Gawd, this is ridiculously overdue. Apologies, all. It is also in no way edited or drafted or thought out so expect some seriously longwinded and terrible stories in here. Now that I've got you interested...
Edinburgh. It's hard to explain why but I really love this city. The second I got off the train its brilliance punched me in the face and since then it's only intensified. I was lonely my first twenty four hours here but that wore off. I met a guy in the hostel (don't start teasing me and making those repulsive "oooh" noises yet) who was training to be a walking tour guide around the Old Town and who reminded me so much of Tam. Steve was all theatrical and big-gestured but at the same time really caring and friendly and, anyway, when I told him I had nothing to do my second day in Edinburgh he offered to take me on a tour himself since he would already be practicing with a couple of friends anyhow. He listened to all my crazy babbling enough to know that I was a crazed Harry Potter buff so as well as showing us the traditional stuff (Greyfriars Bobby's statue, the Meercat Cross, Lady Stairs Close...), he also took us to certain JK Rowling-attended places and told stories of how she would look out from the Elephant House cafe, across Greyfriars Kirk Graveyard, see Heriots School and dream of Hogwarts. Oh, and before the grand tour he took me to a Candy Shop that I swear was like a real-life Honeydukes. The tour ended late in the day on the Castle-side hill of Princes Street Gardens among the daffodils, on a very sunny day, and Steve was regailing us with the very long, very hilarious story of the theft (or reclamation, if you think about it) of the Stone of Destiny (the italics are to indicate the voice and gestures Steve used each time he said it) in 1950 by a couple of young, crazy rebels. I slept off the excitement of a day's walk around Edinburgh before a free dinner in the hostel kitchen which is where I met Claudia and Lola.
I'd already met a couple of really nice people the day before and, well, familiarity is key so I went and sat with them. Then in walk these two girls and we invited them to sit with us and got talking and from there it just got awesome. They were from London, both studying and had only known each other for a little while before they decided to take a trip to Scotland together. I dunno, that just sounded rather great to me, to leap in with a new friend and continue to get to know them while you're getting to know a new place. They each had these ambitions and goals but at the same time were open to all sorts of things and I felt really lucky to meet them because, really, this trip was about meeting people like that. After dinner we had a game of Scrabble (their idea) which I won (I have the scrap of score-keeping paper to prove it) and then went off to bed. They were checking out in the morning and having one last day in Scotland and I felt truly disappointed after meeting these really impressive, interesting people who it seemed I was only going to know for one night. And then morning came.
I was sitting in the kitchen/dining room again, on le computer (becoming a sad sort of pattern, really) and in walks Claudia. She looked happy to see me- I have no idea why- and said that on their last day in Edinburgh she and Lola were going to Edinburgh Castle. I asked if I could come along (I'm not normally that forward but these girls were cool, damn it!) and soon enough we were off toward said Castle with Steve in tow. Yes, I saw Steve a lot in Edinburgh. But he was so entertaining, even just in general conversation, and I said with a sense of pride (as I imagine girls often do about their boyfriends. I say "imagine" because evidently it's a pleasure I've never experienced but oh what a useful analogy it maketh) "yeah, he was my tour guide yesterday." Steve left us somewhere on the Royal Mile (most awesome street ever, FYI) and off we went to Edinburgh Castle. I know we weren't paying with blood as centuries past saw visitors to this castle do but whoa, that entrance fee. Anyhow, the place is extraordinary and we spent about five or six hours there which may or may not have been due to my chattering the entire time. You know me, you be the judge. There is so much history there (I know; duh. But still!) and it was nice to experience it with people as intelligent and insightful as Claudia and Lola who knew when to just be silent and take things in and when to make jokes. Ah, timing. A charming trait in a girl. Maybe one day I'll get some.
Anyhow, our day was basically gone after we left the castle so we went in search of many things; deep fried Mars Bars, cash points, things to draw... It was nice just to have been with people for the day. We hung around, ate baked potatoes, sat in bars... and eventually it was time to say "so long". Claudia and Lola went off to catch their bus home and left me with the hope that I might see them again next time I'm in London.
While Claudia was talking to me that morning, I had asked her which city I should go to next. She was somewhat surprised, but when I posed the question of either Inverness or Glasgow, she suggested the latter. So the next morning I checked out of the hostel early, left a couple of books to replace my theft of the Unbearable Lightness of Being (I wasn't finished yet!) and headed off to get the train to Glasgow. There's really not much good to say about my two days there. I wandered around aimlessly and alone and felt depressed, I suppose. I discovered Kelvingrove Park which I visited both days because it was one beautiful spot in a dreary city. I loved the Museums and the Necropolis was strangely captivating. Mostly I drifted while I was there. I agreed with Claudia that the architecture was pretty and I have to say that maybe there is more to see in that city, I just didn't look deep enough, but I don't know if I care enough to find out. To quote Ross Geller; "Yeah, obvious beauty's the worst. You know, when it's right there in your face. Me, I like to have to work to find someone attractive. Makes me feel like I earned it."
So here's the part where I throw caution to the wind, disregard who may or may not be reading and just write how I feel about what happened. The first night in the hostel in Glasgow (and it was the very cheapest one I could find), I felt very lonely. And then this guy started talking to me. He'd seen my book on Scotland and, being Scottish, he wanted to talk to me about where I wanted to go and should go and could go and all that. I was so relieved to find someone to talk to, I already felt less alone. He would have been at least fifteen years older than me but obviously still young-feeling to be staying in a hostel that bore such a striking resemblance to a University share house. We talked for a long time about my plans and this bled into his travelling experience and then just life in general. After staying with someone who had been very perceptive and asked all sorts of poignant questions, only with the interest of understanding me better, I was used to answering all sorts of curious enquiries with honesty. But this began to feel less and less like my previous experiences and when the questions turned to my sex life- as if I have one, ha! But anyway- I suddenly felt completely out of my depth. I was in a communal lounge room with so many people surrounding me but here I was with someone who was starting to make me feel really uncomfortable and for some reason I just couldn't extricate myself from the situation. Up until now I still haven't been able to decide whether it was him or me that made this whole situation feel unbearable because, really, he seemed to just be a naturally friendly and unashamed sort of person. Regardless, I was relieved when all of his talk of my own and his sex lives eventually subsided and, thankfully, he went to bed. Amongst it all though were these nagging questions in my head; "what does he want with all this?", "why are you so scared?", "what would you do if it wasn't all innocent and harmless?" And I had no answers. Because I was on my own on a side of the world where I love no one and am loved by no one and am safe only as long as I make sure of it. And this was a low, low level danger but one that, for whatever reason, I felt keenly.
My lesson of not talking to strangers wasn't learnt very well because after spending the next day as I had the first (before I met this man that night), all alone and wandering aimlessly, I met a woman that night named Betty. She was from France but had done a sort of trainee teacher exchange in Glasgow a while ago and was visiting some friends. She told me what I had assumed, that it was a gorgeous city if you saw the right parts of it, and basically talked me through what I could expect to feel both while I was travelling and when I was done. She was lovely and, like many of the people I've met so far, was very kind and patient with me, enduring my naivety and badly-thought-out notions of basically everything.
So Glasgow wasn't an entire failure, or I refuse to believe it one, because of what I learnt. There were the teachings of a seemingly unfriendly city, and of people like the man I had such an ill-fated conversation with, that showed me what this trip could inevitably be at times which is something capable of crushing me with loneliness and fear . And there were those of people like Betty and of Kelvingrove Park; both of which are patches of loveliness in an otherwise grey place.
This was all a bit emotionally and mentally exhausting, so more to come soon on Scotland when I have time and feel able to do so.
It's not a perfect metaphor.