My experience with Edinburgh

From September 8th to September 11th, our professors took us on a trip to Scotland for vacation, more specifically, Edinburgh(Eh-din-bruh). Our train ride there was chaotic. About an hour into the trip, we found out that the train ahead of us malfunctioned and caused a traffic jam, which slowed us down about an hour. Following that, around the York area, we faced congestion with the trains and that slowed us down about 40 minutes. Because we were late for about 100 minutes, the train gave us a refund on our tickets and gave us free Wi-Fi for the remainder of the trip. The ride there was nice because I got to listen to The 1975 as we traveled along the English East Coast. There was a lot of grassland and sheep on the way. Once we’ve arrived there, We walked up a tower of steps onto the Royal Mile (Edinburgh’s main street) to our hostel.

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View from the train ride.

        We were exhausted from the 7-hour train ride, but we dropped off our bags at the hostel and went on our walking tour around the city. Edinburgh is the farthest north I’ve ever been. The weather that day was about 60 degrees but had light rain and 20mph winds, which made it even more frigid to the point where I wore three layers(That’s saying something for a Californian). Our tour guide was so energetic and exciting. His name is Fraser and he first took us on the “Harry Potter Experience.” He first showed us the cafes that JK Rowling supposedly wrote Harry Potter in. he then took us to the Greyfriars Graveyard to show us the names that influenced her characters in the book. He also showed us the school that inspired Hogwarts. We saw statues of David Hume, a renowned atheist of his day, and Adam Smith, the father of economics. Later that night, we had time for ourselves to explore the city. It was my goal to try haggis for the first time in this city. Haggis is sheep’s organs stuffed in a sheep stomach by the way. We were warned by our professors that haggis has an “interesting taste.” Two of my other friends tagged along with me as we searched for a place that sold haggis. There are two kinds of haggis sold around the city: small package sized ones and smorgasbord platter size ones. We found a small, Scottish bar that sold authentic haggis on a platter and tried it. We ordered classic nachos just in case the haggis turned out bad. When the plate arrived, it looked marvelous. It was a six-inch-high, cylindrical three layered cake with potatoes on the bottom, squash in the middle, and ground lamb on top. It was appropriate named the Robert Burns haggis because he wrote a poem called “An ode to haggis.” The taste of haggis is heavenly. It had this sweet, whiskey sauce that complimented the garlicky, flavor of the haggis. The portion size was big, but satisfying when split between three people.

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The Dark Lord’s Grave.

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To our disappointment, it wasn’t actually an alley.

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Hogwarts in real life.

        Friday, we left the hostel around 10am to visit the legendary Edinburgh castle. The castle sits atop a cliff that overlooks the city. The weather that day was frigid. We spent a lot of time peering over the castle walls to enjoy the views of the city. The city itself is beautiful because you can see the contrast of old town and new town. After looking at the city, we saw the Scottish Crown Jewels. We learned that the castle was never taken by force, but was taken by siege. (Surrounding the castle and starving the people inside.) My roommate and I then walked around the prison areas where they’ve kept prisoners of war. These areas had prison doors on display that showcased markings made by POWs. It was heartbreaking to see how dehumanized these prisoners have become. In Scottish tradition, there is a cannon that fires blanks every day at one o’clock to signal nearby ships the time. It was about one o’clock that day and we gathered near the castle walls to witness the firing of the cannon. Even though I knew when it was going to fire, the thunderous noise still made my heart race.

 

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The castle that lies on top of the hill.

 

 

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View of the city from the castle walls.

        A bunch of us that day went around Prince’s Street Park and explored that area. It was a huge park that spanned from the North Bridge to the Castle. We were drawn by the monument of the great Walter Scott. It is the biggest memorial devoted to a writer in the world. The memorial itself looked like a gothic Eiffel Tower. Next to it was a giant, Ferris wheel that was just as tall as the monument. The park itself had beautiful flower beds, an outdoor theatre, and a majestic, golden fountain. We then ate at this small café in the park that played American blues/jazz music. It had a Louisiana feel to it. Our entire group then went to the movies later that day to watch Ben-Hur. I personally thought that the movie was great despite the negative reviews it got. I came into the theatre without any expectations and to my surprise, felt emotionally touched at the end of it.

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Booty Goals.

        Saturday, we woke up around 5:30am to get ready for our hike to Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is a dormant volcano that has a flat ridge. About 12 of us were ready to go, but half of us got impatient and left early. We arrived and took the main path towards the seat. It took us about 20 minutes to get to the top of the seat. The view was astounding. We could see the city for miles. We were dissatisfied. “Is this it?” we asked each other. We then embarked on the hills behind us. Took us about 45 minutes to reach the top. Once we did, we actually met the second half of our group that took the hard route around. We took some awesome pictures atop the hill. As we went down, we saw the ruins of an old chapel. Joseph and I decided to climb atop the chapel despite the strong winds that were blowing against us. We then split up and I took a nap until about noon.

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Near the top of Arthur’s Seat.

After that, my roommate and I visited the writers’ museum. It was rather small. It only had two exhibits devoted to Robert Burns and Walter Scott, both of whom are deemed Scotland’s greatest writers. We spent about fifteen minutes looking at the lives of both writers and went to the Edinburgh National Museum because my roommate had a presentation coming up. We found out that the National Library was not a public library but held historical documents instead. An old man saw that were lost and told us that the public library is across the street. His name is John and he was a buff, old Scotsman who has traveled all over the world. He walked us to the Edinburgh Central Library and parted ways. While my buddy was looking for sources to site for his presentation, I sat in the main area reading a book called Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh. I’m a big fan of the Youtube channel called Numberphile and recognized the author. After our trip to both libraries, we found a local takeaway shop to satisfy our cravings. My roommate ordered a lamb donner falafel, which was pretty much a Mediterranean burrito. It had a mix of lettuce and peppers along with lamb and falafel encased in a thick tortilla wrap. and I had a lamb shawarma, which was like what he had except without the falafel. We had a nice chat with the cook. We found out that he was Algerian and he told us that you either had to join the military or the police in order to make money and he didn’t like either occupation. He then moved to Scotland and opened up a small shop in order to pursue his passion for cooking.

We then went to the National Museum of Scotland. There, we actually ran into five other students in our group. One of them decided to stick with us for the rest of the day and we first explored the animal exhibit. The exhibit had on display a giant T-rex skeleton, a giant sloth skeleton, a stuffed polar bear and other stuffed animals. By stuffed, I mean that the animals had the accurate fur, hair, teeth, etc. on the model. All the animals were stuffed except for the skeletons and the creatures that live in water. After our trip to the museum, we decided to come back to the hostel for some hot chocolate.

Our trip to Edinburgh was amazing! The city seemed small, but there was always something going on in the city.This is one of the cities that I could see myself living in the future. If I were to settle down from traveling, Edinburgh would be the place to live because the cost of living there is bearable, the sights are magnificent, and the people are awesome!

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My Experience With Theatre in London

“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” – William Shakespeare. I recall that throughout high school, I hated reading literary works, such as Shakespeare or Dickens, but coming here in London, I’ve learned to appreciate their works. In English class, I would always say to myself, “Why are we reading this? This language is so outdated and the book is not going to help us today.” In the past six weeks, our professors had taken us to see at least a play per week and exposed me to a lot of modern English Theatre. They’ve taken us to many great theatres, such as the famous Shakespeare’s Globe, the National Theatre, and the Young Vic Theatre.

I’ve come to the point where I see why Londoners prefer plays over films and I wholeheartedly agree with them. Plays here are interactive. Probably the main reason why I don’t enjoy watching films too often is because you’re just staring at a screen for about two hours. You aren’t socializing, you aren’t moving, your eyes are just glued to the screen and I find that absolutely torturous. But these plays make you feel as if you’re part of the story. Some plays have audience involvement and some plays ignore the audience completely and have us acting as the fly on the wall observing.

A play that had the most interaction with the audience that we saw was Treasure Island ( If you don’t know the story, perhaps you’ve seen Treasure Planet?) at St. Pauls church in Covent Garden, London. Treasure Island is the original pirate story that features an adventurous to be a pirate that joins a respected pirate captain’s crew in search of buried treasure. It inspired all the stereotypical pirate things like “X marks the spot.” The first thing that the production did was separate the audience into two crews, the good pirate’s crew(Jim Hawkins) and the bad pirate’s crew ( Long John Silver). The audience is part of a pirate crew! How amazing is that?  The best part about this play was that the location changed every act. The first act was about Jim Hawkins in his home dreaming about finding buried treasure. We were watching this inside the church. Then, as Hawkins embarks on his adventure, we move outside the church to this mock pirate ship and sit inside it. Members of the audience were recruited to turn the wheel that drops the anchor of the ship. After that, we went to the front of the church and then back inside it. It was amazing to move along with the actors across the church and see the story as it progressed. Some of us got to dress up as pirates and hold pistols and been in a gun match.

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I managed to sneak a pic of the inside of the church.

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The time that we saw Treasure Island, we walked out the church headed into this new area that had the feeling of being on a pirate ship.

In contrast, we saw Yerma, starring Billie Piper (who played Rose in the Doctor Who series) at the Young Vic Theatre in London. The Young Vic was a cool theatre/bar. The theatre itself was a glass box that made us feel as if we were a fly on the wall peering in on the story. Yerma had no interaction with the audience whatsoever yet made us feel as if we were right there with the characters. Originally set in Rural Spain, Yerma tells the story of a young woman struggling to bear a child and believes that once she has this child, everything from her relationship with her husband to her career as a blogger/journalist will go well. This play drastically changed to adapt to a modern audience. The cast of Yerma is British and is set in modern London. The production actually changed Yerma into a nameless protagonist, played by Billie Piper, which I assumed represented the everyday woman. (I will still refer her as Yerma) This play, however, is a tragedy, and Yerma, because of her desire to bear a child, causes her to neglect everything around her. She goes off a crazy breakdown and pushes her husband away from her, and she starts doing drugs and loses her job. This was one of my favorite plays that I’ve seen so far because it made me feel catharsis for the first time. In my high school English class, I’ve always known what catharsis was because it was “a feeling of relief from strong emotions.” But how could you describe a feeling unless you’ve truly felt it yourself? The production successfully built up tension and suspension up until the climax of the play where (*SPOILERS) she kills herself. As typical as it sounds, the play’s atmosphere felt tense. My stomach was tight, my legs were shaking, and my heart was pounding. All this tension broke at the moment she stabbed herself and let out an agonizing scream. “Holy crap, did that just happen?” I said as I was left distraught at the scene.

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Billie Piper as the nameless protagonist.

Watching plays at Shakespeare’s Globe was one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had. The house itself was built after the original Elizabethan theatre that burned down. The building company tried to replicate the Elizabethan theatre as close as possible to the original by using the same materials and measurements (Elizabethan measurements) but, made it applicable to a modern audience. The inside consists of a yard where the audience would stand (called  groundlings) and on the edge would be the stands where the affluent customers could pay and sit. Because the groundlings are so close to the stage, (we were literally leaning against it) there was a lot of audience interaction.

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View of Shakespeare’s Globe.

One of my favorite plays that I saw was A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The play has existed for about 500 years and has been performed countless times and is read by students all across the western world. It’s hard to make something 500 years old seem new, yet the Globe seems to have done just that. Emma Rice, the artistic director of the Globe, has probably seen the show a thousand times and decided to spice things up. She changed Helena (a girl) to Helenus (a guy) to make the weird love quadrilateral that Shakespeare had into a weird gay love quadrilateral for the modern day audience. It made things funny because Helenus is essentially Hermia’s gay best friend. One of my favorite moments in the play was when Helenus snapped his fingers and said, “giiirrrrlllll, let’s get it on!” And both of them randomly dance to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” I also appreciate that the production has an ethnically diverse team. Hermia, Helenus, Oberon, and Theseus were played by people of Indian descent and Demetrius was played by a Black actor. The production had a band that played Indian style music. There was an Indian woman that lead the band with her sitar and I saw a Sikh man on the drums. The music just added to the kooky, comedic feel that Shakespeare originally intended without the Elizabethan feel. Another cool thing that the production did was that the four lovers were dressed as the modern, everyday Londoner while the supernatural entities were dressed in typical Elizabethan clothing. Another cool part was that the play started out with workers from Shakespeare’s Globe saying the rules like “no drinking, no smoking, blah, blah, blah,” and assigning other members roles as a security guard and trash person and the workers just stood within the audience. As the play went on, when they were about to introduce the guild that performs Pyramus and Thisbe, all the workers, like the security guard and the trash person, were like “Psych! I was acting along.”  I just went “OH Shoot! Inception! Actors acting as Globe workers acting as actors!” My mind was blown.

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Hermia and Helenus dancing to “Single Ladies.”

This was my experience with theatre in London. This experience has truly brought to life what theatre was originally intended to do: to entertain an audience. Theatre is not only a script that you read in an English class, but it is also meant to be pure entertainment with a message. I do wish that America would have the same appreciation that the English do about theatre because that would help students appreciate literature. There’s no way you can teach students about catharsis unless they truly undergo that process themselves. Theatre should also be expressed as entertainment and not just a script.

Thank you for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it.