By Wenyan Deng ’15
As a junior in Wellesley’s Class of 2015 originally from Beijing, China, I am currently reading International Politics at The University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. This column aims to give a feel of what life is like as a semester student at Cambridge.
The Cambridge trimester schedule is quite different from Wellesley’s semester system. Essentially, the first Cambridge trimester, known as the Michaelmas term, is equivalent to Wellesley’s fall semester, except it starts in October instead of September. Wellesley’s spring semester is roughly equivalent to Cambridge’s second and third trimesters, which are respectively known as the Lent term and Easter term. One positive thing about the trimester system is that there is a five-week long break between the Lent term and the Easter term, which provides an excellent time to travel, read, relax or catch up on the lives of friends across the Atlantic.
The highlight of my Easter break was definitely my trip to Scotland. Two friends and I enjoyed a relaxing, week-long trip to Edinburgh and the Scottish highlands. Our first two days were rather relaxed and spent visiting the important tourist places, including the Sir Walter Scott monument, the Edinburgh Castle, the Scottish National Gallery, the Scottish National Museum, Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament. We also visited some less well-known places, such as Camera Obscura, a museum full of visual illusions. The daily Camera Obscura show allows you to stand inside a dark chamber with a mirror on top, which reflects light downward into the chamber through three lenses, thereby allowing you to view Edinburgh. It functions like a giant pinhole camera. The cost of admission is about 11 pounds (around 18 U.S. dollars) with a student ID, which is quite expensive, but it includes a second admission the next day. If you ever have a chance to be in Edinburgh, this hidden gem is definitely worth a visit.
Our hike up Arthur’s Seat was another fun, but somewhat treacherous, activity. Arthur’s Seat is the main peak of a group of hills at the end of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Customary rain and fog welcomed us to Edinburgh for the first three days of our stay. We debated whether we should hike in that weather, but we decided to risk it, and we had no regrets after our ascent. The hike was tough, but the scenery was pleasant, and on a good day, the Seat affords an excellent view of the entire city of Edinburgh, its outlying areas and the ocean.
Edinburgh is a rather compact city. The Edinburgh Castle and the Holyrood Palace are joined by the Royal Mile, which is one Scottish mile in length, only slightly longer than one English mile. Therefore, walking was definitely preferable to taking public transportation. If, however, you’d like to visit the Royal Botanic Garden, you might want to save some time by taking a bus rather than taking the 45-minute stroll from Old Town to New Town, two neighborhoods of the city.
The latter half of our trip was spent in the Scottish highlands, which are the mountainous regions of northern Scotland. Our trip included a visit to Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye. The easiest way to get to the highlands is by car, so we joined a bus tour group. In the highlands, you can experience four types of weather in 10 minutes: rain, sun, wind and fog can happen all at once. Our first stop in the highlands was at Loch Ness, which, I have to say, was a disappointment. It was a huge lake with some swans on it surrounded by mountains on three sides and a beach on one side. When the weather gets warmer, though, a swim in the lake would be nice. But in early April, a half-hour stop by Loch Ness was ample time for commemorative photographs.
Inverness, a small town we stayed in overnight during our northern adventure, was isolated but homely. Inverness exuded an air of tranquility and calm, with white seabirds spiraling overhead and the sound of waves lapping the shore. Compared to English culture, especially London, the Scottish highlands certainly felt rougher, but also made me feel more comfortable and at ease. The highlands were less polished, but the fast-paced, upbeat music in dimly lit pubs was all the more welcoming after a long and tiring journey. With the referendum to decide whether Scotland will become independent taking place in less than six months, the atmosphere became increasingly politically charged as we drove further up into Northern Scotland. It may be a lot of trouble to plan out a trip with stops in the middle of nowhere, but the Scottish highlands are definitely worth the time and trouble.