Tuesday, March 12, 2013

More tea, last week of class, and the Ayrshire Coast

Afternoon tea twice in one week? Why not? Before I knew my local was taking me to tea, I had planned an afternoon tea for Sunday with my Irish and German friends at The Willow Tea Room on Sauchiehall Street. The Willow Tea Room was designed by Mr. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a Scottish architect and designer, whose arts and crafts style can be seen throughout Glasgow. 

The tea room is situated in a loft above a jewelry store. My Irish friend and I both got afternoon tea for 12 pounds each (about $18), which included three different types of finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, dessert, and of course, two pots of tea. We could choose our dessert from the display case, but it was a bit confusing because the desserts weren't labeled and there was no one around to tell us what the desserts were. We overheard a patron asking her server about a particular dessert (it was either a toffee or a caramel apple pie) and we thought, "That sounds good - we'll get that!" Our German friend just enjoyed a cup of tea.

Here is my Irish friend pouring herself a cup of tea. It was a really lovely way to spend the afternoon, and I was happy to get to see a place that I had read about before coming to Glasgow. I intend on adopting the custom of an occasional afternoon tea soon...

I made the decision that this was going to be the last week that I would attend class. Because I had to write essays instead of taking exams due to the overlap of semesters between Strathclyde and UNCG, I had no reason to attend my classes during the official last week of class, which was the following week. After all, I had a group project paper and an essay due the following Friday, and 2 essays and an individual project due before January 14th, which I was desperate to finish before I left Scotland. So, I attended my classes, sat patiently through my last tutorial, and attended two group meetings. I have to tell you all this boring stuff so you don't think I was just on vacation for 3 1/2 months. ;)

Well, even if I don't like snow all that much, it was nice to experience a dusting in Glasgow. The snowfall had begun the night before, and campus was abuzz with students playing in the snow. The residence halls were primarily composed of international students, some of which had never seen snow before. One of my friends from India sent me a message on Facebook that said, "It's snowing outside, Jessica! It's like diamonds falling from the sky!" It was really neat to experience the excitement of someone who had never witnessed something that I am all too familiar with. What I saw from my window was that snow causes students to do one thing, and one thing only - throw it at each other. It was kind of hilarious, like that is the default thing one must do when there is snow, and you see how little of it there was. Making a snowball was a time-consuming process!

My Irish friend was in an events management class. Their main project for the class was to hold an event to raise money for a charity of their choice. Their event was called, "Take Me Oot," a play off of a UK tv dating show. The event took place on Thursday night, so our German friend and I went over to the pub where the event was being held. We got ourselves some beer, had a seat and enjoyed the show. The turnout was pretty good, and the event was entertaining to say the least. They received a good grade on it and raised about 400 pounds in charitable donations.

I was looking forward to Saturday's Student Tours Scotland trip to the Ayrshire Coast, but it was bittersweet because it was the very last STS tour I was able to take. I got to the bus stop, all ready to board and get comfy in my usual seat, next to my Irish friend, in the second row from the front. But wait! What is this? Gary started the sign-in clipboard in an unusual spot, not where he typically starts with those nearest the bus.  Hmmmm....  I finally get the clipboard, I sign, I board, I look, and.... seat snatchers! Of the four people who were already on the bus, two had taken our usual seats. This was so wrong. We were dedicated, committed, passionate STSers. Our names should have been engraved on the seats by this point. Oh well. We sat in the third row back and it just felt wrong. This was our last trip together, did it really have to end this way? Yeah, it did. We got over it. :)

We started the trip in Shallochpark outside of Girvan for a brisk beach walk. Scotland did not deny us the opportunity to experience this trip with proper Scottish weather: cold air, rain, wind, and an overcast sky. As I was posing for the picture above, my Ukranian friend, the most cheerful girl I have ever met, skipped across the shot. I love it! I think it captures her personality perfectly. I wish I had been skipping with her. 

Instead, we made a starfish. :) Not intentionally, but we sure do look like one, don't we?

Just as we were getting ready to smile for the camera, the water crept up on us! Uh-oh, better move away! I think this picture is so funny. We're all looking at it like, "Uh - where did THAT come from??"

That's better! In the safe zone. I'm in this picture with two of my wonderful friends from China and my lovely Irish friend. Notice how they are all hunching down to my height...

The marbling of the different tones of the sand was really pretty. In good weather, this is a holiday destination. I think it was more popular in the past though.

I really like this picture too - the sharpness and focus of the sand, the definition of the marbling, fading to the people standing on the beach with the ocean in the background. Sometimes it's hard to make grey look good!

Our next stop turned out to be another of my favorite spots in Scotland: Dunure Castle. It wasn't so much the castle ruin that I liked (though I do enjoy all castles), but more so the landscape around it, which was just fascinating, even on a yucky day.

Up I go to the "second floor."

And what did I find on the second floor? Why a creepy off-limits cove, of course!

The view from the second floor of the castle.

My Irish friend and I waited patiently for this coveted spot to free up so we could take pictures here. This was almost perfect, but it was so windy! The one strand of hair jutting out of my head was just too much, so I asked her to take another picture for me.

Oh geez, that didn't work either. Really, really windy. Ok, let's try one more.

Ok, the wind is playing a joke on us! Nice try. Time to move on and let other people attempt photos in the coveted spot! Good thing we know how to have fun :).

Our dear tour guide Gary caught us walking down the stairs and said, "Girls, pose. Like this is YOUR castle." Hopefully this link will work and you can see our "This is OUR castle" pose, and why Gary proceeded to make fun of us. His teasing inspired me to take advantage of this, my last STS tour, and do a "This is MY castle" photo shoot.

Gary, this is MY castle.

Come, come, you may enter, if you DARE! 
There were more, but I will spare you ;).

Another view of the castle.

This thing was downright creepy. I'm not exactly sure what it was. I think I read somewhere that it was a bird cage, but it looks nothing of the sort. There was one tiny opening that had bars over it, so I stuck my arm in, with my camera in hand, and snapped a shot with the flash on to see what it looked like inside. 

It was no less creepy inside. As you can see, there was a hole at the top, and that is about it. 

Here are my Irish friend and Ukranian friend, enjoying their time at the site, with the castle ruin in the background.

The coast was just gorgeous. We cautiously made our way down, it was very slippery!

And here comes photo shoot #2. Don't hate me, it was fun and I couldn't choose which pictures to put up. Again, notice the wind... and when I tell you those rocks were slippery, I mean they were slippery, like covered in a coat of slime slippery.

So, the wind blows and I almost bite it. I assure you, I was not the most adventurous student out on the rocks that day. I did fear for my safety at least once during this picture taking session though...probably a second before this shot was taken. The good news is I survived to tell the tale!

Ok, enough of me. I'll let the landscape speak for itself.

A view of the ruin from near sea level.

We made it safely to the bottom, but decided not to go any further because it was way too slippery. There were people who went way out there though (see beyond that first big rock?). I knew slipping and falling was inevitable and would be pretty darn painful, so we decided to go back up and over to the other side of the castle.

Tour guide Gary told us when we first got to the castle that we would have an hour to walk around, and that we probably thought that was way too much time, but once we got out and started walking around, we'd probably wish we had more time to spend here, and he was right! 

I snapped these photos as we made our way around to the other side of the castle. Note the dates - the original building is pre - 13th century. I find it so fascinating that these structures still exist, and stand well enough for people to walk around inside them. You just don't get rich history like that here in the U.S.

The other side of Dunure Castle.

Some sort of rock garden. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to walk down to see it up close or read the placard. Gary was right, not enough time!

My Irish friend and I were astounded at the contrast of colors. It was just so beautiful.

I definitely could have spent more time wandering around this peaceful place.

Doesn't this picture just exude the essence of Scotland? The coastline, the vibrant green, the castle in the background?

Yes, that's me, standing near the edge of a cliff. I guess I was feeling mighty brave this day!

Majestic grandeur, of both man and nature.

 It was time to move on to our next stop, Ayr town and Riverside. If anyone has flown RyanAir out of Glasgow, you have been to Ayr (pronounced "air"), and you know why the flights are so cheap - it's almost an hour from the city. We followed tour guide Gary for a wee walk around town, during which we had a reading of Robert Burns poetry, while gathered next to a cemetery.

Perhaps the riverside has less of an eerie feel on a sunny day...?

 Maybe the pink buildings make it seem a little less spooky...   

After our riverside walk, we headed into town to find toilets (these trips aren't all glamourous, you know) and of course, I had to get my STS midday staple, a cup of Costa hot chocolate. Then we rushed back to the bus to head off to our next stop...

Gary had perfect timing this day, and so did the sun. It came out just in time to give us an illustrious sunset.

We had a long walk to make, down to the dragon who protects the coast from Viking invaders, and we were so fortunate to have these gorgeous views along the way.

And someone was riding their horse up and down the beach as we walked along! My last trip with STS could not have had a more perfect ending.

Isn't it just breathtaking? It might rain an awful lot in Scotland, but these moments make it all worth it.

Alas, we reached the dragon, and Gary is sitting on it as if it were a toilet bowl. Once we eventually all got up to the dragon, Gary told us the story behind the dragon and why it is protecting the coast line. Gary is quite the story teller.

 It's picture time with my favorite tour guide, before we have to part ways! He's just the best. 


A couple of surreal sunset pictures with my Irish friend.

We had some great times on tours together over these past three months. I miss you, friend!

It's the spunky Ukranian's turn on the dragon!

Think "Titanic."
 I miss you too, friend, and your contagious enthusiasm and joie de vivre!

We headed back to the bus in the dark. This last trip was packed with so many things to do and see and I loved every minute of it. I got to play a final game of bus bingo on the ride home and had such a blast. (It looks like it's really late out in this picture, but it's probably only 4:00pm).

But wait, the night isn't over yet! My Irish, German and French friends all met up for a girl's pub night around 7. We headed into the city centre with a pub in mind, but it is Christmastime, and it's Saturday night, which means that most places have reservations for Christmas parties, so this was not the easiest thing to accomplish. We had to wander around for a while before we found a place that we agreed on, and that served food. We ended up at Waxy O'Connors, an Irish pub not too far from where we all stay.

There were several floors in the interior, and lots of woodwork which gave it a cozy feel. Two different levels playing two different musics was a little unnerving though. I had a steak and guiness pie, which was just as warm, hearty, and satisfying as I had hoped it would be. We had a nice time, a nice last dinner together.

On the way back to the halls, I snapped this photo of George Square, all decked out in its Christmas glory. I imagined the Square all in white lights, very pristine and traditional before I ventured down to see the decorations back in November. Instead, to my disbelief, I saw this! I got used to it after a while, but the image I had in my head was not the multihued, busy site that you see pictured here. There were also carnival swings, a big, twisty slide, a train, and an ice skating rink in the Square! It's pretty impressive what they managed to fit into this one block.

All in all, this was a fantastic day, full of really great memories. I'm so lucky to have made such wonderful friends during my time here to have made those memories with.

I'm not done yet! Stay tuned for my next post full of Christmas fun!

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