Before I moved home from Amsterdam in January of 2003, I squeezed in one last trip with my fabulous friend Jen to Edinburgh, Scotland.
No one with an inch of sense would tell you to visit Edinburgh in January, but we were eking out our fun where we could. The hours of daylight were roughly 10 am to 4 pm...with dark, heavy rain in between. The rain and wind constantly battered our ears, so that we began screaming at each other on street corners just to be heard. Rather than brave the cold Scottish nights, we spent much of our time hunkered down in our dodgy hostel or drinking mochas in the local Starbucks. (By the way, it's a pet peeve of a Scotch friend of mine that Americans use the adjective "Scottish" instead of "Scotch." But Scotch just sounds like a drink to me, so I will continue in my ignominious usage.)
Speaking of dodgy hostels, our hostel was down an alleyway off the Royal Mile. It so happened that this alley was a stop on one of the many "Ghost Tours of Edinburgh." So one night, we were eating our dinner of Laughing Cow cheese on crackers on the floor of our hostel room (we know how to live high while traveling!), and we noticed something out the window. Looking down on the dark street, we saw a man in a long black cloak hiding behind a column of a colonnade. He must have seen our movement, so he looked up, and a scary, smiling black mask grinned up at us. As soon as he looked up, we screamed and hit the floor, giggling in fright. We felt better when we heard screams and peeked out our window to find that the masked man had jumped out to scare a group of tourists on their ghost tours...but only a little better.
We spent our time shopping in Scottish tourist shops and visiting Edinburgh Castle, where we met and took pictures with a very cute foot soldier from Robert the Bruce's army. We visited the Scottish parliament where a very eager old gentleman told
us all about the history of the Scottish struggle for representation.
We trekked to the top of Arthur's Seat, where kings were legendarily crowned and where we were nearly blown into the chilly sea below.
And, my favorite, we visited Holyrood Palace, the residence of Mary, Queen of Scots. I did a book report about Mary in middle school and harbored a lingering fascination for her. We stood where she stood and even saw the blood stains where her husband was murdered in her palace.
I loved Scotland. I am a Scot of Convenience: When it is convenient in conversation, I claim my Scotch heritage (at other times, I equally claim to be Irish, French, English, German and so forth). If England felt like visiting my mythical home, Scotland felt like visiting my home's quirky cousin. Often when I am looking out over the stark, high Colorado landscape, I pretend it is the Scottish moors and I am the dark heroine of some adventure. Though Scotland was coupled with Starbucks and ghost tours, it still felt like a land of story, to which I hope to someday return.