.
-I fully appreciate my now unlimited access to Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, and any other American site that I wasn't able to access this past year.
-It was downright muggy feeling when I stepped off the plane at O'Hare. When I spent the entire summer dealing with a constant high of 60 degrees, the 85 degree humidity felt like a tropical paradise. Even this last weekend when it was only a high of 70, I was strongly considering shorts.
-On the flip side, I am much colder than I would normally be. When the sun sets and the temperature drops, I feel like I'm in the dead of winter. Needless to say, this Chicago winter will be fairly miserable for me.

17 August 2011

Military Tattoo

Absolutely beautiful sunset at the
Tattoo's beginning.
Perhaps the biggest draw to the Fringe Festival is the Military Tattoo. Millions of people gather every August to watch the different military bands play. In the past 10 years there hasn't been one night that was not sold out beforehand. Let's put that into perspective -- the stands can hold 8,600 people, so that means that about 217,000 people see the Tattoo every August.

By the way, it is called a 'Tattoo' from the days when the British army was stationed in Low Countries during the 17th Century. Each evening the drummers would play as a signal for when the soldiers should leave the inns and return to their barracks. This practice was known as "doe den tap toe" - which is Dutch for "turn the tap off." Over the years, this whole ordeal became more of a show, and thus the Military Tatoo was born. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)
The Scottish band starting the night off right.
Held in the Castle Esplanade, the event is a pretty great one.The Castle serves as a backdrop to the event, complete with a flyover and fireworks. There are images projected onto the facade of the Castle, so it's a pretty amazing visual event. I especially appreciated that the bands were from so many different areas, like Brazil, The Netherlands, South Africa, Canada, Bavaria....it made the event much more fun. I particularly enjoyed the Dutch band, who came riding in on bikes - I can't even imagine having to play the tuba while trying not to fall.
Somewhere Over The Rainbow by the Brazilian band
All in all, it was a very cool event. Although it was a bit pricey, I felt that it was perfectly worth it. There were plenty of bagpipes, so it was nice and Scottish-y. For anyone coming to the Fringe, I would totally recommend it.
Gingerbread Castle?
Some highlights include...
1.) The beautiful sunset behind the Castle as the Tattoo began.
2.) The Dutch band that came out on bikes - particularly when they played Loch Lomond.
3.) The fireworks!
4.) The many, many bagpipers -- especially the Lone Bagpiper, which is a tribute to the troops.
5.) The Harry Potter interlude.
6.) The tribute to the fishing industry in Scotland. Who doesn't love ribbon dancing in satin overalls next to a bucket of fish?
7.) The rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne! So appropriate.
Scotland Castle, Part II

12 August 2011

Fringe Festival

The beer garden in Bristo Square, the
heart of my campus. See...school
can be fun!
Every August Edinburgh plays host to the Fringe Festival. For those not in the know, this is a massive, city-wide event. The population literally doubles -- from 500,000 to a cool 1,000,000 people. It is, according to the always reliable wikipedia, the world's largest arts festival. The city is crawling with performers and there are countless shows on each night. There are plenty of comedians, bands, and plays to catch your fancy. Plus, there are so many options that you can just show up like 10 minutes before and see what looks good. It is unjuried, so literally anyone can put on a show if they want.

There is a long history of comedians, bands, and actors getting their big start at the Fringe. It's where Russell Brand was discovered and where Ricky Gervais got his big break. However, this doesn't mean that the city is crawling with a bunch of unknowns hoping to be discovered...just the other day I was walking to the gym and passed Tom Green. Plus, John Malkovich was spotted handing out fliers for the show he is directing. Small world!

Our student union, a major
hub for the festival.
I have already spent a couple of nights checking it out. On Tuesday Sami, Deirdre, and I went to check out the happenings in Bristo Square. We grabbed a crepe for dessert at a stand and a Magners in the nearby beer garden. Funny story: as we were sitting in the beer garden, we were able to listen in on Michael Winslow's show....we got to hear sound effects from this star of the Police Academy movies, free of charge! How lucky of us! (and there was only a small amount of sarcasm there....)

My first festival show -
Looser Women.
Sami and I ended up going to a show called Looser Women, which was a trio of women talking about relationships, sex, and love. We just went into the box office and asked the woman behind the desk what she recommended, and her advice ended up working out well. The show was very entertaining and funny, and for only 5 pounds a ticket! What a deal!

The Royal Mile at night - much
calmer than during the day.
We also walked around the city a bit and were a bit overwhelmed with what we found. The city is so crowded you can barely pass someone on the street,  so you have to be patient. On the Royal Mile, there are little booths set up that performers can rent out and perform on. In this first video, here is a band that we happened upon in Hunter's Square:

My festival adventures continued last night when Catriona and I went to a show at Queen's Hall. Both bands, Manran and Wolfstone, are Scottish rock bands. Catriona knew much more about each band, especially compared to me. I particularly enjoyed the bagpipes and fiddles, which made me feel like I was getting a really original Scottish experience. 
Catriona and me at the Manran/Wolfstone concert!
Manran is a newer band, but you couldn't really tell. I loved the accordion, which gave their songs a really funky feel. Plus, their songs were in Gaelic, which just made it all that much cooler.

Wolfstone was the main band. They've been together for a few decades now. They have a big following in Scotland, which you could really tell from the crowd. I especially like the lead singer who was doing a bit of a Bono impersonation and the bagpiper, who managed the impossible: he made me love the sound of bagpipes. Huzzah!

On Monday Sami, Deirdre, and I are going to the Military Tattoo, which is a major event taking place at the castle. For Tuesday, I'm going to see David Sedaris with Courtney and Emily....so my last week in Edinburgh should be fun-filled!

09 August 2011

The Succinct Art of the Tourist Picture

Tourist Picture: A phrase to denote the fine and not-so-subtle art of taking a picture with/in front of famous landmarks. This may include, but is certainly not limited to, gags, funny reenactments, and cliche poses. These pictures have been "done" before, so please do not feel the need to be original. 

Warning: One must be willing to embarrass oneself if one is to get the picture right.
Starting out strong with a standard picture with the red phone booth.
Note - failed optical illusions are guaranteed to be hilarious.
Enjoying the Louvre the only way we know how.
Versailles - putting the gold fountain to shame.
Pisa - this has done been did, but I don't care!
Oh yeah...it happened.
Classing up the Royal Palace in Munich.
Walking Man in Munich.
Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam
Back to Scotland - Claire and Kaitlin are chilling with Braveheart. NBD.
Guard Booth Picture
It's a requirement, frankly.
Janice does her visit to Bobby up right.
Kaitlin makes this statue in Holyrood look GOOD.
Meg is a pro at Mons Meg photo opportunities.
Mons Meg in Edinburgh Castle - Sinead and Buffum do it up right.
Ending the way I began - red phone booth, but this time in London.

06 August 2011

International Coffee Mugs

When I started my travels this year, I impulsively decided that I would start collecting coffee mugs from every place I visited. So far, I have loved it! (Except I don't have any from places I travelled prior to this year...something I will have to remedy.) I like having something to look for in each city, and I especially like the challenge of finding one I actually like. Plus, I look forward to displaying them proudly in my future home. I have a vision of a plate rack type deal with my coffee mugs lined up. 

So, without further adieu, I present to you the mugs I have collected in the past year. Now, to find a way to get them all home...
Edinburgh, of course! One of the few
Starbucks mugs that I genuinely like.
Edinburgh, again. The city I love
deserves more than one.
Elephants & Bagels -- the sister cafe to the Elephant House. Also, my favorite place to visit after the gym.
Dublin, Ireland - My goodness, my Guinness!
Barcelona, Spain - It had to do with Gaudi
Brussels, Belgium - gotta love the tiny Manneken-Pis
Munich, Germany - I love that it's designed like a  traditional German beer stein.
To commemorate my England road trip.
Bath, England....I had to!
Royal Wedding....yeah, I did....and I'm not sorry!
London, England - from my weekend with the girls.
My trip to Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland
Prague, Czech Republic - I'm particularly proud of this one...it's handmade!
Amsterdam, Netherlands - it was hard to find one without drugs or prostitutes on it.