Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Now entering the most beautiful city in the world

It's about time for a Scotland update. Oh boy. Where to begin? How about the beginning.

Day #1 (Thursday): Erin, Sarah, Abby, and I booked it to King's Cross station in London to catch our train to Edinburgh, Scotland. We luckily ended up with four seats around a table, and spent most the 4 1/2 hour ride talking, pretending to do homework, staring out the window, and sleeping. About a half hour into the journey, the four of us were deep in what I'm sure was a meaningful conversation when the train went through a tunnel, and all at once all four of us dropped our jaws, grabbed our ears, and grimaced. Who knew a pressure change could make your ears pop that bad? It hurt, but we were thoroughly entertained as it happened regularly throughout the journey and we got to enjoy each other's facial expressions. You'll also be happy to know that we were the only ones on the train who seemed to be affected by it. No, I take that back -- an old Scottish lady sitting across the aisle once touched her ear. So there.

We arrived in Edinburgh after nightfall, and as we walked up the ramp out of the train station, the overwhelming beauty of the city very literally stole the breath from my lungs. The gothic magnitude of the city was enchanting, and I fell very much in love. It only took one second of looking around me to know this was the most beautiful city I'd ever seen in my life. Unfortunately, we didn't have much time to stand and gawk, because we had only a few minutes to find the bus station to catch our bus to Dundee, where we would be staying for the night. After a bit of an ordeal and a rather lengthy hike through the city looking like geeks with our international study backpacks bulging and swung over our backs, we arrived, got on the 2-hour bus ride, and arrived in Dundee, where we were picked up by Victoria, the daughter of one of Erin's friends. That night, she was so hospitable and kind -- she drove us around Dundee, waited while we ran to say hello to one of Erin's friends, and drove us on top of a volcano to get a nighttime view of the city and the coast. We were pretty exhausted from traveling at that point and went to sleep.

Day #2 (Friday): Before going to bed on Thursday, we decided on leaving the next morning by 8:30 at the latest, so we were rather impressed with our own punctuality when we made it out of the house the next day by 9:15. We caught a bus to the centre of Dundee, and, admittedly, there wasn't much to see. We went out to the harbor and say the RRS Discovery ship, which was closed for a wedding. We took some cool pictures on the coast, stared at a bagpiper for a while, and found a cafe where we could get some fish and chips. Of course, the restaurant took longer than we were expecting, and we sprinted through Dundee, backpacks bouncing all over the place, to catch our noon bus back into Edinburgh. As Erin aptly stated, "Hey, now we can say we've gone running in Dundee."

Once we reached Edinburgh, we had a lot to do before meeting up with my friend Shona at 5:30. First we climbed the Gothic spire in the middle of the city. It was dedicated to Sir Walter Scott -- see, writers can make a difference! -- and afforded great views of the city as well as winding staircases cramped enough for a good bout of claustrophobia. After, we made our way to the Elephant House, a cafe that has DELICIOUS hot chocolate, a charming atmosphere, and an appealing history -- this is the famous cafe where JK Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter, starting out with scribbles on napkins. We also made a trek to see the Grey Friar's Bobby, which we had heard was the most photographed monument in all of the UK, so naturally we had to join in the ranks of pilgrims. Maybe this will give you an idea of what it looked like -- we almost walked past it. It was very literally a tiny statue of a tiny dog. Whaaat.

Next on the list was hiking Arthur's Seat, an extinct volcano at one end of the Royal Mile that overlooks the entire city of Edinburgh. We were told it would be more of a 20-minute nature walk. Nope -- took us about an hour to reach the summit, and I suppose it didn't help that we accidentally at first climbed the mountain next to it. But honestly, this was my favorite part of the trip. I love hiking, it was beautiful, the view was stunning, and the power of the wind at the top was... well, powerful. This extra long hike, though, made us very late to meet up with Shona, who was so sweet to hang around the train station waiting for us. We headed up to Stirling, Scotland with her, went to dinner, met her Irish boyfriend, watched The Devil Wears Prada in her flat, laughed when her flatmate came home a little drunk and spent the night at the toilet, and had a pretty early night.

Day #3 (Saturday.. this is the last one, I swear): After spending the morning in Stirling, heading up to Stirling Castle, getting a nice view of the city and the William Wallace monument (yes, Mel Gibson is a living part of Scottish history), doing a bit of shopping, and meeting back up with Shona for tea and muffins, we headed back once more to the city that had already become one with my heart -- Edinburgh. We spent the majority of the rest of our time at Edinburgh Castle, then souvenir shopping down the Royal Mile, finding dinner, wandering the city, and getting on the 5:30 train back to London. This train ride could not have been more different from the first. Somehow, *luckily* we ended up in the FUN compartment brim full of drunken men of all ages on their ways home from various football games. They had begun drinking at 9 am, had each had about 9-10 pints each already, and were still going. Now, these were real men. They were drinking, betting, shouting, brawling, poker-playing, spitting, and, yes, singing. Talk about a 5-hour headache. One of their friends passed out drunk in his seat, and they convinced me to sit right next to him and pose for a picture. They began to take a general interest in us and believed that not being able to stand up straight or look us straight in the eye was very appealing to us. We had a long, entertaining conversation, and were not sorry to see them get off the stop before us. It was a late night, and I didn't get much of anything done due to the amount of noise on that train ride home -- well, it was more of a night at a pub than a night on a train. Ah, well, it's those unexpected bits of life that keep us on our toes, isn't it?

So that was my day-by-day Scotland adventure. I wish that pictures and words could do the city and its feel justice. Edinburgh is a dynamic city of tall, gothic structures, narrow, winding streets, and plenty of hills and stairs and gardens. And as if to make sure you never forgot where you were at any time, there was always at least one kilted bagpiper playing away, letting the traditional Scottish songs float their way through the city. I will be a very sad woman indeed if I never get a chance to revisit Edinburgh.

By the way, we have literally hundreds of pictures from this trip, so I'm just going to pick a few to show. These aren't even necessarily the best ones. Just a handful of them.

Beanies we found in Scotland -- should have bought them
The birthplace of Harry Potter -- excellent hot chocolate!

Me and Erin walking up the wider part of the stairs climbing the gothic spire

A view of Edinburgh from the Spire -- that mountain in the back is Arthur's Seat, which we climbed
Walking up the Royal Mile to hike Arthur's Seat, we ran into another group of girls from the centre. Weird! This happened about 4-5 times throughout the trip, by the way.
On top of Arthur's Seat

Blast it, I have so many more, but they're not uploading. I give up. This is all I'm posting.


Wendyburd1 said...

Sounds wonderful Connie! Is Edinburgh considered part of the Highlands or the Lowlands? I have always wanted to see Scotland!! I can't wait for the pics!

Marcindra LaPriel said...

Every time I commit myself to another marathon-reading of your blog I am 1) reminded why you rock at English and 2)turn a pale shade of envy. Goodness woman! You are certainly living the life. You are going to come back with SO many stamps in your passport and stories that will last you a life time. One day I will go to London and I'm taking you with me!

Liesl said...

Gorgeous, beautiful, magnificent, resplendent (okay, this is where I went to Thesaurus.com, I'm ashamed to admit), pulchritudinous, symmetrical...this is why I love Europe. I miss it so. You as well.