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It’s my final night here. And I don’t quite know what to say — other than that I’m coming back someday. This feels more like a turning point than a stopping point.

In my favorite film, Now Voyager, Claude Rains’ character offers advice to Bette Davis (the star of the film) as she approaches a turning point in her life yet instead of using his own words he offers a quote from Walt Whitman. Alas Walt doesn’t have too many words of wisdom regarding Edinburgh, but lots of other great minds do. So here are a few that I find particularly apt as I look back on my time in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh lays itself open like a secret solved;
there’s no leaving Edinburgh,
No shifting it around:
it stays with you, always.

Alan Bold

Who indeed that has once seen Edinburgh, but must see it again in dreams waking or sleeping?

Charlotte Bronte

Edinburgh’s a great place. There’s so much magic in the streets.

Dave Navarro

And yet the place (Edinburgh) establishes an interest in people’s hearts; go where they will, they find no city of the same distinction.

Robert Louis Stevenson

I just love how these individuals cross boundaries of time, culture and craft and yet they all express the same message. Edinburgh is a city that has an effect on you which cannot be explained and cannot be denied. It changes you while you’re within it and it remains a part of you when you’re outside of it.

I used to think that “Caledonia” by Dougie Maclean was just a sweet tune — a calming song with a pleasant melody. But now that I’ve been in Scotland, I finally understand how true it is. Scotland is an indescribably special place. As Dougie says. . .

Oh, but let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time…
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had…

And so as tough as it is to leave this place, Scotland will always be a part of me and I’m already looking forward to my return.

As Bette Davis says in Now Voyager. . .  Goodbye til we meet again.

 


Alas it’s been a while since I stopped by here. For the past few weeks, final papers have been controlling my life — devouring my soul one tiny piece at a time — but at long last they’re done.

As I wrap up my semester here — the first segment of what I hope to be many adventures in Scotland — I find myself drawn to a song from a film starring (you guessed it!) James McAvoy. Called ‘Penelope,’ it’s a children’s film of slightly questionable quality but it has lovely music and a surprisingly profound message. Hidden within a fairytale film is a story about embracing possibility and celebrating your journey — celebrating your right to discover the world on your own.

I won’t burden you with the full lyrics, but I will share with you a few lines that I find particularly striking at this juncture in my life.

Waking Life

There’s an anchor that’s pulling on my heart,
And it’s deep in the water but it can’t take me down.
we’re just the same as we were,
Just our eyes never found what I see now

Cause I’m not lost, just looking for footprints...

And here comes the night pulling puppet strings on my heart again,
Shows me all of this time I’ve been blind to this waking life.
Now I see it everywhere.

Cause I’m not lost, just looking for footprints...

If you’d like to hear the full song, you can find it here:  If you listen to it all, you may notice that it refers to discovery of the self via romantic attachment but I think it says so much more than that.

In a blog post from October — the final one before I decided to come to Edinburgh — I posed the question(s): To what extent must one’s own existence be put into context? To what extent must we place ourselves in environments that make us slightly uncomfortable in order to truly understand who we are, why we’re here, what we’re made of?

I’ll admit, I may have written that on a bit of a whim. I was in a glass cage of emotion as I struggled to decide whether or not to leave Boston. But looking back on it now, that was the very question I needed to be asking myself. When it comes to self-knowledge and self-acceptance, context is everything. We need to understand where we stand in the grand scheme of things. We need to be forced to realize how small we are compared to all that the world entails because in doing so we find a place for ourselves — we stake a claim.

One of my favorite things to do here is to walk across North Bridge just to feel the wind on my face. It’s not the most scenic of sights, I’ll admit, but it attracts the wind. Often when I’m stressed I walk there just to feel it — to remember that I’m alive.

That’s what Scotland has also given me. It’s reminded me that I’m alive. I’m here. I’m on a journey. And maybe I can’t take home Strongbow on tap or the luxury of seeing the Salisbury Crags on my way to class in an otherwise urban area, but I can take with me the ability to see what I didn’t see before. I can take with me the knowledge that I’m a living breathing person with a right to a journey.

Last night I returned to Edinburgh after my first backpacking trip on the continent — what an adventure! I began in Paris before moving to Barcelona, Venice and finishing the trip in Dublin. Where do I begin?  Let me start by sharing with you some of my impressions.

One of my companions over the course of my adventure asked me what I was most excited to see on the trip and, oddly enough, (without thinking really) I responded, “Discovering something I wasn’t looking for.” And even more oddly enough, I was able to do just that.

My favorite memories weren’t actually of seeing the Eiffel Tower for the very first time in Paris, joining the crowd to watch the Passion Procession in Barcelona, or even my first gondola ride in Venice. My favorite memories were ones that took me by surprise.

So much of what I enjoyed the most were experiences that suddenly and unexpectedly reminded me of back home. I loved feeling the ocean (or canal?!) breeze on my face in Venice, eating at a full dinner-table with Alyce’s family in Barcelona, and seeing everyday people rushing off to work in Paris. I even loved seeing laundry hanging from people’s windows in Venice. And call me crazy but Dublin bore a shocking resemblance to Boston and other parts of New England — absolutely shocking.

I loved the street performers in all of the cities. It’s tough to pick an absolute favorite, though if I had to decide I’d say it’s a toss-up between the accordion players who came upon us in the Metro in Paris, the opera singer tucked down an alleyway by La Catedral in Barcelona and the harp player situated right by Trinity in Dublin.

Before signing off, let me share with you my favorite memory from each city. First up, the photos. Then, some notes.

In Paris, I loved seeing the Eiffel Tower all lit-up at night. In fact, just as I was snapping my first photo of it, the tower began to glitter! Evidently, over the course of the evening additional lights are set to sparkle very much like the facade of Sak’s Fifth Avenue at Christmastime.

In Barcelona, I loved sitting at the top of Montjuic at night and listening to traditional Spanish music played by a street performer who had braved the many steps to where we were all sitting. Feeling the warm summer-like breeze and sitting on those steps listening to just a man and his guitar was lovely — the perfect way to end the day.

In Venice, it’s tough call. I did love sitting in San Marco Square at night listening to the live band of a nearby restaurant play “Dancing Cheek to Cheek.” But, in the spirit of honesty, I must admit that my favorite memory was the gelato. Before arriving in Venice, I thought gelato was just an Italian word for ice cream — how wrong I was! It is entirely different from ice cream. It’s exponentially more delicious.

In Dublin, my favorite memory was seeing the General Post Office on O’Connell Street, the site of the 1916 Easter Rebellion. As I’d been told before I saw it, the columns are indeed riddled with the bullet marks of that fateful time. It was extremely moving. I can’t quite describe it, other than to say that it’s the kind of experience that makes you so very proud of your heritage.

And, I must also admit that as wonderful as the backpacking was it feels great to be back in Edinburgh. Even after such a short time away I was already craving a good pint, an order of chips and a session at Sandy Bell’s. Caledonia was definitely calling me, as the song goes.

***Also, a note to explain the photos I’ve shown above. Firstly, I’ve shown the Eiffel Tower, followed by Monjuic at dusk where we heard the guitarist later that night. Then, I’ve included a photo of the gelato followed by the bullet marks on the columns of the GPO in Dublin.

Slàinte!

At last, at long last — an ode to the Water of Life Society. Since arriving in Edinburgh I’ve not only seen the sights and fallen in love with rugby but I’ve also become a member of the Water of Life Society, otherwise known as the Whisky Society.

But it’s not what you think! I swear!

What occurs at our meetings every Thursday is indeed centered around whisky but it’s more like a wine tasting: surprisingly civilized and downright erudite at times. Notes are collected for each of the five whiskys and time is spent taking in the aroma of each before the tasting begins. We try our best to savor each one — although depending on how tasty the whisky is, it doesn’t last very long.

Over the course of my membership in the society, I’ve learned quite a lot! I now know the difference between a single malt whisky and a blended whisky. I also know to spell whisky without the -ey, as is customary in Scotland. Likewise, I’ve learned the pronunciation and meaning of Slàinte. Pronounced “sl-aancha,” it’s the Scottish equivalent of Salut or Cheers. And that’s just the beginning!

Guest speakers are brought in to discuss the distillation process. We were even paid a visit by a representative from Ardbeg, an Islay distillery famous for its single malt whisky.  Though I must confess I was not a huge fan of the whisky that night —  not quite my cup o’ tea, or dram of whisky in this case. It was a bit too smoky — much much too peaty. In fact, Ardbeg considers itself “the most peaty malt whisky in the world.”

Each week we typically sample Scotch whiskys, called “Scotch” back in the U S of A. But this past week we tried whiskys from around the world: Canada, Wales, USA, Japan and even India! Alas I’m still developing the  vocabulary of a seasoned whisky taster, so I cannot provide a thorough review of each of them. But I can say that I  preferred the Canadian whisky — it was quite sweet and very smooth. The finish almost reminded me of amaretto.

If I had to pick a Scotch whisky I’d say my favorite is one called Bunnahabhain (pronounced boona-haaven). It’s almost the antithesis of the Ardbeg. Described as a “virtually unpeated Islay whisky,” the Bunnahabhain is extremely light and refreshing, not very smoky at all. It may even be described as fruity and sweet.

The more I learn, the more I’d love to start a Water of Life Society in Boston. Launching one at Tufts would be problematic due to the higher drinking age in the US, but Boston certainly would have a market for the society. I just can’t imagine a better way to end a long day than to head downtown to enjoy the company of old friends and to learn more about something you love.

But, alas, in order for this venture to be viable some research may be in order — both of the market landscape and, of course, the product.

So many whiskys, so little time!

I have a confession to make.

I’ve fallen in love. . . with rugby. I watched it for the first time last week and I just knew that it was meant to be. So while many people are spending this fine Valentine’s Day with their sweetheart I find myself dreamy-eyed with new love — love of rugby. It’s so violent. It’s so barbaric! It’s just amazing!

I’m told rugby is a gentleman’s sport and I can actually see that. Members of opposing teams are very civil to each other and they’re quick to lend a hand when there’s a player down. Likewise, fans are passionate yet polite. But once the match is well underway. . . it’s gruesome. It’s absolutely unbelievable.

No helmets are used. No padding is used. There’s even something called a “blood sub.” What’s a blood sub? you ask. Well, as the name suggests, it’s when a player must be taken off the field because he’s bleeding and a sub must be sent in so that he can be patched up. It’s awful! And it happens often too!

My favorite formation is the scrum. It’s a bit difficult to describe, so I’ve included a photo below. Check it out!

A scrum is basically when players lean into each other right at the base of their necks. It’s so dangerous. I honestly can’t fathom how they do it.

I’m told that young people don’t begin seriously playing rugby until they’re about 15 or 16 and I can see why. There’s so much that could go wrong and that often does go wrong. And as scary as it is to admit this, I think that’s why I love rugby. For such a seemingly barbaric sport, it takes an exceptional amount of coordination.

If you’re interested in looking into any rugby, right now the Six Nations Championship is going on. It features Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy, Wales and England. I myself support Ireland. . . and Scotland. . . and anyone else who beats England. 😛

The Kilavill Set

I went to my first ceilidh this past Sunday night.

What’s a ceilidh? you ask. A ceilidh is an event where people come together to take part in traditional Scottish (or Irish) folk dances. A man from the band gives instructions on the steps of the dances (the names of which range from the Yarmouth Long Step to the Cumberland Square Eight), while couples line up or stand in a circle. Then the band starts playing. . . and away you go.

It was so much fun! As the music picked up speed, we spun around and around, holding onto our partners for dear life, before switching partners, trying desperately not to run into other couples like a bunch of bumper cars.

Check out the pictures below!

It is a genuinely remarkable experience. The ceilidh I attended was enchanting. I couldn’t believe it. Even now I can’t.

One of my favorite dances was one where four couples begin by standing in a square formation — one couple for each side of the square. The two located opposite each other  meet in the center, take each others’ hands and dance in a circle: then each individual places his or her left hand in the center and they all continue dancing in the opposite direction, before joining arms. At that point, the two lads pick up the lassies and spin them around and around in the air. With our feet off the ground, it felt like we were flying!

For the whole evening this occurred: learning new dances, revisiting old ones, sneaking in a much-needed rest in spite of a desire to keep dancing. And, the music was just amazing. I’ve been listening to traditional Celtic music for quite some time now but I must admit that it never came alive for me as much as it did Sunday night. It’s music that must be danced to. You’re not meant to sit still.

As I left the ceilidh that night, feet aching with perhaps the worst blisters I’ve ever had, I was just awe-struck. This is why I came to Scotland, I thought. Feeling that freedom: the sensation there could be a time when everyone comes together just to have fun, to make new friends and to enjoy the company of old ones — to celebrate who they are and where they’re from.

It was unbelievable — absolutely unforgettable.

So! This past weekend I journeyed to the Lake District! What an adventure it was! Prior to our trip, my only associations with the area were from Pride and Prejudice — towards the end of the novel when Lizzie’s holiday plans with her aunt & uncle must be changed to accommodate Mr. Gardiner’s business. Initially planning to go to the Lake District they instead go to Derbyshire, only to run into none other than Mr. Darcy! I admit, I’m not always one to believe that “Every cloud has a silver lining,” but sometimes life really does turn out — at least in Jane Austen novels it does. 😉

To be quite honest, the Lake District completely exceeded my expectations. It was just stunning. Check out the photo below!

Over the course of the weekend, we saw such sites as the one shown above, the little town of Keswick (pronounced Keh-zick) and even Carlisle Cathedral & Castle. But the real adventure of the weekend was trying Marmite for the first time.

New to Marmite? Check out the video below.

It’s a difficult spread to describe, but the best comparison I can make is to that of soy sauce. A product of yeast extract, Marmite is very thick (very sticky!) and tastes very much like soy sauce. With a knowing (and slightly mischievous) look on her face, my host for the weekend told us that Marmite is HUGE in Britain but that the Americans don’t usually like it.

After trying it on toast two days ago, I’m still in the process of deciding how I feel about it. While eating it, I’m proud to say that I didn’t gag (didn’t even consider it, for that matter). But, I must admit, I don’t think I’ll be rushing to Tesco to purchase it anytime soon. And I would never combine it with peanut butter — a common combo apparently. If I ever tried it with peanut butter, I think that even I (with my exceptionally strong stomach) would run the risk of paying homage to the porcelain god.

I’ll stick to jam for the time-being, thanks.