I had thought that by this time in my exchange I would 1. stop feeling like I needed to do everything yesterday, and 2. stop taking touristy pictures with my phone every time I see a neat vista of the city.
I was wrong on both counts.
I still feel like I should be doing something every minute of every day, even knowing I have a year in this fabulous country, and I still take pictures with my phone each time I turn a corner and see yet another beautiful view of the amazing city that is Edinburgh. I just try to be subtle about it, like I’m searching for a signal or something. It doesn’t really work and I’m pretty sure that people are onto me when I randomly turn around and hold up my phone to the sky.
I was also pretty sure it was supposed to rain more.
Scotland is in the United Kingdom, a place known for its damp and unpleasant weather. And yet, in the month I’ve been here, it has rained…twice. Just twice. Sure, it’s been cloudy a few more times, but most of the time it blows out and by the afternoon it’s sunny. Not that I’m complaining, because nothing is more beautiful than a city bathed in the golden late-afternoon sunlight, especially when seen from above. I finally got around to climbing Arthur’s Seat, and Edinburgh looks amazing from the edge of a cliff. Standing too close to the edge is not recommended, but if you’re brave, it’s exhilarating. The climb is exhausting, and it can be really windy and cold at the top, but the views just can’t be beat.
One of the best things about Edinburgh is how easy it is to travel around and see things. For example, I can now say that I’ve been to England without meaning just Heathrow. The highlands, the most rugged and uninhabited part of Scotland, are only an hour and a half drive from the city. But even the most uninhabited parts of Scotland are still dripping with history; Glencoe, easily one of the most beautiful places in the world and used in films including Harry Potter and Skyfall, was once the site of a massacre. Grim, certainly, but most of Scotland’s history is. Maybe that’s why they’re the home of whisky? It’s impossible to drive more than half an hour, even in the highlands, without coming across a distillery. A side note: choose your whisky carefully or you will definitely regret it. It’s strong stuff.
I think what has surprised me most so far is how much there is to discover without ever leaving Edinburgh. I spent this past weekend in the city and I quickly realized that one weekend wasn’t enough time to see all of Old Town, let alone New Town, Leith, and all the other parts of Edinburgh. The city may have the feel of a small town (sort of) but it is huge, and Old Town is packed with alleys, lanes, closes, stairs, and tons of other little streets filled with interesting things to see and do. Close, by the way, is an old Scottish word for stair or staircase, generally a small street off a larger street that almost always leads somewhere interesting and/or weird and always worth following. You could spend an entire day just on the Royal Mile and all of the little streets that go off of it. (I didn’t because there are so many tourists it feels like Times Square stretched into a road, but you could.)
Of course, that’s not to underestimate the wonders outside of Edinburgh, but this city has a charm all its own. Loch Ness is also charming, however, as are Pitlochry, Callander, and all the other small towns that dot the Scottish countryside. And the lochs of Scotland are a sight to behold, each and every one of them—and there are a lot. According to one botanical survey there are over 31,000; there are also more than 2,000 castles. So any idea I had to visit all the lochs and castles of Scotland has definitely been thrown out the window. Getting the chance to visit even some of them, though, is a privilege. Every time I venture outside and see what a gorgeous, wonderful place I’ve chosen to call home for nine months, I feel like I made the best decision I could have made.
Plus, who could say no to all those kilts?