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