Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Scotland: I meet a monster (almost), climb a mountain, approve heartily of graffiti, and discover a fellow responsible person named Meg

This past weekend I went to Scotland as my last big trip before end of term.I left after at noon on Friday, arrived in Edinburgh (pronounced "Edinburrah" with four syllables) at 4:30, and left Monday morning at 7:30am.

When I arrived after a long train ride, it was already dark.Yep, it gets dark that early!I checked into my hostel, Caledonian Backpackers and went out for dinner.My hostel was hilariously wild- the walls were brilliantly painted with all sorts of trippy stuff, funny sayings, animals in costumes, and strange-looking people. It was clearly a place for young adults, made by young adults; it had a bar in the hostel as well as a bean-bag room with a TV.It was pretty sweet- I was in a dorm with 7 other women of various nationalities.It took some getting used to, because the second night it was mostly Spanish girls who were incapable of being quiet but the third night I was alone in the room.

My favorite painting in the hostel.

It was a little lonely the first night- it wasn't like I could go out on the town by myself (not that I knew where to go).It didn't help that it was already dark when I arrived and I was pretty tired from the long train ride.I went to bed at like 8:30 mostly because I didn't know what else to do with myself!I was missing traveling with Mom because the last time I went "out of the country" I was with her, but this time I was a little wary as I was on my own.This was weird because I've done most of my traveling on my own over here- interesting that only when I got to Scotland I was feeling unsafe.

But anywho, the next morning I woke up bright and early (ugh) to go on my bus tour of Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands!Beforehand, I had a lovely cup of tea at the only shop open at this hour, where the Turkish waiter and I chatted a bit.Onto the bus I went and we set off through Edinburgh.I've discovered how much I like bus tours; they're a really good way to get as much sightseeing done as possible without taking the meaning from what you're seeing.In fact, I think having a guide to tell you stories about where you're going makes it even more meaningful.

As we drove along and the sun started to rise over the scenery, I couldn't quite believe it when mountains started popping into sight in front of us.We drove past Glencoe, where the entire MacDonald clan was massacred by another clan because of English rule, the highest mountain in the British Isles (Ben Navis, "ben" meaning "mountain" in gaelic), and the beautiful Trossachs (Rob Roy country [he's a hero of the Scots, look him up]).We stopped several times to get photos of the unbelievable landscape we were seeing.I can't even explain how stunning it was, standing there in the early morning light gazing at these enormous mountains.There was snow on the top, and the clouds in the sky were twining around the peaks, roots, and sides of the mountains like affectionate cats.I just wanted to sit there with my mouth open forever.I have never in my life seen such wild beauty, and I've seen a lot of beautiful things.

I still can't believe what I saw.All I know is that I didn't want to ever leave- if I worshipped anything, it would be natural beauty.

Next was the famous Loch Ness!We stopped in the town on the edge of the Loch (gaelic for "lake" by the way) for about 2 hours, during which I took a boat tour of the Loch.In case you've been living in a cave, there is a legend about a monster living in Loch Ness; the first recorded sighting was actually in about 584 AD by a Christian missionary.The best part is that we honestly don't have any physical proof that "Nessie" doesn't exist!Loch Ness is HUGE and incredibly deep.They told us in the tour to look at the mountains on either side of the Loch and said the lake is deeper than the hills are tall; also, you could fit the world's population into Loch Ness several times over.On the boat, we had a presentation of the sonar equipment they used to sweep the lake.It's so impossibly deep that we can't properly explore it- so who's to say there isn't a prehistoric plesiosaur hanging out down there?

The entrance to the Loch

It was really cold, but I'm grinning really huge here.

We drove back to Edinburgh and I once again went to sleep early because it's hard to have a social life when you travel alone.

The next day I got to sleep in, but then I set out with plans to take a bit of a hike before meeting Meg, a Lawrence friend who I met briefly last year before she promptly moved to Scotland, at 12:45.

This is where shit got fun...and by fun I mean exhausting, enlightening, and muddy.I had decided weeks before that I wanted to check out Arthur's Seat while I was in Edinburgh- it's a mountain (a hill to the Scottish) that is right in the middle of the city.This is what Wikipedia says about it:"Arthur's Seat is often mentioned as one of the possible locations for Camelot, the legendary castle and court of the Romano-British warrior-chief, King Arthur.Tradition has it that it was at the foot of Arthur's Seat, covered by the forest of Drumselch, that Scotland's 12th-century king David I of Scotland encountered a stag while out hunting. Having fallen from his horse and about to be gored, he had a vision of a cross appearing between the animal's antlers, before it inexplicably turned away, leaving him unharmed. David, believing his life had been spared through divine intervention, founded Holyrood Abbey on the spot. The burgh arms of the Canongate display the head of the stag with the cross framed by its antlers."Basically, it's a big-ass beautiful mountain, and I was keen on seeing the view from the top.Wikipedia also says "it's relatively easy to climb," and since you are not physically here watching me write this, you can't tell that I'm laughing when I read that phrase.So I set off for a lovely walk in the hills on a rather wet Sunday morning, and as I approached it didn't seem too bad- just a gently sloping path going up and disappearing.It was only when I got about a quarter of the way up that I realized that this was going to be harder than I had anticipated.I was at the point where I had to stop literally every few steps to catch my breath, and it was then that I had several realizations:1. I'm from Indiana, so it didn't automatically occur to me that climbing a mountain means thinner air.Naturally, I was a bit confused when I couldn't breathe.2. I was only a quarter of the way up, not even close to the distant peak and I was already dripping sweat, panting, and exhausted.3. My shoes are NOT good walking shoes.They were, at this point, covered in mud, and the lack of tread on the bottom meant even more sliding than was strictly necessary.4. Scotland in winter is muddy- I knew that I was going to be covered in reddish mud by the time this was over.5. Mountain paths are not paved with anything but mud and occasionally rocks.6. Climbing Arthur's Seat was clearly a typical weekend pass time for the locals and tourists like myself; as I was straining my way up the hill, there were little kids running around like little Scottish mountain goats and people walking their dogs up this ridiculous mountain, and I even saw more than a few runners doing their weekend run!That was rather discouraging.These realizations led me to start thinking that maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.I was already rather high up, so I already had the view of the city that I was chasing.I was exhausted, and I wasn't even half way to the top.Ahead I could see stairs (my nemesis) made of roughly cut rocks covered in even more mud.Things weren't looking too great for me!But then something really weird happened...


I looked at the steps and walked up by setting my eyes on goals along the way then changing sights when the place was reached.I wanted to see what it was like to see Edinburgh from that high up.I wanted to go home saying, I climbed that bitch of a mountain.The phrase "When was the last time you did something for the first time?" popped into my head, and I remembered that I came to the UK to do things for the first time.I honestly can't really remember the rest of that particular stretch of the climb (I remember at some point noticing that my skin was actually steaming), but I got to a smaller hill just below the biggest one with Arthur's Seat and sat on the top.I looked back down and was satisfied...I rested my exhausted body on top of that hill and chatted to a lovely woman from Alabama in the meantime.{HERE I AM AT THE TOP OF THE SMALLER HILL.EDINBURGH IS BEHIND ME, AND IF YOU CAN'T TELL, IT LOOKS LIKE I HAVE JUST TAKEN A SHOWER BECAUSE MY HAIR IS SOAKED WITH SWEAT.}We both were all like, we can't climb the rest of the way, so she was waiting for her daughter to get back down from the top while she rested.I was perfectly content to go back down after I had my break.Once I felt ready, I stood up and glanced up the muddy incline to the top, which was right behind me.The woman's daughter had returned saying, "It's much more treacherous than it looks!"Then another weird thing happened:I SAID TO MYSELF: OH, WHAT THE HELL.AND I SET OFF TO CLIMB TO THE PEAK OF ARTHUR'S SEAT, LAUGHING A LITTLE AT MY OWN INSANITY.

And the rest... history.I, Elise Anne Massicotte, the badly out-of-shape musician from Indianapolis, climbed 251 meters, or 823 feet to the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland.And I didn't die (at least until the way back down).I'm still wondering how the hell I did it, and I'm still wondering if I didn't just imagine it or something.I have climbed a mountain.And I screamed "WOOHOO" at the top, not even caring that I was being weird.

After that enlightening experience, I stumbled my way down on shaky legs and got covered in the mud mentioned earlier.I was a "wee" bit late for meeting Meg, but she was comfortably drinking cider in Edinburgh's awesome Christmas Market when I arrived, so I didn't feel too bad.We chatted for a while about the interesting differences it culture that we've discovered between the English, Americans, and Scottish (we're deep like that), before heading off to our agreed lunch place: the Elephant House.There was a cool moment when we discovered that we had three maps of Edinburgh between us, and we both had researched where to find the Elephant House, as well as planning out various other adventures.It's so NICE to meet someone who is used to being the "responsible one" in trips :) Meg and I outside the Elephant House being super excited

The Elephant House is where J.K. Rowling, at the time a single destitute mother, wrote the first ideas that would later become the world-changing series of Harry Potter on paper napkins.IT. WAS. EPIC. To sit there, thinking about how deeply those books have changed my life and talk with Meg, who loves HP as well.Then seeing the evidence in front of my eyes that HP has changed so many lives!The bathrooms were covered in writing from people who had come here to pay homage to the books that changed their world.Harry Potter has literally saved my life more than once, and I'm not alone in this.So next time you say, "They're just books" or insult fangirls, think of how much fantasy means to them.

It was incredibly powerful, to say the least.After the Elephant House, Meg and I went to see the main tourist attraction of Edinburgh: Edinburgh Castle.It's kind of hard to miss- it's crowning the top of a huge hill in the centre of town.It was adorable to see Meg getting so excited about seeing this castle- she mentioned it was her first (I think) castle she's explored since coming to Scotland.I was, sadly, less excited- I have reached the point where old castles aren't as impressive anymore!It's terribly depressing.I was all like, it's from the 12th century, whatevs, but luckily I was able to catch on to some of Meg's excitement.We explored as the sun went down (it was barely 3:30pm), and even stopped to try some whisky.We checked out a really cool little chapel built for Saint Margaret of Scotland, who became Queen of Scotland in 1070; she is adored by the Scottish for her pious nature, her sponsorship of education and charity reforms, and as a mother of 3 excellent Scottish kings.It's so wonderful to find a strong, kind woman in history.Look her up- she has a fascinating history ( Queen in stain glass

After exploring the castle complex, we headed back into town so Meg could catch her bus.We had to fight the entire population of Edinburgh to get there because there was a football match going on in the opposite direction.Meg and I parted after one last wonderful conversation involving religious beliefs and upbringing.To Meg, all I have to say is that you are WONDERFUL, and I am so, so happy that we got to hang out.Here's to many skype sessions, ok?

I got home (to London I mean) on Monday and went to class as usual.Our program is having a Thanksgiving celebration tomorrow afternoon at Christine's tiny flat (Christine is in charge of Lawrentians while we're over here), and I was in an iconic image of Abby Road along with several of my classmates.I saw Saint Paul's last week, and spent like 3 hours reveling in the beauty of the cathedral which I think rivals St. Peter's Basilica in Venice; I also climbed over 500 steps to see the view from the enormous dome of the church.A lovely trip to Kew Gardens on outskirts of London was well worth the trip- the Princess of Whales Conservatory had every climate sectioned off into zones, and the outside fall foliage was stunning.

Only a week and a half left in London, and where did the time go again?

Yours Truly,The Management
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