For the vacances d'hiver, I ventured to Scotland to spend a week with my best friend and undergrad roommate, Elise. She's currently doing a Masters program at St. Andrew's, and I had never been to the UK, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
I flew in on a Friday, and she met me in Edinburgh. Walking around, I couldn't quite believe what I was looking it: so much old and new occupying the same space. I loved the hills, the views, the bagpipes, the shitty coffee--it was all so specific. The freezing wind inspired us to find a Pho restaurant for dinner, which couldn't have been more perfect.
Though Scotland is a pretty small country, St. Andrew's is still a way out from nearby cities. 2 hour bus ride from Edinburgh, 3 hours from Glasgow. Certainly doable, but not exactly right around the corner. That being said, I am so glad I got to stay in St. Andrew's for the majority of my trip--it is stunning in a too-good-to-be-true kind of way, made of churches, castle ruins, the ocean, old streets. It's tiny in a knowable kind of way, comprised of exactly 3 streets. It has the energy of a university campus and the history of an ancient village.
Because of the unbelievable cold front, Elise and I spent most of our time in cafes over massive mugs of coffee. While she did actual school work, I checked out books I've been meaning to read from the library and feigned the role of student. We went to Tesco, the grocery store, at least twice a day and cooked illegal amounts of vegetables. We saw Black Panther (wow, yes, loved it). She took me to her Episcopal church where she sings in the choir, which was incredibly nostalgic considering that she and i had sung in an Episcopal church choir together during undergrad. We walked along the beach until we were too numb to continue. We did nothing, and also everything we wanted to do.
We spent one afternoon in Dundee, which was weird and hilarious. Dundee (not pronounced like The Dundees from the Office, but the an accent on the second syllable, Dun-DEE) is a coastal city known for it's nautical history. It's sort of ugly, but also has a thriving art scene. We visited the Contemporary Art museum there and walked all around. For Elise and me, having lived in Gloucester, Massachusetts which is beautiful and shitty and weird all at the same time, places like Dundee are intriguing and fun. Plus it was a nice day, and even the ugliest of cities can seem not so bad with a clear sky.
It was a weird week to visit for a number of reasons: first, there were strikes going on all throughout UK schools, so tons of students were not having classes, and on-campus events were mostly geared around the strike. Second, it was the week of the "historic freeze" thanks to whatever Siberian winds, which brought wicked wind chill, and eventually snow. Elise and I were well acquainted with snow from our undergrad years in Massachusetts, but what we were not prepared for was the Scottish high drama. Before the snow even began, classes and events and shops were closing.
I was supposed to fly out on a Thursday morning from Edinburgh, and was planning on taking an early morning bus into the city. However, as my departure grew closer, the snowstorm escalated, and even public transportation was starting to shut down. It was Wednesday morning, and Elise and I had just started a load of my laundry. We were enjoying scones and tea, unalarmed by the 3-6 cm prediction of snow, when we read online that buses into the city were cancelled until Sunday. I kept refreshing my airline's page, but the flight was still on. No more buses into the city, but planes were flying.
Trains, the quicker (and pricier) option, were still a-go. I started to have this panicked, now-or-never feeling, so with my wet sack of laundry in tow, I ran to the catch the last bus, to the last train into Edinburgh. I booked a cheap hostel on the train.
(Unrelatedly, it was the exact moment that I was sitting on the bus praying that I would make it to the train on time that I received my first acceptance to graduate school. It was a charged day.)
So I arrived to Edinburgh Wednesday night, delighted to find that my hostel had free washers/dryers. I stayed in a 19-person dorm, which was mostly just a lot of bodies in one room. I walked outside at 6:00pm to find that every restaurant and grocery store was closed--even Starbucks. I want to emphasize that it was not even snowing at this point. It had snowed a couple of inches Wednesday morning, and it was supposed to snow more Thursday. So all the closure was in anticipation. The panic was unreal.
I ate a quinoa burger and sweet potato fries at my hostel's bar, then crawled into my bunk only to find that my flight for Thursday morning was indeed cancelled. The next available flight out of Edinburgh was Sunday afternoon. My trip had just been extended.
Thursday morning I went downstairs to the hostel breakfast, and inquired about staying extra nights. Our last bed has just been booked. Everyone's looking for accommodations with this storm. I panicked--here I was in this foreign city with nowhere to stay, and now even the hostels are booking up? Thankfully, Elise came through with helping me contact my airline. While she spoke reason, I ate a breakfast massive enough to tide me over until dinner since I could not foresee a next meal.
A moment of gratitude for Elise, who helped me plot out multiple plan B's in terms of transportation, arranged a hotel booking with my airline from her laptop, let me sleep in her bed, and overall went way out her way to show me a good time in Scotland. I do not deserve her generosity, care, and kindness.
SO, thanks to Elise's inquiries, I got to stay in a fancy hotel with free breakfast AND dinner (my airline gave me a food allowance, which was truly thrilling). Oddly enough, my unexpected extra stay in Scotland ended up this weird free vacation.
It was a funny way to visit Edinburgh, as most places continued to be closed for the weekend, but I managed to make quite the trip out of it. I found other people with cancelled work and travel plans. I made friends with a Spanish street photographer living in Edinburgh who took me to a vegan cafe (Forest Cafe) and made me the most deliciously pure hot chocolate I've ever had (at the Chocolate Tree). I met a Scottish university student and we saw Ladybird and drank more coffee and walked around in the snow. The museums opened back up Saturday and I toured around (all hail free museum entry in Scotland!). One employee in a contemporary art gallery made me a map of her favorite galleries in the city, and I hit them one by one.
If anyone deserves an award for responding to snow, it should not be Scottish people. I think I saw maybe 3 people total shoveling over the course of this "historic" snowstorm. Most roads and sidewalks were left a trampled mush mess. Grocery store shelves were emptied. Honestly, the town had an apocalyptic feel--no transportation, no one coming into work. I was discovering the city in its most anomalous state.
I'm weirdly glad about the way things worked out. The delay wasn't so serious, as I was already on vacation. I met some folks and saw the city--all for free. Maybe this is traveling at its best.