A Miracle Ridden Country: Scotland
Non-stop exploring. That is what you do when you are abroad, because you are abroad. And there is never really knowing the next time you'll be back. Maybe we should always live like we're abroad. Then we might explore the places that even seem familiar to us. We might discover new things, find new environments, and make stimulating our curiosities a personal habit.
A week after traveling to Iceland my two brilliant friends Jack, Olivia, and I got back on the travel bird and flew to Scotland.
Scotland had been on my radar for a few reasons:
- It houses the monumental lighthouse that is referenced in one of my all-time favorite novels: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (dialogue from the novel is included in the video below). I like this novel because it talks about things that are plain, genuine, and real. It's not filled with action, mind-riddling plots, or exotic and extravagant fantasies. But it is written beautifully. Full of dialogue, both internal and external, just like our everyday lives, following people just like us. It ultimately portrays life in some of the most beautifully raw and ordinary perspectives - the main character finds joy and purpose in bringing the people in her life together. A major parallel to my own life.
- I had heard word about the wonders and landscapes of northern Scotland, found in both the Scottish Highlands and the northern-most Isle of Skye. Nature always grabs my attention, especially the thought of the words "lush" and "green" (Sweden is finally blooming with flowers and colors of all kind, after a long winter).
- After traveling to Ireland and loving every aspect of the people who lived there, the city of Dublin, and the nature that filled the coasts, I had similar expectations for Scotland (although people from both areas would cringe at comparing the two).
We spent two nights and one full day in Edinburgh before heading to Scotland's natural treasure: the Isle of Skye . The castles and hills that were spread throughout the city literally made things feel magical. I was Harry Potter on his first day at Hogwarts, and could see every aspect by which J.K. Rowling found her inspiration for writing such a line of ingenious, creative, and fantasy-fulfilling novels. I naturally wore my glasses the entire day, and walked around the city carrying a makeshift-stick wand. I won't say if any pretend wizard battles were initiated, but I won every one of them.
Before boarding our flight Olivia, Jack, and I passed a prime deal for two miniature wine bottles, so we were obviously obliged to start off our journey the right way. After landing into Edinburgh and taking a short bus to our hostel, a local stopped us as we were leaving, asking us if we knew where we were going. Which brings me to the first of a million examples of how kind, charismatic, and friendly Scottish people are. It might seem odd, a stranger blatantly extending their help without any previous interaction, but this kind of openness and engagement characterized what I encountered as Scottish culture throughout the entire trip.
After making our way to our hostel with the help of our newfound friend, we found our room: a small quarters fit for three people. We were literally living out J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, staying in Harry's broom closet. Since I'm really just a five-year old kid in a 21-year-old's body, I was pretty stoked. We headed to one of the popular bars in town, grabbed a few beers, and listened to some live music before calling it a night. While the singer at the bar had a pretty terrifying voice, he sang some Beyonce and Kanye West (A.K.A. I loved it anyways). We spent the next day exploring the city, the surrounding castles and gardens, and soaking in as much Scottish sunlight as possible. After grabbing breakfast we walked around many of the main landmarks, saw a couple castle grounds, and made our way to the botanical gardens.
Something I love most about big cities in general are the urban parks: botanical gardens, castle grounds, central parks, all of it. They're like hubs of fresh air that encourage good conversation and intimate time with friends. A reminder that we're not meant to live every day locked in our rooms in front of our screens, but rather free to roam, explore, with and in front of other faces. The gardens were beautiful. My walking-enthusiast parents would have enjoyed strolling around, and my super-gardener grandmother would have been delighted at the variety of plants. The weather was also phenomenal. It drizzled lightly here and there a few times throughout the day, but the sun and blue skies always broke through. Apparently that's pretty common for Scottish weather, and I had nothing against it. The rest of the day consisted of getting Scottish tea, sandwiches, and cake, exploring the rest of Edinburgh, and searching for Tom Riddle's grave. We rubbed the Scottish Terrier's nose for good luck and took a quick stop at the birthplace of Harry Potter, a quaint, spacious, and inspiring cafe that J.K. Rowling was known to write her books in.
After a long day we spent an even longer night on a free pub crawl with our hostel, which turned out to be way more of a success than I expected. Discounts on everything, free drinks included, for the price of a whopping nothing. All of the bars were enjoyable, one even had karaoke that Jack, Olive, and I killed with the "Ignition Remix". Literally killed, as in the vibe, and no one else was dancing. We thought it would be a hit, but for the first time in our lives the "Ignition Remix" didn't pull through. We ended up back at the first live concert/bar we went to the night before, and this time there was a legitimate band. Plenty of middle-school punk-rock hits, plenty of dancing.
The next morning we took a train to Glasgow and started the long trek to the Isle of Skye, consisting of another train (4 hours long) to Fort Williams, and then a bus (3 hours long) to the Isle. The commute was long, but the views were spectacular. The train and bus rides took us through the Scottish Highlands, a consistently used area for the filming of Game of Thrones. And this is where I decided to put myself first, and my academics second. Sorry Mom, sorry Dad, thank you 2-weeks-ago-me.
I had an exam to take the morning after the night we returned to Sweden, and I decided then and there that I simply did not need to take it. I was a responsible student and finished an 80-page study guide prior to leaving for Scotland, but in the moment recognized it wasn't the way I wanted to spend my time. Not even on the train. I wanted to be present with my two friends, and present in my surroundings. Because my friends were amazing to talk with, and my surroundings simply breathtaking. To be quite frank, I did not legitimately need the units from the course. I am practically finished with my degree (B.A. Psychology at my university is very short). But it was still so hard to just ignore the "responsible" choice and say to hell with it.
But I managed to do so, because the more I thought about it, the more responsible I was being to myself. Sometimes you have to recognize that things are not wrong simply because they are unusual to what you normally do. Putting ourselves and our overall experiences first is an unusual thing for many of us. But it shouldn't be.
Sidenote: Mom, Dad, I am still receiving the proper units for my program, and the course I decided to veto will have no effect on my transcript. Have no fear!
After finally reaching Portree, a fairytale city in the Isle of Skye, we found our AirBnB, put on a movie, and dozed off to sleep. The next day the true magic began. To put it short, a middle-aged Scottish lady named Angela picked us up in her personal car and drove us around the entire Isle, a full day of sightseeing, hiking, and exploring.
If you ever get the chance to visit the Isle of Skye, BOOK A TOUR WITH LOVE SKYE TOURS. The company is run by a single woman named Angela, and she is the dearest lady I have ever met. She took us to several local museums (and paid our entrance for us), told us all about Scottish folklore and history, and took us to places that I am certain no one else in this world has laid foot on. She knew everything - how to play to the weather, how to navigate every distinct landscape, and how to make us feel right at home.
It was an extraordinary look at Scotland as a nation of the U.K. and the Isle of Skye, with its own treasures and rich history. Angela asked us exactly what we wanted to see, and planned out the day to prioritize the weather patterns. It was raining at first, so we started off driving west towards the Nest Point Lighthouse (the good weather tends to spread from the west).
On our way to the lighthouse we stopped at a local museum that showcased the world's tallest and largest proportionally-sized man. It was a small house with the history of the man's lineage and lifetime career all over the walls, and was staffed by a kind, old man who recited everything from off the top of his head. Later on in the day we stopped at another museum of similar fashion, but focused on fossils and paleontology. Angela was clearly friends with the two men who ran the museums, as she was most of the people we encountered. These museums were nothing extravagant, and first seemed quite underwhelming. They were things we would have never looked at on our own, and I am so grateful to Angela for including them in our tour. They were pieces of culture that showcased how precious community and purpose was to the Isle.
Being in those museums, with monuments and collections one hundredth of the size of a commercial museum, made me realize how irrelevant it was that these places weren't on a fancy brochure. TripAdvisor awards were meaningless. Bigger, better, more-prestigious, none of it matters; in the end it is the raw core of it that means everything. Dedicating yourself to your passions, loving yourself and others, sharing yourself with a community of people. These were the things that mattered. And the people who lived in the Isle of Skye did just that.
After finally reaching Nest Point, we hiked down to the cliffs and walked up to the white lighthouse ladened with gold. I put my hand on the paving of what signified a novel that had once struck the core of my being, and thought to myself "this is it". It was all beautiful, stunningly beautiful. I couldn't help but wonder why this place wasn't more renowned, more appreciated.
Next we headed to the fairy pools, Quiraing, and then fairy glen. Everything was magical. I couldn't stop myself from beginning to believe in the stories of the fairies that lived in these places, because it all fit together so well. We hiked around for a bit in each area, taking our time to absorb the landscapes. At one point we had to keep up with Angela, who surprised us by hopping from stone to stone. This turned out to be a theme of the tour: Angela astounding us with her endless energy and capacity for adventure. She took us through all of the nooks, crannies, caves, and miniature forests, for the most private and breathtaking views of the Isle. Quiraing looked like Lord of the Rings. The pools looked like Patagonia. The fairy glen looked like exactly that: a bathing spot for fairies.
It was an extraordinary day in one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. And I have to conclude, Scotland left a larger impression on me than Iceland did. Not as a comparison of landscapes or beauty, because both were astounding. And Iceland is the most diverse, natural area I have ever laid foot in. In fact, maybe the most beautiful natural area I have ever laid foot in. But Scotland had it all: a charming culture of lovely people and a breathtaking culture of beautiful, natural areas. You don't fall in love with a country simply because it is easy on the eyes, but because the environment it hosts resonates with you on multiple levels.
Scotland resonated with me further than its landscapes; people smile to you on the streets, make friendly conversation, talk loudly in public, and withhold a general sense of genuineness, friendliness, and warmth. After a long day of exploring we grabbed some dinner, ciders, and dessert, and dozed off to sleep whilst playing another movie. The next morning we made the long commute back to Edinburgh, and caught our flight home.
It was an amazing trip, with two amazing friends.
And I continue to think to myself: "How could I be so lucky".