Dating My Mom

My mom always says "You'll never find a better date than me." And no offense to those (very few) of you who have ever taken me on a date, but she's totally right.

This weekend, my mom visited me here in Edinburgh, and so we were able to go on countless "Mom and Leda dates," as we like to call them. There was lots of food, walking, and even some relaxation over the three days that she spent with me.

The best part about going out with my mom? The fact that she's a travel writer. She mostly writes books about Massachusetts and New England, but also writes articles about the many different places we've visited over the years. This means that she often gets perks when she goes abroad- complimentary hotel rooms, free dinners, and loads of unique experiences. I am so incredibly grateful for all that her job has been able to give my family in terms of travel opportunities.

While the perks are nice- and I mean really nice- it's easy to forget that the life of a travel writer isn't all that glamorous. When my mom is trying to make a deadline, she spends night after night working- writing and rewriting, editing, and spellchecking- until everything is absolutely perfect. Oh, and she walks 7 miles a day, cooks the best meals around, and raises four kids while she's at it. In the end, I think she really does deserve all of the free wine and cheese she could ever want.

Now, onto our fabulous weekend. It was a bit weird for me to stay in a hotel in the city that I've been living in for the past three months. But Visit Scotland booked us in one of the swankiest spots in the city- the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa. Call me crazy, but I think it was at least a smidge better than good ol' Pollock Halls.

When my mom arrived, the first thing we did was take advantage of the spa at the hotel. The "Escape at One" experience was definitely something different for the two of us. Usually when we go to spas (which isn't that often), we'll just get our nails done or have a facial. But this was an 11 step process that included multiple saunas, showers, and pools. While it was certainly calming, this kind of spa day wasn't exactly my cup of tea. I kept laughing at how awkwardly quiet it was and making sarcastic comments while other people attempted to enjoy the peace and quiet. The whole process was supposed to take up to three hours, but we rushed it and spent only an hour there- we clearly had lunch on the brain.

The hotel also provided us with a lovely lunch at their restaurant, One Square. I had a flavorful crab cake to start, a tender steak for my main, and a warm brownie for dessert. To say I took advantage of the fact that I wasn't eating in the dining hall is an extreme understatement. Let's be real, though. I don't eat like this every day.

This dish contained avocados so I just had to order it. 

Not the dining hall for sure. 

Another highlight of the trip? Our visit to the Edinburgh Christmas Fair on Saturday *cue "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"*. I am a huge Christmas lover. While I grew up in a very Jewish town and did appreciate Hanukkah, no holiday (not even my birthday) will ever beat the joy that Christmas brings me. And to now live in a city that takes Christmas as seriously as I do? Now that's a dream come true.

The St. Andrew's Square Monument transformed into a bar and ice-rink. 

First, my mom and I made our way to the ice skating rink. It was quite the disaster for me as I have the coordination of a toddler, but enjoyable nonetheless. After a few loops around the rink we warmed up with a hot apple toddy, which is basically a fancy (and alcoholic) version of hot apple cider.

Note how close I am to the railing in this picture. 

Once we managed to take off our ice skates (yes, mom did need my assistance with hers), we met up with the head of press for the entire Christmas Fair production named Fraser. Fraser showed us around the market portion of the fair, and we got to try out some tasty treats from the different vendors. This included organic mutton soup from Whitmuir Farms , some divine Scottish cheddar cheese, and the meaty delicacies from Macsween Haggis. Oh, the haggis. Now I've had this lovely stuff before, but never in the form of haggis spring rolls or haggis pakora. While I love haggis on its own, I think these fried finger foods were just heavenly (they even sell haggis nachos!). It was fair-food on a totally different level. I promise that anyone who tries haggis from Macsween will immediately be converted.

I've never seen so many different flavors of fudge in my life. 

Gin and beer wrapped up all pretty for Christmas. 

Any flavor of cheddar you could possibly want. 

How adorable are these handmade chocolates?

Our day ended on the best note possible as we watched the incredible acrobatics of the Scotch & Soda Show. While I generally don't enjoy circuses, this one was far different from anything I've ever seen before. Not only do the performers play live music, but they do high-flying tricks all in a unique fashion. It was edgy, intimate, and one-of a kind.

The unmistakably cool musicians of Scotch & Soda. 

There are certainly more Christmas Fair adventures to be had. But since this was the first weekend it was open for this year, my mom and I only got a taste of it.

While I was sad to see my mom go on Sunday morning, I look forward to seeing her and the rest of my family in December. I know that being away from each other is going to be hard on the both of us this week come Thanksgiving, but I am ever so thankful that she was able to spend a few days with me here in Edinburgh and take me on so many wonderful dates.         



Ceilidh Culture

One of the best parts about living in another country is being able to experience a different culture. Many people (myself included) assume that Scottish culture is pretty similar to American culture- we do speak the same language, after all. And while that is partially true, there are certain aspects of life here that are traditionally Scottish- and some that I had never even heard of before coming to Edinburgh.

And what's my favorite Scottish tradition? Ceilidh dancing!

A ceilidh, pronounced "KAY-lee," (just to save you the effort of Googling how to say it) is a Gaelic social gathering that entails folk music and lots of dancing. It also may or may not involve kilts (aka man-skirts).

Let me be honest, here: I am not exactly what many would call a "good" dancer. In fact, I think my dancing skills are pretty downright embarrassing. But, if I'm being told what the steps are (and they're simple enough), then I'm totally game. Throwback to the Sophomore Square-Off in high school- that was my prime.

Like American square dancing, ceilidhs involve partner dancing with a series of steps and patterns. Sometimes, you may even be dancing in groups or switching off partners. Unlike square dancing, however, the general notion among both teenagers and University students is that this form of traditional dancing is not lame in the slightest. When we were "forced" to square dance in high school, there were always groans and moans coming from the boys in particular. Let me tell you- that's not the case with ceilidhs!

With all of the high energy twirling and whirling, there's no way you can't have fun at a ceilidh. And not to say that it's the only contributing factor, but a little bit of alcohol in your system can loosen you up as you make your way to the dance floor.

Attending a ceilidh is also a great way to make new friends or bond with existing friends. This weekend, I went to a ceilidh hosted by my running club after our big race here in Edinburgh. It was an incredible way to bring together all the different running teams from across the entire UK- from Manchester to St. Andrews and all the way to Swansea (in Wales!). Obviously, not everyone was Scottish or had been to a ceilidh before, so the callers were quite helpful in directing us. Oh, and props to my Welsh dance partner who put up with my immense lack of knowledge!

Not the most appetizing-looking food, but I promise you it tasted glorious.

To make this weekend's happenings that much more Scottish, I'm happy to announce that I did, indeed, try haggis for the first time. Honestly, it seems that most people are freaked out by the idea of it rather than the taste. Yes, it is a mix of sheep heart, liver, and lungs combined with oats, but it tastes very pleasant- like spicy ground beef, I'd say. And the addition of neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) makes it all the more amazing.

I think it's safe to say that after this weekend's ceilidh and haggis-eating, I am officially initiated into the wonderful world of the Scottish people.


A Busy Week

This past week has been full of all sorts of excitement. From celebrating a holiday I had never even heard of before to hosting one of my dearest friends in the city, it's been pretty hectic (but in the best way possible!).

On Wednesday, I was a bit surprised to find out that it was actually a holiday. There were still classes (though I typically don't have any on Wednesdays), but everyone seemed to be buzzing with excitement about what was to come that night. 

Guy Fawkes Night, also called "Bonfire Night," is an annual commemorative holiday observed throughout Great Britain. It celebrates the failure of the Gunpowder Plot that aimed to blow up the House of Lords on the 5th of November, 1605 during the opening of English Parliament in order to Assassinate King James I of England (aka King James VI of Scotland). Guy Fawkes was among 8 members who were hanged and quartered. 

But you probably know this Guy (punny, right?) from a scene from the film V for Vendetta (which I actually have not seen) in which the main character recites this British folk poem: 

Remember, remember,

    The fifth of November, 
    The Gunpowder treason and plot; 
    I know of no reason 
    Why the Gunpowder treason 

    Should ever be forgot!  

Oh and he's wearing the mask that resembles the face of Guy Fawkes. It freaks me out, to say the least. Here's the famous scene: 

I liked that Guy Fawkes Night was a low-key holiday. My friends and I decided at the last minute to go up Calton Hill to watch the fireworks. The thing about the fireworks, though, is that it's not just one big display- there are fireworks going off all around the city at all times. There was never a moment when the sky wasn't lit up. Not only were there fireworks, but we also lit sparklers and watched other people set paper lanterns off into the sky. It was truly beautiful. I apologize for the lack of pictures, however, since my phone died the minute we got up the hill. 

Sparklers were a must on Guy Fawkes Night.

But this weeks activities didn't end there! On Friday, one of my closest childhood friends (we've known each other since we were only two and a half!) visited me in Edinburgh. I was thrilled to be able to show her around the city and play tourist for a bit. 

While Friday was spent mostly eating and settling in, Saturday was our big day out. 

The day started off late- we slept in until noon because my friend had just returned from three weeks in South Africa. She was on three different time zones so I didn't blame her for the sleepiness! To perk ourselves up a bit, we grabbed a quick coffee and set off for Calton Hill. 

When I had been up the hill on Wednesday night, it was my first time and I was just dying to see the views of the city during the day. So I used my friend as an excuse to make another trip. What I love about Calton Hill is that it's not much of a climb (just up a few sets of stairs) but you still get to see stunning views of the city. Seeing Edinburgh from way up there made me really appreciate the fact that I live in such a beautiful and unique place. 

Our next stop was the National Galleries. But on our way there, we got a bit distracted by the poppy display outside the Scott Monument on Princes Street. The "Field of Remembrance," as it was called, was made up of about 11,000 symbols of remembrance (featuring, of course, poppies) in order to honor both past and present members of the Armed Forces. This setup was for British Remembrance Day, which is much like Veterans Day in the States. We spent a few minutes admiring the field, and then made a donation and received poppy pins to put on our jackets. 

Family members were able to write personal messages on the symbols.

A wider view of the field of 11,000 poppies. 

After our little diversion, we continued to the National Galleries for some good ol' fashioned culture. Since I take History of Art now, I was obviously an expert in all of the pieces at the gallery. Not. But at least I got to pretend like I knew a little something when I saw a work by Giorgio Vasari and told my friend how he was basically the first person to document art history. That is my #FunFact for the day. 

Now that we had checked climbing and culture of the list, we settled down for lunch at one of my favorite girly spots, Eteaket

So. Much. Tea! 

The design of the restaurant is too cute- I mean, wall-to-wall turquoise, pink, and white... what more could you ask for? But the food is even better. This place specializes in a more casual, no-fuss version of high-tea. While I think fancy-schmancy tea parties have their place, sometimes you want the experience of high-tea without the price and the frills. A pot of tea, half sandwich, and ginormous scone? I'll take it. 

I love how they use mismatched tea cups! 

The perfect little meal. 

A girls' day out isn't complete without a little shopping, of course! The two of us headed up and down George Street, ducking in and out of various stores to keep warm and keep out of the rain. It was a great excuse to explore some new stores while also popping into some old favorites. 

Anthropologie always seems to have the best displays. 

Barbour jackets are a British staple. 

While it started to get dark around 4 o'clock here, it made for a nice setting to see the city light up with all of the Christmas decorations. Yes, I said it- Christmas. Since there's no Thanksgiving to be had in the UK, we go straight from Halloween to Christmas- and fast! 

The Dome on George Street all decked out for Christmas. 

The day ended after our shopping trip, and then our night out began! (but that's another story). 

I love to show friends around Edinburgh because not only does it make me seem like the expert that I'm not, but it helps me to appreciate the city that I live in. So, if you're thinking about doing study abroad or have a few thousand dollars to spare, this is your invitation to come visit me! 

*wink wink, nudge nudge* 


Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out my survey! I really appreciate all of the feedback and sweet comments you guys left me.  


Healthy Distractions

The past week and a half has been a blur of PDFs, Google Docs, and footnotes. It's essay writing time for many of us here at the University of Edinburgh, and I'm sure many of you are even thinking about exams already. One of the hardest parts for me when I'm trying to write or study, is staring at my laptop screen for too long, or being far too distracted the entire time I'm trying to be productive.

Sometimes, you just need a little bit of a diversion to get yourself back on track when you're spending hours upon hours on schoolwork. Here are four of my most tried-and-true methods for healthy distraction: 

Making tea - or coffee, or hot chocolate- is the perfect way to get yourself out of your chair when you have writer's block. For me, it forces me to leave my room and go across the hall to the pantry. There's nothing like the feeling of a warm drink in your hand to make you feel like you can conquer the world (or at least that essay). When you return, you can sip your drink while you write. 

Tea-time essentials.

Tidying up a bit or even doing laundry can easily get you out of your rut. It's productive, but also a way of procrastinating just a bit. While deep cleaning your entire room might be a bit much, taking the time to put away the clothes strewn all over the ground may be the productive ten minutes you need to get back into the swing of things. Laundry is a perfect little distraction for me since it takes about 40 minutes to wash, and 50 minutes to dry. That way, I can work for a chunk of time, go downstairs and move my clothes to the dryer, and then work for another chunk of time before bringing it back to my room. 

Painting my nails leads to instant relaxation. If you know me at all, you're probably aware that I used to be a serial nail-biter- "used to" being the operative phrase of course. I like pretty nail polish colors too much to bite my nails anymore. Sometimes, I'll take a break to do my nails because it's the best way to prevent any type of working or browsing of the internet. This way, I can just have a think about whatever my next task is (Pro-tip: go out and buy essie top coat right now. It will save you time and it practically guarantees a perfect manicure every time). 

Skyping a friend or family member that I haven't talked to in a while not only takes my mind off of working, but it almost always boosts my mood. Sometimes, I'll even use the opportunity to ask for advice on my essay (actually, this only applies to when I talk to my mom). Plus, we all know it's super important to keep in touch with friends from home while away at college. Just make sure it's not a marathon of Skype sessions or an hour long conversation.

The most important thing to remember when taking a study break is to set limits. Otherwise, you're not taking a study break- you're full-on procrastinating. Oh, and just be sure to avoid Netflix like the plague.        

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