It is monday morning, and I am exhausted. I returned last night from a not-quite-three-days trip to Scotland. Now, I general I like to think that I’m a spontaneous and adventurous person. However, as of late I haven’t been doing much in my life to further confirm this to myself. About two weeks ago, my friend/coworker E mentioned that she was sick of waiting around for people to put together travel plans, and therefore had planned her own solo trip to Scotland.
I’ve wanted to go to Scotland since I was in 4th grade and did a project on the country. (I brought shortbread for the whole class and got an A :D) Jealous that E was showing me up in the ongoing-adventure that we call life, I essentially invited myself along. I bought a ticket, booked the same hostel, and can now say that this was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.
We arrived late on Thursday night; on Friday morning, the game was on. We were going to have roughly 60 hours in the country and had to make them excellent. Friday morning started with a free walking tour of the city with Sandeman’s tours. Because these tours are free, the guides work extra hard to impress and entertain their followers-they work solely off tips. Our guide (Andy) was everything we could have hoped for: An Edinburgh native, he knew all the answers to all questions, pulled volunteers (me) from the group to give demonstrations, quoted poetry, satisfied those who were curious about the inspiration behind Harry Potter, gave excellent recommendations on things to do/places to see/where to eat, and above all, was a fantastic storyteller! Thank you Andy!
Truly, I was very interested in the history of the city, and really enjoyed learning about it by not just talking about different stages of the cities development, but citing specific stories to keep us entertained. For example, while walking through what had previously been the darkest and dirtiest neighborhood in Edinburgh (drugs, prostitution, gambling, drinking, etc), Andy took a moment to tell us about William Burke and William Hare. They were famous for murdering people in these neighborhoods and then selling the bodies to the medical school for student observation and dissection.
Interesting black market, right? The twist on the story came when The Williams murdered and brought in a rather famous prostitute; unfortunately, one of the medical students observing her dissection *ahem* recognized her, and could confirm that she had *ahem* been in perfect health just a few days earlier. It started an investigation on the two men, which ended with one being hanged and the other walking free.
The three hour tour was packed with riveting stories, and E and I recommended it to multiple people before we’d left the country. Friday afternoon involved an early Haddock and chips (fries) dinner (thank you to the man behind the counter who gave us a meal and two drinks for free!!) before a comedy show. The show, “Lingua Frank”, followed the story of a Scottish self-proclaimed “nobody” who throws his life and money into developing an English immersion program for the language school that he works at. His life is miserable, especially because his girlfriend left him for a different teacher at the school, the *gasp!* American newcomer! The American is also promoting his new EFL program, “Speak American Real Soon”, in the school. A competition for the girlfriend and the honor of a better English ensues.
E and I were laughed pretty hard at the Scottish actor playing an American. The stereotypes were spot on; it was everything we try so hard to convince people that Americans are not like. The foul language (dropping the F-bomb every couple words), the raunchiness, the pomposity, the sense of self-entitlement; we were laughing because yes, this actor was definitely portraying an American, and at the same time we were weeping because we’re not all like this!
In a sense, it made me sad because it made me feel like the gestures and actions of every respectful American that goes abroad and does not have any of the above mentioned characteristics are acted in vain: all it takes is one good asshole to make the rest of us look bad. Anyway, I will continue to do my part to prove that not all Americans fullfill this stereotype. (Ironically, after the show we went to a cafe and probably the most obnoxious American girl I’ve ever seen was sitting across the cafe shouting her dramatic story in an inappropriately loud voice-I now know way too much about her relationship with Josh and Josh’s mother, who’s apparently “a total biotch.”)
Saturday came bright and early-we still had yet to see the downpour that the forecast had promised us! E and I took a tour to the Highlands; this proved to be the most magical part of the trip. Personally, I’m big on daydreaming and processing my thoughts alone; I’m not big on talking things out usually. On cultural trips, I like to observe and listen and not do much talking. So watching the incredibly scenic countryside go by, while listening to the history of the regions we were driving through and the various clans that lived there was my cup of tea.
We were part of a small group tour (16 people total), which gave us the ability to stop the bus every 40 minutes or so to get out and walk around and see monuments, incredible views, take pictures and explore little towns for a while. The final destination was Loch Ness (duh) but it was definitely not the only highlight of the trip. For me, listening to the story of Mary Queen of Scots while driving through her birthplace and then where she was imprisoned for 19 years was the highlight. Between stories or history bits, our driver (Mike) would play traditional Scottish music, giving us history about the songs. Overall, a truly incredible daytrip. (Minus the fact that we didn’t see Nessie)
Our last night was spent with an excellent pub crawl. Because my parents read this blog and I don’t want my image tarnished with them, I’m just going to say it was great fun and we met lots of people from all over the place, including a great group of Canadians. Because I hadn’t packed to go out, I hit the town in jeans, my vans and tee shirt and cardigan. I’ve never been so comfortable and ready to boogie, and my body was sore from the dancing the next day. 🙂
Sunday morning E and I purposely got lost on the search for the perfect breakfast. We figured the more lost we were, the better the reward of breakfast at the end. We found a restaurant that I’ve completely forgotten the name of, on a street that I can’t recall. I chose a traditional Scottish breakfast which was pretty similar to what I’d make for a Sunday brunch with a couple fine additions: sausage, an egg, beans, a roasted tomato, sauteed mushrooms, toast and a potato scone (which has nothing to do with English scones and I personally think the Scots do them better). With full bellies, we hiked to the castle and went in as far as possible before they told us we had to buy tickets. The following busride to the airport was a sad farewell; I fully intend to come back again.
Overall, the Scots were the nicest people I’d met in a long, long time. They were so welcoming, so humble and polite, and so happy to be helpful. In every store or every situation, the people were approachable and friendly; usually a bit bashful to ask for advice or directions, we ended up leaving with lots of good friends. They are heavy users of “please”, “thank you” and “sorry!” when squeezing by; every “hello!” was followed with a warm smile and a look in the eyes. I felt like every person we met was happiest when making sure everyone else was happy as well. I’m already daydreaming about my return trip.