Category: Abroad

Just Touched Down in Londontown: My Expat Olympic Experience

By Margaret Waterman, Staff Writer

BU Londoners with their eyes glued to the screen while watching the 2014 Sochi, Russia Winter Olympics in the basement of their apartment building./ PHOTO VIA Margaret Waterman

BU Londoners with their eyes glued to the screen while watching the 2014 Sochi, Russia Winter Olympics in the basement of their apartment building./ PHOTO VIA Margaret Waterman

If you know me at all, you know I am crazy about the Winter Olympics. From ski jumping to curling to skeleton, there isn’t one event I don’t enjoy watching.

As an avid skier and general athletic enthusiast, I grew up on snow (I was a competitive alpine ski racer for 13 years). My parents have always joked that I can ski better than I can walk, which, according to the many scars on my knees, might be true.

So, as you can imagine, realizing that I was going to be in a foreign country for the entirety of the 2014 Sochi Olympics sort of stressed me out. How was I going to be able to ensure I could watch Ted Ligety fight to win his second Olympic giant slalom gold medal?

It turned out to be easier than I had imagined.

Luckily, the British Broadcasting Corporation, also known as BBC, allows no advertisements and thus has no incentive to embargo events until prime time.

Unlike NBC back in the U.S., BBC is paid for directly by citizens of the countries in which it is broadcast. Everyone who buys a television in the U.K. has to pay a “license fee,” which funds BBC and its many channels. For a color television, this fee is £145.50 per year, according to BBC’s website, which is equivalent to approximately $238.60.

So, this morning, even before I got out of bed, I was able to live-stream the men’s downhill medal heat right to my phone via BBC. And I haven’t had to miss many events. I got to catch Hannah Kearney, my favorite Olympian  – who, before her US Ski Team days, skied for the Waterville Valley BBTS just like I did – capture the bronze medal in women’s freestyle skiing as it happened.

My friends and I also got to see the opening ceremony in real-time, unlike all our friends back in Boston and all over the U.S. (it was also interesting to see Americans tweet about the show later on, and to see them react to what we had seen hours before).

BBC also does a good job broadcasting all performances for each event. So, regardless of how well the U.S. does, we over in the U.K. can watch our hometown heroes compete, which has made watching the Olympics a much more patriotic, social event for us expatriates. We’ve spent the last few afternoons and nights crowded around the basement television, dinner plates in our laps.

Speaking of which, I’ve got to run and catch the re-airing of the downhill competition. There’s no way I’m going to miss an opportunity to watch Bode Miller’s (kind of disappointing) run again. Go team USA!


Just Touched Down in Londontown: The Thrill of Notting Hill

By Margaret Waterman, Staff Writer

Crepe-makers, doing their thing at Notting Hill's Portobello Road Market on a chilly Saturday afternoon./ PHOTO VIA Margaret Waterman

Crepe-makers doing their thing at Notting Hill’s Portobello Road Market on a chilly Saturday afternoon./ PHOTO VIA Margaret Waterman

You could get almost anything you’ve ever wanted and more at Notting Hill’s Portobello Road Market.

Stretched out along a winding road in downtown London, the famous market takes on a life of its own each weekend. There are booths overflowing with all manner of things, including beautiful jewelry, vintage records, handmade leather journals, crappy used CD’s and real fur coats.

If that weren’t enough, there is food and drink from every corner of the globe available to anyone who wants it. Among other things, I saw Spanish paella, Italian bruschetta, Belgian waffles and an endless selection of French cheeses.

Musicians line the streets, serenading shoppers all day long. Stands open bright and early and some don’t close up shop until dinnertime. Locals and tourists alike can mill about all day long and never get bored. My friends and I killed several hours there, just taking in the sights. We browsed around a vintage rock t-shirt shop, ate delicious crepes and made friends with merchants.

The Portobello Road Market was a lot like street fairs at New York City, but had a completely different vibe. Everyone was friendly — with the exception of one guy at a vintage record booth who was a complete jerk to my friend for no good reason — and encouraged us to look through their goods and had no issues if we chose to not part from our money. I took pictures freely and was met with many friendly faces along our (long) walk up and down Portobello Road.

Notting Hill itself is beautiful, too. Many of the houses have colorful exteriors and the whole neighborhood had a cheery feel to it matched by no other place I’ve yet encountered in the city. There were cinemas and off-beat pubs and artist shops on every corner. It felt like SoHo in New York City, except less retail-oriented and much cozier.

The only downside of my day was that we didn’t accidentally bump into Hugh Grant (who lives in the area!) or see the famous blue door, made iconic by Grant’s fittingly titled film, Notting Hill.

Afterward, we hiked on over to Harrods, a department store famous for its luxury goods and its absolutely unrivaled food court (if you can even call it that). The store’s confectionery department alone is enough to put any foodie over the edge — truffles of all shapes and sizes filled glasses cases on every wall. There was also a fresh fish market, gourmet butcher shop and a raw oyster and champagne bar. Harrods also boasts an amazing beauty department and clothing section, as well as a transport system they called the “Egyptian escalators,” where shoppers zip up and down on escalators bedecked with gilded sphinxes. While riding up and down, we were also serenaded by an opera singer in a full ball gown.

My friends and I bought some chocolates that were expensive but worth every penny. Needless to say, I’ll be back if my wallet ever recovers.

Just Touched Down in Londontown: The Irish Expedition Edition

Margaret Waterman, Staff Writer

The Dame Street area in Dublin, which is packed with pubs and clubs/ PHOTO VIA Margaret Waterman

The Dame Street area in Dublin, which is packed with pubs and clubs/ PHOTO VIA Margaret Waterman

Between learning to pour the perfect pint of Guinness, embarking on a hilarious journey with new Irish friends and having a spiritual encounter with a particularly delicious burrito, I had a fantastic time exploring Dublin and Galway this week.

When my professor canceled my Thursday class, my roommate and I decided to change our Dublin flights to arrange for a Wednesday night arrival. We took the tube to Heathrow for a quick flight over to Ireland’s capital.

The first night, we explored the Temple Bar area of Dublin — a slice of the city known for its nightlife — that sits just south of the River Liffey. That part of town is comprised of narrow, cobble-stoned streets in their original medieval layout. My roommate and I had a late start and ended up splitting our time between two pubs near each other, one of which had live authentic Irish music.

The third night we were there, we met up with more friends from the BU London program who also decided to visit Ireland this week. We went to one of the same pubs from the night before and then made our way over to one of Dublin’s most popular clubs, which was a blast. We ran into more American friends, coincidentally, and also met some locals in the “queue” to get inside and once we were in.

Much later that night, as we were leaving, we met up with a friend at a nearby late-night Mexican restaurant and had what we described as a “life-changing burrito.” It gave some of our friends the strength to return home to their hostel — they had boldly chosen to bunk in a 16-bed mixed dormitory just north of the river. (We were lucky enough to be able to stay at my roommate’s cousin’s house after just one night in a private hostel room.)

We met new people every night we were out, in places ranging from hole-in-the-wall pubs to the busiest clubs on the street, which was awesome. My new Irish friends, who had known each other forever, took my roommate and I to their favorite spots around town on Saturday night. Against the Grain— a “gastropub” that is known for its varied selection of craft beers — was really fun and was absolutely packed with locals enjoying pints and each other’s company. The Garage Bar, a club in Temple Bar and our next stop after Against the Grain, had a floor covered in sawdust, played mostly punk music and drew a totally different crowd but was just as fun.

Galway, a relatively short bus ride away, was a fun day trip as well, even though it poured rain the entire day. We had the opportunity to see Ireland’s gorgeous countryside as well which was nice in comparison to the urban landscape of Dublin.

The last touristy thing we did was tour the Guinness factory, a must for any American in Dublin. We are now certified Guinness pourers and as such retain the right to judge any bartender who doesn’t follow Guinness’ recommended instructions.

All in all, it was an amazing four days and I would highly recommend both Dublin and Galway to anyone visiting Ireland. You’ll never run out of things to do or people to meet.

Just Touched Down in Londontown: The Adjustment Phase

Margaret Waterman, Staff Writer

Me (left) and my roommate, Kim, posing at the "Platform 9 and 3/4" located at King's Cross Station in London/ PHOTO VIA Margaret Waterman

Me (left) and my roommate, Kim, posing at the “Platform Nine and 3/4” located at King’s Cross Station in London/ PHOTO VIA Margaret Waterman

A week into my semester abroad, I still feel like it’s not really real yet.

I’ve been to Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Big Ben, Parliament, pubs (so many pubs) and clubs. I took a boat cruise down the Thames and even visited “Platform Nine and ¾.” Everything is gorgeous and so old and historical. It has been so fun sightseeing; we’re off to the Tower of London today. Still, though, it feels like I’m on vacation with a bunch of friends — except, on a budget.

One of the hardest things to adjust to — besides learning to look the “wrong” way when crossing the street — has been living completely on my own. Last semester, I had an apartment, but I was always at The Daily Free Press or my restaurant job and rarely had time to cook real meals for myself. Here, though, it’s been all home-cooked, all the time. We really can’t afford anything else with the exchange rate (which sits at almost two dollars for every one pound) and with our estimated travel budget. So, it’s been chicken and veggies pretty much every night for dinner.

My roommate and I have pooled our spending and split everything from trips to the grocery store, to cooking and dishes. It’s been a great system but definitely has been a big adjustment, along with sharing a kitchen with 14 other girls, all of whom live in my flat.

Before I got here, I decided one of my main goals would be to travel. I’ve been looking forward to seeing all parts of Europe since I can remember and realize this is the perfect opportunity. We’re going to Dublin next weekend, where luckily enough I have a friend there we can stay with for free. We’ve got a bunch more trips planned, too — all around the U.K., Ireland and the Netherlands, for now, with our bigger trips still up in the air.

I think what has struck me most about London is how massive and how international it is as a city. Every place we’ve been, we’ve met people from all over the globe. Other Americans, a ton of French people, Lithuanians and — my personal favorite — two businessmen from Copenhagen we met on a pub-crawl. It’s been much harder to meet Brits than I figured it would be, but I think that’s because of the neighborhood we live in (South Kensington). It’s very expensive and not home to too many locals. I’ve set another goal for myself this week to meet more people from in and around London. There are a bunch of local universities around that we might go check out.

All and all, it’s been an amazing first week and I couldn’t be happier with my choice to study abroad in London. As far as classes go, I’m taking a British media and culture class and a class focused on foreign corresponding. I can’t wait for those to begin next week!

Lauren in London: Passport to Paris

By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer

The famous leopard coat, accompanied by French wine and French onion soup. Très bon!/PHOTO VIA Lauren Dezenski

Paris, the first leg of our most recent and last trip abroad, was one for the books. Rima and I spent five days in the City of Light (by far our longest stay anywhere other than London) and did our best to transform into the French ladies that lie within.

Pro tip: for you kids studying abroad in an EU country, you can get free admission into basically every museum in Paris, along with some hefty student discounts pretty much everywhere else. This turned out to be particularly helpful when we had 45 minutes before the Louvre closed–you feel so much less guilt when you just go to take a couple selfies with Mona Lisa and then spend most of your time taking pictures with the pyramid outside. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything…

Speaking of spending time outside of the Louvre, this goes out to all the illegal street vendors who harassed us there and at the Eiffel Tour. Rima figured out how to say “what you’re doing is illegal” in French, which then just made them awkwardly mock her.

I did the best I could behind my significant language barrier and proved to be no help when Rima was called Lady Gaga not once but twice by two different people. I think her leopard print coat definitely had something to do with it. Très, très bon.

I still can’t decide which night was better: our last night in Paris or that one night in Geneva.

The last night in Paris, we met up with some friends on the BU program who were also in Paris and ended up in this tiny fondue place in Montmartre that serves wine in baby bottles.

It sounds weirder than it actually was, though that was certainly helped by the hour spent beforehand at the neighboring bar that had glasses of wine for €3.

There were also issues with some sort of reservation, but Rima was the French knight in knitted leopard print, arguing with the restaurant owner. So, we not only got seated, but got free drinks and enough charcuterie to make your head spin. I somehow managed to spill wine on myself despite the baby bottle situation (I did take off the top because it was still weird), but the drinks, company, and cheese were top-notch.

Then there was our one night in Geneva. We stayed with my aunt who lives there and who took us to this big Christmas party that was being held in some swanky hotel. Apparently last year’s fête had been a blast, so we put our best dresses on and cabbed it over. The performer for this year’s party was a Lady Gaga impersonator, but it was awkward because she actually just looked like my friend Emily wearing a kimono, sunglasses and red lipstick. Go figure.

The people watching was also top-notch. There’s a sizable ex-pat population in Geneva, many of whom are from Eastern Europe and really go all-out with their feathers, sequins, skin-tight dresses and gold lamé. Good stuff.

So folks, this is the end. There’s still five days left of my abroad experience, but most of it will be spent packing, “studying” and crying into the nearest pint of cider.

It’s hard to explain what exactly I’ll be crying about. Sure, London is awesome, but it’s been far from my favorite city that I’ve visited this semester. The first half of the abroad program sucked, for the record, and it took a long time to get over my initial culture shock and subsequent FOMO.

I think the thing I’ll miss most about my abroad experience will be the opportunity to travel. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit eight different countries (not counting layovers) and have some truly incredible experiences. Though I have to say I never did get to ride on the back of a Parisian boy’s motorcycle through the streets of Paris a la Lauren Conrad on “The Hills.”

Lauren in London: The Delights of Prague

By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer

Standing by the illuminated buildings right off the Charles Bridge./PHOTO VIA Lauren Dezenski

I’d just like to give a shout out to the guy in the seat behind me snoring like his life depends on it. His olfactorial noises are truly a delight.

Other delights I’ve experienced this weekend: the beautiful city of Prague. My friend Rima and I went for roughly 36 hours because a baby’s gotta do what a baby’s gotta do and these babies had a small amount of time to see Prague but gosh darn it we were going to see it. All of this was shocking to the especially chatty man at the Swiss Air Heathrow check-in desk. “What do you mean you’re only going for a day?”

Continuing with the things that made this weekend delightful: not flying Ryanair. Though I did read somewhere that now Ryanair is allowing two pieces of carry-on luggage which is amazing.

The flight attendant also just spoke to me in German which is a wonderful feeling because this usually means I don’t look like an American. Personal victories!

When our Swiss Air flight landed in Prague, the lady sitting behind me started clapping like they do on Ryanair flights but there was nothing novel about her clapping since I wasn’t expecting to die on this flight like I have every time I’ve flown Ryanair.

Just kidding.

Anyway, Prague was exceptional. In a weird way, it was everything I expected to see somewhere like Rome–beautiful cobblestone streets, colorful and ornate buildings, all chock full of historical significance. Prague was all of that with only a fraction of the touristy nonsense that you’d get in Rome. Of course there’s vendors all over the place selling the same 15 prints of watercolor paintings, but you’re not nearly as worried about pickpockets.

We decided to visit Prague this weekend to see the famous Christmas markets and they did not disappoint. We knew of two markets but only found one, which was fine because after a while markets can all blend together. The market was in the same square as the astronomical clock that happens to be freakishly old.

No one told us that the clock was located at essentially eye-level, so we were wandering around the perimeter of the square, looking up at all the buildings and this big clock tower, thinking that we misread the map or something. That was also partially influenced by the large quantity of hot wine and mead we consumed at the market, though we did our best to off-set it with langos, fresh potato chips, sausage, and lots of pastries.

One thing we never did figure out was where Prague Castle is located. Apparently our hotel was right at the steps of the castle, but we just never found it. We don’t really know how that happened. But it was still awesome.

Additional shout out to Europe’s apparent obsession with funiculars. Prague is now the third city I’ve visited this semester to have one of those rail cars that slide up and down a steep hill with what I imagine to be an epic lever and pulley system. I’ve taken to calling them “up machines.”

The Prague up machine didn’t disappoint and was our last stop before heading to the airport. This one took us up to this 60 meters tall replica of the Eiffel Tower. No joke. It’s hilarious. It’s visible from all over the city and the views from the top are absolutely breathtaking. I highly recommend it.

I suppose the replica Eiffel Tower visit is the best way to prepare Rima and I for our next trip. We’ve got 36 hours in London before our next destination: Paris.

Lauren in London: Countdown to Home

By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer

St. Paul’s Cathedral was never very far./PHOTO VIA Lauren Dezenski

I’ll be home in less than a month.

Just as this city has started to really get in under my skin in the best ways, it’s going to be over. It’s made even worse by the realization that I’ve only got one weekend left in London.

I suppose it’s for the best that I’m falling in love with the city as I prepare to leave it.

This all just feels like I’ve had two pints of cider at the pub and upon standing I realize I’m a little more drunk than anticipated…but not too far gone for another pint.

One of my favorite buildings in all of London is St. Paul’s Cathedral. Look back on most of my Instagrams of any sort of London skyline, if it’s not featuring Big Ben or the London Eye (or some combination of me trying to break into a palace or join the Royal Family). St. Paul’s Cathedral is there, sometimes in the foreground, sometimes in the background, sometimes featured in a glass of wine.

I’ve never actually been inside of St.Paul’s, mind you. It’s on my (dwindling) list of places to go, and my friend convinced me to wait to go until next weekend. Ending my London tourist-ings on a high note, right?

It’s hard to explain my infatuation with this building. William and Kate weren’t even married there (though William’s mother and father were). In a city filled to the brim with old buildings, it’s one of the most noteworthy, sure, but there’s just something about the way it rises above most of the other buildings in that majestic way tall things are tall. It’s a crude description but bear with me.

Whether I’m 50 feet or 5,000 meters away, something about that white dome just catches my eye and holds my attention. A friend and I walked around the cathedral on Saturday evening and I couldn’t help but just stare skyward at the beautifully carved exterior, marveling.

Something about St. Paul’s makes me feel centered. I’m by no means a religious person, but the curve of the dome and the beauty that was wrought by Christopher Wren just makes things feel right.

I feel small, but not in a bad way. You get close to the building and look up, until you remember to look where you’re going because another tourist almost bumped into you. You remember your feet are still on the ground and you’ve got another place to go.

Maybe it’s strange to have a semi-religious experience thanks to a building’s exterior architecture and maybe I’m just mostly typing nonsense, but I think it all goes hand in hand with my time in London.

No matter what, I’ll always look toward London. It’ll have a place in my heart, for better or for worse, and now I’ll understand a little better what this city actually is.

Just like getting close to the cathedral, I’ve felt small in London. I’ve felt really small. Never before have I felt so outside my comfort zone in so many situations—but it’s also a beautiful reminder of what life brings.

In no way shape or form should I remain in my comfort zone at all times, and I think I best grow when put outside of my native environment.

I think because of all of this, it’s given me a greater understanding of myself. Sure I’ve bumped into a number of tourists (both physically and allegorically), but it’s all made me realize what’s going on around me—and just how awesome it’s been to be here.

Lauren in London: Viva Barcelona!

By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer

Even the cacti know what’s up in Barcelona./PHOTO VIA Lauren Dezenski

Another weekend, another country visited. This weekend’s destination was Barcelona, where I’ve been hoping to travel since I started taking Spanish in seventh grade.

Armed with a laundry list of recommendations and fewer than 36 hours, my friend Rima and I set out on our glorious Ryanair flight to Barcelona. For the record (and to my dismay) no one clapped once we landed.

It’s important to know good places to visit when you’re going to a new city, but sometimes too many recommendations can cause problems. Maybe it’s just because we weren’t in Barcelona for very long (and some would argue not  enough), but we had a huge list of places to visit but not enough time to see them.

It’s also worth mentioning that international travel is kind of a drag on three hours of sleep and a chesty cough (the pharmacist’s words, not mine).

Once we made it to the hostel and I used conversational Spanish for the first time in years, we did as the locals did: siesta-ed. Hard. For those unfamiliar, the Spanish basically take a break every afternoon to eat and nap and it’s called a siesta.

Post-siesta, we took the train towards Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. Both of these are pieces of architecture designed by Gaudi — his artwork is all over the city of Barcelona (which I learned in my Spanish class senior year of high school. At least I paid attention in class at some point in my life).

On the way to these landmarks, we decided to stop at this highly recommended paella place in a relatively quiet, residential neighborhood. It was a gorgeous walk, especially since there wasn’t a tour bus or fanny pack in sight, but it was out of the way of most everything we wanted to see. Plus, it turned out the restaurant didn’t start serving their paella until 8 p.m., so we detoured even further by getting tapas and sangria elsewhere.

Despite Barcelona’s size — its population is only 1.6M, the city’s got remarkably good infrastructure, including a transit system that puts the MBTA to shame. We used the train to get most everywhere in the city, though we did cab it back to the hostel after we didn’t leave our paella dinner until midnight.

We figured it would save us time to get ready to go out to Barcelona’s famed clubs (as every single person and their mother who has ever visited the city will tell you), but that wasn’t the case. We laid down for a siesta round two because everyone knows they don’t go out in Barcelona until 2 a.m… but then we forgot to wake up. We did actually wake up at 3:30 a.m. and realize what happened, but it was too late (so to speak).

This morning, we were determined to make up for lost time, going from Park Güell to Las Ramblas and La Boqueria, this food market that is my friend’s favorite place in the entire world (and she’s been a lot of places in this world, so I really trust her judgement).

We were absolutely GUTTED to realize that La Boqueria is CLOSED on Sundays. Strike two. We got over it as best we could with Kinder Bueno gelato and headed up the glorified ski lift to Montjuïc castle before popping down to the sea-side area called “Barceloneta.” A few pictures of the sunset later and back to London we went.

While I experienced so many other aspects of Barcelona and saw a city with much more depth and culture than I ever could have imagined, I can’t help but feel like something’s missing. But I guess that’s travel. You really have to take advantage of the time you have somewhere and carpe every diem, even if that means you’ll need a couple double espressos to do it.

Lauren in London: FOMO

By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer

You can’t have Boston without the Red Sox./PHOTO VIA Flickr user Keith Allison

If Webster was a college-aged COM major, he’d describe FOMO in the following ways:

Noun: Short for “fear of missing out,” describing the feeling of being left out or the anticipation of being left out.

It can also be used as a verb.

When used in a sentence: “Lauren FOMOed so hard when she missed the Red Sox winning the World Series at Fenway this year.”

This should come as no surprise, but I felt so much FOMO this week. Not that this was a secret in any way because I told anyone who’d ask (and most people didn’t even have to ask for me to tell them).

As pretty much any media report on Boston’s World Series victory will tell you: the win was huge for the city.

It’s so strange to know the city is at such a high when just six months ago, it was at such a low. It was even stranger to not be there to experience that high.

When the bombs went off on Boylston St. six months ago, I was working on the city desk at the Boston Globe. The entire day, I had been looking forward to my shift ending at 3:30–I was missing out on much of Marathon Monday because I was at work, but I planned to make the most of the rest of the day by meeting up with friends and, per tradition, drinking heavily. That all changed at roughly 2:50 when the police scanner on my editor’s desk erupted with noise. The next six hours, not to mention the rest of the week, were a scary, exhilarating blur.

There really is something incredible about the city of Boston. This strange little city full of people with crazy accents manages to get under your skin and stick with you.

Sure, I like London, but I love boston. And after living and working in the city during that week in the middle of April, I felt so close to the city that I totally understood wanting to fight someone for saying something terrible about Boston.

I think it’s that connection that kept me up until 4 a.m. on a work night, glued to Twitter to see the Red Sox clinch the final World Series game. I admit, I’m not truly a Red Sox die-hard. I can’t name more than two or three players on the roster and I certainly didn’t go to a place in London that showed the game. But I know what the team means to the city, because let’s face it. You can’t have Boston without the Red Sox.

It’s strange to be in a special, once-in-a-lifetime place but just want to go home. Boston may not be my hometown, but after this spring, it is my home. And there is no other way to put this: It truly sucked not to be one of the thousands cheering for the team on Boylston Street, snapping an Instagram or two like my friend Meredith. I just wanted to be shipping up to Boston, not sipping tea at Selfridges.

Nevertheless, I’ll be home soon. I’ve only got six weeks left across the pond, and I’m set to enjoy them properly. And let’s be honest, spring training really isn’t that far off.

Lauren in London: But Actually, Edinburgh

By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer

The view of Arthur’s Seat/PHOTO VIA Flickr user downatthezoo

Greetings from the Scottish countryside (or right outside of Edinburgh). The east coast of Great Britain? Who really knows? What I do know is that my friend Rima and I went to Edinburgh (pronounced “Edinboro,” fun fact) on a whim and it couldn’t have been a better decision.

That wasn’t always the case with this trip, though. We booked the train tickets just after midnight Thursday morning and managed to get them at a reasonable price for a trip beginning fewer than 72 hours later.

After booking the train tickets, we perused only to realize that there was nowhere in Edinburgh we could stay for less than £90 a night per person (ridiculous when you’re only staying one night, and that’s even before you convert the price over to US dollars).

I did some creative Google searching, ending up at some random site with an available room in a “guest house” for £30 a night. Finding it a better alternative than sleeping in the train station, we booked the room.

The next day, I was GChatting with a friend and told her about my latest accomplishment: booking this trip. When I got to the part about the train, she reminded me of her worst experience while abroad, which was the train ride back from Edinburgh.

Turns out she booked the exact same train tickets we did. The reason why the tickets were so cheap was that the train companies basically sell tickets that are valid for the entire day, making it a great way to travel flexibly, but also not technically guaranteeing seats on a certain train with tickets sold at our price point. Essentially, we had just purchased standing room-only tickets for a five-hour train ride (oh, did I forget to mention that part about how long the train ride is?).

I broke the news to Rima, who took it much better than I did. We resolved to try to fix it, and if not, make sure we were standing near a widow, because the ride up the coast was, by all accounts, supposed to be incredible. The next day I marched over to Kings Cross in search of a customer service kiosk for answers, which is hilarious because customer service in this country is basically non-existent.

We were up before the sun on Saturday morning, headed to Kings Cross with as much excitement as we could muster for a seatless train ride at 7 a.m. Picking up our tickets, I asked the kind man (using that term loosely, for the record) at the kiosk about the seat situation on the train, saying there was no mention of seats, or lack thereof, on the website — even the fine print in terms and conditions. He chuckled and replied, “You know, you can’t always trust what you read on the Internet.” And then pointed out a typo on the Transport for London website.

Knowing it was a battle we couldn’t win, we set out for the departure boards to wait for the train platform to appear. Once platform 7 flashed on the screen, we booked it through the station and onto the train, finding seats that weren’t reserved, therefore fair game for us as third class (or so it felt) passengers. We even got a table! Take that, condescending man at the kiosk.

After we found our seats, the rest of the trip went swimmingly. Way better than we could have imagined, to be honest. The guest house was basically a hotel-hostel hybrid with private rooms, shared bathrooms and no real concierge. Plus, it was a street over from Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano in the middle of Edinburgh and a stone’s throw from the city center.

We climbed Arthur’s Seat despite definitely not being in the correct attire, but the photos are absolutely worth it. We also got caught in a rain storm at the top — but that only added to the experience, in my opinion. Plus, I don’t think we got pneumonia, either, so take THAT Mother Nature. We spent the evening warming up at a cozy gastropub and ended up in bed by midnight. The next day, we started the day with a cheap and delicious Scottish breakfast, complete with black pudding (also known as blood sausage. Holla!) followed by a trip up to Edinburgh Castle and shopping on the Royal Mile. We bought enough tartan and cashmere to last the winter, not to mention the (probably) overpriced tin of Walkers shortbread cookies commemorating the birth of Prince George.

We capped the sightseeing with afternoon tea at the Missoni Hotel (who knew they had a hotel in Scotland of all places?) which was made even better by the attractive men in Missoni kilts working the valet. And to top it all off, we not only made the 5:30 train back to London. We got seats.