Monday, March 17, 2014

Edinburgh Reflections

King's Cross Station in London.
It's been a lazy Monday here in London and my shins hurt. Yes, my shins.

Scotland beat me up like unrequited love and that's the perfect comparison really because I dreamed of going there, loved every minute of it and now I'm left alone in my bed with aches and pains that will only go away in time.

That sounds terribly depressing but don't worry, my weekend in Edinburgh wasn't bad at all. I'm just feeling the after effects right now. All in all, the trip was fantastic and it was really nice to be able to visit somewhere in which my heritage is so deeply rooted.

I met up with the Arcadia group at King's Cross Station here in London on Friday afternoon around 12PM. We were instructed to meet the staff members at platform 9 3/4 which is a tourist attraction at King's Cross for Harry Potter fans. The ten-year-old in me would have nearly died of excitement at the fact that we were meeting there and I'm not going to pretend like my 21-year-old self wasn't pretty darn excited as well.

We boarded our train shortly after 1PM and took off for Edinburgh. It was a lovely train ride because we were very relaxed and well-rested due to the later departure time and pre-planned itinerary (for the most part). I bought a Vanilla Coke right before we left King's Cross and that alone made the journey enjoyable for me.

After passing through the countryside with the occasional stop in places like Newcastle and York, we arrived at Edinburgh Waverly Station (around 5:30PM). The walk to the Edinburgh Youth Hostel was about ten minutes long and we were led by an Arcadia staff member from the Edinburgh office. It was still light out so I got to see the main rotaries and sights along the road to our hostel.

We were assigned rooms and Megan and I ended up together with two other girls, while Anna and Amy were together in a room right next door. We put our stuff down and left almost immediately to grab some dinner.

The hostel was really modern and spacious.
We stopped at Al Fresco for some Italian food and I ordered lobster ravioli. It was a bit of a daring order for me because I rarely eat seafood and I've only tried a little nibble of lobster once before. It ended up being quite delicious but now when I think about the creamy orange sauce and shrimp mixed in with the filling ravioli I get nauseous. As good as it tasted, it may have been too much for me that night. Megan, Anna and I split a bottle of white wine with dinner and I snacked on olives as well. They were huge and really salty which was something I'm not used to. Sometimes I feel outnumbered as an olive lover because I've only met a few who appreciate them like I do. I used to put them on my fingers when I was little and wish that I could get away with eating a whole can one day.

Anyway, back to the story...

We left the restaurant and walked across the North Bridge to the Royal Mile. We wandered around and got a flyer for a comedy show at a pub down the hill. We searched for it on our walk but came across another pub called The White Horse before we could find it. They were also having a comedy night so we went right in and ordered some cider. There was a beautiful white and ginger spotted cat perched on a chair near the bar and although on one hand it seemed quite out of place, it also struck me as perfectly fitting for an old, quirky pub in Scotland.
The White Horse Pub was really cozy!

The pub wasn't all that busy so we went straight into the back room and sat down to wait for the comedy to begin. The room was decorated with bluish/white twinkly lights and flags from countries like Scotland and Ireland. It was really cozy and welcoming and I felt like we had found the perfect place to spend our first night in Scotland.

The comedy show was pretty funny, but mostly because we were one of two groups there to see it. The other bunch had just gotten out of work at Creative Scotland and had come to have some drinks and unwind. They were really friendly and participated in the back-and-forth with the comedians often. We were sitting across the room from them and the host of the comedy show, Bob, felt sorry for us that we picked that pub on such an empty night. We laughed at the situation and it was brought up a few more times throughout the night.

The comedians were pretty funny but I'm also the type of person who laughs at anything so maybe I'm not the best judge. There was one guy with a guitar, one with a really raspy voice, one who jokingly referred to himself as an "androgynous wind chime" and told stories of problems he's had with his flats in Edinburgh and finally one who told really creepy and bad jokes for way longer than his allotted time (or so it seemed). 

When we left the show I dropped a pound into the donation jar and we stopped in the front room by the bar to chat with Bob and pet the cat. Bob was really friendly and gave us a few suggestions for what to see and do in Edinburgh. We left in a really good mood and walked back to the hostel to get some sleep.

I slept on the top bunk, above Megan and despite the creakiness of the bed, I found it really comfortable. Maybe it was just how exhausted I was but it felt a lot more comfortable than my mattress in Marylebone. I fell asleep pretty quickly and only woke up once for a little while because I was really warm and a bit thirsty. All I could taste was that lobster ravioli and it was making me feel gross.

We woke up around 8:30AM and met Anna and Amy in the lobby at 9:15AM. We walked up the street a little to Cafe Marlayne and decided to grab our breakfast there. I ordered a waffle with bacon and a glass of orange juice. Sounds pretty generic but it was really the first time since my trip to the Breakfast Club with Liz that I had ordered breakfast while abroad. It was delicious! The cafe was really adorable as well and we were surprised at how empty it was for a Saturday morning. I really liked the artwork on the wall and there was one white canvas near our table with half of an older woman painted in the lower right-hand corner. Her other half is cut off by the edge of the canvas but there was just something so striking about it.

Calton Hill was one of our first stops on the walking tour. 
After breakfast we walked back to the hostel to embark on our walking tour with the other Arcadia students. We got split up into groups but Amy, Anna, Megan and I stuck together and followed our tour guide to our first stop, Calton Hill. It was a bit of a steep incline but it only took 10 minutes or so to get to the top. The pathway was paved so it wasn't too rough but I really loathe hills and I felt pressured to walk really quickly to keep up with the group. I was a bit nauseous from the night before and I felt dehydrated so I was really out of breath when we reached the top. It didn't help that I had so many layers on.

Once I caught my breath I looked around and we had a gorgeous view of the city and Arthur's Seat. I couldn't really hear our guide over the wind so I took some pictures while she explained the history of the hill. We spent about 15 minutes or so up there and then descended back down on the other side by the government buildings. We stopped on the steps and she explained the referendum and how divided Scotland is about becoming independent from the United Kingdom. She was personally quite against it and said that the younger generations were more fond of the idea. I couldn't imagine being a part of such a historical decision. Imagine having to vote in that situation? I have a huge fear of the unknown and I'm not too fond of change so that would just give me an absolute heart attack. Honestly I don't know enough about the situation to have an opinion, but it's a crazy time for Scotland!

We continued on our tour and saw monuments, museums, statues and more but it's hard to remember the names of them all. It was a nice day though so I enjoyed strolling around the flatter portion of the city for a while. The wind wasn't as bad when we were at lower altitudes.
Harry Potter graffiti in the bathroom of The Elephant House.
Closes are little alleyways that connect streets on different levels and Edinburgh is filled with them. We climbed up through one of them and emerged in the old town area of the city. I really like that area because the buildings were older and we were much closer to the castle. The whole city was much more architecturally fairy-tale like but the new town has many more shops and main roads.

We got to see a lot of Harry Potter related things in the old town such as J.K. Rowling's hand prints for the Edinburgh Award, The Elephant House Cafe where she wrote a lot of the first book, Greyfriars Kirkyard where she drew inspiration from the graves of Thomas Riddell and William McGonagall for characters in Harry Potter, a school that inspired Hogwarts and finally Victoria Street which was a huge inspiration for Diagon Alley. It was amazing to be surrounded by the places J.K. Rowling spent her time writing about. Like I've said before, Harry Potter was a huge part of my childhood and I was overwhelmed with the immensity of the series and the impact the stories left on so many people in my generation as I walked through those places. The graffiti in the bathroom at The Elephant House is a tribute to the mark Rowling has left in our hearts and minds and I could have stayed in there for hours reading the messages people left. From quotes to thank you's and drawings, there were millions of messages in different handwriting and colors scrawled in layers covering the entirety of the bathroom's interior.

Victoria Street inspired Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.
 After we finished our walking tour, we headed towards Edinburgh Castle. It's huge and takes up the top of a hill in old town. It's everything I've ever dreamed about a castle and more. I felt so small as I approached it and the sun came out when we stopped to admire the views of the city down below. I saw a group taking pictures with their respective country's flag and families populated the plaza around us.

We entered into the castle and saw cannons, war memorabilia, the crown jewels and even a cemetery for soldiers' dogs. The cobblestone covered grounds were intertwined with green moss and I felt sorry for parents who had to push their strollers up the hill and over the bumpy ground below.

From right to left: Amy, Megan, Anna and me at Edinburgh Castle.

I bought myself a Celtic ring in the souvenir shop and we headed out after spending about an hour inside of the castle. On our way out of old town, I stopped and paid to hold an owl. It was small and brown with piercing, dark eyes. Its handler shifted it into my care by slipping his glove off and onto my hand. I held one of its talons between my thumb and finger to ensure that it wouldn't fly away and I gently stroked it's feathers as it nervously looked around the small crowd in front of me. I guess we both had our nerves in common because I was nervous holding it. I didn't want to scare it or hold it captive just for a few pictures. It was such a beautiful and gentle animal and I couldn't help but feel sorry for it. It must be rough being handed from person to person continuously all day. Poor little guy!

We stopped in at The Elephant House to grab a light lunch and I opted for Nutella hazelnut cake and fresh mint tea. It was alright but the cake was much too nutty for me. It was more enjoyable just being there than eating there.

After we arrived back at the hostel, we decided to sit a relax for a while and then get some food at Tesco Express to make at the hostel for dinner. We ended up making bow tie pasta and we each bought our own little snacks to supplement the meal. I had some clementines, an apple and salad. It was a filling and inexpensive meal and we sat around in the deserted common room chatting about gun control and senior pranks. After a while we cleaned up the kitchen (which was huge and fully stocked with all of the necessary cooking equipment) and then headed out to grab drinks and maybe see live music.

I was pretty exhausted and didn't particularly want to go out for too long but I figured we wouldn't go too far and we could be back early to get some sleep. We walked back to the area we had gone to see the comedy show the night before and after walking back and forth and going in and out of a few places we finally ended up at the Tolbooth Tavern which was located far down the hill, closer to the Queen's Gallery and Holyrood Palace.

I didn't order any drinks but the other girls did and we got a table on the upper level near the karaoke set-up. I was feeling really sore and nauseous from all of the walking so I wasn't too talkative. After being there for a while I kind of wanted to leave, but the others seemed to want to stay a little longer. By 10PM I was tired of the karaoke and disco lights and I told the others I was going to walk back. I didn't think they were going to follow right away but they ended up coming and we walked about half an hour back to the hostel. Normally I wouldn't have asked to go back but I didn't feel very well and I just needed to get some rest. The pub was really cute and I would have loved to be there under different circumstances, but it was such a long day and we weren't really talking to anyone or participating in the karaoke. It kind of made me miss my friends from home who are a little more my pace when it comes to things like that. I don't know why but there's still a lack of comfort and trust here which makes me miss home sometimes. I'm definitely not saying that my friends here are bad people or not as good as my friends from home, but I often feel like I'm walking behind the pack and I miss the dynamics of my friendships at St. Mike's. I never really feel left behind or excluded there which is a real blessing that I've had in my life. I know that I'd always have someone to walk home with in a situation like that, but this time I wasn't so sure.

Where we stopped on Saturday night.

I don't want to sound completely negative though because I am so thankful to have found and bonded with the friends I've made abroad. They've been good friends and travel companions and I've gotten to know them really well in a short time. It's interesting because we're all thrown together at such an incredible time in our lives when we get to experience living alone in a foreign country. It's a time of great transition, adjustment, self-discovery and freedom so to find anyone that you're able to grow alongside of is a really great thing. I got lucky because Anna, Megan, Amy and Matt were some of the first people I met here and I don't know what it'd be like without them. That being said, this is my reflection on my thoughts and feelings while abroad and my comments about feeling left behind or uneasy are just what I was feeling in the moment and not meant to reflect negatively upon anyone in particular.

I slept really well that night and I think that helped my nausea and mood immensely. I just needed to get off of my feet and let my body recover from the walking. I decided to get up and join the other girls for breakfast and see if I could attempt hiking Arthur's Seat but I was still pretty sore and didn't have great footwear for a hike like that.

Fun Fact: "Arthur's Seat is the main peak of the group of hills which form most of Holyrood Park, described by Robert Louis Stevenson as "a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design". It is situated in the centre of the city of Edinburgh, about a mile to the east of Edinburgh Castle. The hill itself rises above the city to a height of 250.5 m (822 ft), provides excellent panoramic views of the city, is relatively easy to climb, and is popular for hillwalking (Wikipedia)."

We ate at Cafe Marlayne again and I ordered the waffle and bacon for the second time. It took a little longer than the day before and my waffle was really overcooked. It was okay though because I was hungry and it still tasted pretty delicious.

We walked the same way we had on Friday and Saturday, across North Bridge and down the hill towards Holyrood Palace. We entered the park and Anna and Amy took off walking ahead of Megan and I. Megan eventually caught up with them but I was left alone walking along the dirt path toward the base of Arthur's Seat. I walked for about half an hour and watched the others disappear into the distance. I felt a little lonely but I put in my headphones and listened to music which helped. The park was so beautiful and the hills were dressed in the greenest grass which was speckled with yellow wildflowers. Dogs of all breeds ran through the park without leashes to hold them back from enjoying the beautiful nature around them. They barked and played with their owners and it was marvelous to watch. The sky was a beautiful shade of baby blue and the clouds were white and fluffy as they floated above me in slow motion. The water was far behind me but visible in the distance and it was so breathtaking when I stopped to turn around and see it all from the highest point on the path, near the base of Arthur's Seat.

Holyrood Park is one of the most gorgeous places I've ever been.
Like I said, I had lost the girls so I decided to sit on a rock shaped perfectly for my behind and hidden away near a big, barren tree and some yellow flowers. I had a nice view of the city from there and there was another path leading up to my spot so I watched many people venture up towards the mountain. I read more of my book, "The Book of Lost Things" by John Connolly, and enjoyed the sunshine as the warm rays shone down on me through the branches of the neighboring tree. Kids ran up the hill with their dogs and shed their jackets as their parents scurried to keep up with them. Many couples in hiking gear passed by and a young, French couple embraced and sang quietly to each other for a moment in a cheerful tone. I felt like I was interrupting their intimate little moment and normally I'd be rolling my eyes at the cheesiness of their action but in that moment I found it completely adorable.

Anna, Megan and Amy were back before I knew it and they said that it was beautiful, but extremely windy at the top. I felt okay about my decision to stay behind and I felt better that we'd be going the same pace on the way down, or so I thought. Guess who walked alone yet again? Hah, of course they probably didn't mean any harm and I'm used to it by now but I watched their backs as they got further and further away from me again. I never thought I walked that slow but I can never seem to keep up with them. I put my headphones in again and enjoyed the views and the easier nature of the hike down the hill. I caught up to them as we approached Holyrood Palace and we made our way up the hill toward the North Bridge. We stopped for fudge along the way and I bought a slice of salted caramel. It was absolutely to die for! It was crumbly on the outside but melted in my mouth every time I broke off a piece and indulged in a bite. I was so happy with my purchase! I bought a few more souvenirs and we eventually made it back to the hostel to retrieve our belongings from the storage room.

We rested for a little while in the lobby and then walked to Tesco again to pick up some lunch. I got some fruit, a chicken caesar wrap, an apple, popcorn, orange juice and water. We made it back to the train station and met up with the Arcadia staff. We sat in Burger King for a little while and ate some of our lunch. I couldn't help but buy some fries because the whole place smelt like a fast food heaven. I ate half of my wrap and the fruit as well and saved the apple, other half of my wrap and popcorn for the train.

We boarded around 3:20PM and left shortly after. I slept for about an hour, listened to music for a long time and then finally ate the rest of my food. We arrived back at King's Cross at 8:00PM and it was so nice to get back outside into the fresh air. The tube from King's Cross goes straight to Baker Street so we didn't have to transfer, which was so nice. I was relieved to get back up to my room and drop my bags. I started up the shower right away and once I was all ready for bed and unpacked I drifted off to sleep fairly quickly.

Today I got some planning done for next semester and I worked on the video of our trip to Scotland. It came out pretty good but I definitely wish I had Adobe Premiere on my computer instead of Windows Live Movie Maker. Oh well, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. I'll include the video below in case you're interested in seeing it.

I have an easy week of classes and then Maya is coming this weekend. I'm really excited to show her around and to see her smiling face! It's always nice to see friends from St. Mike's because as cheesy as it sounds, there's such a sense of community between us all. I'm seeing Liz on Monday for our Ed Sheeran and Passenger concert adventure and I'm really excited about that too! I've been dying to see Ed for so long and when it was recently announced that Passenger was his supporting act I nearly died. It'll be a great show!

Time is really flying by now that it's mid-March. I can't believe how quickly this is all going and I wish I could just hit the pause button. I still have so much I want to see and my end of the semester assignments are all hurling towards me at lightening speed which is a real bummer, especially since the weather has been so nice.

I have a lot left to plan, accomplish, see and look forward too and I'm getting closer and closer to coming home and reuniting with my loved ones for a (hopefully) beautiful summer. I'm a lucky, lucky girl!

Well it's now 1:30AM here in London and I have to get up at 8:30AM to get ready for class. I probably shouldn't have stayed up so late writing this but it was nice to get it all out. If you read my blog or even just suffered through the entirety of this post, thank you so much for taking an interest in my travels. I really love writing about it all and I know my posts get lengthy but it brings a huge smile to my face every time someone tells me they read my blog. I can't tell you how good that makes me feel! So thank you wonderful readers and I hope that you all have a lovely week!

Write soon!
xx Sheila

(PS) I went to Chipotle twice last week... I'm becoming obsessed...
(PPS) I went to Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium last Wednesday and it was a wonderful evening filled with peppermint tea and cuddly kitties. My motto is that tea and cats always make things better, so the fact that I got to have both at the same time really knocked my week out of the park.


  1. I hope you're smiling because I just read your blog! Wonderful Sheila!

  2. Sheil, Thanks for sharing Scotland with us. I hope I'll have the chance someday to visit but at least I've seen it through your eyes. So many things to tell you...1st - a quote I love from Justin Timberlake: "The best part about being alone is that you really don't have to answer to anybody. You do what you want." 2nd - Love your hat and scarf and stylish! : ) 3rd - Uncle Vic and I go to "Chipolte" over in Kingston. You'll have to go with us. 4th - I drink peppermint tea all the time so I'll put the kettle on when you get home! Also, I'm learning to make scones! Last but not least, love the videos an especially the music you select. Keep on keeping on my styling niece! Love ya, Aunt Bon XO

    1. Thank you so much! I love that quote and I appreciate it so much that you read and keep up with all of my posts. I can't wait to go to Chipotle with you and peppermint tea and scones sounds great too! :) Love you!