Posts tagged ‘study abroad’


Scottish Sky

When I originally set this weekend aside as a stay-on-campus weekend, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. It was a smart idea for a couple reasons… Midterms are next week, my past few trips have been over budget, and I’m feeling under the weather. But I still felt a desperate restlessness when Friday rolled around and my friends packed their bags and flew away. Somehow it seems crucial to travel every week as I study abroad – a wasted opportunity to stop and breathe.

I didn’t realize how exhausted I’ve been until I experienced my first lazy Saturday in Europe. Instead of getting lost between train stations, I watched Spirited Away in the castle lounge and ate raisin bread. Today I curled up in an armchair with my art history notes, ready to absorb everything about Romanesque churches, when it hit me. I wanted to write. And for the first time in weeks, I had time.

I hadn’t meant to go this long without sharing my semester with you. Maybe photos of Scotland will help?

From the Castle

Our flight was delayed five hours and we arrived in Edinburgh far later than expected. It was so dark we couldn’t see a single building or street, but we found our way to the hostel and crashed on teetering bunk beds. I woke up early the next morning with no idea what Scotland looked like.

I found the shower room, pushed open the door, and groggily cursed the bright light coming from the window. But when I opened my eyes and looked outside for the first time, I actually dropped my bottle of shampoo, rushed back to the room, and returned with my camera. We woke up to one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen – the whole city bathed in fog, planks of light skimming across steeples and trees and rocky crags.

7:30 AM

We walked outside and realized, in the daylight, that our hostel rubbed up against the Edinburgh Castle. My life is unreal.

Edinburgh Castle

I spent my first day exploring. I tried to soak in the stone buildings, made up of a million colors – almond, tan, khaki, black, a few blush pink. I walked through a park and stumbled upon this beautiful cemetery. Some gravestones weren’t completely rubbed down by wind and weather, and the people laid to rest dated back centuries.


I watched a street performer breathe fire, swallow swords, and lay beneath a bed of nails.

Street Magic

Street Magic 2

More than anything else, I loved the layout of Edinburgh. I didn’t realize until we stood high on a ridge and looked down at the city, but the streets weave and tangle like a knot. The city has layers, with some roads above and some roads below, and massive inclines in between. For some reason, we always ended up walking uphill both ways to and from our hostel.

It didn’t make sense to us either.

Streets of Edinburgh

Our first day in Edinburgh was absolutely gorgeous. People kept telling us not to be fooled by the beautiful weather… I thought it was modesty. Then one afternoon the rain turned on and never turned off. Up until that point I’d marveled at the way I could stand on a street and look all the way down, stretching out forever – that day Edinburgh fog swept through until you could barely see anything.


At night, we tried (somewhat unsuccessfully) to find late night food. We sang Brown Eyed Girl at a piano bar and went to a ceilidh – “kaylee,” in my American accent – or a traditional Scottish dance.


Piano Bar

I befriended some of the kindest, warmest people I have ever met.


I left Edinburgh fulfilled and awakened, thinking that I could see myself living here someday.

This semester is a gift. I can’t wait to share more of it with you in the coming weeks!

October 23, 2011 at 9:18 am 35 comments

Peanut Butter Jelly Loaf

PBJ Loaf

I’m sitting on a windowsill, trying to write this post, but I keep getting distracted.

There’s the jet lag I can’t seem to shake. I find myself asleep throughout lunch and wide awake at three in the morning, powering through the headaches that come and go and the occasional ear pop.

There’s the noise. In the hallway outside my room, I hear every step on the creaky wood floors that are older than me. Downstairs someone is playing the untuned grand piano. Whenever a door slams – and they have to slam or they won’t shut – the sound bounces up every flight of stairs, around the high ceilings, and into my jet-lagged head.

But most of all, there’s the beauty. From the window opposite me I can see into the courtyard, four even brick walls and a stone tower around a square of cobblestone. If I lean I can see the path continue into a drawbridge, then an open field. My bedroom window looks over the moat, slowly churned by a single fountain and home to one black swan.

I’m blogging from a small castle in the Netherlands, a three-hour bus ride from Amsterdam and a seven-hour flight from Boston. For the next three months, this is home.

PBJ Loaf

I found out I’d be studying abroad way back in first semester, but it didn’t feel real until I was loading my bag onto the bus, lugging it through Logan Airport. I didn’t think I slept much on the flight but I blinked and the sky changed from charcoal to pink and apricot. Then the plane touched down onto the flattest country I’d ever seen, and “Welcome to Amsterdam” crinkled over the speaker.

Even though the airport was filled with English, nothing was familiar. I instantly regretted wearing my Boston sweatshirt, which made me feel extra touristy and kind of guilty. We boarded yet another bus and passed windmills, grassy stretches, and lots of cows until finally we arrived at the castle.

There’s a village ten minutes from here, where we can buy shampoo from “Everything Under One Roof” and applekorn shots from the bar (Wednesday nights are American Night.) Cars always honk warmly at us when we walk through town, elderly couples smile when they pass on bikes. So far I can’t help but adore the Dutch. Every local I’ve run into is friendly, to the point, and has a good sense of humor.

Still, the culture feels so new, with distinctions I haven’t really learned. I asked a teacher if I could find an oven somewhere in the village and her reply was polite, but brisk – “No. The Dutch are a private people. Nobody will let you into their home just to use a kitchen.”

Peanut Butter

I can’t cook, but I can eat. Our castle tour guide passed around a bag of stroopwafel, two thin waffles sandwiched with caramel syrup. I bought apricot tart at the village bakery. The dough was like bread and the apricots were so sticky sweet, they perfumed my fingers for hours. I’m obsessed with the tomatoensoep from the little café. It’s like marinara! I ended up dipping French fries into it because – sorry – I didn’t like the weird custard-like mayonnaise that came with them instead of ketchup.

I didn’t expect much from the castle’s dining hall, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Breakfast and lunch usually includes breads, deli meats and cheese, even fresh fruit. Dinner always has potatoes in one form or another, and a heavy white sauce. It kind of feels like home until you reach the spreads. Literally, a table full of various jars, available at every meal and totally strange.

There are two chocolate spreads. One is kind of like Nutella and the other is a milk/white chocolate swirled duo. I tried to read the back for ingredients, which were offered in six languages, none of which were English. I tried a strange black syrup on a dare – it turned out to be apple. There are cheese spreads, vegetable spreads, and more of that European mayo.

Then, for no obvious reason, every table has peanut butter and jam.

PBJ Loaf

For the first time, I was reminded of something wholly American. I was thrown back to childhood afterschool sandwiches, thumbprint cookies, and this Peanut Butter and Jelly Loaf I made in Seattle. The pound cake is soft and sweet, and the sugar coating on the pan makes the edges slightly crisp like a peanut butter cookie. I couldn’t help but add dollops of grape jelly, which became set into a sticky swirl after baking.

I ate my potatoes and heavy white sauce but I kept thinking about that loaf. Finally I decided to make a PB&J. I expected the unexpected, because everything that looks familiar ends up being strange. The milk is extra thick, the yogurt is extra thin, the butter has a texture I can’t place. But I opened the two jars, spread each onto bread, and sandwiched them together.

Unbelievable. The peanut butter was creamy and sweet but really… A whole lot like Jif. And the strawberry jam? Maybe a few more strawberry chunks than I’m used to, but exactly like jam at the Boston dining hall. I ate my peanut butter sandwich and felt wholly American, and kind of okay with that. I have plenty of time to adjust, travel, and adapt. Next weekend I’m off to Amsterdam, and the weekend after that, Edinburgh. For right now, though, I’ll enjoy the occasional PB&J.

The internet is a little spotty, but I’ll keep blogging! Expect some photo-filled travel posts…


September 19, 2011 at 10:30 am 48 comments

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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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