Two weekends ago the university took us to Edinburgh, Scotland, for the weekend! We took a train up early Friday morning, having to wake up at 4:30am to catch our train and arriving in the city around 11:20. It is absolute insanity trying to roll a small suitcase and backpack across cobblestone roads when there’s a hundred other people doing the same thing, all averaging walking like they have zombies chasing them; but I suppose none of them have to go to physical therapy twice a week, so they can run at top speed without a care in the world. The biggest challenge of this was when we arrived in Edinburgh because we were slapped in the face with harsh cool wind and hills. I’m not used to hills. London doesn’t have hills. No one said there would be hills. I battled against the hills for a few blocks until we arrived at our hostel, then three flights of stairs laughed in my face.
After we all stored our luggage (check-in wasn’t until 2:00), the PA’s let us loose to go get lunch and come back to get room assignments. We walked outside and went to explore in search of food, and for the first time I really saw the city. It was gorgeous. Everything reminded me of St. Paul’s cathedral, but before the stones were cleaned. The cobblestone was uneven, the buildings brushed the sky, there were cashmere stores everywhere, and a man wearing traditional Scottish attire serenaded the streets with his bagpipe playing. We rounded a corner and saw a beautiful downhill slope, showing a row of quaint shops and pubs descending into the old city. Halfway down was a mint green Mediterranean restaurant that was apparently used in a scene from one of the Avengers movies. We went in, and the food was incredible; the salmon I had was hands down the best I’ve ever had in my life. It was flavorful and fresh without being salty or fishy. The dessert was great, too. I tried baklava, and saffron and rose ice cream.
Everyone waited in anticipation as one of the PA’s yelled out room numbers and then the names of the victims. It was anywhere between three to eight people in a room, and no one knew what they looked like or what the bathroom situation would be (everyone calls them toilets in the UK). My expectations were low but hopeful. Finally she called room 208, and it ended up being me, Nikki, and only two other girls from another school. We got lucky! Nikki and I made a mad dash to the room to try and pick beds first, and when we got in the room there were 6 beds, 3 bunk beds. We both picked bottom bunks and when the other girls arrived they chose to share the third bunk, so everything was great. It was even better when we discovered we had our own bathroom in the room! We unpacked a bit before the scheduled hike up to Arthur’s Seat, but I ultimately decided not to go. I didn’t want to push my body further after a long morning, so instead I went out by myself to explore the area and shop around because I wouldn’t get a chance to do that later. The sun peeked out for a while as I cut through alleyways, winding in an out of local shops, which was a surprise because it was scheduled to rain all day. Most of them turned out to be tourist souvenir shops, and after two hours I basically saw all of Old Town, but there was one antique store that caught my attention. I went in to the tiny store and squeezed by the only other person inside to look at a bunch of teacups and barrels of random buttons. When the gentlemen left, I moved to the counter where the jewelry was kept. I didn’t see anything I was interested in, but the aging shop owner looked so sweet that I felt compelled to speak with him. So, I asked if he had any key necklaces. He lit up immediately, running to the back of the store and returning with boxes of old keys that he suggested I turn into a necklace, but none of them sparked for me. I told him about my key collection and showed him the gold one I was wearing I got at the Louvre, and a lightbulb went off in his head. He asked me to wait while he checked one more place, and went to unlock the window to the outside display window. He returned carrying a beautiful little gold key on a small key ring, and placed it excitedly in front of me. It was stunning, delicately engraved and softly glistening with history. I asked what he knew about it, and he told me it was from the 1880’s during the Victorian Era, the key ring certainly made of gold and the key itself of steel (but probably painted with gold). It wasn’t tarnished at all. When I asked what it may have gone to, he examined it and said because it had a small hole in the end, it was most likely used for winding a watch or opening a small jewelry box. I bought it, and the shop owner was so excited for me. I’m excited for me, too.
After everyone got back from the hike, we went out for dinner and got fish and chips! I hadn’t had any yet, and the place we went made amazing ones, both the fish and the chips! By that time word was circulating that there was a pub crawl starting soon and going until 1:30am, but Nikki and I were already so tired and didn’t want to go, so instead we chose a pub ourselves and went there, were we relaxed with our drinks, talked, and listened to the house pianist. After a while we were craving dessert, specifically gelato, so we wandered around looking for one. The Italian place we found wouldn’t seat us just for gelato, so we ended up going to an “American” restaurant and ordering regular ice cream. It was delicious anyway.
The next morning we woke up early to go downstairs for the free breakfast, where I had coffee, chocolate croissants and yogurt. Soon after we had to get ready to hop on a bus because they were taking us to St. Andrews! The bus ride was about an hour and a half with breathtaking countryside scenery. I’ve never seen greener grass. It actually reminded me a lot of Arkansas and how much my grandparents would love it. I suddenly really wished I could unload my four wheeler and take off on the Scottish highlands, no matter how much the wind would hurt.
We got off the bus at 11:00 to be back at 3:00, and right there was the coast and the birthplace of golf. We headed straight to the beach, and looking out over the sea was something I didn’t realize I missed. I’m more of a pool person, but growing up in California I feel like I see the beach all the time. This one was different, though. The ocean was a light grey color, and jagged northern rocks jutted out of the coastline. The wind was swirling by us, incredibly cold and strong, sometimes making it difficult to hold my balance. We went down to the beach and climbed up the giant rocks, and it felt like we were at the edge of the world. The wind was worse up there, but I felt powerful being able to climb around and adventure on a Scottish beach. By the time we left and went through the small golf museum (which was really special for Nikki because she played varsity golf in high school) we were starving! We walked up the Main Street of the old town, which felt so much older and quieter than Edinburgh. For lunch we ate at a nice little cottage called “Doll’s House,” and apart from the waitress being completely clueless it was good. That was a theme for almost every single restaurant this weekend; every server we had took forever and pushed both of us to the breaking point multiple times.
With the time we had left, we ventured over to the ruins of St. Andrews castle, built circa 1200. When we passed through the teller onto the grounds of the ancient castle, it immediately felt like a museum with a rich history surrounding us that demanded our attention and respect. The sky turned grey and started to drizzle, so we plopped open our umbrellas and sloshed around in the vibrant grass. Rain in the UK so far has been a peaceful event, and I’ve come to not care so much as long as I have my umbrella or raincoat. I’m learning that emotions connected to weather is mostly a state of mind; I can’t control how the sun makes me happy, but I can control how much the rain makes me gloomy. Nikki and I explored the ruins, climbing up narrow staircases onto balconies, walking into dungeons, and even going underground to an old mine. That was the coolest part because we had to crouch down significantly to fit through the first half of the tunnel, then climb down a ladder to enter into the open cavern, dripping softly. The acoustics were amazing and we were the only ones in the cave.
After we finished exploring we headed to the bus to take us back to Edinburgh, and we rode home happy listening to music. Back in our hostel, Nikki and I collapsed on our beds and rested up before deciding on a place for dinner. We had walked by an Indian food place a million times, but when we finally got our tired butts up the place was closed, so we ended up finding a small Mexican food restaurant (probably the only one in Scotland). I didn’t realize how often I eat Mexican in California until my dinner was in front of me and it felt like comfort food. It was pretty good! I’ve had better, obviously, but my only big critique was that it didn’t come with guacamole (…what?…) and the margarita was a joke. But all in all we enjoyed a nice long dinner in a quiet space. After, we went back to the hostel again, showered, rested, hung out with some people, and decided we needed dessert. Specifically, a Scottish specialty: deep-fried mars bars. A mars bar is basically just a Milky Way, and then fried. And served with ice cream. It was incredible, one of those treats you have to have eaten to know how great it is!
The next morning we woke up, went to breakfast again (I had really good porridge and a chocolate croissant), packed up and stored our luggage, and were walked up to the Edinburgh castle in a light drizzle. They gave us a few hours to explore the castle and get lunch before meeting back at the hostel to reclaim our luggage and train back. The castle was beautiful in a different way than the others have been. It’s easy to say, “oh, I’ve seen a million castles, I don’t need to see another one,” but each one feels completely different if you let your surroundings affect you and spend a moment thinking about where you are and who came before. Looking out over Edinburgh, I couldn’t help but feel how a monarch must have felt: an immense need to do the right thing because people were depending on me. It’s very powerful to put yourself in someone else’s mind and take on their emotions because it forces you to grow as a person; that’s why I’m an actress, it’s an ever-growing craft that forces me to think about life and human relationships. Winding through the castle, I got to walk through the halls that Mary Queen of Scots did, viewing portraits and delicate embroidery until I stumbled into a family crest look-up room. Talia and I have done 23 and Me, so we know that our family is British, Irish, French and German primarily, but we never knew if our last name came from Beachum, Beacher, or was always Beach. Looking through the books, I found our name: Beach. On the computer I pulled up my family crest, and I gasped because there were two giant lions on either side of it, which was typically reserved for royalty. I read the paragraphs explaining the history of the name, and it turns out that the first Beach was quite a high up Noble who accompanied William the Conqueror to England in 1066. (Later we would visit the Tower of London, and walking around those grounds made me wonder on which spots of land my ancestor stood.) I left the castle giddy, and my friends and I decided to eat lunch in a place called the Elephant Cafe because J. K. Rowling wrote a lot of the Harry Potter series in there! The service was terrible, but the tea and dessert was wonderful. The lady at the checkout finished our transactions, and without missing a beat looks at me and says, “for three?” I said, “for us? We just payed.” She looked dumbstruck and confused, so we left as fast as possible. That was my last straw with service in Scotland, and quite honestly my friends are lucky I didn’t snap at her right there in the restaurant.
Pulling my luggage back to the train station was easier this time because it was downhill most of the time, and the ride back was pleasant. I love trains because it’s so easy to get up and walk around and there’s so much more room than an airplane. Four hours feels like nothing on a train but a lifetime on a plane. Arriving back in London, I had that same feeling of home as I did after Paris, and I flopped back down on our flat sofa and sat in awe of the weekend, mulling over everything that just happened so fast.