Friday Night Bagpipes

There’s this Amy Schumer sketch that features Bill Nye where he stands in front of a video of asteroids or whatever and discusses the history of the universe which is then inter-cut with women discussing how “the universe” wants to lose 10 pounds or visit Jamaica or whatever. (It’s a lot funnier than I make it sound, but just stay with me.) I remember seeing that and thinking, “Thank goodness I’m not one of those people who always thinks that the ‘universe’ is controlling my life.”

A week later I was sitting with friends in their room watching the RyanAir website reject my credit card (obviously prejudiced against Americans), and we eventually decided to give up on going to Scotland. Until the universe led us to Anderson Tours which had a cheaper, all-inclusive trip to Edinburgh scheduled for that weekend. Perfect.

We got to the train station 30 minutes for our train which usually happens when I am not in charge of the timetable. We waited around for our tour guide as the other people in our group arrived and were getting nervous enough that we started looking up Anderson Tour’s cancellation policy when our tour guide arrived 15 minutes late. She wasn’t dressed in the khaki-trousers-and-polo I had expected, but apparently I’ll follow anyone with a clipboard.

The train trip was an uneventful six hours during which I read three pages of Wuthering Heights and stared out the window the rest of the time. There was an hour tour of the city where we basically spent the whole time saying “I didn’t know they were from Scottish” (Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexander Graham Bell, etc.). We checked into our hotel and rejoiced over our private bathroom. Being in a dorm for a month makes you appreciate certain things. We stayed at the Cairn Hotel and could not figure out to say the name. We eventually decided that you said “car” with a Boston accent and then put a “n” at the end. Easy enough.

We spent most of the afternoon wandering around. Edinburgh is divided into “Old Town” that has been there forever and has the castle and “New Town” which is organized into a nice grid. We wound up on the Royal Mile that runs between the castle and the palace in Edinburgh, and outside one of the university buildings was a bagpiper. Obviously a good omen from the universe. We ended the night at the World’s End Pub so named because it is at the very end of Old Town, and before they built New Town about 200 years ago, the end of the city was basically the end of the world for the people who lived there.

The next day we spent most of the day at Edinburgh Castle which had some of the most spectacular views of the city. It was also incredibly windy on that mountain. It got so bad that we would be standing in one of the courtyards, hear the wind coming, and everyone would brace themselves until it passed. We also had high tea there which was kind of funny since I’ve always considered that to be more of an English thing than a Scottish thing. But whatever. The food was really good. But I would like to say that watercress needs to go away. We had these cute roast beef sandwiches (like, the size of sliders) that had watercress on them. Why do we need watercress? It is the most grass-like vegetable (is it even a vegetable) that I’ve ever seen. It just reminds me of all the clover that grows back home which I would never put on a roast beef sandwich.

After that we went shopping for plaid scarves for a while. I ended up buying two which surprised since I’ve basically sworn off plaid because I spent 13 years in Catholic. But this was red plaid, so it’s totally different. And from Scotland so that’s fine. Yes, just keep justifying your purchases to yourself.

While we wandered around, we turned the walk into a mini JK Rowling pilgrimage. We saw the café where she would write the first book because she couldn’t afford to heat the house during the day. (She’s richer than the Queen now, and I’m pretty sure she owns a castle. Sometimes I think the only people who can relate to the publishers who turned down Harry Potter are the record companies that turned down The Beatles.) She finished the last chapter of Deathly Hallows at the Balmoral Hotel. Apparently, after she wrote the last words she signed the marble bust in her room. Like right on the forehead. Go JK.

We then had dinner at this Frankenstein-themed bar. I’m taking a class on Frankenstein this fall so it was basically research. Right? It was the first place I’ve been carded on this trip. Someone (not me) order haggis that we all tried. It basically looks like a pale meatloaf and was pretty good. Then we went back to the World’s End, proud that in only 24 hours we had established “our pub.”

The next day we climbed a mountain. Or just a really tall hill. Now I’ve been running (okay, light jogging with some walking thrown in) in the park while I’ve been in London and walking everywhere in London. My average as I write this (according to my phone) is 10 miles every day. Basically I did not anticipate this mountain, called King Arthur’s Seat to be a big thing. Oh, how wrong I was.

One of my friends with me apparently goes hiking all the time so she bounded up the path like a little mountain goat while my other friend and I would walk twenty feet and then sit down for a few minutes. I’m a sucker for a good view so we kept going. We made it to the top in less time than we had anticipated. I was pretty proud of myself considering I’d done it while clinging to my coat and new plaid scarf in the wind while my purse flailed around me. Because it was definitely the flailing purse and not the fact that I’ve literally had dessert with every meal here that slowed me down. Anyway, I’m all proud, taking selfies, congratulating each other when I see the four older women (white hair) walking down the path. Great. And then we saw small children just running up the path. Yeah, it was totally the purse that slowed me down.

We took the six hour train ride back to London, but I want to go back to Scotland eventually. Maybe this time to see the Highlands. I bet the universe will make it happen.

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