Monday, April 19, 2010

La vie en rose

Passing through famous European cities, I have found myself loving the place and wanting to stay longer. I spoke too soon, it was Paris that changed everything. Like every other hopeless romantic, I have fallen in love with the city of lights.

It was my first Eurostar trip and I enjoyed it immensely. While we were going under the English Channel, I kept thinking about how there were fish and coral reefs right above us. I wished the tunnel was see through, wouldn't that be awesome?! Above is the very first sighting of France, the countryside. To my keen observation techniques, I can confirm that it looks exactly like every other countryside, including Kansas :)

We arrived right around lunch time. One thing was on my mind: CREPES. We searched around for a reasonable crepe stand and France is very well known for its crepes, so it wasn't a challenge.

For my very first official French crepe, I got cheese, mushrooms, and chicken. It was absolutely delicious and satisfying. As you can see in the picture below, I was very excited to have my first of many crepes. I am forever a changed woman.

Immediately after my first bite of my exquisite crepe, I knew I was going to like Paris :)

Below is a typical sidewalk, there are tree groves literally everywhere, one of my favorite things about France and Paris in particular.

Public transportation in Paris seemed very similar to New York and Berlin. The tube in London is by far one of the most unique and complex underground transportation I have come across.

I am a big fan of these orange chairs, I wanted to take one with me. Or at least find something similar to put in my room haha.

Deciding where to go and what to see was a bit difficult. There was so much to see and only 2 1/2 days to fill up! We took the metro to the world famous museum, can you guess what museum I might be talking about?

Yes, we went to the Louvre! The Louvre is the most visited art gallery and museum in the world. Inside this worldly wonder you can gawp in open mouthed disbelief at the Mona Lisa, take in the immense and awe inspiring Liberty Leading the People and get kicked out by security when you try to uncover the Holy Grail by digging through the marble floor.

All thanks to Dan Brown and his conspiracy theories, the believed site of the Holy Grail lies directly underneath the inverted pyramid. It was mind blowing, to be in the same place where Tom Hanks' character realized the true location of the Holy Grail..sadly it is all fictional. Nevertheless, the place is beautiful. It once was the royal palace to France's Kings and Queens. It is a massive palace, I can only imagine how many places I could find during a simple game of hide-and-seek. During the Revolution, the people had tried to burn down the palace. Thankfully, that did not happen and eventually it became the Louvre Museum.

(Above) The first of many touristy pictures...

Above is a famous statue called 'Victory' and I believe it used to stand proudly in Italy or of the two :) Below is one of the many beautiful ceilings in the Louvre. Each one was completely different and gorgeous. If the ceilings are this alluring at the Louvre, I can only imagine what the ceiling must look like in St. Peter's Basilica!

While the Louvre hosts hundreds of thousands of beautiful art pieces, statues from lost worlds, documents of historical events, the most famous of all is Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Before I came to Paris, I had heard that the Mona Lisa was disappointing. Many people told me that it was much smaller than they had anticipated and not quite as glamorous as they had expected. I came prepared to see this tiny portrait of the mysterious woman and I was actually surprised about the size. It seemed to be an average size of most portrait paintings...I have no idea what all those people were talking about! There were so many people crowed together just to see this painting. I found out that the only reason why this painting is so famous is the fact that we don't know anything about her, zip. And it has nothing to do with the fact that she has no eyebrows :) There are some theories that say that this could be a self portrait of Da Vinci himself. Perhaps he saw himself as a woman? Hmm...

We figured that if we're at the Louvre, might as well look at some other world famous artifacts. We saw the acclaimed Venus de Milo. As usual, I had assumed that it was sculpted by a guy named Milo. Apparently the artist is unknown and the name Milo comes from the city where the statue is believed to have been created. Huh.

Despite of the intimidating amounts of artifacts and history stuffed in the Louvre, I could not stand being inside anymore. There was too much to see, so many people to dodge and the sun was shining. When you live in London for an extended period of time, you tend to miss the sun quite a bit. So, we zoomed through a couple other exhibits, mostly Roman and Greek stuff and then rushed outside to greet Mr. Sun and the oh-so blue sky!

Just to point out, the flag above is the national flag of France, just sayin'.

To properly enjoy the beautiful weather, we began to walk down the axis of Paris. It is this line that lines up at the Louvre all the way down to the Arc de Triomphe. In between is the pulchritudinous Jardin des Tuileries and the distinguished Obelisque which is one of the best preserved Obelisks from Egypt left in the world and the exalted Champs-Elysees Avenue, where the world's expensive shopping lives. As we walked through the Jardin de Tuileries, we looked over to the left side and lo and behold, there was France's most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower! At this point, I got super hyper and excited and couldn't stop jabbering about how we had to get to the top of the tower and perhaps open a bottle of champagne (That didn't happen, the champagne part, sadly).

I kept my eyes peeled for the famed mimes and tight rope performers, the only stereotypical French culture I came across was the class of painters we passed on the way to the Obelisk. I must say that they really do have great architecture to paint and it is too beautiful to pass up painting.

Passing cliche French cafes and crepe stands, we came across a playground. This playground caught my eye because it is not the run-of-the-mill kind, it has TRAMPOLINES! Yeah, trampolines! Those French kids sure are spoiled...

In the plaza of the Obelisk, there were these gorgeous water fountains that looked too familiar. After taking several pictures of the fountain, it hit me. These were the exact same fountains that were filmed in The Devil Wears Prada!!!! So many movies have taken place in Paris...

The Arc de Triomphe was a ways away, but even from a distance, it stand majestically at the end of the axis of Paris. The Arc de Triomphe is a famous monument in Paris that honors those who fought for France, in particular, during the Napoleonic Wars and it also includes the tomb of the unknown soldier. There is a flame, dubbed the eternal flame, which burns eternally. This flame has been put out several times by idiots who wanted to make Paris and France angry, so they peed on it and in result got kicked out of Paris for good. :) I suggest that if you are extremely poor and do not care about coming back to France, this is a good way to get a free one-way ticket out of France forever, that is something to consider.

After spending hours walking around, sitting, people watching, snapping pictures, and the like, we finally made it to the Eiffel Tower! I may or may have not taken 100 or so pictures of the Eiffel Tower heh.

When we got to the center of the tower, there was this ginormous queue (British slang for line) of people waiting to get tickets and then another queue to get onto the elevators. Seriously, it was worse than Disney World, I really should have taken a picture of this queue. Since it was THE EIFFEL TOWER, we stood in line. I also wondered if some people waited in line to fulfill their juvenile desire to spit off the top and hit the unfortunate fellow 1000 feet below them...hmm. We got there (in queue) a little bit past 6:20 pm and we finally got to the 2nd platform and then waited in line for another 45 minutes (there are two elevators, one to the 2nd platform and then another to the top which is called the Sommet). By the time we got to the top, the sun was setting!

The tower is the tallest structure in the French Capital and at more than 1000 feet high, you get the best view of Paris. I don't know if you can tell, but it was really windy at the top, but the sunset was beautiful and I enjoyed looking down on the city of Paris and watching the lights come on.

French traffic did not look like fun, it resembled LA..ugh! However, there was a football match going on and I got a great bird's eye view of it! I felt like God, watching down on little ants run around this tiny white dot on the green rectangle :)

Oh, I was on the Eiffel Tower just as the lights came on and it was FABULOUS! Starting at 9 pm and every hour until closing (12ish), there is a light show that goes continuously for 5 minutes. It is magical and my absolute favorite part of the Eiffel Tower, hands down!

We got home around 12:30 from our incredibly tourist day. I passed out so hard that I didn't even change into my pajamas...yeah, that tired! Remember the free city tours I raved about in Berlin and Edinburgh? Believe it or not, Paris also had one! The exact same company with the same protocol, but different people. This time my tour guide was from Pennsylvania...random I know. He was fresh out of college and chose Paris because he knew French and really liked it when he did a brief study abroad trip in college.

Our first stop was at St. Michael's Fountain, a huge, beautiful fountain with two guys fighting. The angel is St. Michael and he is dominating over some loser haha. It is located in the Latin Quarter. When I was looking over the information and saw the name, Latin Quarter, I assumed it was an area heavily influenced by Spanish culture...don't look at me like that! I made my connection because of Latin's called LATIN America for a reason. Well, apparently it is called the Latin Quarter because there's a university in the area, a prestigious one mind you, called Sorbonne University. All the students function just as any typical college students would, they text, meet up, drink, hang out and the like. However, they all do it in the language of Latin, a dying language. Supposedly, the menus, signs, conversations, really, everything is in Latin. Go figure!

On the way to our next historical sight, we went through this street, I would call it a close, like the ones in Edinburgh, and it was really cool. There were all kinds of shops and food restaurants and yes, crepe stands (I almost stopped to buy one and would have lost the tour) all lined up.

Our next stop was the Notre Dame! Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame played through my head. Interestingly, Notre Dame means "Our Lady" in French and it has been one of the national symbols of France for years. It was built in the 6th century and its Gothic architecture is why this cathedral is famous. Along the sides are gargoyles who protect the church 24/7, 365 days...quite the job if you ask me. Random fact: The Notre Dame is the exact place where Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself (yes, himself) emperor. What happened was Napoleon was kneeling and the pope was going on and on with prayers and who knows what else and I guess Napoleon didn't have much patience and grabbed the crown and said "Not even God's representative can make me emperor" and then just put the crown on his head....whoo cocky guy.

Below is a picture of Prefecture de Police, or in English, the Police Headquarters. Control of the headquarters has gone through several hands. It was once the actual police headquarters of Paris' finest police officers and detectives (I don't think this is where Inspector Jacques Clouseau worked haha). Then Hitler took over and turned it into a Nazi control office. Then, (I think) some royal family members lived here at some point, temporarily. And then the people took over and this is where the French Revolution basically took place. It was the royal family (reign of terror) was kept prisoner, Marie Antoinette was kept here. Pretty wild eh? She was beheaded in the plaza where those Devil Wears Prada fountains are and the Oblisk is.

Fascinatingly, this building is the only building that bears the scar of WWII. If you look closely on the front part of the building, you can see bullet holes. It is on the left side of the wall with a single window (sorry my picture doesn't really show them). Below is what the tour guide called the original facebook. It is one of Paris' famous bridges, called Pont-Neuf.It was one of King James I's biggest projects. King James I was known for his love to party. He hosted a ton of them and loved watching people get drunk. Once it was completed, Persians had a huge party on it and many people got completely drunk and fell into the River Seine. This particular king was really a funny guy. One day, he asked an artist to draw all of the faces of his council and court members (I can't remember how many there were, but there were a ton). The artist drew them all and King James loved them. The pictures were hilarious, so hilarious he wanted them to be on his bridge. So, ideally, he tagged all of his friends and their faces are up on display for all to see ;)

As you can see, the faces on the bridge are not as flattering as most people would like theirs to be. Imagine having your face carved into stone and on display forever...thank goodness for that detag button facebook has!

Next, Tyler (tour guide)took us to another famous Persian bridge called des Arts. It is Paris' only 100% pedestrian bridge and its first iron bridge. Tyler explained that many young people tend to go out to Des Arts and hang out, drink wine, eat bagettes and cheese. It is one of the most social places to go to while in Paris. This bridge is also known for its romantic attributes. As Tyler said (remember, his words, not mine), if you are incredibly serious with your boy/girlfriend, this is the place to declare your love. Young lovers bring locks with them to the bridge and declare how much they love each other and place their lock on the bridge, hence locks of love, and throw the key into the Seine river. There were locks of all shapes and sizes, some had names on them, others had ribbons and some even had combos on them (in case you weren't too sure how real your love was haha!).

Tyler took us everywhere, to places I had already seen the day before. So, I am going to spare the boring details and skip to the end! We ended our tour at the Champs-Elysees Avenue, the most prestigious and broadest avenue in Paris. Its full name is actually "Avenue des Champs-Elysees" and it refers to the Elysian Fields, which is the palce of the blessed in Greek Mythology.

With its cinemas, cafes, and luxury specialty shops, the Champs-Elysees is one of the most famous streets in the wolrd and is very popular with the rich and famous, who travel here just for a day of shopping. The avenue is 2 kilometers long, filled with all of these glamourous shops I could never walk in and then come out with bags!

My absolute favorite part of Paris was this spot right here. The sky was so blue, the trees were so richly green and there was a crepe stand not too far off. Life was gooooood until two of my friends wanted to move on (sighs). I spent the rest of the weekend with two friends, Abby and Tyler, who are from University of New Hampshire. It really was a ton of fun walking around Paris with these two, especially when we got a little lost. Abby is really entertaining when she freaks out :)

(Above) I think this was crepe #5 for me? I can never get enough of that Nutella! Nutella is a European delicy that is some kind of chocolate and hazelnut spread, so good! (Below) The Arc de Triomphe was super crowded, so we didn't get the chance to go there and see the tombs and climb up to the top. I suppose I'll have to return one day.

We all decided we HAD to see the famous white domed Basilica of the Sacr Coeur, which was built in 1876. Interestingly, the place was packed with street performers. It appeared to be more of marketpalce or a gathering place to hang out and watch unique talents rather than a place to worship. There was this guy who amazed me, he stood on a pillar and juggled a soccer ball. It put my soccer juggling skills to shame because this guy could pick up the ball with his foot and shin and then do a handstand without dropping the ball.

Sacr Coeur is in Montmartre, the playground of Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, Pablo Piscasso and Vincent Van Gogh. Montmartre is also the place where Moulin Rouge is...yes Moulin Rouge is a real place and believe it or not, it is in Pigalle, a place where there is sex shop after sex shop. It really baffled me just how much there was. I may or may have not blushed a couple of times...

Moulin Rouge is French for Red Mill or windmill. It is a traditional cabaret that was built in 1889 by Joseph Oller, who already owned the Paris Olympic. Moulin Rouge has become the most famous cabaret in the world since it was built. The place is internationally famous as the home of the traditional French Can-Can, which is still performed to this day. Whilst the dance of the can-can had existed for many years as a respectable, working-class party dance, it was in the early days of the Mouline Rouge, when courtesans first adapted the dance to entertain the male clientele. It is quite expensive to go see a performance, about 80 Euros!

After snapping photos and replaying Moulin Rouge songs in our heads, we headed over to the Eiffel Tower to achieve the greatest tourist pictures. We spent the rest of the day there, taking pictures, laughing at our stupidity and eating bread.

All the touristy pictures, you know, the leaning ones and the touching the very tip and etcetra, are much harder than it looks. It took us a really long time to just Tyler's leaning picture to work. I figured, it's been awhile since I've posted my trademark pose, the jumping picture. Thought you'd like to see the one I have from Paris, right in front of the Effiel Tower, naturally.

The ONLY picture of the three of us together! Imagine that. It actually is really hard to get pictures taken by some stranger because they could run off with your camera and that would be extremely tragic. Paris at sundown is really beautiful, although I did prefer the georgeous blue sky since it is rarely blue in London.

Tyler hadn't gone up the tower yet, so the three of us climbed 1,021 steps up to the 2nd platform (you can only get to the 2nd platform, which is not the top, by stair). Even though I had just been up to the top the night before, the view was still beautiful and I enjoyed every minute of it. The Effiel Tower was definitely one of my favorite things about Paris. There's just something about it. I was able to capture the brilliance of the sparkling show! I even have a video of it...a bit much? Perhaps. At least I have something to watch when I'm bored haha!

We got to watch the magical sparkling show three times in three different perspectives: once out on the field, once on the Eiffel Tower and lastly on the Metro. The next day was incredibly lazy, we shopped around for some souviners and then sat in the green chairs for 2 hours, just looking up at the blue sky.
Sheryl Crow's Soak up the Sun best describes this moment:

I'm gonna soak up the sun /while it's still free/I'm gonna soak up the sun/Before it goes out on me/Don't have no master suite/I'm still the king of me/You have a fancy ride, but baby/I'm the one who has the key/Every time I turn around/I'm looking up, you're looking down...da da da. I am happy to report that I got some color to help with the hideous British tan I have accquired. Pale is NOT my color!

This chair is reserved for my return to Paris (see my name written all over it? no? That's okay because I used invisible ink), I plan on spending hours soaking up the sun and consuming ridiculous amounts of crepes. Until then, Au revoir!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Scottish Kilts are cool?

The week after Austin and dad's visit went by quicker than I had anticipated. School kept me busier than usual, a paper here and a presentation there. I thought study abroad was going to be similar to pretend school and I am definitely wrong haha.

As usual, my American stereotypical perspective of Scotland consisted of sheep, lots of them, haggis, bagpipes and kilts galore. Thankfully, my assumptions were 100% true this time! Chalk one up for American accuracy. I saw many guys dressed up like the old man in the picture below. Most played bagpipes, so I got to know the sound of a wailing animal quite well. However, there is more to Scotland than we realize, so much more.

The trip began early in the morning at King's Cross Station where we all scrambled to find some food to devour as breakfast before hopping onto a 4 hour train ride. Then there was chaos on the train, some people did not realize that most seats were already reserved. After a few arguments and grumpy people, we were well on our way to Edinburgh!

The train went through the country side and it was so beautiful. The grass looked so soft, much like velvet. I wanted to run up the hills and roll down them. :) I even took a 45 second video of, as a friend likes to call it, grass. In my defense, it was the English countryside! Before we knew it, we began seeing sheep and oh so cute little lambs frolicking around. I really really wanted to get out and pet the lambs because they were so CUTE! Naturally, the fast moving train stopped me from doing that.

Edinburgh reminded me of Dublin, the environment and the people were very similar. Edinburgh is very hilly, the streets are literally diagonal and if you are not in excellent shape, you will have difficulty getting around Edinburgh. Not only were the streets challenging, my friends and I had to climb six flights of stairs to get to our hostel room. We definitely got our exercise there. The hostel location was perfect, it was on Cockburn street, which is down the street from the Royal Mile, one of Edinburgh's most famous and busiest streets. Believe it or not, the Royal Mile is not a mile long, it is precisely 1 Scots mile which means it really is 1.1 miles, oy vey. The Royal Mile really is an interesting street, it connects Edinburgh Castle from the top with Parliament at the bottom of the hill. The Royal Family would travel on the street to go from the Castle to Parliament, hence the name, Royal Mile :) Along the Royal Mile are closes, alleyways that lead to the next street. Each close has a unique name and some are really creepy, some are really awesome.

The first time I looked into a shop window, I immediately saw the first of many kilts and knew I was in Scotland. The pattern is often mistakenly called plaid by millions of people, it is actually called tartan.

The Royal Mile! Below is one of the many closes that were built to connect other streets and the city to the Royal Mile

Above is one of the bigger closes, alleyways that lead to other streets from the Royal Mile. Below is the Scottish flag waving proudly.

The first thing I did was go to Edinburgh Castle which resides on top of a dormant volcano! Dymarie (a friend) and I explored different aspects of this castle. Interestingly, the governor of Scotland lives in this castle. We got to see the Stone of Destiny, one of the most historic elements of Scotland and the crown jewels. We also were able to see this gigantic, massive cannon dubbed Mons Meg and the name speaks for itself.
Sometimes when you go to awesome places, you have to be a tourist and get your pictures in front of the place or else people will never believe half the stories you tell. Below is the gigantic cannon dubbed Mons Mag.

Above is a well, the dot on the bottom is actually the bottom of the well. I wouldn't want to be down there, it's a looonnnggg way down! Below is Edinburgh Castle with the pretty sun shining!

The next day was incredibly busy, but one of my absolute best days spent out in Europe. We started the day with the same free city tour company that I went on in Berlin! I immensely enjoyed this tour. Our tour guide (I failed to remember his name, so we'll call him Johnny), was from Leeds, England and was extremely witty. He kept us entertained the entire 3 hours and told us stories of romance, gore and humor. Scotland's history was not quite as I expected, once again, my American stereotype assumed that the nation's history consisted of shepherds and braveheart Sir William Wallace. Edinburgh itself is a history rich city and one of the biggest cities in Scotland.

There were so many sites Johnny took us to, all were fascinating. But, only a few really stuck out to me. There was a statue of King Edward I (I believe) on a horse. It was built to try to build up respect for the English because the Scots absolutely despise the English. This statue however comes with a funny history. The statue is not exactly built proportionally. The man is much larger than the horse. So, when it was first put up, the local people would not figure out if the man was riding a horse or a donkey, so they started laughing saying that the king was riding a donkey. Back then, it was considered treason to laugh or make fun of the king. So, the king had guards stand around the statue and arrest anyone who laughed or made fun of the statue. Let's just say that a lot of people were arrested. Edinburgh is a very windy and rainy city, eventually, the horse began to tilt over because the water was getting into the statue and making the head heavier. So, Scots said that the horse was drunk and the statue became even more funny. In result, the king gathered the best designers and physicists to solve this problem. Their solution? Drill a hole at the bottom of the horse, which happened to be in the special area of the horse :) SO, now when it rained, the water would get into the statue, but come out looking like the horse was peeing. This made the Scots laugh even more and the king finally gave up. Finally, a few years ago, the city of Edinburgh put the statue in its upright position, put a support beam at the bottom of the horse's foot and filled the whole thing with some kind of concrete. No more entertainment for the Scots, boo hoo.

Next, Johnny took us to a gigantic landmark which was right in front of St. Giles Cathedral. We all assumed it had something to do with the cathedral's history, boy were we wrong. The landmark was the center of a huge market that would take place everyday way back when. Interestingly, at this market, it was really easy to steal, but thieves were always caught. Once a thief was caught, the punishment was humiliating. Your earlobe would be nailed to the wall of the landmark. You had two choices, one was to stand there and let all the women and children spit at you, men pour urine at you, beat you up, hit, kick and all that wonderful jazz and then the nail was removed from your earlobe and you were free with a small hole in your ear. The other choice was to rip off your ear from the nail all by yourself and walk away with 1 and half ears. Eeehhh...don't try stealing in Scotland!

The first time I saw the heart in the street, I thought it was some kind of romantic notion of Edinburgh. Perhaps from one of the many famous poets who lived in Scotland. WRONG! It is called the Heart of Midlothian. The heart shaped design of cobble stones is a marker of where the Tolbooth used to be. The Tolbooth was set up in 1561 and it collected tolls, later it became a prison after 1640. There was a scaffolding for hanging criminals and the heads of famous criminals would be displayed on the spikes in the face of the building. The Tolbooth was demolished in 1817 and it was not very well respected by the people because people spit on the heart as they walk by it. It is a sign of disrespect to the city's council. So when walking by, we all stayed quite a ways from the heart to prevent getting spat on. Johnny said that he had a friend who saw a guy get on one knee and propose to his girlfriend on the heart simply because he thought it was oh-so romantic. When he got up, he had spit all over his leg...eeeewwwww.

The next interesting place was Greyfriar's churchyard where Scotland's most beloved dog, Greyfriar's Bobby, used to roam and protect. John Gray was a night watcher of the church and his job included late night shifts and a very anti-social life. So, he got a Skye Terrier dog and named it Bobby. Sadly, John died about two years later. When they had the funeral, Bobby stood right next to his master's tombstone and never moved, even when the funeral was over and people left. Amazingly, this poor dog really was devoted to his master because when it got dark, he left, but he came right back the next day and did the same thing. He continued to do this for 14 years! When Bobby died, people had assumed he would be buried next to his master, nope. They put him right out in front of the Churchyard because he was the protector of the place. There is a statue of Greyfriar's Bobby and it is one of the most famous statues of Scotland. Bobby was so loved by the people, he was given the keys to the city. Hahaha!

Above is Greyfriar's Churchyard/Cemetery where a lot of bloody history took place here and allegedly, it is one of the most haunted cemeteries in the world. Below is Greyfriar's Bobby, beloved dog of Scotland.

The next place Johnny took us to is a Harry Potter milestone, seriously. Apparently, J.K. Rowling dreamed up the story of Harry Potter and wrote it in this very city at The Elephant House! I got to see the coffee house AND the place where she lived for awhile!!!!!!! I hyperventilated a bit...okay maybe I jumped up and down like a five year old and took a gazillion pictures of the place. Also, Johnny took us to the place where J.K. Rowling received her inspiration about Hogwarts, which is an actual private school. Jealous much, my Harry Potter friends? I would be :)

Above is the apartment where J.K. Rowling lived while she was writing the very first drafts of Harry Potter...the farthest top left window was her room.

Clearly, the birthplace of Harry Potter is in Edinburgh, Scotland thanks to the Elephant House for clarifying that! Below is a picture of the school that inspired J.K. Rowling to dream up Hogwarts.

Johnny wrapped up the tour with a fascinating and dramatic story, the story of the Stone of Destiny! (If I could, I would cue dramatic music right now). The Stone of Destiny is a national Scottish symbol because every king that has been coronated sat on this very stone and became king or queen. This stone is made out of red sandstone and it is about 332 pounds. There is a prophecy written on the stone that says "Where the Stone of Destiny lies, the Scots shall rule". So, when King Edward I made himself king of Scotland in 1296, he stole the stone from the Scots and placed it under the coronation chair which is what kings and queens have sat on during their coronation (it still exists and continues to be used for coronations). This, of course, enraged the Scots. For hundreds of years, the Stone of Destiny was held in Westminster Abbey. The Scots had never seen their precious stone for over 700 years. In 1950, four Scottish college students (Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson and Alan Stuart) were sitting around talking about the Stone and arguing that it should be in its rightful place, Scotland. They were obviously drunk and just mouthing off. Amazingly, they all decided to go for it. So, they drove all the way down to Westminster Abbey, arrived late at night, when the guards were not around (not really sure why there wasn't night security...) and snuck in. They broke into the Abbey and found the chair. Hamilton proceeds to throw the chair, allowing it to break into pieces and there lays the Stone of Destiny (cue dramatic music). Now, they have confronted the first challenge, moving the stone into the car. The four of them attempted picking up the stone and carrying it to the car, it took them forever. Then, they pushed the stone onto one of the students' jackets and used the jacket to drag the stone to the car. In the path between the coronation chair area and the car were a few obstacles, one being stairs. When they were pulling the jacket over the stairs, the stone tumbled and broke in half! (This sounds like a humpty dumpty story haha). Nevertheless, they continued to drag it all the way to the car. Right when they got to the car, they couldn't find the keys, naturally. A good amount of time was spent looking for the keys which happened to be in the pocket of the jacket that was used to pull the stone, brilliant. The next challenge was picking up the stone(s) and getting it in the car. By then, daylight was near, which meant security was coming back soon. This freaked out two of the guys so they ran. Hamilton and Matheson were left alone with the stone. Amazingly, they got the stone in the car and began to drive off as daylight began. Naturally, the discovery of the missing stone was not hard to figure out, especially if the cornoation chair was broken and moved. The borders between Scotland and England closed. There was a major investigation for the stone. Hamilton buried the stone in a field and headed back to Scotland stoneless. He talked to his colleagues and they figured out a clever way to get the stone across the border. They went back, recovered the stone and brilliantly, took out the front passenger seat, put the stone on the bottom and covered it with fabric. Hamilton sat on the stone as they drove up to the border and the cops looked around the car and waved them off. AMAZING!! Sadly, once the stone was found, it was reported to authorities and the police took it back to Westminster Abbey. How the stone really came back to Scotland was through politics. Tony Blair was trying to ensure a win with his campagin and promised the Scots the stone and naturally, he won. The stone is now in Edinburgh Castle on display. Whenever there is a coronation, it is moved and placed right underneath the coronation chair. :) Pretty crazy story and all that for a stone? Huh.

The walking tour lasted three hours and we were given a great historical perspective of the city. We learned 300 million years of history in about 10 minutes. Not bad!

Above is a picture of a former prison that I passed along the way on the tour.

The rest of the day was absolutely perfect. There is this "mountain" (I put in quotations because I am not entirely sure if it would be considered a mountain in Colorado...) that is right in the outskirts of Edinburgh and you get an amazing view of the city. The climb, well, was really easy, perhaps not so easy for my friends. I got up to the top of the trail and was dissatisfied. I really wanted to see an awe-inspiring view, so I tried to convince my friends to come along. Unfortunately, my irresistable charm wasn't working that day, I went on by myself. The climb was nothing new to me, ya know, being a mountain girl and all that. It was totally worth the climb. It was incredibly windy and I had to hold onto the landmark to prevent from flying off! The peak is called "King Arthur's Seat" and I am proud to say I sat on it :)

A view of King Arthur's Seat, keep in mind, this is not the peak of the "mountain"

The initial part of the climb was pretty steep, but no challenge for me :)

King Arthur's Seat

It was very windy, I had to hold onto the seat to keep from falling backwards.

The view from King Arthur's Seat was breathtaking, I could never get enough of this view (above). Below is where the first part of the hike was. Most people thought the top of the flat terrain was the peak...hahahaha obviously not (below).

I worked up a huge appetite and met up some friends at a famous pub called Deacon Brodie, which is named after an actual man who lived however long ago. What is so interesting about this man is that he is the original "Jekyll and Hyde" guy, which means the story was written based on his life. CREEPY!! By day he was an all important man, a well respected person who was very involved with the city's politics and a key master and by night he was a gambler and a drunk and had a mistress. Eventually, his lifestyle began to take a lot out of his paycheck, so he decided to steal from people of the city using the keys he made. This became routine for him and eventually, the city became concerned. In result, they formed a committee to investiagte this chain of burgularies. Guess who they appointed to be head of the committee? Deacon Brodie! Naturally, he took advantage of that and turned his men into accompliances. The city crime increased as the committee "investigated" and the city officials began to really worry. Deacon Brodie knew his gig was soon to be up, so he decided to have one last job, to finish it all. He wanted to rob the bank. They went out at night, robbed the bank and it was an all nighter job because of how much money there was. One of the last guys was walking out right when daylight was starting and tripped over a step, throwing all of the money out of his hands. That drew attention and eventually, all the men were caught, all but Deacon Brodie himself. Officials went to his house, all of his things were gone, except for his wife and kids. He had disappeared. A few months later, officials were still investigating and figured out that Brodie had a mistress. They went to her and found letters from Deacon Brodie himself, he had planned to come get her. Idiotently, he had a return address written on each envelop, which led the officials to Brodie himself. He was then caught, tried and hung on one of the very gallows he had built himself. In the picture below, the left side is the hyde personality of Brodie and the right side is his good side.

That night, Christina and I went out to Cannon Hill, another great site for a view of the city. We went right at sundown and it was absolutely beautiful. There is a Greek like parthenon monument and it is massive. It reminded me of the Lincoln memorial in DC. I climbed up there and saw the most beautiful sight of Edinburgh. I really loved this spot. So far, it is my favorite spot in Europe. It was the perfect way to end the day. This particular spot reminded me so much of home because when I looked out one side, I saw the city along with the sea. When I looked the other way, I saw the "mountains" which is a lot like Denver. I felt my muscles relax and my heart sighed. It was a great feeling.

Edinburgh at sunset

The parthenon/Lincoln memorial style monument (above) was supposed to be a parthenon, but due to insufficient funds, it was never finished.

The next day was quite short. I went up Cannon Hill again to see the city once again. I went up the Parthenon monument to reflect once again. It was so great to sit and gaze at the city, the sea and the hills. The wind sounded peaceful and I was really calm. I did not want to get on the train and head back into the busy streets of London, especially back to the classroom. ugh.

Edinburgh by day

The unfinished parthenon in daylight.

Above is a view of Edinburgh behind me and below is the view on the other side, the "mountains" of Edinburgh. Both beautiful views reminded me so much of home.

All in all, I had thought about trying Haggis before going on this trip. I never had the chance to, I shall have to try next time. Edinburgh is beautiful, a trip worth every penny. I will always be fond of King Arthur's Seat and Cannon Hill. I hope to find more of this in my upcoming trips.