Memento Mori

Throwback Thursday, Travel, United Kingdom

I have a habit of seeking out odd things. By odd I mean things like mummified cats (not the Ancient Egyptian kind), Surgeon’s museums, and Operating theaters.

I like searching out the oddities in the world, the weird places that get missed by the tourist trail. Some of it’s a love for seeking out gems that no one else knows, and then it’s the dark little goth girl from high school.

Since I began exploring the world on my own I have made an effort to see the odd spots that delight my heart.

No doubt just about every castle has its own horror stories. It’s easy to forget that castles were often involved in wars, jailings, beheadings, affairs, murders… you get the idea. Needless to say, the fairytales and kid’s history lessons play down these facts.

Yet, beyond the subtly macabre I have visited some outright dark museums.

Edinburgh Surgeons’ Hall Museum

I visited the halls and spaces of this museum in 2010. I missed it in 2015 due to its renovation but from all accounts it’s still as glorious as ever and reopening this year. For more information, click here.

The museum is attached to the historic and vital University of Edinburgh’s Medical School. Not only does it celebrate almost three centuries of work and education, but also medical marvels and a collection of items for educational purposes.

My personal favorite pieces were the vast selection of body parts in formaldehyde and wax preserved pieces with vein and other details.

(C) Surgeons’ Hall Museum

Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret

This fantastic museum is hidden in the attic of St Thomas’ Church in Southwark. The location is home to years of medical institutes and knowledge such as the original site of St Thomas Hospital, which was found around 1100.

In the 19th century the attic was made into the Herd Garrett and Theatre that has been preserved until today. The theatre was in fact used for students to learn from. All of those that were operated on were women and no form of anesthesia was used due to the lack of its invention.

While the history is dark, and no doubt people suffered, it was this work and the study of medicine, that helped us get to a much better today. For that alone, it’s worth a visit. For the fact it’s one of only a few operating theatres left in the world, entices further.

The Garrett itself is a magnificent display of what prescriptions, lotions, and potions looked like in centuries past. Some of the gems I most particularly love were are their collection of “tools of the trade” and old prints on how they were used.

What are your favorite macabre locations?

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For Castles, Head to Scotland

History, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom
Edinburgh Castle, 2010 trip

While England is well known as a hub for centuries of castles. And while it holds some of the finest examples of castle and manor architectural wonders, it lacks the density of castles that most visitors dream of, at least in modern visibility.

Since the pesky Normans invaded (1066, look it up) castle sprouted all over Britain and some 4,000 were in England at one point. However, time, and age, and people like Oliver Cromwell destroyed many of the finest castles Britain had. Today England has around 1,500 castles that are registered landmarks. Scotland has over 2,000 castle examples.

Scotland (30,090 sq mi), by comparison in land mass and distance to travel, is significantly smaller than England (50,301 sq mi). Scotland also has the benefit of some of the best castle examples being within a remarkably short drive or train from Edinburgh, Scotland. This reason alone is one of the many reasons why I have continued to return to Scotland for a taste of magic, history, and escapism. 

Scotland is a major location to film historical and fictional movies due to its plethora of castles. Movies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Harry Potter Franchise, those which don’t tell particularly Scottish stories, are prime examples of the beauty of the region providing a great backdrop. 

Thus, dear fellow travelers, Scotland is a prime spot for pulling on your wellies and tromping through some highlands to see some great Castles! Here are some of my absolute favorites. 

Edinburgh Castle – You can’t visit Scotland and not stop at one of its main historical attractions. Not only is it the heart of the city, the entirety of it is surrounding by the stunning features of the city’s old town and views of the new town. The museums at the castle complex offer an unparalleled starting point into Scotland’s history. 

Edinburgh Castle, 2015

Stirling Castle – Stirling is a fantastic neighboring city of Edinburgh, and only around an hour away by train or car. The city also boasts its own castle, built over the end of the 15th and into the 17th century, and a shining example of early modern period tastes and designs. I love the layout of this castle as it has dedicated itself to being an example of 16th century life in Scotland. 


Doune Castle, 2010

Doune Castle – Just outside of Stirling is the city of Doune, and one of the better loved castles for movie locations. Doune Castle was originally known as the “Holy Grail Castle” where one could take a photo with coconuts and run around pretending they were horse hooves. In the last five years or so it has become best known for some lusty shots from Outlander. For history geeks, this castle also boasts some great restoration and it is set among some stellar hiking trails and views. 

Playing Monty Python, 2010

Eilean Donan – As the most photographed castle in Scotland this one has to make the list. However, to many peoples’ surprise, this castle was not built long long ago in a land far away. The castle isn’t even 100 years old and was built by some scenery and history loving architects and owners who chose to celebrate the locations heritage. The spot of Eilean Donan was a hot spot for groups until the 1700s when most of the 13th century castle was restored. 

Eilean Donan, 2015

DirletonCastle – Just a short trek from Edinburgh this greatcastle offers a lot of exploration and fun on one small location. If you’re upfor a game of hide and seek, this castle is the perfect one to get lost in andrevel in some history at. 

Tantallon Castle – If you love ocean backdrops then thesea swept cliffs by Tantallonmake a visit worthwhile. Important historically, this castle is one of thefinest examples of medieval design and castle living, providing not onlyamazing views, but rich educational opportunities. 

There are so many more to explore in Scotland, and more I have had theluxury of seeing. Where are your favorites? What do you want to see?

Happy Travels!

10 Must Try Foods of Scotland

musings, Scotland, Travel

Scotland is known for greasy and sometimes odd concoctions, often the result of crafty people that used every, and I mean EVERY part of their food sources. Once you get past the initial, “what the….[insert expletive]” you are likely to enjoy the treats.

10. Deep Fried Mars Bars

Scotland is known for its love of the deep fryer, almost as well as the American South is. One of their better, and disgustingly wonderful treats is a deep fried Mars Candy Bar. Step one – buy a Mars bar, step two – batter the bar, step three – deep fry until its crispy outside and a gooey mess on the inside. It’s sinfully good.

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9. Irn Bru

Scotland is one of the only nations in the world where Coca Cola is not the most popular soda. Instead, they have their neon orange amalgamation, IRN BRU (pronounced URN BREW). To Americans, you will notice it tastes like liquid penicillin we got as children (I know!) to the rest of the world it’s something resembling bottled cotton candy.

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8. Scotch Eggs

This treat sounds weird, but it’s really a tasty appetizer. It’s a boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, then breaded. Then it’s baked or deep fried. It’s an appealing savory delight with an umami sensation.

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7. Neeps and Tatties

This sounds almost mystical, but it’s really just mashed potatoes and equally mushy turnips. Both are excellent when made right and nutritious. (see number 2 for the proper serving)

6. Scottish Salmon

Scotland has some of the most amazing Atlantic Salmon in the world. Their sustainable farm raising prevents over fishing, and a premium product. Commonly, (when found stateside) it’s smoked and served as a fantastic protein in fine cuisine. Try with some capers or cream cheese.

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5. A Full Scottish [Breakfast]

Brace yourself for this one. Rather fast for this one. Scottish Breakfasts, like most of the British Isles, is a practical feast, and possibly the only meal you’ll eat for the day. It often has several types of sausage (including blood sausage), beans, toast, eggs, mushrooms, sometimes porridge…. and up to the chef’s discretion some other treats. It’s commonly served with tea and sometimes oatmeal. If you can eat it all, props. ALSO, vegetarian versions are equally delectable and satisfying.

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4. Flapjacks

In the United States this is another loosely used term for pancakes. In Scotland it’s a granola oat-bar kind of thing. Almost like a cookie, these buttery treats are ideal for a snack with a cup of tea, or just as a great treat. They are divine when freshly made and sold.

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3. Shortbread

As one of Scotland’s better known treats, it’s important to try this treat when in Alba. Walker’s may corner the U.S. market, but many fine bakeries create and sell their own versions of the treat for visitors and locals alike.

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2. Haggis

Haggis has a bad reputation. But the reality is that it’s a very tasty national dish and one that is logical for nutrition and practicality concerns. The dish uses every part of an animal in a way so as to maximize flavor and necessity. While traditional haggis is not legal in the United States, trying it fresh and hot in Scotland is an important initiation right (the vegetarian version is also very good and is made of nuts, oats, mushrooms etc).

Keep Reading if you want to know what’s in the dish….or skip to 1.

Haggis is made by using a butchered sheep’s (or calf’s) stomach. Inside the stomach goes left over organ meat such as lungs, heart, liver, fat (suet) etc. then the rest of the space is filled with oats and seasoning (this is all cooked before hand). The stomach gets tied shut and  then it is boiled and/or baked to perfection.

Image result for neeps and tatties

1. Wee Dram of Scotch

No trip or palate journey through Scotland is complete without trying some of the national drink, SCOTCH. Most places cut the little bit of liquor with water, swish, and then allow the consumer to taste and play with it in the mouth before swallowing. Follow the professional’s recommendation and go slow. Scotch is for the flavor, not the buzz.

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My Favorite City

History, Scotland, Throwback Thursday, Travel, United Kingdom

A lot of people have favorites, and while I try not to discriminate, Edinburgh will always be my favorite.

I fell in love with the city at first sight. Literally. I rolled myself out of Edinburgh Waverly Station and when I walked out I was facing Princes Street, totally unimpressed and then I turned around. And of my god I will never forget the chills I felt taking in the magnificent gothic spires and alleys that make up Old Town Edinburgh.

I fell. Truly. Madly. Deeply. In love with the city.

I loved waking up to the sound of tourist music and the earthy smell of centuries of rain, Moss, and people. What Victorian London loss in the Blitz, Edinburgh has retained.

My first time in the city was one filled with new experiences, people, accents, food, art, culture, and hundreds of moments that propelled a small town girl (Pop. of Florissant, CO 100) into a completely new world.

I tried clubs and hipster coffee shops (when hipster was hardly a thing). I shopped for woolen goods, and went clubbing. I met friends and another male love interest. I had my heart broken, and found new passions. I visited ancient relics, I drank scotch for the first time, I went to my first U.K. Castles, I even did tombstone rubbings at Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. I got my first tattoo. I absolutely absorbed every misty breathe I could of the city.

In the last eight years I have been to more cities and have had more experiences. I added places to my scrap book like Rome, Venice and Florence, San Francisco, Orlando, and Frankfurt. Yet still, my heart craves the cobbles and Georgian basements of Edinburgh.

I returned in January 2015 and found new treasures such as Dean’s Village, and Mary King’s Close, and my new favorite, Sandy Bells. I found more music and a local Edinburgh than early tourist season had revealed. I loved the city even more in winter’s chill, even when it cut me to the bone. This time, five years wiser (I hope), I found the city as charming and lovely as before, just with new layers. My friends now haunt real bars and appreciate some tunes, they work professional jobs, and they don’t live with their parents. We all moved on and upwards, creating some blend of lives in the cities we have landed.

I know I’ll make it back to Edinburgh one of these days, a few more years wiser, a more aware version of myself. Yet my curious and naive mind will wander over dark closes and Scottish identity. I’ll learn new slang, and ghost stories, I’ll hear new tunes and make new friends, and once again I’ll be in love with the ancient walls around me.

Summer School

Colorado Events, documentary, geek, musings, United Kingdom

Some of you may or may not know, but I am working on my master’s in International Journalism.

As a result I haven’t been blogging so much lately.

So attached is my summer work, a documentary on geek culture in Fort Collins, Colorado.

ENJOY!

Edinburgh- A city for everyone

Uncategorized

An ancient city, once the home of kings and queens, Edinburgh, Scotland is one of the best cities in Europe for travelers. A cultural hub that is guaranteed to delight, Edinburgh is the capital of a vibrant country steeped in history and traditions and revered by the world. Whether you want to wake up to bagpipes echoing off of medieval skyscrapers, unique culinary experiences, or to see some of the most elegant architecture in the world, Edinburgh is a city not to be missed.edinburgh 1

 

Need to know-

The main part of Edinburgh is split into two parts; there is the Old Town and the New Town, as a result of expansion in the 18th century. The Old Town is where the castle and oldest buildings of the city are, along with steep closes and early skyscrapers, all built on a dormant volcano. This makes for intensely beautiful landscapes but can be quite the workout for tourists. Plan on walking uphill a lot, and wearing comfortable shoes to manage the cobblestones.

Why you should go-

Though as a traveler the beauty of a place can be seen, but sometimes a local can put it best. “Born and bred in Edinburgh, I never realized how much one city could mean to me, I took it for granted at first, but what I left my home I missed everything. I felt drawn back to its poetic landscapes and architecture, in the summer the world unites in the city center and you truly feel blessed to be a part of it.” Sean Rae is a native of the city and still enjoys the typical sites of the Royal Mile and eating “heart destroying deep fried foods” such as fish and chips, fried mars bars, and scotch eggs.

Maybe the best part of Edinburgh is that it can be enjoyed on almost any budget. Accommodations are very affordable, especially in the off-season of October to November and January through May, and many sights around the city have free or inexpensive entrance fees. Just make sure to bring your rain gear and a warm jacket, as temperatures can get as low as 52°F in July with a high of only about 66°F, on average.

Festivals year round mean that there is plenty to do while in town and a few that may surprise you. Add those to special gallery and museum exhibits and you will not run out of activities. Key festivals are in August with the military Tattoo, Fringe Festival, International Festival, Book Festival and Mela Festival.

Sights

For the History Buff

Edinburgh Castle– £16 adults, £12.80 adults 60+, £9.60 children 5-15, FREE children under 5- Castlehill Edinburgh EH1 2NG- A must see for most visitors to the city, this castle encapsulates much of Scottish history, and the history of Auld Reekie (Edinburgh). The castle is made of several smaller museums, such as armories to collections on world war two and life on the home front. St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest building in Edinburgh dating back to the 12th century. Make sure you take the time to see the royal chambers in the Royal Palace and finish by visiting the Scottish crowned jewels. Get to the castle early to avoid crowds, but make sure to stay around for the 1pm cannon that goes off everyday but Sunday.

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National Museum of Scotland– Free, donations welcome- Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh EH1 1JF-A little something for everyone, kids and adults can be awed by ancient statues and priceless Scottish relics along with beautiful pieces of art and culture from all over the world. Understand why many Scots left Scotland in the search for opportunity elsewhere, and learn about the way life has changed for people in the last 100 years. Don’t miss the observation deck on the roof for great panoramic views of the city.

For the Literary Buff

Edinburgh Writer’s Museum-Free, donations welcome- Lady Stair’s House, Lady Stair’s Close, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh-In a home built in 1622, this beautiful and cozy museum offers Scottish Literary buffs the chance to be swooned by the Scottish Bards’ words over loud speaker, and learn about the great Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Walter Scott.

For the Art Fanatic

Scottish National GalleryFree- The Mound, Edinburgh- This gallery offers a wide variety of Scottish made classics along with artists from around the world. Make sure to see John Duncan’s St. Bride and many other uniquely Scottish works of art.

For Ghoulish Geeks

Surgeon’s Museum- £6 adult, £3 students-The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh Nicolson St, Edinburgh- Reopening in Summer 2015, this museum is in homage to Edinburgh being the home to the oldest surgeon’s college in the world and to this day is a prestigious location to receive an education. The museum boasts a lavish collection of body parts in formaldehyde from World War I, along with wax body parts and collections of old operating instruments.

Vaults Tour The New City of Edinburgh was built in the 18th century as a more elite neighborhood, in order to get all the expensive and heavy belongings from the hilled Old Town to New Town they built bridges to make the move easier. When building the bridges they decided to take advantage of all the space underneath and create storage and business vaults opening in 1788. These vaults evolved into a slum of a neighborhood with a red light district and where the extremely poor could afford to live. Crimes were rampant in the vaults and in the mid 18th century the vaults were sealed off, the last in 1875. Only to be rediscovered in the 1980s. It may be hard to single out which tour to take as many exciting people will stand with signs on the Royal Mile advertising their ghoulish adventure. Choose from ghost tours, historical reenactor tours, or plain-Jane history tours. Mercat Tours- Mercat House 28 Blair St Edinburgh- offers a little bit of everything.

Fantastic Views

Scots Monument£4 a person- E. Princes St Gardens, Edinburgh- A gorgeous Victorian-Gothic spire that is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott and his contribution to not only literature but the causes of Scotland. Climb 287 steps to the top for beautiful images carved into the tower and to see the landscape of the whole city.

Calton HillFree- Regent Road, Edinburgh- A popular hangout for locals and visitors alike this natural green space is ideal for some time away from the city and a chance to explore some distinct architectural features along with views of the local landscape and Arthur’s Seat.

Arthur’s Seat Free- Technically in Holyrood Park, Arthur’s seat is the highest point in the Lothian’s and the prime location for time with nature and to get a hike in on a famous landmark.