Tuesday, March 13, 2018


So, I would like to correct a mistaken title on this blog from seven years ago – Edinburgh isn't pronounced "Edin-burra"; it's even shorter than that, more like "Edin-bra." Oh, Scottish pronunciation. You are never what you seem.

It was quite fun to reread that post from my first (and only previous) time in Edinburgh seven years ago. I remember saying "any city that builds its greatest, most ornate monument to a novelist is okay my book" (the monument to Sir Walter Scott – it's enormous) and many of my impressions remain the same: practically everything in Edinburgh looks like a castle (enough to charm even the most jaded Europe-hopper) and it's a really enjoyable place, full of culture and interesting goings-on. A favorite city of mine, I would say.

Anyway, here are photos from this time around. Click on this link to go to the album:


Once again, it's in Google Photos, whose interface I don't love. If you can't see the photo captions (which are the most fun part!) click on the little "i" symbol at the upper right of any picture, and they should show up.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Luke, Ah'm Yer Da

More Scots language goodness! We had a guest speaker today – none other than the head of the National Library of Scotland. Yup, there are some perks to studying in a small country (and having a professor who knows everyone). National Librarian John Scally was engaging and hilarious – great fun to listen to, with lots of wisdom to share.

The bit I want to share with you, though, is an image that popped up rather unobtrusively on one of the slides in his presentation, but was so delightful that it sent me immediately googling to find out the story behind it:

Yes, Scottish librarians have an excellent sense of humor (and are apparently Star Wars fans). This was a poster for an exhibition the National Library did in 2012, though sadly it appears to be out of stock. (Understandably sold out, because it's awesome!)


And I arrived back in Aberdeen on Sunday to find the supermarket emptied out – they couldn't get deliveries through to stock the store!

Here's an apologetic note on a lettuce display:

And the place where all the milk should be – on these 100% empty shelves:

Friday, March 2, 2018

Edinburgh EDGE

This conference – the EDGE Conference hosted by Edinburgh City Libraries, to be specific – has been unforgettable.

For the past two days, I’ve been hearing speakers from around the world (Scotland, England, New Zealand, Netherlands, Canada, US, Belgium…) talk about ways libraries can help people combat the inequalities of poverty and the social exclusion of homelessness. It's inspiring, thought-provoking and I'm so, so grateful to have been offered a student spot to come here. Another one of those opportunities I can't believe there weren't dozens (or hundreds?) of people fighting me for!

I also got to meet so many inspiring professionals in this, my newly chosen field. I met the woman who's going to be my supervisor when I do my professional fieldwork placement in Orkney. I chatted a bunch with the head of Scotland's national librarians' organization (CILIPS, the equivalent of the ALA in the US). Had a fascinating conversation with the head of library services in the Western Isles (Outer Hebrides). Got all kinds of great ideas from conversations with a professor of library science from the Netherlands.

My mind is swimming with it and surely has a lot still to process, but I can't believe how many wonderful things I've gotten to see and do in just two days.

And, at dinner last night – since this is, after all, Edinburgh – the tables were themed for various Harry Potter characters. Truly, what's not to love?

Please Do Not Travel

They're serious about it, you guys. This is the website of Scotland's train service:

I also heard an announcer on the radio this morning utter precisely these words: “Don’t even think about going out. Seriously. Not good.”

(The announcers have also been using words like "treacherous," and of course that phrase "do not travel.")

All transport in and out is shut down; I haven't even seen any city buses within Edinburgh running all day. People everywhere are struggling to drive their cars out of parking spots or up hills, because they don't have snow tires here (and none of the roads have been cleared). I've seen a lot of people helping each other push cars up hills. Everything is draped in snow, and the wind is so strong that when it comes down, first it blows sideways! A lot of people either couldn't get here for the conference, or got here but now are stuck here.

I feel really, really fortunate that I love snow. (I was walking around today with snow blowing into my face so hard I couldn't see, and still I was just grinning. Because it was winter! Proper, beautiful winter!) And also that I'm perfectly content to be exactly I am. I definitely do recognize that this is not as nice an experience for most people as it is for me.

But if you'll excuse me, I'm now going to curl up in my nice warm bed in beautiful Edinburgh, and watch the snow swirl down.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


I'm back in Edinburgh! The city where everything is a castle, or at least looks like one.

It's snowing, and the whole country is FLIPPING OUT. Seriously, the UK cracks me up about this. It's snowing, yes, but does that really require the entire country to shut down? Public transportation is in chaos, sidewalks are a mess because nobody clears/grits/salts them, and just about everything is closed.

Schools are closed. My university lecture this morning was cancelled. When I arrived in Edinburgh this afternoon, I found the tourist info center closed. Museums are closed. I passed a bookshop that had preemptively closed for both today and tomorrow. The National Library is not only closed, but has a sign outside that reads, "We will update you when our buildings re-open. In the meantime, please do not attempt to visit us." Even the play I was going to attend tonight is cancelled! My room at the hostel where I'm staying is three young German women and me (common language German, yay!) and we had a laugh together about how funny it is to us that everyone in the UK is panicking about this. (There's even a hashtag for this storm: #beastfromtheeast)

Good thing I like snow, and Edinburgh could not possibly be more picturesque. And strangely my train down from Aberdeen wasn't affected at all – even arrived on time. I'm here for a library conference and am waaaaay excited about it. Two days of hearing exciting and inspiring stuff from public librarians from around the world!

I'll have pictures of Edinburgh, eventually. Also pictures of Iceland, from January – I'm behind on everything.

Greeting from the world of castles!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Yogurt World

Okay, the current comic at Scandinavia and the World (a comic in which anthropomorphized versions of various countries interact with each other in ways typical of each country) totally cracked me up: it's about the ubiquity of yogurt in Scandinavia

Because, truly, I had a moment on my last day in Iceland where I was at the airport, looking around for something to take as snack on the plane, and I was in a shop and I looked at the rows and rows and rows of yogurt (and skyr and other yogurt-like products), and I had this brief but visceral moment of, NO! I can NOT eat any more YOGURT!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

...því ég er kominn heim

...And now I'm in Iceland.

I know, I've become so predictable! So ridiculously predictable! When in doubt, I suppose just assume I'm traveling to Iceland.

But all this semester (after I also visited Iceland on my way to Scotland, in August/September) I've been longing for Iceland, always thinking, "Oh, if only I could be in Iceland..." And I have two weeks off between first and second semester, and it was very clear I really needed to take that time as an absolute, true break away from everything, so I could come back to second semester refreshed and ready to dive into it all again, after the exhaustion of first semester. And besides, you know, I'd been pining for Iceland. So Friday my last piece of coursework was handed in, Saturday I sat down to write all my friends in Iceland and book flights and make plans, I traveled on Tuesday, and here I am.

(I realized when I arrived in Reykavík last night that in total I'd taken: a bus to a train to a tram to a plane to another bus. If only I'd been picked up by car from the airport instead of taking the city bus, or if I'd had cause to get on a boat for some reason, then I'd have hit nearly every kind of standard transport in one day!)

Beautiful afternoon sun in Reykjavík:

I'm staying with my friend S. and his wife and their two little kids. It is so amazing to have this life in Iceland I can drop back into, these friends who enthusiastically invite me into their homes. S. keeps saying how happy he is that I chose to come and stay with them, and I keep saying how happy and grateful I am to be there.

The first part of the day we spent lazing around, eating breakfast and chatting. There are some renovations being done on their apartment building, so there was some banging and hammering happening somewhere in the background as we talked.

Then S. went into the kitchen and I heard him say to someone in Icelandic, "Do you want some coffee?" So I assumed his wife must be somewhere in the apartment, though I hadn't seen her.

Nope – I went into the kitchen and saw that one of the workmen doing the renovations was directly outside the kitchen window – the third-floor kitchen window – on a bit of scaffolding. That's who S. was talking to. And the worker was opening up the window from the outside, and S. was handing a steaming cup of coffee out into the cold to him. So S. and I stood there inside the kitchen and drank coffee and chatted with the worker standing outside the kitchen, perched in the air three floors off the ground, drinking coffee from a dainty cup.

I thought maybe they were friends, or at least knew each other a bit from the course of these renovations, but no – my friend asked the guy his name at some point in the conversation. It's just that S. is that friendly. It was so Icelandic: the kindness, the hospitality – and of course the coffee. Iceland runs on coffee.

Here's me by the ocean in Reykjavík at dusk, in the snow, happier than the happiest clam in the world:

Monday, January 15, 2018


I went to a ceilidh!

A ceilidh (pronounced "kay-lee") is a Scottish party centered around traditional dance and music. It's a very, very Scottish thing, so people have been telling me since my very first days here that I have to go to at least one. (Even the friendly bank employee who opened my bank account told me that...)

And then a great opportunity came up: the same friend in Stonehaven, who invited a couple of us from my master's course for Hogmanay (New Year's), invited the same two of us (both Americans) to come back again two weeks later for a ceilidh her running club was hosting as their big yearly fundraiser.

It was so much fun! I truly can't give adequate words to how much fun it was. Watching the dances, participating in the dances (only a little bit, though – unfortunately all the spinning makes me way too dizzy), chatting with everyone. People in Stonehaven have been so friendly and welcoming, both times I've been there. My friend who lives there told a bunch of her friends beforehand that they had to ask us to dance, but I'm sure they would have done it even without her prompting, because everyone is just so nice!

(Sorry, these are all horrendous, blurry cell phone photos, because I didn't think to bring my camera.)

When I first moved here to Aberdeen, four months ago now – it's hard to explain, but I often had this odd feeling that I just didn't feel very much like I was...in Scotland? Generic UK, yes, sure – the shops and the street signs and everything were different from what I was used to, and were clearly British. But much of the time I felt vaguely that I could be anywhere urban and British, because things around me didn't feel specifically, particularly Scottish.

Which is unfair, of course! What, do I expect everybody to act like a walking Scottish cliché all the time? But, I don't know, the other places I've been in Scotland have had such a specific atmosphere of their own – Edinburgh, the Highlands, the Western Isles. Aberdeen is nice, but I don't feel I've discovered its own specific culture yet. (This is probably the fault of spending most of my time at a university, which is very international – so I'm indeed not in a particularly Scottish context much of the time.)

Anyway, at that ceilidh in Stonehaven I felt more like I was really, truly in Scotland than at any other point so far. It wasn't just that there was Scottish music playing, and almost all the men were wearing kilts, and at half-time they served stovies and sticky toffee pudding. It was more that I was in a big room surrounded by Scottish folks, a community of friends hanging out together and just doing the stuff they like to do anyway (chatting, having a beer, dancing dances they all learned growing up). And, again, they were all so friendly and cheerful and welcoming. I really appreciate how international the university is (my 6 flatmates alone are from 5 different countries!), but when living in a country, it's nice to get a chance at least sometimes to be truly, deeply immersed in that country.

It makes me really glad, too, to see people still embracing and living their own traditions.

In addition to the dancing, there was also a ceremony of awards and prizes (since this was a running club event, so they recognized various people's achievements in running). And then, as a fundraiser, there was a bottle slide. A what? Two bottles of gin were set on the floor at the front of the room, and people rolled £1 coins towards them, and whoever landed their coin closest won the bottle. Hilarious, and apparently raises a lot of funds for the club, too!

After the ceilidh, I caught the next-to-last train back to Aberdeen, then hurried to catch the night bus that would take me back home, so I wouldn't have to walk the whole way (about an hour). But it turned out the night bus I got on was...the wrong night bus. (Even though it was the right route number, which I'd looked up beforehand.) So the driver of my wrong bus caught up to the right bus, and pulled up in front of it so I could run off of his bus and onto the other one.

Take away of the evening as a whole: Scottish people are so nice!


I do believe I may have found the greatest Scottish street name, out of some very stiff competition of great Scottish street names:

(This one had competition right there in the same neighborhood – it was directly next to Monymusk Terrace, as well as some quite normal-Scottish sounding names, like Craigiebuckler Avenue. A lot of street names here are named after other places in Scotland, which are generally long mash-ups of syllables that are never pronounced quite the way you'd think they would be...)