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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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Monday, July 11, 2016

Travel Cheap : Accommodation

When I moved to Scotland I pictured that I would be non-stop busy with my PhD and site visits. Well truth is that I have time on my hands, or at least I can not sit in the office at University for 8 hours a day doing my research.

Once I realized that my dream PhD was a bit lackluster, I had to re-evaluate my time here in Scotland. I needed to find ways to have a balance in my life, something that I am still working on today. My solution to this 'need for balance' was to get a job.

I would be able to meet people, have some set work hours every week, and of course making money isn't a bad thing either. When I was on the job hunt I had no idea what I was looking for. I simply put in my CV into a few places and waited to see what happened.


I am now sitting here with almost a year under my belt working at a Hotel, the golden ticket to cheap accommodation when traveling . 


Yes there is my extra money that I make by working, but the absolute best part about working at a hotel is the

STAFF RATES WORLDWIDE. 


While budget travel often means that you need to stay via couch surfing, hostels, or on the outskirts of town--- those options simply are not my idea of a holiday.

Instead I simply search up to a year in advance for room availability anywhere and everywhere. This means that I can book a room in Bali for our anniversary for under $50 USD a night!!! A visit to Rome to stay in a 5 Star hotel at only $62 a night and visits to London for as little as $16 a night!!!!

These staff rates even include breakfast and breakfast and half price drinks and food during the stay!

Sure there is the issue of not having complete control of where and when you will get to visit a destination, but for rooms this cheap, I follow availability. 

So if you are ever looking for a part-time job that allows you to travel, my advice ----

Work at a hotel! 


If you have any other tips on how to get deep discounts on holiday, I would love to hear them! Also if you have any questions about working in a hotel or using the benefits feel free to ask! 

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Spain Mishaps

Another country down and another easy city break from Edinburgh! To start off I will say this trip has taught me some important lessons about travel planning with the BF which will come in handy for future travel.



To start the trip we landed in Barcelona with an hourish drive ahead of us to Girona. We rented a car for this trip.... This is the first interesting tidbit that happened!

The Rental Car

I was very diligent when planning this trip and knew that we would have over an hour drive away from Barcelona and a very early morning flight. This meant that the best option for this trip was renting a car, which also meant that we would be able to explore a bit of the coast! Win Win! 
Well I originally rented a automatic, but then was persuaded at the rental counter that if we were OK with a manual they had us a free upgrade. Well thing is our last car was a manual and I thought for sure that it would be no problem hopping back on to drive a manual. 

ANSWER - Wrong, I freaked out, I panicked, I absolutely fudged up trying to leave the parking lot. After a 20ish minute meltdown, all me, with the BF laughing. We decided to go back and get the automatic. Which is when my manual driving skills came back and I perfectly pulled the car back into its original spot! Oh the joke is on me it seems....

One thing is for certain if we would have been filming my car meltdown, I would forever be known as the crazy American who freaks when trying to drive a manual.

Another fun fact is that when I went to get the new keys, the guy even said I knew that an American wouldn't be able to drive a manual, enjoy the automatic! 


Barcelona Pick-Pockets

As you can imagine from the heading, another shenanigan that happened was the BF getting pick-pocketed... 
We were strolling outside the city center trying to make our way to the Arc de Triomf, when all of a sudden I hear the BF behind me saying 'No Espanol, Lo Siento' or No Spanish, I am sorry. This is when I then hear a loud bang, and the BF getting much more upset with the guys harassing him. I turn around to see a much smaller guy pushing the BF up against the door and consistently kicking at his feet. After a moment or two of more non-sense we turn around an begin to head the direction we came from. Following that a moment later, a guy stops us and returns the BFs wallet. Nothing was taken, although nothing was in there to begin with.

Lesson - Don't head outside the main parts in the city, keep a lookout for stupid guys that begin to pester you and always keep a check on your stuff. 


All in all, that moment slightly ruined Barcelona for us, which is ok because Girona was amazing and the beaches surrounding it were better than imagined. 
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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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