I’ve been in Scotland just three hours. I’m sitting in a little corner café listening to a few Scottish lads speaking. There’s a really cool mural painting of animals and the changing of seasons across the street that I’ve been staring at because it reminds me of Wisconsin. I’ve just chugged a whole glass of fresh-pressed orange juice after walking in the humidity and I’m running on just one and a half hours of sleep.
Ah, the sun just broke through and is blinding me through the window that I am facing. It’s been rainy all morning, just like in Ireland.
This blog is going to be a little different. I was talking with my dad a while ago about my struggle with photographing my time abroad. I feel this intense pressure to document my time here so that I can bring home images and stories without forgetting them. However, there’s a balance that I am still trying to find between looking at the European world through a camera lens and with my real eyes. Too many times in my life have I actually regretted photographing events or places. I leave the scene after shooting tens or hundreds or photos and I feel like I wasn’t even there. Dad told me I should try visiting a place without photographing everything.
My mom is probably going to kill me for doing this, but I’m not taking photos on this trip, with the exception of just one (featured on the main page). I’m challenging myself to revert back to when people travelled to new places in the olden days, where they had to actually describe their experience with words because they didn’t have the opportunity to take a digital image and share it on ten social media outlets. I’m giving power back to words, I don’t want to rely on digital images to tell a story.
Funny, I just looked out the window and saw a group of girls who are touring the city snapping pictures with their smartphone of the small cathedral to my left. This morning, after making this decision to not take pictures, I could feel how much more I absorbed when I wasn’t constantly thinking about pulling out my phone to capture an image of this or that. I tell myself that I’ll remember so much more of the places I visit if I take pictures, but reality is, I’ll look back at a picture I had taken while quickly walking down the street and not even remember taking the picture. Sad? I think yes.
I’ll be updating this blog as I go along this weekend, and I don’t apologize that there aren’t any pictures to break up the large blocks of text that you can’t stand to sit through because the digital age has ruined our ability to concentrate.
Yesterday was race day in Limerick and kids had been partying from 9am Thursday to the time I left the house for the bus station in the wee hours of the morning today.
I was so anxious to start this trip. I’d only travelled alone one other time this semester, but that was within Ireland for one night. This time I had to take a bus to Dublin, fly to Glasgow, manage my way around Glasgow, hop on a bus to Edinburgh (it’s Ed-in-burr-oh, please don’t say it Ed-in-berg), manage my way to the hostel, and then make my way all the way back to Glasgow then Dublin then Limerick on Monday morning.
Once I struggled my way through the Dublin airport this morning (I had to stand at security and chug an entire Nalgene bottle full of water which I forgot to empty – PR of 2 minutes with 3 stops to the bathroom afterwards), I felt a little less anxious. One of my housemates had taken the same trip, and she gave me some pointers. I also remembered the German girl I met in my hostel on the Inis Mor island in Ireland who told me she was travelling the country for two weeks alone at the age of 19. If she could do that, I could do this.
When I finally arrived in Glasgow, I kind of chuckled at myself. I had overthought the entire process. It was mostly a breeze.
I made it on the shuttle bus to Glasgow’s city bus station and then headed out to the streets.
I was appalled at how built up Glasgow was. I didn’t expect it to have such huge buildings. They seem almost immodest to me, dominating the landscape with their heavy, symmetrical square foundations and intricate details. Tall, glassy contemporary buildings stick out among the stone-laden streets and the shops remind me of Minneapolis. The way the city felt those first 30 minutes made me want to return to Glasgow at some point later in my twenties just to party it up at nighttime with some of my girlfriends.
I imagined Scotland to be more like Ireland, but Glasgow is far from anything like Dublin. Dublin now seems like a bum’s idea of a city compared to Glasgow (though Ireland and its capital will always be close to my heart). The city was raked with people bustling to work, school, the stores. They seem friendly, though their faces are grim as they bare the wind and rain today.
My heart stopped after nearly running over a sign that read “Scottish half breakfast £3” in front of Lauder’s Pub. I had stockpiled fruit and PBJ sandwiches in my backpack, but decided that it was worth it to buy breakfast this morning and save my other food for the hostel.
I ended up ordering a full breakfast for 6 pounds: Two fried eggs, two potato patties with onions, baked beans, brown bread, two sausages, two pieces of thick bacon, half a tomato and a large mushroom (No Mom, I didn’t eat either vegetable. I’m not that adventurous yet), and a cup of tea with cream and sugar. The man behind the bar whom I ordered from had a Scottish accent, the first I’d heard since arriving, and I loved it.
After inhaling my food, I headed out in the drizzle to the city centre and enjoyed wandering past the stores and the tall, ancient clock towers that seemed to stand at every corner.
I looked up the nearest landmark in my phone’s GPS, the Lighthouse near the river, but took a detour when I saw a sign for a Police Museum. I never actually found the museum, but instead I somehow wandered 20 minutes east to the Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis without using my GPS. The Necropolis was a little creepy, as it is a large cemetery plot on a hill overlooking part of the city that holds hundreds of bodies with large and impeccable headstones and monuments. I also walked over what was called the Bridge of Sighs and took in the sight of the cathedral that was washed with age and pollution. It reminded me of a building you would see on the Disney film Humpback of Notre Dame.
There was one large tree that I passed that had a huge blue frayed rope wrapped multiple times around a thick limb, with a few strands hanging down low at an average man’s height. Of course, my imagination took over and I left after seeing that.
I tried heading back to the Lighthouse, but my phone died and I was lost for a bit. I somehow came back to the sign that said Police Museum – I had made a complete circle – and was desperate to find an outlet to charge my phone and get back on track. I happened to pass this little café and am still waiting to get enough charge to make it to the Lighthouse and then back to the bus station where I’ll buy a ticket to Edinburgh. I honestly can’t wait to get to my hostel and take a nap.
On my way to the Lighthouse, I ran into a museum of modern art. I’ve seen way too much modern art this semester (in my opinion… I really don’t understand most of it) but the building was impeccably unique, so I wandered inside out of the drizzle.
There was a room ahead of me that had black plastic covering it with a warning hanging on the wall next to the doorway that said the materials in that room were explicit and not for young children. All it was was a room displaying people’s ideas of leather erotic clothing. I wasn’t too sure that it was museum-worthy material. I then left that room and walked a few floors up to find the actual artwork and was disappointed with what I saw yet again and left.
I eventually found my way to the Lighthouse, but it definitely wasn’t an actual lighthouse like I thought. It was just a building with some restaurants in a skinny alleyway. But at least it got me closer to the Buchanan bus station. I was ready to leave Glasgow.
I easily found my way to the ticket booth and bought a roundtrip ticket to Edinburgh. Luckily, the next bus left in 5 minutes. I was so happy to be sitting in a comfy seat on a coach bus with my heavy backpack off, out of the rain, where I could put my feet up. It’s the little things when you’re travelling, I’m tellin’ ya.
I arrived at Edinburgh bus station safe and sound, except I remember hardly anything from the trip over. I was sleepy.
I typed in my hostel’s address into my phone’s GPS, but lucky me, just as I was walking away from the bus station, my phone died. I had two options: Hole up in a café that hopefully had an outlet or walk around and ask random shop employees if they knew where High Street Hostel was.
Looking around the city, it felt much more homey than Glasgow. The buildings were more modest, though there were some pretty spectacular castle-looking ones farther out, past the main shop area. Being lost wasn’t the absolute worst thing that could happen here.
Just as I was on the hunt for a café (I didn’t have the guts to try the second option yet) I got sidetracked when I saw postcards for sale outside a little shop. I stopped and bought my Edinburgh postcard and was depressed when I couldn’t find any for Glasgow; I had forgotten to buy one there. When I walked to the register to pay, I studied the 10 pound bill I was holding while the guy bagged some water and tea I was also buying for the hostel.
“Do you like the country?” He must have noticed me reading the money in my hand (it really is so beautiful compared to US dollars). He had a mutt accent, which sounded like Indian and Scottish. I had a hard time hearing him, but he was really nice.
“Oh, yeah, I just got here this morning. It’s great!”
“Good, it is good.”
“Except I’m kind of lost.” My desperation set in. “Do you know where Blackfriars Street is?”
“The street? It’s all over,” his eyebrows furrowed and his hand swept across the air. He was confused and now I was confused because he was confused.
I heard voices coming from his phone that was propped up on the cash register. “My family,” he pointed to the screen, “I’m speaking with them, sorry.” He said something in a different language to the people on the other end and then turned back to me.
“No, well, I mean specifically where is High Street Hostel?”
“Ahh, yes, ok.” He proceeded to give me directions, but then revised them after realizing he had overcomplicated the first set of directions. I tried really hard to remember what he said after listening through his accent, thanked him and wished him a good day, and left.
I felt sure of where I was going especially after I found a group of backpackers all walking the same direction. But then we crested a hill and came to a curve in the road that seemed to literally run over the edge of Edinburgh (there’s lots of odd hills and cliffs right in town). Before leaving Ireland, I looked on Google Maps satellite view just to know what the hostel looked like from the outside and what the street was like. There’s no way the hostel could be down there.
I plunked down on a curb outside an old magnificent building and pulled my laptop out so I could charge my phone. I also grabbed a PBJ and had lunch and some water. Lots of people passed me and stared. I wasn’t sure if it was because I had my laptop out, if I looked like a homeless sleep-deprived person, or if it was because I was eating a PBJ.
I waited about fifteen minutes, but my phone wasn’t juicing enough to turn on and look at the map. Finally, I eyeballed the buses that were pulling in every so often across the street. I bet myself money that the bus drivers knew the city like the back of their hand so I packed all my stuff up and walked over and asked one of the drivers. He gave me specific directions in his thick Scottish accent and repeated them about three times for me, including gestures. I had walked the opposite way I was supposed to go, and had to go back to the bridge and cross over it, not away from it.
But the walk across the bridge was worth it. There was a huge mound of land off to the right past all the city buildings. I think I read that people are able to hike that and get a view of the city, but I need to check it out again. There were old fantastic buildings perched on top of another mound to the left. This view appealed to me more than Glasgow’s, with the tan stone buildings standing so majestically against the green backdrop. I couldn’t wait for my bus tour the next day, where I’d get to see the countryside and the lake.
I found the hostel fine after that whole rigmarole. It was an old-fashioned stone building with round tower-looking entrance. It was dark and cozy inside and I was intimidated when I was checking in at the front desk and a whole herd of Italian girls came up to ask a question about the light in their room. After a few minutes, I finally had my key and bed: I was staying in Flounder in the Aquarium room. I trudged up the stairs to my room and threw my bag down and hopped in the shower, which was basically just a closet with makeshift waterproof walls, but it still felt like heaven.
I was going to take a nap, but I’ve decided to update this blog and do other school work. I may be meeting a friend from UWEC at a pub tonight for a drink.
I also struck up good conversation with two ladies in my hostel. One is from Malaysia, a pharmacist, and the other is from Colorado, a recent ex-scientist of sorts. Both are travelling Europe for the fun of it. The girl from Colorado is hitting 25 countries and then is heading home.
I had eaten a PBJ and banana, but my stomach was growling. I got a message from my UWEC friend that he was at a pub with the group he came with, so I headed out to grab food and a drink with them.
We went to The Rabbie Burns, a small pub that had loud live music. Three Scots were playing traditional music and even though it was hard to have a conversation with them playing, it was still fun to hear them. The Scottish accent comes through in singing much more than other accents, I noticed.
I had fish and chips and a Kopparburg and good conversation with my tablemates. The guy from UWEC told me that the road was closed off a few blocks up because they were filming the new Avengers. After dinner, both of us headed up the street to see what was going on, but it was blocked off too far away from the action. We didn’t see Chris Evans or Robert Downey, Jr. but it was neat to think we were probably within 100 yards of them. I’ll definitely be looking for the building they were shooting near when the movie comes out!
I got up and ready to check in for my Highlands bus tour. Today would be a more relaxed day and I was happy about that.
I walked to the end of the street where I was certain I was supposed to be. There were people outside queuing to check in at the tour agency and I got in line. But then I saw the house number on the door and realized I was at the wrong tour agency! I walked across the street and checked in to the right place.
Our bus driver was full-out Scottish and I was so happy about that. There weren’t many Americans on my bus, probably four or five, and the rest were either Italian, Spanish, or Korean. Lots of beautiful Spanish girls, it seemed.
The tour was to last 12 hours and we had the opportunity to visit a castle and take a boat tour on the Loch Ness, where the famous monster was supposed to live. I settled in my seat, thankfully a window seat, and the bus filled up fast. A tour guide who was in charge of a different group commented that this was more people than usual.
A lady with lovely tan skin and curly dark hair and eyelashes sat down next to me. She answered a call on her phone and spoke in a language that sounded French, but not entirely. I was curious.
I was also extremely tired. For the first half hour, I slipped in and out of sleep. The bus driver said we would be stopping for coffee and toilets at 9:30, and I hoped I could find caffeine that wasn’t in coffee, since I don’t drink coffee.
All I grabbed was a muffin, a sandwich for later, and chips (“crisps”), I decided against caffeine. I felt bad for having fallen asleep for the first jaunt of the tour, but I couldn’t help it.
When I got back on the bus, I felt a bit more awake. The bus driver, who was hooked up to the speaker system, had asked the participants where they were from earlier. The lady next to me must have remembered I raised my hand when he asked where the Americans were, and she struck up a little conversation with me in English, asking which state I was from. I was surprised to hear an Australian accent when she spoke English.
I told her I was from Wisconsin but I was studying in Ireland for the semester. I asked her where she was from and she said Australia, and then I asked what language she was speaking earlier.
“It’s a bit like broken French. My family moved to Australia like 15 years ago.”
I couldn’t tell you where she was originally from, I can’t remember.
I’m not going to describe every single view I witnessed. You can look at the map and see for yourself where we travelled all day.
But I will tell you that the wilderness that is Scotland is one that surprised me.
There are hardly any people living in the Highlands. Rarely, you would see a small little house sitting at the base of a huge hill. “Scotland’s countryside, you see, is empty. There is no one here,” the bus driver pointed out.
I was reminded of Canada as we swerved around tall, full pines and over rushing rivers. When we got into the Highlands, I was reminded of the views I saw in the Ring of Kerry in Ireland: rolling hills with green and brown mossy ground, few trees. But Scotland is more rugged and rocky, and waterfalls are everywhere within the cliffs. Water from those springs must be so sweet. A new goal of mine is to return and do a camping or hiking trip in those hills. It was nice to see them from the bus window, but I’d much rather be out there with the hills beneath my feet.
We stopped for lunch at a fish and chip shop, but I had bought that sandwich earlier so I sat on a little board at the edge of a path by the river and ate my food.
A guy in a kilt came by at one point and said something like, “Hey, nice spot you got picked out,” in a heavy Scottish accent, “Gimme a smile.” No.
Later, it started sprinkling. I finished lunch and got back on the bus to buy my boat and castle ticket.
We arrived at Urquhart castle on Loch Ness. It was sprinkling still, but ended up quitting after I came out from watching a film which told of the history of the castle. It was ____ years old and had been owned and built upon by multiple clans and kings.
I explored around the castle a little bit, really intrigued by the fact that I was standing in the same place that hundreds of people had once lived, worked, reigned, and ate hundreds of years ago.
We boarded the boat that would take us around Loch Ness, the lake where the monster Nessie is supposed to have been living. The lake is 700 feet deep. Our bus driver is convinced that people have mistaken the monster for a really big eel, although some very “agreeable and trustworthy people have claimed to have seen the monster” according to our driver.
I didn’t see the monster, but I did have a revolution while on the boat. When I first got to the upper deck, there were lots of people scrambling to take all their pictures of the castle, the landscape, the lake, selfies. Lots of selfies. I just sat on the bench and enjoyed the view and the fresh air as it wasn’t raining now.
A lady who had asked if I would take her picture earlier in the day saw me sitting without my phone pointed at the scenery. “You’re the smart one, just taking it all in while everyone’s trying to get pictures.”
I smiled, but I wanted to frown. The smart one? Just taking it all in? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you travel? I was sad to see these people obsessed with trying to get pictures. Would they really remember the view they took a million photos of? Photos never do a landscape justice, anyway.
15 minutes later, the crowd of picture-takers was gone. Everyone had gone downstairs, inside the cabin. As long as they had their pictures, they were happy. They didn’t care about actually sitting and absorbing the natural landscape that I thought was so calming.
At the end of our journey, the bus driver played some Scottish bagpipe music. Classic.
Our bus driver was incredibly informed, and I’d like to share a few facts that fascinated me on the bus tour (all places mentioned are places we passed through or near):
- Jacob sheep are the second oldest breed of sheep and cover the hillsides of Scotland
- Falkirk was where William Wallace’s battle took place
- “Braveheart” was a name for Robert the Bruce, not William Wallace
- Scots never wore war face paint like the characters do in Braveheart
- Some Scottish have porridge for breakfast with salt, not sugar, and cream and whisky
- 83% of Scotland is covered in forest
- People make it a goal to climb all 282 of Scotland’s munros, which are mounds that are over 3,000 feet high. This is called munro bagging.
- In Glencoe, there is always a cold chill, which the locals will say is from the ghosts of dead loved ones
- There are about 33,500 lochs (lakes) in Scotland
- The ending of the movie Skyfall was filmed on one strip of road we drove on in Glencoe
- “mac” in some Scottish last names means “son”: MacGregor = Son of Gregor
- The hills and munros in Scotland claim on average 50 lives each year
- Scotland, though part of the UK, has its own education and legal system, with nearly free university
- There was a tradition where a person could throw silver from the train window on the old Forth rail bridge (closed now) over the River Forth and their wishes would come true
I walked back to my hostel without using my GPS (I was proud of myself then) and was so tired that I tripped walking up the front steps to the hostel and nearly scraped my knee. I laughed at myself.
I actually felt rested when I woke up. I was excited for this day because I was able to do whatever the heck I wanted. And the weather was absolutely spectacular—no clouds, just sun and a little wind.
I checked out of the hostel and got on my way.
My first goal was to get to Arthur’s Seat. My phone said it was a 45 minute walk, but I didn’t complain because I had an open day. Might as well walk.
When I approached the huge cliff/mound, I was surprised at how much taller it was compared to my imagination. I figured it would be something like Mount Simon back in Eau Claire.
Nope, this was full-on hiking. I started off with the small little cliff that wasn’t near the highest point. I sat down for a breather (I had everything I took for the weekend in the pack on my back) and ate a granola bar. I started watching people hike up the highest point, 251 meters up. I was intimidated by the steep rocky stairs that marked the starting point of the hike. They were steeper than the hill at my home campus, and that always seemed like a hike with a backpack full of textbooks.
I specifically kept my eye on one girl with a big pack like mine start hiking. I wanted to see if the hike would be difficult for her, since everyone else didn’t have packs like ours.
She made it up to the point where I couldn’t see her anymore. I started getting envious of the people that looked like specks at the peak. I wanted to be them.
So I started. The hardest part was climbing up the rocky slope nearest to the peak. There was a narrow “path” (if you could called jagged rocks in the side of a cliff a path) that I had to get through and it was then that I was so grateful for my $70 hiking boots I bought just a couple weeks ago.
When I crested the peak, I gasped. Mostly because it was so windy that I could hardly breathe, but also because the view it was definitely worth the hassle getting up there. You can see all of Edinburgh, the two bridges we crossed yesterday, and the North Sea. I can even see the Pentland hills that I was originally going to hike today.
Now, I’m sitting on a flat rock that juts out the side writing this. I’m freezing in the shade and am going to go sit in the sun. This Sunday morning surpasses all those Sundays I’ve spent in a church. I feel close to God up here.
Later, I’ll grab lunch and see a few museums. A low-key afternoon after a high-key morning (pun intended).
My next stop would be to the National Museum of Scotland. But I was incredibly thirsty and had drank all the water I bought yesterday.
My housemates could tell you this, but I love smoothies and I crave them more so when I’m travelling. So when I passed a coffee shop on my way to the museum, I just about died when I saw their menu which had smoothies on it. 3 pounds for a ‘red’ real-fruit smoothie with berries and banana, and it was the best thing I’d ever tasted in my life after hiking.
The walk to the museum was really nice. It was then that I felt absolutely comfortable travelling on my own. It was enjoyable to be in a foreign place and to build my itinerary as I go and as I please. I felt no anxiety.
I’d say to anyone who doesn’t feel confident with their lives or themselves, pick out a country and figure out how to get there by yourself. Stay there, have an experience there, learn how to go with the flow. Make goals and achieve them while there. See how confident you feel after accomplishing that.
I finally came up to the museum and was impressed with the building, as I was with nearly all the old-fashioned buildings in Europe.
I entered, looked at the layout of the museum, and decided to only stick to the historic Scotland displays, as I wasn’t too interested in the other more modern exhibits.
Violence is a common theme in Scottish history. It seemed, as I walked through the displays, that there was a war or a feud or a massacre right after the other. One display was dedicated to the Glencoe massacre which I had learned about from the bus tour. 38 people died because the chief of the MacDonald clan could not take an oath in time to the monarchs due to poor weather.
There were many displays of old daggers, swords, pistols, and rifles. The most impressive was a Breadalbane gun from 1599 that had a barrel longer than my wingspan. You’d have to go to battle with two men to a gun, one to pull the trigger and another to hold the barrel up (jokin’… but that seems logical to me, having seen the size of that rifle). The bullets were also impeccable. The bullet for the Breadalbane gun was a round stone covered in lead that was probably one inch in diameter. Imagine that hitting your metal breastplate!
Another display that stood out to me was a religious one. There was a ‘gown of repentance’ which was worn by women who committed adultery. A woman who had to wear this gown also usually sat on the ‘stool of repentance’ in front of the whole congregation as the preacher gave a sermon on her sin. The bigger her sin, the bigger and longer the sermon. No wonder most people despise Christianity. I’m thankful that my Jesus gives grace and not a lecture on how terrible a person I am.
After meandering through the museum, I started getting hungry. I sat down at a bench and Googled some nearby pubs. Before choosing one, I took off my hiking shoes and let my feet stretch. My socks were soaked from my morning hike still. That was lovely.
I decided to try the oldest pub in Edinburgh, The White Hart. Apparently it was haunted. All I wanted was food, and they had a cheap sandwich on ciabatta that sounded appetizing, so I left the museum and wandered over there.
The walk to the pub was neat. I walked down a road that was downhill and rounded to reveal a pedestrian street, cobblestone, and the buildings were all old. The sun was shining and people filled the streets and the tables that sat outside the different restaurants and pubs. So many different languages swirled around in my ears, and it was cool trying to guess where people might be from.
The White Hart was a cute little pub established in 1516 with an old black fireplace, which I sat right in front of. I walked up to the bar to order the sandwich and asked the lady which Scottish whisky I should start out with. It was a goal of mine to taste an actual straight-up Scottish whisky, even though I’ve only ever had a few sips of Coke and whiskey back home. She suggested an Old Pulteney 12, ‘A very popular Highland dram, with a big sherry presence’ for 3 pounds. It was one that could really only be found in Scotland since it was made in the Highlands. Perfect.
The whisky came first, before the food. My dad said I was crazy, but it was a good whisky. I’d definitely have it straight again.
I sat and enjoyed my meal and then planned to go back to the hostel to check in to the other room that I booked to sleep in for a bit before I left at midnight.
On my way back, I smiled at a neon sign hung high on the side of a building that read, “Not all who wander are lost”.
The room I was assigned to this time was full of long-termers since the other rooms were over-booked. There were 7 girls holed up in there, and the room was layered with tapestries and cut pieces of fabric. Each bunk had material strung around it for privacy. There were shoes and clothes and bags and boxes of candy stuck in the corners and under the beds, wherever anything could fit.
I threw my bag down on one area of the floor that was open and took my boots off. I needed to charge my phone a bit before going back out, so I crawled up to my top bunk and enjoyed laying down for a bit.
I decided to head out to the last museum I’d go to, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which closed at 5pm. This one sounded the most exciting, as I loved to learn about people.
My dad started texting me and asking where I was going, what I had done. He looked up the Gallery on Google maps satellite view ahead of time and said the building was really neat. When I got there in person, I agreed. It was a deep red brick with huge spindles and detailed statues inset in the front.
The second I stepped inside, I first noticed how unique the entrance was, the pillars, and the first few white marble busts that sat on stone stands. Then the ceiling caught my eye. There was a gorgeous mural encompassing the circumference of the frieze in the main hall that depicted men and women from Scotland, starting from the basically the stone ages all the way to the 1920s or so. The entire ceiling was painted in the constellations, a deep navy color, with gold stars that stuck out from the mural. Lesson: Never forget to look up when you’re in a museum.
I read nearly all the plaques that accompanied the busts on the first and second floor. I then wandered in the Library of National Museums of Scotland that was founded in 1870. I think I looked like an absolute idiot as I nearly drooled over the books they had stored in there. There were some from the 1700s and I was so desperate to know what their insides looked like that I tried yanking open one of the cases. Locked.
I left that room before I started breaking the glass on the cases. The painted portraits began on the second or third level and those interested me the most. I read most of the plaques again, and started feeling like I had met these people in the portraits in person. I even developed crushes on some of the young men that were exquisite poets, missionaries, or royally-appointed painters in the 1700s-1800s. I sound insane admitting that.
The best part of the gallery, besides the library, was the fairly new landscape photography exhibit. There, I read about the beginnings of photography in Scotland in the mid-1800s. Photographers were travelling worldwide to capture sights that most people would never see in their life and making a profit off their product (#careergoals). One guy, an aerial photographer who fought in the war and was eventually wounded so badly that he was deemed 100% disabled, made me laugh. After becoming disabled, he continued to do his aerial photography, saying that as long as one’s leg was tied to the seat with a scarf or rope, it was perfectly safe to photograph from an airplane. Talk about not taking life so seriously!
One photographic invention, the stereoscopic viewer, was most intriguing to me. Photographers would have their images made into cards that would be copied side-by-side onto a long card that would sit in front of the two lenses, which would combine the two images to create depth. I was tickled pink when I saw the museum had set out a few sets of the viewer for me to try, and I got to see black-and-white landscape photographs from the 1800s in a whole new way: It looked 3D, and I could put myself in the scene. One photo stood out to me of a man in his skivvies and a hat on sitting on top of a rock in Yosemite park. He looked so real, like he would start moving within the photo, waving his hat at me or standing up and opening his arms to the wide world before him. I felt connected to a man living 150 years before me because of the stereoscopic viewer. I wanted to cry.
After making my way through modern portraits and renaissance portraits, I decided it was time to head back to the hostel.
On my walk back, I decided to take the long way and go up near the castle and older buildings that sat at the top of a stairwell. There were lots of people up there, all enjoying the sunshine. I noticed there were people gathered listening to a guy on the street. I stopped and got closer to see a Scottish guy who seemed to be doing flame-throwing and sword-swallowing. He gave a big long spiel about his next act, where a big American guy would get up on a step ladder and step down onto a piece of plywood full of nails pointing downward on the other side which was placed on the performer’s bare chest. I watched the whole thing, and it actually happened. No nails went through his skin, thank gosh.
I left the crowd and bought a drink from Starbucks and then headed back to my hostel to eat a PBJ and get sleep.
Back at the hostel, I realized I had literally paid 14 pounds to lay on a mattress for 6 hours and hang my sweaty socks up. But it was worth it, as I sprawled out on the mattress and at my dinner. I had a long night ahead of me.
I fell in and out of sleep with my clothes on under the sheets, constantly checking the time because I was paranoid about missing my bus back to Glasgow.
The long-term girls kept coming in and out of the room to get ready for their night out, and I was a bit annoyed but not annoyed enough to not be thankful for the mattress I was laying on.
I thought about packing my bag early, but decided against it because I was too lazy to climb down from the top bunk.
I must have fallen asleep because I woke up to my alarm. My bus left in 59 minutes, and I still had to pack and grab food for the way out.
I threw my stuff in my bag and checked out of the hostel. The guy at the desk seemed surprised when I told him what I was doing, but I wasn’t awake enough to care what he thought of me. I walked out into the night air.
I was a little nervous about walking to the bus station by myself in the dark, but I made it to the McDonalds alright, which was one block away from the station. There was a security guard in the restaurant! Definitely don’t have those in Baldwin’s McDonalds. I think the entire McDonalds was full of drunk people. One kid was gagging while waiting in line. I avoided him, ordered some chicken nuggets, and got out of there.
No one was at the bus station except an older guy that was mumbling about the ticket booth being closed and a guy and a girl flirting with each other. I’m pretty sure the love birds were at the end of their first date because they couldn’t stop giggling and I could tell the guy was trying really hard to be chill. He really liked her.
I just sat and ate my McNuggets casually.
The bus rolled up and I got on. When the bus left the station and drove out of the city, I started getting ‘the feels’. This weekend was definitely a life-changing trip. I felt accomplished. Maybe one day I’ll be back just to see how I’ve changed and remember how I felt in this country.