Undergraduate Admissions

Victoria Malstrom


The travels continue! Because exams are spread out over nearly a month at University of Edinburgh, and my only exam is on the third-to-last day of testing, I have quite a bit of free time.  I had been hoping to make it to Barcelona, so once my exam schedule came out and I learned of another exciting detail, I just had to go!  Exciting detail: Shannon was visiting Barcelona the weekend after my final papers were due – so a very convenient weekend indeed!! Things worked out even better once I found out my friend Kata would be in Barcelona during that time, as well.  Kata has lived in Barcelona for a few years; she is currently studying at the University of Edinburgh, which is how I know her. But, I found out she would be in Barcelona when we were there, and she said she would love to be our tour guide for the weekend! Yay!

I flew in to Barcelona on Thursday.  This first day was not all too exciting – it was simply a travel day; my flight was delayed and I did not get to the hostel until about 10 PM.  Luckily, in Spain, that is prime dinner time – so I checked in and immediately got something to eat.

Friday was much more exciting!  Shannon arrived in the morning, along with her friends Digby and Kathryn who were also studying in Sevilla for the semester.  I had met both of them when I visited Shannon in February, so it was nice to be reunited and to get to know them over the span of the weekend!

Our first order of business was a walking tour in the morning.  It was quite long – three hours – so we learned a great deal of information about the city that we certainly would not have known otherwise.  After the tour, we got lunch, and then met up with Kata!  She took us all around the city – we saw so much that afternoon! First, we went to Plaça Reial, where Kata and I took this photo:

Next, we went to La Boqueria, a public market with food galore! We each got a fresh juice – I chose strawberry and coconut. Yum!  Here is a photo we took outside La Boqueria:

Shannon, Kathryn, Digby, and I.  With our juices… except for me, because I had already finished mine. Oops.

Next, Kata walked us to the beach!

Kata, Digby, me, Kathryn, Shannon

After the beach, Kata showed us her favorite church in the world: Basilica Santa Maria del Mar.  She hopes to get married there, and I absolutely see why – it is stunning.  The stained glass is beautiful, and the architecture is outstanding.

Next, Kata took us to Valor, a chocolateria, where we each got a hot chocolate.  She really is the best tour guide, because she understands what is important. 😆  She told us they serve the best hot chocolate in Barcelona. I don’t have anything to compare it to, since this was the only hot chocolate I had in Barcelona, but I anticipate I’d be hard-pressed to find a viable competitor.  It was so delicious!

After Valor, we went to the Barcelona cathedral.  This, too, was stunning. See for yourself:

Barcelona Cathedral – Exterior

Barcelona Cathedral – Interior

Kata had to meet a friend, so we went on our own after the Barcelona cathedral.  Digby, Kathryn, Shannon, and I hopped on the metro and then walked a bit for our final destination of the night – The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc! The show started at 9:00, and it was beautiful!! I do not really know how to adequately describe what we saw, but there are plenty of videos online that could perhaps start to give you an idea of just how cool it was.  The fountain lit up different colors and the water looks like it is dancing with the way it moves!  This is definitely something you have to see to understand.  Here are a couple photos I took:

The magic continued into Saturday, as it was a very special holiday: Sant Jordi.  This romantic holiday honors one of the patron saints of Catalonia, and is celebrated by giving a book and/or rose to loved ones.  The whole city was filled with book stands and rose vendors, especially Las Ramblas and Rambla de Catalunya.  We walked through these streets, which were packed with people, to witness all the festivities going on.  

One of the many book stalls along Las Ramblas

Then, we walked on Passeig de Gracia, where we saw Casa Batlló and Casa Mila, two of the Antoni Gaudí houses.

Casa Batlló

Casa Mila

The Gaudí sightseeing continued – next we went to Sagrada Família, an enormous and colorful basilica designed by none other than Gaudí.  We stayed there for a couple of hours, and I easily could have stayed longer.  Being in that building is a spiritual experience like no other.  The colors from the sun shining through the glass, the enormous pillars, and the intricate architecture just put me in total awe.

We finished our Gaudí trail at none other than Park Güell!  I had seen so many pictures of the beautiful bench / wall mural in Plaza de la Naturalize (within Park Güell), but nothing could compare to how incredible it looked in person.  Even with the ominous clouds (which shortly thereafter turned into a downpour), the panorama of the city was magnificent.

Kathryn, Digby, Shannon, and I at Park Güell

Sunday was our last day all together, but we made the most of it! We met Kata in the morning and she took us to the Bunkers de Carmel, where we enjoyed a stunning lookout over the city.  This was the second of her four favorite places in Barcelona (the first was Santa Maria del Mar).  We sat here and enjoyed the sunshine, the view, and each others’ company for a while before getting back on the bus into the city.

Then, Kata and I went to Parròquia de Santa Anna for mass, while Kathryn and Shannon went to Hillsong for church, and Digby explored the city.  We met up on Las Ramblas and then went to the third of Kata’s four favorite places – a Greek cafe called Dionisos.  I ordered a gyro and, at risk of sounding hyperbolic, it was one of the most delicious things I have eaten in my life.  After this life-changing experience, we went back to the beach!

All of us at the beach! Kathryn, Shannon, Digby, Kata, and I

There was so much sea glass among the rocks on the shore, so I walked up and down the beach collecting it.  I got a little carried away!

So much sea glass!

Unfortunately, the beach bumming was the last of our exciting weekend activities all together, as Digby, Kathryn, and Shannon had an evening flight back to Sevilla.  So, we went back to the hostel and said our goodbyes! My flight was not until Tuesday morning, though, so while the girls headed to the airport, I continued exploring.  I walked around the gothic quarter a bit, then to the Arc de Triomf, then through Parc de la Ciutadella.

Arc de Triomf

Parc de la Ciutadella

I got a sandwich at Bo de B, which my sister recommended to me, and carried it to the beach where I ate it! It was a lovely spot for a peaceful dinner.

Monday was my last day in Barcelona, and it was absolutely perfect! Kata took me to Montserrat – the fourth of her four favorite places in Barcelona.  We took a train to Monsterrat then hiked the mountain.  There was an option of taking a cable car up to the top, but we both love hiking and it was a beautiful day outside!  Montserrat very quickly became another place on my ever-expanding list of “Most Beautiful Places I Have Ever Seen.”  We visited the church at the top, Nuestra Señora de Montserrat.  Photos were not allowed inside, but it was beautiful, of course.  Then we ate lunch before hiking back down the mountain and getting on the train back into the city.  I could not have asked for a better final day in Barcelona.  The weather was perfect and Monsterrat was fascinatingly gorgeous, but my favorite part of the day was spending time with Kata and getting to know her better.  I will treasure those moments forever!


Once we were back in the city, we got dinner at 100 Montaditos, then parted ways.  I was very sad to say goodbye to her, but she would return to Edinburgh in a week’s time so I was already excited to see her again.  I did some final explorations around the city – souvenir shopping and revisiting La Boqueria, then went back to the hostel to get ready for my Tuesday morning departure.

Barcelona was great – I will be back! Until then 🙂

Spring Break, Part III: Munich, Neuschwanstein Castle, Rothenburg

On Monday, Alexandra and I took a train from Salzburg to Munich.  We arrived in Munich around noon, then hopped on the tram to our home for the next four days – an Airbnb with the loveliest couple ever, Heiko and Nadja 🙂 Upon arriving at their flat, we settled in for a bit before heading out with them!  Heiko and Nadja walked with us to the Nymphenburg Palace, then showed us around the beautiful grounds.

Nymphenburg Palace from the front

Nymphenburg Palace from the back

Then, we sat down with them at a cafe within the palace grounds and chatted and got to know each other.  After that, Alexandra and I explored the city on our own for a bit!

We went to Marienplatz, the main square of the city. Here is a picture I took of city hall from the ground – later on I took one from the tower!

We kept exploring around Marienplatz and found a beautiful church: Heiliggeistkirche.

Heiliggeistkirche (“Holy Ghost Church”)

Then, we accidentally stumbled across what turned out to be one of our favorite parts of the city: Viktualienmarkt! This market square has so many stands selling different products – mostly food.  Alexandra and I went into one shop completely dedicated to honey! I tried honey wine… it was so delicious.

We were getting hungry, so we started walking towards Hirschgarten, a beer garden which Heiko and Nadja recommended to us, for dinner.  Beer gardens are huge in Germany – they originated in Munich! I had never heard of them before this trip, but I really love them.  The concept is so simple – they are outdoor areas, shaded by trees to stay cool, with food and beer.  I really don’t like beer at all, but I like food… 😆 and I love the atmosphere.  People gather at beer gardens with their friends, and there is often some kind of other entertainment like music or movies or games.

One part of Hirschgarten

After dinner, we returned to Heiko and Nadja’s and prepared for our exciting day trip on Tuesday…a tour of the Neuschwanstein Castle!

During our trip to the Neuschwanstein Castle, we learned all about King Ludwig II of Bavaria.  Admittedly, I am usually pretty bored by history but Ludwig II was really interesting to learn about.  He was exceedingly eccentric and imaginative, and lived a very unique (though quite sad) life.  The Neuschwanstein Castle was entirely a product of Ludwig II’s fascination with fairy tales.  Photos were not allowed within the castle, but it really looked like a storybook castle realized.

The Neuschwanstein Castle served as the inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle!

The view from the castle was equally as stunning.

Hohenschwangau Castle, Ludwig II’s childhood palace right near the Neuschwanstein Castle

After we returned to Munich and our tour ended, we went to Augustiner Keller with some new friends from our tour!! Augustiner Keller is another beer garden in Munich and probably my favorite one we went to, though I loved all of them.

New friends in one of the oldest and biggest beer gardens in Munich.

On Wednesday, we went on another day tour.  This one was called the Romantic Road tour.  First, we went to the Harburg Castle, a beautiful medieval castle.

We took a tour of the castle, then proceeded along the Romantic Road to Rothenburg.  Rothenburg is the most adorable and quaint little town.  Look how lovely!!:

They are famous for their Schneebälle (snowballs), which are a type of pastry made of shortcrust.  It is round and typically covered in powdered sugar.  There are so many other possibilities, though: cinnamon sugar, chocolate, nuts, and on and on! Of course, the pastries are in the shape of a ball!

Alexandra got a chocolate coconut snowball and I got a Bailey’s snowball.

We walked around the town and went into a few shops, most notably a beautiful Christmas market.  The town is encircled by a wall, which has a walking path, so we climbed up and walked part of the perimeter of the town that way!

When we got back to Munich after our tour, we got dinner at Hofbräuhaus, a beer hall that has been around since 1589!  Alexandra heard about it from a friend, and Heiko and Nadja also told us about it.

Our meals were absolutely delicious – unsurprisingly so, considering how unhealthy they were 😳 (our diet while in Bavaria consisted entirely of fatty meat, potatoes, and pretzels… typical foods of the region).

Sadly, that marked our last truly full day in Germany. Thursday was our last day – luckily, we had a pretty late flight, so we got to do quite a bit!

We made the most of Thursday! In the morning until the early afternoon, we did a walking tour to learn about the city and see the highlights of Munich.  Our tour guide, Mark, was phenomenal, so we were really glad we went on the tour!  After our tour ended, we went back to Viktualienmarkt, where we got a giant pretzel!  We also came across an authentic Italian food stand, so obviously we had to buy chocolate… 🙂

Next, we went to St. Peter’s Church, where we climbed the tower for this incredible view of Marienplatz:

After climbing the tower, we went inside.


Next, we went to the Gärtnerplatz District, a cute little area for boutiques popular among young people.

Our last destination in Munich was Olympiapark, where the Olympics were held in 1972.  We ascended to the top of the Olympiaturm (Olympic Tower), where we were able to see the city from way up high. Here’s a picture of Olympiapark from the tower:

Besides that, we just explored the park a bit.

It is really beautiful!

And, just like that, our spring break adventures came to an end 🙁  We went back to Heiko and Nadja’s to gather our things and say a very sad goodbye, then headed to the airport.  We arrived in Edinburgh after midnight and Alexandra had an early morning flight.  I was sad to see her go, but immensely grateful for the time we spent together, the places we visited, and the memories we made!

As always, thank you for taking the time to read this!

– Tori

Spring Break, Part II: Vienna, Hallstatt, Salzburg

The spring break adventure continues – on Thursday, Alexandra and I hopped on a train from Prague to Vienna. We had less than a day here, so of course we had to make the most of it.  After checking into our hostel, we went straight to the Schönbrunn Palace.  We bought the Classic Pass which allowed us entry to the Palace, Privy Garden, Orangery Garden, Maze/Labyrinth and Gloriette Viewing Terrace.

The palace was magnificent; unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside.  Our ticket included an audioguide, so we learned all about the history of the palace and the Habsburg family.  Check out how massive this palace is – I could not even capture the whole thing in a regular photo, so I had to take a panoramic shot.

Next, we went to the Privy Garden:

And then the Orangery Garden:

We went to the labyrinth, where there were a few mazes and other fun playground-type activities.  Finally, we went to the Gloriette Viewing Terrace.  This is what the Gloriette looks like:

From a distance

Closer up

And this was our view from the terrace:

Having visited all the sites our ticket included, we left the Schönbrunn Palace and continued exploring the town.  We went to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where we climbed the tower to see an aerial view of the city:

We also went inside the cathedral, which was so beautiful.  I took some pictures, but they all turned out blurry… 😳

Then we went to Mozarthaus, where Mozart lived for 3 years! Alexandra and I both play piano so this was right up our alley 🙂 The residence-turned-museum was very cool.  There was so much information, we could have spent all day there and still have more to learn.  (In addition to all the information written all around the museum, our entry included an audioguide with hours of audio).

Alexandra and I both felt exhausted from being on our feet for so long, so we decided to go to a restaurant where we could sit down for dinner.  We ordered a wiener schnitzel and a goulash – two typical Viennese dishes – and split each in half.  After dinner, we continued exploring.  We went to the Hofburg Palace and Austria National Library – it was getting quite late by this point, so they were closed, but they were stunning from the outside!

Hofburg Palace on left, Austria National Library on right.

We walked around the area a bit more before retiring to our hostel.  We had to wake up early on Friday to catch a train to Hallstatt! On our way to the train station, we stopped to look at City Hall.  It is stunning!

(The white tents were for some sort of a race going on later that day.)

We ate a nice breakfast at Café Eiles, then continued to the train station. Onto Hallstatt!

Hallstatt is an adorable, quaint little town!  A friend of mine recommended I visit here while in Austria, so Alexandra and I made sure to include it in our itinerary… I am so glad we did.  It was rainy the day we were there, and still managed to look magnificent.

We spent just one night in Hallstatt, then took a bus to Salzburg on Saturday morning.  We arrived in Salzburg around noon.  We quickly checked into our hostel then met in Mirabellplatz for our Sound of Music bus tour!! Alexandra loves The Sound of Music – she used to watch it constantly when she was younger.  I like it too, but I have only seen it a couple of times.  The tour was fantastic – our guide was entertaining and we saw so much.  Our guide played Sound of Music songs on the bus, and everyone sang along… it was so cute 🙂

I am sixteen, going on seventeen…

Mid-tour photo stop: Alexandra and I

Basilica St. Michael Mondsee, where the Sound of Music wedding was filmed

Mirabell Gardens: Mi, a name, I call myself; Fa, a long long way to run!

Mirabell Gardens: Gnome which appeared in the Sound of Music

For dinner, we went to Augustiner Bräu – a beer house which Alexandra’s friend recommended. It was very cool and unlike anything I had ever seen before.  There were an array of stands to buy food and a huge hall to sit and eat it.  After eating dinner, we went back to the hostel to rest before our second day of exploring Salzburg.

On Sunday morning, we walked around the Old Town.  First we went to Kapitelplatz, where we saw a statue of a man on a golden ball (admittedly, I’m not sure what the significance of this is, but it was cool) and a huge chess game!

Goldene Kugel (“The Golden Sphere”) by Stephan Balkenhol

Next, we went to Residenzplatz:

Finally, we went to Mozartplatz, where we heard the glockenspiel play.

Me with a statue of Mozart 🙂

We went to mass, then continued exploring – we went to Fortress Hohensalzburg! The inside was cool, but my favorite parts by far were the incredible views.

We went into a Christmas store… wow! I could not get over the beauty of this shop… so many ornaments:

And we just walked around the city some more, crossing over a few of the footbridges.  This one was my favorite for sure:

Love locks!!

We got dinner at an UNBELIEVABLY GOOD Italian restaurant.  Oh my goodness.  That concluded our visit to Salzburg! Monday morning we were onto Munich … 🙂

Stay tuned to hear about Munich, thanks for reading!

– Tori

Spring Break, Part I: Edinburgh and Prague

On Sunday morning, my older sister, Alexandra, arrived in Edinburgh!! Her job requires that she take off two consecutive weeks of work, so she scheduled her vacation time to coincide with my spring break.  Hooray! We spent Sunday and Monday exploring Edinburgh before setting off to Prague on Tuesday.

Alexandra and I had a very full day on Sunday – according to my phone, we walked over 18 miles!  She took the bus from the airport and I met her at the bus stop.  The walk back to my flat is about 25 minutes, which worked out quite nicely because I got to show her a bit of the city.  Once we dropped her bags off at my flat, we went to Edinburgh Bakehouse.  My flatmate Rachel recommended it to me, and we were not disappointed! I got a “snowball” – a soft cake with raspberry jam in the center, covered in coconut flakes.  Alexandra got two miniature pies – one apple strudel pie, one macaroni pie. 🙂  After that, we went to Filament Coffee, where Alexandra got a cappuccino to help fight the jet lag!  We sat and talked for a while – it was so nice to be with her and share stories of our lives from the past few months.  Since she works full-time and we usually have a 5 hour time difference to work around, I have not been able to talk to her much during my semester abroad!  So, I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be together.  Luckily, we have almost two whole weeks together.  I truly am thankful for each moment with her so far, and for all of those to come!

Once we left the coffee shop, we began exploring the city.  We went to Greyfriars Kirkyard, the graveyard surrounding Greyfriars Kirk (Church) – admittedly, it was actually my first time there.  I told her the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the dog who guarded his masters’ grave for 14 years.  We saw Bobby’s grave as well as the grave of his master, John Gray.  We also found three graves which inspired characters in the Harry Potter series.  While she was writing the books, J.K. Rowling strolled through Greyfriars Kirkyard and apparently found inspiration!  The grave of Thomas Riddell was the inspiration for the character of Tom Riddle, William McGonagall for Minerva McGonagall, and Elizabeth Moodie for Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody.  Alexandra is a big fan of Harry Potter, so of course this was a must-do!

We walked the Royal Mile, stopping in a few Taste of Scotland of shops along the way, of course.  Then we made our way to the Grassmarket, where we got lunch and ice cream.  For lunch, we went to Graze – somewhere I have been wanting to go but had not gotten around to yet!  It was delicious, and I will definitely be back.  We both got salad boxes – they are a fixed price, and you can fill it with whatever you want from the salad bar until the box is full.  It was such a great deal and SO yummy.

After lunch, we went to Mary’s Milk Bar (they recognize me there now. It’s fine) and got ice cream cones! I got fresh mint creme – one of the daily specials, and dark chocolate – a resident flavor, if you will.  Alexandra got goat’s cheese & honey and hazelnut – both daily specials.  At Mary’s, there are only three flavors offered every single day: milk, dark chocolate, and salted caramel.  Everything else depends on what Mary decides to make and what is in season.  She is so creative – I have seen everything from tea & lemon to violet to cinnamon & peanut to hot cross bun spice.  There are always so many different flavors – at least ten each day.  Can you tell how much I love Mary’s Milk Bar…?

We climbed Arthur’s Seat (my fifth time! it still hasn’t gotten old).  Here is a photo of us together at the top:

And here is a dorky picture of me near the start of the climb:

After the climb, we went back to my flat to freshen up.  Then, we went to dinner at The World’s End – my third time there! Of course, we got fish and chips, their specialty.  After dinner, we met up with some of my friends from church 🙂 Since the normal student mass time is not offered during spring break, we went to another mass together at the local Jesuit center.  Afterwards, we went to Teviot, the student row house, for drinks and conversation.  I was so excited for Alexandra to meet some of my friends and to hang out with them one last time before heading off on my adventures in the Czech Republic, Austria, and Germany.  We had a wonderful time all together, but Alexandra and I were exhausted from our long day (Alexandra was especially tired, having only slept a few hours on the plane!) so we had to leave after a bit 🙁

On Monday, we got lunch at The Elephant House, which is where J.K. Rowling started writing Harry Potter.  I loved it there and definitely have to go back!  I was (for the several-thousandth time in my life) inspired to read the Harry Potter books, especially after going into the bathroom where the walls are covered in fans’ notes about how the books have impacted their lives.  Every year I vow to read the books, but the page counts are daunting and life just gets busy! One day.

After The Elephant House, we went to the National Museum of Scotland. We spent a little over an hour there.  We walked through the exhibits and watched the Millennium Clock on the hour, which was so cool!

We walked around New Town for a bit and stopped in a few shops, a perfect rainy day activity.  Finally, we went to dinner at Fiddler’s Arms, where Alexandra tried haggis for the first time 🙂  Monday was much less jam-packed than Sunday, in part because of the rainy weather, but also because we were tired and had to recuperate before our big trip!  So, it really worked out quite nicely.

On Tuesday we were off to Prague! We had a connecting flight, and unfortunately, we ended up sitting on the first plane for over two hours before it finally took off.  Because of this, we missed our second flight and ended up taking a much later one, so we arrived at our hostel around 10:00 instead of 6:00 as we had planned :/ After checking in, we walked around the city for a little bit and got excited for the exploring we would be doing on Wednesday!  Prague is beautiful at night, and the view from the Charles Bridge is just breathtaking.

We tried to do as much as possible on Wednesday, as it was our only full day in Prague.  First, we went to the Prague Castle.  Our ticket allowed us entry to St. George’s Basilica, St. Vitus Cathedral, and Golden Lane.  First, we went into St. George’s Basilica:

Outside of St. George’s Basilica

Inside of St. George’s Basilica

Then, we headed towards St. Vitus Cathedral, but came across an adorable market along the way! We bought a hot chocolate from the first stand we saw – it was not typical hot chocolate though.  Imagine a melted chocolate bar.  That gets you pretty close.  It was so delicious. Honestly, I’ll be thinking about it for years to come…

Here’s a picture of the market:

Then we went to St. Vitus Cathedral!

Outside of St. Vitus Cathedral

Inside of St. Vitus Cathedral

Finally, we visited Golden Lane, which is a street with little colored houses!

Our ticket also included Old Royal Palace, but that did not open until the afternoon so we did not get the chance to go.  However, we did stop in the castle gardens for a bit – they were beautiful!

After visiting the castle, Alexandra and I climbed the Old Town Hall tower for a magnificent panoramic view of the city.

Then, we met Alexandra’s college friend Rachel at the Astronomical Clock! Here is the clock:

Alexandra went to New Zealand with Rachel on a short-term study abroad trip and now Rachel is spending the semester in Prague.  They also know each other from their sorority, Delta Phi Epsilon, at the University of Maryland.

Rachel showed us around the town for a few hours until she had class.  We started in Old Town Square, where we saw something so cool – I don’t know if there’s a name for this so I’ll just call him a bubble street artist.

We stopped in a few shops, went to the Jewish quarter, and (of course) got ice cream. But not just any ice cream… doughnut cone ice cream. With nutella and strawberries.

Then we went to the John Lennon wall, which is where we spent most of our time 😆  I have never seen anything like it, and Rachel said that the wall is vastly different each time she goes.  I could spend hours there and still keep finding new things on the wall.

I thought this was very appropriate – travel the world! 🙂

Love is all you need.

Rachel went to class while Alexandra and I got a late lunch, then went to a park with peacocks roaming around it!  We walked around the town some more and went to a Salvador Dali exhibit in a museum.  He is my favorite artist, so I was so excited about that!

Here I am with a photo of him 🙂

Finally, we met back up with Rachel for a late dinner at a restaurant near her apartment serving typical Czech cuisine.  They did not speak English, and it was not in the main touristy area of the city, so it really was an authentic experience! Luckily, Rachel (and Google) helped us figure out the menu.  The food was delicious! After dinner, Alexandra and I got packed and ready to head out early for our train to Vienna, Austria.  (Stay tuned for a blog post about Austria!!)  I loved Prague and I am so glad I got to visit.  I hope to go back one day!  It was a great start to our trip (even with the flight fiasco).

As always, thanks for reading!

– Tori

Dundee, Stonehaven, and Aberdeen Day Trip

I really cannot believe it, but I have completed my last week of classes for the semester.  My last class was on Thursday, March 31!  I still have final papers to finish and a final exam to take, but I am done with lectures.  I am so upset about it, too – the time has absolutely flown by and this just reminds me that the semester is quickly coming to an end. 😥 I keep forgetting I have to leave eventually (or, rather, convincing myself otherwise). 🙁  Of course, I am still making sure I see and experience as much as I possibly can during my time here.  So… what better to do than a day trip to three beautiful cities in Scotland?!

On Saturday, I went on a day trip with ISTours – the same tour company who organized and led the phenomenal weekend trip to Isle of Skye.  I was eager to see some beautiful sights, and equally excited to see my friend Hoji, who leads the tours, again!

Our first stop on the tour was Dundee.  We only stayed here for a short time, but the city was cute!  It became known as the city of “jam, jute, and journalism,”  the three Js, because these used to be its main industries.  Now, the only surviving “J” is journalism… and it is alive and well! The publishing company D. C. Thomson is based in Dundee.

All around the town, there are sculptures of characters from comic book magazines published by D. C. Thomson:

In addition to comic character sculptures, there are also penguin sculptures around Dundee.  Dundee is the proud home of The Royal Research Ship Discovery, which traveled to Antarctica on the Discovery Expedition.  So, of course the best way to commemorate this is with adorable penguins!

Walking Penguins Sculpture next to Steeple Church

Penguins outside Discovery Point

My favorite place in Dundee was the McManus Gallery – we did not go inside, but the exterior really looks like a storybook castle!

Beautiful McManus Gallery


After Dundee, our next stop was Stonehaven.  Stonehaven is a stunning town right by the North Sea, home to beautiful beaches and an impressive castle.  This castle, the Dunnottar castle, inspired the castle in Disney’s Brave!

Absolutely stunning!

Posing with the Scottish flag in front of the castle.

Beach by the castle – the body of water is the North Sea.


Last but most certainly not least, we made our way to Aberdeen, nicknamed The Silver City with the Golden Sands.  I loved it here! The city was absolutely beautiful and had some really incredible buildings.  Here is the stunning granite Marischal College:

St. Nicolas Kirk was another fine display of Aberdeen’s architecture.  Unfortunately, I was unable to enter the church during my trip as it was closed – but I guess I just have to go back now! 🙂

St. Nicolas Kirk exterior

I spent the last hour and a half of my day relaxing on the beautiful Aberdeen beach.  I just sat with my thoughts on the shore and watched the waves crash on the rocks.  I brought my journal along with me for the bus ride so I took that out and wrote!  It was exactly what I needed and such a great experience.

Beach in Aberdeen

View of the Sea

All in all, I had a great day and was again reminded of how lucky I am to have the experience to study abroad this semester.  If anyone reading this is considering a semester abroad, year abroad, or even a short-term study abroad… do it!

As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned to hear about my spring break adventures with my sister Alexandra!

– Tori

Friends Visit Edinburgh!!

I was sad to leave Copenhagen on Monday, but I was beyond excited to show Cait and Natalie the place I am happy to call home this semester!!  After landing in Edinburgh, we took the AirLink bus then walked the remainder of the way to Cait and Nat’s hostel.  We split up for a bit so that I could put my bags back in my flat, but then met at Camera Obscura and World of Illusions.  This museum offers beautiful rooftop views of the city, a camera obscura presentation (the only camera obscura I have ever seen!), and several floors of interesting illusions.

First we went to the very top floor to see the city view – here is a photo I took:

Then, we went to the camera obscura show, which was very cool and quite funny. The camera is over 150 years old and projects live images onto a viewing table located at the center of the dark room we were in.  We were able to see all the famous landmarks in Edinburgh in just about 20 minutes without even moving!

After the camera obscura show, we explored the rest of the World of Illusions museum.  I recognized a few things from reading about them before, so it was really cool to experience them in person! For instance:

(Cait, Nat, Me) Am I extremely tall? Ok, maybe, but…what about now:

(Me, Cait) Cool, right?!


Where did the rest of me go??

We were having way too much fun!

After the museum, we got £1 pizza for dinner – a Monday special at a local pub, Kilderkin.  We considered going to an open mic night at another local pub, but we were too exhausted!

On Tuesday, we met up after my class and hiked Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill.  It was a great day for a hike – perfect temperature and, although a bit cloudy, nice and bright outside.

Here we are midway up our Arthur’s Seat climb:

Me, Natalie, Cait

And at the top:

Natalie, Cait, me

We brought sandwiches and ate lunch near the top… Cait documented the adventure with her selfie stick 😆

Cait, Nat, me

Next, we climbed Calton Hill! I love the view of Edinburgh from Calton Hill:

Finally, after all that walking, we sat down for ice cream at Mary’s Milk Bar – yum 🙂

Natalie was very excited to make it into the picture!!

On Tuesday night, we went to The Three Sisters for their weekly pub quiz.  I was so excited for Cait and Nat to meet some of my friends from school, plus there is free macaroni and cheese at halftime. Win-win situation.  We had a lot of fun, and we absolutely dominated in the first half (we only got one question wrong!)… but lost our edge in the second half.  Maybe one of these times we’ll win 🙂

On Wednesday, we met at Lovecrumbs after I finished class.  Lovecrumbs sells coffee, tea, and – most importantly – yummy cakes.  I got a slice of lemon-raspberry cake, which was very tasty.  (If you haven’t noticed, I eat REALLY healthily when traveling with my friends.)

Then, we went to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (also called the Holyrood Palace). It was my first time visiting the palace, and I loved it.  There were no photos allowed within the palace, but here is a photo of us outside:

Look above us. The unicorn is Scotland’s national animal!

And here is a photo from the Holyrood Abbey:

On Wednesday evening, we got dinner at The World’s End.  I had already been with my parents, and had to go back! They are famous for their fish and chips, so we had to get that! Emily and Carolyn came in from Copenhagen on Wednesday night and met us at the restaurant.  I was so thrilled to see Emily again and to meet Carolyn, whom Emily met through DIS (Danish Institute for Study Abroad).

Here is a picture of all of us:

Me, Cait, Carolyn, Emily, Nat

On Thursday, the girls went to the Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Botanic Gardens while I was in class.  We met up in the evening at my flat, where I prepared a taco bar dinner for our last night all together.

…and this wasn’t even all of it.  The spread: hard shells, soft shells, mild chicken, medium chicken, cilantro-lime rice (brown & white), black bean & corn salsa, mango salsa, guacamole, fajita vegetables, lettuce, tomato, lime, hummus, sour cream, cheddar cheese.  I had so much fun making everything, especially the salsas and guacamole (my favorite condiments), but I severely overestimated how much we would need.  The leftovers lasted several days, including another dinner for four on Saturday. :haha:

After dinner, we went to Holy Thursday mass together.  Then, we went to a Catch Phrase pub quiz as our final activity all together 🙁 It was a lot of fun, but we were so ready for bed by the end.  I walked Cait and Nat to their hostel for some sad final goodbyes – their flight was early Friday morning – then returned to my flat.

On Friday, Carolyn, Em, and I climbed Arthur’s Seat! It was another perfect day for the climb – we got lucky, as Saturday and Sunday both had pretty crummy weather!

And, of course, we had to celebrate the climb with Mary’s Milk Bar. It’s a tradition.  I was hoping to climb Calton Hill with them, too, but my knee was bothering me 🙁 so they did that on their own while I went back to my flat, then to Good Friday mass.  We met up after mass for a nice dinner at Black Bull on Grassmarket.

On Saturday morning, I met Carolyn and Em at the weekly Grassmarket Farmer’s Market, where we got delicious macarons from Mademoiselle Macaron.  Then, we went grocery shopping for our homemade Easter Sunday Brunch 🙂  We split up for a bit then reconvened at my flat for taco leftovers.  Even with the three of us plus my friend Michael, we still did not finish them.  At least now I know I can cook for a crowd.

After dinner, Carolyn and Emily went back to their hostel while Michael and I went to Easter Vigil at St. Albert’s Catholic Chaplaincy.  The Vigil was absolutely beautiful, and I was blown away by the choir – especially their last song, Hallelujah.  After mass, I went to Teviot (the student row house) with some friends from church – Balázs, Clare, Mathews, and Michael – and Carolyn and Em met us there.  We hung out and talked for a while before all heading back to our respective flats/hostels.  Again, I was so grateful for the opportunity to introduce my friends to each other 🙂

Sunday was our last full day together, but we made the most of it!! Em and I went to Easter mass together in the morning, then met Carolyn at my flat where we prepared a delicious brunch.  Alex showed up a bit later and joined us for fun and food!

Carolyn made delicious scrambled eggs with cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, tomatoes, onions, and peppers.  Emily did a magnificent job of slicing the strawberries.  I made french toast (served with Nutella and whipped cream) and bacon.  We also had yogurt and granola, and avocado toast (toast + avocado + crushed red pepper + olive oil + salt).  Last but certainly not least, we had mimosas!

My plate (well, my first plate).

Emily and I with our mimosas!

Brunch was so much fun and I am so glad we were able to spend time together cooking and laughing and – of course – eating delicious food!  This was the first time I was not with my family for Easter, so having such great people to spend it with was really nice.

Carolyn and Em had an evening flight on Monday, so we met up briefly in the afternoon for some final exploring and souvenir shopping before parting ways one last time 🙁

I still cannot believe how quickly the week and a half with my friends flew by, but I am so grateful I got to spend time with them… and I am honored that they chose to spend part of their spring breaks in Edinburgh!

I hope everyone had a blessed Easter! Happy April 🙂

– Tori

Weekend Trip to Copenhagen

On Friday, March 18, I very excitedly boarded a plane to Copenhagen.  I was on my way to visit Emily, who is studying in Denmark.  I missed Emily so much and could not wait to be reunited.  And to make it even better, Cait and Natalie would be arriving in Copenhagen on Saturday… meaning 4 of the 6 girls from last semester’s apartment would finally be together again 🙂

My plane landed just before noon and Emily met me at the airport.  She brought a Danish flag with her, which was such a sweet welcome 🙂  We explored the city for a bit: Emily pointed out her school, showed me a student cafe, and took me to an ice cream shop! We went to Nyhavn, where we got ice cream then sat and ate it by the canal.  Then, we took the bus to Emily’s homestay, where her host family kindly and generously allowed me to stay during my time in Denmark.

I met Emily’s host mom (Lene), her two host brothers, and her host sister.  Emily’s host dad (Jesper) had a late night at work, so I met him on Saturday morning.  They were all so kind and really great, interesting people.

After arriving and settling in, Emily and I went for a walk with her host family’s dog, Max.  We explored a beautiful area right nearby – look how stunning:

Lene made us rice pudding for dinner on Friday – it was SO good.  Since Jesper usually does the cooking, Lene’s rice pudding is a rare treat for the family – I am very glad I was there for it 🙂 Adding to the rarity of the night, check out the incredible sky I witnessed:

Unbelievable, right? I was in awe.

After dinner, we watched X-Factor and Lene made candy bowls, which is a Friday evening tradition for Danish families.  I was very excited to watch Danish X-Factor, but I accidentally fell asleep not even a minute in. Oops.  I was tired from traveling!!

On Saturday, Cait and Natalie arrived! Emily picked them up at the airport and I waited back at the house.  We just hung out around the house on Saturday.  We told stories of our semesters, laughed a lot, and made dinner together.

On Sunday, we went into the city.  I took an early bus in so I could go to Palm Sunday mass, but… I guess I misunderstood the mass schedule I found online because the mass was neither Catholic nor in English, both of which I was under the impression it would be.  It was an adventure for sure!

We all met up in Nyhavn, the beautiful canal district in Copenhagen. Here is a photo:

The first thing we did was go on a canal tour! Unfortunately, we could not hear almost anything the tour guide said.  Luckily, Emily came to the rescue! She had been on a canal tour the weekend before, so she could fill us in on what he was saying.
Here is a photo I took during the canal tour:

And here are the four of us after the tour:

Emily also has a very good knowledge of the city and its history, so we learned even more from her throughout the day.

After the canal tour, we visited the Amalienborg Palace, the Queen’s palace in Copenhagen.

Then, we met up with Emily’s friend Zoie and got lunch at Papirøen (Paper Island), a street food market.  I got a Korean dish called Japchae – it was SO good. There were so many options, though, it was so hard to decide! There were so many stands: pancakes, burgers, sushi, cheesecake, Indian, tacos, and on and on.

After lunch, we went to the Church of Our Savior, where we climbed 400 steps to reach the top.  At the top, the stairs transitioned from being inside the church tower to being an external winding staircase!! It was so cool.

Here’s a photo of the external section of the stairs (I did not take this – source):

And here is a photo from the top!

Afterwards, we went back to Emily’s home and made dinner and prepared for an early departure on Monday. 🙁 But the adventure continued… Cait and Natalie came back to Edinburgh with me, and Emily arrived two days later – along with her friend Carolyn! I will write about our Edinburgh adventures in the next post!

– Tori

Scranton Study Abroad Takes Edinburgh!

After our fun week together, I was very sad to see my parents leave on Thursday.  Luckily, I had something very exciting to look forward to… the arrival of a few of my friends!!

Summer flew in from Galway, where she is studying for the semester, on Thursday night.  Alex and I are both very close friends with Summer and missed her dearly, so we were ecstatic!  Summer traveled with her friend Kaitlin, who also goes to Scranton, though it was my first time meeting her!

That evening before Summer and Kaitlin arrived, I attended a lecture hosted by the University of Edinburgh’s Philosophy Society.  The lecture, called The Existence of God, was an argument by Professor Richard Swinburne for God’s existence.  It was an interesting talk, and I am glad I got to make it to one of the lectures in the PhilSoc Lecture Series.

After the lecture and a quick dinner in my flat, it was time to reunite with Summer for the first time since December!! Alex, Summer, Kaitlin, and I met up on campus, then walked around the city.  We walked through Grassmarket, where we took this silly picture (kindly taken by Kaitlin):

And a normal photo:

We also walked to the castle, which was just beautiful at night.

On Friday, Summer and Kaitlin went on a tour of Loch Ness, so we did not see them until that night. However, the excitement continued, as our friends Megan and Mike arrived from Copenhagen on Friday afternoon!  Megan and Mike are also students from Scranton; Alex and I know them through SJLA and we are all good friends!  Alex, Megan, and Mike went for ice cream at Mary’s Milk Bar and I met up with them in Grassmarket.  Then we explored the town!! Of course, we went back to the castle… it is a must-see!  We walked along the Royal Mile and exchanged stories about Edinburgh (Alex and I) and Copenhagen (Megan and Mike).  We temporarily parted ways: Alex went back to her flat, Megan and Mike to their hostel, and I went to a panel discussion on Intersectionality in Feminism.

The discussion was interesting, empowering, and inspiring.  The three women on the panel were incredibly strong and clearly knew what they were talking about.  I appreciated what each of them had to say, and I definitely see them as feminist role models.  I am so appreciative of the opportunity to have attended this event, as I have not been to anything quite like it.

We all met up in the evening – Alex and I, Kaitlin and Summer, Megan and Mike.  It was a Scranton reunion!  In typical Scottish fashion, we went to a local pub (The Three Sisters).  We stayed for just a bit before returning to our flats and hostels to prepare for our early morning.

On Saturday, we met at Princes Street in the morning to take the bus to the Pentland Hills for a hike!  I love hiking to begin with, but it was fun to have such great company.  The views were incredible as well.  The hills were pretty challenging, which I love!!

Here is a photo of us at the top of one of the hills:

And Alex, Summer, and I, fighting the wind:

I definitely have to go back to the Pentland Hills.  There was so much that we did not have time to explore, but I will make sure that I do so before leaving in May ( 😥 )  Hopefully next time I won’t fall on the way down… (thanks Mike for the photo and caption)

Luckily for us, the weather steadily improved throughout the day! So, at the start of our hike, it was overcast, windy, and slightly rainy, but the sky got progressively clearer and the temperature progressively warmer.  It was nice to get a really clear view of the city on our way back down the hill!

We split up for a bit to freshen up, then met each other for a final exploration of the city and dinner.  They all had early flights on Sunday morning 🙁 It was sad to say goodbye – the weekend flew by – but I am so glad I got to spend some time with them!

– Tori

Parents’ Visit

After an exciting weekend trip, I had just two days to rest and recharge before another big event… my parents’ arrival! They arrived early on Wednesday morning, and I met up with them immediately after my class.  I met them at their flat and we wasted no time before exploring the city together!

Our first stop was St. Giles Cathedral – photos were not allowed here without a photo pass, but it was beautiful.  My favorite part was the huge organ – there was a light switch that allowed us to see the inside, which was incredible. It was mind-blowing how complex the interior of the instrument was, and I only saw a small section.  I hope to make it to St. Giles for a Sunday service before I leave so that I can hear the organ!

We also walked through Grassmarket, where I took photos with each of my parents (notice the castle in the background!):

And we walked to the castle, but decided to come back for a tour on Thursday when we would have more time.

We got lunch at Tupiniquim Brasil, a crêpe stand by school that I had been wanting to try – it was delicious!  Then, I showed my parents around central campus and introduced them to my friends from the CSU (Catholic Students Union) and the ISC (International Student Centre)!!

We parted ways for a bit so that I could go to bible study, but we reconvened at their flat before heading to Fiddlers’ Arms, a pub on Grassmarket, for our first Scottish dinner together.  We ordered haggis, neeps, and tatties – a very Scottish meal, and the same meal I had on my first night in Scotland.  Haggis is Scotland’s national dish and quite delicious, but I would advise against looking up what is in it… the description is pretty off-putting.  Neeps are mashed turnips, and tatties are mashed potatoes.  My dad loved haggis, and had it twice more during his stay! My mom liked it, and compared it to scrapple.

On Thursday, we went to the castle! It was my first time going inside, and we spent a significant amount of time there.  We rented audioguides, which had far more information than we could possibly listen to or remember!  There had to have been several hours of audio on the guide.

Here is a photo of us at the door of the castle:

And here is a photo of one part of the castle, the Scottish National War Memorial.

Finally, here is one view of Edinburgh from the castle:

After spending hours at the castle, I had to get to class! So we parted ways again for a bit. While I was in class my parents explored the city.   After my class, we met up for a Living Faith talk on the Year of Mercy hosted by the Catholic Students Union.  The speaker was Father Gero McLoughlin – a Jesuit priest!  After the talk, we got a late dinner at Mother India’s Cafe, which serves Indian food in the Spanish style of tapas!

On Friday morning, we took off for our weekend trip! We followed essentially the same path I had taken on my trip the prior weekend with the International Student Centre, plus a couple other destinations.

Our first stop was Pitlochry – this is one of the places I had not visited on the ISC trip, so it was new all around.  The town was adorable, and we were lucky to see a rainbow!

My parents with the fleeting rainbow, which was completely gone not even thirty seconds later!

A panorama I took from the suspension bridge

I see my name everywhere in Europe!

Next, we headed to Inverness, where we spent the night.  We stayed in the Glen Mohr Hotel, a beautiful bed and breakfast right on the river – we got the last room, and at an incredible price.  Great start to the weekend!  We checked in and dropped our bags off, then headed into town for a bit.

We ate dinner then walked around… we passed by a pub advertising Live Scottish Folk music so we decided to stop in.  I am so glad we did, because we spent the next two hours listening to the extremely talented musician named Davy Holt.  It was actually my first experience of Scottish folk music, and I loved it so much.  In addition to being a remarkable musician, Davy is also so kind and humble.  I wish he were based in Edinburgh, because I would definitely go out to listen to him all the time! Regardless, I am incredibly grateful we were able to hear him perform.  Plus, it turns out that the pub (The Gellions) was the oldest in Inverness, which was pretty cool!  After Davy’s first set, we headed back to go to bed – if I weren’t so tired, I would have gladly stayed for the next one too!

On Saturday morning, we enjoyed Glen Mohr’s delicious full Scottish breakfast buffet and explored the area briefly before heading on our way.  Here is a photo we took together:

On Saturday we followed the same exact itinerary as I had the week before: Inverness, Loch Ness photo stop, Drumnadochit, Urquhart Castle, Fort Augustus, Loch Garry, Eilean Donan Castle, Kyleakin.  I loved seeing all these places again, even just a week later.  They were all just as breathtaking a second time around and as I write this I am already wishing I could go back again!

Here are some photos from Fort Augustus:

The wind was crazy, can you tell?


At the Eilean Donan castle, two very exciting things happened!! First, my mom and I saw otters in the water right by the shore!  Then, we saw three tour buses pull up… the same tour buses that had been on my trip the prior weekend.  We approached a couple people to ask them, and my suspicions were correct … they were on an ISTours trip (the tour company which led the ISC tour that I went on)! That meant that my friend Hoji, who leads the tours, was there!! So, I found him and we took a picture and he recommended a place for us to visit on Sunday.  Here I am with Hoji:

We went to Kyleakin, where we climbed the Castle Moil – my parents were hilarious the whole way up. (“I’m too old for this”, etc)

As much as they complained, I think they were happy they did it once they reached the top!

Such beauty (and a pretty good setting too! 😉 )

Finally, we drove to Portree, where we spent the night.  And we were two for two – this hotel was also great and at a good price.  My dad was pretty excited about his Kojak parking spot.

We can’t even park this close to our own front door!

I had to take them to the fish and chips shop, of course.  We got one order to share then went to a sit-down restaurant for dinner. We were all very tired, so we went to sleep after dinner.  I woke up early to watch the sunrise:

It was cloudy, but still a magnificent sight… and so serene! I cannot even fathom living in Portree.

We took off to do our final day of exploring the Highlands.  Again, we hit all the same sites I had visited on my tour the previous weekend, but in a slightly different order and with one special addition.

We went to Storr, where we climbed up a bit:

with Mom

with Dad

All three of us


Then we made our way along the Trotternish Peninsula. First stop: Lealt

Lealt Falls, with Mom

Lealt Gorge, with Dad

We continued along the peninsula to Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls.

With Mom – Mealt Falls behind us, Kilt Rock further back

Then, we proceeded to the new destination: Quiraing. The road was pretty treacherous getting there, which is why the coach buses cannot take a tour there, but it was easily the most breathtaking and overwhelmingly beautiful place I have seen in my life.

Pictures do not even begin to do it justice.  Honestly, these photos do not even hold a candle to even a half of a percent of how astounding it truly is.  Nevertheless, I will share them, but trust me: this is something you really have to see in person.

Finally, we began our journey back to Edinburgh. We stopped at the Sligachan River Bridge along the way, where I told my parents the legend of the MacLeod and MacDonald clans and we stuck our face in the water for seven seconds. I did it twice – once with each of them. With the week before, that’s a total of three times! So, it’s about time the magic starts working… 😆

Before, with Mom

After, with Mom

During, with Dad

After, with Dad

We had one more quick stop along the way – at the Three Sisters in Glencoe. And at long last, we made it back to Edinburgh!!

On Monday, we climbed Arthur’s Seat. The weather could not have been more perfect for it! It was my second time climbing it and I was just as, if not more, excited about the hike and the views.

Not too shabby!

Family 🙂

In someone’s seat on Arthur’s seat 😀

Then, we climbed to Calton Hill. It was my first time going up there, and I could not have asked for better company to have my first Calton Hill experience with! The sun was beginning to set, and it was just so beautiful.

On Tuesday, my parents went to St. Andrews and I went to class, went for a run, did some work, and went to a prayer service. The CSU held evening prayer in the style of Taizé, led by Brother Paolo, a monk from the Taizé community. It was my first time ever doing Taizé-style prayer – in fact, I had not even heard of Taizé until hearing the announcement about the prayer service. It was wonderful, and I hope to be able to visit Taizé in the future.
My parents and I met up after the prayer service for a pub quiz!! We had a grand time, though I was not a very useful team member 😳

Wednesday was our last day together 🙁 We made it count, though! We went to the National Museum of Scotland, where we watched the Millennium Clock Tower twice (every hour, it strikes and all of its parts move and light up… it’s so fascinating) and explored for a bit.  We walked the entirety of the Royal Mile, and took this picture at the Holyrood end:

We went to the Royal Botanic Gardens, which were amazing, and I cannot wait to go back later on in the spring.  Here is a picture I took with my dad in the Rock Garden:

Then, I ran back to my flat to get ready for bible study.  After bible study, I met up with my parents at the Fiddlers’ Arms (where we went their first night… full circle!!) and then we went back to their flat.  We woke up early to say our final goodbyes before they caught their 6 AM cab to the airport 🙁 Our week together flew by, but it was so much fun and I am so glad I got to show them around the city and share some great experiences here together.

Thanks for reading!

– Tori

ISC Weekend Trip to Skye

I have to hand it to you, February, you really outdid yourself! Maybe it’s the Leap Year magic.  I had an incredible month – I kicked off the month at Lunar New Year, then explored the lovely town of Dumfries, and celebrated Mardis Gras with a hot chocolate ice cream float.  I had the time of my life in Sevilla and Madrid.  And to top it all off, I spent the last weekend of February in easily the most beautiful places I have seen in my life.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky to be offered a spot on the International Student Centre’s weekend trip to the Isle of Skye as a volunteer!  This would be my third ISC trip as a volunteer and I was elated to be offered the opportunity.  My duties involved organizing bed plans and checking people into the buses – a pretty great deal to be able to visit such incredible places.

The bus departed on Friday evening, and we drove to Inverness.  We checked into our hostel then went exploring the town! Here are two pictures of Inverness at night:

The River Ness at night

The Inverness Castle at night

Alex, Angela, Sarah, Rachel, and I walked around the town for a bit after admiring the castle. We stopped in a pub with live music for a couple minutes – it was really nice! We did not stay long, though, since I was the only one who had eaten dinner on the bus so everyone else was pretty hungry.  After we found them a late dinner, we went back to the hostel… we had an early morning!

In the morning, we went back to the castle before heading off to our next stop.  Here are two pictures of the gorgeous city during the day:

River Ness

Inverness Castle, daytime view

From Inverness, we headed to Drumnadrochit for a quick stop.  This is where the Nessie Shops are, and of course I had to get a stuffed baby Nessie. They also sell the smallest bottle of whisky in the world (per the Guinness Book of World Records) at one of the Nessie Shops!  They were so cute and unbelievably tiny.

Our next stop was the Urquhart Castle.  This castle was founded in the 13th century, but was partially destroyed and has since decayed quite a bit.  We did not go onto the castle grounds, but here is a photo from above:

Next, we went to Fort Augustus for lunch and some incredible views of Loch Ness.  Incase you hadn’t already noticed in the previous photos, check out the clear blue sky.  We got incredibly lucky with the weather.  The weekend’s weather was the best I have had so far during my stay here, and it lasted during the whole trip.  It was sunny and mild, and there was not a cloud in the sky.

Alex and I in Fort Augustus (that is Loch Ness behind us)

Our next stop was the Eilean Donan Castle, which is the most photographed castle in Scotland.  Once I saw it I understood why!! The castle sits on an island where three lochs meet (Loch Alsh, Loch Duich, and Loch Long).  The castle and the surrounding water are stunning!

Finally, we crossed over the Skye bridge into the Isle of Skye!! We stopped in Kyleakin, where we spent the night.  Upon arriving, I quickly checked in and dropped my bags, then watched the sunset from the Castle Moil. Here are some photos I took as I was walking towards the castle:

View of Castle Moil at sunset

View of Skye Bridge at sunset

Alex, Angela, Rachel, Sarah, and I got dinner at our hostel, then went for a walk.  I turned in early – I was tired from the long day and we had another early morning on Sunday!  Plus, Alex and I wanted to watch the sunrise from the castle, which made it an even earlier morning.

I hesitate to even put these photos here, because they do absolutely no justice to the insane beauty of the view I saw.  None of these photos do!

The Castle Moil at dawn

View of the sunrise from atop the Castle Moil

Alex and I hurried back from the sunrise to grab our bags and get on the bus. Next stop: Sligachan River.  Now this requires a bit of a backstory… according to legend, there were two feuding clans: the MacLeod and MacDonald clans.  They decided to resolve their feud by having the most beautiful girl from the MacLeod clan marry the most beautiful gentleman from the MacDonald clan.  So, the MacLeod bride-to-be set off on horse with a servant.  However, on their way over, the horse slipped on rock in the Sligachan River, and the beautiful bride fell in the water.  She landed on the rock and her face became covered with cuts and scars.  However, the servant decided it was too late to turn back so they continued on. When the MacDonald groom-to-be lifted her veil, he was outraged and thought the MacLeods were trying to make a fool of him.  So, he sent the young woman back to her clan.  On their way back, they came across a fairy who instructed the girl to put her face in the water of the Sligachan River for seven seconds.  Upon following the fairy’s instructions, she lifted her head out of the water and all of her scars had healed and she was more beautiful than ever before!

Here is one view of the river with the Cuillin Mountains in the background:

Sligachan River

And, of course, we had to put our face in the water!!

Before (Emma, Alex, me)

After… did it work? Notice how red my face is 😆 the top of the river was ice in some parts!

Behind us in both photos is the Sligachan bridge.

Our next destination was Storr, a rocky hill on the Trotternish peninsula.  Here is a photo of me with the Scottish flag and Old Man of Storr (the actual rocks) in the background!

Old Man of Storr

After Storr, we continued on along the Trotternish Peninsula.

This is Mealt Waterfall, one of the few waterfalls in which the water falls directly into the sea (rather than a river leading to the sea).  The body of water below is the Sound of Rasaay. In the back of the photo, you can see the Kilt Rock, which is said to resemble a kilt because of its pleated look and striped pattern.
We continued further along the Trotternish Peninsula and reached Lealt.

Lealt Gorge – incredible!

Lealt Falls

Our final stop in Skye was Portree, the main tourist town.  We got lunch here and walked around and enjoyed the lovely views.

I got lunch at the Fish & Chips shop located in the blue house in the photo above.  Our tour guide, Hoji, recommended it… and WOW, I was blown away.  It was my first fish and chips but I think I would be hard-pressed to find a better one.  The shop was take-away only, which turned out to be pretty cool, as I was able to sit by the harbor. This was my lunch view:

…Not bad.

Sadly, that marked an end to our weekend in Skye, and it was time to begin the long journey back to Edinburgh.  I was exhausted from the exciting weekend, but I stayed awake the entire bus ride back because of how incredible the scenery was!  And because we were making good time, we were able to stop for a very brief photo stop at the Three Sisters in Glencoe.  These mountains are breathtaking and unbelievably huge.  I do not think I had ever felt so small as I did so many times during this weekend trip… in the best way possible.  It was really incredible.

The Three Sisters

When I arrived in Edinburgh, it was time to get back into school mode and prepare for my parents’ arrival on Wednesday, March 2!  You can read all about our adventures in my next post.

Thanks for reading!

– Tori


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