Tuesday, September 27, 2011

We went to the Zoo!

Last Friday I had the pleasure, the absolute pleasure, of visiting the Edinburgh Zoo. I don't think there has ever been a group of people so excited to go to the zoo as our group of five post-grads was that day. It was, in a word, delightful.

The Edinburgh Zoo is, like many places in Edinburgh, on a hill. So as you make your way through the zoo, you find yourself gradually increasing in altitude, until you get views like this: 

Nice, eh?

I'm not going to give you a play-by-play of all the animals I saw that day. I took a lot more pictures than were probably necessary. This is one of my favorites:

I wish the glare hadn't been so bad at the monkey enclosures. The monkeys were awesome, particularly the baby baboons. 

But while I love pretty much all the animals, the highlight of the day was the Penguin Parade. Yes, that's right. I said Penguin Parade. Every day at the Edinburgh Zoo they invite whichever penguins are so inclined to leave their posh penguin enclosure and parade around the nearby walkway. If there is anything better than penguins, it is the way penguins walk. They are the best. 

The parade is not obligatory; they don't try to coax the penguins out at all, so only those who line up at the gate at the appropriate time become part of the parade. The day I was there, we only got about six takers, but they were still super amusing. The best part was when one started walking straight toward me. Check it out!

Who can you resist penguins? Like these guys:

They look like they really want to interact with all the smitten zoo-goers. In reality, they are sleeping. Whatever, those penguins do what they want!

On the way out of the zoo, we came upon a carved wooden throne, randomly placed in an out-of-the-way clearing. Naturally, this was an excellent photo opportunity.

Well, dear readers, I hope this small taste of the Edinburgh Zoo has whetted your appetite for some adorable animals. Hmm. That came out wrong. What I'm getting at is, go support your local zoo. It's super fun. And who knows? You might even have... AN ADVENTURE!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hey Jesus, what is a Toastie?

I cannot begin to tell you how many flyers I have been handed while walking down the street since I became a student at this school. And that untellable amount is only about half the number of people I have seen giving away flyers and deftly managed to avoid. Maybe that's a thing at all big schools, but it is foreign to me and thus, AN ADVENTURE!

Well, today I was walking to the library, and out front a man was chanting "Free Toastie" while passing out some sort of card. Unable to avoid him and not wanting to be rude, I accepted the card and continued on into the library. It was then that I took a moment to read what I hand been handed.

Despite what the wording would suggest, this flyer is not asking you to send a text to a toastie, whatever that may be. Nor is "Toastie" an incarcerated individual that the man handing out the cards wants exonerated (which would explain the "Free Toastie" chant that accompanied the flyer).*

No, in fact, the flyer asks you to do a series of things in order to be given a free toastie, which is apparently some kind of grilled sandwich (I just looked it up). Here are the steps required to get your toasted sandwich:
Send a text to [number given] every other Thursday (dates provided) between 8 and 10 pm. Text should include:
1. Your address (so they know where to deliver your toastie)
2. The flavor of toastie you want (choices are ham, cheese, and chocolate. I can only imagine what a grilled chocolate sandwich is like)
AND (drumroll, please)
3. A question you would like to ask Jesus if you could
That's it. Ask Jesus a question, get a sandwich. Just as it was in Biblical times.

My friend Alan proposed the question that serves that this post's title. Other questions I might ask include "Where is this toastie coming from?" "Who made it?" and "What are the nutrition facts of my toastie?"

The group giving away the toasties included their website on the flyer. I checked it out, and I discovered that you can expect an answer to your question when your toastie is delivered to your place of residence. But here's the thing: the flyer invites you to ask a question of Jesus, not to ask a question of a member of this organization. How can they be so sure they are capable of answering my question? What if I want to know Jesus' opinion on the current economic crisis? Or which of the disciples was his favorite?

Clearly, they are not expecting those kinds of questions. That kind of snarkiness does not earn you a toastie. No, they probably want moral and theological questions, but the way I see it, if these people can answer my question without consulting Jesus directly, presumably I could access the same source of knowledge and answer the question myself.

But then I wouldn't get a free toastie, now would I?

*This kind of misunderstanding is not uncommon nor should it be taken lightly, as you can see in this episode of South Park.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Conquering Arthur's Seat: A Hero's Story

Day dawned over a cloudy Scottish sky. The air smelled of victory, and I knew that this day would be a day for triumph.

Yes, my friends, I climbed Arthur's Seat. For those of you who have not visited Edinburgh (yet), Arthur's Seat is a large hill (or small mountain, depending on your prospective) in the middle of the city. This past Sunday, the Hill Walking Club (yes, we have one of those here) led a trip up the hill, and I was lucky (and brave) enough to join them. (There were lots of parenthetical statements in that paragraph.)

We were not the only group trying to conquer the mountain that day, dear readers. Oh no. Like a parade, 100 of my closest friends and I began our ascent.

See them snaking up the hill there?

The going was slow at first. The hill has stone steps stuck in the dirt up the side. I use the word "steps" loosely, because while they were clearly placed there by humans, they are very uneven and irregularly spaced. I realized on the ascent that I am tragically out of shape. Perhaps this can be cured with a few more walks up to Arthur's Seat. We shall see. About 3/4 of the way up we stopped for a sitting break and some lovely pictures.

Behold the majesty!
The last bit of the way to the very top was a bit of a free-for-all scramble, where the stairs are gone and you find your own freaking way up there, you wimp. You want to get to the top, you have to earn it.

From the very top, you can see the whole of Edinburgh. It was really quite lovely. I didn't realize how big the city was, as I only get to see a bit on my occasional walks about town. I felt quite accomplished there on the top. But then, looking into the distance, we saw that rainclouds were approaching, so we decided to begin the descent. This is where the real adventure began.

As we began to make our way back down the man-made stone steps, small drops of rain began to fall. Now, I am not one to be deterred by a bit of moisture from the sky. After all, I'm a grown-ass woman. Unfortunately, my defiant disdain of the rain did not keep it from making the rocks slippery as all get out. Despite the awesome, hardcore hiking boots I was wearing (unlike the non-planners who chose to wear TOMS to climb the mountain), I still found it incredibly difficult to keep my footing. At one point, I fell on my bum (no, I will not show you the bruise), but the worst was yet to come.

Near the bottom, I lost my footing again, but this time I reached out for a bush to catch myself. As ill luck would have it, the bush I grabbed was of the prickly variety, so instead of lessening the impact of my fall, I made things much worse. My arm was scratched and pricked all the way to the elbow, and my hand was punctured no less than six times, each of which puncture drew blood. I also ended up with a couple of splinters that I had to remove later. Needless to say, by the time I reached the bottom, I was a hot mess.*

But I prevailed. I wasn't about to let some jerk of a bush keep me from attending the after-climb party at a local pub, where I cleaned myself up and enjoyed some deliciously free sandwiches.

Today I still bear the marks of my misadventure, and my quads are a bit sore, but I feel incredibly accomplished. And also incredibly disdainful of those people who were waiting for the elevator when I came home.

Continue scrolling down if you would like to see some of the vistas that can be viewed from Arthur's Seat.

*I learned today that some of my British friends may not know what a "hot mess" is. I generally define it like this:

Her whole being is a definition

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"Not too much, I hope"

Last night, there was a Stewart's beer tasting at my new favorite neighborhood bar, The Montague (sounds very classy, doesn't it?). The idea was that you taste their beers for free, and then if you buy a pint of one from the bar you get a raffle ticket to win a cask. Needless to say, I had in mind to win that cask, so I bought a bottle of their Hefeweizen. For those of you who don't know, Hefeweizen is a German wheat beer and is widely regarded, by me, to be the most fun beer to say. It was good, but as I was partaking, one of my compatriots drew my attention to the label:

Yes, yes, that's all well and good, you say. Look closer.

Mmm. Passion. Just the way I like my cloudy German beers. Sláinte!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

First Impressions of Life in Edinburgh

Well, I'm here in Edinburgh, dear readers. It's been quite the move, and I apologize for the long lapse between posts. I'm still a bit jet-lagged, and I haven't been able to use my computer much, as I left my charger at home. Fear not, though, it is winging its way here as I type, and my generous RA has allowed me to borrow his for the nonce. (Well, at least long enough for mine to get an adequate charge.)

Already there are many things I like about living in Edinburgh and several that are going to take some getting used to.

I love the feel of the city. While it's busy and vibrant, I haven't felt unsafe at all here. The locals are really friendly, and everywhere I've been has felt very welcoming. There's so much to do here, much of which will be chronicled in the blog over the next few months. In fact, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to do everything the city has to offer and study, but I'll burn that bridge when I get to it.

So far, the top problem I'm having is the weather, especially as regards looking cute. I know how to deal with humidity, and I'm not too worried about the cold (yet), but I did not foresee how windy it would be.

My second day here we were advised not to open our windows, lest the wind blow them off (or something). As you can imagine, this kind of gale-force wind buffeting the city does quite the number on my hair. (You can tell classes haven't started yet because this is my biggest problem.) So I leave the house looking all nice and done-up, then the wind starts blowing and my hair goes into a schoolmarm's bun, and I basically finished looking cute for the day.

Which leads me to the other hindrance to my cuteness factor: rain. And to a lesser degree, cold. While I generally prefer dressing for cold than hot (because you can always put more on, but at a certain point you can no longer take anything else off), when it is both cold and wet, your shoe and clothing options become limited. I have to be prepared to become waterproof at any given time, which does not always translate into cuteness.

Now, you may think, dear reader, that this is all a non-issue and why am I wasting your precious time with this? And you would be right, but it's been weighing on my mind since I arrived, and as they say, "a burden shared is a burden halved, and this is my blog, so shut it."

I kid, I kid. The truth is, my experience here has been so good thus far that I'm really reaching for things to complain about. The weather the past two days has been wonderful, and while I'm sure nature is just lulling me into a false sense of security, I can't deny the beauty of this place (even when it's raining and windy).

Besides, when all is said and done and it's windy and raining and I have to bundle up and waterproof myself, this is still pretty cute:

Am I right?

Monday, September 5, 2011

I'm moving to Scotland! AHH!

I haven't really mentioned this on the blog, and since most you know me personally, it didn't really seem necessary, but for those who don't know and are at all interested, I am moving to Scotland. On Thursday.

It's only for a year while I pursue a Master's in English from the University of Edinburgh. But what that means for you, dear reader, is that my blog posts are about to get a whole lot more interesting! And by that I mean, they are about to deal a lot more with life as a grad student living abroad and a lot less with life as an unemployed person. I hope that translates into "more interesting." Only time will tell.

I could go into the story of how I got to this point: applying to grad school, getting rejected, then getting in but in a different country. It's kind of a funny story actually, one that involves massive amounts of low self-esteem, followed by some very high self-esteem and ultimately, the prospect of a rather scary move to a new country, where I will have a make new friends for the first time in 5 years. But that's all in the past!

It's time to look to the future, my friends. To a future in which I will probably be writing a lot about haggis and people with funny accents. So get ready for that.

Thursday is fast approaching and I still need to pack, so in honor of Labor Day and to set up all my future posts about America vs. the UK, I will leave you with this:

"American History According to a British Teenager"*

*Note: I don't think the fact that this kid is British has anything to do with his being horrible at history, but isn't it fun to laugh at teenagers?

Friday, September 2, 2011

My policy on in-flight socializing

I don't do it.

Allow me to elaborate.

I take my plane time very seriously. I use it for reading, listening to music, and watching movies. Also eating. Being on a plane is a very productive time for me. I don't even sleep because it cuts into my productivity. Also because I can't. But that's another story.

My point is, what I don't want to be doing on a plane is making friends with someone I will never see again. In Fight Club, Edward Norton refers to these people as "single-serving friends." But I have friends already. My need for companionship is not such that I want to strike up a conversation with a stranger.

Don't get me wrong: if my seatmate talks to me, I will respond. I'm not rude. I've even been known to spend an entire flight conversing with a chatty fellow passenger. But make no mistake: I did
not enjoy it. I'm a brilliant actress so the person I was talking to thinks I enjoyed it. But I didn't. I would rather have been reading.

Of course, there are times when you can't completely avoid speaking with other people on planes. Sometimes you might need to get up to go to the bathroom. Or perhaps, as I've said before, they will talk to you first. I don't advocate rudeness. Respond and be polite, but if you want to avoid the beginning of such conversation, here are...

Kimber's Tips for Avoiding In-flight Conversation: (it's not exactly pithy, but oh well)

1. Do NOT make eye contact - This is key. Making eye contact is like an open invitation for someone to start speaking to you. Granted, some Chatty Cathys don't even need that. They will start gabbing no matter what. But your average airline passenger is a little shy of talking to strangers, so if you never look them in the eye, they will probably not get up the courage to speak to you in the first place. Plus, eye contact might lead to polite smiles or (heaven forbid) a knowing glance, and then you're done for.

2. Headphones - If you have headphones in, you have license to ignore everything around you. You don't even have to be listening to anything, but as long as those headphones are in/on your ears, people will assume you are deaf to the world. Even if you do hear their attempts to talk to you, you can always pretend you can't, requiring them to tap you if they really want your attention. Most people don't want your attention that badly. Unless they need to get past you to go to the bathroom. Of course, the headphone system works when you first board the plane (prime conversation starting time) and during the bulk of the flight. "But, Kimber," you ask, "What about that pesky time frame between the closing of the airplane's doors and the arrival at 10,000 feet during which electronic devices must be turned off?" Well, dear reader, for that period you must have...

3. Books - The moment I sit down on an airplane, I bury my nose in a book. If you look completely engrossed in something, it takes a pretty ballsy individual to try to distract you from that thing. Magazines and newspapers can work as well, but they run the risk of seeming too casual. Articles are short and you don't hear people talk about "getting lost in a good issue of Cosmo." Books, on the other hand, make it appear to your fellow passengers that you are really committed to what you are reading. You might be at a really exciting part or studying for that big test, and most seatmates will not impose on that. You're always going to get your "what are you reading?"s, but you have to deal with those and move on as quickly as possible. And make sure to bring a real book. E-readers will not help you during the crucial "no electronic devices" period.

4. Sleeping - If all else fails and you are really desperate not to talk to someone, sleep. Or at least, pretend to sleep. On more than one occasion, I have closed my eyes on a plane as a way of saying to my fellow passengers "Do not even try to chat with me. This is a dead end. Move along." Or maybe you're one of those people who actually can sleep on planes. If so, I envy you, and that can be your number one strategy. I will stick with averting my eyes.

Please don't get the wrong impression, dear reader. I'm a nice person and an excellent conversationalist. But the fact remains that unless I already know someone or desire to get to know them for the future, I don't care to expend my time or energy with mindless getting-to-know-you drivel. I've been an RA. I have played more getting-to-know-you games then I care to remember. And people on planes are a prime example of people that I will never see again and therefore, do not care to hear talk about themselves for the space of a few hours.

I would wager that 9 out of 10 of my fellow passengers feel exactly the same way and appreciate my ongoing efforts not to talk to them.

This last, of course, I assume, as I have never (and will never) asked them.