neither this way nor(that)way

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*smiles into the void* // photo @tuvaod

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Last night I got home and scratched another country off my scratch world map.  Tuva, Erling, and I spend the last week in Oslo the capital of Norway visiting museums, going skiing, and eating lots of fish.

For those who don’t know Tuva and Erling are two of my three flatmates.  They are both Norwegian and grew up in Oslo.  They are childhood friends with Anna and Elsa.  And, they very kindly and graciously invited me to come back to Norway with them over this year’s Innovative Learning Week, Festival of Creative Learning, Reading Week, Innovative Skiing Week? week in February with no classes.

The week was amazing.  I’ve never been to Norway, I didn’t really know what to expect, so I sort of just went with the flow.  I knew I wanted to see the ‘Scream’ and the Viking Ships but beyond that I was happy to hang out and see the places Tuva and Erling knew best.  Which I do think is one of the best ways to travel.

The first full day we went to the National Gallery to see the paintings.  I got surprised by a real and true painting by my girl, Artemisia Gentileschi, an absolute baller female baroque painter.  Tears were shed.

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Artemisia my girl ❤

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After the museum, we went to a coffee shop near to where Erling’s brother went to high school and where they all spend a good amount of time in their teens.  It was very Scandi and hip and everything they say about Scandinavia I can confirm as true.  But, jokes aside, going to places of importance to the people you are with is one of the best ways of seeing the character of the city.  Cities are massive and you’re never going to see everything, but you can see the places that mean something to the people you are with.  It makes the place come alive a lot more than just ticking off the ‘Top Ten.’

The next day, Tuva worked on an essay for uni and Erling and I went to the Viking Ship Museum.  We walked there from Tuva’s flat.  The museum was purpose built for three viking ships uncovered in Oslo in the 19/20c.  The most famous of the ships is the Osberg Ship.

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Seeing the ships was such a surreal experience.  I know I say this a lot, but as a kiddo growing up in the middle of the USofA interested in European History, there isn’t much to do except for read.  And, I read a lot.  I didn’t live near to massive American museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the Smithsonians in DC so I didn’t have opportunities to see things in real life.  Looking at pictures online or in books was what I had.  So when I see something I’ve read so much about I do tend to tear up, it’s like finally meeting an old friend you’ve only talked to in letters.  I spent so much time studying and wishing I could see things… that when I do, I get overwhelmed.   When I see artifacts in real life I always learn something new.  The ships were bigger than I thought.  The wood was darker.  The carvings more intricate.


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That evening the three of us saw Black Panther in the Oslo cinema.  The film was amazing and I want to go see it again.

On the third day, we went cross country skiing.  Oslo has a green belt around the city full of forests and ski tracks.  This was the second time I have gone cross country skiing and I think I loved it even more.  My knees didn’t hurt at all, I got to see some fantastic scenery, and got to ski on parts of the World Cup course (and didn’t die).  Not a bad day out.  We stopped twice during the day at two different mountain huts.  The huts were started from the old summer farmsteads for cattle in the mountains but now are places to stop and get food, water, etc.  The ones we stopped at were very traditionally Norwegian and were made of wood with all kinds of funky old mountain and ski gear inside.  They serve cinnamon rolls and waffles.  I got a cinnamon roll and cried because I love cinnamon rolls so much.


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The second hut was pretty much the only part of the day I really truly struggled.  Tuva and Erling abandoned me and I got stuck in a snow drift.  Tuva went looking and found me crawling up the drift with my hands with my skis dragging behind me.  Eventful.  All in all, however, I would 11/10 do it again.  Each hill I went down I fell down less and less.  I properly face planted a few times (once after I got distracted because I saw a women being pulled on skis by a dalmatian!!!), but I managed to get up quickly.  I’m an American not an American’t afterall.

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I left early yesterday to get back to Edinburgh and sort an assignment that is due Monday.  I had to do some stuff on the computer and didn’t want to leave it late because I don’t trust technology.  But, I had an amazing time.  Oslo is an amazing city, so thanks again Tuva and Erling (I know you’re reading this, either because you want to or because I made you #supportchagirl).

Classes resume soon, but the university is striking so I may have more free time.

innovative castle week

Hey all! Welcome to the blog that apparently I forgot I had. (Sorry Mom).

Anyway.  This week was Innovative Learning Week… or Festival of Creative Learning… or Innovative Skiing Week… Long story short, the university shuts down for a whole week to give us students a reading week and the staff a week to breathe.  Last year, the university offered a whole bunch of cool classes, if you remember I took a class in osteology and got #inspired. This year because the university realized that not everyone is a huge fucking nerd like myself and does normal things on a week off, like go skiing instead of wanting to learn about bones, they cut back on most of the extra classes offered and just gave us a week off.

Week off? Cue parental visit.  So mom booked a flight out a few weeks back… and then promptly lost her passport two days before she was supposed to fly out.  #notsmart.  Many long phone calls to the airline later, my dad boarded a flight to escape from the dystopian anti-First Amendment America we now face.  This is one of the few times I am glad that Alexander Hamilton is dead so that he doesn’t have to face this blatant disregard to his baby, the US Constitution.

Dad landed Sunday and stayed until his flight early yesterday morning.  It was really nice being able to see him considering my parental visits are often far and few in between.   Usually, I get to see my family about twice a year.

I spent the week showing my dad around new parts of Edinburgh that I’ve found since living here.  He took me to the supermarket and bought me a bunch of food.  It was great!  On Tuesday we took a train down to Berwick-Upon-Tweed and then a bus to Bamburgh to visit Bamburgh Castle.  In case you’re new, Bamburgh Castle is the long held Anglo-Saxon stronghold of the north.  King Oswald was the first major inhabitant, who, after returning from exile on Iona, drove out the Saxons.  Oswald had a huge bromance with Aiden, a local abbott.  He gave Aiden the nearby island on which Aiden built a huge monastery – Lindisfarne.  In 793 AD, Lindisfarne was the first site of the Viking incursions into Britain.  Erling will proudly inform you that those first vikings were in fact Norwegian.  I’ll be excavating for five weeks at Bamburgh this summer as one of my three excavations this summer!

Dad, while still very keen on the history… I mean who wouldn’t be?! was also excited that the castle was the fictional home to Utread, the protagonist from Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom books.

Here’s photo from the day out.

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Here’s photos of the excavation:

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And here’s photos of the most metal desk I have ever seen in my entire life.  It’s made of wood from Hadrian’s bridge across the Tyne at Newcastle.  I have never wanted anything more than how much I want this desk.  I’m not even kidding about how much I want this desk.  This thing is so metal and I am so jealous that I do not own this.  If anyone reading this knows how I can own this desk hit me up I will gladly sell non-vital organs for it (jokes… but seriously).   

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Castles are fucking cool kids, stay in school!

On Thursday, Dad and I went to Holyrood Architectural Salvage to look at all the cool pieces moved from Edinburgh during renovations.  There were so many cool fireplaces doors.  If it’s not clear already, Dad and I really like looking at old stuff.

Anyway.  It was great to see my dad again and talk about medieval history in person versus talking about it over the phone for 2.5 hours.  I’m working on my Medieval History essay at the moment.  It’s over the Hundred Years War and I may or may not be more than rightfully excited about it.  Class starts back up on Monday with ‘Death Monday.’


Innovative Learn Week: Part II

Two words.

Medieval. History.

Yesterday was a fantastic day full of travel, history, and lots of walking.  I traveled to Stirling with two EUMC friends, Sarah and Gregor, to see the Castle, Wallace Monument, and the Battlefield of Stirling Bridge. (I’ve included some Wikipedia links just for some quick info if you might not be familiar.)


The day started early with a quick coffee run around 8 AM and it was to Waverley Station to catch the train to Stirling.  Waverly Station is a prime example of a Victorian train station.  It was really neat, the US really doesn’t use the train system as much as the UK so it was fun to try a different way to travel.

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We arrived in Stirling and walked through the town to get to the Castle.  Stirling is a pretty small town but it has a really rich history.  During medieval Scotland it was the stronghold of the Kingdom of Scotland and was considered to be the ‘Gateway between Highland and Lowland Scotland.’  Edinburgh was often subject to English rule/closer to the Borders and was often influenced by early Medieval kingdoms like Northumbria after the fall of Old North Kingdoms, especially the Gododdin.

A map by Matthew Paris made in 1250 that show Stirling to be the dividing line connecting almost two separate land masses together. The upper part of Scotland is even labeled Scotia Ultra Marina which is Latin for Scotland Above the Sea.  Just a wee orientation to the map, the two walls are the Antonine (Upper) and Hadrian’s (lower).  Edinburgh on the far right by the Antonine Wall.


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The castle is build on a standard crag and tail formation, similar to Edinburgh, which just means a big flat rock with a sloped esplanade.  These are pretty standard for Scotland and were created when volcanoes were erupting all over the place in that crazy time period before the archaeological record.  As far as a castle goes, it makes the perfect fortified spot.


(zoomed view) from castle rock.  the battle field of stirling bridge is in the foreground and the wallace monument is in the background. 

Now for the castle.  There is evidence of fortification from the 13c onward but most of what remains was build by King James V, father of Mary, Queen of Scots.  There is a Great Hall, Palace, Chapel, and standard armories, kitchens, courtyards, etc.

We started at the front gate where there was an inner courtyard and then another gate, then another line of walls and then the final gate.  There was evidence of damage to the final gate that appeared to be from siege.  Roundish indentions into the stone round towers. Neato.

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Stirling Castle was especially neat that in many of the buildings they refurbished parts to how they would have looked using original materials and methods.  It was really well done and gave a true sense to the history of the place.  I think most people tend to forget that the ruins they are looking at used to be hopping centres of war, trade, and partying.

The Great Hall was a prime example of this.  They even re-did the outside of the building in the standard yellowish gold plaster (called King’s Gold) In fact, the 250 (yes 250) statues that James V commissioned for his palace were also once painted.  Really gives it more of a Disney feel than a Game of Thrones vibe, but more historically correct.

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The next stop was the Palace.  It also had been redone on the inside and offered a great look into how James V, Mary of Guise, and young Mary, Queen of Scots would have lived.

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A cool feature here were the Unicorn Tapestries.  The ones hanging in the Palace were remakes from a project that finished up a few years ago, but they had all been made in the original style using original techniques.  They were copies of the originals that are currently housed, surprisingly in the Cloisters at the Met in New York.  I’m sure you’ve all seen images of the Unicorn Tapestries, the most famous being the unicorn in the fence.  They are honestly really beautiful and some of my favourite pieces.

From there we explored the outer part of the Castle.  The weather was really fantastic and sunny.

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Once we finished up at the Castle we started the walk to the Wallace Monument and lunch.  We walked along the ‘New’ Stirling Bridge (built in the 1500s) that was next to the site of the battle.  It was honestly jarring walking next to the battlefield.  It looked like just a normal grassy lawn in the middle of the city, but in 1297 it was so much more.  It was the site where William Wallace AND Andrew Moray fought against a much larger English army. And call me a sucker for the underdog, but what the Scots were able to accomplish at the battle by outflanking the English and pinning then into them ox-bow of the river was quite a feat.


the battle field of stirling bridge. 


We stopped for a quick lunch and then headed up to the Wallace Monument.  The Wallace Monument honestly looked like something out of Tangled.  It’s a huge Victorian stone tower on top of a hill overlooking the city of Stirling.  It was quite a climb to the top but it had some great views.  We also reached the top before the small rain showers hit.


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The tower also has a small museum inside that houses bae’s actual sword.  It’s taller than me and I don’t understand how anyone could lift it let alone fight with it.  Granted it’s a two handed great sword but it’s still very impressive.  I’m also probably a sucker for military history, but warfare was a HUGE part of how people in the past lived.  It determined everything from who owned what land to whom the queen or king was.  Honestly, up until the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, with the defeat of Richard III and crowning of Henry VII a kingship was equal parts martial and political leadership.

I’ve learned it is also is one of the few ways to look back into driving mindset of the common-man.  Every able-man was often required to fight for their monarch, and sure a lot of them were conscripted but a lot of them believed in the causes they were fighting and dying for.  It also shows the unity of a historical kingdom  in that it’s common people were willing to fight for a cause much, much, bigger than themselves.  Stirling Bridge is a prime example of this idea.

From there we headed back to the train station to catch a train back to Edinburgh.  We had off peak tickets so we had to wait a bit.  Stopping in at Tesco’s we bought some donuts to eat at the station.  I’m so glad the UK has Krispy Kreme.


It was an absolutely fantastic day full of a shit ton of history.  I got to see so much, it’s amazing to finally be here after 18 years of just looking at things in books.  I think it gives a really gravitas to the site.  It’s something that I’ve studied and now being here can understand it better.

And, I glad to have had this week off.  I finished my Archaeology essay this morning and just need to go back and edit it.  I like to finish things a bit early so I can shove it away for a day and come back when I’m not so bogged down in writing.

So anyway, that’s my weekly geek out.






Innovative Learning Week: Part I

Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.

– John F. Kennedy 

First of all Happy Belated President’s Day!  And for all you readers back in the states, it’s an Election Year so don’t forget to stay informed, keep supporting, and MOST OF ALL VOTE!

This week is Innovative Learning Week, a special week off of standard classes in order to have students go out and try something new/learn outside of the traditional classroom setting.  I’ve had a pretty great week so far!  Monday was a recovery day from the EUMC trip this weekend – so lots of laundry and kit cleaning.  I went climbing on Tuesday and then worked on my Archaeology essay at a coffee shop.  Most everyone here at Pollock has left, it was was strangely quiet (read: thank god, some peace and quiet).  So I had a nice night in with Netflix and numerous cups of tea.

But, today was the actual bomb dot com.  The Uni hosts all sorts of different events throughout the week and one of the events I signed up for was a five hour Osteo-Archaeology seminar!  It was absolutely fantastic!

The day was split into six stations with lunch in the middle.  My group started in the lab with a 3D scanning station.  We learned how to create 3D scans of an object to better analyze it in the lab.  The Uni uses this scans with their 3D printer to create models of artifacts too fragile to handle for studying.

Then we went to the Bone Station where we learned how to clean human remains.  The remains we cleaned were 400 years old from the White Friar Friary in Perth (Northern Scotland).  I got to clean a femur head.  Morbid, I know… but also really cool.  Osteo-Archaeology has always been an interest of mine.  I think it’s amazing how much we can learn about an individual’s and the broader societal context in which they lived just by their bones.  (I was also a keen bean a knew all the names of the bones when asked.)

Next, we headed outside to learn some basic fieldwork techniques.  We analyzed a stone cairn (piled stone burial mound) and drew model trenches on grids.  It was great practice for Romania, which will include a lot of skeletal remains.

The last two stations were back in the Archaeology Labs.  The first was another form of 3D modeling, this time with 2D photos aligned together to create a computerized model.  The second station was reconstructing pottery.  The pottery station was really need and a good skill to learn for museum collections – a pile of broken shards is not nearly as interesting as a reconfigured vase.

All in all I really learned a lot and had a great time.  I am so glad am I studying Archaeology.

Okay, now coming back up to the JFK quote at the top of the page – I got back to my room and immediately went for a run up Calton Hill.  I’ve got a few papers due in the next couple of weeks and needed a breather.  I played a lot of sports growing up, (everything from taekwondo, basketball, softball, cross-country, and pole vaulting) so being able to get a good workout is important to me. And especially as a person with anxiety, releasing endorphins by running has always been a way for me to relax and focus.   Also, what sort of archaeologist would I be if I couldn’t out-run a giant boulder?

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because this is exactly how all excavations work. 

And in the spirit of ILW, I think it’s important to remember that learning and knowledge can come from more than just classes and books.  People are constantly picking up information from their environment and as I run through Edinburgh I am passing one historical site after another.  Today’s route started at Pollock, ran down to Holyrood, up to the Royal Mile, across North Bridge (past Princes Street Gardens and the Scott Monument), down Princes Street, and then up Calton.  The route back was down South Bridge, past Old College, and then behind the busier streets of Old Town to get back to Pollock.

(side tangent: there is a great route starting at Pollock to George Square, down to the Grassmarket, and up the backstairs (really great set of awful, awful steep stairs) to the Castle, down the Royal Mile, turning onto Holyrood, and back to Pollock… honestly I should just start a new segment on this blog about Historical Running Routes.)

So I’m probably a huge nerd, but I always plan my running routes around historical sites… but it paid off when I got to the top of Calton and got to watch the sunset over the castle.  It sort of puts life into perspective thinking about how many people over the centuries have watched the sun disappear behind the castle’s rounded towers.  It was also really, really pretty.

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And now I’m back in my room working on making my Archaeology essay the most killer essay ever written.  Tomorrow a few friends and I are off to Stirling to check out Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument!

YAY History!