Thursday, August 26, 2010

99.9% There

Leaving for Edinburgh in exactly 4 days. In line with my ability to think things are not going that smoothly, when in fact they are going fantastically, I secured an apartment in Edinburgh today, contrary to my recent resignation to the fact that I would probably be searching for place when I got there.

I actually posted an ad on the big craigslist type website in Edinburgh & the UK, called GumTree, saying I needed a room for 4 months in a flat near the University. Amazingly, within a few hours, two people had emailed me about vacancies that fit my description of what I needed.

Promptly, I was able to set up a call with one of them. They gave me their number and I called using Skype to their home phone (8 hours ahead). I was not really sure who or what to expect, and I didn't really expect what happened, but it appears all will work out fine. I didn't ask them their life story, but it seems as though an old retired guy owns one ground floor apartment in a 6 apartment flat in a quiet neighborhood near the University campus. He basically said he is rarely there, and does not sleep there. He is rehabbing it up a bit as well, so I told him I was ok with the fact that he had some guy that would be doing work for a few weeks in September. It's all furnished as well. Funny oddities being that when I told him I was going there to study fire protection engineering, he said he was a retired fire fighter. And his favorite sport is golf. Not your typical roomate, but I could care less, it makes it even more entertaining. At least he is from Scotland, so I can get a good perspective on things in Soctland & Edinburgh and probably learn a lot more than just living with other international students. He even offered to pick me up at the train station when I arrive. Not bad. The apartment is only a 25 minute walk to the center of Edinburgh, where the Castle and all the other good stuff is.

It does not feel like I am going to be gone that long. In fact, I come back Dec 22nd for a week or two, so that's less than 4 months in Scotland. The South America trip lasted a good 5 months. The semester in Lund, Sweden, will last much longer, starting late January and going all the way until early June, and I likely won't come home until the following Christmas.

People keep bombarding me with their thoughts on Scotland. For example, Haggis is one of the world's most awful foods. And, listening to someone from Scotland speak English might as well be listening to someone speak Swahili. Still trying to go in without any preconceived notions, however.

I've been monitoring the soccer schedule in the UK and hope to get to go to a few games. The English soccer league, the Premier League, recently started their season, and I'd love to get to a game of one of the bigger teams, such as Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, or Liverpool (which also gives me a reason to travel to some other cities). There are also country qualifying games for the EuroCup in 2012. Spain plays Scotland in October, in Glasgow, so I'd like to check out that game. Of course, Scotland is a bit of a joke of a soccer team, but that's okay. Maybe I can find a kilt and wear it to the game...haha!

The great thing about securing an apartment now is that I have a good 10 or more days before the semester starts to relax, get adjusted to the city, work out the details like getting a phone, and hopefully explore a bit. In early September, if I can, I'd like to try to go to the Scottish Highlands, while the weather is still decent. Otherwise, I'm hoping to try to meet some people here and there, probably through Rotaract and Couchsurfing. I am sure, however, that I will be meeting plenty of other international postgraduate students over the course of the semester. And as I experienced in South America, it's just plain easy being a foreigner, haha.

I'm also looking forward to seeing my friend Lautaro, one of the couchsurfers whose place I stayed at on my several trips to Buenos Aires. He moved to France for about a year for work, and is planning on visiting Edinburgh. I still remember playing some soccer & frisbee golf, brewing beer once, making meals, meeting people from many other countries at his place, and him helping me out immensely when I lost my bank card... Also, a couchsurfer I hosted while in Chicago from Sweden, Johan, who is now living in the UK (Birmingham & then York), so we will certainly meet up at least once.

Finally started packing, 4 days before departure. I'm not exactly too sure what to bring, it's quite the luxury bringing more than just 4 shirts and a pair or two of jeans along. I'll be hauling along the same red backpack as earlier this year, but also an additional suitcase. I'll be sure to pack along lots of sweater type things, given the drizzly & damp Edinburgh climate. Unfortunately I have 4 massive textbooks to lug, weighing over 25 pounds! I'm flying American, so the first bag is free up to 50 lbs, then the second is $50 up to 50 lbs. That seems like plenty. Not worried.

I leave you again with bay area photos:

Stuffing ourselves in SF Chinatown (photo not posed...., photographer just has an uncanny knack for catching people at perfectly timed moments such as these... ok, I lied, too bad):

Going to a Giant's game:

Saying goodbye to Sabrina (couchsurfer) with Erik, before she goes back to Germany:

Hiking in Marin Headlands:

WWII Battery on the Marin Headland coast:

And scanned some funny family photos in....


An exceptional photo of Dad & Aunt Jean:

Too cool for school:

Stylish, Cool, Calm, Fanny packs, shades:

Gramps during WWII:

This is a good photo:

A showcase of wedding wear from the fantastic four from the early 90s:

An aspiring 49er:

Wildman (I realize this joke is very hypocritical! haha!)

Foggy Pacifica falling into the ocean:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Food... Mmmmm

Super excited for trying new foods in Scotland! Even if it is the UK, and the reputation is horrendous... Here's a list of stuff I want to try:

Bovril (drink made from yeast & beef extract)
Scotch Pie (mince pie)
Bridie (some sort of Scottish pastry)
Clapshot (vegetable dish from potatoes, turnips, & chives)
Rumbledethumps (Potato, cabbage, onion...One of Gordon Browns favorite foods, HA!)
Cullen Skink (soup of some sort)
Deep Fried Mars Bar
Edinburgh Rock
Cock-a-leekie Soup (Soup of Leeks, Chicken Stocks, and Prunes.. Really, Prunes??)

Despite the funny sounding names and preceeding reputations, I will not be swayed by public opinion. Even if it looks like dog doo, I'm gonna give it a shot. Stay tuned for more food commentary.

For the record, I have decided after meeting many a Brit in South America that UK English is funny and entertaining. I'm going to take careful note of all the hilarious words they say and provide subsequent commentary and translation.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Edinburgh Bound

Greetings, Salutations, Howdy, Salaam: Well, besides being lazy and slightly bored (yet relaxed) at times over the last month, things have been coming together for my imminent departure to Scotland. Despite the many little things that I need to take care of, I am really looking forward to living in Scotland for 4 months, getting to know a new city, and studying my ass off.

After a bit of a long hassle, I finally got my visa to the UK. In fact, the process for getting the visa itself was rather quick. I just had to wait about 3 weeks to get a letter of acceptance from the University of Edinburgh, which I needed to provide the UK consulate for the Visa. Because that took so long, I actually ended up having to apply for the visa twice, costing me over $200. Not cool.

In other news, I'll be putting my car up for sale shortly. I won't really need a car for the next 2 years, and I could use the cash. I think that my stipend, $1,000 Euros/month, will be fine for living far from extravagantly, but in order to do some inevitable travelling, I'll make handy use of that car money.

Speaking of travelling, my greedy little mind is already thinking about what I want to do next summer. I have about 3 months off, between the end of semester 2 in Lund, Sweden, and the beginning of semester 3, in Ghent, Belgium. I'm not trying to plan it too much at this point, but I have 3 or 4 general ideas that I probably will attempt.

First, I'd like to spend one of those months between Spain and Morocco. Rehash some Spanish for a few weeks. If timing works, stay with Kath & Peter if they trade houses in Barcelona. Then hopefully travel to Fez, Tangier, Marrakesh, and Cassablanca in Morocco. Running of the Bulls?

Second, I'd like to spend a month between Egypt and Jordan. Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, maybe some other places. Jordan just seems like a really interesting place from what I've read. I wouldn't mind going to Egypt or Morocco in August, for Ramadan. It was an incredible experience in Dubai, it would be really interesting to see it elsewhere, in other more low key Muslim countries.

Third. Go to India for a month. Round trip flights are quite cheap from London. Take a guess why.

Fourth, if I don't do 3, go to Eastern Europe for a month. Romania and Bulgaria are the two places I have the most interest in going.

Well crap, maybe I should start learning a few Arabic phrases if I do 1 & 2. Speaking of languages, I have been lightly reviewing some Swedish, and will continue to do so until I get there this coming January. Mostly through this online program called LiveMocha. So, I can count to 10, say the days of the week, and maybe few basic phrases. Real conversation pieces, if you ask me. No doubt, my pronunciation is horrendous.

Oh, and I bought my plane ticket to the UK. I'll be coming home for Christmas. I leave September 1st, land in London, and return on Dec 22nd. I still have to find my way to Edinburgh, probably by train. American Airlines does not fly to Edinburgh anyways, and I wanted the airline miles so I went with them (they had a good price too). I haven't booked a flight yet to Sweden for late December or early January, but may shortly here. I have found that if I go through Iceland, I can get a one-way for about $450, which is not bad. I also found a ridiculous way to get there for free on airline miles, by flying to Spain first (and then paying for a RyanAir fare from Barcelona-Sweden), but leaving from an airport in Los Angeles, hmmm.....

Other than that, I dropped a whopping $600 on 3 textbooks for classes. Good friggin thing I don't think I'll need any more textbooks for the rest of the program.

Housing seems to be a bit of an issue. Looks like I'll probably stay at a hostel for a week or so while trying to find a room in an apartment off the internet & advertisements. I applied for University housing, but since my admittance was so late, and I'm only there one semester, it appears I have not one trump card over a single soul there.

Oh, and I found out there are about 24 or so people in this program. But only 12 of us are starting in Edinburgh together. Everyone is from different countries. Malaysia, Iran, China, Argentina, Romania, Australia, Ethiopia, to name a few. I am the only one from the US. Interestingly (I wonder if by coincidence or not) of the 12 starting in Edinburgh, basically all except 1 of the Spanish speakers were grouped together, 2 from Mexico, 1 from Argentina, and 1 from Colombia. So, I'm sure they will want to speak English since of course they are in the UK, but hey, maybe I can maintain my Spanish just a little with them, just maybe.

Other than that, I have been reviewing some old engineering textbooks (ahhhhhhhhhh!), and began studying one of the fire protection books I bought. General nerd stuff. And, getting all the little details sorted out for travelling to Edinburgh (and there are alot...).

I leave you with a few entertaining photos:

Goat milking like it's my job:

Ridge hike (roughly 5 miles from the booming metropolis of 92 people, Ventucopa, CA):

The blogs might keep coming...for 2 more years...yikes!