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.

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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.)

buy my book!

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.

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!

The Original London Sightseeing Tour

We pause in our Parisian program today for a London-town themed update…

J and i were running on a strict budget and even stricter itinerary in our five days (including travel) in Paris and London. There was no possible way we could do or see everything that we wanted – particularly in London, where the touristy spots are pretty spread out. The nature of being a really old city and having a lot of history to tell, i suppose!

Since we only had two days in London and J had never been, i wanted to find a tour that would enable us to at least see the bulk of the major attractions. After an inquiry with the lovely and helpful crew at the Original London Sightseeing Tour, our seats were booked.

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The Original London Sightseeing Tour is an open-top, double-decker bus tour that offers three routes around the center of London to choose from (everything from Buckingham Palace to the Tower of London is included). With the price of the ticket you also get a complimentary river cruise and walking tours, which my father and i had done when last we were in London in 2011.

Both the bus tour and the river cruise are best known for their engaging commentary, be it with a guide or through the multi-lingual commentaries you can access with (free!) headphones. It was from the commentary we learned tidbits about conventional London hotspots (like how the Magna Carta was signed in the Tower of London) and more unconventional details, like the filming location for the interior of Gringotts in Harry Potter was the Australia House!

The aforementioned Australia House!

The aforementioned Australia House!

J & i atop the bus!

J & i atop the bus! We elected the open-air part in spite of the cold!

But the best part, for our compressed itinerary purposes, was the hop-on, hop-off nature of our tickets. Good for 24 hours, we were able to utilize the bus to actually see London (a luxury not afforded on the Tube) and hop off at the sights we took time to explore: Saint Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, and Trafalgar Square.

The view of Saint Paul's from the top of our bus!

The view of Saint Paul’s from the top of our bus!

The view of the Tower Bridge from across the Thames!

The view of the Tower Bridge from across the Thames!

In case it wasn’t already apparent, i’m a big fan of The Original London Sightseeing Tour (long name and all!). Their staff were tremendously friendly and there’s no better way to see London than by the famous double-decker bus. I’d recommend this for any combination of travelers: families, couples, friends, groups.

It is thus with great delight i have something to offer all of you – a 20% off discount code! This code is only good from March 22nd - April 22nd, but you can book your tour up to six months in advance!

So if you (or anyone you know!) want to book an excellent bus tour and river cruise for an excursion to London anytime in the next six months, use the following code for 20% your ticket price: wanderingwrites.

You can make your bookings online (www.theoriginaltour.com) or over the phone at +44 (0)20 8877 2120.

Bon voyage! And be sure to let me know what you think of your tour of London!

**Edit: please note, as of now (23 April 2013) this code is no longer valid! Thanks! xo

current jam: ‘london calling’ the clash.

best thing: adventuring!

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.

The Scotland Bucket List!

Edinburgh may be the primary site of my Study Abroad explorations, but it certainly won’t be the only place! In a mere 10 days, my flatmate Abby and i will be off to Amsterdam for a long weekend of Van Gogh paintings and canal rides. Amsterdam’s been on my top 10 list for a long while (the Van Gogh thing, again) and to think i’ll be jetsetting off so soon is kind of unfathomable.

But the country i’m presently living in also has its own unbridled landscapes and mysteries to explore. To help focus my travels while in Scotland outside of Edinburgh, i’ve crafted a bucket list of the top 6 things i want to explore and see!

1. See the cathedral ruins at St. Andrews. (Completed 19 January 2013)

2. Venture to the Isle of Skye. (Completed 26 April 2013)

3. Tour a whiskey distillery. (Completed 25 April 2013)

4. Visit Loch Lomond with the song of the same name stuck in my head.

5. See Glen Coe. And more highlands, but mostly Glen Coe. (Completed: 25 April 2013)

6. Go to smaller Scottish town/city (like Perth) and take a quiet day outside the city.

Naturally, there are lots of other sites i’d dream of seeing – Loch Ness, for example. But in the interest of making this a list of things that are most likely to happen, i’ve confined it to these six things. Here’s to making them happen!

Friends who know Scotland: anything else that should be on this list? What’s your favorite place/thing to do in this country?

current jam: ‘where the boat leaves from’ zac brown band.

best thing: chinese new year at the flat!

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!