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Hey Loves! I’m Caitlyn the girl behind ChemGradBoom. A blog about taking life with a little salt, a slice of lime and shot of tequila or life of a graduate student, whichever version you prefer!

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Isle of Arran - Day Trip

One problem with not having a car in Scotland is getting to unusual places which are shall we say ''difficult'' without your own set of wheels. Lucky for me, possibly not so fortunate for the people I tag along with, is the ability to set out on a day trip to see some sites, while they are usually busy working. Such can be said for this trip to the Isle of Arran - although I did have a friend tag along with me as well!

The sad bit about having so many fantastic sites around Scotland is that many of them go undiscovered until I am lucky enough to go and visit them. The Isle of Arran happens to be one of these places that I am grateful to visit and want to go back to!

Getting to the Isle of Arran

The easiest way to get to the Isle of Arran is by Ferry. For our journey we  Ardrossan to Brodick journey which cost us just about £15 (probably less) for a return ticket the same day. The ferry takes only about an hour - leaving plenty of time to take in a view on the observation deck or grab a hot breakfast and coffee!

How to get around the island?!? 

Without a car - as we were just there for the day - we relied on the local transportation. As it is a rather small island there were a few options, we decided to head directly across to the west side of the island and then head north toward the distillery. Overall renting a car would probably have been the best option, even if we only had it for 6 hours, it would have allowed us to see more and do more without worrying about missing the last bus back to the Ferry. 

What we did while there for approx. 5 hours

As I said he hopped on the bus and headed west, I had dreams of seeing the Machrie Moor Standing Stones, but due to time constraints that didn't happen. Our first was the end of 'The String' bus line at Blackwaterfoot. The view was amazing, the rain cleared up, and we had a lovely little walkabout while waiting for the bus to head up to our next stop at Lochranza to explore the castle and the distillery. After a nice lunch at the distillery and some whiskey, we headed back to the Ferry - ending our day on the Isle of Arran.

Top sites to see 

Isle of Arran Distillery

You cant have a visit to an isle with its own distillery without a stop - in fact it was possibly one of the best breaks in our adventure filled the day. We had a light lunch, some whiskey and dessert all to finish out the day before heading back to the ferry!

Machrie Moor Standing Stones

The central part of Arran has more stone circles per square meter than anywhere else in Scotland.  Machrie Moor date around 1800 to 1600 BC with evidence of much earlier use, with their usage endures as a mystery.

Kildonan Beach and Castle

While I love the fact that there are castle ruins right off the beach, there is also the sandy beach with a view overlooking the Pladda lighthouse (dating back to 1790)

King’s Cave  

Rumoured to be the cave Robert the Bruce is said to have had his famed encounter with a spider. This circular heads down to explore a dramatic section of coastline with a series of caves. Total time for the hike: 1.5 - 2 hours

Broderick Castle 

While this was closed while we were there due to extensive renovations - this is one of the main places to visit on the island. The castle grounds are filled with formal gardens, woodland, waterfalls, and bathing pools. It is due to open back in June 2018 and is a must visit if you are there!

Has anyone been to the Isle of Arran - what sites (or probably, more importantly, hikes) did I miss out on?

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Saturday, March 10, 2018

90 Day Lifestyle Challenge

With the desire to 'get fit', 'be a good PhD student' or better yet just get my life together - I decided to start a 90-day challenge (which really started on March 8th). To be fair the 90 Day Challenge was really just a goal for me, and it gave me a good end date - June 6th aka my 10 year anniversary with the BF.

So why did I decide to go with a long challenge when I usually fail at my monthly goals? I thought that the end date has some actual meaning to me, which my thinking makes the overall goals more achievable. I often set my own personal goals (for a week a month the year) and find that I set off so strong, like legit crushing the goals, and then at some point about two weeks in I have a bad day which turns to multiple bad days. With this challenge, I am hoping that working towards being a 'Happier Me' at the year 10 mark will not only make this challenge more achievable as I generally want to be a better me.

What I want to work on over the next 90 days ---

  1. 30 Minutes of exercise (Going to the gym for a workout or cardio)
  2. Writing / Editing / Revising my thesis (Goal 500 words or 30 minutes of solid revision)
  3. To ''Try'' every day

Why I need these three things to be 'addressed' 

I figured if I needed motivation this would be it, along with the fact that I kinda just need a shake-up in my life. When it comes to 'getting fit', I am a pro at talking myself out of the gym or cave to any whim and food desire of my bestie.

My PhD has forever remained a challenge and possibly even more so now that I am feeling 'meh' about the whole project. No fear though, my research is done, writing is the only challenge that I have left to face, and eventually, I will tackle it!

As for my third goal - I believe the lack of 'fit' and the whole mehhh PhD life has really put a damper on myself personally. I am not depressed, but I am not excited about things either. Even when it comes to things that I would love to do (ex. Go out and explore new places in and around Edinburgh) I can't see myself doing that - I just lack the motivation to.

What I hope to happen

The next 90 days yes will be a bitch to complete, but I am hoping that all of the end results will help me get my (working on) best self back!

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

North Coast 500 Edinburgh to Big Sand

So for day one we picked up the rental car from the Edinburgh Airport at approximately 10am and started our journey.

I knew the first day would be a long one, the most intense day of driving and also one with some fantastic views.

Again I am pissed that I lost (accidentally deleted) the footage from Day One of the NC 500 including possibly the best bit of our drive along the Bealach na Bà (aka Wester Ross in Scotland)!

Overall Day One took about 8 solid hours of driving, mainly due to my fear of the small roads or my amazement of the awe with the views along the route, either way, Day One included some beautiful stops, some unforgettable moments, and a drive which I can not wait to do again!

The Dunmore Pineapple

Built-in 1761 by the Earl of Dunmore as a summerhouse! At the time Pineapples were considered an exotic fruit in Scotland and needless to say this place is breathtakingly unique!!! 

The Pineapple now has grounds surrounded by woodlands and filled with wildlife. A quick pitstop here was a nice way to visit a must-see on my Scottish list all while still being on our NC500 adventure!

For more information on the Pineapple House, check out the National Trust site

Fort William

With our drive almost halfway done, we needed a break, a lunch stop and a chance to stretch our legs - so we headed to Fort William. A beautiful town right on the water, with a charming town centre to explore. 

We headed into town to explore and see what there was to offer, unfortunately as you can imagine the Scottish weather got the best of us and it started to rain. 

We headed to the nearest pub for lunch and lucky for us, the skies cleared up and we had a beautiful table out on the back deck overlooking the water! A traditional fish and chips for food, and we were back on the road! 

TIP: Stock up on snacks whenever you go through towns with 'proper' grocery stores! We grabbed some essentials food and of course some beer as well! 

Bealach ‘na Ba, Wester Ross

The one thing I am sad that I lost the day one photo/video mishap - the drive through Bealach 'na Ba, also one of the most iconic drives in the WORLD! 

A single lane road that winds through the Applecross peninsula leading to some breathtaking and terrifying views! This part of the trip was one of my favourite portions, as we managed to drive through this bit as the rain stopped and the sun came out! 

TIP: Take this portion of the drive extra slow and enjoy the views! Also will say that this portion is why I would suggest doing the entire trip clockwise from Inverness (or Edinbugh like we did)

With the prettiest and also most terrifying portion of the drive done we were on our last stretch of the trip for the day. Unfortunately, the rain started back up, and I realised my hatred for small roads and terrible weather!

Big Sand 

The end of our road trip led us to Big Sand on the west coast of Scotland. Again since this trip was a bit of a last minute get-away, this happened to be where we stayed (due to availability on Air-BnB), and we have no complaints at all! We stayed in a cabin overlooking the village and well, it remained a perfect end to the first day. 

If you want to see the cabin we stayed in, check it out here and I highly recommend it if you ever need a place on the road trip. 

The town (or maybe more appropriate village) only had one place to eat, located on the local campground - and served up a fantastic breakfast which we enjoyed before heading out for Day 2!

 So there it is a quick synopsis of the drive we did for the first day! In the end, the day seemed insanely long, probably due to my road trip partner being asleep for the majority of the drive! Stick around for Day 2, 3, and 4 and also some video footage of the trip!

Has anyone done the NC500 before?!? If so share your favourite places, I want to make the trip again (maybe this summer!)

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

March Goals

How have two months already passed by in 2018? I wish time would slow down - or maybe I just need to get on with it and catch up!

Well, March started off with a bit of a bang here in Edinburgh with the #beastfromtheeast bringing in snow and chaos for a few days.

While I may be a bit late in getting started and have missed out on a few days of getting into the habit of working out and meal prepping for example. Now that the snow is no longer drastically impacting everything I plan to try and start the first full week in March with my goals.

No Spend Month: March 

A month without wasteful spending with the goal to actually prep and plan for things. Of course, I know life happens which is why I have allocated myself £100 for 'fun/life/extras', but in reality, I shouldn't need to spend that much on things that are 'Needed'. 

As of now I have made a budget and plan to stick to it! We shall see as hopefully nothing will pop-up out of the blue! 

Submit Chapters 1-4 to my supervisor

It's sad to think that I have had ''drafts'' of these almost entirely done for a while now and have yet to go in and do a hard revision on them. Once that is done, I need to send them off and hope that I get some actual feedback from my supervisors. 

For the thesis, I would instead prefer to be ripped to shreds earlier than later. I always look at the first few drafts of something that should be 'terrible' with a need for the ''story'' to be adequately developed, which is done when your other readers pick out the flaws. I know that I am not perfect when it comes to thesis writing, but it is something that I have to get better at, and this is my start for March! 

Head to the gym more this month

I am great at starting at the gym, going for a few days and falling off the wagon. I personally love the idea of feeling strong and working out, I am just terrible when it comes to commitment. So this month I have made the goal to go at least 4x per week for a strength session and am planning on doing 2 cardio sessions per week as well. 

Meal Plan / Meal Prep / Eat 80:20

Similiar to my gym habit, my meal planning/prep/eating habits vary throughout the week. I can start strong and finish terribly. I am also on my way to making better choices in terms of my overall food - but would like to see if I can do a split of 80% 'good/healthy/planned' food with 20% of my food being a bit more spontaneous (but avoiding a full-on binge!)

Well, there it is! Goals for March 2018 and what a way to start out the month with a full-on snow storm. Again I may have not been able to get on track at the start of the month, I fully plan on getting into the swing of things now that the snow has stopped! 

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

North Coast 500 Guide

So for our 9 year anniversary (HOLY CRAP THIS YEAR WILL BE 10 YEARS), I wanted to venture out and try the NC500 road trip around Scotland. It has been compared to Route 66 in the US and was even voted as one of the best road trips in the world (with it only being open since 2014).

While I would suggest making this road trip for a few more days then we did, we still managed to see some fantastic sites and even camp on a secluded beach one night. This was an absolutely amazing road trip, even though I spent a majority of it glued to the wheel, as the roads in the highlands are teeny-tiny!!!

Overall we spent 3 nights away and 4 days exploring.  The first day of driving was a major one - making it all the way from Edinburgh to Big Sand on the west coast for a night at our AirBnB cabin!!!

A typical view along the drive. 

My original game plan was to make some highlight videos of the whole trip, but unfortunately, I managed to delete all of our Day 1 Footage !!! Talk about an epic fail!

Overall the trip was amazing, and I would do the whole thing (at a slower pace) if I had the chance to. As for this post I am sharing all the need to know things - and for the look back later for the more detailed post sharing what we did each day (with some videos for you as well).

What is the North Coast 500???

The NC 500 is a loop that heads around the Scottish Highlands beginning and ending in Inverness. While the route was always there, they have now promoted the route along with adding/updating some bits of the road to make it much easier. 

For the loop, you can either head up and north for the start and work your way around counter-clockwise or the direction we took which was clockwise heading west and then north and around. 
I would highly recommend heading west as this route allowed some amazing views through the whole ride! 
John O' Groats aka the most northerly point in mainland Britain. 

Getting around on the NC500

Along the route, we saw countless cyclists, Rv-ers, some hikers and quite a lot of vehicles enjoying all the Scottish Highlands had to offer. While we rented a car (the smallest one at that) if I were to make this trip again, I would love to rent a campervan and genuinely enjoy the journey. 

How long does it take to drive the NC500?!?

We made the entire trip in a little over 1000 miles over 4 days. This included the drive starting in Edinburgh. Overall I would suggest taking a slower pace and enjoy all the sites (as we did have to rush or skip some things I would have loved to see). 

The route in total is 516 miles!!!!

A stop at Dunrobin Castle the stately home of the Clan Sutherland. 

What we planned ahead!?!

As for the trip I made the map below with highlights, beaches and things I definitely wanted to see. As for pre-booking we made the trip in June (kinda last minute at that) but managed to book two AirBnB's for the first and third (final) night. We planned to camp on the second, and it was something that I would highly recommend doing. 

As for sites, we didn't pre-buy tickets and found that when something looked interesting, we could head in. Even for the high season, the crowds weren't terrible, and overall we enjoyed the freedom to do and see as we pleased.

Where we stayed for night one. An amazing little cabin in Big Sand!!!

Best things to do on the NC500

While in Scotland, you must drink whisky and visit local distilleries, don't worry the Highlands have some amazing ones. Also spotted along the route are some amazing historic sites, castles and ruins, all while being surrounded by the incredible scenery I have seen so far! If you have more time, there are countless hikes you can try, including some that take you to some of the prettiest beaches in the world (seriously they post all the time about them).

All along the route, you will find castles, ruins, scenery all of which are amazing!

Well over the next few weeks I will be sharing the rest of our NC 500 road trip along with some videos of all the adventures. I must say that this was possibly one of my favourite things since being here in Scotland and is still a road trip that I would consider doing again and again with no doubt in my mind that each time would be different.

For more information about the North Cost 500 check out --- 

Visit Scotland   //  North Coast 500 Website  //   Undiscovered Scotland 

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Hello 2018 ...

Well so much for the 'I am going to be back to regular blogging which I put well over 6 months ago'. Yep, I am terrible or maybe just lacked the motivation to get back into the habit of blogging.

Well really I just lacked the motivation for quite a lot in my life - PhD, getting healthy (gym life and eating habits), along with the blog all kinda fell by the wayside.

Not really sure how to explain it but the lack of motivation, but it seriously sucked these last few months. Not only the lack to push through with all the work that I had to do/needed to do in order to stay on track but I have just had an interesting last 6 month even if it hasn't been a productive one.

Let's start it off with a review of the last few months ---

  • I transferred jobs, after a discussion regarding my schedule/holidays with my previous job I was told that they weren't willing to accommodate my request. As someone who was there for almost 2.5 years and as the only part-time student employee it was disappointing, to say the least. In the end, I am now in a much better position and working under my old boss, so everything turned out for the better!

  • I spent a week in the hospital (yay for UK life). Towards the start of December, I finally headed to the doctor as I was having some lingering issues from a terrible migraine from a few weeks prior. Side Note: MIGRAINES SUCK!!!! Turns out a migraine was the first indicator that I had a blood clot in my brain - insanity. All is well though now, in fact, I am almost off of my blood thinner treatment and should be good to go. Will say this that while the hospital absolutely sucks, even more so due to the daily blood samples (I literally passed out on the first day when they were taking like 9 vials, and then the following day freaked out for 30+ minutes) everyone who treated me was fantastic.

  • I headed home for the holidays and it was amazing to see all my family and friends. It had been two years since I got to spend Christmas with my family and it was absolutely amazing to be there with them all, especially given the fact that going home was questionable due to the previously mentioned medical issues.

  • I have extended my PhD studentship til the end of 2018 (Dec 31st to be exact) giving me more time to get my ass into gear and finish writing. I literally have dragged it out for as long as possible, but recently seem to be on the up-and-up with writing. All I need to do is send off chapters and ask for legit feedback from my supervisors (or anyone who is willing to read my drafts). One of the main things I worry about is the 'argument' for why the research was being done and if the ''flow'' of the story is working. That is right -- the flow of the story, seems rather odd but that is essentially what the first few chapters of your PhD thesis is/needs to accomplish.

  • Lastly, I have been in the process fo applying for jobs/fellowships/internships. While I may not be done with my PhD just yet, I am well aware that if a position is available that is interesting to not let it pass by. Even more important hopefully the idea of getting a job will push me even harder to the finish line of submitting! 
So there it is an actual update of everything that has been going on over the last few months. Let's hope that now the first post is done that this will mean there is more to come! I do have some fun trips to share. along with the blog being a way to not only get in the writing habit but write about things that I truly enjoy writing :)

How has everyone's 2018 been so far? Also what tips do you have for getting motivated for when the spark is just gone, I would love to hear what you do to get inspired. 

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