Playing tourist in St. Andrews

With two weeks at St. Andrews behind me, I finally have wifi up and running in my flat. The time spent offline, with only borrowed hours at noisy coffee shops or the library, wasn’t convenient or fun. It didn’t liberate me from my technology addictions, I didn’t achieve a higher state of self awareness, and it didn’t enable me to concentrate more deeply. Mostly, not having wifi meant that I was less able to blog, more stressed about missing emails from my professors, and unable to Skype my parents, boyfriend, and friends. If anything, I’ve come away from this forced experiment with a greater appreciation for Murder, She Wrote and UK reality shows, because that’s what I watched during the free hours when I was done reading for the day but not yet able to go to sleep.

This morning, two weeks after we were promised wifi by our telephone provider and two days after our modem actually arrived, I awoke to find the modem glowing blue in the hallway. As I caught up on emails and read the NY Times online in the common room, my flatmates gradually came and joined me. When we had all assembled, we agreed that it was like Christmas morning, but for college students.

With frustration over the wifi situation on the rise all last week, a visit from a friend was especially nice. Last Friday, Maureen, my UVa roommate of two years, visited, bringing her new roommate, Christy, with her; they’re both spending this semester as visiting students at University of Edinburgh. My current roommate and longtime best friend, Susan, finally got the chance to get to know Maureen, and we all enjoyed getting to know Christy, who hails from Vassar College in New York State. New roommates, old roommates, new friends, old friends – the fact that we all ended up in Scotland continues to surprise me.

The visit began, as most visits do, in the bus station. After class last Friday afternoon, I hurried to meet Maureen and Christy. The cheapest way to travel between Edinburgh and St. Andrews is a £12 bus ride that takes you through two hours of Scottish farmland, so that’s what Christy and Maureen chose, arriving on time at the little St. Andrews station at the foot of Market Street. As we headed toward my flat, I explained the layout of the town. St. Andrews is organized along three main streets that fan out like the spokes of a wheel. All three streets converge near the ruined cathedral that now contains an ancient graveyard; weaving your way through the graveyard, you can cut through to the Fife Coastal Path and from there, the old stone pier that runs out into the North Sea. The three streets are named simply and accurately: North Street hosts many of St. Andrews’ academic buildings, including the library; Market Street features most of the shops and restaurants, including two tiny grocery stores; and South Street features more shopping and restaurants. To the north lies the famed Old Course, and roughly to the west lies another cluster of dormitories and academic buildings. Like any town, there are more landmarks and residential areas that I’m currently omitting, but, as I told Christy and Maureen, that’s St. Andrews’ basic layout.

St. Andrews is a great place to live if you love sweets.

St. Andrews is a great place to live if you love sweets.

After Maureen and Christy dropped their backpacks off at my flat, we all headed to Bibi’s, a cafe down the street that specializes in cupcakes. Emma’s sister, who lived in our flat for three years before we moved in, gave us a half dozen cupcakes from Bibi’s as a housewarming gift, and I was impressed by all of them. This time, I enjoyed a Nutella cupcake. Most of the cupcakes at Bibi’s are filled, so when I cut into mine, I was delighted to find a dollop of Nutella within the chocolate cake. Over cupcakes and a pot of tea, we chatted about classes and our respective Freshers Weeks. Both Christy and Maureen are taking History courses this semester, and I filled them in on my first week of literature courses.

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These stone markers help visitors to orient themselves within the cathedral's skeletal structure. As you can see, the grass actually is greener in Scotland.

These stone markers help visitors to orient themselves within the cathedral’s skeletal structure. As you can see, the grass actually is greener in Scotland.

After tea, we wandered over to the cathedral. The weather was beautiful, with sun drenching the old cathedral’s brown skeleton. At UVa, we have a small chapel where regular church services are held. Although I don’t attend church, I’ve been in the chapel a few times; it’s a large space that organizations sometimes borrow for events. Every year, my sorority initiates new members under the watchful eyes of the stained glass figures crowding the chapel’s windows. By comparison, the ruined cathedral now hosts primarily the dead. As the original structure decayed, gravestones filled the areas that nature reclaimed.

A peaceful moment just before the bee attack.

A peaceful moment just before the bee attack.

On our way to the pier, I was admiring the North Sea when Maureen said, “Watch out, there’s a bee – ” Instinctively, I ducked my head and immediately felt a sharp pain below my chin. For the first time in years, I’d been stung by a bee. But not just any bee – a killer bee. Since I’ve been abroad, I’ve noticed these bees. Near the Forth Bridge outside of Edinburgh and in front of the National Gallery in London, I’ve been chased by these yellow jacket-like bees, which aim for vulnerable places like the face and hands. These bees aren’t any more venomous than regular bees, as I found when my sting failed to swell, but they are very aggressive and persistent.

Ignoring the sting, I took Christy and Maureen to Maisha, a local Indian restaurant that’s a favorite among my flatmates. Over naan, jasmine rice, korma, and tikka masala, we compared stories about Edinburgh. Later this semester, we agreed to meet up for Edinburgh’s Christmas market, where vendors set up camp for the season and offer up mulled wine, sweet hot cocoa, and colorful ornaments.

Maureen and I sipped hard cider at Central pub.

Maureen and I sipped hard cider at Central pub to celebrate our semesters abroad.

St. Andrews students tend to go out to bars early in the week, with bars expecting highest turnouts on Tuesday and Wednesdays, unlike the typical Thursday-Friday-Saturday weekend at universities in the States. Since it was Friday, the streets were fairly empty. One acquaintance we ran into explained that everyone was home “resting up and recovering from whatever diseases they acquired during the week.” After the first week of classes, it was actually nice to have a quiet night.

The next morning dawned just as warm and sunny as Friday had been. We grabbed coffee in town and walked along the coastal path, pausing to admire the ruined castle that sits literally across the street from the two buildings where my classes take place. From there, we continued toward the little aquarium and took in a view of the Old Course and the cold beach where the iconic scene from Chariots of Fire was filmed.

Although the morning began sunny and warm, gray clouds obscured the sun by early afternoon.

Although the morning began sunny and warm, gray clouds obscured the sun by early afternoon.

The castle is right across the street from my classrooms, pictured just below.

The castle is right across the street from my classrooms, pictured just below.

From there, we hit some more highlights, including brunch at Northpoint where, as a tacky sign in the window exclaims, “KATE MET WILLS (for coffee!!)” After brunch, we walked back down Market Street and down to the St. Andrews Museum, a stone building that offers a little gallery of St. Andrews historical information and artifacts. Weaving our way through dormitories and academic buildings, we eventually circled back to the Old Course, where crews were working busily in preparation for the Albert Dunhill championship. Widely attended by celebrities, the annual golf competition offers ample opportunities for star-spotting. We finished up back on the beach, where the cold North Sea washed over the sand and we inspected piles of dark kelp and tiny sand fleas that skitter away as soon as they sense a footstep.

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Although I’ve lived at St. Andrews for a few weeks now, it was nice to see the town through fresh eyes once again. Recently I’ve been eying my calendar and feeling the pressure to plan another trip. My four months in Europe are already flying by faster than I could have imagined. But until I make it to Dublin or Amsterdam or Prague, I love the place I live.

You can read about Maureen’s semester abroad by clicking here! She’ll make you laugh, I promise.

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4 Comments

    • You’re right – my mistake! I’ll fix that now. Thanks for pointing it out, and thanks for reading.

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  1. Enjoyed this as it brought together many things I love about St Andrews. Try the coffee tower cakes at Fisher and Donaldson. According to the locals there’s a knack to eating them that won’t have cream bursting all over your chin.

    And when we occasionally visit my kids love golf putting on the Himalayas – great fun. You should have a go if you have not done so already.

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    • Great suggestions! I haven’t done either yet, but I’ll be sure to add them to my list. My next few weekends are too busy to travel far, so I was looking for some local things to check out. Thanks!

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