Thursday, 29 March 2012

A Journey to Edinburgh

Last weekend was the second long weekend, meaning we had no class on Thursday or Friday. Four whole days of freedom from exams, readings and the British Studies papers which have been looming over our heads with increasing urgency as we approach the end of the semester. For many of us, this was the last big trip—we leave in less than three weeks! While most of the school headed off to Paris, two friends and I decided to go up to Edinburgh, Scotland for our last hurrah, and ended up having what was quite possibly the best trip of the semester.

For one thing, we have this travel thing down by now. Navigating public transportation? Nothing to it. Choosing a non-sketch hostel? Easy-peasy. Finding cheap, delicious food? Kein Problem.  And the less-tangibles, too, have become easier. Choosing travel companions wisely, finding the right balance between museums, shopping, exploring and relaxing, and realizing that it’s just money—all these too are nearly second nature.

Venus Rising
Shannon, Lesley and I arrived in Edinburgh late in the evening on Thursday after a three hour train ride. Finding the hostel was no problem whatsoever—it was maybe a ten minute walk from the train station. The hostel itself, Castle Rock Hostel, was fantastic. Great location, tons of cool artwork, clean and safe, it also had an interesting character. All of the rooms were themed, the whole place was decorated and inviting and people were friendly. Anyway, exhausted, we checked in and went to a small pub just down the road. Nothing special, but hot food was very welcome at this point.

Friday we headed out bright and early to the National Gallery, a free art museum. This is right up my alley, especially as most of the art was 17th and 18th century European, a period in which I have much interest. We saw so many beautiful paintings; my favorite was a Titian called Venus Rising from the Sea, painted around 1520. He captures such an uncertain beauty in her face and body—twas simply glorious.

After exploring the entire museum, we were feeling a bit puckish. We scrounged around for inexpensive, good food, finally finding the “Snax Café” down a dark alley. It looked like it could possibly be a front for a drug ring, but offered hot sandwiches for 2.50 and seemed clean enough. Turned out to be a delightful little place and I had a delicious panini. I’ve turned into a panini addict this semester, but they’re cheap, hot and filling—just what I want.

Being three twenty-year-old girls, we then spent the afternoon shopping. Not really tourist shopping, but rather clothes shopping. Edinburgh has a Primark and a Topshop, and let us just say that both received our custom that afternoon. Being the good little nerds that we are, we then proceeded back to the hostel and spent the remainder of the afternoon industriously working on homework, eagerly anticipating the coming evening.

Hunger Games Excitement!
Why, you might ask? That night was to bring two exciting events: Middle Eastern food and going to The Hunger Games! Ready for a night of adventure, we headed to a Kurdish restaurant around 5:30. There we had what was probably my favorite meal of this entire semester—vegetable shish kebab with chili and yogurt sauce and SO MUCH delicious naan. Lesley, our local expert on Middle Eastern cuisine, pronounced it not only delicious, but also authentic. Absolutely stuffed, we waddled over to the movie theater for an 8:00 showing of The Hunger Games. And while Lesley and I were a little worried that Shannon would literally die of anticipation, we were finally let into the theater fifteen minutes before the film. I don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone, but suffice it to say that we were all very pleased with the adaptation.

The following day, we got up rather late and spent the morning wandering the old town. We walked along most of the Royal Mile, which is essentially a massive agglomeration of tourist shops, but with fantastic architecture. Also, St. Giles’ Cathedral, located along the mile, is well worth a look; the stained glass inside is very pretty. Requisite souvenirs—postcards, backpack patches, a sheep scarf—purchased, we discovered Auld Jock’s Pie Shop and had another delicious and inexpensive lunch. Afterwards, we explored the Scottish Writers’ Museum, which was not so much a museum as it was three cramped rooms with a few objects vaguely connected to three Scottish writers, but at least it was free.

In front of St. Giles
Shannon was feeling a little unwell, so she wended her way back to the hostel and Lesley and I kept exploring. The weather was cool and misty, and we found an old graveyard. Rendered mysterious and picturesque by the fog, the graveyard featured such sights as David Hume’s grave-cum-mausoleum and a large statue of Abraham Lincoln; apparently a sizeable number of Scots fought in the American Civil War. We then climbed up Calton’s Hill, which had a lot of monuments on top. This would have been much cooler had we been able to see anything, but the fog made it a bit hard to see. Either way, everything was very pretty.

That night in the hostel, we did something we’ve been talking about all semester: we cooked. That’s right. Homemade food! Nothing fancy, just chicken breasts, root vegetables and a fresh baguette, but it was perfect. Otherwise, we had a quiet night; the three of us would rather curl up with a mug of tea and a good book than go out and engage in shenanigans. Most of the time, at least.

Atop Arthur's Seat
Our last day in Edinburgh dawned bright and early; we decided to climb Arthur’s Seat at sunrise. Arthur’s Seat…well, it’s not really a mountain, but it’s what passes for a mountain here. And was a fairly good trek. Getting to the top, however, made any strenuousness worth it. It was beautiful. And the fog had started to dissipate, giving us a beautiful view of the city. We rested at the top a while, but even so, reached the city long before we had even been awake either of the two preceding days. We had no major plans for Sunday; we wandered quite a bit, explored some of the “closes,” or terrifying little alleyways, and got a couple of gifts for our families in yet another tourist shop. Incidentally, we heard a bagpipe rendition of “We Will Rock You,” which I found more than a little amusing. I found a little Indian shop and Shannon and I got harem pants, for which we are very excited.

The intrepid explorers on their last day in Scotland
After yet another lunch in a café (I will never tire of paninis!), a trip to the sweetshop and a visit to a shop that may or may not have been run by a cult, we realized that we weren’t cold! In fact, we were legitimately warm outside! I cannot impress how rare this is here. Taking advantage of the weather (and frankly, having very tired feet from having spent three days trekking about the city), we camped out in the park and spent our last afternoon in Edinburgh napping, reading and talking in the sun.

This was my last trip of the semester; the next three weeks are going to be beset by stress, papers, German novels and a general panicky, nervous mood. I am so grateful for getting to experience Edinburgh with two of my closest friends. We saw the city, ate some incredible food, climbed a (quasi-)mountain, shopped till we dropped, and got even closer as a result of our three days together. What a perfect final trip. 

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