The day started with a picture stop at Eilean Donan castle. This is apparently the most photographed castle in Scotland, and has been in several movies. In the gift shop there I found a scarf in the Rose hunting tartan, so that made me happy. And one of the other girls found that her family had a crest, which got her pretty excited.

Then there were many picture stops in Kintail and Glengarry, and stories of the 5 sisters of Kintail. Also, Loch Garry appears to be in the shape of Scotland herself, which is very interesting to see.

Then it was on to Fort William for lunch. This town is overlooked by Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK at 1344m high. It actually claims more lives a year than Everest. I figure this is because more people attempt it. Also, it doesn’t look that large or as though it’s that hard of a climb. People decide on a whim to go for it, without realizing that the weather is apt to change for the worst when they get up there. No, we didn’t attempt it.

Next was Glencoe, the weeping glen. On the way there we encountered some hairy coos (aka hairy cows). Everyone wanted to see them, so it was about time we did. One of the girls from Texas lives on a ranch back home, so she jumped in with them for some close-up pics. I opted to stay on the other side of the fence. Sure they look cute, but there’s still horns under all that hair!

Then it was the very sad departure from the group (some people were doing 4 or 6 day tours, but most of us were only there for the 3 days). We met up with another guide and he took us on to Bannockburn, where Robert the Bruce defeated the English army (even though he was outnumbered 4-1) in 1314. Then sadly back to Edinburgh for the end of the trip.

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The entirety of day two (except leaving and returning to the hostel) took place on Skye. We went over the bridge while listening to the tale of saucy Mary. We were also regaled with tales of broonies (took me awhile to figure out that he was talking about brownies). We made a few stops at particularly picturesque places and then it was on to Sligachen. Here the tale was told of two giants fighting for days, and eventually falling in love. We also drank straight out of the river, which is reputed to have healing properties. Not something you would do at home!

Then it was on to Portree/Port Righ for lunch. (They’re attempting to bring back the Gaelic language, and no where is this more apparent than on Skye. It’s like parts of Canada, where the English and French is on every sign). This was a nice little town, but unfortunately as we were there on a Sunday just about everything was closed.

Then on to Storr mountain, where we climbed up to the old man of Storr. There’s a long story accompanying the rock formation, and a long climb to get to it. It was definitely worth it for the view though!

Then on to the remains of Duntulm castle. There were some interesting stories about the MacLeods and MacLachlins various fights over it, including a love story and a story of extreme bravery/stupidity. Funny how most Scottish stories seem to have these elements to them.

Then back to the hostel for a supper of chicken balmoro. This is chicken breast stuffed with haggis and wrapped in bacon. Not as good as the boar but it wasn’t so bad. This was accompanied by ghost stories, which made sleep rather difficult for more than a few people. Luckily the climb up Storr tired me out enough that my imagination didn’t have a lot of time to work on me.

A good trip with a bad start.

There’s a bus that literally goes from the door of my res to the train station, 5-10 minute trip. I gave myself 45 minutes to catch the train.  Didn’t happen. Nice mr. busdriver rearends someone on the way. Tries to get the other driver to admit that there’s no damage when it’s impossible to tell in the dark. So she calls the cops to get things in line (I would have too, he was being horrible about it. Acting nice, but completely refusing to admit that he may have done anything wrong or that there was in fact even an accident.) So I missed the train. I was livid. The whole time I was sitting on the bus it was building, by the time I got to the train station I was shaking because of it. At first I thought I was going to have to turn around and go home, which would have meant missing the tour and everything. Luckily there was another train heading to Edinburgh soon after, and the people at the train station were more sympathetic to me than the stupid bus driver was. It was all very distressing though, and I had to make a change-over to a different train at York. I hate having to make a change-over on trips. And I hate not having a reserved seat.

And none of that fate crap. The train I was supposed to be on was not the one that crashed either. Both the train that I was on and the one that I was supposed to be on were on an entirely different route.

Anyways, I arrived safe and sound, eventually. Had a very nice chat with the taxi driver on the way to the hostel too. And got some Scottish money. The pound is the official currency, and British bank notes are accepted, but Scotland has notes of its own. All the coins seem to be the same though. So it was interesting receiving my change from the driver.

Checked into the hostel. I’m so glad that so many of them are open 24 hours, I ended up checking in after midnight. Then I had to get up nice and early to catch the tour. I was so worried about sleeping through the alarm that I slept super lightly and ended up waking up fairly often. You can tell I was excited about this tour. I didn’t sleep through the alarm though, and walked to the meeting spot for the tour. This was about a 10-block walk with my big backpack full of stuff, good incentive to pack light. Met the tour guide and my fellow tour-mates and headed out. Genuine Scottish guides, and I must say I adore that accent. And the guides all seem to be pretty easy on the eyes, and they’re all young guys. Somehow I think the person who does the hiring does that deliberately. Heh, I’m not complaining though!

So we set off. First stop was Forth Bridge. (I apologise right now if I get any spellings wrong, please correct me). I’m not big on bridges, when it comes to architecture I’m more into buildings. But this was an impressive one nonetheless. Especially since it was built well over a hundred years ago (sorry, didn’t get down the exact date, look it up if you’re interested).

After that we went to a hermitage for a hike. This place has the second largest tree in all of Scotland. I didn’t get the name down though (I was more prepared with pen and paper the second day). Beautiful waterfalls, and a place that was used as an opium den in the 1800’s. And we had some tea while we all got to know each other. Quite a varied group. A few from the states, a pair of couples from Australia, one person from New Zealand, one from Spain, and a couple that are actually going to UWO.

Next stop is the House of Bruar. This is apparently a rather famous stop in Scotland. And of course expensive to boot. Our reason for stopping was to use the ‘cloakrooms’ (aka bathrooms. VERY la-dee-dah) and to take a short hike. There’s a waterfall there that is absolutely gorgeous. Yes, I have pictures.

Then on to Aviemore for lunch. This is a popular place for skiiers to visit. Had some fish and chips, and found myself a tie in the colours of the Rose clan tartan there, so I was pretty happy about that.

After that it was on to the Culloden battlefield, where Bonny Prince Charlie’s army fell in the end. The English burial field is now the dog-walking area. Funny how the Scots get their revenge one way or another.

On to Loch Ness. Sorry, no sightings this time. Some of the girls did go for a wee dip though. In water that was just above freezing. I must say the loch wasn’t what I expected. I always thought small and round. It’s huge, not wide but miles long and quite deep.

After the loch we all had a nip of Scottish Malt Whisky to warm us up. Does it ever! (“It burns! It burns! Aaargh, I’m melting!”)

Then it was too dark to see anything, so on to the hostel for the night. We stayed in Stromferry. And the hostel is owned by the tour group, so it was just us and another tour group. This was where we met one of the other guides. Half the girls were following him around drooling. (well not really, but you get the general idea).

We had a late dinner of wild boar. The other group’s leader insists that he wrestled it to the ground with his bare hands etc etc. But I must admit it was really really good.

As for what happened for the rest of the trip you’re just going to have to wait a day. Bedtime for merzy.

Yep, there was finally some snow here. It wasn’t much, just a very thin layer on the ground. And it was gone by noon. But it happened. So I texted JP saying I was glad there was finally snow. Apparently the amount we got was tantamount to a blizzard here. He works at a grocery store and there were people buying lots of extras because they were afraid of being snowed in. There was less than an inch. Probably more like a centimeter. It actually made me feel a little bad for them. Sure they get the advantage here of less snow, but that also means growing up without snowmen, snow-forts, snowball fights, or tobogganing. They do have ice skating in arenas, but that’s it.

That reminds me. My Spanish flatmates were in Nottingham last week and they came back talking about people who were rollerblading. Then they added something about ice. “You mean ice skating?” “yea yea, that’s what it is!” They’re thinking of going this weekend to try it out. I offered to go along to hold them up, lol. I think it looks a lot easier than it really is.

In other news, my 5-day weekends are now scrapped. I found out last night that one of my classes was moved to Wednesdays, so starting today. If I hadn’t chosen to go to the class webpage early I wouldn’t have even known. The organization at this school is incredibly bad. Makes me thankful that Windsor generally has their act together. I can’t even put into words how mad this makes me. I had so many 5-day trips planned. Especially when it comes to going to Scotland, Wales, or Ireland, that extra day makes a big difference because the travel takes so long. I hadn’t set dates or anything yet, I knew enough to wait and see when assignments would be due so I could plan around them. So I haven’t lost money. But it really bothers me that because of their lack of planning and organization I have to change everything. It bothers me even more that no one took the time to tell me of the change. They have emailing lists for all the classes. It takes very little to select a list, type out a quick note about the change, and send it to the students in the class.

That’s another thing. Today there were a bunch of emails sent out about time and room changes for classes. Classes started 2 days ago on Monday. And my class wasn’t in these emails, so there are sure to be other classes that weren’t too. And we don’t find out when our exams are until a month or less before them. At Windsor you know when the exam is on the day that you register for the class.

Lack of organisation and communication in a professional institution really bothers me. Especially when it’s an academic institution.

Exams are all over for now, and good thing. I think the chemistry one went pretty well, but the genetics one didn’t go great. As long as I don’t have to retake the exam, I don’t mind (they allow a retake of the exam here, you don’t have to retake the whole course like you do at home).

As for the weather, it has been pretty rainy and windy, but really not that bad. I’m about as far inland as you can get in England, so it’s not as severe here as elsewhere.

On Friday one of my friends from school (Jon, or JP as most people call him) took me out to meet another friend of the group, Sue. She’s opening a pet shop in town, which is pretty cool. I may have convinced her and her husband to move to Canada. They like the idea of living in an area with wolves for some reason. This family runs an animal sanctuary out of their home too, they even have a monkey. JP is going to take me there sometime once the pet store is open and Sue has some free time. We also went to KFC to get lunch. We went through the drive-through. Funny thing, but I don’t think I’ve ever been through a KFC drive through in Canada. And I was worried that it would be disgusting, like McDonald’s was, but it was actually pretty good. It was still really different, but I think I might actually like it better than the KFC at home.

After that we went to JP’s place and he introduced me to his family, and then to his tarantula, corn snake, and scorpions. I held the snake and one of the scorpions. I didn’t hold the tarantula because it’s still a baby and it’s molting or something. The first scorpion that he got out didn’t really want to come near me. JP: “are you nervous?”, me: “a little bit”, him: “could you try not to be? it makes them act up” heh. So he ended up getting out a different scorpion, and I was eventually able to have it crawl up and down my arm. Feels pretty cool.

Then we played a game on his xbox for a bit. That was fun. I miss just hanging out with friends like that.

Speaking of games, it seems that the Nintendo Wii can actually help you lose weight because it kicks up your physical activity levels. Now I want one, lol. I think it’s good though, now kids can have the fun of video games without becoming total couch potatoes. And to be playing the game for several hours at a time would take a fair bit of stamina. Cheers to Nintendo.

Well I’m now back from London, so I thought you all would like to hear about it.

Day 1 (Dec. 21)

As I mentioned before, my first night I walked over the millenium bridge and saw the Globe theatre. They’ve made it as accurate as possible, while still having to follow health and safety regulations. It’s really awesome. One woman though had heard so much about Shakespeare in recent years that she asked ‘does Mr. Shakespeare ever come to watch when you put on one of his plays?’ and another person asked what Shakespeare’s last name was. *sigh*

After I had supper I went back to the hostel. Met one of the people that I was sharing a room with. She’s from New Zealand, and has actually been living out of the hostel since May. We talked a lot, it was really nice.

Day 2 (Dec. 22)

Got a call from Jeff pretty early in the morning (awww) then first stop was Leicester square. Bought myself a ticket for the Phantom of the Opera at a box office. Then on to a souvenir shop. I noticed whilst walking that any direction you look you can see a Starbucks. THEY’RE TAKING OVER THE WORLD! Seriously, worse than McDonald’s. Back to the hostel to drop off my shopping, and then took a tour of St. Paul’s cathedral. It’s too bad that none of the churches here seem to like letting you take pictures, cause this place is incredible. Some say it’s second only to Vatican city. You get to see a contrast inside too. It was originally designed with simplistic beauty. But Queen Victoria apparently found it to be dull and dreary. So half of it is now decorated with incredible paintings. Also, they’ve just finished doing the internal restoration and cleaning, so I caught it at it’s best. After that, I went to see Trafalgar square and do some shopping at Covent Garden Market. That was lots of fun. You get people performing in the street there. There was an opera singer making the rounds, with huge crowds gathered to hear him. He was quite good. There was also a hand puppet show which all the kids were immensely pleased with. Finally, off to see the Phantom. I loved it, of course.

Day 3 (Dec. 23)

Toured London tower and Tower bridge. Saw the crown jewels, including that giant diamond. I was most fascinated by the torture devices in London tower though (don’t act surprised, we all know I’m morbid). Had a nap in the afternoon (my feet demanded it) then went on the Jack the Ripper walk. The guide by chance decided to talk to me on our first walk between stops, and found out that I was a forensics major, so he ended up talking to me a lot throughout the tour.

Day 4 (Dec. 24)

Hopped on one of the tour buses to see the city from above instead of from below. I even braved sitting in the open top, despite the cold. Also toured Madame Toussaud’s and the London Dungeon. I found Madame Toussaud’s to be over-hyped. Sure it’s fun to get your picture taken ‘with’ famous people, but they really overdo it. And they try to get way too much participation in their little shows and stuff. London Dungeon was much better, but not as much a place for kids as I would have thought. They make a show out of it too, and get some participation, but it’s not as intrusive as I found Madame Toussaud’s to be. And not as busy either. In the afternoon I just stayed at the hostel and watched some christmas movies. Also made quite a few friends. There were a few guys from Australia, one from New Zealand, and a couple people from England. I found that guys were much more open and friendly than girls, but that always seems to be the way with me for some reason.

Day 5 (Dec 25)

As far as I knew everything was closed. Besides, my feet couldn’t take much more walking so I decided to stay in and relax for the day. A lot of the people that I had met were moving on to new places, but I made a few more friends. Then later a couple of my new friends decided to go out and see if they could find somewhere to eat, so I went with them. It was Mark from Edmonton and Yusef from Alabama. They were really fun and friendly, and Mark paid for all our meals as a christmas present. Near Trafalgar square there were tons of things open, and we ended up eating at an Angus Steakhouse. There are about 5 of these within about a city block, all the same chain, and all open. Then we walked a lot. I think we ended up walking for 4 or 5 hours, and we figured out that by the end we went about 10 miles. Saw Trafalgar, Picadilly, Soho, the London Eye, Westminster, Big Ben and Parliament, and I think we went over 3 different bridges. It was really cool to see things by night too, things are lit up and it gives a very different perspective. Got a call from Jeff when I was out. Not sure how happy he was about me being out with 2 guys, hehe. Later got a call from dad and talked to everyone, and then called mom and talked to everyone there too. Phew, surprised I didn’t lose my voice! And grandpa got Ajax to sing over the phone for me 😀

Day 6 (Dec. 26)

Have been seeing ads all over the underground for the awesome prices at Virgin stores (they’re like a competitor to HMV here). So I decided to take advantage of the boxing day sales. Got the Sex and the City box set for an incredible price. Woohoo! That was about all for the shopping though. If I had a car instead of having to use the train I probably would have spent way too much money, but luckily I managed to keep the amount of things I bought overall to a manageable carrying level. After that I went up in the London eye. This was another thing that I found to be a bit over-hyped. It’s nice to get the different perspective for pictures, but that’s about it. And you can’t see some things from up there, like Tower bridge and London tower. After that got up close and personal with Big Ben (haha) and made it just in time for a tour of Westminster Abbey (they close early). This one surprised me a bit. I found it to be small and cramped. I thought it would be much bigger and impressive. Sure there are generations of royalty buried there, but meh. One thing that touched me though: just as I was about to leave I happened upon the tomb for the unknown warrior. This is where they brought an unknown soldier back from France after world war I and buried him there. If I go back I’ll have to stop in there and write down what it says, cause I really liked it. After that I walked all the way to Buckingham palace just to find that it was closed for boxing day. Bah. There’s lots more that I want to see in London anyways, so I’ll just have to save this one for next time.

Day 7 (Dec 27)

Train left in the afternoon, so I didn’t really do anything today. I just relaxed in the common room and wrote a few postcards. Now I’m back in Derby.

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A few other things. It’s dark by 4. As in starting to get dark by 3:30, pitch black before 4:30. Makes things interesting sometimes.

I love the underground. It’s impossible to get lost, if you can find a station you can get home. I thought it would be too complicated (they have 12 different lines running) but it’s very well organised.

I also love the cameras. They’re barely noticeable, but knowing they’re there makes you feel safe. I think the only time it seems to bother people is when they’re planning on doing things they shouldn’t. If a crime isn’t committed they don’t even look at the tapes anyways, it’s not like they’re stalking you.

Finally, I’ve been mistaken as a local a few times. Asked for directions and everything. Even on my first day I was asked for directions. What I found really cool was that they asked me for the one place that I knew where it was at that point, how awesome is that?!

So I’m safe and sound here in London. Going to keep this short because it costs $ to access the internet here. Saw the globe theatre yesterday, St. Paul’s cathedral, and had traditional fish and chips dinner (with refried peas, that was an experience).

Lots more planned. Don’t think I can see it all in a week. I’ll probably have to come back during one of my weekends (or two, or three…)

The fog here is incredible. This is the first I’ve seen of it since I got here in September. When I got up yesterday morning I thought nothing of it. It was thick, but I figured it’d be burned off by noon like it always is at home. It’s still there. All sorts of flights all around the country are being delayed and cancelled. It’s crazy. Looks like I’ll be leaving early for the train station to be sure I’m there on time. From the sounds of the airport cancellations it’ll be worse in London. And they say it could last until after christmas. I hope it clear up enough for me to get some pictures of things, rather than just the fog!

I just wanted to tell everyone an interesting fact that I learned in class a month or so ago. Every banknote has traces of drugs on it. Seriously, this has been tested. It’d probably be cheaper to roll up a few notes and smoke them than it would be to buy drugs, and you’d get an interesting high from the mix.

No, I’m not saying to try it. I have no idea what effect the inks would have on your body. Then again if you’re willing to try this I would imagine that the inks would be the least of your worries anyways.

It was funny though, in class. The prof was telling us how they thought it was a fluke that every note was testing positive. So they pulled their money out of their pockets and tested that too. Still positive.

Also, I’ve read in the news that America’s biggest cash crop is marijuana. Considering that this is the case despite the fact that it’s illegal, I think the government would be smart to legalize it. The crop size would probably double, at least, and they could tax it.

That reminds me of another thing I heard in class. They had a cop come in and talk to us about drugs. He told us about one guy who had a grow-op running in a house. This whole house was devoted to the growth of pot. He did it for years, and made quite a tidy living. For quality purposes, or something, this guy kept track of everything he did. Detailed records of the breeds he used, amount of lighting, etc. to see what worked best. Unfortunately for him that made some nice evidence for the cops. Instead of being charged for just the amount that they caught him with in the house they were able to charge him for the years of crops. And they knew the exact amount that he had grown and sold, and for how much. Because of his wonderfully detailed records. Imagine being charged for growing tonnes of pot.

We heard a lot of other things about drugs. Seriously, never ever ever do drugs. Ever. I’m not even talking about health risks or the chance of getting caught. The processes that they go through before ever reaching the street are quite horrifying. Gross. If you want the details, ask me in person and I will delight in making you feel sick. But I won’t post it.

Well I’ve done it. I’ve booked the Europe tour. I ended up using a different company, but the tour is essentially the same. Actually, it’s slightly longer, and visits Switzerland too, which the other one didn’t. The main reason I chose this company was because of the dates though. With the other company I would have had to store my stuff somewhere or rent my room for longer, as it went 10 days past when I have to be out of res. With Topdeck I can leave my stuff in my room while I’m gone, and I have a few days after the tour to collect my stuff. Which also means that I can crash here for a night or two before catching my flight home too. It starts 3 days after my birthday. Quite a birthday present! I’ll never have another opportunity like it though. The price is close to the price for the other tour too. It’s not divided like the other one, so it looks like more. But I’ll also be saving money because I won’t have to rent storage space for my stuff.

The reason I booked it so early is because I get a discount if I pay in full by the end of December. And the discount comes to more than what I’ll pay in extra interest on my loan, so I’m still saving.

Pretty exciting!