In the age of social media, we are constantly bombarded with the antics of our peers through pictures, text, video, frantic status updates, and, unfortunately, #hashtags. I am naturally curious to see how other students handle study abroad, and how their adventures compare to mine. I already know that I’m not having a typical experience—I came to Edinburgh my own, without going through a study abroad provider, and I didn’t know a soul in the city when I arrived. No other students from my home college came to Edinburgh this year.
Sometimes I feel a little jealous when groups of students who all travelled here together share smiley pictures of each other on Facebook, but honestly, I am so glad that I am forced to make new friends and create a totally new life and new routines for myself. And although I don’t have a study abroad provider to plans trips for me, I am creating my own agenda, and that suits me better.
In spite of that, it’s hard not to feel a little deflated when my newsfeed looks like this:
Person 1: OFF TO PARIS! #FUNWEEKEND #EUROPE #LOLOLOL
Person 2: Iceland then Denmark then Sweden then Norway! LOL it’s shaping up to be a chilly month for me!
Person 3: It’s getting cold here in Edinburgh so I’m off to SPAIN! #tanning #sunshine #hashtag
Person 4: Everything in Europe is so close together! #ROADTRIPTOITALY
Person 5: If you study at all on study abroad you’re doing it wrong!!!!!
So maybe (definitely) I am exaggerating a little bit, but sometimes I do worry that I’m not “making the most” of my time here. I constantly find myself having to explain to my peers why I don’t have any travel plans for the weekend. Financial issues aside, I just never saw Edinburgh as a jumping-off point to the rest of Europe. I just arrived—I don’t want to leave already! I have chosen not to spend my time country-hopping, but this doesn’t mean I am having a lesser experience or that my adventures are any less mad-cap.
I came to Edinburgh because I wanted to really live somewhere new, not just visit, and I chose to live here. I’m also certain that if I spent a lifetime exploring Edinburgh I would never uncover all of its wonderful secrets. This post is dedicated to local exploration and local travel, and I want to share with you several wonderful things I discovered this week that are all less than ten minutes from my flat.
The Edinburgh Festival Theater is a gorgeous, glass-fronted building on Nicholson Street, just up the road from my flat, and at night, with the windows all lit up, it looks like this:
Last weekend I went to see the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet with the Modern Dance Society, and we were treated to an introductory talk by the Interim Artistic Director, Alexandra Damiani. When the performance began, who did I spot, to my surprise, but Billy Bell—a finalist on season seven of So You Think You Can Dance! I’ve admired him for years, and it was a thrill to see him perform live. In addition, later research revealed to me that one of my favorite dancers from the show, Ebony Williams, was in Beyonce’s Single Ladies music video. Theater tickets, especially for dance, are so much cheaper here in Edinburgh, and I can’t wait to go back to the Festival Theater.
This week I also did some exploring in George Square, where the majority of my classes are held. I’m in George Square every weekday, but I never explored George Square Park until recently. When I did, I discovered a beautiful walking labyrinth, stone sculptures, and some particularly fat and vicious squirrels. My favorite sculpture was hidden between two monumental slabs of stone—you won’t see it until you walk right in-between the slabs:
I’ve already mentioned the Police Box (TARDIS) coffee stalls where I get my caffeine fix on Thursdays, when I have four hours of lecture in a row:
But I don’t think I’ve mentioned the fact that Walter Scott AND Sir Arthur Conan Doyle each lived, at one time, mere yards away from the building where my Gaelic lectures are held:
And of course, pubs are a vital part of any local scene. Cowgate and the Grassmarket come alive at night, and the streets are full of people and music and shouting and drunks falling down in the street. Dragonfly Cocktail Bar sells a delicious combination of rum, cinnamon and apple juice. The Smallest Pub In Scotland is actually quite large on the inside—don’t be fooled. The windows only display one small room of the whole complex, so my flatmates and I were shocked once we got inside and the pub kept going on and on.
At the end of the night, when we had each had a few drinks in us, we summoned up the courage to go inside Greyfriars Kirkyard. The gate was wide open—which was mysterious, considering it was past midnight, and the gate is usually shut in the daytime. There was a full moon, and we giggled nervously as we made our way to a large tomb. Edinburgh schoolchildren are dared to come to a certain tomb at midnight and knock on the door three times after reciting a rhyme. If the door opens, you have to go in. My friend couldn’t remember the rhyme, so she just knocked on the door three times and we all ran away screaming. I didn’t look back to see whether the door opened!
On a previous daytime trip the Kirkyard, I took this picture:
It’s not the same tomb that we knocked on, but hopefully it will give you some idea of how frightening the Kirkyard is at night.
Although I can’t wait to visit the Highlands, and my brother in Oxford, and possibly the Western Isles with my Gaelic class, I feel very content, here and now, in Edinburgh. Tourists have even started asking me for directions when they get lost, and when I actually manage to point them the right way, I feel like a proud local yokel.