Forty days and forty nights.
Forty days later, I’m remembering the first time that Edinburgh became an option. London was the first choice, for obvious reasons; English speaking, big city, popular tourist attractions. But something about the capital city didn’t sit right with me. Would it be too big? Too touristy?
Ireland also didn’t make the cut. While I knew I would visit, my image of Ireland’s rolling hills and sheep-grazing pastures felt too quaint and quiet for me. Around February of last year, I began to get discouraged. Where would I go?
“Have you thought of Scotland?”
I knew several things about the rainy country that soon became my home—for one thing, it was rainy. Edinburgh was the home of tartan, bagpipes, Harry Potter, and awesome accents. It was a UNESCO literary capital and hosted awesome festivals in the summer. It was a cultural hot spot and its university (where I would later attend) was the 6th best university in Europe.
Mom and I hopped on the downstairs computer and did some digging. (On Wikipedia, of course). I remember noticing how the Castle was in the center of the city and how most buildings squatted under mantles of stone and dark wood. It seemed safe, casual, and quirky. While it rained often, Edinburgh in the spring seemed crisp, warm, and comfortable. In short, it became the reality.
It also became the best thing that ever happened to me.
A week after returning from Edinburgh, I sat down on my white duvet with Carlos snuggled against my ankles, staring at two unpacked suitcases and preparing to type my last blog post as a lassie in the loch. Except I wasn’t in the loch anymore. And I couldn’t think that without bursting into tears.
I tried to write again the next week, and then the next, and then realized it wasn’t going to happen. My transition home has been a lot tougher than I expected. In my last few days, I felt normal anxiety and heartbreak about leaving my wonderful ‘burgh. I didn’t expect that those feelings would linger for, well, another forty days.
My last day included a sunrise hike up Calton Hill, browsing antique stores with Meg, sunbathing on Castle Rock, and drinking pint after pint at an outside bar on Rose Street. The night ended with packing and then meeting friends at Castle Arms, a Victoria Street pub nestled right under the shadows of Edinburgh Castle. At the 2 am closing time, we traipsed around the deserted Royal Mile. I climbed the David Hume statue, spit on the Heart of Midlothian a final time, and ate falafel wraps on the deserted steps of the National Museum.
After being awake for forty-eight hours with no sleep, I arrived home delirious with swollen red-eyes from crying the entire flight and sporting a heeland coo hat. I felt like I was only stopping home for a visit and would soon return to my sweet city, my new home. It was a very rude awakening. Don’t get me wrong—I was so happy and relieved to see my parents after a long five months away. I just never expected that my return home would feel as bittersweet as it did.
When I think about my first few hours in Edinburgh, back on the freezing cold January 12th, they feel so far away. The immediate anxiety that hit me as I pushed open the door to my little flat (with a broken heater and co-ed roommates); needing a shower and groceries and lunch and having no clue where to find them; the paralyzing fear as I realized I was, for the first time in my life, completely alone. When I think about that girl, so unbelievably frightened while inexplicably awed at the same time, she feels years away.
My time in Edinburgh was the most life-changing five months of my life. Easily the toughest, most strenuous, and most anxious; but even more so the most beautiful, wonderful, and blissful. I think about sunsets on Calton Hill with my girls, splitting a six-pack of Strongbow; I think about wide Nicholson Street with its red Lothian buses streaming by, jaywalking in front of Blackwell’s and picking up berries and porridge at Tesco. I think about the Potterrow underpass and saying hello to the bespectacled secretary Janet every afternoon in the Chaplaincy, already making my instant coffee and heading upstairs to ‘revise’ (aka study).
I think about the AirLink bus and ducking into Elephant House for a pot of tea or the library for my favorite hazelnut vanilla lattes. I think about swigging green juice with Alice, my favorite Brit, in Hula Café and weaving through stacks of £5 dresses in Primark. I think about climbing Arthur’s Seat and nestling into my favorite spot, hiding among the yellow flowers and tall grass, and falling madly in love with a nation.
I think about my very first night, showing my ID to the bouncer at Rush and ordering an Irn Bur sans whiskey; and having to return to the bar to get the shot I intended. I remember leaning over the railing at Malone’s Irish Pub, my heart beating fast and feeling, for the first time that day, that I could actually, seriously, really do this.
It feels like a dream. A wonderful, heartwarming dream. I couldn’t have asked for a better five months. Now that I am home, nailing maps of Scotland and dried thistle flowers into my wallpaper, I realize just how fast that time went by. Did that ‘thing’ I dreamt about, planned for, and worried over really happen? Is it really over?
I couldn’t be more thankful for everything that I experienced—the good and the bad. Something ‘they’ won’t warn you about it how awfully difficult it can be to study abroad. All that traveling that I did? What you didn’t see were the hours of frustrated coffee dates with sketchy WiFi, as seven Edinburgh girls tried to coordinate flights and lodging and budgets in freezing-cold flats and bad-coffee cafes. What didn’t make it into my photo albums were the hours I pored over my Oceanography textbook in the library while the elusive Scottish sun cast an inviting and tempting glow over the Meadows. What I didn’t write about were the dramatic fights, long talks, and lonely moments along in my flat, huddled under my tartan blanket and missing friends and Mexican food and Frankie the Shih Tzu.
Some moments also didn’t make it in the blog. The 2 am sing-a-longs in The Royal Oak, an old-man Scottish pub off of Nicholson’s Street; the comfort of the Chaplaincy’s instant coffee, pale blue mugs, and rusty sugar spoons; the crumbly cobblestone on Buccleuch Place and thrill of finding £2 strawberries in Tesco. The orange sunsets casting a warm glow on Chambers Street as I headed back to my flat to make dinner. Sitting cross-legged at my dining table while Fallon and my other flatmates put on the kettle or stir-fried curry. Moments that took my breath away and tugged my heart closer to the thistle and thorn rainy core of Scotland. And while I may no longer cry every day at the thought of my beloved Edinburgh, the memories come at me often and hard, and I always have to stop and pause.
Life feels more normal, once I stopped writing the day before the month and getting into the wrong side of the car. I miss warm, uncarbonated beer and would kill for someone to say ‘hiya’ to me. I miss hearing bagpipes from the cracked-open windows of Starbucks, napping in the waving grass on Arthur’s Seat, and watching the little Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs traipse through the Meadows on their way home from school. I miss my flat, with my little bed nook and tartan and never-ending noises from the Cowgate.
There are things I missed about home, too, things quintessentially American—wearing jean cutoffs, walking barefoot in my backyard, sunbathing on the Long Island Sound. I missed drinking wine with Mom on the porch, fajitas and guacamole, and real salsa. I missed country music and walking Frank down Lockwood Lane and driving with the windows down on I-95. These things—these wonderful, cliche, movie-worthy things—haven’t changed while others have. While I’ve been gone, two friends have had babies, one is expecting, one got engaged, and everyone I know has longer hair, taller legs, or a new story to tell of a house, car, significant other, or heartbreak. A lot has changed.
I’ve changed too, in more ways than one. I didn’t realize it until my last week in Edinburgh how much I have grown, altered, matured, blossomed, have what you will. Cliche? Maybe. Wonderful? Definitely.
Thank you for tagging along with me on this wonderful journey through the loch. (Or ‘lough’, as I now know to be its more-proper pronunciation). You saw the most incredible and life-changing five months of my young and inexperienced life.
And to think…it all started with a Wikipedia search.