Loch Ness & the Highlands!

The sound of death is surely someone wheedling out a hymn on faulty bagpipes.

Like a mixture of Dory, from Finding Nemo, bellowing in her best Humpback and a blunt hacksaw taken to a chalkboard. (You’ll want to take my word for it.)

There Jonathan and i were, enveloped by the mountains of Glen Coe. Probably the most famous of all Glens in Scotland – at least, cinematically speaking – Glen Coe boasts of a film C.V. including Hagrid’s cabin in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the drive to the lodge in Skyfall.

highlands 02At our stop-off within the movie-star glen was a Highland lad, clad in full tartan regalia, muttering about a broken reed in between his attempts to play what i could only assume was meant to be “Amazing Grace.”

We’d made the decision to go with a tour bus, which is not my favorite way to travel. (The asinine teenage boy behind us who referred only to his mother as “Geez, WOMAN!” is a prime example of why American tourists get such a bad rep). But it was the most affordable way we could see as much as possible in one day, so we took it. As if the sights of Scotland weren’t enough to drink in, the sightseeing of thirty tourists in “Hairy Coo” fanny-packs certainly was.

Mr. Blurpity-Pipes was making a killing, asinine teenage boy posing for a sour-pussed grin as Grandma snapped a shot. Then went the Portugese Clooney-Lookalike, who posed for all his pictures like he was a supermodel: butt out, chin up, shades on, half-grimace sexy-grin. Behind him was a clattering group of Germans.

And so on, each plopping a fiver in Blurpity-Pipes’ tin, each encouraging him to play past that wonky reed. Granted, it’s a pretty stellar shot to bring home and make your profile picture: a real Scotsman in the Highlands!!1!!1!

I did my best to avoid the crowd, memorizing every curve of the mountains in our fifteen minutes of allotted time.

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The real event of the tour was to be a boating ride on Loch Ness, involving sonar technology to scan the deeps for the monster below. But as Loch Ness is some four hours north of Edinburgh, we got to see plenty of Scottish countryside along the way.

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After a lunch of disappointingly slim sandwiches (Jonathan’s face caved when he realized he had a what barely qualified as a tissue for his slice of ham) we were bound for the boat. I jockeyed my way to the front, rather than the sonar get-up, so as to avoid Asinine Teen and the Clooney Lookalike. Jonathan and i actually quite enjoyed the Loch, steep cliffsides and water so dark it was almost black really living up to its legend. This was my second time to Loch Ness, the first being a sojourn to Urqhart Castle with my Dad. It was my first time on the water, and we were delighted with the breadth of the sun.

Until, characteristic Scotland, the cloud bowled us over with pelting rain. Suddenly, all the fannypacks were clustered around the Sonar, making awkward small talk about flesh-chomping monsters.

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Our jaunt was over before we’d even made it two kilometers out, and in a pressure-cooker of a run back to the bus we made a pit-stop into a petrol station. Laden with cheese and breadsticks, we clambered back on the fannypack machine headed due south.

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And while we had to deal with the best of American culture and Blurpity-Pipes’ backdrop tunes, Jonathan is quick to say this was one of the best days of his life. Only the day before had he proposed, and i was desperate to see the Highlands one last time before i was stateside for the foreseeable future.

There is magic in those mountains, i tell you. Magic that still bathes the day as enchanting, even when set to the tune of Blurpity-Pipes.

in case you missed it: my sojourn through the highlands with my dad.

best thing: we took photos for our christmas card yesterday! who wants one?

New Posts of Old Things.

I named my external hard drive “the penseive” in a moment of Potter genius in the summer i lived in Kotido, Uganda. It mostly houses back-ups of my photos and comfort movies, like The Princess Bride. But, being as absent minded as i am, yesterday was the first time since March i cranked open the two-terabyte Valhalla.

Oops.

While cataloguing my backlog of photos, i came across a few old gems that i’d neglected to post/write about here. So over the next few days, i thought i’d share a mélange of old tales dating back as far as the naming of the very external hard drive that prompted this serenade down memory gig lane. And maybe some stereotypical pseudo-philosophical reflections on how these journeys in life have brought me to the woman i am today, blah blah blah.

But for today, here are a few snapshots and accompanying stories from my six months spent in love with and living in Edinburgh, Scotland.

You know you’re an American expat when…

watermarked lidl

It’s true that the cultural clash between the UK and America is no chasm. Sure, they prefer tea to coffee (i can hear the hipsters screaming: SO DO WE!) and say “schedule” the way i did when i was six. I delighted in the wee differences, the brogues and the bagpipes and the slang. But there were three big things i missed most: fresh, non-root vegetables, my mother’s fried chicken, and peanut butter. I handled the chicken-making myself, and made do with Spanish apples for the bulk of the semester. But it wasn’t until i realized Lidl carried peanut butter for under eight quid that i had a field day with my favorite fat-laden snack. I never thought i’d say it, but over a plate of artery-clogging food i basked in the stereotype: GOD BLESS THE USA.

view from scott monument watermarked

I snapped this photo from the topmost layer of the Scott Monument on Princes Street, wheezing with the narrowing stairs and staving off my vertigo. I’d saved the clamber for when my Dad came to visit, because he’s the macho man with zero squirms when it comes to elevation. Might be a product of his upper-troposphere height. But this same obscene scale of stature made it impossible for him to follow me to the tippy-top: the stairways were too narrow. So alone, wind ripping off any moisturizer clinging to my cheeks, i snapped this picture and plummeted my head between my knees to keep from vomiting.

‘Twas a charming view.

arthurs seat summit watermarked

My favorite sightseeing to do in Edinburgh was easily the clamber up Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano overlooking the whole of Old Town. I only once got to see this marker of the elevation, because any sunny day i chose to scale its peak half the tourists in town had the same idea. On that same Dad-visit we made our way to the top, my father protesting i was trying to kill him with the hike. But it was a rare rain-free morning with no one else on the mountainside, and i insisted. He later confessed it was his favorite part of the trip – and it’s easy to see why.

Overlooking the city from Arthur's Seat!

Overlooking the city from Arthur’s Seat!

(Okay, that one was previously published, but still. Context.)

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in case you missed it: my favorite posts from studying abroad, including saying goodbye in january to jonathan, jonathan’s proposal, faerie-spotting on the isle of skye, and riding a camel in morocco.

The Wind in the Streets: Saying Goodbye to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is the city with the wind trapped in its streets. Every corner a new gust in a new direction. My hands are always slick around the umbrella handle, its protection a moot point in the sideways slashes of water. Unpredictable and wild, the weather is the spirit of the city.

Sunset on Calton Hill.

Sunset on Calton Hill.

“No one comes to Edinburgh for the weather,” my cabbie told me as i first drank in the city’s soggy streets. Groggy and achey and smelly from an overnight transatlantic flight, i surprised myself with open eyes all but glued to the windows. I remember my toes going numb in my soggy socks. He never did clarify why people came to Edinburgh.

But even in that state of sleep deprivation, i knew.

That was six months ago. Six months of bad weather, and now i know why people come to Edinburgh: it’s that wild, unpredictable, gritty-yet-quaint magic. It’s the slate slick with water on the street, the cobblestones encouraging a hop-skip dance to stay standing. It’s getting to know the shopkeepers like i lived in a small town but knowing there are more streets here than you could ever plot. It is the sun rolling fat across the spire-dotted horizon after torrential rain. It is the bagpipers on every corner of the Royal Mile making the soundtrack of the city raucous and real. It is the “I’m Scottish!” flags in the grocery store, it’s evensong at St. John’s on Princes Street, the rainbow quilt hanging in Saint Augustine’s. Tea and feminist theology with Rhiannon. Ceilidh with Megan. Flat dinners.

Edinburgh wouldn’t be the same without that sideways rain, the muck that makes me wish i had window-wipers for my glasses and waterproof woolens.

It is the city with the wind trapped in its streets, pushing the growth outwards but never letting its history be eaten by progress. The skyline of Edinburgh is my favorite of anyplace i’ve ever been: grey-black church spires competing with the looming castle for the crown of the view. No skyscrapers competing with Georgian buildings. Edinburgh’s sky breathes into every cobblestone of the city streets.

Edinburgh is a city made of magic, the enchantment trapped in the wind that binds fearlessly wild mountains to fearlessly proud castles.

New College.

New College.

Saint Margaret's Chapel in the Castle; the Castle from the Elephant House.

Saint Margaret’s Chapel in the Castle; the Castle from the Elephant House.

It was an excruciating farewell. I know, in my heart and in my ten-year plan (color-coded, of course), that the enchantment of Edinburgh is not done with me yet. But i didn’t know when i’d be back, and that was painful. I hate goodbyes. I don’t know anyone who relishes them, but i felt there was just one too many this time.

And the worst goodbye was the city itself, because the city is to me everyone in it. And the city is the wind in the streets.

Overlooking the city from Arthur's Seat!

Overlooking the city from Arthur’s Seat!

Arthur's Seat!

Arthur’s Seat!

But, as you may have heard, my Jonathan asked me a little question in the last few days we had in Edinburgh that has had a pretty big impact on our lives. So there was a big tug pulling me across the water: families eager to clutch our hands and coo over our giddiness. Big plans to make and old friends to see.

My flatmate Savannah wrote on her witty and wonderful blog* that she drew a distinction between being excited and being ready to come home:

“People keep asking me if I’m excited to come home. The answer is simple, of course I am! I think what they mean to ask is if I’m ready to come home, and this is a much more complicated question.”

I think i was a mix of ready and not ready, excited and dreading it.

All those months ago, my nose pressed against the window of the cab i felt that lurch in my stomach. The oh-no, i-like-this lurch. The scary fall and willingness to let myself fall all at once meant i knew, even then, that a similar cab ride back to the airport would be excruciating. And it was.

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But i couldn’t be more grateful that it happened. And, in the words of Scotland’s greatest poet Robert Burns:

But boundless oceans, roaring wide,
Between my love and me,
They never, never can divide
My heart and soul from thee.

Until next time, Edinburgh. I’ll wait for the wind.

Sunset from Calton Hill.

Sunset from Calton Hill.

current jam: ‘then i met you’ the proclaimers.

best thing: chai tea.

*Which all of you should go read, because it really is one of the best blogs you’ll ever come across. (I’m a wee biased, but still!)

The Last Five Days.

The last five days in Scotland have been some of the best five days i’ve had all semester. Last Wednesday, J pseudo-surprised me by rolling out a suitcase from the arrivals gate at Edinburgh airport. (Pseudo, because it was meant to be a total surprise, but i’m very good at guessing and also am in the middle of exams, so certain details had to be divulged ahead of time). There was a lot of nervous tippy-toe walking around until he arrived, and even more (probably embarrassing) embracing when he did.

I couldn’t believe my blessings: he was here, with me, in my favorite place in the whole world.

Yet the excitement didn’t abate there- two of my very best friends from Mount Holyoke arrived the next day for a weekend trip full of milkshakes, late night catching-up-chats, and even a daytrip to the Trossachs for some hairy coo sightings! (Needless to say, there was a lot of hugs in the arrivals terminal of the airport this week!)

My favorite shot of the daytrip! Taken by Stirling Castle. (J should always wear a Hairy Coo hat, should he not?)

My favorite shot of the daytrip! Taken by Stirling Castle. (J should always wear a Hairy Coo hat, should he not?)

Enacting romance by the shores of Loch Katrine, the setting of Sir Walter Scott's "The Lady of the Lake."

Enacting romance by the shores of Loch Katrine, the setting of Sir Walter Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake.”

The view of Stirling from the Wallace Monument!

The view of Stirling from the Wallace Monument!

Called "THE Bridge" by civil engineers for its feat of genius, this rail bridge crosses the River Forth just outside Edinburgh!

Called “THE Bridge” by civil engineers for its feat of genius, this rail bridge crosses the River Forth just outside Edinburgh!

The Wallace Monument, Stirling.

The Wallace Monument, Stirling.

Our tour, which was the most excellent TheHairyCoo.com free tour, began in Stirling and made its way into the lower Highlands around a number of rather famous lochs. It was a beautiful, uncharacteristically rain-less day to spend frollicking on mountaintops and even feeding bread crumbs to the “dangerously cute” highland cows (for which the company is named!).

My favorite part was the stop off at Castle Doune, where the famous scene with the French guards takes place in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. J and i couldn’t resist clambering our way to the top to yell out our own (very poorly accented) French insults at my friends below!

Hairy Coos!

Hairy Coos!

Doune Castle - where the bulk of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed!

Doune Castle – where the bulk of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed!

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The view from the top of the castle!

The view from the top of the castle!

 

I was running on a high of can’t-believe-this-itis, especially when the tour guide of our day trip put on The Proclaimers as we drove past the lower Highlands. If a perfect day exists, that was it: Scottish mountains, excellent music, and a batch of my closest friends to sing along with.

Trying to get us all in the shot!

Trying to get us all in the shot!

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The last five days have been bliss, but now i have to face the last five days i have left in Scotland. And that, that’s just hard. The good-byes have been a mixture of late-night chats in the flat to quick, painful hugs farewell. My friends from MHC left this morning, and my dear flatmate Abby leaves tomorrow. It’s been a day of sad farewells.

J being here is enabling me to not ache so much for the Carolinas and their rivers of sweet tea, which is such a gift. I feel truly able to grieve for my last walks past the Scott Monument or cups of tea at the Elephant House.

It also means i spent half of my morning weeping over my cup of after-church tea, trying not to think too much about what life will be like without the hum of this rain-slicked, enchanted city.

And in the midst of this emotional farewell to the semester in Edinburgh, i have two exams to tackle and a life to zip fast in my suitcases. So the next five days are shaping up to be crammed – crammed with wadded-up t-shirts in my suitcases, crammed with farewell-to-Scotland activities, and a helluva lot of cramming for finals.

For days of auld lang syne.

Just outside the Writer's Museum, Edinburgh.

Just outside the Writer’s Museum, Edinburgh.

current jam: ‘come thou fount’ sufjan stevens.

best thing: having places and friends so wonderful that the time to leave them brings mourning. it’s the double-edged sword of loving something, i guess.

I Could Have Ceilidh’d All Night

It’s pronounced kay-lee, and if Appalachian clogging mated with Richard Simmons to the sound of bagpipe music, the ceilidh would be their child.

And it is wicked fun.

With less than 12 days remaining in my semester in Scotland, i’m in a panic to cross off everything on my Edinburgh Bucket List. And easily, the biggest thing i have been looking forward to was going ceilidh dancing.

I’m the most pigeon-toed ballerina you’ll ever find. But when it comes to a kind of dance that requires a sense of gusto more than talent, i am your girl. I’d heard that ceilidh, as a cultural tradition more than a fine art, was something meant to be easy to participate in. Much like the swing dances i loved dolling up for so much in high school.

So my friend Megan and i donned our billie kilts (for obvious reasons) and made our way to the University’s Chaplaincy centre. It’s still the middle of exam season for us, so we weren’t expecting the largest of crowds. True to form, the crowd was a mixture of curly-haired wee lassies and older folk in full Scottish regalia. In the corner was tucked the band and on the floor was a stomp-clapping mob of high-kicking dancers.

And it was brilliant.

Being in the context of families and University students alike enabled us to see the breadth of tradition. I learned, from a man with a robust white beard and well-worn kilt, that children in Scotland tend to learn traditional dances in late primary school. I also learned, from the same gentleman, that if you just trust your knowledgable partner to lead the steps you might find yourself being flung off the ground and spun around without warning.

And just like that, i was learning jig steps and polka-pirouettes to the thrum of the fiddle. “You can forget about gym membership!” he bellowed, frolicking around me like the considerable age gap only made him more lithe with time. I heaved a giggle-gasp, asthma-attacked but with cheeks sore from laughing.

Observing a move called "The Helicopter" wherein the lads lift the lassies and spin! TERRIFYING.

Observing a move called “The Helicopter” wherein the lads lift the lassies and spin! TERRIFYING.

It seriously was some of the most fun i’ve had in Scotland; that same delirious, verging-on-terrified delight i found in the Highlands i experienced when the dance left me so dizzy i could barely breathe. My calves are still recovering from the whole affair, but i am seriously hoping to go ceilidh dancing at least once more before my time here runs dry. It’s the best of Scotland: excellent attire, fabulous folk music, high-pulse dancing, camaraderie, and ever the element of sweeping-off-your-feet surprise.

Laughing in our kilts over after-dancing drinks!

Laughing in our kilts over after-dancing drinks!

And, if i said what happened next was the best part of the night, it would be a voracious lie. And mortifying. Because i broke my own rule and we totally made a midnight run to my beloved-and-despised KFC. Who doesn’t love capping off a good workout with fried chicken?

Thanks to Megan for taking this! (Gratuitous fast food eating commences)

Thanks to Megan for taking this! (Gratuitous fast food eating commences)

current jam: ‘young & beautiful’ lana del rey.

best thing: today is both j’s graduation and mother’s day in the usa! wishing i was across the pond for both of them, so grateful to have them in my life.

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So I’m Pretty Sure KFC is Made with Narcotics.

It began so innocuously.

My bus ride back from the EDI Airport left me only a fiver in my pocket and a tummy rumbling for food. More pressing than anything, though, was the need for solitude. This mega-level introvert can only handle crowds and queues for so long before she needs a nap. I made the fatal flaw of changing into leggings when i at last collapsed into bed.

There is no getting me out of my room when the cotton leggings have come on.

Some 24 hours later, i emerged, jet-lagged so much i felt hungover. My stomach was screaming for food; i’d only had cookies in the cupboard.

And that’s when it started. I needed food, fast, and my fridge shelf was empty. No time, i thought, for a run to the grocer.

So instead i ran to the KFC, not two minutes up the street. I hadn’t been once the whole semester. In the states, i’m not usually a fast-food-eater. But my week in Carolina had left me hankering for the greasiest stuff America can give, so in a bastion of homesick and hangry, i downed a Lunch Box special faster than any pie-eatin’ champion this side of the Mississippi.

It was french fries and fried chicken, and it was good.

I thought, foolishly, that would be it. My need for bad Americana-style food would be sated. Besides, the KFC’s here don’t even have biscuits or mashed potatoes.

I was so young and full of ridiculous notions of my own strength, then.

My Dad arrived, and his medium-sized-oak-tree stature was American enough to keep me away from the buckets of chicken for the remainder of the week. But all too soon, he was stateside bound. I was alone. Bereft. Abandoned in a land of chips-meaning-fries and no-ice-in-your-water.

So i wept my tears into a bucket of french fries and chicken breasts. (Not literally, that would have made the crispy perfection inside the box soggy). Once. Twice. Three times.

Four. Times. FIVE. Times.

I’ve had to cut myself off. Have intentional, no-KFC-allowed days where i stare down a bowl of granola and British strawberries and dream dreams of vegetables. But it’s so damnably close to my flat, so alluring with its obnoxious red windows and late-night hours. Tempting me with its evil, cheap-and-easy ways.

It’s not like i’m pining my days away for ‘Murica or anything. I miss my family, my cats, my J, my cats, and mostly my cats. But my love for Edinburgh (and Scotland in general) is neither subtle nor limited. I’ve come alive in this city, and i’m not ready for that plane ticket home in less than fourteen days time.

But JesusMaryAndJoseph, do i want KFC every meal, every day. It’s like i’ve unearthed Pandora’s box and now have founded a cult of the £2.99 special with an extra chicken breast, no ketchup.

Maybe my tummy’s telling me something that my mind won’t let me think yet. That the end of my five months in Scotland is coming – and soon – whether i accept it or not. Or maybe KFC just laces their meat with nicotine and i need a support group. Both are equal possibilities in my mind.

But if you’ll excuse me, i have to make a quick run up the block. Something drenched in salt and smelling of potatoes is calling my name, seductive bastard.

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current jam: ‘no church in the wild (feat. frank ocean & the dream’ by jay-z & kanye west.

best thing: more than a month after my last class, i have an exam today. about damn time i tackle this beastie.

Castle-Spotting & Whiskey-Sampling

Stop one on our epic Scottish Road Trip: Oban, a port town on the West coast. Dotted with brightly painted homes and endless wool boutiques, Oban boasts of a booming care home population and even more ferry rides to the surrounding islands.

The Oban port!

The Oban port!

We, however, were there for the whiskey.

My Dad is a connoisseur of alcohol-producing-places and the tours they offer. He and His-Buddy-Mark in their 1989 semester of living in Denmark frequented the brewery down the block so much they were unofficial tour guides by the end. When the tour guide of the Oban Distillery asked what other distilleries he’d been to, i swear he listed every bourbon in the US.

So he’d hunted, far and wide in the land of the internet, for the best whiskey distillery in the land of Scotch. Oban, he decided, held the prize: it was one of the smallest distilleries he’d heard of, so the tour promised to be up-close and personal. Looking over the boiling barley-and-sweetwater mixture in a 32,000 litre contraption, i thought the proximity divine. I also thought my Dad was going to pee himself he was so elated. “Normally, all the distillery stuff is behind glass!” he exclaimed gleefully.

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Looking gleeful with a sample of Oban scotch in hand!

Looking gleeful with a sample of Oban scotch in hand!

Two wee samples and a free whiskey glass later, we were more than pleased with our time in Oban’s Distillery (such a fun and inexpensive attraction to see, should you be planning a trip to Scotland!). Then a fish-and-chips later, we were back on the road bound for the northwest coast.

Scotland is not renowned for its weather. That whole saying, “don’t like the weather? wait five minutes,” surely was born here. Everywhere else i’ve heard the saying employed it’s been a Southern hyperbolic stretch. In Scotland, i oscillate between opening an umbrella and taking off my scarf every ten minutes.

So much for hyperbole.

But for us, blessedly, this day was of a kind i hadn’t seen in Scotland for a long while: a day where the sun was the norm and the rain, novelty. Glistening lochs and sun-dappled mountains embraced our tiny rental car, the clouds lazy white and the beauty of this incredible country unparalleled.

And then, in a serendipitous and ridiculous manner only Scotland can produce, we stumbled upon an old castle. On an island. In the middle of a loch.

castle stalker

A castle! On an island! In a loch!

on the road

Dad focusing intently while learning to drive on the left - no easy feat!

Dad focusing intently while learning to drive on the left – no easy feat!

We learned, via a conveniently placed roadside gift shop, that it was Castle Stalker on Loch Linnhe. And we learned, via the stunning and uncharacteristic sunshine, that it looked like something out of The Princess Bride. Mostly, i just learned in Scotland to expect the unexpected – including random castles alongside the motorway.

current jam: ‘girl in the war’ josh ritter.

best thing: such incredible, humbling opportunities to see so much of this stunning country!

Into the Land of Scotch and Lochs.

To describe my last week spent in the north of Scotland as breathtaking would qualify in the understatement-of-the-year category.

I’ve seen more wonders this semester than i could fit in a personalized National Geographic volume; everywhere from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam to the fairytale streets of Chefchouen the brushstrokes of an intricate, well-traveled map. Every place i have seen has possessed its own magic. The romance of Paris, shared with the love of my life, will forever captivate me with its fervor and caprice. The ridiculousness of riding on a camel (for no more than three minutes, if we’re honest) retains a place on my shelf of best-ever’s. Even a frigid day trip to the coastal town of St. Andrews retains a place of glee and stair-clambering soreness in my heart.

But nowhere, nowhere that i have been contains the clash of majesty and ferocity that is the Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye.

I’d heard tales of the wildness of the Highlands; reminiscing travelers recalling a time at Glen Coe or reading about the Jacobite rebellions. Stories about the peoples whose audacity was paralleled only by the unforgiving landscapes they dwelled within. But it was only when we were immersed in the monsters themselves that i began to really understand that untamed enchantment. In the Talisker whiskey distillery (one of the five we encountered) i heard the hills described as “fiercely intrusive.” Like the paradox of their beauty meant my heart thrummed in my ears, the beats indecisive as to whether it was passionate love or passionate terror that i was experiencing. Honestly, it was probably both.

Off the road near Glen Coe.

Off the road near Glen Coe.

On A87, bound for Eilean Donan castle.

On A87, bound for Eilean Donan castle.

Not many folks on the road, 'round these parts.

Not many folks on the road, ’round these parts.

mountains and lochPerhaps it is the mountain’s unsettling power that makes them so inspiring. When thrown off-kilter i feel brazen.

There was a pier that jutted out into a loch somewhere near Glen Coe – i can’t recall the precise location. But i remember us pulling off the road to sit and take it in, trying to capture in photographs what defies even the reality of looking with our own eyes. I ran along the pier, not caring that the coat i’d left in the car would have kept the frigidity of the wind at bay. Before me was nothing but mountains and sky and loch. The water chopped and served reflections of the surrounding hills, a kinetic storm of energy and anger and beauty and solace.

I was in love.

flag on the loch

(Thanks for the pic, Dad!)

(Thanks for the pic, Dad!)

I’ve fallen for places before – Uganda’s Abim region is a hot contender for the Scottish Highlands – but not like this. Not like the storm of sun and rain, the thunderous winds and snowcapped chill that made me want to cry for laughing and laugh for crying. I was ecstatic, i was terrified, i was head-over-mud-caked-boots for this place.

The best part, though, was being able to share it with my Dad. Running back along the pier, going camera-crazy and chortling off his put-on-your-coat scolding, i just couldn’t believe how blessed i was.

I’d wanted to share with him the world as i’d fallen for it. Cook him dinner in my shanty little flat and take him to the peak of my favorite place in Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat. And we did those things, and they were all that i wanted them to be. We had our famous roadside conversations, passing the hours of driving with debate and honest reflection. But best of all, we got to see a piece of this planet together for the first time.

While i think i did indeed show him the city i’ve so come to adore, Scotland does a pretty good job of asserting its own prowess and power. Through seeing a new part of this country with him, i got to fall in love with Edinburgh all over again.

Maybe that’s the thick of the goodness of my life as it stands now, on the precipice of saying goodbye to Scotland and starting my last year of undergraduate school. It’s burning the spinach for our calzone dinner in an attempt to show off my cooking, but it’s also realizing the adventure doesn’t end with a diploma or a plane ticket. There are places as frightening and gorgeous as the Highlands to remind me of beauty, unmitigated and untampered beauty. Places to feel insignificant and childish and filled with significant dreams. Places that will remain as wild as they were in the days of the Jacobites, the folklore of old.

And sharing in such adventures with the people i love makes that a tremendously exciting prospect.

In Oban, on the West Coast!

In Oban, on the West Coast!

current jam: ‘dry bones’ gungor.

best thing: the highlands!

coming soon: the fairy glen on isle of skye, castle stalker, eilean donan castle, loch ness…

Saint Giles Cathedral, High Tea, and the National Museum: Checking in with the Edinburgh Bucket List.

When J and i weren’t cowering under umbrellas in London or making moon-eyes at each other in Paris, we were covering plenty of ground in Edinburgh.

It is, after all, the best city in the UK (in my humble, obviously biased opinion).

I took J to my favorite tourist-y spot in Edinburgh on the first day: the Edinburgh Castle. We visited my second-favorite spot – Saint Margaret’s Chapel – and J geeked out over the weaponry in the Great Hall (there was a lot of rolling eyes on my end).

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Saint Margaret’s Chapel, oldest building in Edinburgh.

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The castle at dusk!

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He really liked the cannons.

My first-favorite thing to do at the Castle, however, has nothing to do with what’s on the inside. The parking lot that stretches in front of the portcullis offers some of the most exquisite views of Edinburgh and the surrounding mountains – and you don’t have to pay the 14 pound ticket fee to get in!

View from the Castle Terrace!

View from the Castle Terrace!

As much as i love going to the Castle (and believe me, i do love it – have a membership card and all) there were also things on my Edinburgh Bucket List that i wanted to make sure we checked off together. With a little less eye-rolling, we made our way through the 5th item on my list: the National Museum of Scotland.

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Jaws in the Animal Room.

The National Museum was the kind of place my elementary school would go on field trips. (I spotted more than a few clusters of children in uniform in the various exhibits). It encompasses everything from Victorian-era taxidermies to artifacts from the Scottish Reformation. It’s free, so for that reason alone, it’s well worth a visit. The best part of the museum, though, isn’t so much the stuffed lions, but the rooftop terrace. A friend had taken me up one Sunday afternoon for yet another exquisite view of Edinburgh and i was eager to share the view with J.

Alas, the roof terrace was closed. We’d run into a lot of closings because of the season: the Eiffel Tower top floor, the façade of Saint Paul’s, compressed museum times. Easily one of the perks of off-season travel is the discounted ticket prices and smaller queues. But you pay for it with the weather and minor inconveniences.

Our disappointment with the terrace’s closure, however, was abated by the beauty of the 6th item on my list: Saint Giles Cathedral. Situated along the Royal Mile with a tremendously distinctive spire, Saint Giles is a landmark i pass almost every single day. I knew it was meant to be gorgeous inside, but i’d saved the trip for when J visited.

St. Giles by night.

St. Giles by night.

I’m very, very glad i did. Calling the sanctuary lovely is a gross understatement, but anything else sounds forced. Sharing in the splendor with J was wonderful – he’s the only person i know who loves looking at old churches as much as me.

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Thistle Chapel

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On J’s last day in Edinburgh after moon-pie-eyes days spent in Paris and London, we went for High Tea at the Carlton. High Tea is just so quintessentially British, and more to the point High Tea is such a delicious occasion to dress up for a man as in love with his sport coat as J is. I got tick number 24 of of my list and J got to wear a tie (he’d packed it just for the occasion. There was more eye-rolling from my end).

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In posh splendor the tea was set out, and the trays stacked three-high with pastries placed precisely on our table. I tried not to slop tea all over my saucer while we talked about our now shared-love for Edinburgh. J plucked a treat off the tray and, before he’d finished sampling it, exclaimed “tastes like a really good Twinkie!”

Always a surprise, this exploring Edinburgh business.

current jam: ‘natural disaster’ zac brown band

best thing: the mediterranean sea!