One Foot Out

I’m just in this disgustingly liminal space right now. Like when my boots pinch my ankle and i want to change them more than anything in the world but i’m waist-deep wading in snow. So snow boots are what i have to wear, too bad for blisters.

February always feels choppy to me, like the lack of three extra days makes every week compressed. And somehow, the sun setting at 5 and the snow that never ends is making every day stretch to the last crumb on the plate of a dinner i didn’t want to eat.

God, there are too many metaphors here. I’m taking a Short Story writing class, which i am gaga for, but it’s also seriously making me doubt every word i write. Is that too cliché? I ponder, pummeling into the keys. Poppins, whose now almost nine months old and still kitten-sized, has a new hobby: prying off keyboard keys. My “o” is affixed at a 45 degree angle for life, now. So i’m really pummeling the pondering keys here.

I’m ready for Lent. This Ordinary Time, endless February days in a month that shrank in the wash, is so last season.

I’ve got one foot squarely in Durham now, acceptance letter to grad school gratefully in hand. Really, i’ve got my fingers wrapped so metaphorically tight around it they’re Devil blue. But cupcake M&Cs at Mount Holyoke tell me i should feel sad it’s my last semester. I should have been all mopey when the 100 days to graduation banner went up in the campus center. Instead all i could do was whittle them down to the double-digits. Three weeks on a campus and then J is here. I’m done with the liminal, the liminal of long-distance, the liminal of last semesters, the liminal of bloody February and its bloody habit of cramped days that go on for 28 hours a piece.

Lent, though mopey in its dearth of Allelulias, has purpose. There’s the counting and the fasting and the focus. Advent is all in the waiting, the anticipation. I like Advent for the hopeful expectation, i dive into Lent for purpose in the slog. Especially in New England. Spring is kind of a rare commodity here – every April i’ve been through in MA has gone from gritty, grey snow to mud and sun-bathing in the span of about a week.

But for now, i’ll just keep griping about the blisters on both feet. And trying to remind myself i’m lucky to have shoes and really, i should just eat my damn cupcake and get over myself.

The Drive Back.

It was the ninth time i’d made the trek.

Four Augusts ago, my mother came home armed with Bugles and window-paint Crayola markers; the Bugles, because she says no road trip is complete without crunchy tornado-shaped crackers from a gas station. The markers, so i could plaster her CRV with “Mount Holyoke or Bust!” and “Go Pegasus!”

It was the first road trip to my new home in South Hadley, Massachusetts. We took I-95, with a stop-off at an Aloft hotel somewhere in New Jersey. Mom did all the driving, because i was barely 18 and really not adept at highways in New England. Further proof of my inaptitude for staying in the lines came when i realized i’d mixed up my move-in date – we were a day early. Gracious Residential Life staff handed me a key anyway, and my mother set to work arranging my furniture in spacial relation sense and i planned wall-pockets for my posters.

I remember going to the parent-daughter tea without her. I’d insisted i’d be fine if she left before all the parent orientation activities. Strapped up my red boots and Ghanaian bracelets and told myself i was brave and true like any good Mount Holyoke woman. I sat in the corner, keeping tears in my chest and falling in love with new friends all in the same cup of chai. She says now it is one of her greatest regrets – listening to me and leaving when she did.

Everything and nothing has changed since that August. I still make her mix CDs when i leave for long periods of time. I don’t record voice messages on them anymore, but they’re as carefully curated as the day i handed her my “i’m grown and going to college and trying to be cool, but damn will i miss you” CD. (I changed the title for her; something cleaner and more sophisticated in block Sharpie writing). She came over before this big drive to help me fill my van again, her spacial relations genius only paralleled by her ability to leave hidden notes among my treasures.

But the most obvious change was who i made the drive with.

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I picked Jonathan up from the Divinity School around 2:30 after an embarrassingly tearful farewell to our kittens (they were having a weekend with my mother). We made excellent time, pulling into our stop in Pennsylvania at precisely 10 PM. Our route has changed since the plastered-in-paint CRV days. I prefer the leisure of I-81, the highway clinging to Appalachian mountains and off-the-track home diners. And the decided lack of the Jersey Turnpike.

Somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley!

Somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley!

Sun-dappled photo opp in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Sun-dappled photo opp in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Day two took us through rural Pennsylvania which bears a remarkable resemblance to the Trossachs in Scotland. Clearly, i wasn’t the first to think so:

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(I’ve also seen a rather gruesome-yet-compelling film that re-tells Macbeth, entitled: Scotland, PA)

Scotland felt so far and so close all at once. Mount Holyoke has been such a constant in my last three years that it seemed unfathomable to think of it changing, and yet i wondered how new it would look to me after nine months away.

Contemplating what it would be like returning to a home so beloved as a woman so changed sat with me for the drive. I loved my time abroad, still ache a little when i think about how beautiful Edinburgh must be in the (assuredly rain-splattered) fall. Missing my friends across the pond, missing my friends scattered across America. It had been a long summer. A summer of tremendous loss in my family, but also a summer spent with the man i’d committed to spending the rest of my life to. More transition than i thought possible in nine months away from school.

But there are some things that never seem to change. With New England temperatures come New England donuts – and our first Dunkin’ Donuts run! (I’m aware they do exist in the South, just in disappointingly small quantities!).

IMG_4730Clambering off of I-86 in Hartford onto I-91 remained a nightmare (the tunnel!) but my hands were steady on the wheel, the route still ingrained. We were staying with friends with Amherst for the night, but i insisted on taking the long way round. I wanted to drive past it, a tease, to see the campus from the roadside before moving in the next day.

My posters have changed since first year – all save one. I keep them all stored in the same long green bin, but the only recurring character is Rosie the Riveter – a poster i bought on my middle-school field trip to Washington, D.C. She’s crumpled on every corner and it takes some ten thumbtacks to hold her up, but it wouldn’t live in a room without her. Some days just need that muscle-bearing woman to get me through.

Jonathan was an asthma-saver unloading the van while i flittered with where to put what. The lack of A/C in our dorms rarely poses a problem past the fifth of September, but move-in day is always a humidity fest of misery and stale air.

And yet, all my tummy-knots were coming unraveled one thread at a time. It had been a fat nine months of change, but the campus was as beautiful as that first drive four Augusts ago. When mom and i pulled up to a building i didn’t yet know the name of that now i know houses the Religion department. My second home on campus. When we looked at the green and the lake and the Hogwarts-like library and both wondered who i’d be when i left this place. Wondered how i’d get through those first few tummy-knotting weeks.

Sometimes i still wonder. The similarities can seem minute, like the spaces between them eat away at the reminders they bear. But still, devotedly, i tack those ten pins around Rosie the Riveter. Still i look to her on those miserable Massachusetts snow days.

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And i’m learning, in that sluggish every day way, to sit with the paradox of big changes in small things. Jonathan and i are old pros at the distance, now, however begrudgingly so. And i wouldn’t trade that big change for the world. So with new Scottish flags on my wall and well-worn pens in my backpack, the semester is starting. And i’m glad to be home, if for only one more year.

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current jam: ‘from this valley’ the civil wars.

best thing: convocation!

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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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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…

Sevilla & Málaga: Spring Break Part 1!

(i’m back in edinburgh now, jetlagged and tired but happy to be back. at last, my blogs on spain and morocco are being published!)

I was struck first by the heat. When i can’t so much as leave your desk without unraveling a blanket and donning another sweater, walking outside without so much as a sweater on made me feel utterly nude. And there were palm trees! Actual greenery, not just peeps of emerald grass between halfhearted plops of snow!

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flying in over the andalucían mountains!

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Spain was looking to be an excellent choice for Spring Break.

We cleared customs in Málaga without so much as a who-are-you, acting like stereotypical Americans giggling over our stamps and mispronouncing every Spanish word in sight. We were giddy with the heat. There was a train and cab ride to the hostel, where our driver got lost in the network of Málaga tiled streets. He pointed down an alley that better resembled a linoleum-floored kitchen than a road, and we found at last our place for the night. There were drinks and tapas and superb sheep’s cheese. Really superb.

The next day was spent in jeans and tanktops – a delightful breath of fashion-themed fresh air – walking around the pier and beach. I dipped rainboot’ed toes into the Mediterranean, and before long we were on a train to Sevilla.

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Actual TILED streets. Who knew?

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And though i’d not only worn a tanktop, seen the Mediterranean, and actually tasted humidity, this was the best part of the day. Our route wound itself through the Andalucían mountains, painted in white pueblas and craggy rock-face mountains underneath the bluest stretch of skies. Fields of grapes textured the landscape. It was breathtaking.

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Once in Sevilla, where the streets no longer required mopping, we found a haunt to dine. Spain has a meal consumption time unlike anywhere else i’ve been – my guidebook (trusty Lonely Planet, as ever. I’m still waiting for my sponsorship) even bore an entire chapter devoted to the subject. You snack, at various hours, throughout the day until a MASSIVE lunch come 2 PM-ish. Then there’s dinner, around 9 PM, with more snacking.

Lucky for travelers catching mid-morning trains, it was prime lunch time in Sevilla.

Unlucky for non-Spanish speakers, we hadn’t a clue what the menu offered. So we played my favorite travel food game: ask the waiter in sign language, point at random on the menu, and hope for the best.

I’ve had delectable surprises in the past, especially at Indian restaurants. You can’t really go wrong there.

Apparently in Spain, though, you can. A steaming plate of fried anchovies on a platter of boiled carrots arrived. We looked at each other, mildly horrified. Our first course of paella (deliciously seasoned rice with a plethora of seafood) had just gone so well.

Appetizing.

Appetizing.

Real-time reactions.

Real-time reactions.

A trashcan stuffed with suspiciously fishy napkins later, we left a hearty European tip and walked out. For future reference: átun does not mean tuna.

My favorite part of Sevilla, needless to say, was not the cuisine.

My favorite part of Sevilla was, in a move totally outside of my character, the enormous cathedral-mosque in the heart of El Centro. The builders conceived it with the hope that future generations would think them mad. I think they achieved their goal.

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It’s jaw-dropping. Even after my nine-church-tour of Edinburgh/London/Paris, the 7800 pipe organ and orange grove garden was humbling. The clash and harmony of Moorish architecture with Spanish gothic sung a beautiful melody of history and beauty. Besides, i’d love being in any garden in a comfortable sixty-seven degrees farenheight. The fact that the cathedral had a darling orange grove within it made it all the better!

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The warmth of Spain had yet to abate. In two days, we’d seen the beaches of Málaga and the cathedral of Sevilla, survived a meal of anchovies and made up for it with plenty of Spanish wine. It was a delightful start to what was promising to be a delightful week!

current jam: ‘sons & daughters’ the decemberists.

best thing: cotton leggings.

Keeping in Touch.

When i imagine what my life would be like trying to sustain relationships with people in the states without the advent of technologies like Skype, my first inclination is to curl up in the fetal position and weep. Purchasing an international sim card has given me the ability to send unlimited iMessage for 10 quid a month, things like FaceTime make calling people free and straightforward, and (however much we all may whine) Facebook has leveled the field for keeping in touch with the day-to-day lives of friends afar.

And still, i complain.

I can not begin to imagine what keeping in touch must have looked like before, you know, email. The time (not more than twenty-ish years ago, really) when all you had were letters and 10-cents-a-minute phone calls once a week. I’m not sure i would have had the fortitude to endure being abroad, much less be able to really enjoy my time afar. Maybe i’m crippled by my lifelong dependence on the virtual world, or maybe i’m just a realist who is very glad some people were optimistic enough to think something like the internet could work. Either way, i’m grateful for my Mac-product plug-in addiction.

Still, there is something tremendously romantic about letters. I’ve mentioned before i collect postcards – but i also send them all the time. At school, i try to send off at least five a week. Here, because it costs nearly four times as much to send mail, i’ve been a little less prolific in my letter-writing. I know i treasure postcards with international stamps from friends who’ve voyaged abroad. The sheer volume of old notes adorning my walls here are a testament to how much i need words from the past to ground me in the present.

That’s why it’s been so nice to receive mail here, too. In particular, i received a lovely, typewriter-crafted composition from M a few weeks ago!

JAMES BOND -  QUANTUM OF SOLACE

 

Well, no, not that M. M my brother who, because i refer to my significant other as simply “J,” wanted me to give him a similarly cool-and-elusive nickname. So James Bond’s feisty boss and fabulous Judi Dench pseudonym it is!

Naturally, M’s letter was rather covert and full of secret instructions involving a posh car and a certain Daniel Craig look-alike. I fear, then, in the interest of national security i can’t share all the content of the letter with the internet.

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I can say, though, it was a delight to receive such a sweet note via Royal Air Mail. Of course, i’m abundantly grateful for the accoutrements of modern communication. But sometimes, seeing familiar handwriting or typos printed on a page remind me of the warmth of the person who wrote them. I read the cards plastered to my walls at least once a day, finding comfort in the familiarity of the loops in the cursive script. It’s a visual representation that the people across the ocean are still eating and living and reading and writing, they’re people more than an image captured in a photograph or words on a screen.

So thanks, M, for the note. Be sure to tell Q i send my love.

current jam: ‘natural disaster’ zac brown band.

best thing: letters.

 

For My Mother:

[Groupon UK is running a contest wherein entrants write a blog post about their perfect gift idea – either for themselves, or someone else - this Valentine's Day. This is my entry!]

I was in the fourth grade when she first left the country. I remember the gifts she brought back – small, plastic figurines of princesses with swords at their hips and knights mounted on horses. It was the peak of my fantastical stories age when i spent hours crafting intricate narratives against the backdrop of my waterfall Playmobile set. Her gifts were the perfect addition to my cast of characters: feisty female leads with dashing love interests played by an assortment of stuffed animals.

My mother has always ensured i live a charmed life. She left the country for the first time in her thirties. I was fourteen when we boarded the plane for Uganda.

Her friend’s book club had booked a trip to Paris and an extra spot was vacant. My mother purchased this exquisite, calf-length black coat for the occasion. The collar was faux fur, and i thought she looked like a movie star from the 1930s. Paris is cold in February, she told me then.

Edinburgh is too.

At the age of twenty, i’ve been given the best gifts i could ever ask for. Love in my life, warms homes, stamped passport, recipes for fried chicken. There’s not much more i could ask for than that. My mother was my gateway into the world, and she has opened innumerable doors since i came through.

When we’d opened our action figures, she told me how the street she’d found them on was like Diagon Alley. Like magic made it appear, cobblestone-covered and impossible to find again. She talked and talked, how the windows in Notre Dame dimmed in the rain but dazzled in the sun. Chirping her Bonjour’s and reminiscing the wine, i drank in her memories like the stories she’d given me bound in books.

It was her first and only time to Paris. We’ve traveled together across East and West Africa, hearts full with adventure and simplicity and constancy. But it’s been some time since my mother has traveled abroad. I can hear little aches in her voice when i tell her how spellbound i am with the red letter-boxes on the streets.

There are many things i wish i could give my mother in return for what she has given me. But a parent’s love is a kind of gift that i, even in my neurotic-must-repay mindset, can never hope to give back in equal measure.

If i could, on Valentine’s Day i would give her is a chance to fall in love with Europe all over again. To visit me, in Edinburgh, and to see why it is that Scotland possess its own kind of magic. I would take her to St. Margaret’s chapel in the Edinburgh castle, because i know she’d like that the oldest building in Edinburgh was built to honor a holy woman. We would eat mussels along the coast and drink in salt air with our wine. She’d tell me about her father and his shrimp boat, and about growing up along an oceanside river. I’d tuck my chin into my folded-up knees and soak in her stories, feeling and looking no different than from when i was ten and she first told me about Paris.

I would show her Edinburgh’s own kind of Diagon Alleys and histories of princesses with swords at the hip. I’d show her to see how her piles of storybooks and memories of Paris have woven in my imagination seeds for endless possibilities, endless adventures.

It’s a gift i wish, so much, that i could give. But in the stead of taking her to the foot of Arthur’s Seat i send pictures. There are long talks on Skype. Some days, when i miss her warmth and her storytelling most acutely, i remember her movie-star black coat and the stories she told, giving a prayer of thanks for the gift of a mother i have been given.

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current jam: ‘oh my sweet carolina (live)’ zac brown band.

best thing: moms.

Vivacity and Verve: The View from the Mountain

Any attraction that boasts of free admission or significant concessions for students has, undoubtedly, made its way onto my Bucket List for Edinburgh. There’s plenty of tight-budget-friendly places to see in the city, so with our sense of adventure in tact Nora and i set out to find the most fun for the most inexpensive fare.

Our first stop was  the Scottish National Gallery for no other reason, really, than it was free. Having once flirted with the idea of majoring in Art History, i have a particular affinity for art galleries and, most especially, one with (you-guessed-it) Vincent Van Gogh. When we stepped into the second-floor impressionist room, i went weak in the knees. On a blue wallpaper’d wall, encased in an ornate bronze-colored frame, were two works by Van Gogh. In living, breathing color. I hadn’t even known they were there.

It was sublime.

The Gallery, as it happens, is an exquisite museum. The collection boasts of works by Renoir, Monet, Raphael, Degas, Turner, and Singer Sargent (to name a few whom i love). The space is moveable, breathable, and does that near-impossible trick of making you feel not claustrophobic when in an art museum. Nora and i toddled about, admiring the neo-classical to the ancient and back again for over an hour. (I would love to show you pictures, but there’s no photography in the Gallery!).

We did, however, attempt to ensnare the beauty of Arthur’s Seat in photographic form the subsequent day.

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Arthur’s Seat, named such for the famous King, is an extinct volcano situated in the heart of Edinburgh. It promised to be an elusively sunny Scottish day, so we set out to hike its peak. With lungs as asthma-plagued as mine are, we had to take frequent stops along the trail – but these afforded us incredible opportunities to drink in the scene unfurling in front of us. The higher we scaled, the more of Edinburgh we could see. In our pink-cheeked, windblown state we were caught somewhere between awe and disbelief at the view.

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Can you spy Edinburgh castle? this is near the start of the trail!

About a third of the way up to the summit!

About a third of the way up to the summit!

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Salisbury Crags & the city from Arthur’s Seat!

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Standing on an extinct volcano.

Standing on an extinct volcano.

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Van Gogh’s ability to sculpt with paint is what, for me, makes his work have such life. The colors weave in this complicated dance that verges on the frantic. Van Gogh painted a breathing world, preserving in solitary images unyielding motion and music.

I felt, standing on the peak of Arthur’s Seat, like i was peering into a painting by Van Gogh. Like the tiny lines that bent and curled into the streets were veins in a living, heaving, singing city. Complicated intersections in the deep browns of the buildings and the painful, cold blue of the sea. Endless movement, preserved like a painting far away from the rocky ledge i stood on.

Adventure shot! Thanks, Nora, for this picture!

Adventure shot! Thanks, Nora, for this picture!

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It’s easy to see how Edinburgh, as a place, has ignited such passion in artists across its history. There’s something romantic, something ethereal about its wideness and complexity. It’s enchanting, in the close-knit closes and alleyways juxtaposed to the expansive monolith that is the mountains within the city limits. Enchanting, bizarre, beautiful, and moving.

Part of this quirk and verve to Edinburgh, i think, stems from the castle that marks its heart. Though the castle is far from a free adventure, it’s worth every cent – so to St Margaret’s chapel and Mons Meg we went exploring.

From the castle terrace!

From the castle terrace!

Alas, with all things, there had to come an end. Nora was back to her university early the next morning and i was left to sift through the mountain of reading i’d put off. It has been a whirlwind of color, of light, and of wonderful friendship shared in the fabric of this magical city.

And yet, even while buried in essay-writing, i’m still enchanted. Perhaps that’s the secret to Edinburgh: how the magic permeates, like the curling streets, into your veins. Making you and the city almost inextricable from one another.

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Princes Street at night.

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The Castle at night!

current jam: ‘below my feet’ mumford & sons

best thing: nutella!

Maps & Gastronomy: Eating and Reveling in Edinburgh

Edward Tufte says maps are metaphors. I’m no infometrics whiz, but i like this idea – if, for no other reason, than my affinity for maps. Splayed across my wall before me is a map of Edinburgh i peeled out of my guidebook. Adjacent to it is a map of Durham, North Carolina that i plucked from a visitor’s desk downtown. Though these maps are from far-away places, the greens couldn’t be of a more identical hue.

I love this metaphor within a metaphor: a town that is known to me and a town that is new are not so very different that they are required to clash. Durham’s streets are reminders of the world that has nurtured me, and Edinburgh’s closes and squares nurtures the at-times-overwhelming feeling of falling in love with a new world.

Yet falling in love with a new place means i need to share this love with the people who make up the home in the map of my heart. I sometimes fear my noticing of the very-matched greens will be a noticing only for me. That while this world i’m coming to know in Edinburgh is vast and exciting and beautiful, it starts to make my own dot on the globe all the farther from the world i knew.

This fear, though, was deeply assuaged this past weekend: i had the delight of sharing my budding romance with Edinburgh with one of my dearest, dearest friends – Nora!

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As she is also studying abroad in the UK, Nora and i threw together a weekend excursion about the city on a whim – a marvelous, serendipitous, and delicious whim. Because i’ve been so focused on making myself feel at home in Edinburgh, i haven’t necessarily done all the typical tourist-y things one might explore on holiday. Having a guest, though, was the perfect excuse to give myself full permission to go light on the schoolwork and heavy on learning all the reasons you should holiday in Edinburgh.

And easily ranked in the top ten reasons to visit Edinburgh would be the food! Thus, this is the first of two blog posts chronicling our weekend together. And it’s all about the food. (Don’t worry, the latter will be about the actual tourist-y things we did!)

Our gastronomical tour began with the comfort food haven, Mums. “Top nosh at half the cost,” according to the website, Mums boasts of a vibrant and edgy charm: they’re home-cooked comfort mixed with urban attitude. I mean, the mac & cheese has a spice kick to it and comes with chips!* Who doesn’t love drowning in cheese and carbs? Their food is locally sourced, their service impeccable, and the deal incomparable to anywhere else. Eating there with Nora was my first time, but it will so most definitely not be my last.

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Having sated our need for traditional fare, the next evening’s meal was one reminiscent of home: Southwestern American cuisine. Living in North Carolina for so long spoiled me, with taco stands and sit-down Mexican restaurants on every block. So to tend to my poor, burrito-deprived needs, we ventured to the local Tex-Mex joint: Illegal Jack’s. It was all i wanted and more, guacamole included.

Our final dinner was at a place i’ve frequented before: 10 to 10 In Delhi, a Halal Indian restaurant with excellent chicken roti and even better student deals. If you’re looking to stretch your pounds, three quid will get you a belly-stretching meal here. We particularly loved the pretty tapestries stretched across the ceiling and the cozy couches!

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Easily the best place we visited, though, was no foreigner to me: The Elephant House Café.

I met Nora in the fall of our first year at Mount Holyoke. She was wearing a Hogwarts crest t-shirt, it was love at first sight, and the rest (as they say) was Hogwarts, A History. Nora and i are no strangers to Harry Potter-themed adventures; in the winter of the subsequent year, we attended the Brooklyn Yule Ball together. On the last day of finals. In Christmas-themed ball gowns. We’d skipped dinner in an effort to catch the last train into the city, downing rolls of bread and Dr. Pepper’s in a convenience store outside the venue as substitutes.

There aren’t many people you can romp about New York City in a gold petticoat with, but Nora has always been an exceptionally genuine and beautifully adventurous friend.

I remember gleefully turning to her, as Harry and the Potters crashed and roared over their keyboard and guitar on stage. “I’m so tired, but i am having so much fun!“she mouthed over the din. It was a magical moment to share with a dear friend then, and it was just as magical to share the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” with her this weekend over elephant-shaped shortbread and excellent cups of tea.

We were sure to leave our own note in the bathroom – signed, as ever, with our nicknames for each other: Padfoot & Prongs.

(note the painting of JK Rowling writing in the café behind us!)

(note the painting of JK Rowling writing in the café behind us!)

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Feeling known is an immense gift. I feel known by this city – but part of this feeling known comes from sharing it with an old friend. Nora and i have a history of adventures (gastronomical and literary alike!) and to make this weekend a part of that map of stories was such a treasure. My green maps still match, and the loves in my life make the most beautiful harmonies when sung together.

current jam: ‘good morning sunshine’ alex day.

best thing: a beautiful place to be with friends.

p.s. you can always find my reviews of restaurants and attractions on my tripadvisor profile!

*for friends in the states: chips = french fries, just in case your daily dose of the BBC hadn’t kept you abreast of British slang!