So here’s what it was like to be in Scotland for the first time, moderately sleep-deprived, coming down off some pretty intensely stressful weeks leading up to it, and not entirely confident that I had thought of everything that needed thinking of before setting out.
I landed in Edinburgh under heavy, grey cloud-cover. “It’s right nice to be back where it’s proper depressing; I love it,” said a young Scottish man to his girlfriend, seated just behind me.
I found the bus I needed into the city centre and sat there feeling, honestly, a little underwhelmed. I’d been so busy and stressed leading up to the trip that I’d forgotten to actually get excited, and so far the scene from the bus window didn’t look that different from London or New York or Chicago and what if I had spent all this money and time to come spend 15 days traipsing about a country and feeling nothing but “meh” because my brain had forgotten how to enjoy it?
Then the bus passed by a row of charming stone houses, with beautiful gardens and old trees. Even inside the bus, it smelled like damp earth and fresh green lawns, and I thought … “oh my God, I’m in SCOTLAND.”
After the bus left me on Waverley Bridge, I stored my backpack in the train station lockers and set off to see all the things. It’s a bit of a blur now, but I found my way to the Royal Mile almost immediately – it was the last day of Fringe, and though it was still early in the morning, there were already shenanigans happening. (Basically, Festival folk are like renfaire folk, only without the renfaire.)
I went to St. Giles straight away, where I saw a man dressed as a viking, and then around the corner to the National Library, and then to Cannongate Kirkyard, where I sat and ate snacks and caught up on the internet, because there is so much free wifi in Scotland.
Pretty sure I also found Greyfriar’s Kirk (there’s a theme to this whole trip: I am most likely to be found in old churches or old graveyards) and the People’s Story museum.
Then I thought, hm, yes, the weather is fine, I shall go climb Arthur’s Seat. It will be a lovely, gentle afternoon stroll. After all, it didn’t look that tall on the internet.
The internet LIES. What looks like a lovely path here soon became a steep stone staircase set into the mountainside. (Only later did I realize that I chose the more direct but significantly more challenging path to the top.) But I saw heather and every time I had to stop to catch my breath I had beautiful views to look at.
And then the top … was glorious. There’s a flat area just shy of the tallest point that’s all soft spongy moss-like grass scattered with bits of lava rock (yes, I brought some home), swirling with gulls swept up in the mighty winds.
And then from the very tippiest top, this view:
I went back down the longer, easier way and found the sign I should have read at the beginning (but I’m sure it’s fine), and also the ruins of a 600-year-old chapel.
Which … lemme tell you, that felt surreal, that chapel. I sat in one of the remaining windows and ate a snack (again) and wrote in my journal and there was no one at all around. Just me and a pile of 600-year-old rocks.
After that, I realized that what I wanted more than anything was a cup of tea, so I stopped at a random tea room near Holyrood Palace – a tiny little thing, with shared tables. I ended up being joined by a woman from Oregon who had just come back from the Highlands. We compared notes and shared stories and let me tell you, oatcakes and tea never tasted so good.
At some point I dropped my bag off at the hostel (CODE hostel, if anyone wants a recommendation – they have sleeping pods and it’s kind of the best). It was in New Town, so I followed streets full of beautiful Georgian architecture and very Scottish signs down to the garden where the Book Festival was being held.
And THEN I proceeded to forget I owned a camera, and when I met Elizabeth Wein, we completely forgot to selfie and I have no pictures of any of it.
But it was a wonderful night, YA panel drama notwithstanding. I sat next to a family from Glasgow who were headed to NYC the following week, so we totally traded travel tips and they were generally the loveliest. And I stayed awake despite being something like 40 hours without sleep.
Last line in my journal for that day, written from my sleeping pod: “man, sleeping is awesome.”
Coming soon: south to the charming village of Melrose.