Edinburgh is Edinbreathtaking
It’s hard to believe I’ve already been in Edinburgh for a week. But it also strangely feels like I’ve been forever. I have completely fallen in love with this eclectic city in the past seven days and I honestly don’t think that six months will be nearly enough time. A lot has already happened in this first week, but I’ll do my best to summarize.
Sunday (January 4, 2015)
So I started my trip to Scotland in Logan Airport (Boston) last Sunday. What was supposed to be a straightforward journey – an hour flight from Boston to JFK, a seven-hour flight from JFK to Heathrow, followed by another hour-long flight to Edinburgh – quickly turned stressful with delays due to weather. I ended up having to sprint through JFK, but I did make it onto the group flight in the end. Other than that, it was a fairly standard and uneventful trip.
Monday (January 5, 2015)
On Monday, we all landed in Heathrow and did necessary and totally exciting things like go through security and customs. Everyone on the group flight was incredibly nice and though we were all exhausted and ready to finally just be in Edinburgh, the experience definitely wasn’t as painful as it could’ve been with less friendly people. A few hours later, our flight touched down in EDI where we were greeted by Andrew and Deirdra of the IFSA-Butler Scotland team, both of whom were lovely and welcoming. They managed to make what frankly could have been an overwhelming transition into something quite manageable. At EDI I also discovered that my luggage, along with that of about five other students, was missing. Luckily I had packed a change of clothes in my carry-on, something I will now consistently do, and Andrew sorted everything out with the Virgin Atlantic staff.
After leaving the airport and settling in at the hotel, the group congregated in the dining area for a welcome meal of pasta, salad, and garlic bread – exactly the kind of comfort food I needed. Once we had finished our meals, I joined a group of students on a walk to Edinburgh Castle and down the Royal Mile to the Parliament building. It was the perfect way to force myself to fight jet lag and stay awake, as well as begin to orient myself with the city. When I finally did make it back to the hotel, I basically just collapsed in bed and slept for twelve hours.
Tuesday (January 6, 2015)
While Monday was pretty much entirely travel and free time, Tuesday was jam-packed with orientation events starting with breakfast and ending with a bus tour of the city. Over the course of the day, we were told a lot about Scotland as a whole and given invaluable practical advice that I have already put to use in terms of things like opening a Scottish bank account or getting a mobile phone (I am now the proud owner of a Nikon 105). The bus tour was also good in terms of learning the layout of the city and tidbits of Scottish history, with the main highlight being a trek up Carlton Hill.
After the bus tour, a friend and I went to get Scottish cell phones which, because my American phone can’t accept a UK SIM card, was the best option for me in terms of keeping in touch with the friends I make while abroad. Then we met up with a few more people and ended up going to The Three Sisters, a really cool pub fairly close to the university that’s supposedly popular with students.
Wednesday (January 7, 2015)
Another day largely dominated by orientation events, this time mostly about the academic aspects of studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh and the differences in the academic systems of the US and the UK. We were then sent off to our respective flats, and my suitcase was delivered to me just in time to go with me. I’m living in Hermits Croft, a self-catered residence about 10 minutes from George Square and 20 minutes from the city center on foot. Initially this sounded like a lot, but it really feels like nothing and I’m already pretty acclimated to walking somewhere, which is pretty different for me because in Providence, I pretty much relied on busses. I have four flatmates, two of whom I have met. One is another study abroad student from the US, and the other is a full-time student from Scotland. Though I was afraid that Hermits Croft would be too secluded, it is actually in a really nice location, reasonably close to the university and other student residences, and surrounded by shops and restaurants.
After moving in and unpacking, I went for a walk to familiarize myself with the area. One of the friends I had made at orientation and I then attempted to get to the Visiting Students Center and got horribly lost, so instead went to Poundstretcher (the Scottish equivalent of a dollar store) to buy essentials like towels and hangers.
Later in the evening, a group of us went to Teviot Hall, the student union, for a traditional Scottish meal of haggis (there is actually a vegetarian version and it’s not bad), neeps (turnips), and tatties (mashed potatoes). It was a great chance to meet more international students and just get out of the room and be around people. I haven’t really been homesick yet, but I’ve come closest to experiencing it when sitting alone in my room with nothing to do. As much as I’m a huge introvert, I’ve found that, for probably the first time, it’s being around people that makes me feel better, rather than being alone. In terms of anxiety and such, I’ve actually been doing pretty well and I can definitely tell that the tools I have, like medication, are making a huge difference.
Thursday (January 8, 2015)
The University of Edinburgh orientation took place on Thursday morning and though it was mostly a reiteration of the IFSA orientation, it was helpful and did clarify a few things, as well as present another opportunity to meet more people. After the compulsory parts of the orientation had ended, some friends and I attempted to go to IKEA but ended up on Princes Street and just found cheap places in the city instead. That evening, there were no events planned, so another friend and I ended up at a pub on Grassmarket where I had a jacket potato and salad, and then headed over to the Library Bar at Teviot.
Friday (January 9, 2015)
I slept in, went to the Visiting Students Office to confirm my attendance at the University and register for another class (I’m now tentatively taking English Literature I, a course on satire called Savage Laughter, and Visualizing Edinburgh), went grocery shopping, and then took some time to finish getting settled. I attempted to go on the ghost tour sponsored by the orientation, but by the time I got there the spaces were filled, so I took the opportunity to get organized and catch up on some sleep.
Saturday (January 10, 2015 a.k.a. today)
Today was probably one of the best days I’ve had in Edinburgh so far. I’ve gotten to a point where I feel like I vaguely know my way around – one of the many advantages of a smaller city – and I spent pretty much the entire day with some really great people. We walked around the city for about eleven hours and went to as many free museums as we could, namely, The Scottish National Museum (a kind of history and science museum combo), The Museum of Childhood (one of the creepiest and most entertaining museums I’ve ever been to), The Edinburgh Museum (a museum about the city that was in a 16th century home), the Scottish Parliament, and Dynamic Earth, which was free for this weekend. Though the places were free, they were all really nice and interactive and if I had had the spare money to donate, I would have. We also ate at The Elephant House, or the birthplace of Harry Potter, which was a cool experience but I probably wouldn’t pay to eat there again. I preferred The Mosque Kitchen, where we ended up for dinner, which had cheap and delicious vegetarian curry. The three of us split a can of Irn Bru afterwards, another first for me and a supposedly essential Scottish cultural experience. I definitely couldn’t have finished an entire can by myself, but it wasn’t bad and just tasted like really intense bubble gum with an orangey aftertaste.
Classes start on Monday and I’m both ready to figure out my routine and fully immerse myself into the University of Edinburgh, and kind of nervous. It still feels like I’m on vacation, and it still hasn’t quite sunk in that I have to take classes and do work and focus on my education. I’m sure I’ll quickly get in the necessary mindset, but I kind of wish I could still just dedicate all my time to wandering around the incredible Auld Reekie.