Innovative {London} Week

Ah, Innovative Learning Week. Five whole days dedicated to studying 'creatively' in non-traditional settings through workshops on cooking, yoga, and the arts, with no worries of lectures or tutorials. In reality, though, it's an opportunity for Edinburgh Uni students to ignore their essays, and pack a duffle to head home or jet off on an exciting vacation.

Me? Well, I indulged in the latter (along with two of my friends).

Since we couldn't bear the rain, wind, and cold of Edinburgh any longer, we thought that a holiday to somewhere warm was much needed.

Naturally, we decided on London which was- wait for it- a whole four degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer than Edinburgh! And an hour and a half and £38 later we were in (relatively) bright and sunny London.

Confession: I've never been to a hostel before. So I didn't exactly know what to expect. Except for that it might have been really awful, and we would've had weirdo roommates and absolutely no heating.
Luckily, that was not the case. Even though hostels are essentially hotels for poor students, it didn't feel like we were traveling on a budget. I didn't have any basis to compare it to, but I think the Walrus was a pretty upscale hostel for the value. Not to mention, the staff was incredibly accommodating and friendly.

I think the best part about staying in the hostel was the social aspect of it all. Most people staying there were students or a bit older, and since we had to share rooms, we had plenty of time to get to know other people. Plus, the bar at the hostel was a great place to socialize at night.    

Our first day was marked by tiredness. We arrived in the afternoon, and our first thought was to eat, of course. And then it happened: I brought my Canadian friend and my Scottish friend to Chipotle. A heavenly place where they had never been before. And they loved it. I mean, how could you not? 

After a very late lunch, we headed over to the National Portrait Gallery to soak in some culture. We gazed at portraits of Kings and Queens for a few hours before heading to see a movie (we were so tired that we needed to partake in a stagnant activity).

We had dinner at the British Establishment that is Wagamama. Nothing special, just some hearty, tasty Asian food to satisfy our stomachs. 

We ended our first night (and every night...) with a cocktail or two from the hostel's bar. They were absolutely delish, and less than a fiver! This mango one was my favorite.

Day two started out with a walk along the river Thames and up to the Tate modern art gallery. Since one of us is an art history major, and another one of us (aka me) takes it as an outside course, we had to hit up some museums while we were there. Modern art isn't exactly my thing, but I found it to be a really fun gallery with lots of though-provoking pieces. After walking through nearly all of the rooms and really getting a feel for modern art, I wanted one of these artsy posters from the gift shop for my wall. 

A rainy afternoon called for a hot drink in a cozy cafe. The Four Corners Cafe was right around the corner from our hostel, so it was the obvious choice for a nice mocha.


A long queue awaited us at our next stop, Franco Manca, a pizza place known for its addictive sourdough recipe. But a line out the door means it must be good, right? And good it was. Despite the limited menu, it was incredibly difficult to choose a pizza. I ended up ordering one with ham and mushrooms, and it was delightful. Adding on a bottle of white wine made for a pretty much perfect meal.     

Our final day was spent mostly at the Natural History Museum where we got to stand in a 30-minute long line with a bunch of elementary school kids. And it was so much fun. As we waited in line, we reminisced about our childhood- what we wore, what games we played, how often we cried- and soon enough we were inside. Unfortunately, the line to get into the dinosaur exhibit was far too long, so we stuck to learning about volcanoes and sustainability. 

A trip to London isn't complete without a proper tea! We visited the Mess at the Saatchi gallery to get our tea and scones fix on our last afternoon. I loved how two of the desserts were pink, and one was chocolate- that's definitely my kind of dessert.  

After a bit of shopping and a quick drink at a Canadian Bar, we were all craving Indian food. One of my friends quickly looked up the best and closest Indian restaurant on her phone, but once we got there the line was massive. So we headed to another place, called Masala Zone. The line there was also out the door but not nearly as long, so we decided to stick it out (as starving people in need of Indian food often do). And, man, was it worth the 20 minute wait. I swear, we've been raving about this meal for days it was that good. We had three types of curry, samosas, and peshwari naan. Oh, that naan. I don't exactly know what's in it, but it was the best bread I've ever had. Everything else was fantastic as well. 

Our final meal was definitely a high note to end a fabulous trip on.

Surely one of the best parts about living in the UK is the close proximity to other major cities in Europe. It was London this year, but who knows where I'll go next!   

P.S. Major shout out to my travel-writer mom who put together some suggestions for restaurants and things to do while we were in London! Mom obviously always knows best :) 


Vintage Shopping at W. Armstrong and Son

"A Leda walks into a vintage store..."

Sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn't it? If you know me at all, you probably know that I have an aversion to the "hipster" style that seems to be so popular nowadays. In high school, a lot of my friends would shop at Goodwill or Salvation Army, picking up used clothes for a fraction of the cost of retail. Back at home, we even have a very well-known vintage department store called the Garment District, where you could pay by the pound, that many of my friends would frequent on the weekends.

Now, I'm not against charity shops or used clothing stores, but the one thing that always turns me off from them is how the merchandise is often incredibly disorganized, resulting in the clothes not being in great condition.

Enter W. Armstrong and Son.

A small chain of vintage clothing stores scattered across Edinburgh in three different locations, W. Armstrong and Son, established in 1840, prides itself in selling high-quality vintage pieces for affordable prices.

The store is conveniently located on my 20-minute walk to campus every day, so I couldn't help myself from stopping in one day after months of passing by, wondering what I could find inside.

When I entered the store, the first thing I noticed was how packed together the clothes were. However, despite the amount of clothes, they didn't seem to sacrifice any organization. I loved how most of the items were sorted by color, and how the tag indicated what decade it was from.

While most charity shops that I've been to in Edinburgh sell old t-shirts and button downs that look like they would belong to a very unstylish grandma, W. Armstrong and Son features classic, quality clothes. One wall is filled up with vintage leather jackets, and, if you look hard enough, you may even be able to find a few used Barbour jackets, or a 100% silk dress.

The hardest part about vintage shopping (or really any shopping) for me, is finding clothes that fit my style and come in my size. I was surprised to find a dress from the 80's that really spoke to my style, and looked as if it might fit me.

The dress in question.

This dainty-printed floral dress with spaghetti straps and accordion pleats on the skirt was in pristine condition, and would be the perfect summer frock. And the best part? It was only £8! Unfortunately, when I tried it on, it was just a bit too big in the waist, and a smidge too long in the skirt (real shocker for a 4'11" midget).

With a nip and a tuck it would've been perfect!

If I had the money to hire a seamstress to alter the dress, I may have gone for it. But, sadly, I left empty handed.

Vintage shopping is definitely out of my comfort zone- but I'm glad I strayed away from my usual stores to try something new (and local!). While I didn't find anything that suited me this time, I'll be sure to pop in again sometime soon.



How to Save Money in College (And Not Miss Out on the Fun Stuff)

You pay your ridiculously high tuition fees, settle for the cheapest dorm room, and spend a few hundred on your flight over. You might think you're done with the hardest part of paying for college, but actually, the hard part starts when you get there. Since we don't just sit in our rooms all day studying (who does?), we inevitably end up spending tons of money on food, clubs, and social activities.

It's especially hard when you live in a city. Now, I don't live in the most expensive city in the world (I'm looking at you NYU friends), but I do know that living in an urban area can come with a hefty price tag that we often don't take into account when applying to schools.

Hopefully you're not as clueless as Nick Miller.

Plus, for me, one of the hardest parts is that I have not one, but two separate bank accounts. Don't be fooled- it's not because I have so much money that I need to put it in two places. But being an international student, it's necessary that I have a Scottish bank account in addition to my American one. This causes a lot of hassle in that I'm always waiting ages for checks to clear, sometimes running out of money in one account and having to use the other. It's a lot to manage.

And because I'm currently struggling with my money situation, I thought I'd share with you all some tips and tricks I've learnt from family, friends and the internet on saving money in college:

Set a Budget // For me, setting a long-term budget is a little bit scary. But what I like to do is set "mini-budgets" for the week, or even for the night if I'm going out. Decide how much is reasonable to spend and stick to it (say, £15 for a night out). While I know a lot of people who will leave their debit card at home as to not overspend as they drink, I'm always worried that I wont have enough money for a taxi home, if need be. So limit your cash, but keep your card on you, just to be safe. 

Save the Old Fashioned Way // Remember the days when piggy banks were all the rage? Well now I've traded in my bright pink piggy bank for a bright pink wallet. But a tin or jar can serve the same purpose. Start out with a decent amount of "emergency" money in your mini-bank and then add to it whenever you get change from a transaction. In the end, you'll probably have a lot more money than you thought you would! (And tons of coins for the washing machine) 

They're adorable. They're practical.

Take Advantage of Student Discounts // Two-for-one burgers is always a good idea. And I'm not talking about at McDonalds. So many restaurants in college towns have student discounts on top-notch food. And they're well worth it. Make sure to pick up discount cards whenever you can (free coffee after five purchases, anyone?). And don't just forget about them and leave them to collect dust in the bottom of your bag- keep them on hand at all times, and use them as often as you can.    

Say "No" //  Your best girlfriend invites you out for boozy brunch. Your study group has an emergency meeting at Starbucks, complete with cappuccinos and cake pops. Your totally indie friend asks you to come check out this trendy club downtown. And all in the same week. Suddenly, your wallet is empty. Sound familiar? Personally saying no to unnecessary (and expensive) activities is what I struggle with most. But if you don't ever say no, something important might come up that you can't say no to, and you won't have the funds. It's okay to say "Yes," but be sure to do so wisely.  

Decide What's Important // While saying "no" is crucial to maintaining your budget (and your sanity), you don't want to miss out on the biggest social events of the semester or become a lonely hermit who's only friend is Netflix. There are certain experiences that are worth the money you spend (even if it does cost an arm and a leg). For example, even though I would love to have more money on my debit card at the moment,  I don't regret the money I've spent on my trip with my friends to London next week. If travel is important to you (like it is for me), then don't feel guilty about spending your money on that. Or if you enjoy going to see theater productions, by all means spend your money there.

Preach, Phoebe

While at times it may seem like your entire student experience is dictated by the weight of your wallet, it's important to remind yourself that it definitely doesn't have to be. There are so many easy ways to save money without sacrificing having a fabulous semester.

And remember, kids:


Super Bowl Sunday

Most people who know me well know that I'm not the most enthusiastic sports viewer- I'll take watching the Food Network over ESPN any day. But just because pink is my favorite color and I watch videos of baby animals on a daily basis doesn't mean I don't know a thing or two about sports.

And I'd like to thank my three older brothers for that. Sometimes I would watch with them excitedly, hoping they'd think I was cool, and other times I would watch mindlessly and leave when all the food was gone. Either way, simply being in the presence of three sports-crazy boys (plus my dad) for the majority of my life has, in a way, forced me to learn the rules and regulations of baseball, basketball, soccer, and, of course, football.

Super Bowl Sunday is a big deal for any American. It doesn't matter if you haven't watched a single game all year- you have to watch the Super Bowl, if only for the food and the halftime show.

But this year was a big one for us New Englanders, and it was all about the game. So of course, I had to get my football fix somewhere. Luckily, the student union building at the University of Edinburgh was showing the New England Patriots take on the Seattle Seahawks and the North American Society was putting on a special party for all of us Americans and our non-American friends who we forced to come with us. 

Just to give you a little taste of what British people think of the Super Bowl, I'd like to quote my Warden (basically an adult RA/bff) who offered up the common room for viewing the game: 

"What is Super Bowl? It is an American version of football, except they use their hands and dress like deep sea divers."

'Nuff said. 

Now, onto pictures of my festivities: 

Look how festive I am as I sport the Patriots shirt I never wore before that day.

A pretty solid showing of how much the group drank in a night.

Not the prettiest picture, but they even had super overpriced chicken wings! An American staple.

Just one of the many packed rooms showing the game.

I'm not a huge fan of beer but I was pretty excited that they stocked up on Boston's favorite.

Oh, and of course the Patriots won. I didn't end up staying for the whole game, and I really regret it. But it's always nice to wake up the next morning to a million texts, Facebook posts, and Snapchat stories that let you know the final score before you can even Google it. 
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