Christmas in Scotland

Last fall, I spent about 10 days in Scotland on my first solo trip overseas. I thoroughly enjoyed that trip (you can read all about it here), so I was thrilled when my sister suggested that our family spend Christmas there this year. We emphatically said, “yes!”.

This trip was different from my first in several ways, primarily that we were going there for Christmas in order for our family to be together, so we didn’t plan as much out ahead of time. We flew into Edinburgh, and spent a few hours that first afternoon and evening checking out the large Christmas market located at the Princes Street Gardens. We then headed to Ayr, which is along the western coast of Scotland, where we spent three days relaxing, exploring, and celebrating the holiday. From there, we headed to Edinburgh. We took a day trip into the lower highlands, and another day was spent exploring Edinburgh before we headed out. Below are some things we did in each location.

Ayr:

Lang Scots Mile & Robert Burns

Ayr is located along the western coastline, and is a small city/large town. We spent 3 full days here. Our first full day in Ayr, we walked along the Lang Scots Mile, which goes along the beach, and then to the Robert Burns Path. Robert Burns was a famous and beloved Scottish poet, who lived in Ayr and nearby Alloway. We visited the Auld Kirk, which is the scene of the witches’ dance in Burns’ poem “Tam O’Shanter”. My sister, who had previously visited the church, told us the story that is outlined in “Tam O’Shanter” (you can read the poem here).

The story goes that Robert Burns was out drinking at the pub Tam O’Shanter (which still stands in Ayr). After a night of drinking with some friends, he jumped on his horse to make his way home to Alloway. As he was riding, he passed the Auld Kirk (the Old Church), where he noticed a glow and decided to inspect the scene closer. He saw a bunch of witches dancing around the fire, but they noticed him and chased after him. He jumped back on his horse and steered her toward the Brig O’ Doon (a bridge), as he knew that witches can’t cross over water. One of the witches grabbed hold of his horse’s tail but she pulled the tail right off, allowing Burns to escape over the Brig O’Doon and to safety. His poem is supposedly about the events of that night.

After visiting the Auld Kirk, we walked over to the Brig O’ Doon, walking past the Robert Burns memorial on the way (unfortunately, it was closed, but we got a view of it from the bridge). We then walked back toward the Robert Burns Museum, where we walked along the Poet’s Path, which outlines the story with artwork. From there, we headed down the road to Robert Burns Cottage, which is where he was born, then walked back to Ayr. The entire walk was about 5 miles, but the weather was great and it was mostly flat.

Christmas Walk & Traditional English Christmas Dinner

On Christmas day, we relaxed at our Airbnb, then took a short walk along the beach in Ayr. In the evening, my sister made us a traditional English (not Scottish) dinner. Her boyfriend and his mom joined us, and they had helped plan the meal. We had a roast chicken, roasted carrots, green beans, Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes, and brussel sprouts. Before the meal, we opened Christmas crackers (they’re filled with small presents, and you and another person pull on the handles to break it open) and put on our Christmas hats. After the meal, we tried traditional English desserts, such as Christmas pudding, Christmas cake (a kind of fruit cake), and mince pies.

Lang Scots Mile & Walk to Greenan Castle

Our final day in Ayr, we walked the Lang Scots Mile again, this time staying right on the beach and walking along until we reached Greenan Castle, some ruins on top of a steep cliff. We climbed up to the castle and enjoyed the view before heading back to our Airbnb. This walk was also about 5 miles. That evening, we celebrated my birthday at The Treehouse restaurant in the center of Ayr. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was very beautiful.

Day Trip to Lower Highlands:

After spending some time in Ayr, we headed to Edinburgh. Train service was down between Glasgow and Edinburgh, so we arrived much later than planned and walked around the Old Town a bit the first night, after dark. The next day, we took a day trip through Rabbie’s Tours. I had been on the same tour last fall, but it was the only one available at late notice. It was a different tour guide, with different stories, so it was still an excellent trip.

The Kelpies

Our first stop on the tour was to see The Kelpies, huge metal statues of two draft horses. I wrote more about my first visit here.

Loch Lomond

Our next stop was along the shore of Loch Lomond. It was a rainy day, but our family decided to do the 20-30 minute walk along the shore that our guide suggested. I wrote more about my first visit to Loch Lomond here.

Stirling Castle

We visited Stirling Castle in the afternoon. Last year, I explored the castle on my own, but this time I joined one of the free guided tours, which was very informative. I would recommend doing the tour, as it really provided some extra information about the castle and it’s inhabitants over the years.

Edinburgh:

We had one full day in Edinburgh, so we spent a lot of time walking around and visiting the main sights. We walked over 8 miles this day!

Dean Village

We started our morning walking from our Airbnb in the New Town to Dean Village, a picturesque neighborhood in the middle of New Town. We walked along the Water of Leith, passing by St. Bernard’s Well and walking under St. Bernard’s Bridge. We spent some time walking around Dean Village and taking in the beautiful buildings.

The New Town

In the mid-1700s, Edinburgh was a dirty, smelly, and unsanitary city with closely crowded buildings. The wealthy wanted to escape this disgust, so plans began for what is now called the “New Town”,  which was built in stages in the mid- to late-1700s. The New Town was carefully planned, with wide roads, spacious Georgian buildings, and lots of green space. We walked from Dean Village back to Stockbridge Market, where we grabbed some sandwiches for lunch and we stopped at Golden Hare Books for my brother. We then walked towards the Old Town, walking through some beautiful neighborhoods of New Town.

The Old Town

We had scheduled a free walking tour through Sandeman’s tours. The tour wound through the Royal Mile and connecting streets and closes (alleyways). Our guide told us about the history of St. Giles Cathedral, some of the statues that line the Royal Mile (including the statue of David Hume, who is a relative of ours!), Edinburgh Castle, Grassmarket, and Greyfriar’s Cemetery. After the tour, we went in St. Giles Cathedral, walked up to see the castle up close, went along Victoria Street (rumored to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter) and then headed back over to the New Town.

Calton Hill

Just off of Princes Street in the New Town is a small hill called Calton Hill. You can walk up the hill to visit several unique monuments, as well as stunning views of the city below. We walked up just before dusk, allowing us to experience the views at night. We spent a while up on the hill as daylight turned to darkness. Afterwards, we walked back over to the Old Town and got some tea and treats before heading back to our Airbnb for our final night.

I’m so glad we got to spend some time together in this beautiful country, and can’t wait to come back someday to explore more of it (namely, the islands that I haven’t been able to see on either trip so far!).

Exploring Chattanooga, Tennessee

Pedestrian bridge overlooking the Tennessee River and Coolidge Park

A few weeks ago, my family traveled to Tennessee to celebrate my cousin’s marriage. It was a beautiful wedding and so much fun to be together with extended family that, despite our best efforts, we see far too little of.

Coolidge Park Carousel Ticket Booth
Coolidge Park Carousel

It was a quick trip- just 3 1/2 days- but we had a free day on a cold but sunny Friday, so we headed to downtown Chattanooga to see some of the sights, along with some of our extended family. My aunt and uncle moved to Tennessee about 28 years ago. We’ve visited them many times, and I remember going to the Chattanooga Aquarium (we didn’t stop there this time, but it is a phenomenal aquarium!) several times as a kid, but I’m not sure I’d ever walked around downtown before.

Coolidge Park Carousel
Coolidge Park Carousel

We started off at Coolidge Park, which is right next to the Tennessee River. We walked around a bit, then stopped at the Carousel. This indoors carousel is a restored 1894 Dentzel carousel, with 52 hand-carved animals and a calliope band organ. Despite being a group of adults, we payed $1 per person to ride the carousel. It is really stunning!

Coolidge Park
Me- at Coolidge Park
My mom- at Coolidge Park

We then walked across the Tennessee River on the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, built in 1891, to the Bluff View Art District. We saw some of the outdoor sculptures at the Hunter Museum of Art, then walked through part of the art district, including a sculpture garden.

Coolidge Park with Walnut Street pedestrian bridge in the background
View of Tennessee River from the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge

There was a crew competition, with thousands of participants and teams, taking place on the Tennessee River. It was really cool to be able to watch as the teams rowed, and before heading back to my aunt and uncle’s farm, we walked along the riverfront to see them up close.

There’s plenty more to see in Chattanooga, but this was a perfect way to spend a few hours on a Friday afternoon!

Going Home (to Moldova)

 

I recently returned from a fairly short trip back to Moldova to visit my host family. I spent about a week in my village. I arrived just over a year after I left Moldova at the end of my 2-year Peace Corps service there. I was blessed with cooler-than-normal summer temperatures (so thankful! a few weeks before I went, it was hovering around 100 degrees), and my host family made sure I ate lots of ice cream.

My three oldest host nieces joined me in the village so we could spend time together. The week was mostly spent at “home”- reading, drawing, playing, and talking. We also walked around my village and visited the public library, the park/playground, and school. It’s summer vacation in Moldova, so I didn’t see many students (just a couple who I passed on the street) or either of the partner teachers I worked with when I lived there. This was a bit disappointing but not entirely unexpected. I did get to enjoy some tea and cookies with a small group of teachers from the school I worked at one morning.

I spent my last evening in the capital with my host sister and her family. We took a very brief trip to the city center, where we walked around Cathedral Park for a short while. Some day, I’d like to go back for a longer amount of time and visit some of the attractions and wineries I never visited when I lived there, but it was a nice, short trip spent with some of my favorite people!

Organizing Digital Photos

One of the biggest benefits of digital photography is the ability to take lots (thousands) of photos for essentially no money beyond the original purchase of the camera or phone. But while this is great, it can also be a pain to organize and back up those photos in a way that makes them easy to find. I have a pretty easy but efficient system for organizing and backing up my photos, so I thought I’d share how I do it.

Uploading the Photos.

Of course, before you can sort, organize, and back up your photos, you first have to get them off your devices. I upload my photos from both my phone and camera at least once a month. If I’ve been taking a lot of photos or have been traveling, I’ll often upload them more than that. It only takes a few minutes usually, so I’ll plug my phone or camera into my computer while I’m doing something else. If I haven’t taken as many photos, I upload them at the end of every month. I upload them directly to Dropbox, which makes things really easy later on because Dropbox automatically gives the photos a file name with the date and time the photo was taken. This means all photos are organized chronologically in order even when my phone and camera photos are all bunched together, plus I can very easily see when each photo was taken!

Organizing the Photos.

Because I upload my photos each month directly to Dropbox, the organizing step is actually very easy! At the beginning of each year, I create a folder in Dropbox with the year as the folder name. For example, this year’s folder name is “2019”. Inside that folder, I create 12 additional folders, one for each month of the year. These are labeled with the month. In order to keep them in the calendar order, each month name is preceded by the numerical for that month. So “1. January” for January or “9. September” for September. Once I’ve uploaded the photos to Dropbox, they can be found in the “Camera Uploads” folder on Dropbox. I just have to select them and drag them into the “2019” folder and then into the correct month folder. Since the file names are already by date, I’m all done!

Exception: When I’m traveling, I often take thousands of photos and because I often make photo books or upload the photos to Facebook and my blog, I do create a separate folder for just the travel photos and place it either in the month folder or, if the trip spanned days in more than one month, in the year folder. For these, I label them with the destination(s) and year. For example, when I traveled to Scotland and Ireland this fall, I created a folder named “Scotland & Ireland 2018”.

If you’re thinking that your Dropbox will fill up really quickly using this method, you’re right! That’s why I only leave the photos for the current and previous month in Dropbox. I don’t want to pay for extra storage, so I back up all my photos elsewhere (see next section). I create an additional “2019” folder in the “Pictures” folder on my computer. After I’ve backed the photos up, I simply drag the month’s folder to this other “2019” folder, where it will reside for all eternity.

Backing Up the Photos.

I back up my photos is two additional places. First, I upload all photos (I do usually go through them first and delete any blurry or mistake photos) to Google Photos at the end of each month. I simply select all of the photos from that month, upload them, then add them to a new album On Google Photos, I simply label the album with the month and year. For example, “January 2019”.  I create a separate folder for any long trips (especially if I took a lot of photos) and label it with the destination(s) and year.

I also back up my photos on an external hard-drive. I have one from Seagate that holds 1 terabyte. I create a folder with the year on my hard-drive, then at the end of each month, drag the month folder into this, which automatically copies it. Super simple!

And that’s it!

Reflections on Moldova

It’s been a little quiet on here the past few months. I left Moldova 9 months ago, and I’m still adjusting back to life in the United States and figuring out my next steps. I’m working as a long-term sub in a 5th grade classroom (which I’m enjoying and which is keeping me quite busy!), but I’m not yet sure where I’ll be/what I’ll be doing come fall.

This time last year, I was inching toward the end of my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. To be honest,  at that point, I felt I was really ready to go home and leave Moldova. Things that had been exciting during the first year of service had begun to frustrate me. I missed American food and ingredients, I missed doing activities that were more accessible in the United States (hiking, walking without people asking where I was going, going to the movies, meeting up with friends, etc.), and I missed my family and friends. I still tried to focus on enjoying every moment I had remaining in Moldova, but I was mostly looking forward to leaving.

The last couple of months of my service, however, was full of reminders to stay focused on the present. I began to finally feel closer to my colleagues at school. I worked on some projects I was proud of. As I began to say my goodbyes, I felt the love of so many wonderful Moldovans. I appreciated the natural beauty surrounding me.

Now, nine months later, I miss Moldova and her people more than I had ever imagined I would. I knew I would miss some people, especially my host family. But I miss so much more. I miss the earlier spring, with flowers blooming everywhere and fruit trees blossoming every few yards. I missed the holiday traditions around Christmas and New Year. I miss my students and the teachers at school. I miss walking to and from school on quiet roads lined with plants and flowers and the smell of nature. I miss sitting on the swing in the courtyard sipping on tea made from the mint leaves my host mom had planted and then dried. I miss “my” cat (he was really my host family’s, but everybody called him mine because he was rather partial to me). I miss the random adventures and visits I made with my host mom.

In the United States, I am hesitant to talk to someone I don’t know or throw myself into the unknown, but in Moldova I thought little of accompanying my host mom when visiting a friend unannounced or walking to the next town over to visit her friends. I ate food prepared by almost anyone (that only registered as unusual when I returned to the U.S. and realized once again that it was not common here).

Some things have stayed with me from my time in Moldova. I feel like I’m rebellious if I wear shoes inside someone’s home (even my own home- Moldovans never wear shoes, excluding slippers, inside homes as it’s seen as unclean). I feel the need to make sure my shoes are always clean (Moldovans take great pride in making sure their shoes are clean). I wear a robe around the house when I’m cold (my family thinks this is weird, but it’s warmer than a sweater and easier than a blanket). I drink more tea than I did before I went to Moldova (Moldovans drink tea with most meals).

I’d really like to return to my “other home” soon to visit my host family, friends, and students, but so far scheduling such a trip has been difficult. Perhaps I’ll be able to make the trip in the summer. But regardless of when I get to “go home”, I think of Moldova almost every day.