On top of the world
I’m writing to you from an alcove in my new favorite cafe, Spoon on Nicholson’s Street. It’s a wide-open loft with huge windows and mismatched chairs, patterned china, and warm fruit scones. (Which I just inhaled in three seconds flat). Spoon is another J.K. Rowling hot spot, one of many cafes in Edinburgh where the Harry Potter author penned the first few chapters of her books. Even if it didn’t have that as it’s bragging point, I think I would come for the scones alone.
The past week has been an out-of-this-world type of week, mostly due to Edinburgh flipping a switch on, well, everything. For the first time since my arrival, I have no classes and gloves are not necessary for survival. Get this: I actually went coat-less yesterday. Coat-less. In Edinburgh. Scotland. *Keels over*
The weather was so good that I couldn’t it off any longer. By “it,” I mean the climb up the famous Arthur’s Seat. An inactive volcano smack-dab in the middle of Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat has featured in my fiction class, conversations with friends, and every Edinburgh search on Pinterest.com (needed something to keep myself going in those below 0 January days!). I can’t tell you why I haven’t climbed it until now. It’s not because I was afraid of falling to my death from the crags (although that happens more often than you think). It’s not because I like to save the best for last (remember the scone I mentioned earlier). A combination of cold lassie + laziness contributed to my embarrassing lack of an Arthur’s Seat story until, well, three days ago.
Since then, I have climbed it…three times. I can’t get enough of the place. Arthur’s Seat literally soars above the city in such a mind-blowing, breath-taking way that once I reached the summit, I half wanted to throw myself off of it in punishment for only making time for it now. When I reached that top–and I type this with embarrassingly full-of-tears eyes–I could only think of how wonderful, how beautiful this city is. And how awful, how terrible it will be to leave. And how much, how very much, I wish everyone I know and love could see the sight that I saw from that mountaintop. But let me tell you how it all happened.
Aidan and I have made it a weekly mission to have a “Best-day-in-Edinburgh-ever,” which we meticulously plan with a determined vengeance. Other “best-day-in-Edinburgh-ever” have included walks through the Meadows, browsing in Nicholson St charity shops, and our infamous first rugby game. This week’s “best-day-in-Edinburgh-ever” happened to fall on a beautiful Wednesday and included plans of animal-handling at the Edinburgh zoo, lacing up my new purple sneakers, and scones with jam at Deacon Brodie’s. We planned to hike Arthur’s Seat somewhere in the middle of that.
We didn’t get off to a great start when animal-handling sold out; but always the troopers, we drank lattes instead and pranced down the Royal Mile like supermodels in our sunglasses and trendy sneaks. Embarrassingly enough, I had also never traversed down this half of the Royal Mile.
I felt like I was in another country. A glance at the beautiful Palace of Holyroodhouse (the official residence of the Queen when she visits Scotland) and controversial Parliament building brought us to the bottom of Arthur’s Seat.
The climb itself is not difficult, but challenging enough that you know you got a workout at the end of it. We unleashed our inner Scottish warrior princesses once the city descended behind the huge mountains that make up Holyrood Park, the very highest of which is Arthur’s Seat. Many people decided to climb that morning, including babies and the elderly. (Another shocking part of Scottish life–age really poses no limit for these people).
The entire climb took about 45 minutes; it would have been faster if we hadn’t stopped to ooh and ahh every time we saw a nice view (aka every time you turn) or wanted to pet a dog. My shoes got deliriously muddy and my black puffy jacket became a cape around my waist. Upon finally reaching the summit, it didn’t take long to nestle against a rock, the sun burning my face, and take it all in.
In retrospect, my first few weeks as a lassie were so much about survival and cultural fusion that my awe of the city took a backseat. I didn’t mean for this to happen; but when the heat in my flat disappeared along with my appetite, and I kept mistaking one old building for another, and all the cobblestone blended together until I lost my way home at night, and I realized I knew next to nothing about modern European politics, learning to survive in my new home seemed more relevant than climbing famous mountains and kissing Highland cows and searching for the Loch Ness monster. Top it off with a panicking load of homesickness, and this lassie truly wondered, many times, if she would ever get used to it all, much less have time to take it all in (Didn’t help that I spent my first week shivering in a cold flat that had a previous rodent problem).
This all flew through my mind on the summit of Arthur’s Seat as I was, literally, miles above the beloved city I now call my home. My ‘bird’s eye perspective’ (ha ha ha) came full circle as I saw the gardens of Holyroodhouse, invisible from the ground; the ‘ruins’ of Calton Hill and the spires of Old Town churches; the winding street by Greyfriars where I got lost my second night in and ended up in the graveyard, seriously wondering if I would find my way back to the Cowgate. (I did). It all seemed, at the risk of sounding sappy, smaller. And after three months, five countries, and thousands of miles logged on RyanAir, the world felt as big as it has ever felt.
Our ‘best-day-in-Edinburgh’ continued, made even better by a nap, a tub of Vanilla ice cream doused in Bailey’s, and a night of meringue and salsa-dancing at a Princes St Mexican bar. But I returned to Arthur’s Seat the day after that, and the day after that, to find an abandoned patch of moss, nestle into its earthy embrace, and fall asleep. One day I read, another day I wrote in my journal, and both days I slept. The impossible happened, too: I am wonderfully sunburnt in Scotland.
The grey clouds returned this morning, my weekend of sun and warmth and aviators over (for now). The sun doesn’t go down until 8 pm, a saving grace all by itself, and the city feels empty of students gone home on Easter break. It’s the perfect time to swallow more oceanography notes, catch up on reading for my fiction class, and take naps in the sweet-smelling grass of my new favorite place.