If you stick around my blog long enough it will soon become abundantly obvious that I have a love affair with Scotland. I won’t pretend that Outlander wasn’t the deciding factor when I booked my tour in Scotland, but the reason I fell in love with is so much harder to describe. I could talk till I’m blue in the face about the locals, the highlands, the lochs, the history and all those other features that contribute to an epic trip, but the real reason is something a little more non-linear. Really, Scotland has a feeling. Maybe it’s my Scotish roots, or just it was the first place I really, properly, traveled, but Scotland was my first true love affair with a country.
And the gem atop the Scotish Crown? That would be Edinburgh.
I’m not so good at processing decisions. If I give them time to settle they tend to either fizzle or fester, so I like to live at mercy of my tissue paper frail patience. It normally has me booking trips on a whim or digging a big hole for myself. When I first arrived at the pub I was working at I completely intended of staying till Christmas. I didn’t want to spend Christmas alone, so my ragtag group of co-workers and flatmates seemed like a perfect place to be my first Christmas away from home. That is until I found out my Visa card for my New Zealand bank account (the one that had actual money) was going to expire. I couldn’t have a bank account full of money and no way to access it (yes, I could get another but I suffered from a chronic laziness where the mundane was concerned), which was how I ended up booking a tour around Scotland at 2 am on a Tuesday.
I handed in my notice for my job (sorted sourcing myself another one for after my big adventure) and away I went. Off to Scotland. Big Outlander daydreams keeping me company on the bus ride from London.
This was my first lesson. Don’t bus from London to Scotland in one foul swoop. Do it over a couple of days. This bus trip was probably the most uncomfortable I had ever been up to that point. I had never gone that long without sleep before. I don’t sleep on buses. I must be verticle to sleep, which is why I felt like a newly reincarnated member of the walking dead when I finally made it to Edinburgh. I struggled with my bag (which had most of my possession) and trudged out of the bus depot, too tired to have expectations.
For someone with no expectation, everything I had imagined about Edinburgh was blown right out of me. Just like a punch in the gut. That was only looking at the Melville Monument, imagine the feeling when I walked onto Princess Street and saw the Scots Monument looking down at me with such a contemplative expression, under an impeding gothic structure that sent shivers down my spine. I had a 20kg bag on my back, was functioning on no sleep and sheer force of will, but I had never felt so awake. Maybe it was sleep deprivation, but I felt the world waking up around me as Edinburgh began to come alive.
From there I made the hour walk (with my bag on my back) towards the old town, looking at everything with awe. It was all new, and unseen, as far as I was concerned. I’d seen some of London as I rushed through it, but it did not compare to the gothic wonder of a city. The castle kept me company a good portion of my walk, but even when it hid behind buildings I was content with the Old Town houses that seemed to bow towards you in welcome. Even at that hour (7.30 was early for me) it seemed like a living entity.
I made it to my hostel, far too early for check in, dropped my bag, and left in search of coffee.
I would love to say that my first meal in Scotland was something Scotish, but like the tourist I am I found myself a Starbucks and settled for coffee and something that was meant to be ‘granola’ but was half the size and cost four times the price. After filling my stomach and talking myself out of falling prey to the tiredness I started to explore. I did so through a camera lens, shooting everything (eventually having the delete them due to space issues) that caught my eye.
I went up to the castle (you head to high ground when you feel like your sinking) and subsequently turning right back around when I saw the size of the ques. I spent a long couple of hours in the Museum, pretending to read the plaques and let myself get safely lost in spitting distance of Grassmarket Square. Once It was late enough to check in I did so and slept very soundly with Edinburgh at my feet.
The next morning I was up early (very uncharacteristic for me) and was waiting for the first tourist bus to pass the Edinburgh Museum. Now I know better than to fall prey to the tourist sightseeing buses, but as it was my first traveling experience I have forgiven myself for it. The bus was great, though. It took me everywhere I didn’t know I wanted to go. I ended up wasting two hours on the HMY Britannia counting Corgies (no jokes) and not enjoying wondering through the Edinburgh Botanical gardens. At the time I figured that was what traveling was about, seeing things. I realized later that I could have seen things that actually interested me.
The rest of my adventure had me strolling through cemeteries and listening to the voice commentary on the bus. I marvel at the New and Old Towns alike, the distinct differences that made two beautiful parts of one big city. Every place I looked seemed to have a new story to tell. The little statue outside Greyfriars cemetery, that was dedicated to a real dog that lived a died in Edinburgh. The cone on top of the statues head, a rebellious tradition that has solidified as part of Edinburgh’s scenery. Stories of ghosts, ghouls, and haunted underground vaults. Edinburgh was bursting with tales to hear and things to do.
I was dry-eyed when I left New Zealand, my mother and best friend sobbing in the background. I was nervous, perhaps a little sad, but crying wasn’t the way I manifested my emotions. This is a significant fact about me that will become a bit more relevant in a paragraph or two.
The next day I ventured off into the Highlands with my Haggis Adventure tour group, leaving Edinburgh behind for the time being. All the while sulking in the deepest reaches of Gumtree and Indeed that would find me an opportunity to never have to leave Scotland again. 10 days later I had also fallen in love with the rest of the country and was faced with the heartbreaking thought of having to leave Edinburgh and Scotland behind. I had gotten my dates mixed up when I was booking and had managed to earn myself another night in Edinburgh before my bus back to London, but it wasn’t enough.
I spent my last day say goodbyes to the friends made on tour, and to Edinburgh. When I finally boarded my bus I was in tears. I had been on the phone with family, inconsolable with the thought of having to leave. The poor man sitting next to me must have thought I was a nut case as I snuffled into my sleeve, Scotland rolling into darkness as night fell.
I’ll Be Back
I told myself then, and sure enough a little over a year later I was back for Hogmanay, and I tell myself now, I’ll be back. Since I first saw that Melville Monument I’ve been to 30 different countries, yet nowhere has resonated with me the same as Edinburgh has. Some places have come close, but none have really hit the mark. It might be that your first is the most special, or it could be something more profound than that, but whatever reason Edinburgh has remained my favorite city. A lot of people land in London with European dreams, Scotland doesn’t really contend compared to images of Paris. They should, though. The two can not be compared, but I know which I would choose.