After five fast days in London, I caught a night bus and made my way North to head into a country I had dreamed of visiting since I was a child. Scotland! Scotland, Italy and Africa are three places that ever since I was young I’d dreamed of visiting. For reasons I can’t quite explain, these places have simply called to me, and it’s a call I finally could no longer resist.
I was heading for Edinburgh on the night bus. As usual, I was unable to sleep on the bus and found it even more uncomfortable than the ones in Latin America! Though this one was clean and didn’t have strange odours wafting around, and the temperature was fairly temperate. I usually drift off when the sun comes up, but this time my eyelids fought me fiercely to stay open to take in the sights whirring past the bus window, the thick green pastures dotted with white balls of fluff – thousands of sheep, everywhere! The landscape was beautiful, small farms and the occasional brick castle-esque building were the only interruptions on the blanket of rolling green hills. I fought the exhaustion as best as I could and would find myself falling asleep against my will and then wake up, eyes widening in awe at the landscape and then my lids ever so slowly closing again. It was a losing battle and I let myself try to enjoy those few minutes of sleep I so desperately needed. However, once we entered Edinburgh, it was no longer a struggle. This city was even more captivating than the countryside! The dark brick buildings crammed closely together, the tidy streets and cobble stones, the adorable signs and jumble of people milling about gave it such a distinct, warm character. The sun shown down brightly and I was relieved to at last be out of the rain!
I arrived at the bus station and walked off to find my hostel only a few blocks away from the bus station. I learned myself a valuable lesson when I got to Europe. It’s nothing like Latin America. Now I know this for obvious reasons, but in terms of traveling around, there are some things that you simply can’t do in Europe if you don’t want to burn holes in your pockets. I thought I could find myself a hostel a day or two before I arrived in Edinburgh. Well considering that it was nearly the end of the famous Fringe festival – that was a really stupid idea. I was lucky enough to at least find a hostel, but ended up paying an absurd $70 CAD a night for it!!!! I nearly cried. Sure it was a nice hostel, but my god. That’s ten nights in Latin America! I spent seven months wandering through Latin America without much of a plan, simply deciding the day of or the day before where I would head to next and where I would stay and how I would get there. Don’t think for one second you can pull this off in Europe, or you will burn through your budget in a day!
I sucked up the sickening costs and tried to not let it take away from my time in Edinburgh. I dropped my bags, had a shower and made plans to meet a friend of Anthony’s- Rebecca, who was from Scotland and had attended school in Edinburgh. Once again I am blown away at the willingness of total strangers to take me in and show me their home towns. Rebecca met me at the Scott Monument, a Victorian gothic monument that pays tribute to Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott. It’s also the largest monument dedicated to an author in the world! This guy is seriously beloved by the Scottish, the monument makes that clear. This piece is just a sample of what makes Edinburgh such an utterly remarkable city. The whole place is filled with stunning architecture, monuments, statues, gardens and castles. It’s not a sprawling mass like London either, it’s rather tiny in comparison, sitting at just under half a million people. Rebecca and I introduced ourselves and together with her friend Emilie, hit the town!
To be honest, I actually had no idea that I was going to be in Edinburgh during Fringe Festival, the largest Arts festival in the world (it runs an entire month long of performances day and night just to fit them all in!). Bad planning on my part! But as usual, I just showed up and went with the flow and it worked out great (albeit the hefty price tag on my accommodations)! We went down to a pub and met a couple of other friends to take in a free comedy show by two girls around our age who performed to a tiny crowd of maybe 20 of us. My belly ached I was laughing so hard! These girls were incredibly talented and had their comedic performance down to a T. There were loads of jokes aimed at UK politics of course, that I wouldn’t quite get as quickly as locals, but I had Rebecca give me a crash course in politics before we set out to tackle Fringe, as politics is always a hot topic! After the show, we began the wanderings of the dazzling city. Emilie was like a professional tour guide and was able to give heaps of awesome historical tips on many of the sights and buildings we ventured around to.
We wandered down the main, bustling streets where the hoards of festival goers concentrated. Street performers were out with full force, and everywhere you looked you saw performers in elaborate costumes frozen in time – only moving when coins clinked in their cup, buskers passionately playing their music to growing crowds, and performers from all over the world putting on shows of bizarre antics to cheers and gasps of the masses. Shops had their doors wide open, and vendors had their stalls set up to hawk their wares. It truly was an international festival that embraced the arts in all their forms. It was so much to take in as we walked along, admiring the talent every which way you looked.
After our browsing and history lessons, we stopped at a French cafe and grabbed lunch outside in the sunshine, which in true Scotland fashion turned quickly to rainy sunshine! And what’s lunch without dessert? We stopped next at Mary’s Milk Bar, a famous hot spot for ice cream and enjoyed ice cream floats (Rebecca’s very first Root Beer float!) and then shamelessly got back in line for a simple ice cream cone. After stuffing ourselves we got back to touring the city’s boisterous streets. We got a sneak peek at the cafe that claims its tables are where JK Rowling began the humble beginnings of Harry Potter, and walked the street which is rumoured to be what inspired her idea for Diagon Alley. It’s easy to see where the magical influence of Harry Potter arouse from when you’re home town is Edinburgh- the place absolutely emulates a magical aura.
As we wandered down to the Queen’s residence, a green army jeep pulled up with an exceptionally old and frail looking man in front next to the driver, a blonde Scottish woman in back and a middle aged man heavy around the middle practically hanging out of the back of the jeep, 10 strings of green Mardi Gras beads around his neck. We took in the strange sight with wide eyes and stepped to the side to see what was going on. The heavy set fellow hopped out and waved us over, and began to tell us his story. He had brought his father (the feeble old man in the front seat, with a heavy blanket atop his lap) over from the United States, a retired war veteran who served in three wars, for his 90th Birthday! He asked if he could take our picture with his adorable old father and we happily agreed.
The old man began to tell us about how he got frostbite in the war (I think he couldn’t take his mind off how cold he was feeling, Edinburgh cools off considerably in the evenings!) and it was bringing back memories of cold times in war. We listened intently to his story and chatted with all of them. The old man then began to tell us the heartwarming story about how he met his wife, and the day he met her, he told her he was going to marry her. He stole all of our hearts with his stories, and his son handed us an envelope that had a post card and a CD that was filled with photographs from the wars that his grandfather had taken- turns out he was a photographer in the wars! And just like that, they were off again, zipping off in their army jeep, leaving us utterly astonished and dazed at the bizarre and beautiful experience. It was one of those experiences that takes you by surprise and warms your heart and you know it will stay with you forever. I don’t have a disc drive in my computer, so I wont be able to look at the pictures until I get home in six months, and I absolutely can’t wait!
That night we were scheduled to check out a political comedy show that plays each year at Fringe to critical acclaim. Even though I wasn’t as educated on the politics in the UK, I was still left in stitches at the show – and it left no doubt as to why this show had such great reviews. We made a small stop and grabbed a quick bite at one of the food trucks that caught our eyes (and tickled our noses with its divine smells!). We decided last minute to head to an electric ballet show set to upbeat electronic music and it was beautiful- and my first ballet! Though not your traditional ballet show, the dancing was outstanding and beautiful. Suddenly it was nearly midnight, and after not having slept on my night bus I was absolutely bagged. I was supposed to leave the next day for the Isles, but I hadn’t booked anything and needed to get home to start doing some research! I hugged Emilie and Rebecca goodbye and thanked them profusely for showing me such an amazing time in their home, and promised I would return some day because this city simply had my heart!
When I got home I began my hectic search for transport and accommodations up to the Isle’s and realized I was in trouble. This was taking far too long to plan out as accommodations were expensive and very hard to come by. I definitely needed more time to plan this…! I resigned myself to finding a hostel room here in Edinburgh for one more night, because I couldn’t find a single room up in the Isle’s. Damn me and my poor planning! I gave up my search and found the only hostel room I could in Edinburgh for tomorrow and had to cough up an other ridiculous $80 CAD. My brain wasn’t making connections very well anymore and I desperately needed sleep so I booked the room in Edinburgh and crashed. In the morning I set to my research and after two hours had a plan and some bookings made. The next day in the morning I would bus it up to the Isle of Skye and stay at a terribly expensive Bed and Breakfast, the only accommodation I could find on the whole island! My lack of planning, trying to travel as I did in Latin America, was costing me some serious dime! Ouch! But hey- lesson learned! I packed up, moved my bags to my new hostel, and then set out to explore Edinburgh by myself for the day. I took in some of the quieter streets and got to see the spectacular and gothic Saint Mary’s Cathedral. The building will take your breath away with it’s towering spires and dark, gothic style of architecture. Inside is just as dazzling as out, and I was lingered in the glory of this masterpiece, savouring the quiet and the calm before heading back to the chaotic main streets to soak myself in the last of the Fringe Festival madness.
I got myself a $7 ice cream cone (I am telling you, the UK is shockingly expensive!!!!) and I can admit, even with that brutal price tag, it was by far the best butterscotch ice cream I’ve had in my life! I watched the performers and moved my way through the crowds. I walked through gardens and played tourist taking loads of pictures of this town that took my breath away at every corner with its beauty. I loved Edinburgh. It was the perfect size and every thing about it appealed to me so strongly. It was beautiful, full of gardens and old buildings and the charming Scottish accents rebounded off every wall, simply music to my ears! I found myself falling head over heels with this place, and for the first time thought to myself ‘you know… I could actually see myself living here!’. Which is a big deal, since after seven months of travel I didn’t get that feeling once, not even close. That’s how I knew Edinburgh was a special place and one I would need to return to some day to explore further. I walked and wandered, a smile on my face, light in my eyes, and sadly bid goodbye to this special place and made myself a promise. I would return.