Edinburgh, Scotland. Summer 2017. Outside of research at the university, I’ve been having an amazing time traveling around Scotland. In my first few days after arriving in Edinburgh, I began exploring around the city by foot; it’s a very walkable city, and every street is full of rich Scottish culture and history. The most famous and touristy road in Edinburgh, the Royal Mile, is a quick 8 minute walk away from my flat, and it was a pleasant sight during my first weekend abroad. At the beginning of the Royal Mile sits the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is where Queen Elizabeth II stays during her trips to Edinburgh, and along the hilly street, there are dozens of touristy shops, restaurants with many international cuisines, and the gorgeous St. Giles’ Cathedral; at the top of the hill and end to the Royal Mile is Edinburgh Castle, which sits on one of the highest points of Edinburgh and overlooks the entire shopping district on Princes Street. After my second week, I hopped on the bus to Glasgow, in order to visit three Princeton students who are doing summer research at the University of Strathclyde. I spent the weekend with them as we did a guided tour of the city, which is much larger and more urban than Edinburgh (Edinburgh is objectively more beautiful.) Glasgow is also a wonderful city, and we saw three different museums during that weekend: the People’s Palace, which is a museum on the history of Glasgow, the Riverside Museum, which is a museum on transportation in Scotland, and, my personal favorite, the Kelvingrove Museum, which is a beautiful art museum with several exhibits by Scottish artists. We also visited the University of Glasgow, which is one of the oldest universities in the world – founded in 1451 – and whose architectural beauty rivals Princeton University and other Gothic buildings. We had a great time exploring a new city together, and before I headed back to Edinburgh at the end of the weekend, we had a delicious group dinner at an excellent Thai restaurant.
In the following week, I decided to head up to the northern part of Scotland, known as the Highlands, to visit one of my friends in the physics department, Luke Shaw, who actually lives in Scotland! On the 4 hour ride up, I passed by miles of farmland and saw hundreds of cows, sheep, and horses. Scotland becomes greener the farther north one goes, which makes for countless beautiful natural scenes. I arrived in Inverness, one of the few cities in northern Scotland, which is about an hour away from Luke, and even though I got there around half past midnight, it was hardly dark outside. One of my favorite things about being in Scotland in the summer is the weather and incredible amount of sunlight; it’s MUCH cooler here than in New Jersey, with temperatures usually around 60 to 65 °F and the sun setting a little after 10 pm (and then rising at 4:30 am!). Of course, the sunlight is even more pronounced in the north, where it didn’t set until around 10:30 pm. Luke and his parents were incredible hosts, and they took me hiking on one of the many trails near their pretty town on Saturday. Then, on Sunday, we went down to Urquhart Castle, which sits on Loch Ness. Ancient legends aside (though you might see Nessie if you look close enough into the water), Loch Ness is one of the most scenic sights I’ve ever seen. It’s an enormous, serene body of water, and behind it rests many hilly green patches. I’ve never been immersed in so much natural beauty in such a short period of time! I’m really grateful to Luke and his family for showing me around.
Later that month, I caught up again with the Princeton students from Glasgow, but they came to Edinburgh this time. We had an awesome weekend and got lucky with one of the sunniest days all summer. We did some sightseeing about the Royal Mile, and we went to Surgeons’ Hall Museum, which is an extensive museum on the history of surgical procedures in the UK (not for the faint-hearted!). We also spent several hours in The Royal Botanic Gardens, which houses a huge and diverse assortment of plants from all over the world, as well as the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden, which was established in honor of Queen Elizabeth I. My favorite part of that weekend was our hike up Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano-turned-mountain that overlooks all of Edinburgh. It took us almost an hour to climb to the windy summit, which is the highest point in Edinburgh, but it was absolutely worth it. We spent a good amount of time admiring the view of the entire city to the west, as well as the coastline to the northeast, while trying very hard to maintain our balance against the heavy winds. My father came to visit me in the second week of July, and I had a blast showing him around all of the awesome sights in Edinburgh. He loved the city and its culture, and he wished he could have stayed for longer. We did a three day trip to The Netherlands at the end of the week to visit our uncle, who lives in The Hague. He took us sightseeing in Amsterdam, where we did a canal tour, explored different parts of the city via the trams, and saw the city’s wax museum. I loved Amsterdam so much – it’s the most amazing city I’ve ever been to – and it was disappointing that we only spent a day there, since there was weeks’ worth of things left to see. We also drove around The Hague, where we saw many of its legislative buildings and pristine parks. My uncle even took us to one of the most stunning beaches in The Netherlands, called Scheveningen (a tricky word to pronounce in Dutch!), where we caught sight of a beautiful sunset and enjoyed ourselves at one of the nice restaurants on the beach.
Overall, my IIP experience has been awesome, and this has definitely the best summer of my life so far. It’s my first time travelling to Europe, and there’s just so much to see and enjoy here. I’ve done plenty of other things on my own, including a day trip to North Berwick, a quaint little seashore town about 25 miles outside of Edinburgh, a visit to the Scottish National Gallery – a grand art museum in Edinburgh, which is currently featuring a huge exhibit on Caravaggio, and strolls to The Meadows Park for a long walk or jog every few days. Before I head back to the United States, I’m planning to do a weekend trip down to London, and then a visit to several cities in Belgium and finally Paris over my last eight days here. I can’t believe how quickly the time has flown, but it’ll definitely be a summer to remember and cherish. I highly recommend doing a summer abroad to any person who’s even slightly considering it because there’s nothing as rewarding as experiencing new cultures and seeing different parts of the world.