After my stop in Edinburgh, I took a short train ride farther north to Aberdeen. Short note on the train ride: it is beautiful. The day I went, it was grey and rainy but the views you get of cliffsides over the North Sea are still amazing. Also there was a little girl sitting at a table across the aisle from me teaching her grandfather a card game and I swear to you my Scottish accent was better than hers, so all around it was a pretty great train ride.
Aberdeen is…grey. Fittingly, one of Aberdeen’s nicknames is The Grey City. More often, it’s The Granite City, because many of the buildings are made from local granite (which is why it’s so grey…). That’s all well and good, but when you arrive in Aberdeen on a typical Scottish summer day (grey, breezy, always threatening rain), it is not exactly the most attractive place. My first couple of days there, I wandered around a bit, getting my bearings. I got soggy, I was cold, and I developed a fear/hatred of seagulls. People warned me that it got dark much later in Aberdeen, since it was further north (true fact, in high summer it is still not fully dark at 10:15pm), but no one warned me about the seagulls. Blog readers, I am here to warn you: Aberdeen is full of seagulls, and they are all loud whiny assholes. I don’t know what this seagull did to get red paint all over it, but I’m SURE IT WAS DESERVED.
The cab driver that brought me from the train station to my temporary home assured me Aberdeen was very safe (“you won’t be kidnapped and sold into white slavery!” he said apropos of nothing, allaying my most pressing fears, surely) and gave me a flying tour of the city on the way to Old Aberdeen. He pointed to the North Sea, telling me that Aberdeen has a beach, but I probably wouldn’t want to go in the water. But not to worry–there’s no sharks. “It’s not the sharks that’ll kill ye! Ken what will?” he asked, with a look in the rearview mirror like he definitely had me stumped. “The cold?” I guessed. “AYE, THE COLD!” he agreed, cackling. So uh, welcome to Aberdeen?
My internship was at the University of Aberdeen, in the conservation department of their super fancy new(ish within the last few years) library. I learned a lot over the summer and got to see and have a hand in many different areas of work–conservation (obviously), some exhibit planning and staging work, outreach, learning about environmental monitoring and pest management. It was a really well-rounded experience. But this was only my working hours! We had pretty strict hours, too. My access pass only worked starting at 9am, and the keys to conservation were kept in a lock box guarded by some librarians, and they liked to be out of there at 5 on the dot. With no homework, exactly, and little else to do, I had plenty of time to explore.
Aberdeen is a bit of a strange city. It’s very far north, so you might think it would be cheap–cheap beer, cheap rent, cheap food, etc. But it is also home to lots of oil companies, since the North Sea is big for rigs. So sadly, cheap rent was not so easy to find, and pints are not much cheaper than London prices. I ended up finding a room in a flat about a 2-5 minute walk from the University/library, which was incredibly handy. I found the room on gumtree, a craigslist-type site, and it was with 3 boys, all in some way affiliated with the University (think they were all graduating). I was imagining some kind of quirky New Girl scenario, wherein I would be whisked off my feet by my curmudgeonly Nick Miller-esque soulmate. I forgot that I was a “mature” student, and these were all uni lads, so my hopes on that score were dashed. Instead, I found slugs and a flat that was the definition of “damp”. I had heard British people talk about damp in houses and I never understood what it meant. It meant this flat, and it meant that I got really good at killing slugs. But hey, at least it was really close to work so I could sleep in and hang out with the slugs longer before I had to head out.
Aberdeen is also strange (to me, anyway) because everything closes really early. Like this one bookstore/cafe place I really liked closes at 4 or 4:30 everyday. (Books and Beans on Belmont Street is lovely and I still use the tote I got there all the time and if anyone wants to buy a bunch of totes and send them to me and keep me in-tote forever, I would love you immensely) There are a few malls in town and there were ads up boasting that they were open until 9pm on weeknights. 9pm! That’s a big deal. So it was a little odd having this extended daylight and not having much to do with it. I went on lots of walks around the city. No one was ever able to explain the buses to me. One of my flatmates took the bus to work everyday, but when I asked him how much it cost and the routes, he had no idea. Thus, I never took a bus in the city of Aberdeen, I only ever took intercity buses to other places. I walked a LOT.
I lived near Old Aberdeen, the section of the city where you can find the University. (There is another uni in town, Robert Gordon University, but it’s more…downtown? More in the city center.) It’s a really quaint part of town, full of cobblestone streets and cute little buildings, and basically exactly what you’d think of in terms of a ye olde anything. And a really nice little botanic garden.
A major attraction in Aberdeen is the beach, even if it is always too cold to actually enjoy it in the way you might think to enjoy it if you are a person used to like, swimsuits and sitting in the sun. There is still a nice boardwalk type area where you can get your average beach type foods and ice creams. There’s a mini-golf course and a small fun park with rides, a cinema, some restaurants, etc. Most importantly, because I am a weirdo, there is the haar. What is haar? FOG. Serious fog. Fog specific to the North Sea. Haar rolls in off the Sea and can spread pretty far. It can get up to where I lived, which is a good mile walk at least. For a bit of reference, this picture was taken from one of the upper floors of the library, and you can see the blue of the Sea in the distance. That’s how far the haar can go. It makes everything REALLY CREEPY and I liked going down to the beach to check it out.
The summer I was up in Aberdeen, there were dolphins everywhere. I am told dolphins can occasionally be seen in the North Sea, but I never saw real ones. I just saw decorated ones all over the city, I think there was some kind of scavenger hunt, you could find them all. I never took it that far, but I do have lots of pictures of cleverly decorated dolphins. The pirate dolphin below is my fave.
At one end of the beach, you can also find Footdee (pronounced Fittie), a really adorable old fishing village. People still live there now, but it’s no longer a fishing community. It has lots of tiny houses and is just in general reaaaaally cute.
This little bear has “fit like” carved into his paw. What the hell does that mean? It means “how are you”. Little bear is just saying hey. Aberdeen has a bit of Doric about it. I didn’t hear much of it very often, but I definitely heard “fit like” a lot, or just “fit” for “how”. I also heard “ken” for “know”, and became acquainted with the word “dreich” which means “drizzly, cold, dull”. I was trying to learn lots of Scottish things and perfect my Scottish accent. I mistakenly thought the farther north you go, the thicker the accents would get but really the strongest, most exciting accents are Glaswegian. Other local terminology I picked up were food related. I tried a rowie (sometimes called a buttery), a kind of super fatty bread roll that is delicious warmed up and with a little jam. It’s sort of like a very flat croissant, sort of looks like a pancake, but flaky. I also got really into macaroni pies, which are the most amazing thing ever and I want to eat them all the time forever. It is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Macaroni (and cheese) in a convenient pie form. Macaroni and cheese on the go! I have told many people about these beauties, and have gotten mixed responses. I do not understand how anyone can be against such a magnificent creation. Thank you, Scotland. Uh…anyway. I also drank a lot of beer, thanks to some Tinder dates (guess who’s really popular on Scottish Tinder, guys!) and Aberdeen being the home of Brew Dog. There is a local brewery that makes a beer called Macbeth, which I picked up at a Sainsbury’s because the name was great and it turned out to be quite nice. A better liquid refreshment experience than Irn Bru. I can’t even explain Irn Bru to you. It is soda, it is bright orange, it tastes like bubble gum? Scottish people love it. It is…interesting. I don’t hate it.
Now that we’ve had some food and drink, let’s continue on to Duthie Park! This one’s a bit farther flung for me, like other side of the train station far, an area I didn’t venture to often. I think I had taken a day trip somewhere and when I got back to the train/bus station I didn’t feel like going home yet, so I went to Duthie Park. This park is huge and I only scratched the surface of it, did a quick wander around. I did get to the Winter Gardens within the park, which were quite nice. Lots of different types of flowers and plant life. I had a really nice stroll around the park grounds and the greenhouses.
One last adventure on the grand tour of Aberdeen: Seaton Park. At what I’m going to call the back end of Old Aberdeen, you’ll find St. Machar’s Cathedral, and just past there is Seaton Park. I was told to never go to this park at night, I think it can get a bit dodgy. It’s a convenient cut-through to get to the University from some of the residence halls on the other side but it’s poorly-lit, so students have had some problems. During the day, though, it’s lovely. There is also a path I followed somewhat accidentally (I just felt like walking and ended up on a trail) that led out to the Sea, to a different beach I didn’t know existed. There are two rivers that flow through Aberdeen, the Dee and the Don (the football club is nicknamed The Dons, The Dee was beloved by Queen Victoria and she put Balmoral by it in Aberdeenshire, so the valley area is called Royal Deeside). This path followed the River Don for a while, to where it flows out to the North Sea. It was a really nice walk that went through a nature reserve and over the Brig o’Balgownie, a bridge built between 1314 and 1318 which was for a long time the only route to the north out of Aberdeen.
Those are bits of the park, but there’s so much more to it. Here’s some from the walking path…
And the second beach!
So that, in a nutshell, is Aberdeen. Aside from all this exploring, I also got to Balmoral, Glasgow, Inverness, had a sheep-filled day at an agricultural fair in Banchory, and went twice to my absolute most favorite place in the world, Stonehaven. I’ll be back with more about those trips soon (for reals), but for now I’m off to sleep and dream about macaroni pies. I’ll leave you with this nice unicorn friend. Because unicorn is the national animal of Scotland, no joke.