It’s now December, which means that winter has officially settled on the city, which means drinking more tea and whiskey to warm up. Fortunately, there are plenty of tea shops and pubs to accommodate pretty much everyone in the city, even if every person spontaneously decided to get tea or whiskey at the exact same moment. Scotland really likes its tea and whiskey. I’ve become addicted to tea and biscuits, which I think is a promising sign of assimilating to the delightful Scottish culture. Winter provides a great excuse to indulge. The only downside of winter in Edinburgh is a lack of snow. It doesn’t get quite cold enough for rain to turn to snow here, so the only precipitation has been some nice cold rain that freezes on the ground, turning the sidewalks into slippery deathtraps. It almost makes me miss the days of tramping through foot-high snow on the quad. Almost.
A couple weeks ago, before it got really cold, I took a trip down to Portugal and Spain with my flatmate. I got to really appreciate not only how convenient travel is in Europe, but also how much warmer it is there. Even though it still rained some of the time, it was beautiful for a couple of days and one day it got up to 30 degrees Celsius. It was an absolutely amazing trip, and it surprised me how different it was from the rest of Europe. It’s much more tropical, and there’s a much stronger Islamic influence, even though the occupation ended more than a millennium ago. The architecture still strongly reflects it though, except maybe in the much more heavily urbanized city of Barcelona. Lisbon felt worlds away from Barcelona, especially with the tiled buildings that characterize Portuguese architecture. Another advantage was getting to use some of the knowledge from an architecture class I had previously thought relatively useless and boring. You learn things even when you think you’re not paying attention. But architecture aside, it’s a surprisingly lively culture despite the decidedly slower pace of life there. Although that just leads to longer nights — when my flatmate and I arrived in Sevilla at five in the morning on a Sunday after taking an overnight bus, we saw people still out from the night before.
Upon arriving back in Edinburgh, I made the sad discovery that while I was gone, the city had entered the time of year when you can see your breath. Happily, that same time of year meant that the Christmas Market had come to town. I finally got around to visiting, and I realized that Christmas Markets are not overrated at all. They are utterly delightful. The Edinburgh Christmas Market is relatively new compared to other European markets, but it gets an A for effort! It certainly felt like Christmastime with all the places selling mulled cider, beer, and delicious things to eat like crepes and bratwurst. Naturally, I had to try a few things out, just to see if they tasted as good as they looked and smelled. They did. I don’t know why this tradition hasn’t spread to the US, because it really should. There’s just something really charming about wandering down a little avenue of booths selling things you know you don’t need but want to buy anyway.
Sadly, this time of year is also finals time. Even though classes here ended ridiculously early, back in November, finals go on until almost Christmas. I’m lucky enough not to have a final that late. So now instead of wandering the streets enjoying the delights of the city while pinching my ears to see if they’re numb (to which the answer is usually yes), I have to sit inside staring at books and endless powerpoint slides. At least I know that I’m in the same boat as everyone else, here and back at Vassar. And the rainy weather makes the delights of the city a little less appealing.
At this point in the year, as many of the exchange students I know are preparing to return home in as little as two weeks, I am glad I chose to stay for a year. Because I know that I have more time, both in Scotland and abroad. I have more time to meet people, more time to explore, more time to travel, and more time to soak in the experience. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder what I’m missing back at Vassar. Still, I know when I go back that I’ll have plenty of stories to tell.