I know you’ve all been just dying to hear what we’ve been up to. I’ve made you wait through a few weeks (what must have been a torturous few weeks) of not reading about us and our life in Scotland. I don’t want to keep you waiting any longer, so here it is! All of your questions answered! What we’ve been doing, what we’re doing next, and our plans for the future:
First, what we’ve been doing:
For those that don’t know, while Blythe has been hard at work doing his Master’s Degree, I have been taking somewhat of a gap year. I have worked temporary jobs here and there and spent a lot of time planning our trips around the U.K. and Europe.
A few weeks ago, I worked for about a week and a half selling graduation rings to students graduating from several of the different universities in Edinburgh. I got to be the ring lady who sits behind all of the sparkly ring samples, sizes fingers and helps people pick out their favorite ring styles. I loved it! I think the most interesting part for me was the shock I felt when numerous people had no idea what a graduation ring was! The idea of a graduation ring is a completely (forgive the pun) “foreign concept” in the U.K. Graduation rings are extremely American and many people here struggle to see their purpose. The company I worked for, Eva Anderson, is a fairly new company that began at Oxford where the graduation ring idea is just now starting to gain some ground. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to show off my Aggie Ring in Edinburgh and talk a little bit about how much it means to me and what a nice keepsake it is. Also, the rings I was selling were incredibly inexpensive in comparison to my Aggie Ring. The Eva Anderson rings started at just £59 for sterling silver bands and went up to about £400 for an Aggie Ring-sized gold ring… and people often complained about the price. Sometimes you just want to punch people in the face.
For the last couple of weeks I have been working reception at one of the big private schools in Edinburgh, George Watson’s College. It educates pupils from nursery through the equivalent of senior in high school. The school began its summer holiday at the beginning of July, so I was brought in to cover reception while the regular receptionists went on holiday to the sunny European beaches. It’s been rather quiet, but still quite enjoyable! The school consistently has the best school pipe band in the country and they compete throughout the summer so I am regularly serenaded by wee pipers while I sit at my desk. Also, even though we’ve been here for about a year now, I still struggle at times with certain Scottish accents. The real problem is that the Scots have a bit of their own language that includes some English words, but is mostly jumbled compilations of some almost English words, but mostly not English words. I can’t decode it. Heck, Scots from different areas can’t decode each other’s regional dialects. I learned today that in the Doric dialect they say, “Hou’s yer dous?” which literally translates to, “How are your pigeons?” as the conventional greeting. How am I meant to decode that, I ask you?? So, needless to say, I’ve been keeping entertained at my desk.
The school was founded in 1654 and has a long, proud history. I’ve learned a lot about the private school system in the U.K. during my time at George Watson’s. These are some of my favorite bits:
- Just like in “Harry Potter”, the kids really are sorted into houses! Even though in muggle private schools the sorting is not done by a magic hat, the pupils are indeed all sorted into usually one of four houses that they share a common room with and compete with throughout the year in a serious of “House Games”. At the end of each year, there is a winning house that carries the house cup for a year.
- All schools have a Head Boy, Head Girl, and Prefects, just like in “Harry Potter”! These pupils take on extra responsibilities in guiding both their class years and the entire student body. They interact regularly with the Headmaster and help to lead the many events throughout the year.
- The exit exams really do take place with all of the pupils sitting together in the great hall…yes, just like in “Harry Potter”! I’m sure you’re sensing a theme here. Just like at Hogwarts, students in their final year take exit exams together in the great hall. While muggle students don’t take O.W.L. exams, I would imagine the exams they take are just as rigorous, but without the threat of a spell going wrong! It turns out that Hogwarts was really a typical British private school, but with a magical twist!
- The kids that attend private schools get to travel… a LOT! These kiddos get to travel, and not just periodically. Every year brings with it a different standard trip. When the pupils are young, the trips are generally only a one nighter and are within the U.K.. However, when the kids reach the Senior School, the world is their oyster. They travel sometimes up to 14 days at time and go all over the place (the U.S., Asia, Africa, and all over Europe). On top of these yearly trips, they also take trips with the different groups they are involved with. The orchestra tours around Europe, the pipe band competes in Europe, Canada, and Japan, the sports teams play around Europe, the advanced physics class tours the CERN super collider and entire CERN campus in Switzerland (my school just went to Six Flags). The list goes on and on. The opportunities provided by this, and other private schools, are quite frankly phenomenal.
- Also, the school looks like Hogwarts, so that’s totally a plus.
Blythe has been slaving away finishing up his research and dissertation. For those that don’t know, Blythe is doing research in Poultry Genetics at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh. WARNING: I’m going to brag on him a bit here because I think he’s the best person ever and I’m incredibly proud of him. Roslin is one of the best genetics research institutes in the world. It’s why we picked up and moved across the pond. It is also where they cloned Dolly the sheep twenty years ago. Blythe has not only gotten to listen to lectures from Sir Ian Wilmut (one of the lead scientists that worked on the Dolly project), but he’s gotten to eat Dolly cake and cookies nearly every day as they celebrate Dolly’s 20th birthday at the institute! Here he is with the real (stuffed) Dolly currently on display at the museum in Edinburgh.
If all goes well with his dissertation, he will be graduating with a Distinction, the highest honor. I could not be more proud of him and his hard work.
Blythe has been in the lab six days a week for the last few months, so on his one day of weekend we’ve been checking things off of our Scotland list. Here’s what we’ve done that I haven’t written about yet:
- Explored the stunning and spooky Rosslyn Chapel. Located just outside of Edinburgh (actually right by Blythe’s lab) is the very famous Rosslyn Chapel. If you’re surprised it took us this long to go see it, so am I. Famed for its part in both the book and movie “The Davinci Code”, the chapel attracts visitors from all over the world. It is said to have connections with both the Knights Templar and the Free Mason’s. I don’t know if any of that is true, but the chapel is certainly unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.
- Took a boat tour around the Firth of Forth to Inchcolm Abbey. Of course it rained on us all day, it is Scotland after all, but we still had a great time on our boat tour! The Firth of Forth is the body of water Edinburgh sits on the banks of. Within it, there are numerous little islands, tons of wildlife, and numerous shipwrecks (complete with sunken treasure!). We loved seeing the puffins and seals and hearing about the dozens of wrecked planes and boats in the Forth. One such wreck was a boat in the 16th century carrying a vast sum of wealth from the Scottish monarchy. The Forth is protected, though, meaning no diving is permitted (it’s even blacked out on Google Earth so the wrecks can’t be located). The treasure may remain at the bottom of the Forth for centuries longer. The Firth of Forth is also where Charles Darwin began his collections when he was attending the University of Edinburgh in the 19th century. There are numerous islands in the Forth, many used as quarantine during plague outbreaks and one used for a rather insidious experiment by King David in the 15th century involving two infants placed on an island with a mute caretaker. His intent was to discover “the language of the God’s”, but he ended up with two children who never learned to speak. The Abbey we visited, Inchcolm, is located on one of the larger islands in the Forth. It was founded in the 12th century and is in remarkably good condition. We had a great time exploring Inchcolm Abbey and the island it sat on. Inchcolm Island was used for defense in the Napoleonic Wars and both World Wars meaning that there were tunnels and gun mounts all over the place. We felt like we were stepping back in time as we made our way through tunnels and imagined life on the island. There was also a small, rather comical island (really, it was more like a large rock) next to the dock known as “Inch-Gnome Island”. It was completely covered in garden gnomes. Never a dull moment in Scotland.
- Just yesterday we went to Glasgow (Scotland’s largest city) for the day! Glasgow is on the West Coast of Scotland and only an hour’s drive from Edinburgh. Yes you read that right, it only takes one hour to drive coast to coast in Scotland. While Edinburgh is technically a city, Glasgow is much more of a city. With a much larger population, incredibly tall buildings and far fewer grand historical sites, Glasgow felt very city-ish to us. However, we still had a great time! There was an awesome pipes and drums band playing on the street and we enjoyed going into several of the high-end shops (window shopping of course). We also spent a few hours in both the famous Kelvingrove museum where an organist was performing a series of Disney songs on the biggest pipe organ I’ve ever seen (what could be better?) and the historic University of Glasgow campus. Not surprisingly, what we really went to Glasgow to do was eat! The gourmet burger scene has swept across Scotland recently. Basically every other restaurant in the city center (and sometimes three in a row) was a burger place. We started calling the area, “Burger Square”. After much deliberation, we finally settled on eating at the Handmade Burger Company. Their burgers hit the spot! While we normally give the Brits a hard time for not quite understanding the food trends of other countries, they’ve actually done quite well with the American gourmet burger trend. I also loved to see that they sold a creative British spin on a burger! The British burger was their version of a “Sunday Roast to-go” and consisted of a juicy burger patty between two Yorkshire puddings (kind of like a British dinner roll). I thought it was so clever! After lunch, we went straight to a famous coffee shop called RiverHill where I indulged in far too much chocolate and Blythe got his standard flat white and almond pastry. We were in heaven! Our last meal of the day was enjoyed at one of Glasgow’s most famous eateries, The Hanoi Bike Shop. Despite its funny name, this place is serious about food. Located in the student area of town, it certainly looks like a student hang out, but produces the best Vietnamese cuisine found in this part of the world. We both gorged ourselves on two of the best bowls of Pho we’ve ever eaten, spring rolls, and a cup of Vietnamese coffee (who knew Vietnam was known for coffee?) that Blythe can’t stop talking about.
So the big question, what’s our plan for the future?
We have found ourselves asking that very question regularly over the past few months (mostly me and mostly in a panic).
No, even though the obsessive planning/control freak part of my brain would like to convince me otherwise, we are not just flip flopping around Europe. Yes, we have had a long-term plan. Unfortunately, even for an obsessive planner like me, it’s virtually impossible to have all of the details for the future ironed out all the time (which completely freaks me out).
For now, this is what we know:
Blythe will be pursuing a PhD in Livestock Genetics. He intends to use this degree to further genetic advancements and understanding of livestock (specifically poultry) and apply that toward making sure people all over the world have enough food to eat. He has found the lab he wants to work in and the professor he wants to work under in the U.S. You may ask, “Why wouldn’t he stay at Roslin since he wants to continue studying genetics?” While Roslin would be a great option, after much thought and consideration, we have decided that a U.S. PhD is what would suit Blythe and his career aspirations best. Needless to say, our families are pretty excited that we’ll at least be living on the same continent as them again! We hope that he will be able to start sometime in 2017.
Until then… What we’re doing next!
We’re going to backpack Europe for a few months! We have a lovely little break between Blythe’s dissertation in August and my cousin’s wedding in Texas in December that we are going to use to backpack all around Europe! This is definitely the millennial dream come true and we could not be more excited. We’ve been saving and I’ve been planning and we’re pretty much set to go (after Blythe defends his dissertation of course). I’ll be sure to write blog posts along the way so everyone who wants to can stay in the loop.
Who says that when you get married your dreams of travel and exploration have come to an end? I know I’ve read in countless “Confessions of a 20 Something” articles that one of the biggest reasons to stay single in your 20’s is so that you remain free to travel, but that idea is fundamentally flawed. Marriage should in no way force you into the cookie cutter picture of life and family. No matter when you get married, the idea is to find someone who shares your dreams and aspirations, whether that’s traveling, settling down, working the family farm, etc. If you do meet the right person early, get married young and want to travel, I can say from experience that there is nothing more fun than sharing in all of life’s adventures with a built in travel buddy and best friend. Why would you not want to share some of the most exciting times in your life with your spouse?
For now, today is the first day of the famous (or infamous) month long Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. We have a few more weeks to enjoy this city that has stolen our hearts (in the midst of nearly two million guests) before we set off on our Europe trek. We’ll be partaking in the Festival happenings at least a few times before we leave and I’ll be sure to share the craziness that is The Fringe with you!
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