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From Dunnottar Castle to Aberdeen Study Abroad

The hardest part of the semester is over and it finally feels like we can breathe again. I dare to make this broad generalization because I have never met anyone who has really enjoyed the last two weeks of the essay period. We all had to place orders, take tests or midterm exams, and slowly but surely the library spewed out all these pale and confused-looking students who can’t believe they saw nothing except a gray desk and the pink and green disposable cups from the University of Edinburgh for 168 hours straight. If you have enough sleep deprivation to stare thoughtlessly at the brown and gold leaves falling from the trees in front of the library windows because you can’t come up with another argument why the kilt is so much more than just a well-knitted lie for Tourist shops to make money, it seems impossible that November is almost over. Another month went along the leafy alleys that lead through the meadows, and once again you feel like you are missing too many goodbyes. Since my departure from Edinburgh has been postponed for the time being, the pressure to squeeze all the things I want to do in the few remaining weeks has also eased. But there was one place in particular that had been on my travel list since the first week: Dunnottar Castle.

With its roots in the 4thth Century Dunnottar Castle is one of the most important and impressive historical sites in Scotland. Dunnottar Castle is half an hour’s drive south of Aberdeen in Stonehaven and towers over the North Sea as if it would mark the end of the world – which could just as well have been in the Middle Ages. Without delving too deeply into the complex history of the castle, it must be mentioned here that during its more than 1,600 years of existence it was attacked by Vikings who were destroyed by the national hero William Wallace and visited by Mary Queen of Scots and a home offered to the Scottish crown jewels and was eventually sold and saved from ruin.

For those who live outside of Scotland, it may be more familiar to provide inspiration for the co-production of Disney and Pixar Brave, the story of a young fictional Scottish princess, Merida, vaguely resembling the spirit of a young woman in a green dress, who is reported to have been discovered by several visitors who continue to haunt the castle to this day.

The university’s International and Exchange Student Society offered a trip to Dunnottar Castle and the nearby town of Aberdeen, which would have been my next stop for an internship if fate had had no other plans. And that’s why I’m sitting on a foggy Saturday morning again at a quarter to eight in a bus heading north. It takes about an hour and a half for the snow-capped highlands to float above the windows like the mirage of the clouds. Slowly but surely, the tiredness gives way to excitement. When the bus finally stops in a small parking lot near the sea, we are more than ready to jump out and head straight to the cliffs as we only have an hour to explore the historic grounds of Dunnottar Castle. Neither the slippery steps nor the freezing wind can stop us now.

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As it turns out, an hour is far from enough time to explore everything, but with the covered kitchens, cells, and royal quarters, we made the most of our stay. We make it back to the bus two minutes after the agreed meeting time, but even to our own surprise, we’re not the last to arrive. If you are traveling to Dunnottar Castle and are not getting up so quickly, I recommend that you take half a day to really enjoy your stay here. Unfortunately, the castle is not easily accessible for people with walking difficulties, which unfortunately was not taken into account when planning the trip, which was a serious problem for some participants.

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Nevertheless, we continued our journey towards Aberdeen, the third largest city in Scotland with 196,670 inhabitants. While I’ve always liked the warm glow of Edinburgh’s historic city center, Aberdeen is just the opposite. Most of the city center was built from gray granite between the mid-18th and mid-20th centuries, which is why Aberdeen is nicknamed The granite city. Although it is said to be sparkling in the sun, we were unlucky enough to arrive in Aberdeen on a generally gray day, which barely offset the gloomy, intimidating atmosphere that hovered over the pointed tops of Marischal College in Aberdeen (see photo above). Aberdeen feels surprisingly cold in direct comparison with Edinburgh.

We were dropped off near the city center for lunch, but the organizers failed to mention that the main attractions, the historic University of Aberdeen and the old town were a good 45 minutes’ walk away. If we hadn’t checked the distances on our cellphones while chewing fried pub food, we wouldn’t have been able to see everything we originally came for in time. With a burger-and-chips stomach, we hurried from one end of the city to the other as the sun slowly started toward an early winter sunset. But despite our fear of falling into a trap of disappointment, our long walk was worth the breathlessness and sweat.

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Coming from Edinburgh, the city has obviously spoiled us with impressive medieval architecture and beautiful landscapes. As much as we now realize that we are not so impressed with the few streets that make up the old town of Aberdeen. Without a doubt, the university is a beautiful place worth visiting when you are in town, and the narrow cobblestone streets that meander through the rows of small houses that seem to have been stables in the past do the same nostalgic aura that you associate with old Oxford student films. But that alone doesn’t make the long drive from Edinburgh in the north worth a day. I am sure Aberdeen has much more to offer than the brief glimpse we had – if only we had had more time to explore it instead of walking through the less impressive parts of the city.

And as we cross the Queensferry Bridge hours later, after the sun has set for a long time and the first lights of Edinburgh are sparkling in the distance, I smile when I think about how it feels to get home. And how happy I am to call this wonderful city a little longer.

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By Leonie.

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