Climbing Arthur’s Seat

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake.  The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilisation, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.”

— Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879)

After a really excellent breakfast by Doreen (seriously, best bacon I’ve ever had) and “tea for two!” as she always said, Amity and I were ready for our first full day in Edinburgh.  Even though the forecast had said it was supposed to get stormy and really windy, it didn’t look so bad yet, so we decided to take our chances climbing Arthur’s Seat.

Scotland 254

I’d heard it’s a definite must-do in Edinburgh – a high rocky, grassy hill that gives you panoramic views of the city and the Firth of Forth (the large body of water that Edinburgh is built around).  My dad recommended it from when he visited Scotland a few years ago, and it’s also where Rupert Grint and Julie Walters sit and have their heart-to-heart in Driving Lessons!  (Sidenote: See ya tomorrow, Rupert!)  Basically, I reallyreallyreally wanted to do this and Amity was a very patient friend.

We walked east to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s official residence when she’s in Scotland) and began the climb from there.

Scotland 220

The path was easy going at first – just a gentle upward slope – but it quickly became steeper and more rocky.

Scotland 223

Scotland 224

There were a handful of people walking their dogs in the lower parts.  It was so perfect to see border collies frolicking in the hills of Scotland!  It made me smile to see such happy dogs and such nice owners.  Townes would’ve loved it.

Scotland 227

This was more like strenuous walking than actual hiking, but it had the same benefits: even when it’s tough, the views are so worth it!

Scotland 229

There’s always such a great sense of accomplishment and a gorgeous view at the end (Am, I can actually feel you rolling your eyes at me right now).

Scotland 234

This was only about halfway along.  The higher we climbed, the windier it got.  I was really glad I had my big puffy parka on.

Scotland 238


Once we finally reached the summit, it was insanely windy.  We later learned that there had actually been gale-force winds that day, which was not hard to believe.

Scotland 242

You actually had to hold on to something or the wind would quite literally blow you off the mountain!  The very highest point was all craggy rocks.  There were two little cement pillars – one with a map pointing out all the landmarks you could see from that vantage point (you can see three guys clustered around this one in the photo below), and another marking the highest point on Arthur’s Seat.

Scotland 241

I scrambled up the rocks and clung on to the second pillar to take in the awesome panorama below.  In some ways, it really reminded me of the view of the Canterbury plains and Lyttelton Harbour that I saw on the Christchurch Grand Tour.

chch grand tour 071

Scotland 240

Pretty similar, right?  Although Christchurch was definitely enjoying much balmier weather that day!  The clouds really started rolling in as I hunkered down between outcrops, trying to get a few more pictures.

Scotland 246

I loved it.  I loved it so much.  I could have stayed up there for hours (although if I’d actually prepared for that, I would have brought a thermos of tea and something to tie myself on to the mountain with).  To borrow Amity’s words, I do actually like “being bowled over by deadly gusts and having nothing but sharp craggy cliff faces to hang on to.”  I get it from my dad.  Amity and I were about as divided on the enjoyability of Arthur’s Seat as we are on the aesthetics of the new Scottish Parliament building, but variety is the spice of Flat 12, as they say.  We soldier on.

Scotland 251

We started back down, which was equally as tough as going up in such strong wind.  We were a bit muddy and sore by the time we reached the bottom, but I was so glad I could check Arthur’s Seat off my Edinburgh bucket list.  We were also pretty worn out from being battered around by the wind, so we wandered through town to find a nice little café.  We looked into The Elephant House (famed as the birthplace of Harry Potter… the books, not the character… that would be weird), but it was absolutely packed.  We eventually found some nice window seats in a little Starbucks and sat for a while, picking out our dream homes in a local real estate magazine and trying not to fall asleep in our chairs.

When we left, we were still really tired but felt like we should keep making the most of our time in Edinburgh.  We were very close, so we decided to revisit Greyfriars Kirkyard since we’d only made a quick pass through with Billy the day before.


There were no other visitors in the cemetery that day except for a solitary groundskeeper, so we took our time reading the old gravestones and looking at the markers and monuments.


We saw the grave of Thomas Riddell, which was J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for the name of Lord Voldemort’s character, and tried to pick out William McGonagall (both the inspiration for Professor McGonagall’s name and the worst poet in the history of the English language), but for whatever reason he’s buried in an unmarked grave.  Probably embarrassed, poor chap.

Afterwards, we went into the National Museum of Scotland, intending to take in all the interesting exhibits and artifacts, but we were just too dazed and worn out to appreciate it properly.

Scotland 269

At least Amity and I were both on the same page about that, so pretty soon we decided we had to give in and just call it a day.  We stopped quickly into The Elephant House, which was much less crowded than before.  Though I’m sure it has quite a different feel than it did when J.K. Rowling actually sat there writing the first Harry Potter book, it was still a charming little place.  I had tea and something called chocolate tiffin, which was really magical and led to an immediate friendship with the older gentleman sitting next to me, who was eating a slice himself.  Amity and I were tucked back in our room at the StarVilla by 5pm (we actually ate trail mix for dinner to avoid going out again… roadtrip highlight).

And finally, I can’t really fit it fluidly into the narrative of the day, but it has to be included.  We also saw this:

Scotland 258

Happy Christmas from the bagpiping Santa, everyone!

Goodbye, Chch Cathedral

Two years ago, I was living in Christchurch, New Zealand.

One year ago, Christchurch was hit with a devastating earthquake that left the city in shambles and almost 200 people dead.

Yesterday, there was an announcement made that is heartbreaking to anyone who has ever lived in or visited Chch.  The historic cathedral is coming down.

This beautiful, majestic cathedral was built in the mid-1800s and is by far the most important landmark in Christchurch.  It’s gorgeous, too.  Situated right in the middle of the modern city buildings, it’s the focal point anywhere it’s in sight.  It’s like Marilyn Monroe in a crowd full of normal people.

new zealand 007

Along with other major structural damage, the steeple collapsed in the February 2011 earthquake, and rebuilding assessment and efforts have been slowly moving forward ever since.  Apparently, though, it’s been decided that the damage is just too deep and the building cannot be made sound again as is.  The current plan is to bring the remaining walls down to a height of a few feet and reconstruct the area as a prayer garden.  There’s mention of building a new cathedral in Chch at some point, but it wouldn’t be the same one or in the same place.

I can’t imagine Cathedral Square without a cathedral.  On my first weekend in New Zealand, I went with my friends Erika, Katharina, and Laurie into the city centre to visit the cathedral.  Though it was a beautiful building absolutely oozing with rich history and magnificent architecture, my photos of it often fell to the wayside when I’ve remembered my time in NZ, passed over in favor of hiking trips, rainforest waterfalls, or nights in Ilam with friends and flatmates.  However, in light of this recent news, I thought that day deserved an appreciative trip down memory lane.

new zealand 017

I loved how traditionally grand and majestic the cathedral was, while still seeming light and bright.  In true Kiwi fashion, visitors and parishioners alike were reverent but not silent.  It felt like a place that you were allowed to enjoy.

new zealand 021

We were encouraged by the welcoming guide to look around, take photos, and ask questions.  It wasn’t like any other cathedrals I’d visited – I think someone even laughed once.  When I was at the Sacré-Coeur, we couldn’t speak at all and a scary gendarme guard nearly chopped my arm off when I reached in my pocket for my notebook because he thought I was grabbing a camera… not as enjoyable.

new zealand 020

After wandering around and admiring the inside of the cathedral for a while, we headed for the building’s main attraction: the Tower Climb.  Visitors can take the winding staircase up through the cathedral’s 200-foot spire.  We were not encouraged by the fact that the entrance looked like what The Gang always found behind moving portraits in Scooby Doo.  Creepy.

new zealand 026

new zealand 027

Up we went, and just a few minutes later, we were taking in the views of Cathedral Square, Christchurch city, and the Canterbury hills in the distance.  It absolutely blows my mind to think that nobody will ever be able to have this view again.

new zealand 028

See that building on the right that kind of looks like a railway station?  Well, it used to be a post office… but now it’s a Starbucks!  That little blue and white oval-shaped cart just above all the umbrellas is this Bavarian soft-serve stand that was proclaimed to be “Dynamite!” by an old man in the square one day, and the red and yellow booth in the lower right corner has the BEST pita wraps ever.  And the peak of the hill way in the distance was where we rode the gondola up to during the Christchurch Grand Tour.

new zealand 030

new zealand 036

That was my very first weekend in New Zealand, so I was still in this childlike state of complete awe, acting like a kid in Willy Wonka’s factory every time I turned around.  For real, I would have nosedived into a chocolate river if there had been one available.

Even so, I can’t help wish I’d known how valuable that experience was at the time.  Countless people had visited that cathedral and climbed that tower before my friends and I did, but barely a year later, the earthquake would occur and nobody would ever have the chance again.  Okay, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to know that.  Nevermind.

The point is, that cathedral was the heart and soul of the whole city.  It was a landmark, a big fat chunk of history, and a lovely meaningful place.  It was the backdrop for the Wizard of New Zealand to profess his views on baby-farming societies, electric cars, and the meaning of life every day in the square:

mt. cook 010

mt. cook 007

The city will miss its beautiful centerpiece, but assuredly the people of Christchurch will handle this latest sad news with grace and humor, as they do everything.  Maybe I should tell someone about my Marilyn Monroe analogy so they have time to write a Candle in the Wind parody for the cathedral.  I think the Kiwis would like that.

“Your steeple fell down long before your legend ever did…”

There’s potential there.

Grateful and Bittersweet

Ever since February 9th, the images and memories of what I was doing one year ago have been constantly in the back of my mind.  One year ago I got on a plane to fly to New Zealand… one year ago I met my flatmates… one year ago today I had my first class at the University of Canterbury… one year ago I was kayaking in Akaroa.  The nostalgia has taken on a different tone since last week when a 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch.  It was weird hearing the news about a place I know so well from the other side of the world.  Most people in Chch are still without power and water so it was six days before I heard from everyone I know there.  While it’s wonderful that all my friends are safe and sound, it doesn’t lessen the awful state that our city is in right now, or all those people who are still unaccounted for.  The death toll is at 161 and rising, and there’s been a reported $12 billion in damage, including the collapsed steeple of the beautiful historic Christchurch cathedral.  There’s still a lot of heartache going on there and the Kiwis could use all the thoughts and prayers they can get.  The majority of the international students studying at UC (including two from Geneseo) are being sent home to the States or transferred to Victoria University of Wellington or the University of Otago in Dunedin for the semester.  And today, I found out the worst news of all.  No but really, that’s awful.

Sorry to be so glum, but it’s been a bizarre situation to react to and I’ve finally gotten to a point where I can make sense about it.  I know it seems counterintuitive, but this only makes me more eager to get back to Chch.  I’m missing my home…

On a happier yet related note, this past weekend I saw Chelsea for the first time since we left New Zealand almost eight months ago!  It was wonderful and refreshing to talk about NZ to someone who feels exactly the same way (of course that’s you too, Erika!), and nice to officially establish our friendship as global!  I was so, SO lucky with the flatmates I got there, and having seen two of them back in the States so far, I know it wasn’t only the magic of flat O119 that made us so close!  Anyway enough random NZ musings… this week tired my brain out and I’m not being coherent.  I’ll leave you with happy pictures 🙂

Lake Tekapo, NZ – March 2010
Rexford, NY – February 2011

We love to hug and wear gray sweatshirts.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...