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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, May 31, 2016

Weekend Getaway: Brussels

My first adventure in 2016 was a weekend getaway to Brussels in mid-April. Yes we went to Brussels even after the attacks and one thing was for certain I NEVER felt unsafe or scared in anyway. So today I am sharing the spots that I recommend you to see, how much everything cost us while there and waffles!


Getting to Brussels - EDI - CRL 

We flew with Ryanair (yay for cheap flights) which took us to the airport which unfortunately doesn't have a direct train line to the city center.

Total cost for a return ticket booking with Ryanair £60 per person.

What we opted to do was buy a return ticket with the Brussels City Shuttle, which runs every 30 minutes or so to the city center. In total it was about a 50 minute bus journey, but was overall very comfortable. One thing I recommend is pre-booking your ticket to avoid long lines, save money, and be able to directly hop on the bus when you arrive.

Total cost for a return ticket booking online  28 per person.


Once we got off the bus we were a short walk (15 minutes) to our hotel. We stayed at the Hilton Brussels Grand Place. This was right in the city center, directly across from the main train station and a 2 minute walk to The Grand Place. Our stay here was amazing and I can not recommend a city center hotel more highly!

Total cost for a 2 night stay €121.16 (or 53 per night) on staff rate .


As for what we did, we honestly just strolled the city. We did head out to visit the Atomium, built in 1958 for the Brussels World Fair. It is a model of a iron crystal magnified over 165 billion times and is now used as a museum. Now we decided not to head up into the spheres in the Atomium and instead just strolled around and admired how massive it is. To get there we took the metro, it was easy and convenient and cost about €9 for a return ticket for both of us. Now if it is a nice day and you are headed out that way I suggest packing a picnic and visiting the park right outside the Atomium




Like I said we strolled most of the time we were in Brussels, it was nice-ish weather, minus the occasional hail storm. No worries though they only lasted a minute or two and you were fine as long as you could find shelter from getting pelted with ice balls! 

Most of our time was spent in the area around The Grand Place. Strolling around the main square meant lots of food and beer options, both of which we enjoyed to much of. As for things to see/eat/do I've included the Google Map that I used for all the things to see.

Must see sites

A peeing boy statue, better known as Manneken Pis. No joke this thing is a must see. We were lucky enough to visit when a parade was happening to honor him, for the local mustache club.


You can then visit the peeing girl statue, Jeanneke Pis, which is conveniently located right next to the Delerium Cafe aka the home of the The most varieties of beer Commercially available coming in at 2,004 in Delirium Cafe, Brussels, Belgium When counted on 9 January 2004 -- Guinness World Records.

While there we also headed to visit the Royal Museum of Art & History (called the Cinquantenaire ). While there we visited the Egyptian exhibit (the one place the BF wants to visit) which at the very end included a working research lab (aka the thing I want to do when done with my PhD). As for the rest of the museum it was in a beautiful building that seemed to be rather empty while we were there. Even if museums aren't your thing there are some amazing views around the museum that I suggest going to see. 

Final Thoughts 

This was the first 'weekend break' that we have taken and as for a Brussels I would have loved more time to explore. We had some amazing weather (compared to Scotland at least) which allowed us to enjoy the city by foot, while remembering that when we needed a quick pick me up we could hop into a pub! Overall I think that we spent right under €200 for all of our food, drinks, activities, transport (minus the flight) and souvenirs. A bit more than we had hoped for, but we really did enjoy all the beer, chocolate, and waffles! 

Just to give you an idea of some of the prices that you can expect around Brussels. 

Average Cost of Things Around Brussels

Return metro ticket : € 4.20 per person

Beer in a pub : € 3.75 

Waffle with chocolate: € 3.00

Meal  from a local street vendor: € 5-7 

Sit down meal: €10-15 (We had mussels and frites)

Fancy truffles from a chocolatier shop: €1.20 a piece or a box with 32 for €25 (great as gifts to share with people)






Anything that I should have seen in Brussels and missed? 

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Arthur's Seat - Edinburgh, Scotland

Well this will be more of a photo diary with some oh some important points that I thought I would share from my adventure heading up Arthur's Seat the other weekend.

First off Arthur's Seat is an ancient volcano that provides the BEST views of the city! There is also the ruins of  St Anthony's Chapel, a 15th century medieval chapel.

The hike itself is not that bad, we went up on a day with clear blue skies and the sun beating down on us! Needless to say it was nothing like the typical Scottish weather that we are used to.


As for the the hike there are 4 ways to get up to the top ( a better idea of the routes can be found here).

When we decided to hike up, we unfortunately went mid-day and on a day that the top was filled with people. So Tip #1 GO EARLY, especially if you want some decent pictures at the top!
Like I said the place was filled with people making a photo impossible to take at the top!

We also decided that we would take a different way down to get a view of what all we missed on the way up! So if you can Tip #2 Take 2 routes, one on your way up and one on your way down! 

The ruins of  St Anthony's Chapel, a 15th century medieval chapel. 
Tip # 3 Pack a lunch and enjoy the view at the top! Seriously when the weather is amazing you should enjoy it to the max, plus the views at the top are AMAZING



View of the Castle

The Palace and the Parliament Building
Lastly, make sure to enjoy a ice-cream when you get down to the bottom, there is always a convenient ice-cream truck there!
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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Living Expenses in Edinburgh

Finally stepping back into the world of blogging and writing on a daily basis has inspired me to reevaluate the information that I share here. One of the first things that I looked into when I was accepted to do my PhD in Scotland, was trying to figure out how much it would all cost.
So here it is a breakdown of what I have spent during my time living here! If there is any questions relating to anything that I may have missed just let me know!

Living expenses in Edinburgh

Housing:

Rent: 

When I first moved here I lived in flat leased student house, it was close to the city center (10 minutes bus or 15ish minutes walking) and right on the bus route going to Uni. I shared the house with 3 other girls, which helped me really get to know the city/university life! Total rent per month was £ 300. I know live in a 1 bedroom flat rather close to my old flat. In total our rent is £ 575 a month.


Gas/Electric: 

Back in the shared flat on average our gas and electric/gas bill was about £ 25-30 a month (note this is my cut of the bill not the whole thing) . Now living in the one bedroom flat we pay  £ 60 a month all year which will then be adjusted accordingly at the end of the year. 


Internet:

Again back in the shared flat my portion of the internet was only  £5 a month for very semi-decent internet. We went with a cheap company and got what we paid for! Now we spend quite a bit more in our own flat  £ 28 a month but this gives us the best internet that we could get. For example, I can stream Netflix while the BF plays LOL and we have no issues!


Council Tax:

Being a student you are exempt from Council Tax, which saves anywhere from £ 1200-1800 a year. Determining council tax is all based on where you live and the type of flat that you are in. It is defiantly something to keep in mind when looking at places if you are not a student. 


Transportation:


Now I have no idea on the expenses related to owning a car in the city. I do know that parking is a bit of a hassle especially in the areas close to the city center so keep that in mind if you plan on getting a car when you move here. 

Bus Pass: 

The city is very easy to get around via public transit, so having a bus pass especially during the colder months is a necessity. A one month student bus pass is currently  £ 45 a month (adult cards are  £ 50 a month). On the other hand you can stick with buying single tickets at  £ 1.60 or a day pass at  £ 4 . 

Bike:

A new purchase to enjoy the sunny days that we have recently had in Scotland. A used bike cost anywhere from  £ 80 -  £ 300. I went with a used bike that cost  £ 120  and have been riding it to and from work along with other places around the city! Of course I would recommend spending some extra money on accessories (helmet, bike lock, bike basket, bike lights, and some basic repair kits) which will cost about  £ 30-70 in total depending on how fancy you go!


Food:

Groceries per week:

When living on my own and eating very basic meals I could get away with only spending  £ 30-50 a month on groceries. Again that was eating lots of cereal, pasta, and sandwiches. Now living with the BF we have been trying to eat better, lots of fresh veggies, fruit and fish! On average our weekly grocery bill is about  £ 45-60 , this includes food for an actual cooked breakfast, packed lunches, snacks and a real dinner! 


Cost for a meal out:

The BF and I love a good meal out. On average a brunch will cost us  £ 20 including a fancy coffee for myself and a tip (we always head to our favorite spot and the waiters are amazing). A lunch out without beers runs us at  £ 15ish, while a lunch with both of us getting a beer cost us  £ 25. As for a dinner you can expect to pay anywhere from  £ 15-25 per person for a nice sit down meal. 


Cost for drinks out:

Again being a college student at heart I love meeting up for a quick drink. A pint of beer will cost just about  £ 3, while my favorite cider in a bottle runs  £ 3.50 and if you fancy a cocktail depending on where you head to it will cost anywhere from  £ 5-10. 

Phone Services:

The BF and I just switched to a year long sim only plan with unlimited data and the ability to use the phone abroad in total costing us £20 each. Before this I was on a pay as you go plan costing £10 per month which gave me 2GB of data and unlimited text. 


Beauty Services:

Hair Cut:

For the basic wash, cut and style it cost  £ 30,  while the BF gets his hair cut for  £ 8 at an amazing barber right around the corner from our flat. 


Eyebrow Tint and Thread: 

One of the only maintenance things I am consistent about, costing a total of  £ 14.


Health Insurance:

The UK now requires anyone entering on a Tier 4 Visa Student Visa to pay a Healthcare Surcharge at  £ 150 per year, which in turn allows you to use the NHS Healthcare system at little to no cost out of pocket to you. 



All expenses above are a direct reflection of what we paid while living in Edinburgh, Scotland.
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Monday, May 16, 2016

A Year Away

What the heck its been a year since I've thought about posting. A year since I thought about the need to constantly share/comment and be active in blog social media.

I stopped writing here because Scotland and my PhD weren't everything that I had hoped for. Being here alone made me miss and desire things that Edinburgh and my PhD wasn't providing.

Stepping away from this for a year and the constant reminder of being a 'Grad student exploring NC to Scotland' helped me to reevaluate. Well in all honesty the reevaluation was a recent development.

Things are starting to get a bit better in my PhD life, I'll write on that later. Things in my personal life are better now with the BF here. I myself am working on just getting better in general, from my health to my head, I needed a wake-up!

Scotland was supposed to be this dream of a lifetime, a PhD project that was going to be badass and a chance for me to explore, grow and figure shit out. After 16 months here I am finally getting around to all of those things. Hints the new blog start, the refresh, the saying 'Hello' after a year of nothing!


So welcome back to ChemGradBoom, if anyone still remembers the blog!

I hope you stick around to see the new CGB, the new travel adventures, the new PhD madness and all that I have to offer!

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

3 Long Distance Relationship Truths

Moving to Edinburgh meant that I would now be in Long Distance Relationship (LDR) for the 4th time since I have been with the BF. Since we met when he was in the Army, there was the year long deployment followed up by my 6 month move to Indianapolis.

We met when I just turned 18 and was about to head off to college, with myself having no interest in ever dating an Army guy I met the tall guy who got a turkey with me in bowling. Little did I know that after meeting him, my no dating Army guys rule changed and almost 7 years later I am still stuck with the tall guy.

To be honest when we said to goodbye to each other as he deployed after knowing each other for a little less than a year and dating for about 4 months I didn't know where the relationship would go. I was 18 in college and saying goodbye to a guy that was absolutely fantastic but still I was saying goodbye for a year. The deployment made our relationship what it is today and while 18 year old me had no idea that we would stay together, today I look at that year as something that have made all the other LDR moments easier.





To start LDRs make you really learn to communicate . While the communication aspect was a little difficult when he was deployed we relied on the random phone calls, sometimes Skype, lots of Facebook messages and a journal for each of us that we sent back and forth every month or so. I learned how to actually listen and realize when he was in a bad mood, exhausted, or needed just to talk. I also figured out that while he may have been 5,000 miles away in a war zone, he was still there to hear about the things that I would tell him if he was there next to me.



The next thing that I think we have managed to take from every moment of our LDR is to appreciate the moments that we do have together. When the BF came home for R&R during deployment we managed to have a jet-ski incident leaving me with 15ish stitches in my nose along with some bad bruising. Every bone in me wanted to stay out of the public because I looked terrible, yet I knew that in 1 week the BF would be back to Iraq. So instead of staying in and ruining the last week together, we still went out and did all the things that we planned on. While I did get some terrible stares, we enjoyed every awkward moment of that week and am glad that the BF stuck by me even with the bruised face and messed up nose.



The last thing that I realized from being in a LDR is that having a life outside of being the relationship makes things much better. I have seen couples who seem to only be happy when they are together, they are always the people sucking face on nights out with friends, they are the ones who bail to spend time in bed with each other rather than celebrate a birthday with friends. While there is nothing wrong with loving to spend time with each other, you have to have a life outside of being a couple. I love having the BF with me and yes I would prefer to have him with me all the time, but I realized that to be happy you have to have a balance.



In the end I know that and LDR is hard, it is filled with moments of doubts, tears, happy moments that make your face hurt from smiling so much, and a person who you can spend 365 days apart for the one day that you are back together.

If you have/are in a LDR what are some things that it has taught you? I would love to hear what you think about being in a LDR!

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Year of Festivals

I have been planning out the my 'Bucket List: A Year worth of Festivals' around Europe that I want to venture to. I personally can not wait to go out and explore more of Europe and why not do it when there is a festival/celebration aka party to attend to! One thing that I have figured out since moving here - is that there seems to never be a lack of fun!





So lets get to it and see month-by-month when and where I plan on visiting! 

January - Hogmanay , Edinburgh


To start the year and celebrate as the old one ends, I want to have a proper Hogmanay celebration! The city of Edinburgh from Dec 31st (with pre's happening on the 30th) till Jan 1st. The city is lite up by fireworks, street parties, and the epic dip in the River Forth! A true way to bring in the new year, all in my home city!

February - Viareggio Carnevale, Viareggio , Italy

The largest Mardi Gras style party in Europe and in Italy! It includes a month full of celebrations up to lent. Celebrate during the day with one of the many parades and then head out to a club for a masquerade party! Oh and to close out the festival a GIANT firework display!


March- St. Patty's Day , Dublin, Ireland

Image via


A day full of green (my favorite color) and drinking! Yes please! A four day party is finished by a parade on March 17th, with drunk Guinness loving fools (right around 1 million of them)!

  April - King's Day, Amsterdam

 via


Described as the 'anything goes party', I first heard about King's Day during my time in Amsterdam and since then I have been wanting to go! They party in the canals, they wear orange, and the celebrate like total badasses this one day every year! Even the cops try not to intervene in festivities.

May - Stars of the White Nights, St. Petersburg, Russia

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A festival filled with arts and probably the thing that makes me want to visit the Scarlet Sails. A fleet of ships sails out with giant red sails and put on a massive firework show! Not only do I love anything with boats, I also want to go and see Old World Russia! 

June - La Batalla de Wino de Haro (Wine Fight)

A food wine fight that takes place every June in Haro, Spain. The crowd wears white t-shirts and fills super soakers with red wine, leaving one epic battle! While there is the whole fight appeal, I am also interested in having an excuse to try out Spanish wines! 

July - 'Running of the Bulls' , Tommorowland, Bastille Day

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Another summer month with so much to do and see, so I picked three things that I must do during the month of July. To start go and see the 'Running of the Bulls' aka Fiesta de san Fermin in Pamplona, Spain. Head out to see Tommorowland in Boom, Belgium this way I can quit living through Helene in Between post about the music festivals. To round this threesome off I want to spend July 14th in France celebrating their version of July 4th!  

August - Fringe Festival, Zurich's Street Parade & La Tomatina

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August, damn you for being a good month! Seems the summer months in Europe have to many options to only have one, which is why I have 3. This is an even better way of planning a trip for every August that I am living here! To start I have to attend some of the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, head back to Switzerland for Zurich's Street Parade, and La Tomatina in Bunol, Spain. So to start thing off The Fringe Festival will be filled with performances galore and seems to make Edinburgh a hot ticket in August. Zurich's Street Parade is right on the lake and is a perfect way to close out the summer. Lastly, La Tomatina a GIANT FOOD (aka Tomato) fight! 

September - Highland Games, Scotland

Well this technically isn't a festival or really a party either, but it is a must-do in Scotland (or so I have been told). The Highland Games have been going on for over 1000 years. Oh and on a side note the Braemar Gathering is often attended by the Royal Family! 

October - Oktoberfest, Munich

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"Massive consumption of beer" -  literally this is what Oktoberfest stands for! Keep in mind that while this is a festival called Oktoberfest, its starts in the middle of September and runs till the first weekend in October!  

November- Bonfire Night, England

November was a hard month to fill, especially since the typical celebration I think of is Thanksgiving Day. No worries though, this night is filled with history, fireworks, and bonfires. So if you happen to find yourself in the UK in early November, lets dress up and head out to see Bonfire Night. 

December - Christmas Market, Dresden, Germany

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Picking which Christmas Market that I wanted to visit was tough, there are so many amazing ones! I finally picked Dresden because it has eleven, yes ELEVEN, different 'experiences' in one market. I personally plan on visiting as many markets as I can, but this one took the cake. For a list of the 10 Best Christmas Markets, visit here


Well there it is my year worth of festival/celebrations/parties whatever I call this list, it is for sure a year full of fun!

Are there any festival must sees that I haven't included on my list? I would love to hear any input! 



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